Photo 4

LANS Rome trip, 2016 by Professor Diana Spencer

Here is an overview of our inaugural trip to Rome (27 June-2 July 2016), the inspiration for which lies in the core values and objectives that underpin Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at Birmingham. Learning to learn in all kinds of unexpected environments, and from unfamiliar experiences, is crucial to the academic and personal development of our students and there is no better place to learn than Rome!

Day 1

Once the twelve students, from a mixture of year groups, had settled into their apartments and done some independent exploring, we all reconvened at Palazzo Taverna in the grand Salon, for a welcome from Professor Davide Vitali (Director of our host institution, the University of Arkansas Rome Center, and Architect).

This was followed by a 20-minute romp through Rome’s early and legendary foundation and republican history, touching on the political and ethical qualities that classical Romans believed to have been baked into citizen identity by the Founding Fathers. Photo 2

Next, we were treated to a whistle-stop lecture by University of Arkansas faculty-member Dr. Ryan Calabretta-Sajder tackling Rome’s identity as a cinematic city, starting with Roman Holiday but ending up with some contemporary visions from Turkish-born director Ferzan Ozpetek.

With that, we retired to a nearby restaurant for food, wine, and conversation about the days ahead.

 

 

Day 2

We met with our guide, Agnes Crawford, at the Arch of Constantine. Students were introduced to the powerful ideological and visual connotations of the arch form.  The important interplay between monumental form, political ideology, and military might, took a different but complementary shape as we moved to the Flavian Amphitheatre, aka the Colosseum.

This site also helped students to get a sense of the hidden layers which urban markup conceals and reveals. The popular name ‘Colosseum’ was first associated with a gigantic statue of the last Julio-Claudian Emperor, Nero.

What remained of the morning was spent moving up and down the Palatine Hill, discussing how it transformed in the last years of the first century BCE from a pleasant residential zone to the bureaucratic and autocratic heart of a transformed governmental system.

 

Students saw how one space, the traditional Forum Romanum, transformed from a focus for Rome’s civic self, increasingly became a venue for grandiose monuments and contestations of power which often escalated into street violence and gang warfare, with electoral disruption happening year after year.

Photo 10

The afternoon took us through Rome’s medieval story, moving through the picturesque narrow streets that characterised the city as it re-found its power as a Christian capital and — with the Pilgrim trade developing — began to manifest new kinds of commercial and spiritual authority.

Ship-shaped Tiber Island offered a welcome break for gelato, and some quick facts about the island’s history as a ‘hospital’ zone, such as its ancient dedication to the imported Greek god Aesculapius, a healer.

 

Trastevere (the place ‘across the Tiber’) was where our students’ apartments were located, close to the charming Piazza San Cosimato, so en route we took in two iconic churches linking the earliest post-classical Christian era with the developing power of the papacy.

Photo 11

We all had some free time then, before reconvening back at Palazzo Taverna for a stand-out lecture by Professor Vitali explaining and exemplifying Rome as a ‘palimpsest’. I was also especially happy to hear Professor Vitali’s assessment of our students: one of the most inquiring, alert, and thoughtful groups he has worked with.

Day 3

We met at the caffe at the Porta San Paolo light rail station before boarding the train for Ostia Antica. Once Rome’s port town, as the Tiber silted up, the town was abandoned and gradually fell into a mysterious quasi-burial. Not as dramatic as Pompeii but with surprisingly similar results in terms of excavated and visible ruins.

 

We saw dramatic mosaic pavements in some of the town’s public bath-houses and in the so-called Piazza of the Corporations where trading companies had booths and offices decorated with mosaics representing their origins or business.

Photo 17We strolled through some luxury townhouses (marvelling at one with its own private toilet!) and played at barmaid-and-customer in a remarkably intact bar, before beginning to make our way back to the sleepy medieval town close to the site, and lunch at L’Alimentari.

Photo 18Heading home, we got off the train at EUR to recuperate from Ostia and to think further about what one does with ideologically compromised spaces and structures. EUR was framed as a way for the new regime to build the Rome of the future – a Third Rome.

