Saturday, December 27, 2008

Boxing Day

Danielle here, writing from the left side of the pond. Boxing Day came and went in my family with nary a mention, but the New York Times printed an article about its roots in British culture as a day of giving. Read it and remember why we should all probably give a bit more this year (and every year!). Also, enjoy the witty comments about British vs American culture!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all



And to all a good night!

Continental got me home safe and sound and only 5 minutes behind schedule. I hope everyone has a very Merry and Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

4th Sunday of Advent at Westminster Cathedral



Sunday was the 4th Sunday of Advent, when Mary finds out she's going to be the mother of Jesus, and it was also my late grandfather's birthday. To remember him as well as get in my yearly church obligation (there is no way I will make Midnight Vigil Mass this year after flying for seven hours), I went to church at Westminster Cathedral. Do not confuse this church with Westminster Abbey, the really old Anglican church; this is the seat of the Catholic church in London.

Westminster Cathedral is not that old; I think it was built in the 19th century on the site of a smaller Catholic Church. Since Catholicism is not the state religion of England (like it is in other European nations), it's actually kind of hard to find a Catholic church and this cathedral doesn't have the history or gravitas of the great European houses of worship. Currently it is undergoing major reconstruction and renovation on the interior; there was scaffolding up the inside wall of entrance end of the nave, and there were plywood walkways covering the floor.

The Mass itself was the usual mass, but it was weird to hear the Homily said with an English accent. There were other odd differences in responses, and they had a woman who functioned like a Jewish cantor singing most of the responses to organ music. It was nice, however, to go to a church with pageantry and austerity - even if it was under construction - and see how a big parish acts on behalf of the community.

London Christmas Markets



Are a big sham!

I love a good Christmas market, and in Europe they are really popular. Flights to eastern European cities like Vienna, Salzburg, Berlin, and Prague (to name a few) skyrocket during the weeks before Christmas as each city puts out handmade craft and food stalls. Nigella even filmed part of one of her episodes at the Salzburg market!

Of course London tries to get in on the game, with Christmas markets set up in and around its existing markets. But I'm here to tell you that they stink. They're all the same vendors selling the same junk, and the same food. The Irishman and I went to the Cologne Christmas market at Southbank last weekend, and I was highly disappointed in the lack of actual GERMANS that were working the stalls - as well as the lack of GERMAN ITEMS for sale. How does the genuine wooden tie count as a German Christmas craft? The most authentic thing for sale was the bratwurst!

We also stumbled upon the Slow Food Market, which was disappointing as well because it was the same vendors as in Borough Market and Spitalfields. At some point one has to ask, what is the point of having all of these markets, if the people selling in them are all the same? I wonder if there is a market mafia in London, like the street fair people in New York, making millions off of produce and gift markets. If so, then I say FEH and I boycott them all out of principle!

End of an era



The New York Times is reporting on the biggest retail closure in England since, well, I don't know if there has been a bigger bankruptcy than Woolworths. I posted earlier in the year about how much of my home was outfitted courtesy of Woolies and my relocation budget, and, I felt much like some of the people interviewed for the article: Woolies has everything you need - and don't know you need - cheap, and is always there when you do need it. I got hangers, soup bowls, a bill/paper/file folder organizer thing-y, a spoon rest, kitchen rags, a coat rack, orange juicer... and I probably spent no more than £20 on it all. But Woolies was a nightmare, a complete and utter disaster of a store. If I wasn't tripping over little old ladies with their shopping trolleys, I was avoiding 12 year old school kids flirting by the bulk candy. I'm sad to see it go, because when I need a new drying rack for clothes or more hangers, I'm going to have to trek up to IKEA or take my chances at a pound store - neither option being particularly enjoyable. The Woolies in my neighborhood is slated to become a Waitrose, which will be nice for gourmet treats, but nothing compares to a cheap homegood that serves a negligible purpose but makes you feel like you really found a bargain.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What was I thinking?

It is the Friday before Christmas, mid-day, and I'm just about done - stick a fork in me. My clients are all gone for the holidays and after a presentation this afternoon, I'll really have nothing to do. So why am I sticking around until Christmas Eve?! My Christmas shopping is done, I've gained my Christmas weight thanks to beer and treats, and my office is completely devoid of life. I think there are about 10 of us left until the bitter end. So what possessed me to schedule my flight back to the US for CHRISTMAS EVE?

Seriously, I wonder about my sanity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nigella does Christmas



It is Christmas in London, in case you haven't heard. Even if you've managed to avoid the throngs of shoppers and tourists, the twinkly lights, and ALL OF THE MULLED WINE IN PUBS (wheeee!), you cannot miss that it is Christmas because Nigella is presenting her Christmas kitchen every night on BBC2. And I, personally, love it. I love Nigella, her recipes, her sophisticated cooking utensils, and the fact that she is a full-figured woman who loves to eat and has good hair. Plus, hi, I'd like to look like her when I'm of a certain age.

The Brits, however, don't like Nigella. There was a mean drinking game published in a column in the Guardian on Tuesday after Monday's episode, apparently because Nigella's Christmas cooking show has apparently jumped the shark, in American parlance. The Irishman humphed to himself while Nigella made a drunken Christmas brunch in Tuesday's installment, and I'm fearful as to what will happen during tonight's show!

Frankly, I don't get it. I hear that people think she is over-the-top, completely fake, pretending to be a common person when she's really married to a really rich guy. But you know what? I don't care. I LIKE that she makes her cooking show about excess at the holidays, and presents it like a narrative, and champions over-eating during the holidays, and uses big flowery statements to describe what she's creating. I LIKE hearing that the cranberries she adds to her mince mixture will glisten like garnets. That's the POINT of Christmas - sentiment, cheer, and good food, all overdone to the max.

Maybe I'm just American, bred to enjoy spectacle and over-the-top-ness, but so be it. You'll find me curled up on my couch (with tea with milk and a Dairy Milk advent calendar chocolate) every night for the rest of the week, watching Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, and LOVING IT.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gordon Ramsay, the service in your pub sucked.



Kat and DK are here. WOOT! We had lots of plans for their visit of 8 days, not the least of which was to eat at one of Gordon Ramsay's pubs - The Warrington.

We had reservations for 9pm in the dining room of the pub in Maida Vale. We were all really impressed when we got there, as it was a very elaborately decorated Victorian pub. We were about an hour early for our reservation, so we stayed downstairs for a drink or two before we went upstairs to the dining room. The only thing that would have made the place better was a fire in the fireplace... such a cold night, it would have been perfect! And, while we were there, we saw Mary Portas of GRAZIA and Mary Queen of Shops fame - a celebrity siting!

At 9, we went upstairs and were informed that our table wasn't ready - the diners had finished and were paying the bill, but the hostess couldn't hurry them out. So with a bit of a huff we went back downstairs to the cold bar to wait. About 15 minutes later the hostess came to get us, and we were seated. To be honest, the menu was great and the food (when we got it) was amazing. But the service just went downhill - and it hadn't started out well. Our water glasses weren't refilled, we sat with dirty dishes for what felt like ages, and one of our party had his food come out 10 minutes after everyone else's. By the time we got the dessert menus, we thought we actually would order a third course - but the waitstaff never came over to take our orders, so we just asked for the bill.

I've never asked for the discretionary 12.5% service charge to be removed from a bill, but I did that night. I felt bad for the waiter who actually brought us the bill because he was the only one of the staff who actually seemed to be on the ball and waiting on customers. But I can't just give somebody money who didn't do anything to make our meal better. I also felt bad for Kat and DK - they love Gordon Ramsay and were thrilled to eat food he attached his name to. But he probably should have also made sure to approve the service at the dining room too.

Return to NYC = Twilight Zone



Last week I had a whirlwind business trip to New York for three days. It was absolutely surreal. After a full day of meetings in Amsterdam on Tuesday, I boarded my first British Airways flight to JFK on Wednesday morning. 8+ hours later, I was in New York and in a car stuck in traffic on Park Avenue as tourists choked the sidewalks getting ready for the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. How truly bizarre!

The rest of the week was a whirlwind: dinner with Laura, Jon, and Jeff; reunion with former co-workers; lunch at EAST with Mom and Dad; Belmont Lounge with Dave, Fern (!!!), Rietje, Sam, and Allison; meetings; drinks at the Modern; home. Phew.

Being in New York was really nice, actually: I haven't been away long enough for it to be completely alien. Things still have changed, though - what is this $7.00 for 8 rides Metrocard option? What is going on with the calories on menus? At the same time, though, even as I walked familiar avenues and visited old haunts, it's clear that New York isn't my city anymore. It always will be - I'll always have New York - but London is quickly becoming home. By Friday, I wanted to be in MY bed, in MY apartment, in MY neighborhood. And that was disconcerting unto itself.

Plus, visiting my old office in New York made me really notice the difference between that office and London's office of the same company. I belong to both, and feel at home in both, but can only work for one. While washing dishes the other day it occurred to me that this sentiment is the reality of an expat - feeling at home everywhere, but not having one place to call home. As once moves around the world, one assimilates to each place, picks up a bit and leaves a bit behind.

