Thursday, May 20, 2010

Northampton, Massachusetts: Welcome to Lesbianville

That's right, folks. I'm back in America and I brought some crazy European germs with me! At least I got three seats to myself to lay down and sleep on the plane. I've been sick for three weeks and after visiting two doctors three times and getting sent for two rounds of blood tests, they're thinking it's mono. When I get the results from the second round of tests I'll know for sure. I've broken out in a rash all over my body, blew some mystery solid material out of my nose yesterday that at first I was convinced was actually a part of my lung, have something seriously fucked up going on in the back of my throat that looks like leprosy and am on my second round of steroids. Needless to say, it's been fun and I've never slept so long or been so sick in my life!

You didn't think I'd be done blogging just because I'm back in America, right? This might just be a year for me to recover, replenish my very empty bank account and rapidly learn German (more on this later), but I'd probably die without adventures. First up: Northampton, Massachusetts!

Let me tell you a few fun facts about Northampton. It has the largest number of lesbian households per capita in the entire nation ( My first year there, Coldstone Creamery, the major ice cream chain, went out of business to the local ice cream place called Herrell's. All of the chain stores are hidden on one road away from the center of town. There is an acapella group in town called the Raging Grannies and they are grannies that sing about peace, justice, and how much they hate George Bush. Northampton is the first place I've ever been proud to live. You cannot throw a stone here without hitting a trendy coffee shop. Or a lesbian. Of course NoHo has its problems, but I like it here.

It's in the Pioneer Valley and is home to the one and only Smith College, my alma mater. Smith is a women's college of less than 3,000 undergraduates. They call it a mini Ivy League and boy, did it kick my ass for that title. There was one time during finals that I burst into tears in the dining hall because a piece of broccoli fell off my plate and that, my friends, was the last straw left of my sanity. Also in the area are four other universities: Mount Holyoke, which is also a women's college; Hampshire, the hippie one that doesn't have grades; Amherst, the preppy one and last but not least; UMass, the much bigger state school. Students at any of these schools can take classes at any of the others. Smith is the Gay One.

A picture of part of Main Street in Northampton that I stole from the internet. The best game to play while walking around NoHo is called "Lesbian or 14 year old boy?" I mean this in the best possible way, I love me some lesbians.

During my 3 years at Smith College (I went abroad), I lived in Tyler House on Green Street, which was an old estate from the 1800s that Smith bought from super rich people. The areas of campus are Green Street, where the quiet nerdy kids allegedly live (except we know how to do it in Tyler), the Quad, where the straight girls and parties are and Upper and Lower Elm, where the hipsters are alleged to live. We don't do "dorms" and instead have 36 smaller houses. Most people stay in their house their entire time at Smith if they like it and we elect and govern ourselves leading to a general sense of house community (and house booty). Tyler was pretty bangin' because we had a dining hall and were right near the gym and academic buildings, so I could be really, really lazy. At one point someone stole a key to the dining hall and during finals we would break into the kitchen and make ourselves really big sandwiches and sodas.

Tyler House

We have Paradise Pond (really part of the Mill River that was dammed off) on campus and our own waterfall! During Spring and Fall you can canoe and kayak on the pond for free if you're a student, alum or friend!

At Smith, we are a very self-selecting bunch. Rather than throw keg parties and go clubbing all the time we like to do things like this:

Pin the Body Part on the Androgynous Being and,

Make really big blanket forts that take up the entire living room and have a TV in them! Say hello to Charlotte.

Fall is the best season in New England, the area of the States that Massachusetts is part of. Here is a walking bridge on campus leading to the Athletic Fields. Smith campus is pretty.

Now that you've had a primer on Northampton and are getting a feel for Smith College, I'll start telling you about my adventure. Though I was sick and ailing, my doctor prescribed me steroids so I headed up to for Senior Week (re: giant week of partying and adventures before graduation where seniors are allowed to stay on campus after finals) and Commencement (graduation). I booked my flight back to America specifically for this, only giving myself enough days to recover from jetlag, so I was pretty pissed when I got sick, but I went anyway!

The first thing I did honestly was go to the Co-Op because one Miranda M. was too busy being an outdoors kid, kayaking in Greenfield, MA to let me in. It's okay though, because I got some vegan chicken and beef boullions, dried apricots and 2 free sample boxes of iced tea! The first thing I did when she got back and let me into her room was a) say hi and b) order Taipei & Tokyo. At Smith, I ordered so much sushi delivery from them they knew who I was. Oops.

