1. It tells of very real historical events (no fluff) but reads like a novel
2. I learned more about the Revolutionary War and the idealogy behind it reading this book than I did during 3 years of high school history and a semester of "American Heritage" in college
3. The manner of speaking & writing of the early Americans/British has inspired me to be much more eloquent and expressive
4. Okay, I'm really not going to write 1776 reasons, just 3. But this is a terrific investigation into the beginnings of the American Revolution.
McCullough described it as being "about Washington and the army and the war. It's the nadir, the low point of the United States of America." The author researched extensively in both the US and the UK, and knew so many details about so many things -- the characters, the landscape, the mood of both Great Britain and the colonies. He culled journal entries, personal correspondence, memos, nearly everything imaginable for details of the momentous 12 months in the fight for independence. McCullough honors Washington in the character he describes, but also lets us see his shortcomings. I felt like I came to understand the man because we get to read his own words, and then McCullough fills in the gaps with information from others who knew Washington best. I also felt that McCullough gave very fair treatment to the Mother land, and especially King George III, and their reasons for engaging the "petulant subjects" in war. This was a great book, and I can't wait to get home and read some of McCullough's other books, Truman and John Adams.
In other news, I went to the beautiful and historic Swiss town of St. Gallen with Erin and Daniel on Wednesday. Apparently, an Irish monk named Gallus felt he received a sign from God and formed a hermitage in what is now St. Gallen in the year 612. The city is famous for its library, formed in the 830's, and became wealthy due to the booming business of hand embroidery. Crazy swiss embroidery people. The library is, well, old, and I have to admit I was taken aback by the dead stuffed animals (lots and lots of taxidermy ... they said it was art) but it was amazing to see nonetheless. The entire thing is constructed of wood, and we were informed that St. Gallen has a whole fire department unit on call in case the building spontaenously combusts.
Matt and Erin beat me in FIFA 2004 tonight (badly--I think I need to learn how to pass), but it's okay because tomorrow we go to Munich (Augsburg, then Dachau, then Munich). My grandparents on my mom's sides are from Augsburg, so we're going to attempt to find the house my grandma lived in. And the Christmas markets are just starting up in Germany, so we'll be able to see those too. AND I'm supposed to try German liver dumpling soup... I can't wait. Mmmmm, liver.
"Look at this! Yes! Combination _____ and coffee maker, also makes Julienne fries. Will not break! (taps it on table) Will not... (it falls apart) It broke! "
What does he say after "combination" and before "and coffee maker?" I have to admit that I've never really known. But my trip to London finally solved the mystery of the missing Aladdin word... it's Hookah! I'll explain.
My first night in London, my friend Sokphal took me to quite the international party--she has a Spanish friend who teaches her Spanish in return for teaching him English. He hosted a little party at his house out in Zone 3 (a little ways outside of downtown London) so we went and I met lots of great international people. Represented were the following countries: Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, Germany, and the USA. Most of them are in London working or studying, and are learning English through their associations with each other and the Brits. So, the hookah: on a table in the back of the room sat a large water pipe... now I know what a water pipe is (an Eastern smoking pipe designed with a long tube passing through an urn of water that cools the smoke as it is drawn through), but didn't realize that it's other name was hookah. Mystery solved--Combination hookah and coffee maker! You're welcome. And don't worry, there was no smoking of the hookah for me.
The rest of my London excursion was incredible/fast paced. I tried to cram in as much as I could, starting with a walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Garden on Sunday after the Hyde Park Stake Conference that morning.
That night I saw the London tower and the Tower Bridge, and walked through a winding photographic exhibition along the Thames that featured large-scale photographs of natural landscapes (http://www.earthfromtheair.com/). On Monday I got an early start and visited Palace Court, where my sister took up residence for 4 months last year. Lucky dog. Then another walk through Kensington Gardens, where I saw the Peter Pan statue...and went to the Serpentine Gallery. Their main exhibit was a 'project' done by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, contemporary Russian artists who are famous for their conceptual and installation art. This one was called "the house of dreams," where they "transform the Gallery by creating a series of distinct meditative spaces, and encourage visitors to enter into a world of fantasy and daydreams. The installation is a place for rest and quiet contemplation." If you want to know more about them, go to http://www.ilya-emilia-kabakov.com/. Very thought-provoking stuff.
