Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Life in Tents

British people sure do know how to put up a tent. I realize this is a stupid thing to say, because of course there are impressively big tents for rent in the States. However I've only really experienced such things in England, and am thus under the false impression that only the English know how to really rock temporary living spaces. And I'm not talking camping tents here, I mean hard floor, temperature controlled (for the most part) tents with tiered seating. Like Harry Potter tents, but without the bunk-beds. I mean tents that look like this on the inside:

What I'm going a long way around saying is that I spent the first half of this month volunteering at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and spending a great deal of time inside tents such as this one. A bunch of the other volunteers I met  have already blogged and reviewed the festival much more in depth than I could have, so for a while I didn't think I'd bother blogging about it since I didn't really have any original thoughts to add to this already well documented event. But, as is evident from my last post about cranes, I am clearly not too worried about writing blogs from interesting angles. So I'm going to just talk about tents for a while.

All these pictures were made possible by my less than ideal camera phone, so excuse the poor quality. In an effort to not get my camera stolen (again and again and again), I didn't bring it, but now I really wish I had to help me explain the fairyland feel of the festival. We (all of the volunteers who don't live in Cheltenham) were put up in these nice little flats down the street, but besides the short walk to and from the apartments, we spent most of the ten straight days on the two sites of the literary festival, which morphed from an assortment of tents and cabins that may or may not have tea in them into a whole world unlike anything I've ever worked. Literary Festivals are one of my favorite things- I love nothing more than going to talks by my favorite authors and the whole atmosphere of being surrounded by books and the people who love them. This year in Oxford, I treated myself to seeing just about everyone I wanted to see (knowing it would be my last one for a while), and it was really fab. But Cheltenham was so much more than that, so much bigger and concentrated and high-profile.

I guess there was something about spending all day every day in a place made just for the purposes of celebrating books for 10 days that created this fantastyland feel. It also didn't hurt that I had the golden ticket of being a volunteer and could get into all the back doors and back stage areas, which never stopped being cool. And the actual work we were doing was very fun- I am one of those freaks who enjoys moving heavy things, even in the rain. But mostly, we were doing front of house, checking tickets and helping people find their seats. It was just like my job at The Story Museum, but without all the stress of being the one who is actually in charge of everything if something goes wrong. 

Whatever it was, it was not real life.  I kept telling people what I did in real life, which is funny because most of the time my real life doesn't feel like it's real either. I knew (and still know) nothing about the rest of Cheltenham, only the Imperial and Montpellier Gardens and the tents therein. It was like a tiny town inside a town, one that made a great many people very happy.

The lovely Town Hall. 

The not-so-lovely flowerpot signs. 

This is the outside of that first picture. 

In Tent Life, everything is as fleeting as the tents themselves. Everything is temporary, so you need to make the most of it. I found myself growing attached to certain venues and venue managers very quickly, even after just one day of working there, because that was just the life, and then feeling surprisingly sad when my times in those places came to an end. We made friends quickly, because we had to, and then saying goodbye was weird. And now we know that we'll never be together ever again- all those exact same people, in that exact same place, doing that exact same thing- is even weirder still. It reminds me of this time when I was in High School and I went on a nerdy trip to New England with either the history club or my history class or something like that, and spent a few intense days with one of my best friends ever, and a bunch of other people I never associated much with back in the real life of high school. We had an amazing time, and became really close because of the nature of the trip, but then the bus ride back had this strange vibe. We all knew what would happen when we got back to the school, we all knew it would be one of those Breakfast Club endings. And it was true, and I'm still only friends with my one best bud who was already my best bud before the trip, and yes, I know I'll never see those people again in that same way. It's not really sad, it's just life, but it is interesting how this happens, how we as humans adapt to the environments we are in and then can just as easily un-adapt (because that's a word now) once that environment goes away. Humans are neat.

All that being said, I have already seen one of my volunteer friends again since leaving the festival, and I do very much hope to see a bunch more before I go back to the States- everyone was so awesome, it would be a real shame not to.

I believe that's Horrid Henry in the distance.

I swear I'm not stalking Neil Gaiman, although this is the fourth time I've seen him this year. Actually, I think he might be stalking me. 

Since everything else has already been said, I'll just say that I'd highly recommend Life in Tents. And I don't mean specifically volunteering at this literary festival necessarily, I just mean taking a break from your real life and doing something different. I know it's not an easy or practical thing- my bank account is not thanking me for working for free for 10 days, that's for sure- but still worth it if you can swing it. Volunteering was different than going on vacation, or just going away for a weekend. I'd recommend going away for a reason, to do a job, to do anything that's just different from what you normally do. Sure, event management is sort of my thing in real life as well, but usually I'm the one telling the volunteers what to do, and it was sort of liberating and enlightening being on the other side. I wish I had volunteered last festival- I think I would have been much better at my current job if I had. It was nice to see that what I thought it took to be a good volunteer coordinator is actually right, but up till now I was just taking everyone's word for it that I was doing things as they should be done (at times, I assumed everyone was just being polite).

Really, if I learned anything at all at Cheltenham or in life generally, all it takes to be good at anything are two simple things: be nice, and work hard. Do those things and you will succeed.

Tent Life, over an out.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Berliner Cranes

Last month, Rose and I went to Berlin. I told a bunch of people that I'd write about it, and then I never did. Sorry. Here are some picture.

At the top of the Berliner Dom.

CURRYWURST. It's basically all I talked about the entire trip.
Yes, that is a tiny lady reading a book on a grave stone.

At the top of the TV Tower.

Bits of the Wall.
Brandenburg Gate.


