Yesterday, I received an e-mail from my advisor at 1:10am PST letting me know that I had successfully completed the requirements for my MSc in Russian & Post-Soviet Studies at the London School of Economics.
Now I can go back to London in December to parade around in a silly hat and gown. Afterwards, I plan to visit all my old pubs and drink Strongbow.
Also, it would be nice to have a job. Please?
The question over what to do with Lenin’s waxy corpse has been brought up since the fall of the Soviet Union, and today the NY Times had an article on the politics behind the decision (or lack thereof):
Revisiting a proposal that thwarted Boris N. Yeltsin, who faced down tanks but in his time as president could not persuade Russians to remove the Soviet Union’s founder from his place of honor, a senior aide to President Vladimir V. Putin raised the matter last week, saying it was time to bury the man.
“Our country has been shaken by strife, but only a few people were held accountable for that in our lifetime,” said the aide, Georgi Poltavchenko. “I do not think it is fair that those who initiated the strife remain in the center of our state near the Kremlin.”
In the unending debate about what exactly the new Russia is, the subject of Lenin resembles a Rorschach inkblot test. People project their views of their state onto him and see what they wish. And so as Mr. Poltavchenko’s suggestion has ignited fresh public sparring over Lenin’s place, both in history and in the grave, the dispute has been implicitly bizarre and a window into the state of civil society here.
As for myself, I do not have any strong feelings either way. Yes, the USSR is gone, so wouldn’t it make sense to bury the icons of the past? Yet, Russia hasn’t gone very far in this regard – visitors to the country can still pose with a multitude of Lenin statues, admire the decorative hammers and sickles in the Moscow metro, or do their best to avoid the rough-looking paratroopers sporting Soviet crests on their berets. The fact that Lenin remains in his place of honor then, is hardly surprising. On the other hand, though, this waxy corpse once played a very important part in Russia’s history. Here is, after all, the man who led a revolution that entrenched the Soviet state for over 70 years. So, perhaps from a historical viepoint, one could argue for leaving him on Red Square. Personally, as a student of Russian politics and history, I was very much looking forward to visiting Lenin’s tomb on my first trip to Moscow in 2002. Such a trip is an almost mandatory part of your first visit to Red Square, so it would seem odd to go there and not see the red and black marble structure next to the Kremlin walls. If they remove Lenin, would they also remove or demolish the mausoleum? Certainly, for historical purposes, the structure should somehow be preserved whether in its original location or through removal to a museum.
Perhaps the first step could be removing the “honors” that are currently accorded to him. Before visiting the tomb, guards search you for cameras – why not let people take pictures? At St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, you’re allowed to take pictures of the preserved Popes, so how about letting people do that with Lenin? Hell, go one step further, and follow Russian tradition by charging tourists a few rubles for a photo pass that allows them to take pictures. Also, replace the well dressed, solemn-faced guards with some slouching militsia. The last time I saw Lenin (Uh, I think it was my third – in 2003), a guard came up to my friend Luke and told him to remove his hands from his pockets because it was disrespectful (and by the way, no stopping, keep moving, no talking). Oh come on now, there’s no need for that! We can look at display cases filled with the bodies of Popes and mummies of Egyptian pharaohs without being hassled by the overzealous “respect” police…why not turn Lenin into a real tourist attraction? How about letting people visit other parts of the tomb? I would surely get a kick out of climbing to the top to get a picture of myself waving from the balcony. By changing the tomb’s environment from a respectful viewing area to a museum display, you are no longer “paying your respects” to a tyrant but rather viewing him as what he is today: a morbid tourist attraction.
Once, after we visited Lenin’s tomb, my friends and I concluded that Russia should send Lenin on a world tour. The Russian government has sent art to an exhibition in New York and the Romanov’s jewels to museums throughout the U.S., so why not do the same with Lenin. People with an interest in Russian history would surely pay $10 to visit an exhibition on Soviet history, with the man himself as the main attraction. Cheaper than visiting Moscow, right? And, needless to say, sending Lenin’s body on a for-profit tour of the major capitalist countries would be the ultimate insult to him and his twisted ideology.
