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Album review: Gnu’s Room Christmas (feat. Adventure the Great, Low June, The Hedgerow Folk, Dave Potts, Ellington Way, Lydia Cash and David Mueller, and Teacup and the Monster)
In even my most gleaming reviews of Auburn as a freshman, I always added in the same breath: plus-Atlanta-is-right-there-whenever-we-want-to-see-some-good-music. Like a tic, I would explain away the pitiful showing of local artists in Auburn as the symptom of a self sustaining college town.
Flash forward two years and I’m listening to the Gnu’s Room Christmas album, a compilation of carols covered exclusively by local acts. All seven artists have a decidedly sweet, folk-fueled take on these familiar tunes. Listening to the sampler, I really feel like the community-centered aspect has shaped the music of local talent in a way that is completely unique to Auburn. So, while it’s easy for our reaction to be relief, I think it should be an emotion closer to awe, like the way you might feel after successfully stacking a card tower or constructing a gingerbread house out of mostly frosting.
The challenge for these bands was not to break into Auburn’s music culture but to create one. They had to make a way for themselves communally before they could make a way for themselves individually. This shared struggle not only created a tight community of both musicians and music-lovers, but it defined the way we value music here. Whether you’re listening to soaring harmonies under strings of Christmas lights or packed tight at a house show, there’s a sense of ownership. It’s the basics of supply and demand: this experience exists simultaneously because we sought out beauty and because our friends provided it.
By some standards of comparison, Auburn has a long way to go in matching the artistic proliferation of an Atlanta or an Athens. But my argument is this: Auburn has not make it possible to do anything half-heartedly. Encouraging local talent, patronizing local venues, and applauding local bands was a deliberate, not incidental, show of support. Ours is a proven loyalty. What you hear when you listen to the sampler is the heart that has made it possible.
Sounds like: bare wreaths made of rosemary, gifts wrapped with brown paper and twine, the Christmas celebration that you host in late November (before everyone has left for break) with an endless supply of hot tea and new traditions, a slightly misshapen but otherwise structurally sound scarf you tried to knit yourself.
Look, buddy. It’s been a rough couple of games for all of us. Particularly for you, after the dizzying flighting path you took on your way down to the field at last week’s game against Texas A&M. Instead of soaring around the stadium and touching down triumphantly on the 50-yard line, you took a seemingly random stroll about the stands. Just scoping things out, guys! Don’t mind me up here!
At one point, you left the stadium altogether (not that we can blame you—we didn’t want to watch what happened on that field either). We were breathless as we waited for you to make the dive onto the field—partially from fear, but mostly from having to sustain our “War Eagle” for so long.
Spirit, I’m not going to try and hide it from you: there’s been speculation. It’s not pretty. People are wondering what’s gotten into you. Is it all the late nights you spend out partying with chicks? Stage fright? Is it a self confidence issue?
Among our three beloved eagles, you are the only one that’s bald, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even your close friends and family are concerned that something might be wrong. It was a little more than a year ago that you smacked straight into the glass window of a luxury box during the MSU game while we watched from below, terrified. It’s been said that you got distracted by your own reflection and, trust me, as a girl who’s been know to spend hours in front of the mirror, I get that.
But after last week’s game, we’re starting to worry that it’s not just a one-time thing. I mean, two guys leapt out of a moving airplane at more than 2,000 feet and still made a smoother landing than you did.
We’re worried about you, Spirit. We don’t like to see you like this.
Our homecoming game is this week. We’re up against New Mexico State for what might be the brightest moment in a dark season. Thousands of Auburn alumni flock to Jordan-Hare stadium to relive old memories and make new ones. This is your time to shine. You can finally prove all your critics wrong.
All we’re asking is for one loop around the stands, and then you can head straight to that hunk of meat waiting for you on the ground. We believe in you. We know you can do it. And, realistically, we don’t have a whole lot to look forward to for the rest of this season. At least give us this.
I’ve been known to go to extreme lengths to avoid cold weather: using breakfast burritos as hand warmers on the walk to class, covering myself with sheets of loose-leaf paper in Haley Center and taking shots from a flask of Theraflu warming liquid. I came to Auburn in large part because I was promised a short and very mild winter.
