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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Streaky is how you Americans like it (and bacon).

Dharma's birthday shindig was a blur of tinkling Pimms, three chocolate cakes on three birthday noses, and sequential portraits done while sporting an oppressive blue sombrero. It's funny how I've gotten used to an hour across London not being too far now atop a big red bus from Bermondsey to Shepherd's Bush. Going west!

I've been on a rekindled lovefest for Cobra beers, so bear with me as I will be bringing my lager-friend to all picnics and barbecues I'm invited to in the next month or so.

My little room, such good light for so much of the day!

I'm now a Hackney denizen, after an epic day of watching our neo-Nazi Romanian mover-men (swastika tattoo with eagle atop on his calf, I shit you not) schlep things down eighty-two steps. Great day for moving house since everyone was at someone else's flat or more likely, at the pub, jostling for ogle space as Germany beats Argentina in the World cup.

Missing Julia already! Though I'm sure she's amused and I'm still ashamed that I called dibs on the ottery nazi.

Though I'm already in love with the new flat, and as soon as I see the terrace overlooking Homerton, I know I'll be spending a lot of time there just reading, writing, laying on my back staring at the sky. My little basil bush happily lives here.

It's strange being in the hip neighborhood since Hackney is the Outer Mission of London, and I used to be in the Oakland equivalent in Bermondsey.

I'm unpacked by the next day since I still don't own much, my little travelin' prayer flags flapping away in the warm breezes of mid-July. I've gotten so used to my bed touching three out of four walls in my room in Bermondsey that suddenly having double the space is a rush to the head. I forgot how nice it is to just read on the cool wooden floor on a early morning before work.

Nights, dozens of insects in varying sizes but all flying zoom into our rooms, orbiting the lights until we suck them all into the vacuum. Who knows what they'll do in there?

The Gun, the pub on our corner
Barely a street away, there's a massive Turkish supermarket with the biggest onions I've ever seen, halal butcher, greengrocers, and then the ubiquitous Tesco Metro hulking in the middle.

My first night, we're cheering along with the locals in a tiny place literally next door down called The Gun. And then it's vaporised ice cream on our terrace as the purple sun sets over London and our candles. So yeah, it's like we had a night inside the Anthropologie catalog. We swing back into things with a barbecue for two soon enough, so we carry on.

My walk to work is now a perfect 3.1 miles (5k!) each way, and I'm turning at The Blind Beggar (apparently the Salvation Army started here), passing Hurwundeki, until finally Jack the Ripper's hangout.

Ice cream and candles after Germany triumphs.
Nina's kimbap made my day.

There's a evening where I walk past the jalebi and samosa vendors, weaving through crowds of people feeling sorry for myself, and by the time I pass the canal, I'm kinda homesick and a Englishwoman gives me a sympathetic half-shrug when we make eye contact. And then Lana del Rey blares from someone's car as I walk by the giant poster of the lizard goddess, and I have a big grin on my face in the remaining mile through Grandmother's house in Cambridge Heath to home.

First meal in the new flat, so of course I had to make a curry.
I spend a day working away in a big beam of sunlight that just slowly sweeps across the room until it's time to start up the chicken coconut curry. I think I've made a curry for myself once a week since coming to London, a few curries actually fitting into a distinct country's flavors, but mostly a comforting love child of Thailand, India, and Hong Kong.

Some turn into coriander tapanade to be eaten with darkest rye breads. Sonnenblumenbrot suffices too. And hey, one of these weekly curries won 2nd place in a contest, so apparently I'm honing currymaking as my Care Bear skill.

I wasn't lying about el Sombrero Opresivo.
Jess and I spent an hour slowly making the coals for the faux braai, shielded by bamboo mats, the fire starters igniting in very carcinogenic ways as we tuck more and more matches and stories into the coal. Sausages bubbling in rich juices, crispy oozy halloumi that breaks my dairy vows, and then onion velvet and blackened sweet potatoes nested in the coals. It gets chilly as the day crinkles up in pleats on the horizon, and there are even some sausages for a fatty fry-up in the morning with Algerian bread to soak it all up.

We blaze up some coals again on Friday night as the storm clouds slowly drift west over us. Boerewors makes it a proper braai, I suppose. Violet the dachshuahua licks my nipple as our candles sizzle in the drizzle.

