One of the first things I’d been hoping to do at St. Andrews was to take a run on the giant sand beaches where the opening scene of Chariots of Fire was filmed. If you think you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re probably wrong, because you’ve likely heard the music in it before, and the scene has been parodied in lots of other movies. Go now and watch the clip. Do it. And then try to tell me it doesn’t make you want to put on one of those white outfits and go for a run.
It’s been quite soggy for the last few days, but while eating my muesli in the dining hall this morning I could see the rain turning into snow instead. I decided this was my chance to run without getting sopping wet. After pulling on tights and fleece, I took off with tea still sloshing in my stomach. To get to the beach, I had to cross part of the Old Course, where golf was first played over a half century ago. The sand of the beach was surprisingly firm, and it stretched out for miles, disappearing into a blur of water and heavy white fog. There were lots of footprints, but I only saw one other runner.
I got back just in time to take a shower and get ready for my advising appointment where I confirmed the courses–or modules, as they call them here–that I’ll be taking this semester. I’d signed up earlier online, but we had to meet with an adviser from our department to finish the process. They seem to like to do things face-to-face here. Old universities are slow to change, I guess. Luckily I got into both of the classes I was hoping to: Contemporary British Fiction and Medievalism. I’m hoping Contemporary British Fiction will help me get a better sense of contemporary culture in Britain, and Medievalism both fulfills a requirement at Yale and includes some Scottish texts. Here, a normal course-load for third and fourth year English majors is just two modules, but I’ll be expected to do a massive amount of independent reading for each of them.
My adviser was a friendly medievalist who directed me to the English building by telling me that it was “right across from the castle.” There are quite a few buildings that look like castles here, as it’s very much a medieval town, but I hadn’t yet visited the St. Andrews Castle. It’s housed bishops and kings and dates back to the twelfth century. I headed to the English building to find out my class locations and get syllabuses, and then I took a look at both the castle and the cathedral nearby. The shore reminded me of home a bit, if Lake Superior had medieval ruins instead of lighthouses.
I’m settling into my dorm, University Hall, as well. For the last few days it’s been mostly study abroad students since the regular students don’t need to be here until classes start on Monday, but they’re trickling back in. Each hall has a dining hall and you have to eat in your own, which is a bit limiting, but good for meeting new people.
Tonight was Burns Night–the birthday of Robert Burns, or “Rabbie Burns,” the national bard of Scotland. There’s quite a few traditions that go along with a Burns Night supper, and while we didn’t have a bagpiper in our dining hall, and there was only one man in a kilt, we did have the traditional meal: haggis, of course. The hall warden explained the holiday, and then her husband opened the meal by reading Burns’ “Ode to a Haggis.” It involved lots of dramatic gestures and waving about of a carving knife which he eventually stabbed into the haggis to open it. The Ode is about how haggis is the only food hearty enough for the Scots, unlike that sickly “French ragout” or “skinking ware” (watery stuff). Walking back to my room after dinner, I overheard someone say outside, “Now, haggis pizza, that’s really good…”