Monday, December 27, 2010

Travel Update

Well I'm writing this from the waiting area of Terminal 4 of JFK, wishing I had better news to report. We ended up braving the hair-raising (and almost completely unplowed!!) drive down to New York City this morning, only to find that airport in a state of distress unlike I have ever seen before: roads unplowed, departure boards blank, and entire shanty villages of longterm stranded passengers, wrapped up in blankets and sleeping on cardboard palettes.

Our flight isn't until 6, so hope is not et utterly lost... But it will be a bit of a miracle!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Thanks to the vagueries of New England weather (and the fact that we've had no snow at all since I've been home and now are in the middle of a blizzard), the trip to Egypt has, so far, turned out to be one giant fake out. Our flight got canceled today before the snow even started falling and got rescheduled for tomorrow morning, ignoring the fact that the worst of the snow is supposed to hit right around then. Current speculations are as far fetched as driving all the way to New York (six hours) to fly out of JFK. That may be a little too ambitious even for us, but one thing is for certain: we're not giving up yet!

I'm happily all packed up (in just one enormous suitcase and one pack! I'm a notorious over-packer and have struggled to pack for 6 months of foreign living, with climates ranging from the desert to English winter). I have a SUPER SEXY new camera with a barn-burner of a lens that I can't wait to get using in Egypt, though at the moment I'm a little intimidated by its preciousness and will freely admit that I'm a little afraid to take it out of its case!! I love my film camera dearly and don't expect it to be replaced by this new upstart, but it will be nice to have a digital camera that I can use for horses without the worries of distance (this new baby has a 400 mm zoom! Holy mama) or the limited exposures of film.

Fortunately, we haven't let the bad luck get us down. We've been:

Warming ourselves by the fire . . .
(Note: this is not a staged photo. Nope. Not at all.)

Dancing the morning away . . .
(This actually ISN'T a staged photo)

And making pasta! Actually David and Gallagher made pasta; I just gave my seal of approval.

Fingers crossed that we'll get out tomorrow!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar to Adventure Derailment

Sorry for the delay of late - I guess it's true that even the best laid plans often go to waste, and certainly the past 44 hours that I spent continuously traveling threw a bit of a wrench in my ideas for having a post a day before my departure. My dad and I had to drive down to South Carolina to drop off my two horses at a farm where they'll be spending the winter while I'm away and then tried to get back home to Massachusetts before Christmas: not a small task given the 2200 mile round trip distance we had to cover in two days! Fortunately the drive went very smoothly, though it's hard to make that much driving with that little sleep very enjoyable.

I was going to write about British Riding, Traveling, and Food on these past three days, but can probably sum up my feelings towards those things without entire posts to back myself up. Those feelings entail:

Determined. As in, even though I'm going to be 3,000 miles away from my own horse for a significant period of time for the first time EVER, I'm not going to go six months without putting a foot in an iron. I don't know yet what my involvement will be, but with God as my witness, it will be something!!

Pumped. I love traveling, and have really never seen much of England. I'm not that tempted to try to cram in all of Europe while I'm here, as I've done that a few times now on trips solely devoted to covering as much foreign soil as possible; this time I'd really like to focus on this fascinating little collection of islands and learn as much as I can about Britain (and let's throw in Ireland) as I can.

Dubious. At best. I'm a vegetarian whose two main culinary loves revolve around soul food and fresh salads; as far as I've gathered, neither of those play largely in British food whatsoever. My previous experiences with British food have been downright scarring (aubergine instead of sheet pasta in lasagna? Shrimp cocktail-flavored crisps? Sausage at every god-forsaken meal? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PLACE?!), and I really don't want to try to live off of soggy British chips for six months. I've heard there's a good falafel van in Oxford (and I LOVE a good falafel), but I'll go insane if that's it. I spend a good portion of each and every day thinking about food, and so will be rather put out if England turns out to the be the culinary wasteland of which the legends warn.

So that's really about it. I've got patches of tomorrow (when I won't be tied up in family commitments) and Boxing Day morning to fit my entire life into one large suitcase and a single hiking backpack; I've given up thinking that I could prepare for the whole trip in one go, and have now split things into piles that I'll change out at spring break. Of course, no matter what Rational Me tries to say, Stubborn Me always manages to find a way to put a positively absurd amount of books into the "pack pile," so I'm going to have to spend much of that time convincing myself that I do NOT in fact have need for every cookbook I've ever taken a recipe out of for a six month sojourn where I probably won't even be doing much cooking. After that, the clothes debate is almost a relief! Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar to Adventure Part 5: Solstice

(photo by me... which all further photographs will be unless otherwise noted)

Happy solstice! It's the shortest day of the year and, in the Erickson family tradition, we spent the evening pushing back the night with the biggest bonfire we could muster. There may be a lot of winter ahead of us, but it's all brighter from here.