Breakfast on the terrace!
The Ghanaian mum in the next middle is nagging again, and someone gives me the thumbs up for  the mellow lady tunes I'm piping into the space between us. Play some Window by The Album Leaf one morning when you're just lazing around on a Saturday morning. That's a lovely ass feeling, boys n' girls. Also Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap. Wake up to that, strap on your walking shoes, and go explore your city.

Lehnert accuses me of doublespeak when I talk about how being "fine" sounds to me like being "upset." It's sometimes fun to think of work (in the same way little kids think about superhero lives they'd lead), where we're just delaying 1984 from merging with reality, and it's looking hopeless, but there just might be salvation in next week's glossy issue, just around the corner.

Fireworks going off in Victoria Park! No internet until end of the month = bingewatching Downton Abbey and lots of catching up on my book a week.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How many types of sparkles are there?

Summer vacation doesn't exist for us. The thought throws me for a loop when I discover it each year (in the repetitive Colombus' discovery of America sense apparently).There aren't three months of year where you spend a lot of time crawling around the scrubby woods or just on perpetual loafing about. June blew by me this week, and that's half down, folks. Those warnings about winter being a thing in England will come to pass, and I do own a jacket or two.

Until then I'm liable to go wander Notting Hill in a duffel coat and fisherman's hat until a posh English family adopts me. If it worked for Paddington Bear, so why not me? I can check cocktail party in this posh posh area code off my list now that I've had butlers topping off my mojito soundlessly while little bloblettes of moreish food float around in platters (Moreish = British for a food so tasty that you want more of it). The joke was on me later when I realised there was no alcohol at all in the mojitos. It's like a cleanse, guys. Lemonade and mint, I swear by it, totally meant to do that.

Worksnack: Some fried Algerian pastry.
I wrote a guest post on the Norwegian oil fund supporting drone warfare, and it got picked up on a minor blog of Norway's main media group. I'll take the minor wins when they come rolling in, and it was fun to check on the comments as Norwegians calmly debated the issue. I expected the compulsive trolling and name-calling that usually hangs out in Internet social spaces, but maybe it's more of an American thing.


After calming overcoming our first car stalling mid-road (there was a pub fortunately), we set up tents outside the village of Radnage in Buckinghamshire (within shouting distance of a pub). Yes, my first camping trip in England happened, and on a field that probably had orphans snip the grass into the perfect height for bare feet

There was a boiled treacle pudding, rice & chilli, with plenty of tea to start us off and ease it down. We then ducked into the Crown to wind down the evening with some local ale until we heard the rolling thunder. The water started pelting down, and we all finished the dregs of our pints before ducking out. Our tents had barely been battened down when the skies just let all hang down.

For the next four hours, it rained and rained and somewhere out there, a small white cat with spectacles mused about the desire to buy a boat. My new dinosaur-green sleeping bag was only £25 and it gave me all the mummy loving I needed to ignore the known world washing away. We wormed out of the tent in the morning, and no one seemed to have washed away. Sodden grass steamed away into mist as I dodged giant flying bugs in the temperature cycling showers.

Fresh grass smells and allergies blew around us as we drove through leafy love tunnels toward a train festival. Enthusiastic Englishmen swarmed at us to show off their anorakin' merit badges, and I learn enough about train operation and restoration to earn a masters' degree on the spot.

We hop on a train to nowhere, and there's a mechanical computer.

We wander the wet trees, everything dripping, shades of honeydew and sunlight dapple. There's some kind of giant ornate mausoleum to a local family that doubles as a toast to bad taste, and we sit facing horizons of field and pasture, with a straight Roman road blazing through the middle. Lunch is served atop a sunny blanket and there is a celebration of British pork products, with Swiss eggs, pork pies, sausage rolls, and some gouda to just get us into another food group. 

Porkified sufficiently, I'm tanning in the sun sipping my first Ribena. The purple smell of liquid blackcurrant now superimpose warm English countryside afternoons onto my childhood memories of steamy Hong Kong streets.

We chase away dragonflies and make our way to the Hellfire Caves, where some poor servant girl got tricked into hooking up with a local nobleman. The noble stallion turned out to be three local boys who ended up stoning her to death. Yay, happy ending (and this is why you ask for face pics, boys). 

The caves themselves are a steep pebbley walk through damp tunnels that make up this ancient frat house. The river Styx at the bottom should have oozed more, something like this.

