Monday, October 20, 2014

The Innerer Schweinehund bars us from greatness. Oink.

Brandenberg Gate
Even in the sweaty drizzle that glues autumn leaves to shoes, Berlin makes the point over and over that Minimalism is kinda hot.

After German unity, architects were let loose in wild packs to move the nation's capital, from Bonn to Berlin.

Across the hundred meters of death zone that straddled the old Berlin wall, they conjured clean lines and soft grass while enshrining some of the bulletholes and Russian graffiti.

I'd work here just for the architecture.
I often thought about how the French would have added in some flourishes or an extra curlicue, but the Germans were able to just leave it simple and walk away.



But before Berlin action, Mira was in town, so we convinced ourselves to get up at a most godly hour to hop on the misleadingly named Oxford Tube to...well, yes, Oxford.

The confusion is that the Tube is a bus.

This is what libraries look like in Oxford.
If Cambridge looks anything like Oxford, I can see why an education at Oxbridge gives you a certain way of talking and a hitch in your step. Students live in dorms like churches, and if you told me that Quidditch was played adjacent to the rugby pitches, I'd nod and be okay with that.

We're under the Thames!
We had mayonnaise sandwiches before going to the Ashmolean, the oldest museum in the UK. Mira found mobile chairs to her liking, and I got harassed by a museum usher whenever I forgot I was supposed to pretend to be pregnant with my backpack. Botanical gardens completed our hot date, and I got to see that the ginger plant indeed looks just like ginger buried in dirt.

Then it was frightening museums and cream tea with Erica and James before we drifted back to London.


I'm moving again in December, but the walk home along Brick Lane has been lovely. I still haven't been to any of the Indian joints slinging curry and meal deals, but I'm tempted by a salt beef beigel on the daily.

Here's a view of one of the gates right after I got offered some rum punch at the art gallery.


I love how the Arabic alphabet ends with a very stoned-sounding, " Ha. Wow, Yeah." و  ي

Language learning is probably my favorite thing ever, and the two hours of Arabic every Monday stirs up all that magick dust of how much fun it's been dabbling.

Japanese class kept me laughing throughout law school, French has been the grumpy dog that kinda follows me around  since college, and Cantonese is family.



Random words get caught up in the brain burs, so I now know two ways of saying hypocriteمنافق (munafiq) and مذبذب (muthabthab). The latter of which allegedly refers to an insect that digs two holes?

It's only been a few classes and I barely know the alphabet, but it's been fun reading bits of Arabic on my walks home. Halal over and over, falalfel off my favorite food tent, a tattoo on a gay DJ with probably his actual name, Ayman.

كيفين لو is how I write my name! Keefeen Lu is a little less exciting sounding though.



I turned 28 on the day I flew into Berlin, so although I didn't get a chance to celebrate with London friends, I did get to have a photoshoot in front of the Reichstag with our Yemeni client. And a coronation chicken sandwich at the airport.

I trot out my oversized suit so rarely, but it's fun to play dress up and pretend to be an adult every so often. A hefty Italian dinner at Sagrantino, and then we were in the sky above Berlin having some biscuity German beers.

Flashing the pearly whites after our meeting with the Human Rights committee
Birthday dinner o' pork tenderloin with truffle mash potatoes, nom nom.
I never had such a strong sense of history until I spent time out of the United States. It's a dumb thing to utter, but honestly, I just never thought about the past being so real for people back then. Checkpoint Charlie is one of those moments, seeing the picture of the same intersection with all the tanks and barbed wire.




I start my days off with a salmon-eating contest by myself, and then it's a series of little coffees as we orbit the Holocaust memorial by the government center.

We finally spend some time walking around the stelae. Two thousand of these blocks, just rising and falling, some extending way out into the sidewalk.

German kids ran across the tops until the ever-present polizei hassle them to get down.



My favorite thing is walking around a city reading street names to myself.

I don't fetishize getting lost, as Millennials often love doing in cities (though really only backpacker meccas), but it's nice to have a glimpse of what daily life would be.

