Monday, October 10, 2011

Boats, Bikes, and Balloons: Getting Around in Oxford

As in "that other university city," punts are nearly as ubiquitous as long, black robes. Actually, during my recent visit, there weren't many robes around. I remember my first visit was around exam time and everywhere you looked undergrads glided through the streets of Oxford on their bikes, black wings flapping behind.

Obligatory "people in foreign countries ride bicycles" shot. The basket's just a bonus.

Longer travel time but considerably more leg room than the Virgin aircraft I used.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pop Culture Happy Hour Makes Me Happy

A few months ago a friend asked a particularly probing question: “What’s making you happy?” “What makes you think I’m happy? Does this look like happy to you?” was the gist of my reply, [obscenities omitted]. For several weeks, a few of us had been getting together once a week to discuss our work, bounce around ideas, brainstorm, provide a shoulder to cry on. Academia tends to be a solitary pursuit unless you fight it—and you really have to fight it. You can get so caught up in your own work that you don’t see another human for days, pounding out words that no longer make sense.

The question came from “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” a weekly podcast that brings together writers from The idea in our context—or at least the context as we initially understood it—was to focus on the positive aspects of our week. True to form, my other friend and I brought the gloom. “I’m happy that conference didn’t actually kill me,” she said. “I’m happy I didn’t go crazy writing that paper,” I added. An exasperated, yet sympathetic, face stared at us across the table. Clearly, we had missed the point.

One by one, we each got around to listening to the podcast, and suddenly it all made sense. I’ve always been reluctant about podcasts. Maybe reluctant isn’t the right word. Condescending is better. I was absolutely scornful. Why listen to a bunch of strangers discuss nonsense like some sort of local cable show? But Pop Culture Happy Hour shattered my preconceptions, though not my snobbery. It’s pretty impervious, and that’s okay, because PCHH (That’s what the cool kids call it.) isn’t lacking in condescension.

The PCHH crew is made up of Linda Holmes, the editor of NPR’s Monkey See Blog, Trey Graham, art and theatre critic, Glen Weldon, book and comic book critic, and Stephen Thompson, NPR’s music editor. These are smart people. They know stuff. Smart stuff. About a wide range of topics, and they’re funny. (And I secretly hope they google themselves and find my blog. Hey, it’s is much more realistic than my other fantasy about running into them at a local bar and becoming their new best friend.) Every week they talk about movies, music, tv, books, comic books, and, of course, German art song intelligently, analytically, and with quick, sardonic humor that will have you snorting in public. They talk about entertainment—what makes it entertaining, what makes it problematic, what it says about the culture that produces and consumes it. And I’m not kidding about the snorting. I’ve laughed aloud on the Metro. I once had to stop on the sidewalk and bend over laughing.

At the end of each show, the final segment is called “What’s making us happy.” They go around the table, and each panelist talks about the tv show they’ve been watching, the new band they found, the website, Twitter feed, etc., etc. that’s making them happy. It’s not just about focusing on the positive; it’s about sharing something that actually makes you happy—blissfully happy, deliciously happy, my life is better because of this thing happy. And I want to share it because I think it’ll make you happy too.

So I’m writing here on this little blog that no one ever reads because I want to share with those of you who stumble over here from my much more popular blog, District Daily Photo, or with those of you who found me the usual way, by googling “Annie Liebowitz Gwyneth Paltrow” or “Dana Parino’s legs.” Yes, I see you. I see you all. But I also really do want to focus on the positive, these things that make us blissfully happy no matter what else is going on in our lives. I want to sit down and write about the things that make me happy because, not to get all trite and needle-point-pillow on you, but that’s what makes life worth living. So…Pop Culture Happy Hour, and the friends who share it with me. That’s what’s making me happy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oxonian Doors

The Old Parsonage Hotel. Someone told me they have the best afternoon tea in all of Oxford, but sadly I didn't get a chance to confirm.

The locked gates of the Radcliffe Camera.

All Soul's College

Through the gates at All Soul's College

Monday, October 3, 2011

Red All Over

It's always been my experience that British people are intensely proud of their history and heritage, stretching back into the ancient, unrecorded past; yet, they seem strangely oblivious to the "every day-ness" of it, absentmindedly dropping a letter into a Victorian postbox.

All the postboxes in the UK belong to the sitting monarch and bear the royal crest of whomever is on the throne at the time, whether Victoria Regina, Edward VII, George VI, or Elizabeth II. If you spend your life reading and researching the Victorians, coming across something marked "VR" is a little more exciting than most people find mail boxes. Walking around Oxford is like a hundred nerdy-Christmases rolled into one.