Yesterday, I attended a Red Cross training class at the Palm Springs library. It was a crash course in Disaster Services, Mass Care, and Shelter Operations all rolled into one long 8-hour day. So now I am eligible for deployment to the Gulf Region (or any other disaster area, for that matter). For the preferred date of deployment I put “IMMEDIATE” but whether I am called up or not is contingent on a variety of factors. I’d really like to go, though. Watching all hell break loose in an American city while I was in London was really heartbreaking, and I wanted to do something. Now that I’m no longer a student and am now officially in the “unemployed” category (I HATE writing that on applications/forms/etc.), I have a lot of time on my hands. Looks like I wasn’t the only one, though, as there were at least three other unemployed college graduates that were in the class with me.
In the meantime, I will continue to apply for jobs…
I’ve had a few people complain that I haven’t posted anything recently…I suppose it is a bit odd that I would go a whole two weeks without posting ANYTHING, but anyone who has been to Palm Desert knows that there isn’t much to post about, compared to when I was in DC, Russia, or London. So here it goes…
No, I don’t have a job yet.
Yes, I have applied for some.
Yes, I have had A LOT of Mexican food since being here.
Yes, I’ve been to In-N-Out, but only once.
Yes, life in the Coachella Valley basically revolves around where you will eat your next meal.
Yes, it is really hot here (100+ degrees)
Yes, I miss London and would do anything to get back there short of stowing away in a big cargo ship (and maybe even then…hmmm).
Basically, I’ve been seeing a lot of friends, writing cover letters, searching company websites for open positions, reading, and…yeah, that’s about it.
This past Saturday I went to my friend Dustin’s wedding. It was at Desert Willow (a golf course here in Palm Desert). I got there a few minutes early, found a seat, and started looking around to see who I knew. But as I was scanning the crowd, I thought to myself “This is weird – I don’t recognize ANYONE here.” I soon found out that I was indeed at the wrong wedding. Damn, who knew there would be two weddings going on at the same golf course at the same time? I eventually made it to the correct wedding (yay me!) and must commend Dustin on his choice of providing free pints of Sam Adams – good choice, my man!
I’ve gone to the grocery store a few times since I’ve been back…exciting, I know, but for some reason I love walking around grocery stores. At grocery stores in the U.S., there is such a huge selection of items, it’s ridiculous. I swear to God, ONE aisle in a grocery store here carries the same amount of products as the entire Sainsbury’s Local near my dorm did…incredible…I was basically shopping at a glorified AM/PM this past year. I always like to check out the new sodas that have come out…Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper? Where did THAT come from??? An entire aisle of soda! Do we really need ALL these different sodas? (I say to myself as I load cases of Coke, Diet Coke, Diet Cherry Pepsi, and Club Soda into my grocery cart). The best part, though, is that the Von’s near my house carries Stella AND (best of all) Pilsner Urquell (Czech beer).
But, even better, is the Jensen’s down Highway 111, which carries:
– “Czechvar” (the REAL Budweiser brewed in the Czech Republic, but for legal reasons has to go by Czechvar in the U.S.)
– Blackthorn cider (not Strongbow, but close enough)
– a ton of different Fuller’s ales including London Pride
– an entire range of Belgian beers that we used to drink at the Lowlander in Covent Garden…oh, and in, uh, Brussels
So, there’s one good thing about Palm Desert.
Also, I think that I should forget about a real job and just become a Trivial Pursuit “shark” – roaming the U.S. and challenging people to play America’s favorite trivia game in seedy bars. Kim, Katerina, and I have played the game twice this past week and I added another two wins to my stellar college record. Of course, they say “Ohh, you always get the easy questions on your pies!” or “What! Your own school can’t be an answer to one of your pie questions (Q: What British school did JFK attend? A: The London School of Economics).
They want a rematch, and needless to say, I will beat them again.
Expect another update when something exciting happens…which, in this valley, is never.
During the time between handing in my dissertation and departing London, I tried to sightsee and enjoy as many pints as possible while also tying up a variety of “loose strings.” I was, in essence, a “super-tourist” who derived most of her sustenance from Strongbow and salt & vinegar crisps.
