Friday, September 12, 2014

Guys, please be careful around the men selling small Eiffel Towers.

Reading with the itsy bitsy Eiffel in the distant horizon
I just cruised by the marker that reads, "You have now lived six months in England." 

Why they spend tax money to build these markers, I honestly don't know.

Since moving here, I've been so conscious of how quickly some things flashbang by, while other moments are just rubbery as you wade through. One of my first jolts of "Hey, I think I could make it here" was my second British Saturday, when a perfectly jowl-lickin' bowl of beef noodle soup was gruffly thrust under my face, as some dude kept handpulling ridiculous amounts of more long white carbs. And in the months since, I've been back after visiting museums like it's a sacrament, or I'm just kinda comforted by the knowledge that it's there at the heart of Leicester Square, first little totem, light, or whatever, of home. I'm more bothered than I should be that I can no longer flop down at Noodle Bar on Cranbourn Street. It's been closed due to a serious mice infection.

I realize I've just written an ode to a vermin-encrusted noodle shack, and shared that with you all, but everyone relax, we're just going to go with it, yeah?

Temporal hiccup, but the French followed us back to London in the form of la Cie Carabosse and their fire festival.
My only job here was to eat roast pork sandwiches and drink beer.
Life here is ridiculous, and I'm guilty about being obsessive in jotting down everything in my little black Moleskine knockoff (thanks Bebe Sweetbriar). At the end of every day, I'm trying to grab at every shiny salient memory that floats to me, and often times, I'm jotting down insane details about something a woman said to us on a train, some way the rocks sounded washing out over each other, but I can't recall anything in the periphery. 

After feeding me pseudo-Indian and a choco-red wine cake, Dharmender divebombs me into Dalston, the hipster heart of Hackney borough. The gay clubs are all named things like Vogue Fabrics or Dalston Superstore. But don't worry, the names have never been physically printed upon any signage. 

The people in the know just kinda all know the party happens on Tuesdays and in the basement of an antique store. I wasn't particularly dressed for gyrating, so we take the cement stairs two at a time, popping out into the dappled sunlight of a rooftop garden DJ set, sitting on big factory spools and little toddler chairs. 

Nobody told me to wear my hipster dancing face.
It's cold, but men are wearing micro-jorts to show off alabaster thighs covered in splashes of sailor tats. Caribbean food is being sold, beers are tapped, and that man in dreads is dancing so forcefuly.I hope that everyone assumed I was going for normalcore or some kind of 90s skater. 

I'm shown a flat that has the cool bones of what used to be a massive bible-printing factory, and now it's packed with Celtic and Indian art, antlers everywhere. 

Um, I'm just going to curl up here in the corner and stay.

Tower of London's rivers of blood to commemorate WW1
And then Chris flies in on a jetplane from SFO and survives the trek from Heathrow to show up at 3 am. We had a quick interaction where we exchange hugs, mumble where pillows are, and then throw ourselves into bed. I spend a day marveling at how strange it is to have one of your best friends suddenly teleport to London. 

Chris and I meet up after I pop out of work for a Southwark Payhouse musical I won tickets for (my fourth win, I don't know who else is in the lottery), and we find out it's Brits doing a damn good job playing American bros in the Vietnam War. There is a touch too much Jersey and they can't disguise the British way of inflecting F-bombs so that it's "fockin." But there is a lot of gratuitous wardrobe changes, and we feel like we're being trolled. 

And the set is actually a giant golden gate bridge opening up to the audience.

We have a canteen dinner subsidised by the Malaysian embassy, swing by a Sikh temple and leave with a nugget of karah parshad, semolina halvah made with thirds of flour, butter, and sugar. The daily diabetes meter hadn't been met yet, so Dharma brings us through the rough-and-tumble gangbanger side of Shepherd's Bush (I often think about how dangerous the States feels compared to the threats here), and we down some chocolate torte and Irish tea. 

Lincoln arrives the next evening, the background scenery shifts and swings, we wake up at 4 am to trundle to St. Pancras. The Eurostar is sleek in a way that I imagine the 1980s to be, and the quiet Indian mother with her two kids in the same seat quartet with me keeps silently passing me snack food as we watch the French countryside wake up. #universeprovides

The XX had excellent timing here, and some quiet and delicate electronica random-tumbled at me.

I miss the other ferret, and I'm in the Chunnel, David pointing out to me that it's the largest underwater tunnel on the planet.

And then we're in Paris.

The Seine with its deep fast currents
It was so good to see smiling Tristan waiting for us in his native habitat right when we stepped into the Gare du Nord.

We hop on a bus, broadcasting apparently so loud and clear we're from the US that a French woman loudly whines in French about how the Americans take up too much space with their bags. And before we even unload in the flat, I've traded some Monopoly euro-money for a sizeable wedge of apricot flan.