The ‘Square Colosseum’ characterises the Italians as ‘a people of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of boundary-crossers’ (Mussolini, 1935).

Photo 19

That Italian fascist vision of history as a triumphant advance from the foundation of Rome to the rule of Mussolini gains narrative expression in a massive sculptural relief by Publio Morbiducci which drew our brief visit to EUR to a close.

We met up at Palazzo Taverna for our final evening lecture, which introduced the gardens and water-features of the sixteenth-century theme park that is the Villa d’Este, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

 

Day 4

Photo 21

We met at the Pantheon, a great spot to firm up the city’s palimpsestic quality, looming over the Renaissance Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon, so called because it was a temple to ‘all’ the gods, survived relatively intact because it was reused as a church – Santa Maria dei Martiri.

Now, the Pantheon houses tomb-monuments to unify Italy’s first rulers – Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I – forming an interesting echo to one of the few ‘new’ builds in the historic centre of Rome.

From the Pantheon we took a walking tour, stopping at Bernini’s elephant, and viewing the luminous Filippino Lippi frescoes in the Carafa Chapel of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

We thought more about the papal city this morning, and used visits to Sant’Ignazio, with its trip ‘fake’ dome, to discuss counter-reformation politics and the ways in which art and architecture were leveraged to create a sense of perfect union between man and God.

Moving on, we saw the Piazza di Pietra, in which a temple to the posthumously deified emperor Hadrian has been incorporated into what was once the Stock Exchange. We had a gelato stop next, before working our way through the narrow twisting streets that eventually give onto the spectacular Piazza Navona.

The baroque splendours of Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers gave us a glimpse of the territorial ambitions of the post-Renaissance world, encompassing the greatest known rivers in a water-feature.

After lunch, we let the students explore, then met again at the Altar of Augustan Peace, a monument excavated on Mussolini’s orders and relocated to a piazza. It was dedicated by the Senate in 13 BCE, in honour of Augustus’ pacification of Spain and Gaul, and the Empire.

The museum, a (fairly) new building designed by starchitect Richard Meier offered an airy, cool space ideally suited to contemplating this masterpiece and also has helpful displays explaining the complex family tree of the Julio-Claudian imperial dynasty.

Photo 28

 

At the end of the day, we walked across the Tiber, past another classical mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian, to the great street — Via della Concilazione — created by Mussolini to mark the new rapprochement between Vatican and secular authorities.

 

Photo 29

We had the privilege of entering St. Peter’s through the Holy Door — open for the 2016 Jubilee year.  I find myself newly moved by Michelangelo’s Pieta every time, but seeing our students respond to art as a medium of faith and humanity, confronted by the sculpture, was hugely rewarding.

 

 

Day 5

We headed for the Villa Adriana and Tivoli, with Francesca Riccardo (expert on architectural design, and UARC faculty member). The lush countryside was a lovely respite from the marble and bustle of Rome.

 

The Villa is a hot, unshaded place on a late June day, and we ended up lingering at the iconic ‘Canopus’ pool, which gave me an opportunity to talk to students about the traditional ascription of names to parts of the estate. A late imperial biography of Hadrian suggested that he named parts of the villa for sites that particularly thrilled or pleased him, based on his travels around the empire. Canopus, in Egypt, might have recalled the tragic death of his lover Antinous, who drowned in the Nile.

Our minibus took us to Tivoli, where we had a brisk lunch break, meeting up in an hour to start our tour of the Villa d’Este.

The Villa took shape in response to a failed political dream – Cardinal Ippolito d’Este’s unsuccessful attempt to become pope – and in its design he hoped to demonstrate, like Hadrian, that power could reside outside Rome.

Ippolito’s theme for the villa and its elaborately themed gardens was steeped in classical myth. It evoked Hercules’ legendary quest for the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the dragon he fought to seize them, and the hero’s role as a powerful civiliser.

Visitors are challenged to see in Ippolito’s Tivoli a better-than-life vision of what power looks like, mediated through myth, geopolitics, cutting edge engineering, and the latest in archaeological discovery.

