Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's all just gum art in Millennium Bridge crevices.

I landed in Heathrow with nowhere to live, and went straight to work. It wasn't smart, and I must have thought that if I were homeless by midnight, someone would just hand me some fruit snacks and send me on the next flight back. The providing universe and such, but sometimes I lean on my luck a little hard.

Running on sleep-fumes, I saw a place literally around the corner from work, where I could theoretically never leave the block on weekdays. The current tenant greets me with the news that he's moving out because his wife is taking him back, and I congratulate him.

The place is a shithole; it is also already rented. Disappointment and relief are strange feelings to bring together.

By 10 pm, Nina and Hannes are ushering me into their living room, making me tea, and I lie awake on the couch most of the night. It's weird not sleeping in a warm tangle of arms and snores.

The London rental market differs in such odd ways from San Francisco. Most people reply to my cheery inquiries about housing, and I'm at four or five flats a night. It feels like speed-dating, and I'm on a charm onslaught. I apply to everything in a four-mile radius of work, which is how far I'm willing to walk. A woman in Vauxhall cancels on me by text as I'm walking up to the door, but I stop by Ade's and see his new puppy Darwin.

I don't know what I would have done if Nina and Hannes hadn't let me impose on them for five days, talking me through the housing offers that I started to get. There's a house of older Polish hippies, and then a room in Bethnal Green behind the mega Tesco.

Nina tells me to hold out for one more interview, at a place across the canal from them that looks way too nice to be in my price range. With backup housing in my pocket, it feels so good to cancel on everyone else.

Next morning, I'm having tea with the girl who owns the place, and I leave with my hopes sky-high. There's a sunny living room with rocking chairs, the fridge beeps if you leave it open, and I would finally have a big boy bed. I would find out the next day on Sunday, so I just start walking west across London.

The city is ridiculous. I regularly spend my weekends here just walking, but it never gets old to see the sun set on the Thames. I walk through a furry convention, share spicy noodle soup with rowdy Australians, and then I'm in a cushion as long as I am, watching the walls flicker and spin.

The couple next to me gives me a shoulder massage, and I just sink into the music.

Wide red skies are still throbbing in my vision when I get the housing offer via text.

I don't expect to have nice things, so when it does happen, I'm awestruck. And I can move in the next day!

Nina & Hannes hug me when they get home, and it's like I've won some minor prize. It's a testament to what good hosts they are that I have a pang of missing the living room couch as I pack up. But then my stuff is out of the back of their van where it's been living since early December, and the least I can do is take them to lunch at the vegan cafe down the street from me now.

Moments where I forget I'm not in Berkeley
A board game housewarming takes place that night, and I'm a baby Cthulu rampaging across Tokyo Bay.
The prayer flags go up at first light, and I'm settled in pretty much immediately. And I have a desk!

Once I feel like a normal person with housing again, I wade back into London life.

Louisa has us over for a big pot of vegan squash stew and brownies, and it's the coldest night in the city so far, but my winter clothes are holding up to the chill.

Epping forest is a pretty magical place in winter. My first time wearing wellies!

I kept remarking how invincible I felt plunging up to my knees in cold mud, and we're giggling at every mud squish and plop.

I still don't quite understand the concept of lakes freezing over.

This one had a millimeter of ice floating on top, and we threw in everything we could tear off the ground.

Ikea meatballs finally. The beef/pork union is so perfect in texture that you're left disturbed.
The night ended in Dalston for Nate's birthday, where Passing Clouds had become too hip to be entered, POWERLUNCHES was a post-apocalyptic hipster diner, and Brilliant Corners had music that had us all gyrating. The place also doesn't serve Cuba Libres, but will make anyone rum and cokes. 

And I just bought a flight to Morocco since it was fifty quid, so...I have twelve days to wander the country by myself. 

Chefchaouen, here I come!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Moments later, the bear knocks us both unconscious.

After almost a year in London, I've never been so conscious of how many support networks kept me aloft in San Francisco, nor of how many people made my life all the shinier. And yes, I appreciate how oozy-cheese-filled predictable it is to not realize this until leaving across the Atlantic.

But being homesick is such a privilege in that you have a warm place where people miss you right back.

And when I do end up back in the Bay Area for good, I'm going to treasure and hug the poop out of all of you, likely never letting go, Jack.