So what is home? I've been thinking lately that home is where you choose to be - whether it be where you are at the moment, or the place you eventually end up. So far, I'm happy where I've landed, but I really don't think this is it... and I'm excited by that prospect of what lies around the next turn.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

London at Christmas

London is all dressed up for Christmas. Check out some pictures of its finery here!

Monkey: Journey to the West



Friday night, the Irishman took me on a secret date. He listened to all the hints I dropped about wanting to see Monkey: Journey to the West, a Chinese opera realized and designed by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame, so escorted me to the O2 in Greenwich for a performance.

The show was amazing. It was equal parts opera, acrobat, martial art, video, and installation. The mixture of art forms was really innovative and exciting, and it was the kind of show you didn't want to end.

The story of Monkey is a Chinese folktale about a cheeky monkey who redeems himself by escorting a young pilgrim on a voyage to the holy land after angering the gods. He and a few other pilgrims encounter challenges and characters along the way. When they reach their destination, they achieve enlightenment and are made into gods themselves.

My favorite part of the show was the costumes: a horse character wore a bobbling rump with a saddle and tail, an undersea creature had layers of colored fabric swishing around, and warriors wore sweeping capes over boots and leggings.

Even the venue was designed, with a Chinese theme; situated in a circus tent next to the O2 center, the entryway had red lanterns hanging from the support beams and drawings of the characters hanging on the wall. There was a bar and restaurant, and you could get foot and back massages while you waited for the show to start.

The only thing that was disappointing was the O2 itself. The O2 is a big convention center that was built for the millenium, and subsequently made into a shopping and entertainment venue. Inside there is pretty much any store you'd want, tons of restaurants, and even a ski slope. But the thing is, it's designed to look like a street outside, with brick walkways and street lamps. The whole thing is disconcerting, but it was worth the trip through the weird twilight-zone of a shopping center to get to see Monkey.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Transatlantic Thanksgiving





Brits don't understand Thanksgiving. Of all the American holidays, they're not quite sure what to do with it - it's sort of like English Christmas, with a turkey and the trimmings, but it's also sort of an anti-English holiday (hi, the Pilgrims were celebrating surviving after ESCAPING from England).

So, since I'm not going home for Thanksgiving, and I've been cooking a potluck Thanksgiving dinner every year since my senior year of college, I decided to introduce some of Brits in my life to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I billed it not as a gourmet Thanksgiving (no turducken with shittake mushroom stuffing) but as a "taste of America" - all of the standard dishes that one might not actually like, but are at every Thanksgiving meal. Last night was the Transatlantic Thanksgiving for 15 people in my narrow apartment, and featured the following menu:
- turkey
- stuffing (2 kinds, homemade apple-walnut, made by Ashley, and StoveTop, imported on the day of by visitors Mel & Dave)
- French's French-fried onion green bean casserole
- sweet potato and marshmallow casserole
- mashed potatoes
- cauliflower
- cranberries
- gravy
- 3 kinds of pies made by Ashley (pumpkin, pecan, apple)
- pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

After seeing frozen turkeys at Sainsburys for £49.99, I decided to take a chance and inquire at the butcher I pass every day on my way to work. I asked for a 15lb bird, and the nice butcher promised to get me a fresh "7+ kg" turkey delivered on the day of my dinner party. So yesterday morning I biked down the road and picked up my 6.82kg bird at 10am, and paid only £32.86! The bird made the journey back home safely in my bike basket, and went straight into the roasting pan for trimming and cooking. There I discovered that my turkey was so fresh that it still had little feathers on the legs!

It was a real pleasure to make a turkey that I wasn't worried about being not-quite-defrosted, or frantically searching for the giblets frozen to the inside of the bird's cavity and cutting myself while trying to pry them out. The bird was so fresh, you really tell the difference between a fresh and frozen turkey. At about 14lbs, it was a big bird and there was some serious concern that it might not fit in our very English tiny oven. But it did fit, and came out wonderful.

The sides went well also; there were only slight difficulties with converting Fahrenheit to Celsius and cups to grams. Everything miraculously done on time, and ready for the wine-bearing guests. Fifteen of us crammed into the rearranged lounge and hilarity ensued as normally dignified English people shoved mouthfuls of food in their mouths with as much gusto as Americans; it seems like turkey and stuffing incites gorging no matter what continent one's on.

The desserts also created an uproar as pie eating contests (1 of each!) gave a lot of people sugar highs. When people couldn't eat a morsel more, the party decamped to a bar across the street to finish the night. All in all, the way a Thanksgiving should be (minus the American football) and big balloons; pictures, of course, are here.

Sloane visited and we played with Photobooth.



Clearly, we were drinking a large amount of wine.

Lates at the Tates



Many Fridays, the Tates - Tate Britain, Tate Modern - are open late for bright young things to enjoy the art and libations. This is not a new concept, as most of the New York museums do the same, and the V&A has themed Fridays once a month that usually are based on their special exhibits.

I checked out the Tate Britain's Friday night a few weeks ago, and was super impressed. The museum had a really great mixture of art and lifestyle on display, in a bunch of media. There was a film shown on a huge screen at the end of the main gallery; photographs were projected on a marble wall in a central hallway, there were at least 3 cash bars, and tons of places to rest and chat. My favorite part, though, was a DJ booth and light show set up in a 19th century British painting gallery (cash bar too, of course). The juxtaposition of romantic landscapes and society women with hard beats and rotating lights, plus the scenesters striking poses to see and be seen, was one of the most memorable things I've seen in London to-date. I stayed for a few hours (and drinks), and will definitely go back.

Lord Mayor's Procession



I posted earlier about Guy Fawkes Day and the British love of fireworks, and how the fireworks displays culminated with the Lord Mayor's fireworks show over the Thames. A few weekends ago, I went to both the Lord Mayor's Procession, and his fireworks show, and loved the ridiculous mix of pagentry and parade.

The Lord Mayor's Procession marks the yearly pilgrimage that the Lord Mayor of the City of London makes to pledge his allegiance to the Crown. The Lord Mayor is actually the honorary CEO of the Corporation of London. Remember the East India Company, the chaps responsible for setting up trade routes in the original 13 colonies? The Corporation of London was like that, before London became an incorporated city. The City of London is now the home of the city's finance industry, but was the original heart of the Roman city. The Roman wall is still visible in parts, and the history of London's birthplace is well documented.

The title of Lord Mayor is now mostly ceremonial, but during the Middle Ages the Lord Mayor was the head of the City of London. When the monarchy decided to make London the capital of England, Londoners agreed to take the King as their leader as long as the Mayor of London maintained control over the City of London. The Lord Mayor's Show is the annual custom of the Lord Mayor reaffirming his (and the city's) allegiance to the monarchy. I'm botching this explanation, so read more here.

So I braved the rain to watch the epic procession throughout the City; I saw some on TV and made it down to watch the conclusion. The parade ran the gamut of black cabbies dressed as Batman and Robin to artillery horses and drill teams. There were bands, Boy Scouts, the Territorial Army (Britain's National Guard), and youth groups. The procession culminated with the Lord Mayor returning to the grandstand in the most ornate gold carriage and fur robes. He reviewed the sailors' uniforms, received a salute, and ended the event. The pagentry was amazing, and pretty cool to see since America really doesn't have an equivalent... Inauguration has nothing on this.

Later on that night, I joined what seemed like the rest of London on the Embankment to watch the Lord Mayor's fireworks display. It was big, beautiful, and a bit short. It felt like a great send off to the fall, because it seemed like all of the city's Christmas decorations were put up the next day. There are pictures of the entire day, of course - click here.

Long time no blog

Hi all, sorry for the dearth of posts. The holiday season is in full force here, so time is in short supply. But I'm about to put a few posts up now, so hope you enjoy...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election results: GOBAMA!



Well, the news hit here at about 5am and I found out from the cab driver who took me to Heathrow for my 6:30AM flight to Amsterdam. The BBC set their photomontage of scenes of Americans voting and celebrating to a Bruce Springsteen song, and I was weeping at the gate, about to board the plane. But my colleagues understood, and all day people - Dutch, British, whoever - kept saying "Congratulations, America!" and smiling and winking at me. You can tell everyone around the world is just as CHUFFED as we Americans are.

I cannot tell you all how a) proud I am of the USA, and proud to BE American; b) painful it is to watch the celebrations going on in New York and around the US from this far away. Seeing crowds swarm Times Square, Pennsylvania Avenue, and even Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, makes me want to run out the door and join them. Instead, I've got hours of fireworks to listen to being set off for Guy Fawkes Day.

Keep celebrating, everyone; this is a moment where everyone around the world is cheering America on and celebrating with us. Enjoy this moment of joy before the hard work of fixing the US begins.

xoxoxoxoxo

PS: SASHA AND MALIA GET A NEW PUPPY! Hooray! A new First Pet!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

I'm so excited, I can hardly stand it.