Advent Calendar to Adventure Part 4: My Oxford Tutorial

And a hard rain fell.
And a hard rain fell.

It's hard to believe, but those two sentences lie profoundly at the heart of who I am as a scholar today. How? Let's take a flashback to September 2006. I was a senior at Middlesex, running my last season of cross country (badly) and getting stressed out over college applications. I was taking a pretty average load of courses, but was extra excited about one in particular: AP Art History. I'd taken the required introductory Art History class as a sophomore, and had liked it enough to pique my interest in taking the AP level my senior year but not much beyond that; I was more interested because I'd heard legendary stories of the course's teacher--who also happened to be my cross country and track coach. So really, when I sat down for my first Art history lecture, my expectations were high, yes, but I wasn't sold at all that this would be a subject that I would have more than a passing interest in.

After going through the basics of formal analysis and the initial mysteries of cave paintings and the Venus of Willendorf, we turned to a land that I had never even heard of before: a civilization of sun and sand, of now-lost fertile valleys, of ritual and technology all before even the mighty Egyptians--ancient Mesopotamia and specifically Sumeria. I admit, before that fall I couldn't have accurately described to you the location or significance of Mesopotamia, but I listened now with rapt attention. Everything we looked at seemed more beautiful than that which had preceded it: vast and ordered ziggurats, beautifully carved reliefs, little votive statues of clay, masks of bronze, and finally the largest statues of stone.

But it was really the cuneiform that got me. I have always been an extremely tactile person-- the halls of my high school were lined with carved plaques, and I think I could have spent every hour of every day of my four years there just running my hands over them and would have counted it a worthwhile experience. So, when our teacher brought in actual cuneiform tablets for us to examine in class, it was a revelation. Here, for the first time, art was something I could touch and hold, not merely a flickering image on a screen or something roped off in a museum to protect from wandering fingers. The tablets were so precious, so perfect, and with them in my hand I felt profoundly connected to a vastness of space and time in a way I'd never understood before. It was magic.

At that same time, my teacher mentioned the epic of Gilgamesh, written on stone tablets and long lost to the ages but now refound and restored. My interested piqued, I went over to the library and picked up a copy. I read it all in one night, absolutely enthralled from cover to cover; it was amazing, just as ordered and yet mysterious as the art itself, and I reveled in imagining the words I was looking at written on those very same hand-sized tablets I had held in class. The two sentences from the top of this post are from the passage after Enkidu is killed and Gilgamesh is mourning his death, and I can't explain why completely but I was very nearly overwhelmed when I read them. The work was moving and powerful to me in a way no other ancient work had ever been, and I knew then that I could be happy studying this culture forever.

So now, fast forward three years and change. I'm taking a class in comics (because yes, THAT'S real), and we're talking about origin stories. By this point, I'm deep into my life as an Art History major, studying 18th Century art and falling in love (in spite of myself) with Gilles and the rest of Watteau's work, and I suddenly realized how far I was from my own origin story. I never would have taken this path if it had not been for those small stone tablets, and I felt a sudden, desperate need to reconnect with that magic that had started it all.

Stanford, unfortunately, has no program in Sumerian whatsoever. Even Oxford, a university with a renowned ancient Middle Eastern department, has only one professor in the specific area of my interest. So, I feel very very lucky that they have even one! Within my tutorial, I'm going to be studying Ancient Sumerian History and Material Culture (a title so chewy I just love throwing it out there wherever I can, hah), and will also be getting a chance to participate in a museum class that will be examining and handling cuneiform tablets. I think I just discovered my vision of heaven.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar to Adventure Part 3: Britain Top 10

I've got a long list of things that I want to see and do in Britain outside of Oxford (that's only getting longer the more Bill Bryson I read, and that I'm sure will explode once I'm actually on British soil!). But, here is a "Top 10" of sorts of things that I'm just turning green over:

10. Cinerama at the Pictureville Cinema, Bradford

Now I know this one sounds a bit random to start off, and I admit fully that I've only ever heard of this place through Bill Bryson's Notes From a Small Island, but man does it sound cool! Cinerama was a precursor to modern 3D film technology that used three separate projectors converging on one very big wide screen to simulate 3D effects. Apparently it was very crisp, lush, and cool, but the costs were such that very few Cinerama-equipped theaters were ever built. The Pictureville Cinema is now one of only 2 (I believe) theaters in the world that can play Cinerama, and I want to see it! I love going to the Stanford Theater back in California, so I'm hoping to go here as my British homage to that delight.