I'll still want to see and do all the things, but I also want a home fort to fill up with our things, pictures, little herb planters.

A block from where I grew up, and this is the first picture I've taken of it.
I won't pride myself on only having enough to keep in two suitcases like now, and I really hate saying goodbye after each trip home.

That stuff sucks.

Hub city that it is, I'm usually surprised when people tell me where they're from. Home is always so vivid for people when they recount the beer their grandmother brews, the vegan shampoo they took for granted in Germany, and how beaches in England can never compare to anywhere in Brazil.

Until we pack up our things for good, London is a funny shared experience of a town, and there are so many conversations about how we love-hate the place:

"All buses are on strike, the ferry is at the bottom of the Thames, and the Overground will only be making one scheduled stop."

D'aww, are they competing for Cutest Couple prizes?
Thank god for generous vacation policies in Europe, so I was in San Francisco for almost all of December, where I held strong to a dumpling-based diet.

First thing upon arrival was pretending to be bovines on a grand Christmas tour of downtown. I kept being distracted by shiny lights, but David kept us on track, constantly reminding me that the herd had moved on, that we would probably die of exposure or the wolves would get us.


I miss such stupid things. Like reading the New Yorker with Thai takeout as the fog sweeps across the city and pushes all the gulls out to sea. Or how we manage to talk each other into a Hot Cookie before walking up the recognized hills and then the hidden hill.

"Hey, there are four circles in this diagram, and none of them are touching."

"Oo. Tell me more."

Exiting one of my favorite places at UC Berkeley
East Bay sunsets look like holy shit, what.
"Are you guys hiding from music? It's okay, you know, to be in the same room as it."

Santaneca is the core of the Dreaming for me, just the catfish soup with warm tortillas, and it would be the best place for naps after pupusa feeding time with curtido on the side.

And as usual, home time is heavily spent with amazing people eating amazing food.

Panchan that they don't charge you limbs for? Novelty.
We got our kink dance on, and watched a friend win a wet underwear contest.
It's hard crossing streets safely when the sky looks like this.
Christmas in particular was like training to be a foie gras bird (sorry, too soon in California?).

I had 360 degrees of food within arm's reach in a spinning chair.

And the boyfriend somehow became crown prince of Christmas Tinsel Town.

Birth of cheese is what we celebrated, and there were at least a dozen taunting my vow to stay out of the dairy trough. The house was open to friends drip-dropping by with custard pies, mushroom stuffing, beers to share, latkes delivered shining and greasy one by one from the skillet. We're grazing like ruminants, nibbling and dabbing neon jalapeno jelly onto communion wafers prior to becoming Jesus proper.

Reeking of latkes, we spend Saturday morning making coffee to go with the coconut coffee cake as Made in Heights croons away. Christmas eve itself had us watching The Family Stone with mulled wine while round with red jade. I briefly did think the Babadook was out to get me, but then the group Tinder session on the flatscreen cleared it all up.

Lightning round matches and bee-boops, and all you can mutter is, "What, I'd totally have talked to him.."

Graham's birthday was the official Christmas after-party, and then the Library for fancy little drinks before Yamasho sucked us into a vortex of karaoke and sushi. You never quite realize how repetitive some song lyrics are until you've had to sing them off a screen.

Britney, I have a newfound appreciation for your art.

Dinner with parents at Saigon in Richmond, where neither Vietnam nor Virginia were involved.
Bird's eye-view food porn
It was my first time being on a triple date for Korean food, and then a hexa-couple date for wine.

Last weekend of the year, so we made good life choices walking off the meat sweats. Through Golden Gate Park's frisbee golf courses and sunlight dappling towards the beach, towards grandmother's house we went.

Sandy-toed and squinting into the sunset, we gave up on Cliff House, picked up a lemon bar and hauled our leftover Korean home until it was time to go two doors down for Danny's booze hour.

Black Mirror and pigfucking, ugh, so much trauma.

There's nothing like the quiet that comes with the arrival of the mega injera loaded down with all our Ethiopian eats. I could eat anything really with injera, and the tej is such a nice boozy honey slick.

East bay living, I could do you, yeah.

Talia worships strange gods.
New Year's was as low key as I could have wished for, and there are jedi light batons, a countdown to fireworks by the Bay Bridge, and there's something about having your designated person for midnight macking.