I FINALLY saw the British Museum, which I cannot believe that I failed to visit over the past year. The British Museum is absolutely amazing – there is no other museum like it in the world (well, from what I’ve seen, at least). The place is filled with artifacts that the British plundered from ancient civilizations while they were in their “Empire” phase. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia – it’s all there. The Egyptian collection was especially impressive, as I was finally able to see all the artifacts that were missing from the places I visited in Egypt (like the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, if you will). I was reminded of the episodes in which my Egyptian tour guides would point to something (a sarcophagus, statue, etc) and tell us it was actually a reproduction. “The real one,” he said, “is at the British Museum.” Oh. Well, good to know I flew all the way down here to see a reproduction of something that is located in a building a mere 15 minute walk from my school! I’ve always thought that if the Pyramids weren’t so hard to remove and transport to London, the British would have taken those out of Egypt and put them smack dab in the middle of Hyde Park.
After touring the British Museum, I saw a production of “A Few Good Men”, which I didn’t realize was actually a play that Aaron Sorkin wrote before it was turned into a movie. I thought it was the other way around. Anyways, this production is actually a play that is based on the movie which was based on a play. Weird, I know. It was also weird to see a play about the U.S. Marine Corps in London, and even weirder to see Rob Lowe in the role of Lt. Daniel Kaffee, which was played by whackjob Tom Cruise in the movie. The play was really good, though, so if you’re looking for a production in London to check out, I high recommend it. And Rob Lowe in Navy dress whites…not to be missed, TRUST ME. Also, the great thing about going to the theatre in London is that you don’t have to dress up. You can wear a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops and no one will care. The only ones that do dress up are tourists.
The next day, I went on a tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and the Roman baths (pictures up soon). Windsor Castle was great – the Queen sure does have the life, that’s for sure. Stonehenge was, well, really not too impressive. It was much smaller than I imagined, and honestly, I’m not really into that period of history. In addition, my stupid audio guide thing they give me would only work in Russian and Japanese (go figure) so I lost quite a bit while attempting to decipher the Russian. The Roman baths were awesome, mostly due to the fact that we had a great tour guide.
I also went on a tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. For a few weeks during the summer, when the Queen is at one of her 5 million or so residences throughout the United Kingdom, Buckingham Palace opens its doors to allow us commonfolk to traipse through the State Rooms. I’ve always thought that the outside of Buckingham Palace was rather bland when compared to the opulence of the Romanov palaces, but I must admit I was rather impressed with the interior of the palace.
After Buckingham, I had one last tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. I’m really going to miss the scones with jam and clotted cream…and the little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off…
For my last night in London, I met up with some friends at our favorite pub, the Anchor. I have spent a lot of time there this past year, so it was only fitting that my last pints of Strongbow and glasses of Pimm’s be enjoyed at the Anchor.
When I arrived at Heathrow airport the next morning, strangely enough, it hadn’t really hit me that I was permanently leaving (although it sure has sunk in by now) so I wasn’t feeling very sad at that moment. It’s an 11 hour flight from London to Los Angeles. As much as I complain about these long flights, sometimes, I must secretly admit that I enjoy them. I like to think of them as a mandated “relaxation” time, in which you watch five movies that you haven’t seen while the flight attendants constantly bring you sodas and candy bars. Sadly, however, I flew United, where they charge a ridiculous sum of $5 for beer and wine. An 11 hour flight, and not one free beer! I could take a 2 hour flight with CSA Czech Airlines to Prague or a 2.5 hour flight to Dubrovnik with British Airways and still get unlimited alcohol! Pathetic American carriers!
I finally arrived in LA a little after 2pm. As we flew over that city, I was reminded of how much I hate it – traffic, smog, a seething mass of nothingness. God, what an awful, ugly city – if it can even claim the title of “city” – characterless suburbs connected by multiple jammed freeways is a more apt description. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive home, that’s for sure. Leaving the plane was a disorderly procedure, as usual. How silly of me to assume that because we had landed in the U.S., we would exit the plane in a civilized fashion. You see, something I’ve learned about European traveling habits is that they don’t exit the plane in a row by row fashion like us Americans do. Instead of allowing the rows at the front to exit first, they all jockey for a position in the aisles so they can rush off the plane as soon as the cabin door is opened. If you weren’t one of the first to jump out of your seat and into the aisle, then good luck trying to get off the plane anytime soon.