When September rolled around I reflexively started to indulge in my favorite rites of fall until, trying to sip hot cider on a 90-degree day, it dawned on me: a mild winter meant a nearly nonexistent autumn.
A more sensible woman might have chosen to give up, return to tank tops and be content to sunbathe all the way into November. But not me. My strategy is to adopt the attire and activities of the season in hopes that the weather will follow.
The mornings have been deceptively crisp this past week. Take this as license to break out your thickest scarves, cardigans, coats and boots. When you step out the door at 9 a.m., you will feel well-prepared for the early morning chill. By 11 a.m., you’re scrambling down the concourse, tearing off layers in a heat-induced frenzy. The beauty of fall is you can conceal yourself in so many layers of knits, wool, cotton, leather and fur that the shape of your body becomes largely indistinguishable.
Even while I’m huffing it past peers who are dressed in more seasonally appropriate outfits, I refuse to acknowledge that my pea coat has no place in 86-degree weather. Everyone looks more adorable in outerwear. If that means suffering a heatstroke for the sake of ushering in autumnal style, so be it.
Along with the fall comes an entire palette of new novelty items that scientists have figured out how to make taste like a pumpkin. To get into the spirit of the season, you should make a point to indulge in something pumpkin- flavored at least twice a day. Coffee shops have rolled out a spectrum of flavors that range from pumpkin spice latte to pumpkin spice chai to pumpkin spice white chocolate mocha.
Pair that with a pumpkin doughnut and a piping hot bowl of pumpkin soup, and try to ignore the beads of sweat that start to trickle down your forehead.
With enough preparation and the air conditioning set on a crisp 66 degrees, you can almost forget that your friends keep inviting you over to swim.
Read more:The Auburn Plainsman - Strategizing for a faux fall
Some of the red flags in a relationship are universal, like if he’s rude to your friends or if she’s an Alabama fan. There are some indicators that get overlooked, though. As your self-declared guide to affairs of the heart, I have compiled a cheat sheet of relationship deal breakers.
They are terrible at text messaging.Break up with them if they have texted you any of the following. A “good morning” before 11 a.m. A variation of the single-letter “K” as a response. ‘Hey’ or ‘hey what’s up’ accompanied by a winky face emoticon. Furthermore, any text message without appropriate punctuation will be interpreted as a passive-aggressive attack and immediate grounds for dumping.
They are destroying your Netflix queue.There are several milestones you hit during a long-term relationship. Celebrating holidays together. Meeting the parents. Exchanging SAT scores. There will come a point in every relationship when your significant other will ask for the password to your Netflix account. It starts innocently enough, with a couple episodes of “Pretty Little Liars.” But pretty soon, your recommendations are suddenly filled with eerily specific categories that Netflix claims are based off of your taste preferences. You have no interest in ‘Romantic Crime Thrillers Featuring a Strong Canine Lead’ or ‘Movies Where Two Characters Fight A Lot Because of How Much They Feel For Each Other and Also There’s A Scene In An Airport.’ But you know who does.
They are emotionally unavailable. You’re looking for a relationship with a future. You don’t want to endure this thing for another six months only to find out they aren’t into the whole “emotional investment” thing. This is sometimes hard to tell right away, so I’ve developed a foolproof, two-step method to quantitatively test whether someone is a heartless monster with no capacity for love. Have them watch the Disney-Pixar film “Up.” If they don’t cry within the first 10 minutes, dump them.
They are too emotionally available.I know what I said above, but there’s a limit to the amount of sweet nothings someone can whisper before you are ready to kick them to the curb. This kind of overbearing relationship is characterized by public displays of affection, baby talk and nauseating nicknames including (but not limited to) any dessert-based comparison. Dump them if they’ve ever posted your name online with more than one exclamation mark next to it. There is a way to conduct a healthy relationship that doesn’t involve posting Facebook status updates about it in 15-minute increments. You deserve someone who realizes that.
Read more: The Auburn Plainsman - Red flags and merciful dumpings
After a weekend in Paris and a sweltering last day in Rome, I took to the sky and headed toward San Sebastian, Spain where darling Thomas is spending his summer. Within the span of three days, I was faced with learning to order coffee in three different languages, which is a lot to handle without any espresso pumping through my veins. My Italian was functional because I took a crash course every morning at 8 am for the first two weeks I was there. My French was coherent, because I’m on my fourth semester of it with only one honor code violation under my belt. My Spanish, however, is severely lacking. In terms of language comprehension, I could be outpaced by any child who’s seen a single commercial for Dora the Explorer on Ice.
