So this should not in any sense be interpreted as an endorsement of irresponsible drinking, even though logic dictates that drinking pitchers of purple alcohol is not responsible. But I’ve been meaning to publish this collection of photos from Karin’s visit for a while. These are all Cambridge photos – at the Regal, a club where we went to celebrate the completion of a friend’s Phd. at the Cambridge Blue, where we got some autumn sun, and at the Salamander, a cute and highly recommended pub in Bath where we grabbed a pre-dinner drink.
Somewhere in the last few weeks, I celebrated the end of my first year as a UK resident. The year has really flown by, and it made me realise how much cool stuff I’ve gotten to do in the last year. When Our Friend Liz was here, she asked if we’d traveled much. We said “oh, a little…” and then reeled off a list that was much longer than we’d even been aware of. I went to Israel, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, and The Netherlands, plus some really beautiful places in the UK. I’ve done some really cool stuff in the last year. Of course, its been hard, too – moving to a new country is a grand adventure blah blah blah but its also stressful, lonely and isolating. The weather has been terrible, cold in the summer and dark in the winter, and damp all the time. And making friends is an ongoing challenge. I’ve met some really nice people and have been lucky enough to get lots of love from the states, but I don’t have a go-to group. Ian and I don’t have much opportunity to do things spur-of-the-moment if we want to invite other people and we’re not in a position to turn down invitations. That said, we do get (and reciprocate) invitations, and its rare that we go a week without a social event of some sort. I’d prefer three or four social events, but its a start. And its amazing that the desperate things I did in my first days here have paid off – when I accosted a couple looking at the same rental property, I didn’t imagine that we would still be hanging out with them a year later, but we are.
After a year of living here, I feel pretty settled: the fitness instructors at Kelsey Kerridge all know my name (I am immensely proud of that) and we even went out on the town together a few weeks ago. The guy at the Turkish market with amazing produce knows that I don’t like to use plastic bags (and they have cevapcici! SO EXCITING!). The girl at the coffee shop knows me because I have a really sweet travel mug that I bought when the local fancy furniture shop was going out of business (they also sold housewares), and she’s jealous of it. I haven’t used Google maps to navigate around Cambridge in weeks. When I moved here, I was always finding new cycle paths, but I haven’t found any new ones in months.
There were things about living here that came quickly: I got a bike and a mobile phone and a Network Rail Card and learned to use the currency without fumbling. All of that was a big deal to me – “see? I belong here! I’m legit!” but there have been more subtle recent developments, like the grocery guy recognising me. Cambridge is small and they speak my native language, but nonetheless, I know my way around here. The city has become mine, in a small way
I spent a year living in rural Pennsylvania, and while I was there I had a huge garden and a small orchard. I froze fruit, made applesauce, harvested garlic, learned to make pesto from different greens to deal with the chard that ran wild in my garden, picked berries, foraged for chives in the spring…I was just learning, so I didn’t do anything stupid like pick mushrooms, but one of my favorite parts of living in the country was how much the land gave you if you looked. Even an idiot like me could materially reduce their grocery bill just by paying attention.
Then I moved to Boston, where opportunities for gleaning were much thinner on the ground, and I was too busy to take advantage anyway. Apart from a memorable trip to pick blackberries, my time in the big city flew by in a blur of grad school and Trader Joe’s frozen meals.
Last autumn, I was too overwhelmed by the move to think about apple picking. But even though my attempts at gardening only yielded about five strawberries, it turns out Original Cambridge is full of free fruit, and apples are just the beginning (or, seasonally speaking, somewhere toward the end). Earlier this month, I wrote about plum picking at the Orchard Tea Rooms. Things have picked up speed since then, and here is a brief list:
– applesauce with apples purloined from Grantchester, used in a variety of baked goods and distributed to friends and coworkers
– a second round of apples for applesauce, apple butter, apple helppies, apple juice, and any other apple product you can recommend because
– plum freezer jam, again with purloined plums
– elderberry syrup from elderberries in the Mill Road Cemetery
– elderberry muffins
– frozen elderberries
– blackberries frozen for baked goods later in the year
Last weekend I got completely carried away with the elderberries. I strolled through the Mill Road Cemetery until I literally couldn’t carry any more, encountering two adorable small children near the Cambridge Blue, both of whom wanted to help me pick fruit. Because I wasn’t eager to be the creepy adult peddling fruit to six year olds, I said no thank you and told them it would stain their fingers – which they took as a challenge. One of the little girls, with pale skin, frekcles, purple leggings, a purple skirt, and pink crocs, held a single elderberry between four fingers and sang “look! I didn’t stain my fingers! I’m going to eat this one!”