Then it was on to Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards (if you've seen one, you've seen them all) but the backdrop was was incredible. There were about 17,000 tourists (give or take) there, so the next time you're in London and you want to see the COTG, I recommend getting their early to get a good seat.
I then made my way to the Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronations and burials of English monarchs since the beginning of time (well, since 1065, when the actual Abbey was constructed by Edward the Confessor). It is the burial place/memorial sight of many a great author/poet as well, in what is known as the Poet's Corner. It's times like these that I wish I would have been a History major in college. It was incredible to feel the immense historicalness of all that had taken place there.
Westminster Abbey with Big Ben in the background
A not-well-known fact: Big Ben is the informal name of the Great Bell of Westminster, the largest bell in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster. We (I) always called the whole tower/clock Big Ben, but apparently that's a bit of a misnomer. Don't worry--I'll keep calling it Big Ben.
After Westminster I met Sokphal and we went to the Tate Modern museum, opened in 2000 to celebrate the millennium. I have to admit that I don't have the greatest appreciation of Modern Art, and the Tate did little to improve that, but I got to see my first original Andy Warhol and tried a bit harder to understand angry clowns on imaginary pogo sticks. Next time I'm in London, I would like to go to the Tate Britain. The museum did have a beautiful view of the Thames and sitting/reading rooms to ponder over the mystery that is modern art.
Sokphal and I in front of the Tower Bridge
We then wandered over to Harrods (colossal department store) and then I went by myself to see Harry Potter: the Goblet of Fire at Leicester Square (where it premiered). I couldn't resist the temptation, and I thought it was the best of the Harry Potter series to date.
On Tuesday, my last day in London, I visited the Imperial War Museum where they have exhibits about every major war in which Britain has taken part, plus other special exhibits about the Holocaust, Lawrence of Arabia, and Kids in wartime, etc. The displays were incredible and I thought their treatment of the Holocaust and especially the history leading up to it so thorough. I wish I could have spent several more hours their.
I also went to a class on international war crimes with Sokphal... she is studying at City University in London. It rounded out the day. After class we went to see the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. Don't get mad at me, but I didn't know the full story line (what happens at the end) so it was great to have it revealed to me live in London. The costumes, scenery, and music were all superb, I guess as could be expected. Next time I'm in London (or New York, for that matter) I'm going to have to see Les Miserables.
Well, that's my London trip in a nutshell. I had a wonderful time and publicly thank Sokphal for being such an awesome and gracious host. Next time anyone is in London, look her up!
After lots of research, I finally figured out how to post a video (well, link my blog to a video). So, after a brief period of anticipation, you can finally watch my nephew Daniel M. Jackson taking some of his first steps. This video was taken on my camera (why it's so grainy) about three weeks ago, and he's made rather large strides since then. Now that I know how to link my blog to videos, I'll post a new and improved walking video soon.
Yesterday Erin, Danny and I went to Schlos Sargans (Sargans Castle) dating back to the 1200's and ate the perfect meal--schnitzel and streudel. Sargans is a little town about 10 minutes from where Matt & Erin live. The temperature has dropped quite a bit in the last two days, and yesterday we awoke to lots of snow on the mountains and hills surrounding the apartment. Winter has arrived in Switzy, and I have a feeling it's going to be much colder in London (see next paragraph)--better pack the leg warmers. But when I go back to Florida, we'll probably still have lows in the mid 60's, so I should take advantage of the cold weather while I can.Sargans Castle from the back
And... I am going to London this weekend to visit my friend Sokphal who is studying there! (I love RyanAir and cheap intra-European flights.) I should take notes while I'm in her presence--she's the ultimate thrifty traveler, and has introduced me to a new method of traveling called couchsurfing (see link: www.couchsurfing.com). She just returned from a trip to Portugal, and is quite the inspiration. She has a blog as well: www.carpediem16.blogspot.com.
I just finished reading a good book recommended by my friend Rita (and borrowed from my friend Ashley) called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It's about the coming of age of a girl in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century and I found it a stirring social commentary. My favorite anecdotal advice was given by the main character Francie's illiterate grandmother (in response to the question: what must I do to make a different world for my daughter?)