Berlin gives off Washington DC vibes, though I'm skewed by the slice of Berlin we spent the most time puttering around in.




It's hard to not have currywurst when there's a little kiosk that dispenses it every block or so. Whether accompanied by fries or a little bun, the main attraction is the diced sausage smothered in ketchup and a shimmering of curry powder.

Currywurst!
My chosen currywurst vendors were a trio of German bros, who greeted me with "Ni hao! Are you Japanese? You look just like Jet Li. Where are you REALLY from?"

The barrage of intense ethnic questions down the street from the Holocaust Memorial is a little weird, but let's roll with it.

Yayyy socialism!
Berlin wall right along the old SS headquarters, a street away from my hotel
I bought myself almost 200 schokoladenkränze as gifts for folks back home, and raced through the Topography of Terror on one of our slow evenings. During the Third Reich (1933 -1945), the SS schemed and swarmed here.

Charging documents for Nuremberg Trials
We easyjetted back to London, and I spent the Gatwick train ride chatting with some Irish wrestlers in town for a match.

And then I was back in Hackney.

"You have a beautiful girlfriend," the woman with the biker-girlfriend curls comments to me as she hands me my flat keys. The two Turkish bears who work the shop sigh longingly, like we're all in a rom-com from the mid-90s.

I stay in bed until noon the next morning reading The Man in the High Castle, which was a strange book to be in the midst of while in Germany. After a week of meat on sticks, fried meat, meaty sausage (there's a theme here), it was good to make myself a giant pot of veggie soup pasta. 

I'm going to miss this terrace.
Mark Boyle is my power animal. I don't go quite as far, but StreetBank is lovely.

I picked up a set of towels from a German boy about to head back to the motherland. And he threw in a gas canister for my camping stove as well. Same day, I was gifted a kombucha scoby from a lady around my corner named Gaia.

Of course she moved to London from Portland.

I finally made it to a French meet-up. En train de faire les mots-croisés.
Home is an ocean away, but I keep encountering little burrito joints in the world that advertise "California Mission Burritos!" The text is usually in a matte white font that aspires to be Comic Sans, and I've never eaten at any even if they make me smile. Does El Farolito deliver trans-Atlantic burritos?

Out of a misguided pride, I'm basically a freegan when it comes to Mexico food in Britain: If it's not given to me, I won't eat it.

I consume plenty of California rolls, though only when Itsu has them half off. 

After this weekend's parkour session, I'm pretty okay with jumping across buildings, sure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Friends don't let friends order stewed prunes for dessert.

Wandering down from ex-Bohemia
Lincoln greets each Parisian morning with a loud Italian blare of "Buongiorno!" as we hope the little red elevator doesn't trap us with our daily trio of warm traditions. I imagined waiting for the undoubtedly strapping French firemen (soldats du feu!) to ax down the door while we gnawed on the rustic baguette variant enforced by legal mandate.

I hum along to Vandaveer crooning However Many Takes It Takes as we slather Dijon and dole out cornichons in the quest for Best Sandwiches Ever. Wrapped in foil, we'll each have two carbo-batons to refuel while we wander uphill to Montmartre.

You would, Oscar, you would.
But first we pinball around Père Lachaise cemetery, finding Oscar Wilde's tomb immediately. It's hard to miss, the honkin' Assyrian sphinx with wings swept back in a "Billy, I'm going in dry!" way.

And I think it does have genitalia.

“We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

Girl, go send your battle sphinx to bolster the drag queens.

Back in Gambetta, the cobbled paths are all tree-shadow dappledot matrices, and heartbreak dribbles from engravings.

The one that stuck in my craw was an obelisk built by a father for the three things that brought him happiness in life: his wife & two young daughters.

Light insectile hum and it smells like summer.

“Name the different kinds of people," said Miss Lupescu. "Now." Bod thought for a moment.
‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘... Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly.” 
I assume the doors slam open at dusk and the two stone boys eat any soft and fleshy within 100 feet.
On a side segue, I need some new clothes.

