Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Thanksgiving gut

So, I'm back in the UK after a week in the NY tristate area and may I say that I gained quite a few pounds (weight, not currency) and racked up a few credit card bills (too bad it IS currency!). I had a fabulous time in New York City seeing all mah peeps and loving the big city; within 24 hours of landing, I had seen a drug deal, a bunch of crackheads, two bankers cruising the streets sticking out of the sunroof of a limo, and a celebrity (John Krasinski) at my favorite coffee shop La Colombe. Perfect. I ate at some amazing restaurants - old favorites like Sala and Pastis, and new exciting finds like Hundred Acres, and definitely spent some time and money in CVS, JCrew and Anthropologie.

After three whirlwind days in the big city, I spent the rest of the week with my parents in NJ and continued to eat. This year we did a "big" Thanksgiving, with twice as more people than usual, and the raucous mayhem was actually really fun. Seeing my family only once a year is hard; we're pretty close and the time goes by way too fast. But like a dutiful child, I was definitely ready to get back on the plane on Saturday night and get back to my own life: I was sick of answering the same questions about what life is like in London and dodging answering the one about if I'd ever move back. The stock answer is "I don't know."

Overall, it was great to be back in the US even if it was only for a few days. It's so weird how you slip back into old habits without even thinking about them, like walking fast down the sidewalk and speaking quickly, and also how being abroad changes you inperceptibly. Probably the weirdest thing I experienced was the shock at hearing such American accents. Living abroad, you hear them so rarely that you sort of do a double take when you catch one, but then it blows your mind when you're in the US and around them all of the time. Don't even get me started on my aunt, uncle, and cousins' Texan accents!

So now I'm back in London, greeted by lashing rain and arctic temps, and feeling as happy that I'm here as I was to be in NYC. Thanksgiving is such a great holiday for reminding oneself of all of the excellent things going on in a person's life, and this year I was grateful for everything, and everyone, I have on both sides of the Atlantic. I think next year's New Year's resolutions are going to be about how to make sure I appreciate them more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Hand of God - I mean, Henry

Oh man. The World Cup isn't until next year, but the qualifiers have begun and already there is a huge controversy. Last night Ireland played France for a spot in the tournament, their second qualifier game, and lost in what everyone is called cheating. Thierry Henry used his hands twice to keep the ball in play and get France a decisive goal, winning them a trip to the World Cup. Henry admits to using his hand, and blamed the ref for not spotting the penalty, and Ireland's pride is wounded. Obviously I am hearing a lot about this due to the Irishman's rightful outrage, and I can't say I blame him. When I moved here, my friend Miguel gave me a short lesson in Premiership football and I learned all about the original Hand of God; these types of legends create rivalries that are handed down through the generations. To have a country like Ireland, small, underdog, with immense heart, kicked out of the run up to the World Cup by an arrogant powerhouse like France is a big deal. This will get bigger and bigger, and I can guarantee you that coverage of the World Cup next year in South Africa will refer to constantly. France may have gotten to the party, but if it wins it will be infamously.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Empire State of Mind

I know I'm about 3 months late to the party (I'm finding 3 months to be the typical lead time for me to pick up on American pop culture trends), but this Jay-Z song is really amazing. I have been bopping along to it in the office for a while now, trying to explain to the Brits around me why it's JUST SO GOOD, and making myself homesick in the process. Good thing, then, that I'm headed back to the Big Apple on Friday for Thanksgiving.

It's been a long time since I've been to US; last time I was home was last Christmas. As much as I love living abroad, I get really excited to go home and hear American accents, experience New York bluntness, and even get told off by cab drivers. This year has been difficult for me, careerwise, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my old friends, having a lot of chats, catching up on their lives, meeting their new partners, and generally just being around people who know ME and with whom I don't have to try extra hard. I'm going to have a lot of brunch, French food in the West Village, and carousel sushi with my dad in Gramercy, and when I get to New Jersey my mom has a list of the food I want her to cook for me. I'm even paying a visit to Paul at Mudhoney Salon for a new haircut. I'll be asking for bangs – NOT fringe – and I'll be smug about it.