"The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day. I know this is the secret..."
And a different world was made for Francie. The two books Francie's mother read to her over and over again were the complete works of Shakespeare and the Holy Bible. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn compelled me to work harder and find fewer reasons to complain. (But I still woke up at 11am this morning... I love vacations and staying up late to read). Now it's time to dedicate myself to 1776 (still working on it) and A Concise History of Germany.
Aside: My sister Klarissa has gone and created her own website (to fulfill a requirement for her ISYS class, I think). She posted some beautiful pictures and some other inspiring items... if you know her (and even if you don't) and would like to see for yourself, the link is: webpub.byu.net/kj257/
I'll be back in a few days to tell all about my London adventures.
On Wednesday I ate my first authentic Bratwurst--on a piece of bread (no hotdogs buns for the Swiss!) with mustard. It was so incredibly good. And last night we all made raclette, a famously Swiss meal where you melt cheese in a grill-type thing and then pour it on your food of choice (ours was potatoes and salami). And then this morning I had a great apple streudel (a recommendation from Erin).
I'm thinking about going to London while I'm here to visit a friend who's studying there at the moment (I've never been) and I might also take a little side trip to Rome (also never seen the sights there). And then Matt & co and I are planning on going to Munich/Augsburg, Milan, and Bern during the rest of my stay. Cheers!
A few highlights from my week in NY:
~ seeing old (but incredibly good) friends--Rita, Ashley, Simmy and Jason
~ going to Cathleen's soccer game (Columbia beat Yale 2-1 and Cathleen scored the first goal of the match)
~ dressing up as a road for halloween (thanks for the idea, Gillian)
~ the NYC halloween parade
~ eating pork rolls and having pearl drinks in China town
~ going to church and to the Manhattan temple
~ going to the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I had such a good time that NYC has also been added to the list of cities to which I want to move. It's that or the Palouse. According to Chef Neve, the city of New York has more restaurants than any other state... or something like that. It has wonderful culture and diversity, and there are always so many things to do and see. Thanks to my accomodating friends who made my stay there so great.
from l to r: Lisa, Will, Don, Jason, Ashley, me, Simmy, Jack, Sarah -- at Cathleen's soccer game
I'm having a great time in New York. I had a very easy flying experience, made easier by how cool it was to fly Song Airlines. Instead of having a flight attendant say the opening spiel about safety belts and oxygen masks, they had a recording--of an Irish woman with Irish jig-type music playing in the background. Very entertaining.
When I got in to LaGuardia, I took a quick taxi to Rita's apartment in Astoria. She has a great little place and both she and Ashley were there when I arrived. After chatting for a bit, we took the metro to Ashley's place, met Simmy, and went to a Thai restaurant called Spice (aptly named). And then this morning, I played the part of 'prospective student' and accompanied Ashley to her classes at Cornell Medical school, where she is in her 2nd year. Then met Rita for lunch and then walked to the Goethe Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I vaguely recall having been there before, but it was great to get lost in the American Collections. I saw the colossal painting of Washington crossing the Deleware, made all the more poignant by my current reading of 1776.
I have really only ever seen New York City as a Christmas-time tourist (which is incredible) but it's great to see other aspects of the city,see people who live here and, as one New Yorker said, do laundy and go grocery shopping. I'm having a great time.
When my parents were called and told they didn't have to go to work on Monday, and my sister's school was closed for the day because of Hurricane Wilma, I scoffed because the storm was so far away and wasn't all that strong. But we were all taken by surprise by its outer bands and the tornado warnings and huge amounts of water that hit us here in Canaveral Groves. There were power outages all day, the longest for about 2 hours, but we made Hurricane pancakes and weathered out the storm with no major problems... and Mariah loved causing wake with her little jet-ski man after the rain stopped. I love Florida.
I will soon be taking off for New York City and will stay there with some good friends for a week. From there I will catch a flight to Zurich, Switzerland to visit my brother, his wife, and their little boy for 6 weeks, and then I'll be home for Christmas in Florida with the rest of my family. Maybe we can decorate an orange tree again this year. Post-Christmas plans still tba.