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.



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.