For the eight days I'm on the East Coast, I'm planning on doing nothing but being myself in the place where I'm from. I'm really hoping that when it's time for me to head back to the UK, I'll be renewed, full of my old vim and vigor and Lower East Side vinegar, and that, as Alicia Keys points out, walking down the New York streets will have made me feel brand new, the lights have inspired me. I know they will, and they can't appear over the wing of my Virgin Atlantic plane too soon.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fresh and local

I'm currently recovering from a full Irish breakfast on the Irishman's couch; he was in Dublin last weekend with his family, and kindly imported the raw ingredients (black pudding, white pudding, bacon, etc) for a morning feast for me. This is not news, per se, but it is when I tell you where this couch of his is located. While we were on holiday in September, he and I had a few "state of the union/life" discussions about our individual lives and careers and also about the health of our relationship. We made a few pacts to change things, and deal with situations before they become problems, and also made a few decisions to fix stuff for individual selves. Fast-forward to now, and the Irishman is living back up in Islington, a 10 minute walk from mine, and we are spending a lot more time together and are happier than I ever thought we could be. His bachelor pad is adorable, and I'm quite proud of his homeowning (well, renting) skills. In fact, he's so self-sufficient that he discovered a service on his own that is close to my heart - Farm Direct. He called me excitedly the other day to tell me all about it, and we decided to order all of the ingredients for a Sunday roast we're hosting from there. £30 for a topside of beef, 2 wood pigeons, and a ton of veg, and it was delivered at 11:30 while I was recovering from an Irish onslaught. I now have 24 hours to fully digest before stuffing myself again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

And Christmas... begins!

It's official, people. Christmas has begun here. There have been Christmas product catalogs floating around for a while, as well as random Christmas displays in shop windows for a few weeks, but the "festive season" is now in full swing. There are Christmas commercials on TV, all of the food shops have their mince pies and Christmas puddings on the shelves, Regent Street turned on it's Christmas lights last weekend, and I'm sitting here writing this with the remnants of a hangover after my company's global awards ceremony (the first of what will be many holiday parties with tragic aftermaths).

But the kicker of course is that on Wednesday afternoon, I was in a shop and heard the official Christmas anthem - Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Hurrah! Watch the video and get into the spirit!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Armistice Day, Poppies, and Poor Gordon Brown

Yesterday was Armistice Day, the celebration of the end of the Great War (or, as we Americans call it, WWI). British culture was profoundly changed by WWI, as I learned from watching an episode of Andrew Marr's The Making of Modern Britain. It is fascinating to see how an entire country's social mores were turned upside down by the war, and how imagery from that time has pervaded other cultures as well - including our own. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Yup, started here. A general was blindfolded and he chose one of 4 caskets to select a body who would represent all of the unknown war dead. Uncle Sam needing you to fight? Yup - the original was General Robertson (who had a pretty amazing moustache).

Somehow, we don't really "do" Armistice Day in the US. Americans call it Veterans Day, and celebrate those who fought and made it, rather than remembering the end of a particular war. Every year on 11/11, there is a moment of silence at 11am in the UK; some lucky Americans get 11/11 off, but not much else goes on to pay tribute to a war that wasn't so long ago but seems very far away. The British go several steps further, as well; Rememberance Sunday is the Sunday before Armistice Day, and that is the time to remember those who fell during all of the wars. During the weeks up to the two days of remembering, nearly every Brit buys a poppy to wear on their person - the poppies are sold by the Royal British Legion to raise money for soldiers currently serving. The poppies are to symbolize the flowers growing in Flanders where some of the heaviest battles of WWI took place, and were referenced in a poem by John McCrae.

The dedication of British people to their soldiers fighting both here and abroad, past and present, is really quite extraordinary and inspirational. But like anything, it can be perverted. My heart went out to Gordon Brown when he weathered a storm of criticism over the past week for misspelling the name of a serviceman in a letter of condolence to the soldier's mother. He apparently writes a personal message to the family of every slain British soldier. In this case, he went on to call the woman to apologize, and she used the phone call as an opportunity to attack him for his bad manners - and then linked it to a tabloid newspaper. Gordon Brown isn't entirely the best politician ever, but he is blind in one eye, socially awkward, and apparently has infamously horrible penmanship.

Everyone knows that soldiers commit acts in war that would be inconceivable and unpardonable in civilian life, and yet we forgive them and honor their memory. Gordon Brown does the same everyday in politics, and yet all he was trying to do was to personally thank this mother for her son's sacrifice and duty. The press should give him a break - war is hard, and penmanship isn't easy - and we could all do with a bit of remembering that this is one country, united for peace rather than divided by politics.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

18 months in, and trouble ordering brekkie.

I went to breakfast this morning with my direct report; it is her last week as she is moving back to Australia in 10 days. We went to a little cafe around the corner from our office to review her resume and talk about her future career goals, as well as just to generally catch up before she heads back down under. We had a lovely breakfast but it was marred by a silly lapse in my cultural judgment: when I ordered my bacon and egg sandwich, I asked for simply a "bacon" sandwich... and that's what I got. No egg. Just bread and bacon.

In the US, no one just eats bacon on bread... it always comes with egg. But here in the UK, a bacon sarnie (sandwich) is pretty commonplace and so it wasn't weird for me to not ask for an egg – I just should have said I wanted an egg with it. It was no problem though. I went to the counter and told them I forgot to ask for an egg, and chalked it up to my American-ness. They rolled their eyes, laughed, fixed my sandwich, and I made a mental note to really think hard about my food ordering (especially before coffee).