It was a shock to be submerged in a place where I could not communicate even the most basic sentiment. In Rome, the pack of fourteen girls that constantly surrounded me was enough keep me from realizing how out of place I was. Here, the only person I’m able to talk to is Thomas. Sure, he translates the conversations I’m having, but my witty quips don’t have the same punch when relayed slowly in broken Spanish. In my host home, with a pastor and his wife, the challenge is even greater in the evenings and mornings when Thomas is not around.
The case study for my time in Spain is my relationship with Nancy. I woke up one morning to a hoard of screaming children, their frantic parents preparing to leave them for the day, and a very tranquil Nancy. Nancy is the kids’ grandmother and she knows only one sentence in English (“my name…is Nancy!”) which she says all the time. Once the parents left, Nancy grabbed my hand and took me on a tour around the apartment, jabbering in a nonstop stream of Spanish. She glanced at me periodically, as though looking for some affirmation that I understood why she was waving around half of an avocado and a box of dryer sheets. I would give her a bewildered smile and we’d move on. The tour ended at the kitchen table when, unable to decline any of her offers, I found myself surrounded by three kinds of bread, marmalade, coffee, sugar, sugar alternatives, and enough fruit to stock a midsize grocery store.
I was elbow deep in devouring a peach when I heard “Lenn! Lenn! Lenn!” coming from the living room. I rushed in and found Nancy and the kids watching a home video of the 4 year-old, Isaac, in a school musical. He was dancing around on stage dressed like a dog. That’s when I made my first mistake. I decided to share an anecdote of my own experience playing a cow that meowed in our elementary school production of Wack-a-Doo Zoo. My acclaimed performance as a tormented heifer struggling through an identity crisis would have been difficult to describe in English. In Spanish, it was impossible. The interaction quickly deteriorated, until the two of us were facing one another across the coffee table, Nancy barking while I milked imaginary udders and emitted loud, sustained moos.
Electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the socket at 220 volts alternating at 50 cycles per second. Not only do the outlets require an adaptor, but they need a power converter to step down the electricity to the American standard of 110 volts. I came to Italy armed with both, a hairdryer, and a miniature straightener.
The temperature in Rome slowly climbed from a temperate 72 degrees to a sweltering 98. I slept with the windows open, clinging to my sputtering fan, and I still woke up like I’d run a half-marathon during the night. After my morning shower, it was already too hot in the apartment to turn on my hairdryer.
In all the time Thomas and I have been dating, I’ve struggled to maintain the illusion of effortless beauty. In reality, it takes hours of concentration and a thick crust of hairspray just to leave the house. Through strategic planning, I’ve tricked Thomas into thinking that a gentle breeze curls my hair while woodland critters dress me in the morning. When Thomas arrived in Rome, however, I knew it would take an superhuman effort to look presentable in these conditions.
Ex. “homeschooled” hair
I stood before the mirror the first morning with a grimace on my face. I had my hairdryer plugged into a plug adapter plugged into a power converter plugged into the wall. I flipped the switch and the machine shot out a weak blast of searing hot air. I had already broken a sweat. I endured the heat for three seconds and then turned it toward the window when I couldn’t stand it any longer. The heat from the hairdryer mingled with the sunlight coming in from the window and I briefly saw a mirage. I heard Thomas stir in the other room. With a trembling hand, I pointed the hairdryer back towards my hair and clicked it to full blast. The temperature of the room was rising. It was getting difficult to breathe. Some might have given up, but when I let my hair air dry, I look like a homeschooler. So, middle part in mind, I soldiered on.
The aforementioned mane, pictured here in the Colosseum. Several tourists ran screaming from the sight, thinking that a live lion had been released into the arena.
The electricity pulsing through my straightener caused it to vibrate with excess energy. If left unattended for more than a couple seconds, its plastic shell began to melt. This should have been a signal that it wasn’t a wise idea to use on my freshly-cut locks. I could hear them sizzle every time I clamped down. I was feeling lightheaded from the fumes of burning hair. Beads of sweat were dripping down into my eyes and making it difficult to see. This proved dangerous, as the straightener was now functioning more like a small blowtorch.