9. The Scottish Highlands

Misty moors, castles perched on little inhospitable islands, lochs in and of themselves, lush green valleys, the land of sheep and wool, and some of the best accents on the planet: ahh Scotland, you are a tempting mistress. I'd really love to ride around Scotland, as even looking at pictures of those big open swaths of green make me twinge for a good galloping horse, but I'd also be perfectly happy to see it on foot.

8. The Dorset Coastpath

When I was living on the central coast last winter, one of my biggest joys was going to the sea and driving along the flat part of Highway 1 between San Luis and Ragged Point, where the road hugs the shore and the coastal mountains are held at bay by the most unspeakably gorgeous green winter slopes and hills (instead of further up 1, where the mountains come rushing up and you end up winding vertiginously along the face of a 300 foot drop... not my cup of tea exactly). In the south of England, there is (apparently) a lovely walking path along the Dorset coast that gives great views of cliffs, waves, and rolling English countryside beyond. If it's even a fraction as lovely as San Simeon, then I'm sold.

7. Durham Cathedral

I'll admit fully, I'm a sucker for a good cathedral. I'm not religious at all, but there is something about gothic cathedrals that is just magical: they're so big and brooding on the outside, but then you step in and suddenly feel like you might float right off the floor if you don't keep your wits about you, such is the sensation of steep upward ascension and lightness. I always read about this phenomenon but never really believed it until I experienced it firsthand this summer in the French cathedrals at Bayeux, Chartres, and a dozen places around Paris (I spent two days just walking from one to the next with no other stops whatsoever; I was a cathedral-induced-head-rush addict). I've never been to a proper English cathedral, and Durham is supposed to be one of the country's finest; I can't wait to see it in person!

6. The Royal Wedding!!!!

(As an aside, this picture=just oozing class)

I don't know a stitch about the royals except for the fact that the two princes both play polo (serious plus) and that the British tabloids just looove getting as many pictures of Zara Phillips falling off as possible and putting them on the front pages of major newspapers. But, I have learned that, on 29 April, William will be marrying Kate. And this Kate will be watching.

5. Blenheim

Blenheim Palace is the home of one of England's most prestigious CCI*** events; that event, however, isn't until September, so I'll probably have to visit without it. The palace also has incredibly impressive grounds (the definition of the British Idyllic fantasy, complete with staged vistas and picturesque "Roman Temples"!) and interiors that I studied last fall in 18th Century Art, and so would love to see in the flesh. So, even if I can't see Blenheim with the incomparable addition of horses, I think it will certainly be worth the trip.

4. Foxhunting

Well, I might have to (want to?) go to Ireland for this one, but that makes it no less important. My favorite activity on this entire planet is going out for a gallop in open country on a good, fit horse. Foxhunting in England/Ireland is the epitome of that activity... with massive stone walls and hedges thrown in, just for a little adrenaline boost! No but seriously, I can't imagine a better way to see the countryside. Especially in my likely-to-be highly horse-deprived state, this is VERY high on the priority list!

3. Bramham

Bramham, like Blenheim, is not only one of England's most prestigious three day events but also happens to take place on the grounds of one of the finest noble homes in the country. Unlike Blenheim, Bramham takes place in June, which means I can actually see it in competition mode! The courses are supposed to be challenging, the atmosphere electric, and the setting absolutely lovely. What's not to love?

2. Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a four day festival of steeplechasing that is probably second only to the Grand National in fame (and I think within Britain probably the Gold Cup holds more sway). As a kid growing up reading Horse and Hound, the British version of The Chronicle (but with much more steeplechase coverage), I always got totally sucked into the frenzy surrounding the lead up and results of the Gold Cup. It would be such a dream to actually get to go and see it in the flesh! Steeplechase racing has got to be one of the more incredible feats of human guts and equine athleticism out there; it's absolutely heart-pounding to even watch tapes of the great races, and so I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like in person (besides AWESOME).