I must have managed to strike the appropriate air of adult authority, because I gave her my best Disapproving Look and said “I would really prefer if you asked your mum first.” And she said “aw man!” but let the berry fall, and I moved on. At this point I was lugging around a giant pot literally overflowing with berries, so I slogged home and started de-stemming them. Five hours and no breaks later, I had about three pints of elderberry syrup, a purple-stained countertop, and four or five cups of elderberries for muffins (check!), freezing (check!) and leaving in the fridge too long and letting them get mouldy, thereby wasting all my hard work (check!). I’m including two pictures, including one blurry one with my face in it – for context. We are talking serious elderberry action. The pot was so big that I had trouble getting everything into the photo.
My friend Felix is a fellow of King’s College, which means that he gets to do cool stuff like walk on the grass of the college (seriously, its a thing), eat at High Table all the time, and invite me to the King’s Fellows Summer Supper Party.
It started with drinks in the King’s Chapel, which has an insane fan vault and is probably Cambridge’s #1 tourist attraction. Most people don’t get to drink wine in it, though. Then we had a very strange and mostly delicious molecular-gastronomy inspired meal (it featured truffle oil that tasted a bit like popcorn, somehow, and a mushroom doughnut). Ian took his cuff links that gave him in 2007 on their maiden voyage and I made a perfunctory attempt at conversation with the people across the table before I gave up and chatted with Felix the whole time. There were fireworks, goofy little carnival rides (including swings!), and croquet. Felix, who had never played before, schooled us – and then I got bored and started queuing up all the croquet balls and going for distance while Felix pleaded with me not to leave any divets in the grass (I only left one). I was also introduced to the sport of Wellie Wanging, which is apparently a thing: you take a rubber boot and throw it as far as you can. That’s the whole game. I thought this was a hilarious invention of King’s, but apparently its a well-known English pasttime. I was telling an English friend about the experience of the supper club and she asked if there had been wellie wanging, and I have since learned that there is a national championships with a regulation wellie. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
I’m totally grateful to Felix, who has been very generous about sharing King’s with us – peaks inside the rarefied world of Cambridge colleges are always exciting when you’re not part of the community. I like to think that showing him the non-university Cambridge is a fair trade (he only leaves King’s to go to Stansted or to our house), but I’m not sure its a fair trade. But I’ll take it!
Every place has its standard late night food. In college, my partner and his friends always ate at a particular Wendy’s when he got all snacky late at night, and in grad school his housemate would make a signature bean dip. In Chicago, tacos are the late night/early morning snack of choice. In Albany, there’s a burrito place with killer sweet potato fries, and in Cambridge, Mass, every serious night on the town ends at Hi Fi Pizza & Subs, which is disgusting but always open when you want it to be.
Cambridge and Oxford have a shared signature late night food, and last night I ate it for the first time since 2004. Its best when purchased from a truck, but the Mega Meals on Grafton St. will work in a pinch. You get fries in a really toxic styrofoam container, sprinkled with shredded mystery white cheese. You slam the top of the container shut for a few minutes, during which time the cheese melts and forms a sloppy and delicious crust across the top of the fries. And then you enjoy.
Chips & cheese aren’t just an Oxbridge thing, but I imagine that, with all the students, its a lot easier to come by in university towns. And while non-UK readers might be tempted to suggest that cheese and chips is no different from cheese fries, they would be wrong. Chips and cheese is a ritual as much as a food, and the consistency of the final product isn’t the same as what you get when you order cheese fries in the states.
Most of my favorite foods from study abroad have really held up to scrutiny: Pimms, digestive biscuits, and Smarties are all about as good as I remember. But cheesy chips really deliver when you’re hungry at midnight, the way almost nothing else can.