Check out the NY Times website's interactive feature where you can submit how you're feeling on this Election Day.

I chose proud, instead of excited, for my word: I'm super proud of my country today.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

NYC Marathon

Ashley and I are currently watching the New York City Marathon on Eurosport2. The ladies were off first, and just ran through my old hood of Ft Greene, Brooklyn. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Clermont Avenue and the Masonic Temple and the school band playing the Rocky theme, but these Brits are more interested in talking and aerial shots. Hmph. Peeps who are there or watching at home on TV, let a girl know how the race is going!

Halloween/Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes



So many of you back in the US have asked about Halloween – does it exist here, and would I be celebrating it? The answer is, sort of and not really. Halloween is here, the stores sell spooky decorations and treats and the costume (fancy dress) stores seem to stock up, but Britons themselves don't quite know what to do with it all. Little kids dress up and trick-or-treat, but adults seem torn as to whether or not it's appropriate for them to don costumes as well. As my friend Mark put it, Halloween is seen as something for the children and an American import designed to encourage more senseless consumerism. Well then!

Since Halloween was on a Friday this year, bars and pubs had "Halloween parties" but nothing really big. I didn't see ghouls and ghosts roaming the streets; alas, I had a cold so the only thing I did was pass out on the couch watching Pan's Labyrinth. What is a much bigger deal here, however, is Guy Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes commemorates the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and is marked by Bonfire Night and the setting off of fireworks. Since Guy Fawkes is on November 5, a Wednesday, the city started setting off fireworks steadily all weekend. Each city council has their own celebration throughout the coming week (schedule here), and it culminates on Saturday 8 November with the Lord Mayor's procession and more fireworks on the Thames.

Last night I braved a day of steady pouring rain to visit SW11, an area of the city I've never been to, and watched the fireworks in Battersea Park. There was a bonfire in the middle of the park, concessions, and a half hour display of fireworks choreographed to music. Definitely worth the £5 that we paid to get in!

I find the British obsession with fireworks incredible; since moving here 6 months ago, I've seen no fewer than three separate fireworks displays. It is really very pretty, and quite charming to see all of the reserved, proper Brits standing ankle deep in mud to oooh and ahhh over exploding light and color.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Perfect Saturday Roundup!



You might have noticed a few weeks back, I wrote up my perfect Saturday (Sunday, always have to be different) as part of Londonelicious' quest to find out what bloggers who eat like to do on their day off. She's now compiled everyone's responses, so take a look:

A few weeks ago, Krista from Londonelicious put the call out to London bloggers: What's your idea of a perfect Saturday in London? The American girl who likes food and London but not cooking wined and dined her way around town and wrote about it here in the post that kicked it all off.

Others quickly followed, posting their idea of a perfect Saturday in London. So whether you've always lived in London, or whether you're just visiting for the weekend and want to experience London as a local, here's some inspiration for you and all of your Saturdays. Now get yourself out there and explore!

ML at SPAstic, Tales from a London Spa takes you around South Kensington and Notting Hill for a culture-filled day that ends in Holland Park.

Su-Lin at Tamarind & Thyme gets some culture and shopping in as she trolls central London, imagining the riches she deserves.

Two entries from Mini-et-moi, a great site for modern mums in London. Sarah takes in Marylebone and The London Transport Museum while Michelle explores in the South Bank, tots in tow.

Gourmet Chick hits all the foodie haunts--Ottolenghi, high tea at The Ritz, and Borough Market.

Danielle at Bloody Brilliant starts with a full English and then heads east to explore Brick Lane and Spitalfields.

Over at Gourmet Larder, Gregory begins his day in Borough and then works his way south through Clapham and Vauxhall.

Leah from Curiosity and The Cupcake arrives at Broadway Market bright and early and then enjoys a leisurely stroll through Victoria Park and east London.

Christine over at If Music Be The Food of Love has a musical slant to her day as she explores Hampstead and hits the town with her idol.

Blogger Priyanka begins at Cafe au Lait in Brixton and ends her day at Meson De Felipe and The Beehive in Borough.

Another blogger choosing to start around Borough Market. Helen at Food Stories kicks off her Saturday with a visit to Tower Bridge, wanders over to Borough and then ends her day with a visit to Shunt and by checking out Dinner in The Sky.

Lizzie of the eponymous Lizzie Eats London is very busy geographically and takes us through Blackheath, North Greenwich, Trafalgar Square, Belgravia, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and then back to Shoreditch.

Charles of London guide Tipped.co.uk and his own blog, Grumblemouse, spends his perfect day in Islington, The City, Borough Market, Greenwich, and Shoreditch.

And finally, new-to-the-scene Liz (of Liz Does London, not to be confused with Lizzie above) hits Chelsea, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and Parson's Green.

I think that's everyone. Thanks to all the great bloggers who contributed their perfect Saturday. Please feel free to republish this post on your own blog and add your own perfect Saturday...in London, or elsewhere.


Thank YOU, Krista!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First snow!

It SNOWED last night in London! It left about 2" on my balcony railing before melting by morning, but it was magical nonetheless. It makes the onset of bitter winter cold that much more tolerable, and I am hopeful for more. It certainly makes up for the absolute DEARTH of snow that fell in New York over the past two years...

Poppi(es)



If you watch British TV a lot, as I do, you might notice everyone wearing a red paper flower. I did, and I asked my co-workers what these silly red flowers meant. They're not silly at all, it turns out; they are to mark Remembrance Day, which is the same thing as America's Veteran's Day. Clearly, it is centered around remembering soldiers who fought in THE WAR (WWII) because Britain doesn't really talk about any other war (except perhaps THE GREAT WAR (WWI) but not many soldiers are left from that fight). The poppies are given out when you donate to the British Legion.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

US politics from this perspective



To follow up from my earlier post imploring America to vote, I thought I might share some of what I've noticed about America and American politics since moving to London. It's been nearly five months (!!! I KNOW), and I'm still confronted every day with a new understanding of myself, my country, and the world-at-large.

Let me start out by saying that Britain, and I'm sure the rest of western Europe, is very concerned about the US presidential election. BBC News has a segment on every news cast with a countdown to election day and has reporters following each candidate on the trial. There are special programs and documentaries about the US election system, the candidates, our political history, what the parties mean and stand for... as one anchorwoman ("presenter") said in an ad ("advert") last night: "We can't vote in this election, but its outcome will surely affect us and the rest of the world." Britons might not want to stay up all night and watch election returns hosted by Anderson Cooper on CNN with me, but they sure as hell will be waiting with baited breath to buy their newspaper first thing on November 5th.

Someone in my office asked me a few weeks ago "Can Obama really NOT win"? My reply was, Sadly, yes. From this perspective, and it's always been my personal perspective, Obama is the clear choice and a no-brainer. Britons, my Dutch clients, and other western Europeans I've come in contact with here all find it very perplexing that America and Americans can be so deeply divided on issues to the effect that a non-numerical majority could hand a victory to John McCain and Sarah Palin in November. Barack Obama's stature, composure, demeanor, and attitude fit in here; Europeans can relate to him. They are interested in his background, to be sure, being half-black, half-white, but they are judging his words and actions more than his pedigree: his middle name does not raise eyebrows, his supposed connection to a former terrorist seems irrelevant, and, to be honest, I think that everyone here feels like Obama is the sort of chap you can invite over for dinner and have a pleasant evening with and not worry he'll do something stupid – unlike our current President and the potential new VP-ette.

Because when it comes down to it, what I've noticed the most since moving here is that western Europe is waiting for America to grow the fuck up. America is like their littlest sibling who showed great promise by inventing a lot of stuff, getting good grades, and making a ton of money, but like any youngest, it works hard, plays hard, throws tantrums, has fits, gets greedy, jealous, and often cries foul at the littlest slight; it lacks the perspective and understanding of its' elders who have been around, seen a lot, and can process complex meaning without immediately pointing fingers or laying blame; yet at the same time, its' lack of history allows to go places and do thing its' older siblings would never dare attempt. I think the biggest misconception, though, is that western Europe is shutting America out, or has some superiority complex - on the contrary, it WANTS America in the sandbox, but frankly, only if it's going to behave itself. And for the last several years, it hasn't.

A lot of that bad behavior, in my opinion, stems from America's politicians trying to negotiate America's identity crisis. That is the single most difficult situation for me to watch from afar. It's like once I left America and turned around to view it from the other side of the Atlantic, all of its' political nuances drained away and the nation became one entity; my understanding of it as a union of 50 disparate states, each with its own individual personality and culture, got pushed to the back of my brain and I realized that my personal tolerance and rationalization of "Northern industrial attitudes" and "Midwestern values" and every other political persona that struggles for dominance in America is an insular characteristic of all Americans.