38

Originally, plantings used scent and sensory nudges to create and give atmosphere to particular routes through the gardens. We were lucky to hear the Fountain of the Organ play for us just before we left, adding melody to what had already been an extraordinary day.

Back in Rome, it was time for a farewell dinner at Ai Spaghettari to discuss the new insights and approaches our visits had enabled.

Day 6

Check-out day was a valuable day to think through what we had gained from the week. Rome is a city of great dissonances as well as enormous beauty, and in these frictions, I think much of the most powerful learning resided.

For our first years, fresh from their core interdisciplinary module on ‘modernity’, the lessons of history manifest in Rome were an excellent postscript to that semester 2 programme of study. We definitely hope to do a similar trip next summer!

 

 

Liberal Arts and Sciences Year 2 Trip to Brussels by Dr Shelley Budgeon

 

June 5-8, 2016

Cityscape

This year I had the pleasure of accompanying the second year on a trip to Brussels – a timely location indeed. The referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU was in the forefront of our minds as we headed out of the north gate car park on our way to the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras station. Questions surrounding governance, democracy, multiculturalism, migration, and identity had been circulating in the media for many months prior to our trip. The theme of the trip, “Borders and Belonging: Diversity and Community in Europe”, drew from across a range of social, economic, political and cultural issues central to debates about Britain’s relationship to the rest of Europe. Brussels, as the seat key political institutions governing the EU, and a diverse and rich cultural city provided an ideal setting for thinking about these matters and the debates being so passionately engaged with by the British public.

Some of the ‘big questions’ which framed our visit included: What does it mean to have a European identity and belong to a European community? What is the role of the EU in making societies stronger? Is this project a ‘failure’; a ‘success’; or one in need of ‘reform’? What effect do decision making bodies of the EU have on creating a European identity or community?

We were given plenty of opportunities to consider these complex questions and the range of perspectives which necessarily inform available answers.

Day 1

Eu flags

We first visited the European Commission where we learned about a range of responsibilities the Commission is tasked with including proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. This was followed by a general presentation on the EU foreign and security policy. From these presentations we began to gain some insights into the complex and multifaceted nature of EU institutions and decision making processes. As a starting point for our exploration of the EU the visit provided us with a lot to consider.

Students on bank

Since the sun was shining we enjoyed a moment of relaxation (with ice cream for some) in the beautiful Parc du Cinquantenaire before heading to the Grand Mosque, Islamic and Cultural Centre. Given it was the first day of Ramadan the Mosque was bustling with preparations for the meal that would take place that evening at sunset. As a key religious institution in Brussels the Mosque represents an important site of everyday life for the citizens of Brussel and our visit, again, helped us to understand the complexity of cultural identity in a European community that is multicultural and diverse.

 

 

 

Day 2

On the second day our activities focused on getting to grips with key EU institutions despite their inherent complexity! We first called on the European Economic and Social Committee and enjoyed a very lively and engaging presentation on the role the EESC plays in strengthening the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organisations from the Member States to express their views at European level. This was followed by a thought provoking discussion on Britain’s decision to leave or remain in the EU and the role the younger generation must play in making this decision about the future. Again, we were reminded of the challenging issues constituting the theme of our trip and in particular, what it means to practice active citizenship in a globalised world. Following the presentation we were invited to enjoy the views of the Parliament from the terrace.

Student group

In the afternoon we accepted the challenge of playing the role an MEP in the EU Parlamentarium simulation – a scenario in which we were invited to ‘become a “near-perfect” politician’. At times a bit frantic and stressful, the role-play helped us to understand the pressures involved in making policy decisions when reaching consensus is an imperative. At the conclusion we were pleased to have reached agreement despite our differences resulting in the creation of some sound policies in response to a ‘water solidarity directive’ and the ‘personal identification directive’! From participating in this scenario we appreciated the range of skills MEPS must exercise in order to collectively tackle common problems faced by the member states.