I recently saw a string of shots of me in the same lime green shirt that I'd won from Scoutmob (I realized I'm wearing it right NOW, fuckkk) or the ratty red-blue plaid shirt I treat like a lucky blankie, all from different days, different trips.

So a Primark trip is in order (sorry, sweaty kiddies with nimble fingers), or if I find a non-hipster charity shop.

Hey, it's not quite a glamorous life in Skintlandia, but I keep reminding myself to run around with a butterfly net for shinier things at this junction. And courtesy of Sheng, I now have a cast iron pan to add to my hobo sachet-on-a-stick.

Londonites, prepare yourself for cornbread. Well, corn pone since we're ducking the dairy.

Royal we, at least, yo.

I'd drive this truck for a living just for the art. 
Lincoln brought me a gift from Mom: vitamin B2 tabs and Sanjin Watermelon Frost Spray. I'd recently mentioned on Skype to her that I'd been plagued with cold sores, and this is basically what I grew up with to treat the oral buggers. O Mom gifts!

So the reason it's called watermelon frost is because some intrepid Chinese folks decided to pack watermelons with salt and let them rot:

"After a day or two a dark "frost" appears on the outside of the skin, which is scrapped off. Another method uses and entire cut-up watermelon which is mixed with salt and put into a clay jar; the crystalline frost will seep to the exterior of the jar." 

I have no idea why it works.

And I'm not going to think about it too hard or I'll lie awake for nights thinking about the dark frost.

Fraternal portraiture in front of the Sacré-Cœur
We weave & weedle through the dudes scamming people with a Red Rover game involving friendship bracelets. 

After lunching aslant the steep lawns of tourist ground zero, we stroll towards another long-pulled coffee on the outskirts of the old bohemian village, now overrun by Starbucks, knicknack shops, and way too many crêperies.

Tristan digging for sammiches as the Sacred Heart looms above us.
Skirting through Goutte d'Or, Lincoln insists on doing some Titanic-level slumming, getting roast chicken atop jaundiced pasta in a Sensitive Urban Zone. We have an inevitable chat about the veil laws in France, and we stroll to the island outcrop of Parc des Buttes Chaumont that overlooks where we were earlier. 

Chris points back at the Sacré-Cœur, and says we should go check it out sometime. We should have shanked Chris 3, but I'm going to pretend Primer isn't an effervescent tentacle of my psyche.

I don't think we had dinner that night, just rolled up to Aux Ours, commanded a platter of Freedom fries & a few beers each. It was a good night, and we stayed until the waiters ushered us out at closing.

Vagrants atop a craggy isle
Our six days in Paris were a constant challenge of How Much Butter Can I Ingest?. Troughs of pain au chocolat did most of the trick, but one giant macaron did get tagteamed.

Once our esophagi were lubricated, we scramble through floors and floors of the Musée d'Orsay. I get stuck in the Carpeaux exhibit for a while, staring up at plaster people with crazy eyes.

Tourists swirled toward and around Starry Night, and there was something about the poor fisherman that I really liked.

Le pauvre pêcheur by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
We lounge on lawnchairs in the middle of the Tuileries watching the Ferris wheel threaten to mangle the people bouncing in an expensive suspended cage that drops them four stories.

Tristan appears beside the glass pyramid, and we have an amazing dinner at Chartier.

Six squirmy excuses to eat more bread.


There's a wall of the tiniest cabinets that date back to when the laborers who ate here would store their own set of cutlery. The American couple next to us hands the waiter €50 and says to just bring them something tasty. Not a bad strategy overall.

Yeah, let's go ahead and fry the taters in duck fat too, why not.
Mid-bite photos are the most attractive.
So yes, even on a boho budget, you too can have escargot, foie gras, beef cheek, crusty bread with mustard, the house red, duck confit, boeuf bourguignon, and a Mont-Blanc aux marrons...for €17.

Chris did indeed get stewed prunes, but you know what, they were kinda tasty.

But possibly due to the giant ball of whipped cream atop.