Of course other countries, western European or not, have broadly ranging political views; even Canada has one province that repeatedly demands to secede. But no country has such divided politics, especially along religious, financial, and social issue lines. Europeans are shocked by the US map that shows blue coasts and a solid red interior. They don't quite comprehend the roots of the chasm that splits an Easterner from a Midwesterner. I think much of their confusion can be explained by the traditional 2-party system to which the US clings; in much of Europe, multi-party coalition governments represent a range of views and stances on myriad issues important throughout each nation. The American 2-party system forces politicians to shoe-horn themselves into party structures that are either out-of-date, too vague, or too corrupt for voters to take them seriously. A politician shouldn't apologize for being overtly liberal, or for being radically conservative. The nation is too large and too complex for only two parties to represent it; if countries as big as New York state have support several parties to represent all of the political views of its citizenry, why can't America?

America's superiority complex about its own system of government is a perfect example of its role as little sibling. From this side of the Atlantic, American pride in its system of government feels like an immature boast: only American democracy is real democracy, while European democracies are bloated, paternalistic, intrusive, and lacking in real participation from the citizenry. Yet we all know that the Electoral College itself is a barrier to full American participation in government, and I can't tell you how many times I've stumbled through a botched explanation of how it works. As one reads newspapers and watches television news programs documenting the antics of the US Congress, though, American democracy looks like a 2-ring circus.

In the end, living in a foreign country both exposes a person to a new culture and reveals truths about one's home country. It can be hard having to defend the US to critics and those who don't believe in the founding tenets of the nation. But I've also rediscovered my pride in my homeland. Currently the BBC is airing a 6-part series where comedian and savant Stephen Fry visits all 50 states in a black cab. His thoughtful commentary and analysis, voiced over beautiful images of the vast American landscapes and cityscapes, brings tears to my eyes every time, and I'm so proud for it to be the place I came from. The series is reminding me of all the wonderful things about America – its grandeur, its quirkiness, its patchwork of people and opinions. Most of all, the people that Stephen Fry is interviewing are amazing examples of the possibilities that exist in America if you have the desire to grab them.

I think that one of the reasons why Europeans are so excited about Obama is that finally he DOES represent the good parts of America. He shows the world that maybe America is ready to stand up straighter, stop fighting itself, and present itself as a unified nation, perhaps even acting its age.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

VOTE, you twits

Today, I was reminded, marks the final 2 weeks before the US Presidential election. Today, I also voted.

Way back in June, I requested an absentee ballot from Brooklyn but I still haven't received it. Worried about the time and the Warden's message on the US embassy website that I should have voted by Oct 14, I downloaded an Emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. I put it in the mail today, and if I get my Brooklyn absentee ballot in the meantime, I'm to send that as well.

DK, my token Friend In Politics, chided me for not calling Brooklyn's Board of Elections and asking where my ballot it. I did call, but didn't get through after 3 minutes of a phone tree. At this point, I sort of gave up - New York will swing for Obama, and my vote, if it ever gets there and is actually counted, won't (really) matter. But in the end, it's the principle of the matter.

This is taking a lot more work than just standing in line at my polling place and pulling the lever to exercise my right, as an American citizen, to vote. I am annoyed by this process, and now have a sense of what it must feel like (in a very peripheral way) to be disenfranchised. If I stay here for an extended period of time, will I have to go through this for EVERY ELECTION?

So. Grumbles aside, I voted, I wrote in BARACK OBAMA/JOSEPH BIDEN on my absentee write-in ballot, put it in a security envelope, which got shoe-horned into another envelope, and mailed it off. Now you homekids back in the States who have the luxury of the polls being open from 9am-9pm on November 4th better go vote too.

Followup: Read Jezebel's post about voter disenfranchisement. I found my emergency absentee ballot here: somehow I feel this website is part of the Help America Vote Act provisions. I hope my ballot actually gets counted…

Followup II:
Even Ben & Jerry want you to vote! So DO IT!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

If one more British woman asks me if NYC is just like it looks in SATC…

I'm going to scream.

It's not that it is or isn't, it's that it was for some people and now isn't for anyone.

Sex and the City came out around 2000, 2001ish: the nascent days of the latest reincarnation of the (doomed) Gilded Age. New York was moving at the speed of light, gobbling up capital and pumping cash into a machine that spawned every imaginable service and boutique. Did you want to get some obscure kind of cat and then give it a relaxation pedicure once a week? Sure, that service existed - and if it didn't, you can bet it would shortly. For a small minority of people in New York, the Sex and the City lifestyle, though completely absurd and extremely ridiculous, was their reality for most of the early Naughts.

And, to be honest, the rest of us wanted it. And we did manage to mirror it on a much lower scale: we didn't spend $15 on a single cocktail every time we went out, or wear Manolos, or have financiers picking us up at our walk-ups in cars with their own drivers. Instead, we got dressed up in our very best H&M and treated ourselves to one extremely cher cocktail at a very chic-chic nightspot, and then went downtown to some dive bar and drank $2 PBRs until we stumbled to a subway or splurged on shared cabs to make our ways to our shared railroad apartments in Brooklyn.

It's not just that I was in my early 20s and just starting out; it wasn't that I didn't want to date suave, emotionally unavailable financiers; Sex and the City represented an idealized portrait of such a small minority of women in New York for such a finite period of time, that it can only be fantasy. I always mocked the Midwestern ladies who came to New York with their stilletos for girls weekends, trying to emulate Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte; they thought those characters were the epitome of New York women, and the New York way of life.

And therein lies the crux of the problem: no four archetypes can accurately portray all women in one city, and one television show can accurately portray life in a city as dynamic as New York for all time. It boggles my mind that women are still asking me today if New York is like New York in SATC, when the world is so vastly different from that moment of time in all ways - period. New York has always been its own creature, and its residents live a precarious existence on the brink of either succumbing to the beast or taming it no matter the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. Sex and the City depicted four mid-30s women in that struggle during a period of extreme wealth and prosperity; make that show again tomorrow and the storyline will look completely different, influenced by a completely different set of circumstances.

As annoying as it is to be asked about SATC every other day, I'm strangely okay with it. Somewhere along the way I realized that every woman who asks me is really just hoping the answer is yes - yes, there is a place where the economy is okay, women can live their own lives and do what they love and can afford a really nice apartment with a really great wardrobe and men aren't douchebags and if they are they at least take you to nice restaurants. Outside of SATC, that seems like a tall order and pretty impossible. Once in the comfort of that pink-boxed complete series boxset, however, the future can feel quite rosy, no matter what perfect storm - economic, cultural, political - is raging outside.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stratford, Oxford, and Warwickshire in between

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to leave London and see a bit of the English countryside. The Irishman's work colleague got married at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire, outside of the city of Coventry, and the Irishman asked me to accompany him as his date. I gladly accepted and we made a 3-day weekend of it, stopping in Stratford-upon-Avon on the way up, and Oxford on the way back.

The weather for this adventure was gorgeous, sunny and warm, and we set off Friday morning in fine spirits. It really is true that the minute you leave London, England is rolling hills dotted with cows and sheep – it just takes you about 2 hours to actually get out of the city. Traffic is horrendous and London is so sprawling that you can't tell if where you are is city or suburb. The only way I could tell is when I stopped seeing rows of houses one on top of another.

It took us a bit of time to get to Stratford-upon-Avon, and upon arrival we were confronted with tour buses, tourists, and construction. We decided ahead of time that we weren't going to be going to every single historic house that might have housed Shakespeare, or one of his relations, at one time or another. Instead, we went to his church, saw his grave and his birth and death records, and then wandered around the pretty town on our way to a pub on the Avon River. The town itself was gearing up for a festival, so there were rides, games, and fried food trucks lining the streets - a bit too American for this expat looking for the quintessential English village.

After a shandy in the sun at the Dirty Duck pub, we headed to the hotel to check in. The drive up the lane to the hotel more than made up for the festival in Stratford, because Coombe Abbey is AMAZING. We walked into a lobby that looked like a medieval palace, with dark wood alcoves, old books, and candles burning brightly. Our room was painted deep red, with a raised four poster canopy bed, velvet cushioned sofa, and clawfooted bathtub. I was so excited and kept saying "we don't have this s**t in America!"

Coombe Abbey, being the classy establishment that it is (and also, I suspect, inundated by rowdy footballers and WAGs), has a suggested dress code of "no trainers and jeans". So the Irishman and I decided to hunt down some dinner off the premises, in our casual clothes. We took a quick drive through Coventry, which has the reputation of being the ugliest city in England - it was the center of the country's automobile manufacturing prior to World War II ("The War"), when it was bombed to smithereens by the Germans and subsequently rebuilt in a boring, poured-concrete kind-of-way - and quickly decided that we'd do better outside of the city center. We found a nice country pub called The Bull on the outskirts of the city, just down the road from the hotel, and had a really nice dinner of the traditional English variety.

Saturday was the wedding, my first English wedding, and all I can say is that they really know how to drag it out. We went to bed around midnight, and been at that thing for 12 straight hours. It was a lovely affair, complete with an excruciatingly long Best Man's Speech and several toasts.

