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Claudia: Scottish observations & the Pope

September 19, 2010

So I wanted this entry to be focused on pictures, but it’s not letting me upload any, so you’ll have to use your imagination until I put up a link to an album.

I feel like I have, for the most part, been carpe-ing the diem. However, I am incredibly exhausted at this point, and I think a lot of the other students are as well. I remember back to Welcome Week of freshman year, how much I wanted to just start classes and have a routine with set places to go every day, and I think a lot of people here are starting to get that feeling, including my flatmate, Caroline. To give a point of comparison to anybody reading this who experienced Welcome Week, Freshers’ Week is like Welcome Week on speed. Since the drinking age in the UK is 18, almost all of the events involve alcohol in some way, and for the first several nights, there were at least 3 Uni-sponsored parties to choose from every night. In the next few nights, that will be the case as well, but the last two nights have been pretty relaxed.

In the first two days of Freshers’ Week, I went to my first ceilidh, which is a traditional Scottish dance (pronounced like kay-lee). It was so much unlike anything I have ever done in my life, and it was probably one of the most fun! When I was waiting in line to get into Teviot, one of the student union buildings, I started talking with a group of girls in front of me, and we ended up hanging out at the evening’s events. First, we waited in an enormous line for our share of the free food, of which the main attraction was, you guessed it, haggis.

Now, I had been dreading the eventual moment when I was going to have to eat haggis, but when I started to smell the food, it did not seem like a bad idea at all. Also, I was not (and still am not, really) entirely sure what haggis is. I’ve heard that you just have not to think of what it is (just like hot dogs), and it will be okay. I was imagining a sausage-like food of a nasty creamy or stomach-y color, but it just looks like ground beef. So, I got my plate with my haggis, stovies, tatties, and maybe some other kind of food but I can’t really remember what anything was called, and we all sat down. Here’s the kicker: haggis is DELICIOUS. It’s kind of spicy, and warm and comfort food-y, and just really yummy. As are stovies (I think it’s some sort of root vegetable mashup stuff), and tatties (mashed potatoes). Haggis really just reminded me of shepherd’s pie. So, with that conquered, I went on to my next authentically Scottish experience, the ceilidh.

There were so many people crammed into the room, and we had had to sneak in, since it was full. Anyway, I guess a ceilidh is sort of like country dancing, because there’s a lot of swinging your partner round and round involved, and everybody’s kind of in a line. The wonderful thing is that in all of that swinging round, you meet loads of folks in a night. I could tell that the two Scottish girls who were in my group were a little frustrated with the rest of us for not catching on too quickly to how certain dances went, but we were all having fun, even if we were doing it wrong. There was one that I felt I was doing okay at, but then when we switched partners and I was dancing with this one guy who seemed to be an expert, my self-confidence failed a little. Then, we went back to dancing in a big group and it was good again!

So much has been going on that I can’t really remember what day anything happened, but at some point between Sunday and Monday, I went to Edinburgh Castle. I was pretty excited about seeing Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers, and just in general seeing the castle. It was as cool as I had hoped! The castle is a mish-mosh of buildings from various time periods and monarchs, all the way up to the present day. It houses an active regiment, and affords some gorgeous views of the city and the Firth of Forth. Luckily, it was another beautiful day, and at that point, I still hadn’t experienced any of the bad weather for which Scotland is rather well known.

On Monday, there was a West Coast Swing taster session. I was so jazzed to be able to dance again. Of course, it was all incredibly simple and we didn’t get to do any free dancing or anything, but it was still nice. There’s a social dance tomorrow night, I think. Otherwise, there are a lot of venues for swing dancing around the city. After that, the main event was the Headphones Party. Again, none of my flatmates wanted to go, but a girl from my program met up with me, and we went. It started late, which caused us to be the first to show up, which was super awkward, but then, the whole point of a headphones party is pretty awkward. Everybody gets a headset, and the radio station DJs from like 9 pm to 3 am, with two channels to choose from. So, it’s a “quiet” dance. It was hilarious to take off my headphones and just watch everybody rocking out, or sing along to Don’t Stop Believin’, or do the YMCA with no music. I’m so glad I went, because we met a cool third year and a PhD student who invited us to their house party this weekend, so we’ll get to meet some more people who are our own age.

This morning, I felt so exhausted that I decided to get caught up on Mad Men rather than going out and doing things. That is, until I remembered the Pope was coming to Edinburgh. Now, I have no particular interest in the Pope or Catholicism, and those of you who know me well know that I quite actively disagree with most of the man’s policies, beliefs, and general mores, and I certainly don’t approve of his past Nazism, but I really wanted to see the Popemobile. Don’t ask me why, but I think it’s super awesome that there is actually something called a “popemobile.” I would like a bulletproof “Claudiamobile” and to have somebody drive me around in it. So, Katherine and I trekked down to Princes’ Street as fast as we could, and caught most of the parade leading up to the Papal visit. There were so many tiny bagpipers, it was absolutely adorable. It got pretty chilly in the half hour between the end of that and the arrival of the Pope, but he finally rode past, and I caught a glimpse of the fabled popemobile, so I left happy.

When we got home, we decided to drink the Irn Bru we had purchased earlier. Basically, Irn Bru is this beverage that is so bad for you they don’t sell it in the US, which is really saying something about it. Caroline tells me that they are known for their controversial ad campaigns. Irn Bru tastes sort of like bubblegum mixed with cola, but not really. It’s just really, really sweet. And also bright orange, but it doesn’t taste like orange. I can’t decide if I like it or if I hate it. It’s just soooo sweet. It certainly improved when paired with a sandwich.

I meant to go to a chocolate party tonight, but we left too late, and missed out on all the chocolate. I thought about going to a ceilidh, but I was really tired so I just came back to my flat and decided to catch up on my blogging. Tomorrow there is the freeshop, where I’m hoping to obtain a bicycle, some dishes, and maybe a towel hanger or something. It’s also picnic day for many societies I’d like to join, so I’ll have to pick and choose wisely. I was thinking about going to play with the rugby team, but I don’t think I’m going to do it. I don’t really have proper athletic shoes or anything, plus I don’t feel like getting beat up. I had a go at archery the other day, and the guy told me I did pretty well and I should come back to have another go on Monday.

Speaking of classes, it turns out that Early Vergil is not being offered, and Cicero the Advocate conflicts with Scotland and Orality, the folk history class I really want to take. So, I enrolled in “City of Rome,” which looks really interesting, but is only general Classics, and not Latin. This means that I’ll have to take one more Latin course at the U when I get back, but that’s not a big deal, ’cause I’d have had to take a classics class otherwise. Here’s the observation part: they’ve been telling us that we’ll probably get 60’s–70’s as grades, because you start from zero and work up here, whereas in the US you go from 100 down. Now, I thought this was going to be horrible, but one of the girls I was talking to today said she thought it would be horrible the US way, because you’d be under so much pressure. The UK way, anything you do is an achievement, and so it’s easier/more rewarding to have grades that way. I had never even thought about that. In the US it’s about taking away points/punishing the student for doing something wrong, and in the UK it’s about earning marks for doing things properly. Interesting.

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