Alright y’all. It’s been a week since my last post – it turns out having a time-consuming job is, well, time consuming. In addition, I went to High Table at Christ College (because I’m fancy) and had a lovely meal with a collection of Brits who are a parody of themselves. I watched England beat Sweden in the Euro 2012 match at the Champion of the Thames (that’s a pub)(with one of my favorite signs). I spent an afternoon in Hunstanton, a Victorian seaside resort town in Norfolk (I would love to go back when its actually warm and sunny).Since I haven’t really had time to process all the fun things I’ve done recently, I’m sharing some photos of Cambridge from my explorations of the colleges earlier in the year. The red brick building is from Newnham College, an all-women’s college founded in the 19th century. The chapel image is from I don’t remember where. And the bridge at the bottom is a Cambridge landmark, the Mathematical Bridge, which is part of Queen’s College, Cambridge. Cambridge really is breathtakingly cute.
This weekend, I’m heading to Valencia, Spain, where my partner will be attending a conference and I will be lounging poolside while reading novels and drinking sangria.
I haven’t organized a single thing about this trip – all I have to do is show up – and its made the whole thing feel very surreal. Before we leave, we’re heading to Strawberry Fair, a big deal annual Cambridge festival. There have been goings-on in this town:a big beer festival last week, a “Town and Country Fair” next week, and a giant street party in my neighborhood at the end of June. Festival season has arrived.
Today something awesome happened: I was able to take advantage of the absolutely gorgeous weather by finagling an invite to take the King’s College punt (one of several) out for a spin. The Cam was choked with inept assholes (I include myself here) trying to steer unwieldy boats around the very narrow river with lots of trees and bridges and the occasional blind corner. It was a perfect afternoon.
(Felix and Klara, I owe you a drink).
So Ian and I had a big boring awesome married-couple Saturday: I went to yoga, we did some shopping, we ate some kick-ass mussels and calamari at a shmancy was seafood take-out on Mill Road. Then, we went to the roller derby, got falafel, and went to Avenue Q before coming home and crashing.
While Avenue Q was pretty good, the cultural highlight was the roller derby (or roller DAHBY as we later realized its pronounced here). It was the RomseyTown Rollerbillies vs. the Brighton Rockers. Roller derby is clearly an American import and all in all, I think Brits don’t really have the hang of it yet. But the music, the halftime show (hula hooping), the spanky pants and the lesbians all suggested that they’ll get there soon.
Ian and I have both been to roller derby in the states, where there was more a sense of occasion (for starters, there was beer) and the standard of skating was substantially higher. But it was funny to see a different type of Cantabriggian, including meticulously coiffed teenage lesbians and massively tattooed chavs), many of whom I don’t really encounter. All in all I think it was educational.
I’ve done a series in this blog where I’ve chronicled tiny little bits of Cambridge – doorknockers and address plates and signage – and I’ve neglected the biggest things in Cambridge – the colleges, and the churches.
Cambridge University is composed of 33 colleges, each of which have their own walled campus with residences, dining halls, libraries, common rooms, and bars (open to college students, alumni, and their guests). The colleges are the defining urban design determinant in the city; most of them (especially the old ones, in the city center) are walled, which gives the city a strange character. Its especially amazing because, as you walk around the city, you don’t realize how vast and opulent and beautiful all these places are – and then you step inside and its a whole different world. And its not like Cambridge is a crime-ridden ghetto. The colleges are oases within an oasis, which is really saying something. There are no bikes or cars in the colleges; the only detractor is the slouchy teenagers that get to live in all these places.
The collage has photos of Jesus College, the Cambridge Seminary (unaffiliated with the university – I didn’t even know it was there until we were inside), and an arts and crafts church that doesn’t look like much from the outside. I’ve been saving my College Photo collection for rainy days, and seeing as it is supposed to rain tomorrow, it seemed like a good time.
On Friday, I’ll be posting my experience watching the Romseytown RollerBillies, Cambridge’s roller derby team. And this weekend I’m headed to Cornwall (again) to check out Falmouth and go walking and see some seabirds and, if I’m lucky, to go to the Eden Project, a famous botanical garden. And also try not to kill myself and others driving a rental car. Wish me luck!