Before an adventure to Brattleboro, Vermont, Miranda discovered that one of the big trees outside Tyler House had fallen down in a storm. We also tend to hug trees at Smith. But really, this thing was massive, good it didn't fall on somebody's car.

This is in Brattleboro, Vermont, which is about a 40 minute drive away. We occasionally go there to checkout the Twilight Tea Lounge, an awesome tea place that has over 100 types of tea and baked goodies. It's still awesome, but not quite as great since they moved locations this year. This river and that mountain are pretty much in the center of town. Brattleboro is basically a more rugged version of Northampton.

In Northampton there is a store called Acme. It sells things that wouldn't sell at other stores. Things like these baby doll body parts that have penises. We like to walk though this store in Thornes for amusement. And to buy cheap things.

On one such trip to Acme, Amy bought these animal noses. So we all put them on and walked through town back to campus. Amy was a condor.

You wish you were this cool. Me, Alli and Amy. Or should I say, Dolphin, Dinosaur and Condor.

Alli (left) and Celine. Do you sense a theme with the noses? Because there is no work to do during Senior Week and Smithies don't know what to do without work, we can be pretty creative with our adventures. On one occasion Alli and I made a mad rush to Target before it closed. Without further plans, we sauntered across to Buffalo Wild Wings. Let me set the scene here. Buffalo Wild Wings is near UMass, so it was filled with frat boys watching sports and their straight girlfriends. Some of us may be straight, but we don't look it and are lost in frat culture. Don't get me wrong though, Smithies can play a mean game of Beer Pong. We stuck out like a sore thumb and it was awesome.

Katie, Amy and Celine met up with us. They thought we'd get drunk. As two of us were underage and I was sick, we had another idea. Alli and I had realized that the establishment had unlimited soda refills, so instead we had a contest to see who could drink the most sodas. I said I would drink 15, I mean, you just pee it out right? I don't drink soda much. This ended up being far more entertaining than being drunk, as we just chugged soda, peed all the time and then giggled for hours from our sugar highs. As a table, we only drank 11 sodas. I drank 2.5. Shut up, things are bigger in America. Those cups were as big as my face. Alli won. In the bathroom I overheard such conversations as "Megan thinks Joe likes her and it's like, totally hilarious because he, like, thinks she's disgusting!".

I also saw this awesome advertisement that said "Mo-He-Toe: Congrats. You're now bilingual". Good, I'm happy it was that easy.

Katie! Reunited! This lady puts the fab in fabulous. We talked about poop and ate Taco Bell and it was pretty much amazing. There was also a trip to Montague Book Mill in there somewhere. Books you don't need in a place you can't find.

Christine (center) gave about 15 massages one night. This is Miranda's (left) look of pain. Christine doesn't mess with her massages. Anna's (right) massage is not quite as painful.

On a super exciting note, the lovely Gina, my TEFL Worldwide comrade whom I met in Prague, lives 45 minutes away in Connecticut and drove out to visit me. We went to Cafe Evolution, a wonderful all-vegan cafe in nearby Florence, MA for lunch and took an adventure through Smith's Plant House, which is massive and boasts such things as banana trees, a rubber tree, tea plant, coffee tree, cacao tree, venus fly traps and tons of orchids. This is us and and a pretty special plant with little squishy balls on it.

This is me petting a really hairy cactus in the Lyman Plant House on campus.

And I'll leave you with this, the chapel on Smith campus is called the Helen Hills Hills Chapel. Why? Because she married her cousin (Hills HILLS). Someone decided the "Chapel" of Helen "Hills Hills" was tired of being the third wheel, so they added a little somethin', renaming it "Helen Hills Hills Chapel Chapel". Nice one.

I ended up getting too sick to stay for Commencement, which killed me because Rachel Maddow was giving the Commencement address, which you all should WATCH HERE! I think my favorite line is:

...Al Capone rose from humble beginnings in Brooklyn to build a huge crime empire that essentially owned Chicago during Prohibition -- a personal triumph.

All these people dream their dreams and work hard and achieve their dreams.

Some dreams are bad dreams...

You should all watch that video up there though. Not only is Rachel Maddow a flaming hot homo, she's hella smart.

Image of Rachel Maddow (a la The Rachel Maddow Show), a political commentator who rose to national prominence after launching her career on local radio, stolen from Google Images.