Tarte aux abricots, I can respect your thick badass self.
Tristan warns me that it is a rich one, and that it is very heavy, indicating that there is still a month of bikini season left in Europe to keep your self-dignity up for. But it's eaten anyway along with our first warm butterball pain au chocolat with a wash of black espresso while we first appreciate how our flat by Gambetta looks out onto the urban plains of Paris, interrupted only by the industrial Eiffel spire.

Perched on the 8th floor on one of the few hills in the city, we work our way downhill towards Le Marais, catching up with Tristan, and I'm just marveling at every endless balcony.

Our first introduction to how formal French gardens are obsessed with lines. And conical shrubs. So many cones.
Yeah, Paris is just like I imagined. And it's comforting while still gorgeous.
The merry enclave of artists, hip young starlettes, and gays have chosen well again, and the area has tagine joints near the Marché des Enfants Rouges, clustered boutiques in a particularly rooted and appropriate sense of the word.

And then we are in front of Notre Dame. Copper green machine-men climb the church buttresses while we take a butch picture out on the paved foundations of the original town village.

Three musketeerin'
We cruise by everyone queuing for allegedly the best falafel in the world at L'As du falaffel. Little chickpea balls sell like hotcakes, and of course this is where the Jewish area and the gay fringe blur, as we're slipping between arrondissements.

Chris doing a double take from the frontal view.

No diplomatic maritime incidents in ToyBoatLand while we were present.

Baguettes are legally required to be a certain length and price in Paris, and Tristan has to gently guide us forward as we are inclined to slow to a gaping stop in front of each bakery and bread shop.

Naptime in a 13th century colliseum tucked behind some buildings was amazing, and we're slumped like harpies on the terraced stoneas we comment on some cubby guy in aquamarine pastel pants practicing for what's probably the world championship of lawn bowling.

Lunch was takeout from a Lebanese nook, toasty garlicky chicken wraps smeared with just enough sauce. Then more walking through little streets, little turns. And then goat cheese stuffed into tiny plump  peppers.

Faces squinted from walls, and streets arched slowly over the Seine, while the best ice cream in Paris was met with apathy.

Outside the Shakespeare and Company bookshop

We squeal with manly delight upon finding slow wifi in a park with just the one intended cathedral tower before resting up in a Scottish pub that I wilfully believed into being "clearly so clearly Irish."

We're sleep deprived so the two IPA pints give me a buzz that seeps across my head as we walk through the Jardin de Luxembourg, square trees, toy sailboats crisscrossing a giant fountain surrounded by flowers. There's a quick exhibition of overly earnest art about gender and water use in Benin.

I'm fascinated as usual by our first French supermarket experience at Monoprix, everything so foreign and yet easily slotted into where it would fit in your daily life to have chestnut paste or piping fresh crepes readily available. Lincoln casually overdoses himself on cheap chocolate and little gummies shaped like Coke bottles and then rolled in more sugar.

It's hard to believe that we're not just in a recreation of Paris, and once we've gotten past that, we're already imagining the city folding across its median, buildings stacking neatly upside down.

I have no sense of the significance of our setting, which is clearly just a French parking lot.
Synagogue in Le Marais
We have a literal sausage fest before Chris falls into a sleepy slump uncontrollably, and Tristan & I go hang out across the street at a bar called Aux Ours, which has a fleet of small tables that take over the sidewalk and a name that likely translates into "For the bears, of the bears"?

Either way, there are no bears to be seen, and the two of us make an order for drink that defaults to the cheapest beer in the house. We're red and orange from little lamps as we catch up, and yes, I'll have another one of those.

I break the sacred vow about not working on holiday but it's not because small angry people are jumping on my shoulder, so I finish up an OECD complaint at 1 am while watching the Eiffel Tower sputter and sparkle in the quiet dark.

Five minutes later, the light show ends and I'm already wrapped in a blanket on my corner futon.

First day in Paris, not so shabby.

More adventures soon.

Too sleep-deprived for blue steel.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Done my hair up real big beauty queen style.

View of Warwick from Caesar's Tower in the castle
Hot damn.

Just a malty half of August, and then apparently the Darkness descends. If nothing else, blogging reminds me how quickly time goes by, almost six months since I left San Francisco, so I default into having fun.

Sticky summer days from the double heat waves, and I avoided asphyxiation on the Tube, where the temperature is hotter than the limit for transporting livestock. People smell like rotting almonds and I woke up on a bus to someone rubbing my knee. Everyone's in heat these days.