East Side Gallery- more of the Wall.

It's not a vacation if I'm not on the hunt for a famous dead person or two.

Really awesome bird bath. And Rose changing her film.

So much street art.

Apparently at night, the shadow of a flag pole appears in his hand. Awesome.

Every time I tell someone about Berlin, I always find myself talking about all the cranes. There were SO many cranes, because there was SO much construction. People (including myself) always complain when they visit a new city and there is scaffolding on Notre Dame or when half of the Statue of Liberty is hidden for cleaning- it is annoying when you go to visit a place and then can't see the buildings. But Berlin was different. Maybe it's because it isn't conventionally pretty like most European cities- for Berlin, the war was not really that long ago. This is a city that is still rebuilding after all the destruction that tore it literally in half. I found myself looking around at the people we passed; anyone older than me must have stories that would turn my hair white. My privileged and amazingly lucky life makes me curious about what it was like living in a city behind a wall, since it's not a life I can relate to in the slightest. Walking the streets there was a very strong sense of being surrounded by stories, more so than any other city I've ever been to, even if all cities are stories themselves. But then again, everything is stories.

I guess this is why I loved the cranes. They stood tall in the center of the city, collecting birds and stares, just another part of the skyline. And these were not small cranes either, they were immense. But I suppose rebuilding a city out of the rubble of such negativity takes stronger stuff. There were even little viewing platforms along the scaffolding where you could climb a little curved staircase and stand safely above the barriers and watch the construction happening. If we spoke German, I'm pretty sure the writing on the platforms would have told us what was being built in front of us. This is a city that's sick of walls, even temporary ones, and it was really refreshing to have the option to see over and not just wonder. As much as I love the dreaming spires of Oxford, it really drives me crazy sometimes that I can't see over the stone college walls. 

I got really attached to the cranes, as you can probably tell. It almost makes me sad to know that the next time I visit Berlin, they will be gone. But that was another of the many beautiful things about Berlin, the visible, ever changing energy that comes with knowing that every moment, every view and picture taken is original, and could never be reproduced on any future visits. Cities like Oxford look the same as they have for the last hundred years, and of course there is a beauty in the time-traveling trill of places like that as well. But Berlin is never the same, and that sort of magic you don't find on most holidays. 


Just look at the pictures

Dusting the Storyloom.
These days, I find myself spending a lot of my free time staring at my bookshelf. I guess I did this before, either looking for the next book to read or finding a space for a new puppet, but I've never looked at it quite like this before. It's an almost floor to ceiling bookshelf, taking up one entire wall of my room. It's the only reason I wanted this room to begin with- besides the shelf it's not great. My room is in the front of the house, so I find myself keeping my curtains closed all the time to keep the street out, I have a very small bed, and my desk is so small it does not deserve to be called a desk. There are better rooms in the house, but this one has the shelf, so here I am.

August this year marked a year of living in this house, and my 3rd year of living in Oxford. In the year we've lived in this house, I have had a great time filling my shelf. It's mostly full of books and folders and notebooks and the like, but also puppets, nicknacks, pictures and craft supplies that I've been collecting from various jobs (or saved more like from places that, for some reason, wanted to throw away perfectly good cardboard and pieces of card and other packing materials that can be used for a million fun new things), and as a result the shelf became something of a constantly-evolving instillation of sorts, for no-one's benefit but my own. I haven't been documenting it since it changed so often (some days I like nothing more than rearranging my books), and now it's in a state of organized disarray pending my return to the USA in January. Now I have a shelf of books I'm definitely not taking home, a shelf of books that belong to other people that I need to read and return, and then the worst one- the shelf of books whose fate has yet to be decided. Did anyone else feel the need as a child to let all their stuffed animals and dolls know that even if they can't all sleep with you in your bed, that doesn't mean you love them any less? This was a major concern for me when I was little, making sure everyone felt loved regardless of the selective nature of who slept where. It's happening again, but this time with my books. But this time I can make no promises.

I used to think I wasn't a materialistic person, but that has never in any way been true. I like my things- I like living in a space that I've crafted of things I enjoy, being surrounded by colors and shapes and pictures and books. Whenever I go to the USA to visit, I really enjoy sitting in my childhood bedroom, reunited with all my things- my record player, more books, photo albums and sentimental evidence that I've actually done some cool things and known and loved awesome people. And it's the same here- my room is full of things I've collected over the last three years that make my room feel like mine. And now I have to pick and chose what comes and what stays when, to be completely honest, the only real treasures I want to bring back with me are the ones impossible to pack. I'll let you guess who I mean. (hint: EVERYONE)

And, just like the luck I've always seemed to have, I keep making new friends months before I have to leave. Like, really good ones too, not just a few more pleasant acquaintances. I try to just enjoy it, enjoy spending time with everyone and try really hard not to think about if they'll even remember me a year from now, but I'm pretty bad at it. I'm sorry about this blog- it's really, really self indulgent. I'm silent for months, then this is all you get for your patience- Maria complaining about having great friends. Someone should really slap me.

My parents are too cute.
 So I guess what I'm getting at is that things are weird. Life is weird- never been weirder. I go to work, to a different place every day just like I have been doing for the last year, and it's business as normal. Then I remember that it's not, that I need to be packing and figuring out what to do with my clothes and what I should do with my bike and where I'll even be living in January (I'll be homeless for a while before I go) and maybe about how I should probably buy a plane ticket already. But instead I wander through town in search of Halloween costume ideas. Same as it ever was.

Let's have some picture- pictures are always good. 


The cranes of Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

speaking of new friends


That's all for now.

~ Maria