We woke Sunday with sore heads, and walked off our hangovers with a lovely stroll through the grounds surrounding the hotel. The hotel was a former monastery, converted into a stately home by a private family and over the years the land was acquired by Coventry to create a public-use parkland. So we walked the fields surrounding the now-hotel like one ought to on a Sunday in England, enjoying the sun and fresh air. Invigorated, we decided to make one last stop in Oxford on our way back to London.

Oxford was amazing - ancient buildings, scholarly traditions, high-street chain stores, and hipster youth all rolled into one. We only spent about 2 hours wandering through town, so I will definitely go back; Oxford is home to several of the museums that I studied in graduate school - the Ashmolean, the Pitt-Rivers - and I want to actually go into some of the school buildings. It reminds me of an older, more built up Princeton, NJ - my own pre-collegiate stomping ground.

Alas our lovely Midlands weekend had to end, so JP and I wrapped it up with a comforting curry at our favorite Indian restaurant, Zaffrani. We couldn't have had a better weekend, and I was really not pleased to have it end. At least (of course!) I took pictures, and you can see them here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Perfect Saturday

Continuing the topic of food, and travel, and the fact that I live in London, etc, my friend Kat hipped me to another food blog called Londonelicious who she thinks I should befriend over wine and tapas somewhere in N1. I have to admit the girl has a way with words and a keen eye for London restaurants, so I was excited to see that she has invited comments on her post "Your Perfect Saturday in London - or elsewhere" - bloggers are asked to detail their perfect Saturday with food and link back to her post. So, gamely, I shall try... be gentle with me, I've only been here for 5 months! The only caveat is, I'm going to do my perfect Sunday - I seem to eat more and do more foodie-type things on a Sunday. Here's my perfect Sunday in the East End.

9am: wake up and make coffee to deal with hangover
10amish: after shower, interwebbing, etc, set off for a nice big English breakfast at either S&M (Angel, Essex Road) or Workers Cafe (Angel, Upper Street)
11:30ish: after lingering over my roasted tomato and gathering the energy to move, head over to Islington's farmers market for ingredients for the soup of the week, flowers, etc. Taste cheeses from the various mongers and definitely use the hand cream tester from the honey/beeswax lady!
12ish: Pop into Aria to browse, just because you never know what you'll find!
1ish: Drop off veggies at home, and head back out to Regents Canal to walk over to Columbia Flower Market and Shoreditch/Brick Lane (or bike by road if feeling saucy)
1:30ish: get a deal on some sort of plant as the stalls close up
2ish: stop for a pint to quench your thirst at any of the fine establishments on Shoreditch High Street or around Hoxton Square (bonus points for sitting in Hoxton Square)
3ish: head over to Brick Lane for the Sunday markets and general fashion parade, pick up a snack at the Sunday market in Old Truman's Brewery, perhaps some Thai spring rolls - eat while you browse the market stalls and Rough Trade Records
4ish: head down to Spitalfields to see whats up, still open, etc; pop nose into the little British food shop A Gold's, perhaps get a little something at Market Inn
5ish: head back to Angel, stop at the Camden Head for another pint to quench the thirst sitting outside on the patio
6ish: here's the dilemma - either cook, or out for Sunday roast. I haven't found the perfect Sunday roast place yet, and I always get there too late when they've run out of food, so there is no one place here - recommendations, however, would be great!

Food, glorious food!

I've written a bit about my cooking fiascos and interest in most things culinary. I wouldn't necessarily say I'm a foodie like the Irishman, but I do enjoy preparing a good meal and conquering a new and exciting recipe. And of course, reading food blogs to find those recipes is an excellent way to waste - um, I mean, spend - time.

Another aspect of food I enjoy is eating in places I've never been. When I was in Amsterdam with Riejte, we ate some amazing pancakes in the Negen Straatjes neighborhood; in Spain, I couldn't get enough cured meat and sauteed vegetables. Culinary exploration might be the best kind of travel.

So I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite food bloggers, Clothilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, recently marked her blog's fifth anniversary, and celebrated by posting online maps of her favorite food and shopping destinations in Paris. Wheee! She has managed to get 3 of my favorite things into one: eating, shopping, and Paris. Now, I just need to scrap together a few pence for a Eurostar ticket to use those handy guides!

Sick Day

It would be my luck that I come down with a bug on the first sunny day this week. Meh. Feeling generally weak and flu-y, I'm lying here catching up on my blog-reading, blog writing, and UK daytime TV. I must say, the latter is not inspiring.

I've been a bit remiss in writing, so I'm going to make a few random posts of random items. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday rainy Sunday = Duvet Day

Today is a typical London day. It has been raining since I got up, with no indication it will stop anytime soon, and therefore I deem this an indoor day of pottering, cooking, reading, and relaxing. I'm highly looking forward to it... my first Duvet Day! Hooray!

PS: Duvet Day means sitting on ones' couch all day under a duvet with junk food and tv.

The best kind of hangover

Yesterday I had the worst hangover: a headache that wouldn't quit, a roiling stomach, terrible ear ringing, and not much energy to do anything beyond walking from bedroom to couch and back again. I didn't mind, though, because I suffered this hangover after an awesome girls night out with new friends.

Moving to a new place is really hard. I keep doing it, and every time I forget just how lonely and terrifying it truly is. I experienced it in New York, Philadelphia, and now here in London: Friday and Saturday nights in the apartment, listening to merrymakers outside on the street while sitting alone watching Law & Order reruns, wishing I had exciting social plans. It's not easy making friends, especially lady friends, outside of community structures like college and work, and elbowing oneself into already established friend groups can be exhausting and stressful. I personally think it's worse than dating - you're not just convincing someone that you're cute, fun, smart, and witty - you're trying to convince another girl to become your confidante, partner in crime, advice-giver, style guru, and objective listener. That's a tall order, and it's not easily accomplished even with alcohol.

My friend Kat and I discussed this weird phenomenon over a couple of bottles of wine more than a few years ago when we had our first awkward meeting as friends of friends. An article was published not-soon-after about the anxiety women go through trying to build social circles. We had a good laugh then, but I'm still reminded of it every time I see a group of girls walking down the street together, cackling and joking. It's hard to recreate a bond built over years of shared experiences every time one moves to a new place.

That's why I was so thrilled when my friend Anna invited me to her girl's night. I made sure my outfit was fab and I brushed my teeth and I was really nervous on my way to meet them. But her ladies welcomed me with open arms and bottles of wine and lots of laughs, and I had an immense time dancing until my feet didn't fit in my shoes and I had to stumble to the night bus. So despite the pain I felt all day yesterday, I bore it happily knowing it was well-earned and hopefully the start of something really great.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The credit crunch gets crunched back!

Your friendly Londonista is feeling the wrath of distressed debt and derivatives. Everything costs more, taxes seem to be enormous, and every other day on my way to work the newspaper broadsheets proclaim more job cuts in The City, London's financial center. Despite scrimping and saving, paychecks never seem to last the month. But today I won a small victory over inflation and the uncertain economy: an absolute steal at the Ted Baker sample sale.

I rarely went to sample sales in New York; they stress me out and I never seem to have the luck that other ladies do in finding something amazing for $25 – usually I end up leaving empty-handed after getting elbowed in the ribs or having my toes crushed by someone's stiletto. But today I braved the crowds and walked away with an angora sweater, silk dress, and 2 pairs of gloves (one grey leather!) for £20! Ok, so the silk dress is a size too big, and the sweater has these sleeve puffs that would be at home in The Tudors, but I'm pleased with my purchases. Take that, Henry Paulsen and Ben Bernanke!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cold weather means soup time!

Since I moved to London, I've turned into an old woman in more ways than one – but the most apparent is my new love of soup. I think I've tortured my roommate with at least four pots of soup over the last four weeks. But making soup in England is – well – odd. The biggest hindrance is that you can't buy pre-made stock. No broth in cans, no stock in cardboard liter containers - the only option a budding chef has is bouillon. I tried some weird chicken goop in a packet, and I gotta tell you its kind of really gross. It is a high viscosity brown stuff that you're supposed to mix into boiling water. It tastes okay, but it is so weird that I think I'll just stay with OXO cubes, thankyouverymuch. Also, I will say right here that metric is SO much easier to use than the English system - but how weird is it that in England, they don't use the English system. Um, hello? It's really frustrating when most of my recipes are American, but I have other ingredients that come in Metric measurements. For instance: said Oxo cubes make 700 450 mL of broth. But my recipe calls for 5 cups of broth. So how many mL is in a cup? Um? Help? I feel like I did these conversions in 6th grade, but fuck if I know how to do them now. I've mentioned conversions.com before, and that website is really helpful, but it is slightly odd to be cooking and have your laptop next to you on the counter. But despite these hindrances, I'm currently enjoying a lovely bowl of White Bean and Vegetable soup, courtesy of the Simply Recipes blog. Yum.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday on Brick Lane



This week was London Design Festival, so today I hopped on my bike and headed to Brick Lane for the biggest event of the whole thing - Tent London at the Truman Brewery. Unfortunately, I didn't get in... because I forgot to register online and it was £10 to enter. It's the end of the month, and that means I'm broke until we get paid on Friday. Meh. I was super disappointed, but the following things made up for it:

1. I was photographed in the Brick Lane market by The Guardian for having a cute outfit and accessories - my "Thank You" canvas tote bag and my bike! And to think, I didn't even shower this morning!

2. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, so every crazy/hipster/scenester was out in full force and the people watching was amazing;

3. There is a Sunday Up-market in another part of the Brewery and it was full of yummy food stalls so I got 6 mini spring rolls for £1!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Love My Friends

I love 2pm GMT. Why? Because that is 9am EST, and that is when my peeps show up at work. They sign into messaging programs, and they leave me funny stories like this one. This is from Kat, who recounted a dream she had about me:

Swandive77 14:27
YOU
i had a dream about you on saturday!
ok
so
i got a picture message from you on my cell
and it was like
"london is pretty! look where i am!"
but you didn't know
that DK and i were surprise visiting you
and since you sent us this picture text message
we knew where to find you
so we took the tube
and got to the park where you were at
and you were
wearing
a hooters uniform
like
shiney panty hose
too high white socks
orange tap pants
hooters tank top
and like
slut machine door knocker earrings
and we surprised you!
and then we were like
balls
we need to find somewhere to say
and we stayed in a hostel
in amsterdam
the end
!

SQUEEEE! Lurve mah peeps!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

9/11

Thursday morning I woke up and felt like shit. Not physically - physically I felt fine - but mentally and emotionally I just didn't want to get out of bed, didn't want to see anyone, and didn't want to go to work. I was in a funk, and it didn't get any better when I stepped out of the house wearing my suede Puma sneakers and it started pouring down rain.

The whole walk to work I was annoyed and my sadness was growing. I figured it was because it was Thursday and I really wanted it to be Friday, yadda yadda, and also the onset of fall, combined with a dash of introspection of the "shit, what am I doing with my life" variety. But when I got to work and switched on my computer, the first thing I read on opening the web browser were the words 9/11. I couldn't believe I had forgotten, and for the rest of the day I couldn't tell if my overwhelming sadness was a product of my current life situation or some sort of subconscious reaction to the yearly anniversary of my lifetime's defining national tragedy.

Okay, I am the first to admit that I am lucky: I was not in New York on Sept 11, 2001, I lost no family members or close friends. The most I was physically affected by the events on that day was that it was harder for me to get around Europe the following summer without having to explain that I didn't support President Bush. But for someone whose family history is rooted in and around New York City, whose father worked (and now works again) in that capital of business, and who has built a lifetime of dreams upon walking its streets, watching that invasion was like having an organ removed without anesthesia. It physically hurt to watch the CNN broadcasts that day, and the days following, and it still hurts to remember those visuals.

The summer preceding September 11th was the first summer I worked in New York City. I commuted via NJ Transit to Newark, then took the PATH train to the West Village and walked down Hudson Street to Soho where my job was located. I was a young and dreamy designer, and everything from the coffee at my favorite coffee shop to the children going to camp at a local elementary school to various shops located on my walking route inspired me. Not in the least, my skyline view on my walk filled me with a tenderness for New York that only residents of the city can even begin to understand: walking down Hudson, the twin towers rose above the hundred-year-old brownstones and gleaming glass galleries and converted warehouses like a beacon and symbol of what could be. New York's West Side was once home to the city's hard industries, and today it has transitioned to manufacturing tons of capital. The World Trade Center was a defiant stake in the ground of Manhattan, and America's, future progress, anchoring the island in a sea of turbulent economic and political change.

My internship ended that summer on August 25ish, a Friday, and by that Sunday I was back in Syracuse for the beginning of my junior year of college. Everything I did that year was influenced by my summer in New York; I had seen what being a designer was like, what working in the creative capital of America could be, and I was hooked. So to see such a massive symbol of that summer come crashing down mere days after I left was soul-crushing. I remember not really breathing as the birds continued to twitter outside and the sun actually shone in Syracuse. It was surreal, that whole day was surreal, and pain in my chest lingered for days.

Every year now, no matter where I am, I feel that pain. When I lived in Philly, 9/11 was discussed on television and radio news shows and I tuned in voraciously; when I lived in New York, there was a palpable feeling of anguish in the air that no one acknowledged but everyone felt. Every year I would see the day on the calendar, and know it's coming; then I'd exit the subway the night of September 10, look up and see the twin beams of light, and it was the beginning of a ritual atonement. This year, I nearly forgot. My body remembered, however, and I think that is the most frightening - yet reassuring - part. Frightening in that I could even begin to forget an event that has so defined my life, yet reassuring how the body processes information and releases chemicals to remind us of what is important, what we know we should do yet resist. I could have simply let 9/11 go by and shut out the memories, but instead my body said slow down.

Not long after 9/11, Robert DeNiro directed and narrated an American Express commercial that was an ode to New York. Every time I watch that commercial, even today, I tear up and think of how much New York means to me. It's hard being this far away from that city where I cut my teeth and scraped my knees. It was hard, on 9/11, to be in another part of the world and read the newspaper reports of Obama and McCain tried not to campaign in the pit, how the government(s) are screwing around with the memorials, and hear how grieving relatives still justifiably demand answers. But at the end of that long day, I realized that this is what true remembering really is: doing what one needs to do to keep a memory of a moment in time alive, while continuing to move forward. Not an easy task, but DeNiro did it the best way he knew how - through film. If, as a designer, I can, through my work, help people do that for themselves, then I will have really learned something during that summer and its postscript.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And, it's Fall

Somehow the minute it became September, it became Fall here in London. The air is brisk, the sun is setting earlier and earlier each day, and leaves are turning brown and falling fast. Every morning I wake up to frosty air, and every night I fall asleep with cold toes. It doesn't seem fair, because it's only September 10th and in New York that can be as balmy and summery as June.

The summer here was boring: cloudy, cold, and rainy. We had sun, but not much heat, and I actually missed the sweaty stupor of August in New York. I feel a little bit jipped by the weather, but I can see why Britons love their tropical vacations - it really is a holiday to escape the cloud cover and bask in the sunshine.

I suppose one of the good things about such a prompt fall is that all of the new Autumn/Winter collections are in the stores, and you actually WANT to stop in to try on wool skirts and longsleeved shirts. Boots and dark leather are appealing, rather than stifling. But fashion isn't a convincing enough reason to embrace the impending cold. I hope that fall stays with us for its proper timeframe, because I really don't think I can face Winter arriving prematurely - or even right on time!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Going Dutch

If you are a regular visitor to this space, you know that every so often I fly to Amsterdam for meetings with the client I'm currently managing. The great irony of this set-up is that I don't actually go into Amsterdam; I take a cab to a suburb of Amsterdam, 20 minutes away from the airport. The greater irony is that I have about 15 stamps from Schipol Airport in my passport, but I've NEVER BEEN TO AMSTERDAM. That sad fact is no longer true after this weekend, when I finagled a cheap flight to the 'Dam and met up with my 100% authentically Dutch friend RIETJE and spent 48 hours shopping, drinking, walking, shopping, talking, shopping, laughing, eating, shopping, and oh, did I mention shopping? I think between the two of us we tried on every purple heeled shoe in the city. We also met up with Rietje's friend Marisa who lives in Haarlem, and hosted us Saturday night. It was a really great weekend, and it made me sad that I'm so far away from my closest friends; yet at the same time, I realized how amazing it is to be able to hop on a plane and check out cool design for a weekend. Either way, I had a great time and I hope the Dutchess gets over to London soon. You can see the photographic evidence of our Amsterdam adventure here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nike+ Human Race 10k




Yesterday, folks, history was made. No, it wasn't that Nike sponsored 10k races across the globe in 25 major cities; it was that Danielle ran her first race, finished it, and finished it in a shorter time than her goal.

I signed up for the Human Race in June, when I was still living in Willesdon Junction and running pretty much every day. It was £30 to enter, and 1/3 of the fee went to one of three charities (I chose WWF). The race was to be held in and around Wembley Stadium, the home of English football (the hallowed pitch, the Brits call the field), in northwestern London, and I figured it would be the only time I'd ever go there. It seemed like a good idea to enter the race at the time, but over the last few weeks I started to question this decision. The forecast for Sunday was torrential rain and thunder and lightning all over southeastern England, and while I don't mind running in the rain, I do mind running in an electrical storm. I mean, really... did I want to spend my Sunday evening running 6-odd miles with 20,000 other Londoners in a silly red shirt? I had no idea any of the specifics (start time, route, etc), and I was, to be honest, feeling really lazy.

But at the last minute (about 2pm), I decided that I had spent the very large amount of money, I had the shirt, so I was going to run the run. All of the runners had to be in the stadium by 6pm, and when I got there I found out that there was a rock concert before the run. There we were, 20,000 cold runners, standing around watching a band that most of us hadn't heard of, being told to jump up and down and make some noise, when we were all just wanting to get going and running already. The second band was Moby, and that was just as bad, listening to music from 5 years ago that usually puts me to sleep! The security staff were treating all of us like football hooligans, denying entry here, telling us we couldn't sit there, herding people according to their running waves, and generally being unhelpful. There weren't many places to stretch, or keep warm, as the roof of Wembley was open and we had to check our bags nearly an hour before the race started. So we sat in the stands as long as we could, then headed down to the pitch to wait for the run to actually start.