A distinct Stark family seriousness permeates the warnings I'm getting about winter's arrival, but until this rain turns to the white stuff, I'm going to continue amusing the sundry Brits by oversharing that I've gone commando ("I haven't worn pants in three weeks!").

That and eating salt beef bagels while half-naked by the shining canals of sleepy Vicky Park.

Terrace lunch o' oily little fishes in a tomato sunflower seed soup, crusty Turkish bread.
I needed a filing rack, found one by the rubbish bins the next day. I thought about how awesome a small nightstand would be, and came across one in black two streets down. #universeprovides (I still remember how I made Sir Erik Lehnert agree with this when fireworks just started going off at a hidden beach south of Fort Funston right after sunset).

It's incredibly Californian of me, but on a certain level, I kind of do expect things to work out.

And as summer closes up shop, I can agree with the British that their summers are pretty magical when you come down to it. There's something about the glowing hazy days where you just sprawl with your friends in the grass until you're so toasty warm that you dive into the communal swimming lake, your toes sinking into the earthy greenness at its depths.

In a wedge of Islington that feels like Oakland, we write one wish on a trio of golden balloons, and I scratched out something embarrassingly heartfelt. I'm handed a tarot card that tells me to take full responsibility, and then a girl plays violin and we're just rolling around on tattered blankets in the grass. A paper lantern floats up with a hearty cheer and barely clears the trees before probably setting the council home next door on fire.

Our Kasbah in the time of Flood
And the music festivals!

The Lambeth County Fair was foggy reggae and sharp cider, pineapple mai tais in the long Brixton market for twilight, and cheap pizza. When the sky opened up and everything sank into torrents and torrents of wet, we all fled for the closest tent. If this had been the sequel to Noah's flood, we would have realized we chose poorly since the "Lambeth City Development Tent" is not the sexiest name for a post-apocalyptic commune.

We sang the opening chant to the Lion King song until little heads start popping out of adjacent tents and hollering that the rain was letting up. Note to self: curry goat is great for plodding half-drenched towards more food.

On the way home, I kept thinking various street incense peddlers were selling palo santo. I should have brought a little stick of it to London, such a comforting smell.

No luck finding it here yet, though I haven't been looking too hard.

A little girl and I missed our green light because we were staring at the sunset.
Royal Courts of Justice: "Can I just sway here back and forth and pretend I'm the Amazon from Diablo?"
Homerton is a cozy little subworld of Hackney, and I'm in love with the supermarket manned by Turkish bros downstairs, where I'm slowly making my way through their meat pies and tubs of hummus. Besides the Turks, it's also a Kurdish populace, as well as a big community of the Hasidim up north.

On these rainy walks home down Mare is a Sainsbury's where I periodically buy two egg tarts for 75p (what is this nutmeg atop?). And the walk to and from work is something I kinda look forward to every day, just fifty minutes in the morning and early evening to decompress or muse about things. I'm usually on the terrace watching the sun go down until the wind blows my basil plant over and threatens to tear skin.

I swear these ladies aren't trying to sell you anything from Anthropologie.
Walking through London never gets old, and I make it a point to wander down sidestreets when I can. Everything is old, just musty history all the way down. And no church fatigue yet, since I still pop into each little chapel and cathedral, and the gothic-variant sprawl is pretty glorious.

Summer sun bleeds out the colors while we rotate on a wooden wheel next to a thousand-year Roman wall. City commuters huff and tut at us on our perpetual motion machine, but we're happily getting nauseous and centrifugal.

I talk us into walking across Tower Bridge to hunt for a giant blue parrot the size of a bus, but the nod to Monty Python is gone.


Hampstead Heath = summer.

They haven't spotted you yet.

Dharmender after I stuff him with french toast, sausage, and melon prosecco.
For Heist, we were a squad of eight rookie criminals breaking into a five-story building to steal a pricey painting. Dark little room for the awkward landlord to give us code names: Rhino Hole, Beavertooth, etc.

You may call me Illegal Practice for future dastardly deeds.

With immersion games, you suspend your disbelief in order to slip into character, but there really were some moments where a fight-or-flight-or-poop mentality kicked in.

We sledgehammered a wall to gain access to the adjacent office building, slipped around security cameras, and then I was sent to go turn off the next set of surveillance. I walk into the server room in my janitor garb and a security guard immediately appears in front of the blinking machines. Third time was the charm here, as Nina faked a five-alarm epileptic seizure and Zorah deactivated everything.

We were all captured after stealing the painting when the guards all charged in and noticed the door ajar. To our credit, three of us kept escaping from custody, and I ended up breaking the game, hiding in a pitch-black room when...all the doors locked down.

I whispered to Duchess on my walkie-talkie, tried all the musty windows, if only I could have sweated my way to safety.