1. Badminton

Need I say more? For any eventer, Badminton is the event to end all events, the ultimate meccha of the sport up to which all lesser competitions look. This past fall I got to see international standard competition for the first time, and was utterly thrilled at the excitement and beauty of what I witnessed; if there is any place to go to try to experience that high again, it will be at Badminton. Hopefully there will be some Americans to cheer on and some good weather to do it in!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar to Adventure Part 2: Egypt

So Oxford term begins on 4 January, but the adventure begins on 26 December. Where will we be in that intervening time? Oh, I don't know, a little place called. . .


This has been a dream destination of mine since before I can remember, and as I've gotten older its appeal has only grown: pyramids, colossal statuary, the lasting relics of one of most powerful civilizations on the planet-- what's not to love?? This Christmas, after (literal) years of hoping and planning, my family will be actually be going there! Talk about a dream come true.

I won't try to project too much into what I'm going to enjoy most or what experiences I'm going to have, but here are just a few things that I'm going to get to see:

(Colossal statues of Ramses at Memphis)


(Hatshepsut's temple)

Egyptian studies don't quite overlap with my own focus in Art History, but they're close enough to still definitely pique my interest: the complex symbolic language, the integral relationship between art and power, and the fascinating way that graphic and sculptural techniques combine to form a complete system of meaning whose whole is far greater than a sum of its parts. I've been lucky enough to see some very beautiful Egyptian art in museums, but--as I've learned a few times now-- all art is more powerful in its proper situ, and so I'm positively bursting to see these sites in their proper place (even if I can't see them in their proper time!).

Not to mention that it will be nice to go somewhere warm and sunny between December in Massachusetts behind me and a whole winter in England to look forward to!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Calendar to Adventure Part 1: Introduction

Well, I think it's finally time to get started: after almost nine months of impatient waiting and ever-growing excitement, the adventure is finally about to begin.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, it might be helpful to know who I am and what I'm doing here in this little corner of the interwebz. My name is Kate and I'm a junior at Stanford University, double majoring in Art History and Studio Art (is this the most useless double major of all time? Quite possibly. Is it what makes me happier than any other field of study out there? Most definitely! So who cares about silly little things like jobs... right??).

(This is my idea of high excitement! Except really)

My main passion outside of school lies in horses, both on the farm in Massachusetts where I grew up (and still call home), in the two wonderful horses I currently own and compete, and on the Stanford dressage and polo teams. I've taken several breaks in my schoolwork to pursue riding full time, and even though I've decided that the professional life is not one that I'd ever like to pursue, I've realized that horses are a fundamental part of who I am, and to be with them is to be most perfectly myself.

(Horses have been a key part of my life for as long as I can remember)

(Pa and I with the statue of one of my idols, Bruce Davidson , at the Kentucky Horse Park)

This past spring, I was accepted into a six-month study abroad program through Stanford at Oxford University. I will be able to participate in real tutorials with Oxford professors, studying ancient Sumerian history and material culture (my favorite period of art!); it's an unbelievable opportunity and I'm just bursting with excitement to get started! I'm ready to work hard, read probably more than I ever have in my life, and grow both as an analytical writer and as a historian. Especially because Sumerian Art is not taught at Stanford, I can't wait to get one-on-one instruction in this field at one of the finest academic institutions in the world (even if it isn't my own beloved university!).

(Goodbye Stanny...)

(... Hello, Oxford!)

I hope this blog will serve as a record of my adventures, both academic and not: my searches through old libraries, around the hallowed grounds of Oxford, and over the green hills of England-- hopefully at least once on horseback!! It's going to be a whole new experience to be away from my horses for such an extended period of time, but I'm ready to take on the challenge: England is a horsey meccha, and so I feel strongly that if I really put my mind to it, I can find a way to keep these wonderful animals in my life while I'm abroad... even if it's not in the ways that I'm used to!
(One of the ways I'm hoping to get some horsey interaction is through polo; I just played in my first match this past November and am hungry for more!)

Today marks the 10-day countdown to the start of the adventure. So, in the spirit of Christmas, I'm going to try to do a sort of advent calendar, with each day highlighting something that I'm thinking about, stressing about, looking forward to, etc.

Let's get started!

(Me and Ringo)

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Now the first of December was covered with snow;
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
Though the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting,
With ten miles behind me,
And ten thousand more to go. . .

Let's start the journey: away from the Promised Land, and into the mists of older, half-forgotten territories.