I could write about Smith and Northampton forever (and farm lesbians), but you get the idea. I just might though, as I plan to move back to Northampton in August for the year since I cannot survive more than a month or so on Long Island. I'll hopefully be auditing intermediate German at Smith (once I get permission from the instructor), working to save up money and bein' a big gay before heading back to Europe (hopefully on a Fulbright grant this time)! I'll probably write more on this and my constantly changing plans in another post.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Brighton, England

I got from Liverpool to Brighton for £6. How awesome is that? Sure, I had to pay to put a bit more money on my Oyster card to ride from the train station to the bus station in London and to ride the bus in Brighton when I didn't want to carry my luggage and the groceries Lisa and I bought up Elm Grove (re: the never-ending hill to get to her house), but I'm still pretty damn proud of myself. I got a Megatrain from Liverpool to London for £5 and then a National Express funfare from London to Brighton (2 hours) for £1. Win. If I had wanted to wake up freakishly early enough to take an 8:30 am train, that would've been only £1 as well.

Sadly though, almost immediately upon my arrival to Brighton my camera stopped working mysteriously. This is probably because I tend to just throw it in my bag without a case and hope for the best, but it did last me 4 years. Since I lived in Brighton for a year in 2007-2008 and was around both last summer for Pride and in December for Christmas I have enough pictures to give you a taste of this wonderful town.

So what did I do in Brighton? Well, mostly I sat on Lisa's couch and studied German. No really, I'm pretty boring. After four months of traveling, I was tired of being a tourist. I did live here a year already, so it was nice to just have some down time. Plus all my friends were finishing their dissertations and studying for exams, which motivated me to study for the fake German exam I have in my head (re: speaking to a Smith professor in May so she can evaluate my likelihood of learning enough German to qualify for the Fulbright). I popped into Allsorts Tuesday to say hello (a queer youth group in town I joined when I was studying at Sussex, which gives you free dinner!), went out to Legends at some point with Lisa, Elea and their friends, got my hairz did, FINALLY got my free coffee at Red Roaster and ate way too many vegan Co-op custard and jam doughuts. Two packages for £1 is really the death of me.

On April 30th Emma W drove Emma K and me into London to Emma K's house. We made a wrong turn and ended up having to drive through the center of London, which took like 5 billion hours, but it was a nice tour! Once we got to Emma's house we met up with her sister Holly and her Mom and headed to this restaurant near Camden Town that was supposed to have crazy good ice cream for Emma K's birthday. Being vegan, I went for the sorbet with fresh bananas and it was super yummy. Mostly I was a giant sick face my last several days in England as one of my glands swelled up super big and I seemed to develop a fever (for 10 days), which I'll go more into later. Germs suck.

Here's some past times in Brighton for ya:

Lisa (former flatmate at Sussex Uni), Lizzie and me last summer at the Marlborough, this mostly lesbian pub we used to live at the year I lived in Brighton (they had free pool!).

Walking along Brighton Pier, which is full of fried snacks, candy, arcades and rides!

Last summer from the left Lucy, Emma W and Helen. Brighton has a rock beach, which everyone but me seems to hate. What I hate, however, is getting sand all over my body. I finally swam in the sea in Brighton for the first time last August!

At Brighton Pride last summer, which is basically the gayest gay that ever gayed. The entire town shuts down for this, tooooons of people flock to the city and then everyone follows the parade to Preston Park at the end, which is MASSIVE and filled with outdoor clubbing tents, giant rides, lots of stands with food, condoms, t-shirts, sex toys, etc. It was freaking massive. The only negative part was if you had to pee (I did) you had to wait FOREVER and toilet paper was scarce. Also, it rained on our parade that year. I thought this reference to Little Britain was especially funny. The Oldest Gay in the Village.

Lisa and I last summer at The George, a vegetarian pub I was obsessed with that had the best pub quiz EVER and the best vegan nachos everrrr. I freaking love me some vegan nachos. This is likely us after devouring an entire pitcher of Pimms.

Brighton Beach as seen from the Pier.

The Wreck. I think at one point this was supposed to be the or a pier and then it, well, was wrecked. It basically just reminds me of Sugar Rush, an awesome British lesbian TV show that takes place in Brighton. Watch it!

And another view of The Wreck that I took with Kaden a couple years ago on a super stormy day.

The Royal Pavilion

Next Stop: America!