A bad MC showed us a lot of images of the other cities' runs; Paris, Munich, and Shanghai all looked like it was warm and sunny, and they also all looked like they ran through their city centers. Paula Radcliffe, Britain's premier woman runner, Seb Coe, some other British athelete, and the head of the London 2012 Planning Committee were all there to give us tips and encouragement. A team of aerobics instructors gave us a warm up routine that we couldn't really do because so many of us were crammed into a small place on the pitch (which, by the way, was covered by plastic, which I understand was to protect the turf, but then you're not really standing on the hallowed pitch, are you!?!). Finally, after hours, Wave 1 took off. Just as they did, of course, the cloudy sky overhead opened up and we were covered in a light rain that quickly turned into a steady drenching. I was in Wave 2, so we had to wait about another 20 minutes in the rain, but then we were off as well.

I feel like I started out really fast; there were a few downhills and I was zooming down them. We went out of the stadium and through a tunnel, and then all of a sudden we were in the parking lot and snaking through barriers. The course was very narrow, and I spent a lot of time dodging people, passing them, and slowing down as I came up to slower runners. I feel like my running on the canal towpath was good training for the obstacle course of this race. The course overall was pretty boring, and subsequently I found out it was also pretty badly designed. There were a lot of hairpin switchbacks, which in the rain and with the crowds were pretty dangerous. The scenery was shite, as the Brits say, because we were running through an industrial park and around a big Ikea and Tescos. We ran along a highway at one point, and I thought I'd get sprayed by cars driving through the puddles in the outside lane! The lighting of the course was also pretty bad; the race planners relied on the street lights and a few of them were out, and you really noticed how dark it was at those points. Also, there were no spectators - just a sea of red-shirted runners. Thank god I had my iPod, and was listening to Dolly Parton, Jimmy Eat World, and Rihanna. I know, what a mix.

Running-wise, I felt really good until the 4k marker, when I started to feel it; at 5k I thought to myself, I'm halfway there! and then stepped into a lake of a puddle. I put my head down for 6-8k, and felt my pace slow; I wasn't so much tired or hurting as I knew I couldn't keep up the pace for the rest of the race. At the 8k marker I sped up, and soon we were back into the Wembley parking lot, snaking around through barriers. At 9k I sped up again, and I really couldn't wait to finish. I had no idea where the finish line was, but I rounded a turn and there it was so I sped up really fast and finished 1:01:02 after our wave started.

Once through the finish line (the only place where there were spectators, which made such a difference), you basically had to stop running and couldn't slow down properly. There was a ramp where people were handing out Lucozade (British Gatorade) and Nike longsleeve wick-away tees, which were great because I was soaked all the way down to my underwear. I met up with my friends back at the bag drop at the stadium, and gingerly walked to the tube to head home. I actually felt really good after the race, albeit cold; I wish I had brought sweatpants with me so that I could stay warm after running, instead of walking around in my wet baggy Umbros. Nike texted me with my exact time, 58:04, right after the race - I had aimed to finish the race in an hour, so I was happy despite getting home at 10pm.

Overall, my first race was a success; I'm not sure I'd do another expensive Nike run, but I definitely loved running and trying to do well, and having a race on the calendar helped me continue to run and train. I'm pretty proud of myself for doing it, and I feel like I'll continue to do runs in the future. Who knows, maybe my earlier goal of a half marathon will actually become a reality!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chipmunk Chips for Sam!


Went to the Tate Modern yesterday to see the Street Art exhibit and the Cy Twombly retrospective. Both were amazing, but so was this packet of crisps in the snack shop. Sam and I share a love of all things small rodents, so this is for him!

Gone to the Dogs


Last weekend, I attended a momentous occasion: closing night at Walthamstow dog track.

Now.

The first time I heard that the British still had a dog track, and not only one but several, in the city limits, and that it was one of the most popular and cherished institutions in the city, I was appalled. I mean, really. British people are OBSESSED with animals; they banned fox hunting, cropping of dog ears and docking of dog tails, and it's a widely known fact that Brits would rather spend more time with their animals than with their fellow countrymen. So why, exactly, do they still race greyhounds, and consider going to the dog track such an event?

I can't answer that question, but early this summer the announcement came that Walthamstow, the city's favorite dog track deep in East London, would be closing to make way for a housing development. So I swallowed my disapproval (and my pride), and put visiting Walthamstow on my to-do list for the summer. Ashley and I went with friends last Saturday on what turned out to be the last night of races ever. It was mayhem, craziness, and a lot of fun. Not only was it exciting to watch, but the people watching was yet another exercise in my cumulative ethnographic education of the class system in England. Walthamstow's appeal crosses socio-economic strata; Brad Pitt supposedly loves the place, as do 14-year-olds who just earned their first paycheck and want to blow it on Carling and the dogs. I loved the hen parties and the old bookmakers, who have to inherit their stands from their fathers. There's one guy who has been making books since 1933!

Those who know me know my love of dogs, and, in the end, the best part for me was the pups. I figured out how to judge which dogs would win based on their anatomy (duh, that's what the standard is for) and was thrilled to see that they actually raced Afghan hounds there (who knew they could still do what they were bred to do?!) I don't know that I can get behind dog racing as a sport/hobby, but my night out at the track was quite thrilling. It is too bad that "the 'Stow" is shutting down, but I'm just glad I got to see it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Islington Beach


This appeared on my street earlier this summer... I've only seen it open once or twice, and never in the evening or on the weekends when I would gladly pay a few pounds and sit on lounge chair with my toes in the sand. It's a shame, because I really miss the beach; I get really excited when someone trucks in a load of sand, dumps it in an urban center, and sticks a fake palm tree stuck in the middle of the lot, all to appease sun-starved urbanites. If you ask me, and no one is, this is a wasted opportunity!

Spice packaging for Rietje!


Waitrose's house brand spices... using the alphabet for coding. Sorry about the light setting... the colors are much more rich in person.

Greenwich


The weekend before my vacation, I did some sightseeing in the far eastern side of London - in Greenwich. Greenwich is home to the Naval College, the Greenwich Mean, and the Cutty Sark warship (which is currently under renovation). It was the first weekend of really lovely hot weather here in London, so you can see in my pictures here all of the pale Londoners who scurried out to sit in the sun and bake in the rare rays.

Greenwich is really cute, although there isn't much to do beyond the touristy stuff like standing on the Greenwich mean. It's a great place to take the 'rents when they visit (Mom, we can go if you like) but the park is really pleasant as well, and it was really great to see how far east the city actually stretches.

Kawfee-Tawk

If you know me, you know I am serious about coffee. Only the best beans, only the finest grinds, preferably whole beans to grind at home moments before brewing, extreme pickiness and snobbery about ubiquitous coffee chains, and very specific rules about when to drink what. Just as fashionistas proclaim calendar rules for colors and shoe types, I religiously follow a doctrine of hot filtered coffee with cream and sugar from September/October through mid May, and iced lattes made with skim milk (preferably acquired at a farmer's market from the dairy farmer) during the warm spring and summer months.

However these rules, it seems, only apply to the eastern seaboard of the United States, where weather follows predictable hot-cold trajectories. Here in London, where the weather patterns are much more subtle and one 24-hour period can bring an meteorological smorgasbord, I've found myself breaking my own rules and craving sweet hot coffee more often than not. I tried to restrain myself, citing the coffee rules, but to no avail. And even worse, I've turned to the Americano.

Anyone who studied abroad as a student in a country known for coffee (ie, the rest of the world) was warned that you just won't find regular American coffee where you're going, and their alternative was stronger, more bitter, and hard to swallow. Filter coffeemakers are a rarity on this side of the pond, where everything from stove top Italian espresso pots to the French press to however the Dutch brew Douwe Egbert coffee rules. Europeans believe that the idea of running hot water over ground beans and drinking the filtered result is barbaric. So to appease American tourists, someone invented the Americano - espresso watered down with hot water. After witnessing the look of disdain that a follow countryman received when requesting an Americano at a bar in Italy, I quickly resolved to stick with what the locals drank (when in Rome and all that) and swore off the Americano without even trying it.

Until now.

In England, known not for coffee but tea, you can't get a filter coffeemaker either unless you mortgage your home and shell out upwards of £40. The Brits are excellent at importing and adopting what they don't themselves have, and went straight for the moda d'Italia of coffee selections. They also serve hapless American tourists Americanos - with less derision over the menu choice and more of a general air of superiority. So what was this American to do, craving hot filtered coffee, but with no place to get it?! (Starbucks being out of the question as, really, one can only break one rule at a time). So I tried it. And I LIKED IT! The Americano has the rich, full taste of espresso, with the drinkability of filtered coffee. And it takes skim milk much better than American filtered coffee, so I don't have to moan about the lack of Land o'Lakes Fat Free Half+Half. And it's fun to make!