Parlementarium flag

In between the rigors of learning about the role of the EU and reflecting on Britain’s future we took advantage of all that Brussels has to offer culturally including the wide range of museums and cultural institutions; opportunities to sample the cuisine (think Belgian chocolate/frites/beer) and free time to explore the city’s many attractions. The final night was celebrated by a wonderful meal at Chez Leon where mussels and frites were consumed enthusiastically while the conversations flowed!

Heading back home we reflected on what had been achieved: a greater awareness of debates surrounding culture and identity; an enhanced understanding of governance structures and policy making; and the opportunity to strengthen the friendships which are at the heart of the University of Birmingham Liberal Arts and Sciences community.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Brussels Trip: A student perspective by Thomas Belcourt-Weir

Monday 6th June 2016

After arriving in Brussels and briefly orientating ourselves in the city centre on the Sunday, on Monday morning we visited the EU commission. As soon as you arrive at the building there are clear efforts to display who is the head of the commission and try to gain support. On the outside of the building there is a large #TeamJuncker and on the walls of the foyer is a large display of the roles Jean-Claude Juncker and the other commissioners have. We were given a talk on the general role that the EU Commission plays as an institution, learning about how it proposes laws, enforces laws, manages budget and represents the EU outside of Europe. Interestingly, the speaker didn’t touch much upon the unelected nature of the 28 Commissioners, something which is a key argument within the Brexit debate.

We also had a talk about the European External Action Service, which serves as the EU’s foreign ministry and diplomatic corps, essentially representing the EU and its foreign policy outside of Europe. The main insight I took from the talk was how the EU Commission’s overall mission is to try to represent Europe’s interest as a whole, as if it were one nation, and the difficulties that come with this; staying supra-national and neutral, when the ‘interests of Europe’ are really just made up of the interests of all the constituent countries. It has to be said that the talk was a little lacking in useful and interesting information relative to only the common knowledge we had as a group about the EU. However, it was valuable to get the general gist of who the commissioners are and what they do, and just being in and around the building brought to life what you normally hear on the news as “over in Brussels”.

After this, a visit to Brussels largest mosque was made quite brief by the impending preparations for Ramadan, but nonetheless it was a good representation of the diverse ethnicities in Brussels as the political centre of an ethnically diverse Europe.

Tuesday 7th June 2016

On Tuesday morning we began with a great talk at the European Economic and Social Committee. The speaker was bright, fun and engaging, and she gave us a clear overview of the work the EESC does as a consultative body to the EU. Essentially the EESC is made of members who represent either Employers, Workers, or Interest Groups, aiming to strengthen European integration, ensure EU policies tie in better with economic, social and civic circumstances on the ground, and promote the development of a more participatory EU which is more in touch with popular opinion. The EESC works by creating formal platforms for groups across civic society to express their views, and by creating official “Opinion” documents which advise the three main bodies of the EU (Commission, Parliament and Courts). They work across several sections, from agriculture and environment to economics and employment. It was really interesting to see how the EU attempts to stay in touch with everyday people and initiate participatory democracy – even though the EESC is only advisory and what they advise doesn’t necessarily have to be used.

After this we had a nice break and a group photo on the terrace overlooking the EU Parliament building – it’s huge!

After lunch we took part in a role-play activity at the EU Parlamentarium. This was another really great exercise which I personally got a lot out of as I’m sure the rest of the group did. We were given the role of MEP’s (Members of European Parliament) and the activity gave us a flavour of what their daily job is like. We were split into four political parties with differing agendas and went through the steps of discussing our position as a party, consulting experts and the public, and then negotiating between parties to try and reach an agreement on the issue of water management and bio-chips. After this we then had to try and also reach a compromise with the EU Council. At times it was frantic and difficult to find an agreement between the Parliament and the Council – probably a very accurate role-play of real life!

The afternoons and evenings were free time spent exploring Brussels. The EU quarter was sleek and modern, which contrasted with the artistic and historic centre of the city. The countless cafes and bars gave the cobbled streets and squares a great vibe. There were also quality museums such as the museum of musical instruments and the comic book museum. Of course the waffles, chocolate and frites were delicious and were sure to be a highlight. Of particular note was the fine Belgian beer, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to try all 3,000 types at Delirium Café…

Overall a great trip of interesting insights into the workings of the EU just weeks before we go to vote on the EU Referendum, and fantastic cultural experiences of a buzzing European capital city – all topped off by a group dinner on the Tuesday evening! Thanks to Ruth and Shelley for a fine trip.