When you arrive in the United States, you have to fill out a customs form which asks a variety of questions, one of which is the countries you’ve been to since you left the U.S. So, I listed them all: UK, France, Hungary, Belgium, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovinia, Montenegro, Egypt, Italy, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. The officer looked over it and said “Did you really go to all these countries?”
“Yes.” (No, I only went to one…just felt like throwing a few others in there)
“What was the purpose of your travel?”
“I went to school in the UK.”
“The London School of Economics.”
“How did you travel around to these countries?”
I’ve always wondered if, at Customs Officer training, they give them a list of stupid questions to ask, in the off chance I might slip up and admit that instead of studying in London, I was actually training at some terrorist camp in Afghanistan to wage jihad against the United States. Clearly, if I had been doing that, though, my luggage wouldn’t have been weighed down by bottles of Pimm’s, packages of McVities, and a Big Ben teapot.
It took me about an hour to clear customs and get my luggage. After that, I waited for two hours to meetup with my mom. Even the LAX airport can’t escape the ugliness that is LA. All the vinyl seats were ripped up, with the yellowed foam pouring out of them, and the rest of the terminal appeared as if it hadn’t been redecorated since the 1970s.
The traffic home was ridiculous. Where did the fast trains go? I missed the Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted Express…even the Thameslink from Blackfriars to Gatwick. The only good thing about driving home from LA is that there are plenty of opportunities to stop at In-N-Out. Of course, we did, and it was wonderful to have real American beef once again. The following day, we went out for Mexican food…real Mexican food! It’s been eight months since I’ve had it, and it was absolutely delicious…I’ve been here for exactly one week and have had it three times since.
I also had a pint of Stella a few days ago…well, a 16oz glass, as they say…they don’t call them “pints” here. I was a bit surprised to see Stella on the menu, but it just wasn’t the same…I had it at the Cheesecake Factory – a Yuppieville extraordinaire of uninspiring and bland food whose only saving grace is, well, the cheesecake.
Yeah, we’re not in London anymore.
I love the smell of toner in the morning, and watching the printer spit out warm sheets of paper that are filled with incoherent thoughts. Today a majority of grad dissertations were due, including mine. I stumbled out of bed at 8am after two or so hours of sleep, and walked to school to add the finishing touches to my paper. Printed it, bounded it, handed it in, DONE. Now I just hope I pass.
Afterwards, we had a few pints (OK, three each) at the Three Tuns, and watched as other grad students frantically raced to their various departments to hand in their dissertations at the last minute.
Oddly, this feels a bit anti-climatic. It’s good to have it out of the way, but what’s next? I leave for California next Thursday, and the more I think about it, the sadder I get. Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and family and enjoying some delicious Mexican food, but I don’t feel ready to leave London quite yet.
Tried to work on the dissertation today, but I have the worst cold known to man. Five thousands words to go, and what a great time to get sick!
Downed a liter of Sunny Delight “California Style” (was quite shocked to learn they carry Sunny Delight, and better yet, “California Style” here) but later learned through the powers of Google that the “drink orange juice” remedy is a just an old wives’ tale. Ugh.
Weather sucks, too…60s and raining HARD.
Our network over here has really been sucking, so my internet access has been rather intermittent. And no, there is nothing that I, the network advisor, can do about it.
Of course, I’m convinced that it is LSE’s way of forcing all of its grad students to work on their dissertations. If you don’t have internet access, what else are you going to use your laptops for? That’s right, open Microsoft Word and start typing. One thousand words…two thousand words…three thousand words…really, this lack of internet access does result in a substantial increase in productivity (although seems to have come to a halt now that internet is back – this post being a perfect example).
In terms of the UK being a “babysitter”, the pubs in the UK close at 11, and the tube at midnight. It’s like having a mandatory bedtime. Oh, but please, can’t we have just another pint? No, you kids have class tomorrow! Get outta here!
But…but…pubs can now apply for late licences, effective November 24.
When I won’t be here anymore. Damn.