Friday, November 6, 2009

LIveblogging Paris

Okay so I'm not really live-blogging so much as writing a post from Jon's futon in Paris. I'm here for a long weekend visiting him and the lovely Alix, drinking wine, eating cheese, finishing my Christmas shopping (more on that in a bit), and otherwise just enjoying the fact that the Eurostar can be as cheap as £59 return and take me to Paris in 2 hours. Joie de vivre!

I missed out on Guy Fawkes Day, which makes me a bit sad, as most of London was running around setting off fireworks in honor of a failed plot to bomb Parliament. Guy Fawkes is possibly one of my favorite holidays in London because of the fact that it celebrates someone's idiotic goal of anarchy. Only Brits, people. I even walked into work Thursday to find sparklers on my desk – my company handed them out with a map of all of the places we could go to watch the *offical* fireworks displays! How cool. But alas, I spent that evening on the Eurostar, headed to Paris.

I'm absolutely loving being in Paris. The Christmas season hasn't quite hit yet (London's lights get turned on this weekend, I fear!) and my broken high school French is serving me well enough that I'm blending in with the crowd. Alix and Jon's apartment is absolutely gorgeous, and it's really renewing to be able to discuss expat situations with people who understand what it's like to transition between cultures. I've known Jon for nearly ten years, so it's really wonderful to be able to relax with someone so familiar.

It's going to be quiet around these parts as I spend the weekend with them here in the City of Lights, but I'll post some pictures next week and give you a roundup of all the fun things we do. A bientot, mes amis!

Science of Sex

There's this cool thing in London I've written about before called Lates, where museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions stay open late for fun after-hours activities. Lates has been a bit quiet recently, and it seems like the website isn't really updated regularly, but that isn't stopping places like the Design Museum, the Tates, and the Science Museum from hosting their post-work events.

Last Wednesday the Irishman and I went on a nerdy date and traveled west to the Science Museum's late "The Science of Sex." Us being, well, us, it was preceded by a trip to Byron for burgers as recommended by one of my colleagues, and after delicious burgers (very American style), Brooklyn Lagers, fries and fried zucchini strips, we headed over to see what the Science of Sex was really all about.

The event was so popular that a fast moving queue extended past the length of the building itself, but once inside the atmosphere was fantastic. There were djs and dance floors set up, and we had free access to all of the exhibits as long as we wanted. Museum staff handed out flyers outlining all of the activities that were scheduled, but this was a huge source of disappointment - there weren't that many that were about sex! There was speed-dating (a bit inappropriate for me), some sexy dancing classes (not quite my speed), and a several talks that were completely mobbed with hordes of people lining up for hours to join. I really wanted to see one about Victorian sex toys (how hilarious!) but after standing in line for 25 minutes a staff member informed about half of us that we were too far back in the line to get into the limited seat auditorium. What a bummer.

So the Irishman and I wandered, checked out a Wallace and Gromit exhibit about inventions and intellectual property sponsored by Patent office, and basically enjoyed the evening out doing something we never do. But all in all, the Science of Sex was just not sexy enough. I got a free condom on my way out, and that was pretty much the sexiest thing of all. C'mon Science Museum... try harder to turn me on!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween, Jose, a new silk dress and a beer

Hi kids! It's been a bit quiet round these parts due to the fact that I'm in the midst of prepping a huge presentation for Thursday and then zooming off to Paris for a long weekend to visit Jon and Alix (more on that later). But I thought I'd take some time out to tell you the tale of last Saturday night.

Halloween here is pretty low-key; little kids trick or treat until sundown and there isn't much in the way of parties or dressing up – or so I thought. Perhaps because it was a Saturday, this year was chockablock of Londoners donning their fancy dress best and barreling down the sidewalks with abandon. I've never seen more vampires or dirty Girl Scouts! What a shift from last year's very boring Halloween.

I, of course, did NOT dress up, thinking that no one else would, and headed to the Jazz Cafe in Camden for a gig. The Irishman and his mates are firm fans of Jose Feliciano, a blind singer-songwriter who sings in both Spanish and English and does a really mean version of "Light My Fire". Here's a little taste for you:

The show was fantastic, and the venue pretty cool. Jose entered and exited dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, and after the show the club turned into an 80s dance party. Unfortunately, somewhere in that mix the Irishman's dancing got erratic and he spilled half of his beer down the front of me. I, of course, was wearing a brand new raw silk dress. You might ask why I was wearing a brand new raw silk dress out to a gig; I am currently asking myself the same question as my dry cleaner informed me this AM that the factory is "trying a second time" to get the stains out.

So I guess Halloween was a trick and a treat.