LANS extracurricular programme

I am coming to the end of my first week in my new role as the Liberal Arts and Sciences Intern.  I am working in the office to develop the extracurricular programme that LAS runs alongside the academic side of this degree.  My job is to explore what all the students want to get out of the extracurricular programme, and how we can make it even better for next year.

 

The department provides us with tickets for cultural events that are going on in and around Birmingham.  We get free tickets to things pretty much every week.  The idea is that we’ll all become well-rounded students with knowledge of things outside university life.

 

We started last year with a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s Hecuba, complete with an exploration of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s dressing-up box.

 

12140645_10154612455772619_6687768670158066454_n

 

Other theatre highlights from the year include Orpheus, Strictly Balti and Iphigenia in Splott – all amazing and unusual pieces of theatre which we would never otherwise have thought to go to.

FotorCreated

Images clockwise: Orpheus, Iphigenia in Splott, Strictly Balti.  Photo credit clockwise: John Hunter at RULER, Mark Douet for the Sherman Theatre and Farrows Creative/Travelling Light Theatre.

 

We saw the ballet Sleeping Beauty in February, and the opera The Marriage of Figaro in March.  What other students get to go to the opera? Despite my reservations about the highly-dramatic warbling that I thought made up opera, it was hilarious and I was thoroughly proven wrong.

 

My personal highlight of the year was Broken, a contemporary dance performance we saw in Warwick Arts Centre.  I have never seen anything so amazing or relentlessly jaw-dropping!  The strength of the dancers, their interaction with their set and the innovation of their moves made for a phenomenal show that I will never forget.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4tuIdK9rqQ

 

This is the Motionhouse Dance Theatre Company – if you ever get the chance to see them, please do not hesitate!

 

So, I have filled this rainy week with chatting to lots of lovely Liberal Arts people and collecting their feedback from the programme this year.  I am starting to get a very clear picture of what everyone liked most about the events.  Those that stood out were new experiences, things we would never have got to do otherwise and stuff to make us think.

 

My week has given me a good idea about what people want to get out of the extracurricular aspect of Liberal Arts.  I am very excited to explore the possibilities for next year.  I’ve had loads of amazing suggestions already – please keep them coming!

Cassidy Locke, June 2016

A night at the Guild Awards with Liberal Arts and Sciences Society

By Elena Harris

Guild Awards 1On Tuesday the 22nd of March some of the committee members of LASSoc put on our best dresses and prepared ourselves for The Guild Awards 2016. Every year our student’s union recognise the hard work put in by societies with The Guild Awards where the best societies can win prizes. The event is held in the Great Hall of the Aston Webb building and I thought I would bring you guys along.

The evening started with a drinks reception in the foyer of Aston Webb where we got the chance to mingle with other societies and show off our dresses.

 

Guild Awards 2

The LASSoc Committee, from left to right: Ellie (Treasurer), Emily (Student Representative), Gemma (Secretary), Annie (Social Secretary) and Lucy (President)

 

We were then allowed into the Great Hall which had been beautifully decorated for the occasion.

We took our seats (and a few photos) before enjoying the entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly there was some fantastic dancing and then this was followed by a wonderful dinner.

Guild Awards 6

 

After dinner the awards began, interspersed with some great student performances, which really showcased the student talent – it ranged from burlesque to ballroom, all perfectly executed of course!

 

Guild Awards 9

My favourite performance of the night was from Uptone Girls an all girl A cappella group who just blew me away, I urge everyone to go and see them as they will not disappoint!

Once all the awards had been announced everyone headed over to the student union and attempted to dance in heels.

Thank you to the Guild of Students for a fabulous evening and my favourite committee for sharing it with me.

