Tuesday, November 06, 2007

December 2005

I'm glad the competitions are over for the moment, because all my work is catching up to me. Thhe nostalgia of papers and exams and study sessions is flooding back to me in an sleep-deprived, ink-stained wave. The fixed-scheduled exam system, though, now, THAT'S a kick in the teeth. You mean I can't just waltz in and pick up the exam when *I* feel like it? I have to take it with everyone else? Barbaric. But they seem to have gone okay, and now I'm on blissful respite from all things academic, here in the gloom of a Berkeley winter. It's rainy and cold and bleak, and I spend a lot of time in front of my tiny gas heater, reading the books I've been assigned for my class next semester. For yes, friends, Romans, countrymen, next semester I shall join the hallowed ranks of the pedagogues, those noble bastions of higher learning: I am to become a GSI. Where heaven is high and the professor is far away, graduate student instructors are on the ground, in the academic trenches, with their raw, plucky foot soldier-scholars, and I can't wait to get in there. The call came while I was Christmas shopping (read: overspending) on Fourth Street, a few blocks of high-end little shops and tree-lined sidewalks that I wish the rest of the world looked like (and smelled like: the Italian restaurant halfway down has its own wood-burning oven that pumps out glorious, James-Fenimore-Cooper-worthy gouts of smoky delicious woodsmoke), from Professor Darren Zook in the PEIS department. He's teaching Asian Studies 10B (Modern Asia) next semester, and I interviewed a few days before, obviously favorably! I am excited to test my didactic mettle, to be earning some serious cash (go, union!) and to be learning more about the countries I know very little about. To that end I'm reading Ranbindranath Tagore's The Home and the World, and the other two books are Mo Yan's Big Breasts, Wide Hips (looking forward to that one) and Oe Kenzaburo's A Personal Matter. I know both the other GSIs, so I'm looking forward to it all!
Christmas is upon us! Mom sent an Advent calendar, I put up my wee tree and spent a few bucks on awful decorations at the dollar store. My room is now festooned along the molding with silver bead ropes and hung with plastic balls, toy drums and two truly tacky reindeer. I love it. I'm still a little homesick, though, and it still doesn't feel like Christmas proper.
But the closer it got, the more I bucked up. We went down to Grandma Polly's in Fresno, for the first time since I was a wee babe, although Mom and Dad did it a few years ago on their way to Japan. Mom came over to California first, and spent the night at my apartment. John was very sweet and picked us up from the airport, although I got my very long scarf caught momentarily in his trunk and scared Mom half to death (let the record show that the car wasn't even moving, and he noticed right away and I pulled it out without having to even open the trunk, so relax, for heaven's sake). I was delighted to show her the gallery exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum, which was Taisho-era transitional paintings, furniture, kimono and tableware. Then we had dinner with Sam at Le Bateau Ivre on Telegraph, and it was perfect: hot, cheesy, savory food and fire and stoneware pitchers all soothing and warming on a wet blustery night. It's not so cold here, but it certainly manages to feel what I imagine England is like in the winter, and it's not hospitable.
Next day we went to Kingpin Donuts for breakfast (I think Mom only pretended to exclaim over the best donuts ever—her loss), and then we headed for the train station. I love going to Fresno by train. The ride is lovely almost all the way down, with a long river view for the first hour, and then fields of every description—best in the spring when the almond trees are blooming, but surprisinly green in winter, which is when they actually get rain here.
Grandma's was calm and sociable for the first few days: we saw Memoirs of a Geisha at a huge sprawl-mall (verdict on the movie: gorgeous production values, crappy rendering of the story, watch it for the sets and props and costumes), ate at Dai Bai Dang, which is surprisingly good for franchised and large, and I saw Vince and we drove down to his little hovel in Merced, and I received an excellent gift from him, a wicked little blade concealed in a pen. A bride's knife! I fervently hope it is never required for defending my honor (I'm certainly not going to use it on myself, like you're supposed to), but it rides in my leather jacket pocket now, and I grin surreptitiously whenever I sign checks with it...
Christmas Day, however, was something else entirely. Being an only child with no living relatives within two hours after pubescence, Christmases are spent, are supposed to be spent, in tranquility, a leisurely plow through stockings and under the tree with pauses for coffee, hot chocolate, bacon, stollen (ick), and clementines. Presents are opened one by one, to make it last and to ensure proper attention is given to every gift and giver and receiver. Bathrobes are to be worn until at least 2 PM. Usually whatever movie was given to individual or family unit is put on in the afternoon, and we all read our books all day. Lately, we've been bestirring ourselves to haul over to the neighbors' across the street for Christmas Dinner, and then home to lie heavy in our beds and savor the week ahead.
But at Grandma's, you're up at 8 or earlier, to chop mushrooms and fold napkins and look lively or else. Fifty people show up in waves, most of whom have known Dad since he was in short pants, and the last time they saw me I was just a baby. Mom, in a moment of sympathy, allowed as how she'd rather be in her bathrobe drinking coffee too...but that wasn't how it was going to be this time, so suck it up. Moment over. Fold some more napkins. The highlights were my multitudinous second cousins, all identically dressed, swinging decorously at the pinata (which Dad cruelly hauled out of range EVERY single time!), and encouraging old Cal alumni to come see the next ballroom competition the next time they were in Berkeley.
If I had a less-than-ideal Christmas, however, New Year's Eve more than made up for it. One of the vintage waltz societies held a ball—a real ball!—at International House, so I gleefully donned my old prom dress and made my way up the hill. I felt like I was in a Dickens novel—or at least the set for a movie version of one. There were many repurposed gowns like mine, but quite a few authentic costumes—even a distinguished gentleman in hunting pinks! I learned the Congress of Vienna Waltz, the galop, and just how much fun a polka can be, weaving and dodging and spinning around like mad things. There was sparkling cider at midnight and I kissed one of the girls on the team (no, not like that) and went home delighted. 2006 holds promise, especially after being rung in with such earnest cheer.

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