When Thomas walked in half an hour later, I was extinguishing a small fire from my bangs. I smiled beatifically and swept a pile of singed hair under the bed with my foot.
He glanced at me and said: “That didn’t seem like it took too long.”
I’m a romantic. I can’t help it. Right now, I’m sitting out on my 5th floor balcony in the dark, wearing a black slip and a bun, because the heat wave that just hit makes it too hot to stay inside. I’m watching the glow of lantern-lit rooftops and listening to the gentle rumble of the bars beneath me. For some, living in a city where you can’t understand anyone might feel like isolation; for me, it’s all the comfort of company without any of the distraction. My simplest pleasures this summer have been open windows, billowing curtains, and long mornings drinking cappuccinos at the counter.
It’s in my nature as a writer to strategically place myself in settings that promise the most conflict, romance, and adventure. Thomas bought a plane ticket here and I thought, “This is the development my plot arc has been waiting for!” which was not a euphemism for anything. The day his plane landed, I brushed out my hair and set myself down in the shade of a cobblestone alleyway. I was there for the better part of an hour. He must have seen me before I saw him, because when I turned my head he was running straight toward me.
Sometimes Thomas claims to forget our signature pose, the “You Look at Me I Look at the Camera,” and has to be gently coaxed back into the frame.
I was eager to show him around Rome. We got pizza at a place where we sat elbow to elbow with a Chinese family that had ordered french fries. I took him to meet my ‘gelato guy’ who is actually a girl that I am a little too well acquainted with due to a twice-a-day habit. When she told us that we were a “very beautiful coop-ul,” I momentarily lost consciousness. Once they revived me, we decided to take our cones down by the river.
I hadn’t even staged this scene but it was working out perfectly: pistachio scoops on handmade cones, a beautiful river bank, and a setting sun that made Rome look like it had been painted onto a backdrop and unrolled just for us. The two of us sat on a ledge and let our feet dangle over the water, alternatively gazing into one another’s eyes and chomping down on our gelato like hunger-ravaged animals. I was just about to go in for the kill on the last inch of my waffle cone when Thomas leapt into my arms Scooby Doo-style.
“A RAT,” he hollered. “IT’S A HUGE RAT!”
I dumped him out of my arms and surveyed the reeds below us, but I didn’t see anything. Convinced that the threat was gone, Thomas returned to gazing lovingly at me while I gazed lovingly at my gelato. Then we heard a shuffling.
“REMAIN CALM,” I shouted. “IT’S PROBABLY JUST AFRAID OF US.”
The rat darted out of the bushes. My first instinct was to sacrifice Thomas but I figured I might be better off using his body as a shield. I had to admit, from my position huddled behind Thomas, it looked vicious. If you’ve ever read George Orwell’s 1984, when he describes rats so big they ate small dogs and medium-sized children for middays snacks, then you have a pretty accurate image of what we were looking at. For a moment, the three of us were frozen there: the rat looking at me, Thomas looking at the rat, and me looking at the camera.
Then—I kid you not, folks— the rat turned and RAN across the water’s surface.
Eyewitnesses agree that there was a series of high-pitched screams, but none of them can agree on who exactly they came from: me, Thomas, or the rat.
The class we’re taking here is on the art of the Renaissance, so we see a lot of oil paintings and cathedrals. On any given day, we see between two and five churches and it’s hard to keep them straight for several reasons. First: clear signage was not a top priority of the brilliant architects who constructed these buildings. Second: with a few exceptions, like the church we saw completed decorated with bones, they all look the same. We protect what can be salvaged of our modesty by covering our shoulders (with scarves, with jackets, with loose-leaf sheets of notebook paper), we use the reverse camera on our iPhones to take illegal pictures, and we gaze upon a dozens portraits of Madonna and Child. The cathedrals, though each magnificent in their own right, are still not exempt from the Law of Diminishing Returns. The more masterpieces we see, the less impressed we are with the next fresco of a saint being pulled apart between two wheels. We’ve seen so many altarpieces and Last Suppers that the fourteen of us have starting sitting on only one side of the table when we eat.