I ironed a shirt for the first time in my life for this. Be proud of me.
I am now one of those people who ask human rightsy questions at stockholder meetings. The BT annual general meeting was a ton of fun and it was an incredible experience that I'm glad Aditi and I both got to share.

And we even got a little press in The Guardian and I blogged about it on Huffington Post!

Phil didn't seem as enthusiastic as the exclamation point would indicate.
I had such high hopes for the co-op that invited me to interview, and I honestly left so disappointed that it almost bled in the mindmap into me being irrationally mad. The softball question was what co-op life meant to me, and after talking about how one of my favorite things is coming home to a scrappy crowd of merry folk handing you food and a beer, everyone at the interview looked taken aback, if not offended.

"We really want to make sure you understand that we are eight separate people living eight separate lives here."

"We rarely will eat together, but you can leave extra food out when you cook for yourself."

"There's a list if you want to complain to someone about fixing something."

I push a little on what exactly they mean by co-op, and honestly it comes down to how they have no landlord. It's weird that this British definition disqualifies many American co-ops, and most Americans wouldn't consider them to be a co-op either (apparently British and American egg regulations also outlaw each other). And is the fact of paying rent to a different entity really something to bond over?

They have an occasional party together, but in terms of community, that's about it. Not enough to stumble home on the daily through a dark set of angry tunnels and trundle across broken glass, that's for sure.

They invite me to the next round of interviews anyway, and I just kinda snort and chuckle at the same time.

Snuckling is what that would be called.

All I mutter for a few minutes after seeing this was, "That's actually a castle. Woah."
I get some credit for not making any Downton Abbey references all day.
Warwick Castle is amazing on a weekend trip with Monsieur Kitchen, and as we duck through the portcullis, I can almost see the pock marks that invaders might have left in the stone. I get my fill of jousting, and most small boys are swinging wooden swords at anything that moves. Plate of piggy with all the veggie sides my mind's eye can envelop, and then some sponge cake to christen it.

Giant birds of prey swoop overhead three times a day, and between shows, they're just sad and tired.

Simba, this will one day all be yours.
In all the glamour of Castle Time, I was really most impressed by the British love for orderly queuing.

People continuously poured onto the top of a tower and with just a tiny spiral staircase going down, Brits just automatically formed a spiral queue where nobody cut anyone else, there was no yelling, and all was orderly.

I'm still not used to how flat the horizons are here, and everything is tiltshifted pasture.

Sir Kitchen leading us up and down more spiral staircases ad infinitum.
I like to mix up how I consume beverages.
For Yelp's 10th birthday party, Nina and I decked ourselves out in white, or perhaps she did, and I just bought a cheap cotton shirt from Primark.

Oodles of food since we got in an hour before all the plebes, but my favorites were the two French guys, Jules and Michel, who make up Jumi Jam. And they even bag me a jar of pear & earl grey jam to take home.

White roses and baby's breath, and I'm clutching it all in a mason jar on the sleepy bus bump home, nodding off and catching it over and over in the nick of time. 

It's like cupcakes were just naturally-occurring phenomena.
Zorah's birthday was the first party at my Homerton abode.

Perfect to-and-fro of people as we duck onto the terrace between rain showers, and then the neighbors start squawking about too much bloody noise between made at 11 pm on a Friday. 

Violet: "In my life as a small adorable dog, I have never received so much affection."

I still don't know what Pimms is, and I helped make three larger pitchers of it.

I recently tried to steal a painting with the two ruffians on the ends.

Bright-eyed Harkirit (I'm a fan of Greek epithets) delivering my red velvet cake to the Fun Sponge, who apparently turned seven.
I'm wrapped in my puppy paw blanket (Thanks Hannah!), having rice cakes and strawberries, wind whistling through the city, remnants of Hurricane Bertha wisping its way down from Cambridgeshire where it is flooding.

Pods of people sailing across the Thames
The quiet backglow of London's Chinatown
Finally caught Lilting by myself at the Hackney Picture House around the corner. And yeah, Ben Whishaw pushes a good majority of my buttons, but it's worth a watch. Hey, 96% on RottenTomatoes.

Theatre Four numbers sixty loamy green seats at most, with complimentary tea and biscuits for the few silvery people with wise things to say, talking about winter tubers in a washed out Scottish accent.

Star cookie insisted on a selfie.
I'm sure no one else thought to make a "This is Sparta!!!" comment
Next Thusrday, Chris and I are reuniting the three musketeers with Tristan. Most appropriately in Paris!

With Lincoln in tow, we have six full days in the City of Light to eat our weight in baguette.

Now go play yourself some psychedlic folk. I'd recommend Megafaun's The Longest Day.

Reprievers at Friday lunch spot. Lynn pointed out it's like a UN delegation.