A day in the life of the LANS Operations Manager

I’m a newbie in the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences team – I started as LANS Operations Manager in November 2015.  So far so good … it’s a great team to work with and a really interesting concept as an undergraduate degree.  It’s the sort of degree I would have loved myself!  And, despite the work in progress of the new library, the view is a vast improvement on the brick wall and pigeon mess I looked out at in my old job!

 

IMG_0122 (2).JPG

View from the ERI

My days are very variable but at the moment because it’s a new role there is a big backlog of paperwork to catch up on – for example programme specification documents for the Natural Sciences exit degree, module specification documents for a new and exciting 4th year Entrepreneurship module, a collaboration agreement with UpRising (who will provide campaigning training for the 2nd year core module later this semester), a job description for a Birmingham Undergraduate Internship to join the LANS team …etc.  I’m nearly there with all that and hopefully we will be able to share more information with the student body soon. I’m also getting to grips with the budget and doing lots of financial planning to make sure that the day-to-day stuff, the improvements, and the extra-curricular trips and events are all covered.

I’ve also spent the last few months having lots of meetings with the other departments and services across the university to understand their processes (for example, timetabling, study abroad, planning, finance) and to talk about the unique and usually chal
lenging requirements of the Liberal Arts and Sciences programme.  Some of my focus over the next few months will be to work with these departments to improve our interaction with them and therefore the outcomes for our students.  For example, if we can put together a new Birmingham Liberal Arts package and marketing to attract overseas students to come and spend a year or semester abroad within Liberal Arts and Sciences at UoB, then  we can open up more spaces for UoB students to go abroad which will help with the placements for LAS students.

IMG_0019

Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

This is the first role I’ve had in the university dealing directly with undergraduate students and it’s great to be reminded why we all work here – Chamberlain’s radical vision of a place of learning for students from all backgrounds.  Ruth (LANS Programme Manager) and I have been hosting a series of ‘feedback lunches’– for me this has been the first chance to get to know our students (they’re a lovely bunch!) as well as seeking feedback on the experiences of Liberal Arts and Sciences students.  Feedback is important to us, and we will listen and, wherever we can, act on it.

Following student suggestions last term we have reconfigured the LANS hub area to give individual study carrels with PCs as well as a smaller group meeting area in the ‘glass box’.  A further five PCs are on order and we are working with IT to get printer access.  More recent suggestions for pinboards and maybe artwork for the pink wall will hopefully complete the new look and feel of the space.  But we’d like students to keep the suggestions coming!

I’m really glad I took on this role – steep learning curve and challenges not withstanding – and I look forward to meeting more students and to feeling like I’m really making a difference to the experience of a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree at Birmingham.

Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

 

LAS Abroad: Impressions of Vancouver

SONY DSC

We watch the lunar eclipse from Stanley Park. Tonight, the moon is the moon of Nick Drake and Neil Young: pink and harvest and super, in all senses. She appears gradually, first as smoke, then as something more. A growing murmur spreads through the crowd. I move to get a better view, weave through crowds of stargazers and stoners and other Vancouver sky searchers.

I point my camera at the sky. The blood supermoon over the city. Downtown’s high-rise lights reflected in the bay.

At UBC, I walk 15 minutes from my on-campus residence flat, through the Pacific Sprit National Park and onto a beach. “Clothing optional” warns the battered wooden sign.

At Birmingham, I walk 15 minutes from my gradually subsiding terraced house, through the remains of last night’s chicken massacre and onto a building site.

I’m not passing judgment on either walk but the experience is very different.

I take courses in Theatre, Creative Writing, Film Studies, Philosophy, Art History and Visual Art. I am Mr Employable.

However, the more time I spend around people for whom Liberal Arts is university, the more I am convinced that it is absolutely the best way to do things.

SONY DSC

Downtown is surrounded by water on three sides and as a result is mostly vertical. The architects of the centre have built upwards rather than outwards. Therefore, there is a feeling of compactness; I can explore the city and, even in eight months, make it my own.

