One thing you gotta love about Oberlin is that very few people here are truly lazy. Sure, plenty of people go on about how lazy they are, but it's usually in the context of not wanting to clean up the kitchen after writing a few pages of a screenplay, or not feeling like going to your second meeting of the day.
What I'm trying to say is, being highly active is a way of life at Oberlin. And from what I've seen, it's a more pervasive culture here than it is at many other schools. As a result, the semesters seem to accelerate at a lightning-quick pace once classes start again after winter or summer break.
This semester is an exciting one for me, thanks to another slew of challenging classes and a new set of extra-curriculars. I've got a politics junkie's dream curriculum, with a Constitutional Law class taught by the animated Professor Ron Kahn, and a class on Public Education Policy and Law taught by President Marvin Krislov, who once represented the University of Michigan in its landmark Supreme Court case on affirmative action.
I'm also taking a class called Money, the Financial System, and the Economy, so I can learn to speak intelligently about interest rates, stocks, and other parts of our economy which both confuse us and rule the world.
And to stimulate a totally different part of my brain, I'm taking a class on Travel Writing with Laurie McMillin, a wise professor who incredibly knew everyone's name before we introduced ourselves on the first day of class.
So far this week I've learned about the history of judicial review, the power of the Supreme Court to effect social reform, how interest rates work, and new ways to see my travel experiences.
In my travel writing class we've written two response essays so far. I've enjoyed being asked to write about memorable travel experiences I've had that I didn't think I could write that much about. The following is a somewhat graphic excerpt about one of my more daring culinary adventures in Spain:
The first surprise came when we got a front-row viewing of how pork goes from the pig's leg to an arrangement of thin, meaty slices, unrecognizable from their former state as being part of a living animal. Perhaps the most common ornaments in Spanish bars and restaurants are a host of pig legs, which you will see either hanging from the ceiling or strapped into a metal apparatus. I, for one, thought that the animal leg held securely between two metal clasps was supposed to serve merely as some kind of decoration to indicate how fresh the restaurant's food was. It turned out I was right, in a way. Call me overly empathetic, but when our waiter took his sharp blade to the muscle of the pig's leg I could almost feel it slicing down my calf.
However, when the full platter was put before us, those slices turned out to be one of the more appealing options. The second-most appealing item was the chorizo de sangre, blood sausage, which a fellow student informed me was indeed what it sounded like--the black, chunky sausage is made of congealed blood. The notion of eating such a thing struck me with an instinctive horror. It sounded like something the devil would dine on.
But I tried it, and it was good.
I ate the first piece hastily, as if "trying it" meant only chewing and swallowing. I was so busy trying to get it over with that I forgot that if it was going to be in my mouth I should at least know what it tasted like. I wanted the full experience, so I went for a second bite, vowing not to think about what it was made of this time. I chewed the second piece a little more slowly, and found it to have a complex flavor new to my palate.
With my newfound appreciation for the sausage's taste I realized that indeed it is more noble and pragmatic to eat an animal's blood than it is satanic (if you're going to eat the animal at all, that is). I also realized that experimenting with foreign cuisine is one of the most tangible ways to experiment with a foreign culture in general.
Unfortunately the rest of the platter's offerings tempered the optimism of my epiphany. They included pig ear, pig feet, and various other raw-looking, pinkish, gelatinous bits that I did not wish to have identified. My friend and I decided we would be extra daring and try a nibble of the ear. A sole nibble was all I needed to reject eating ear forevermore. It had a frustrating gummy quality which gave it a stubborn refusal to be chewed. I gave it an honest effort, gnawing on it for long enough to remember its unspectacular taste. But instead of breaking down it would simply get caught between my teeth. Perhaps I did not give it long enough, but I soon decided to just swallow it whole.
I wonder what this says about my interactions with foreign cultures in general. I think it's safe to say that it serves as a microcosmic lesson for one fair rule of travelling--just give everything a fair chance; you don't have to like it all.
More to come about my new extra-curricular endeavors in the next post. Big changes are happening in my life!