So although I recently acquired a filter coffee maker from a friend who left London to return to the States, I think it might lie dormant for a while yet as I revel in the joys of the watered-down coffee created for weak American tourists like me.

Finally

One of my most annoying traits is that even with a baby hangover, like the one I have this morning, I cannot sleep past 7am after a night of drinking. So I'm up stalking the house with not enough energy to do anything remotely useful, but there is no way I can go back to sleep.

This is what the internet is good for. I have been sitting here for about 2 hours stalking people on Facebook, learning the latest goss about Brangelina's ridiculous commune of children, and FINALLY LEARNING THAT BARACK OBAMA CHOSE BIDEN FOR VP.

I've been waiting with baited breath for this news all week, and I'm quite pleased with the decision.

So now I will retire to my couch with my laptop and coffee, as my brain has sufficiently woken up for me to read the indepth and exhaustive analysis on nytimes.com.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There's something fishy about this...

It's called, cooking fish you don't know about. One of my favorite things to cook is fish en papillote. It's a really easy and tasty way to cook fish, consisting of putting a fillet in a piece of parchment paper (or tinfoil if you're cheap like me) with vegetables, spices... pretty much anything you want. You cook it for about 10 min on 400 deg F, and the fish cooks in its own juices and the spices you include. It's best with a light, delicate fish like tilapia or sole.

I realized the other day that I don't really eat fish here unless it's fried, so I decided today that I would make a quick easy papillote dinner tonight. Only, its been about a half hour. I'm currently sitting on the broken chair in my kitchen (the one where you fall through the seat if you slide around too much) staring at my oven. For starters, tilapia and sole are unknown in Britain. They must be farmed mostly in the States, or more warm-watered fish. The best I could do is get a loin of haddock. I'm sure I've eaten haddock before, but I've never cooked it - so I don't know what "done" looks like. After the first 10 minutes, the fillet still looked like jelly, so I stuck it back in for another 5. I also consulted www.onlineconversion.com to find out that 400 deg F is 200 deg C - something I should have probably discovered before I started cooking. (Nevermind that the cooking instructions on the fish wrapping said 180 deg C)

I last checked about 10 minutes ago, and I was peeved about this whole situation. But then I thought to myself, man, Danielle, you've had it EASY lately. Things are going WELL. You should stop having a WHINGE because guess what, you live in a foreign country. Just because they speak English doesn't make them American, and doesn't make this automatically your HOME.

Right.

So, carrying on with this bloody fish, and hopefully I don't die of food poisoning when I finally deem it done.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cockney Rhyming Slang

I have no explanation for this shit. I don't understand it, it's crazy, and Brits just accept it and use it as if it's normal to rhyme words with other words that have no related meaning and use that new word to stand for what they wanted to say. GOT THAT? The apparent origins of Cockney slang were shysters trying to confuse police in the pub, and talk about their scams in code, but their wordplay has entered British lexicon and it's completely incomprehensible to foreigners.

Try to understand it, if you can, by reading this.

You okay?

For a while now, I've been wanting to share some ridiculous British slang and phrasing. So here's one that I encounter every day and it never ceases to cause me discomfort. In the US, if someone asks another person if s/he is "okay" - as in, Are you OK? - the connotation is one of concern because you probably look NOT OKAY. Like, worried, like you might puke, uncomfortable, hungover, maybe your mascara is smudged because you just woke up from a nap at your desk at work or you have a piece of toilet paper hanging out from your skirt (none of these things have happened to me, PS, I'm just being creative). But here in London, if someone says "You OK?" to me, THEY ARE JUST SAYING HI. It's the British equivalent to "What's up". And because that is its meaning, the acceptable responses are "OK, you?", "I'm OK, you OK?", or as Mark put it to me when I queried him on this topic - "A simple nod of the head will suffice". I'm still trying to get the hang of, as I'm rushing into work (late) in the morning, responding to "You OK?" with "You OK?" instead of a huffing explanation for oversleeping.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Best Friend's Wedding: Chicago



After weeks of anticipation, planning, and shopping, the epic 10-day holiday spanning 2 continents was finally upon me. I cleaned my house, packed my bags, and left my apartment exactly at 7:30AM to make my 11:20AM flight at Gatwick. Eight hours later, I was in O'Hare and boarding the blue line El train to downtown Chicago.

I stayed one night at the Millenium Knickerbocker Hotel off of the Miracle Mile, right on Lake Michigan. The hotel was under renovation, so the lobby was kind of ugly and the carpeting worn, but the room was quite nice. Small, but with an excellent bed and flat screen tv. The highlight, however, was the rainwater shower head... amazing. Unfortunately, the setup of the bathroom was such that as you stood under the shower you were watching yourself in the mirror; any latent body images I ever have were definitely brought back to the fore as I washed my hair.

Anyway! After my rainwater shower, I had to eat before I fell off my feet. The concierge suggested a sushi place on Rush Street, which turned out to be a really nice little strip of restaurants, bars, and clubs. I sat at the sushi counter, ate some seaweed salad, gyoza, a nice roll, and had a cocktail that tasted like a Shirley Temple but made me sway when I got up to leave. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped into a CVS and did the first of my US shopping - soap, deodorant, tampons, some sunscreen, and a few other odds and ends came to $55 and about 3 lbs additional weight to my suitcase. Nothing makes me happier than a good CVS trip, and I stumbled back to my pillowtop King mattress to sleep off the flight.

The worst part about traveling, however, is jet lag, which for me ended up being the inability to sleep past 7AM. Every day. So Friday morning I was up and out of the hotel at 7:45 and sightseeing by 8:30. I walked from the hotel to the shore of Lake Michigan, over the river, into downtown, and then did some more shopping. I had to be on a 2:30 train out to the suburban location of the wedding, so at 1PM I picked up my suitcase from the hotel and stopped into a nail salon for an excellent mani/pedi (lasted over a week!) and then headed to Union Station. A mere 25 minutes later, I was dropped off in Downers Grove and a cab took me to the Doubletree. I guess all Doubletrees are suites, so I had like a small apartment for just me, and I made a nice big mess in all of the rooms pretty quickly.

Friday night was a party for Rick's family and guests. It included a few Indian rituals that his family was kind enough to explain for all of us. Rick sat under a canopy held by the women while they rubbed a powder into his skin and chanted. We all got a chance to do it, and the boys of course used it as an opportunity to be cruel the way all dudes do. Then the women danced with these pots that held lit candles on their heads, and the men started lifting Rick up on their shoulders. All this merriment was interrupted for only an Indian buffet, and continued in a big dance party until about midnight.

Once the party was over, I had to go straight to bed because the next day's festivities started at 9AM sharp. And by 9AM, I mean that at 9:05AM 2 drummers started an amazing beat in the lobby of the Doubletree. Rick appeared in a turban and an amazing outfit, and the entire wedding party followed him and the drummers down to the wedding location down the road. Rick got on a horse a bit down the road, and rode up to the door of the conference center where the wedding was taking place. Anjali's family met us, and the men from both sides exchanged flower necklaces while the women on Anjali's side offered sweets. After much ritual, we entered the building for the first buffet of the day.

After the buffet, the first wedding ceremony began. Rick is Sikh, and Anjali is Hindu, so they had two marriage ceremonies. Each one was unique and special, and so interesting; their program explained the ceremonies and their meanings, which were really awesome – much more interesting than a Christian marriage ceremony. In between the ceremonies, we had coffee, and after the last ceremony there was another buffet. The whole thing ended at 3PM, and we had only 3 hours to digest and rest before the reception. I of course fell asleep and woke up an hour late, and I missed the cocktail hour (dammit!) but Le Dress and Le Shoes performed admirably - I was able to run up to the reception space right quickly!

The reception featured ANOTHER buffet, and six hours of Bollywood dance party complete with music videos projected on a screen. Le Shoes were so comfy - I danced in them for the entire night, and I had an amazing time. All of a sudden the lights came up and we headed for the after party, consisting of Rick's grandma dancing with us until 2AM. I went to bed around 4, which was a problem as my jetlag didn't allow for me sleeping past 7AM. After tossing and turning for 2 hours, I went to breakfast and said goodbye to people who were leaving; once I was fully caffeinated, I decided to head back into Chicago to see a bit more of the city. I took the train and walked up along the river, back to the blue line, and went out to Wicker Park - the "Brooklyn" of Chicago. I wandered about and did some more shopping and treated myself to a burrito. After about fours hours, I was about to pass out and headed back to the hotel. Two episodes of Law and Order and half of a PBS documentary later, I was asleep in my huge hotel bed and very very happy.

I woke up Monday to thunderstorms, and freaked out about my flight connections. After a hasty but loving goodbye to the newlyweds, I headed out to O'Hare for the next leg of my vacation adventure. Pictures, of course... here!