In 30 minutes, I can walk through the West End’s luxury residential tower blocks; down Davie Street with its gay bars and bright pink bus stops; past the smug restaurants and galleries of Yaletown; into Chinatown which seems alive with construction and food; avoid the temptation of West Pender’s ramshackle bookshops; down the Granville strip illuminated with commercialism and seediness; into gentrified Gastown which fashionably sits in absolute denial of its past and present; up one block to Hastings – the original Skid Row – and east through drug markets and homelessness. Pieces of a contradictory jigsaw, tightly fitting and flowing with life.

And out of all of this, Brewery Creek quickly becomes a favourite area of mine. Lets just say that it is very aptly named.

I realise why four years at university is a good idea.

I have to submit an original piece of conceptual digital art. This, for me, is new and exciting.

So, naturally, I walk for 3 hours along the 99 express bus route from the University bus loop, all the way down to Broadway at Commercial. It is the busiest bus route in North America. Every time a 99 bus passes me I turn to my right and take a photograph.

I like to think that this is a comment about displacement and discovery, about the observation of the everyday in the face of commercial mass transit.

And because it’s supposed to be conceptual art, I believe it. Just.

Tomorrow, I have a lecture on Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I have to read Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I find Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness interesting, in theory. In practise, I hate Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and I hate his Nothingness as well.

The mountains loom constantly like a well-worded threat. Or a memory. It is winter now and they are dusted with just the right amount of snow to be optimally photogenic.

I don’t ski.

I have skied before but that was on a small hill covered in wet rope on the outskirts of Gloucester. I imagine this is a different experience to doing it on snow down a Canadian mountain. In fact, I suspect this means that I have negative experience of skiing. I have friends who have gone up to Whistler, however, and they say that the views are beautiful. I believe them, completely.

Down below, on the sidewalk (never pavement), the resorts emerge from the forest with a strange elegance. In the evening, their lights hover over the city like alien constellations.

Occasionally, we go to a place where we float in sensory deprivation tanks for 90 minutes. It is pitch black, silent and motionless. After a while I tend to forget where my arms are. It’s an experience I can heartily recommend.

Afterwards we go to the pub.

SONY DSC

I now know and am friends with people from Canada, the USA, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Chile and South Korea, as well as meeting someone that lived a ten second walk away from me in Birmingham last year, whom I had neither met nor seen before.

It is a massive small world.

University work is assigned constantly throughout the year. This means that you have to work more but also that you have to think more. This takes some getting used to. It feels beneficial in the end though.

I secure a paid Dramaturgy internship at The Arts Club, one of the foremost theatres for Canadian new writing development. Dramaturgy is a strange professional area that means different things depending on where you are in the world and who you work for. In North America, it means working with writers on new plays, as well as more “traditional” dramaturgical work – compiling resource books on productions and so on. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to do back in the UK and any experience will be worth it. I’ve had enough practice explaining my degree to be ok with explaining a job as well.

I play David Bowie all day. His last album is perfection.

I turn 21 on the second day of the second semester (never term). There is a party on Friday and it isn’t shut down at 1am like on-campus parties normally are. I think this must be a sign of something but I‘m not sure what.

We turn away from the moon and leave her hanging in the midnight air. Instantly she grows bigger, fills our mind’s eyes with her rose blood.

SONY DSC

We merge back into the smear of city traffic. On the first of our three buses home, a man with a bulging combat coat and impressively unkempt beard tells us, “The end is coming!” He is talking about the incoming Liberal Prime Minister and he stinks of medicinally legal weed.

We, however, hear his prophecy and cannot shake the moon from our minds.

And when, in three months time and it is time for me to leave, Vancouver will be similarly unshakeable. I will miss its staggering natural and urban beauty and the way the buses always run on time. I will miss its bars and cafés, its hipster hangouts and microbreweries. I will miss its unmistakeable feel and the way that everywhere doesn’t so much close at night, as it comes to an elegant pause. And I will miss the moments when the sun finally falls below the horizon, when all that is left of its deep setting amber are lilac clouds and distant ocean warmth, when the mist rolls down the mountains and welcomes in the evening.

photo 4

—-

Words and pictures by Sam Forbes, 3rd year Drama Major and Liberal Arts and Sciences student; currently studying at the University of British Colombia on Year Abroad.