Since unearthing it in the "mountain" part of Mont-Blanc, I'm hooked on crème de marrons, which meant that I raided the Monoprix for a dozen small tins of chestnut paste as omiyage, a big can for David, and a toothpaste squeezy for myself.

Meeting up with mates in a foreign country never works, but we did manage to sync up with Aditi and her surprisingly non-French boyfriend at a little bar called La Station-Service in Oberkampf. Four Parisian woo-girls throw down ten radioactive shots, and we take their picture to save them from drunken selfies.



It's interesting how the popular British take on Paris is that it's overrated and cannot compare to London. People utter that to me almost as a reflex, and it's not like my six-day jaunt gives me much room to stand on, but hey, I liked Paris.

The little things matter, and having endless sidewalk cafes doesn't hurt.


And then I realized (1) Versailles is in France, (2) I am in France, so by quasi-transitive properties, I ought to be in Versailles.

Getting in lines to be in other lines is the worst, and hell is indeed other people, but the decadence has to be seen to be believed. If I had shown up in 1789 with my pitchfork, I would have gone on a decapitating rampage against the royalty too.

Hall of Mirrors with matching Camelbaks
Lincoln and I kinda stumble towards each other after exiting the building into the even more funland gardens. There's just so much.

We end up napping in the grass by the Grand Canal, ducks puttering around as the Apollo fountains go off.

First attempts by the French to learn Chinese
First attempt by the Chinese to do acid, probably.

I'm a fan of the signs that pop up all around Paris that attest to how many Jewish children were sent from the area to death camps. The sparse facts still come off accusatory, and rightfully so.

Signs in new cities are also often odd. On the train back into Paris, I saw a sign that had reserved seats but with a priority order: 1) war amputees 2) handicapped folk 3) preganant women and people with kids 4) Children under 15.

Versailles fountaining
Can't miss your stop here.
A sleepy ride back and we're back in Montparnasse for so much crepe action at Crêperie Josselin. Cozy place, and then we went to our separate towers with chocolate smeared on our hands and faces. Lincoln racing to the top of Tour Montparnasse as Chris & I take the orbital zig zag that leads to the Eiffel Tower.

Lincoln's vantage point as Chris & I were probably at the Eiffel
We spent two hours playing hide and seek with the tower until all of its bulk is suddenly looming.

We may have missed the hourly sparkle by ten minutes, but it was still glorious. Tall slender men with sad eyes threw glowing toy planes into the sky over and over, and we really couldn't stop following their arcs.

Countless blurry pictures of the Eiffel tower later, we shamble into the Metro.

Such relief to finally get to it.

The French are obsessed with merry-go-rounds.
And woke up to such good champon ramen in a little neighborhood where all could hear was Japanese and French.

And yes, those are some coy gyoza peaking around the corner.

I could have ramen all the time.
Ancient kitteh looks like it needs a hug. MEOW.
Sunrise as Chris gets ready to hop on a plane back to SF
And Chris left :(

But Lincoln and I then had a shiny afternoon of Caribbean food in a park.

I need to keep these last little shreds of British summer in a box or something. I might want them to frown at in a few months.

"When I have opposable thumbs and money, I'll just buy my own Caribbean food."

Initiating Lincoln into the Tayyab glories.
After posting a fluffy piece about celebrity lesbians, I had a finger wagged at me that I "trivialize [important pillars of society] in favor of cheap and juvenile, hypersexualized identity humor."

If I ever pen a book, that might go on the back cover. Or the front cover.

TL;DR: Gays don't need to play nice all the time. Nor do we need your approval to get the same rights.

*earnest gang signs*

And yes, I did get trollity trolled into an internet struggle.




My new walk to work emphasizes two of the hipster cores of the city, Brick Lane and Broadway Market. Turkish pastries, bagels, really thoughtful coffee.

And of course, SQUIRRIES Street. I don't even know how you pronounce that, but I smile on my amble every day, Made in Heights keeping me afloat.


Yep, sometimes I just walk around London and squint at trees.
Waiting to be surrounded by fire with a little tin of chestnut cream for Ade in my pocket.