The stagnant air of those cloisters has poisoned our minds. This is never more glaringly evident than when we try to give each other directions. Because the names of particular places or restaurants are not clear, we have to distinguish their location the best way we know how. ‘Turn left at the church where we saw the Madonna and Child.’ ‘The piazza in front of the first cathedral I almost cried in.’ ‘Take a right at the fountain that looks like Poseidon doing a spit take.’ ‘We’re right beside the guy aggressively peddling splat toys.’ ‘If you’ve passed the priest on a unicycle, you’ve gone too far.’ ‘Meet us in front of where Callie had that salmon pasta the week we got here.’ No matter what landmark we’re trying to describe, it ends up being just vague enough to apply to anything. We don’t meet up much.
Our renaissance education is starting to seep into our social lives in a dangerous way. Yesterday, in Florence, a huge crowd had gathered on the street. It was in the heat of the day and taxis were blasting their horns behind us, nudging pedestrians out of the way with their bumper. Everyone in the crowd was packed tight together, all craning their necks to see something in the glass storefront of the building. I wondered what it was that this mass of people couldn’t wait to see. I tapped the girl in front of me on the shoulder and asked her what was happening. “We’re trying to see Madonna!” The first logical thought in my head should have been the arrival of international superstar Madonna, who’s concert posters I’d been seeing plastered on every wall since I got there. But the long hours of staring up at faded frescos and old oil paintings had already taken their toll on me. So, instead, my response to the mob that had gathered just to get a glimpse of Madonna was: “By Cimabue or Giotto?”
Tensions are running high here in Italy. With the volatile mixture of 14 girls, one head-in-the-clouds professor, and one illicit student teacher romance (more or less) (less), we were bound to hit a breaking point. We could tell it was coming when our would-be five hour class day turned into ten last Wednesday at the contemporary art museum. Low blood sugar nearly caused a couple girls to collapse in the pile of sludge on the museum floor that was supposed to represent the artist’s struggle with his geopolitical identity or something. Our teacher Wendy remained unconcerned, due in large part to the dozens of sandwiches she had hidden in the folds of her clothing. By the time we got home, we only had enough energy to swallow a couple pizzas whole and collapse into a fitful sleep.
We figured the only way to diffuse the tension was to talk to her. As a practiced rhetorician, eloquent public speaker, and honorary green belt in martial arts, I volunteered to broach the subject with Wendy after lunch. What I imagined was a democratic discussion regarding the group’s main concerns. What happened was more like if you have ever seen a lion attack a gazelle in the wild and then pick its teeth with the bones.
Contemporary art museums are a lot like a playground for adults, except you can’t laugh or touch anything or wait to leave. We went again today. By the time our 2-4:30 class hit the 6 o’clock mark, even the video loop installation of J-Lo crying couldn’t cheer us up. On the bumpy bus ride home, we swayed from the the overhead railings and scowled.
In Italy, cars are smaller. They don’t need as much room to reverse, parallel park, or nearly graze your toes as they zip pass you on a busy street. I’ve seen drivers here pull stunts previously only dreamed of by dudes in white satin scorpion jackets. The only parking strategy I’ve been able to pick up on is this: 1) Pull off onto a side street. 2) Abandon your car in the middle of the street like this is some episode of the Walking Dead. Our bus made the fatal mistake of turning onto a tiny road crammed with cars lining either side. It screeched to a halt, with no where to go and no way to turn back. The bus was stalled in the road and traffic was lining up behind us.
And that was when we reached our breaking point. It all hit us at once: the crazy professor, the 11 hour days, the hunger, exhaustion, and a week’s worth of pent-up anger and frustration—and now, this stupid SmartCar that was the the only thing standing between us and finally getting home.
That raw desperation was the only reason I can think of as to why, without hesitation, the fourteen of us marched off of the bus into the street and managed to successfully PUSH the car out of our way.
We got back on the bus to the sound of cheers. Turns out the release of tension we needed wasn’t a civil discourse with an administrative professional. It was the adrenaline that comes from lifting a car over your head with your bare hands.
Please excuse the delay! There was no wifi at the Vatican so I had to wait until I got home to instagram all of its priceless works of art.
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