We're in bed by 2 am, and I'm more than happy with my first hours of 2015.

What Bay Lights?
All we have to wake up for is an epic Southern feast, and you can smell the frying chicken from down the street. There's no point resisting the butter flood, and god, it's in my eyes. The little kid is taking the black-eyed peas traditions very seriously, and his year is going to rock. Meanwhile, we all just shave off slivers of persimmon pudding, and I'm just warm and comfortable from head to toe.

Southern spread on New Year's Day!
Round three was hot pot and it doubled as sauna time. 
And before I knew it, it was one last dinner at Limon Rotisserie before egg tart performance art with House on Haunted Hill. It's 6 am too quickly, and I'm hugging a very sleepy David.

I walk home through a spectacular sunrise to see Mom had cooked a full Chinese breakfast spread.

She walks me to BART, tells me I hug too hard, and I'm on the plane to London again.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Esthpana: Ya, let's go ahead and put toothpicks in everything.

Thanksgiving rolls around, and I really am thankful. It's been a charmed life these past few years, and I'm surrounded by so many good people on both sides of the ocean.

London is a tough city in a lot of ways related to how comically expensive things are (though no Scandinavia), but even when you're scraping pences together, you sometimes wake up and you're in a hostel in Barcelona.

When the roundtrip flight costs £39 ($60), it's like you're making money, right?

View out our hostel window.
I literally ran off the RyanAir when we landed in Spain. I was first through the passport checkpoints (because there are prizes for this sort of thing), sprinted for the Aerobus (again, gold star), and Lincoln was there to meet me at the finish line in the Plaça de Catalunya.

I don't even know what a viguèta sandwich really is, but there are suddenly so many country sausages in our mouths, and I chug a Fanta Limon before we walk into a flamenco performance inside the Palau de la Música Catalana.

As soon as the lights dim, we upgrade ourselves to nice box seats like we own the place, trying in vain to capture the stained glass bulb that's been my wallpaper for months. Sweat sprays from dancers in arcs as they whip their porn star locks back and forth.

A drizzily walk back with a gander at the Sagrada Familia at twilight, and we split four pintxos (mm, tuna-stuffed peppers) and an Estrella Damm before checking into Hotel One Paralelo.

Pinxtos are basically tapas, but they're €1 each and they charge you for how many toothpicks you have when you pull your face out of the feeding trough.

Yes, that's the tiniest frying pan in the world, and it has a small pancake with smoked salmon on it. I am in love.
Some Spanish tortilla before bed because you aren't in Spain to get skinny, and I don't fall asleep until 4 am amidst the moist bedding and Lincoln's snoring/whale song.

We're up by 10 am to get some epic Chinese lunch, and yeah, based simply on the cheap noodles/dumplings alone, I'm ready to move to Barcelona.

Posing in front of ham seems like it should be an American past time.
The problem with growing up in San Francisco is that whenever you see a fancy food market, you immediately compare it to the Ferry Building.

Borough Market: "Ferry Building, but with English accents and everything costs 60% more."

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria: "Ferry Building, but we're obsessed with moldy ham."

¿Pero dónde está mi café helado de Blue Bottle (Botella Azul)?

This emergency kit at the hostel by the elevator never ceased to amuse me.
So much walking, and if we didn't both train like speedwalking champs on a daily basis, the endless promenades would have slapped us down. The toughest day on little sleep took us to the top of Montjuïc, and can someone explain to me why the medieval locals named it JEW MOUNTAIN?

I saw no reference or presence of Hebraic populaces. Lincoln and I fell onto a couch, napped, and then we split up to run around the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya until closing.

My high school Spanish is somehow intact enough for me to read most signs, and Odesza is floating me on a summer state o' mind through galleries of Catalan art across the last thousand years.

I'm alone in the medieval gallery caves, so I just nap on the big stone slabs under the murals dating back to 1123 from a little church called Santa Maria de Taüll. The Virgin Mary, the magi, and their anthropo-zoomorphic buddies glare down at me, and it's incredible to just slumber under the weight of all that history.

And besides, the artist's nickname was the Master of the Last Judgement, so pretty badass.

In the rest of Barcelona, Gaudí hero worship is slathered over everything, and by the end of Casa Batlló's audiotour, Lincoln and I are so sick of hearing about what a genius the dude was.

The texture of the walls was pretty magical, like being in a giant fish.
Since his most popular quote is "The straight line belongs to man - the curve to God," I can already imagine how insufferable he must have been to work for. 

Roof of Casa Batlló
So obsessed with the street tiling in Barcelona

So many little alleys with so many alcoves for saints and churches, and we nurse little coffees as we alternate umbrella arms.

I get in some journal time from the front pew of the incomplete Sagrada Familia while Jesus parachutes in on a canopy of candles.

The Gaudí glass stretches up into the heights, and I can see why religion makes sense sometimes.

Bosque Palermo dishes out excellent chimichurri'd churrasco and paella, and we end with a crema catalana (which seems like ice cream made of pure yolk?).

My vows of no-dairy collapsed in the face of Catalan pudding.

Socarrat is a word that's been stuck in my craw for years now. Also known as rak-rak (damn boy, that onomatopoeia!), it's a Spanish word to refer to the crunchy crispy layer of rice at the edges and bottom of a well-done paella.

You know what I'm talking about, Gordito.

Clearly something with universal appeal, since the Chinese call it 鍋耙, and the other East Asians have terms as well (お焦げ and 누룽지).

Clearly I fall into Wikipedia abysses sometimes, and it's hard to escape adding to my pedantic nature. "Actually, ..." being one of the annoying things I chime into conversations with.

Churros and hot choco to dunk them in at Xurreria in the Barri Gòtic. Lincoln and I even get into a brief spat when he says "seafood" and I think he says "stupid." The dumb shit you trip up on when you travel is always embarrassing in retrospect.

We're drenched in La Barceloneta, blown by mini-tradewinds as we bounce between closed seafood joints. Frank Gehry's goldfish arches out of the ocean and then we're saved by a small place called Jai-Ca that quickly warms us up with mussels, fried anchovies, and plenty of lemon to keep scurvy at bay.

Lincoln heads off to sleep at the airport before Hamburg, and I have a day to myself in Montserrat. I somehow talk myself into making it onto the first train at 8:36 am, sweaty and loaded down with bread, ham & apples. People are stumbling home with their dürüm in hand, but it's satisfying to make it just in time to chug off.

I haul ass to the Santa Cova where local children allegedly saw a black Virgin Mary manifested, but the gates are closed for another hour.

Napping with the view below while reading Love in the Time of Cholera isn't such a bad wait.

The groundskeeper finally gets there, we exchange "buenos días!" and then it's silence in the holy grotto. The stations of the cross brings to mind a lot of poisoned gods, crowns of plague thorns, masks, veils. 

There's a children's choir, but before they're done, I'm hiking to the tippy top of Sant Jeromi, where every turn is a magical look down into the valleys. 

My shadow has legs that don't end.
I don't see a single person for an hour and a half, and the nature-loving introvert in me is singing a happy song. 

Stray cats are mewling at everyone that walk by, and I get to practice my French and Japanese with people who seem confused by slopes once I'm on the homestretch back down to the monastery.

I rubbed the black Madonna's Palantír for good luck, and it was tempting to buy a candle, but sorry, I'd rather have two more pintxos.

I briefly amuse myself thinking about what would happen if Catalunya declared independence while I'm in the hills above it all.

Last night is a race through the supermarket buying as much torró for friends and family as my little arms can carry, and also two jars of fig jam that I somehow think I can sneak through airport security. I spend a horrifyingly cold night at El Prat airport, and around 4 am, I'm eating fig jam off my fingers and getting eaten alive by golden mosquitoes when Caga tió falls out of my bag.

Lincoln and I had each purchased one for €2, and I just start giggling to myself as I circle Terminal 2 trying to keep warm.

Here's a description of Caga tió (Shitting Log) to warm your Christmas heart:

tl;dr - The Catalan tell their kids that a small log shits out the Xmas presents.

On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the Tió partly into the fireplace and orders it to defecate; the fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many modern homes do not have a fireplace. To make it defecate one beats the Tió with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tradition says that before beating the Tió all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to pray asking for the tió to deliver a lot of presents. This makes the perfect excuse for the relatives to do the trick and put the presents under the blanket while the kids are praying.

The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are considered to be brought by the Three Wise Men. It does leave candies, nuts and torrons. Depending on the part of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs. When nothing is left to "shit", it drops a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it "urinates" by leaving a bowl of water. What comes out of the Tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone present.