Cold pints during golden hour take us to another pub for a dinner of fish n' chips. It's naptime weather even when we leave for the leisurely hike back to camp, rustling through knee-high fields of golden grass. Birds of prey dive and dive on toasty thermals, and none of the nettle along the path seems to realize I'm not wearing long pants.

We pop into the pub and interrupt a 40th birthday, before marbles rumble in an elaborate twist on jenga.

The week before I left for home in San Francisco, it all zipped by in a blur of meetings, with a stop to consume extensive quantities of Ethiopian food with Zorah and Nina.

Oh Shoreditch, I can see why people like you so much.

Above, Nina is channeling our collective excitement for the vegan stews we are about to bathe in, just off Brick Lane. Sad that she won't be greeting me with perky noises at work, and she was sweet enough to bring me japchae on her last day at work.

She wins all the points. Excellent noodles for snaffing on while strolling back across Tower Bridge.

Stroll turned into a hustle once I got into the delusion that I would somehow be able to pack and move from Bermondsey to Hackney in two hours, and then pack more suitcases for my flight back to the States.

Julia talked me down from the edge, and I only packed for home.

And of course London looked like its gorgeous self when I left for my flight. 23 hours, and 4 in Charlotte with some passable BBQ.

But then I was home, and within a day, San Francisco turns during Pride into the magic gay kingdom that it really is underneath that fog and tech-hate. There's certainly ample sorcery involved when David and I walked right into Tartine with no line to snag some morning buns. No line again at Clare's Deli around the corner (I know, lesser magicks). 

Did Burning Man happen early this year? 

Armed to the teeth with paper bags filled with carbs, we pick our way through the crowds in Dolores Park, waved off frantically to the side by the Wachowski sister as she tried to film a scene involving hot gay boys.

We still take off our shirts because honey badget don't what now. We've reached the finish line for the year and there is no more time to go to Equinox, everybody. Even if they have eucalyptus towels and the best q-tips.

San Francisco is home, and there is basically endless cuddling, which I am totally okay with. 

Two of my favorite people, and this picture would be in a scrapbook if I did that kind o' thing.

There's trivia night with Bebe greeting our London-representing table, and we make it onto the podium of red, white, and blue questions. People are getting married left and right, and I'm pretty excited about these first sprouts of wedding announcements. 

And then I'm on a sailboat with Lincoln's fellow MoFo legal eaglets, freezing in the sea spray while having a Lagunitas, and we're circling the Golden Gate Bridge before mountains of shrimp, oysters, and crab cakes fall upon us with a frenzy.

East Bay is where I'm going to be a cranky old person one day, I've decided, and Berkeley just keeps giving me pangs each time I go back. I will certainly have a peach tree, berry bushes, a goat. 

The Meresman clan serves up a perfect backyard barbecue of grilled spicy peppers fresh from the garden, Moroccan chicken and beans, warm buttermilk cakes topped with berries. A baby with the cutest ringlets eats a nectarine like a cheery beaver with its front teeth, and I'm going to have more bourbon whipped cream, yes please.

We roll our contented selves to Chris' nook just off campus, and after anchoring at 4.0 hill in the shadow of emo tree and the Campanile, we're perched on Indian Rock, staring up at purple veils and pink hazes floating down on the strangely organic rock because of the clots of people that swarmed all over. The three of us clamber like demented crabs towards the summit, where I'd once hugged another boy more than two years ago now.

As the fireworks light up the urban moonscape, people whoop and cheer, and we continue gazing where our view is unobstructed. We spend the whole time staring at the wrong patch of cotton candy sky, fireworks peripheral as it rained silver glitter wherever we looked. The rock is endless sojourning as we try to avoid firefly orbits around the Fountain at The Circle, the little bears at its base sheltered from the shiny stuff twinkling down.

We rewind our paths across campus, and we're just three mewling dudes in their late twenties rolling on wet grass and squinting at stars in the drizzle, hurting nothing and bothering no one. We make it back before starting an epic slumber party. Why and when did slumber parties stop being thing? 

Jackfruit atop oven-fresh brownies, while Lana del Rey is a reptile deity who is very interested in me, and I haven't been able to stop looping her at work yet.

♫ Down on the West Coast I get this feeling
Like it all could happen that's why I'm leaving
You for the moment, you for the moment, Boy Blue, yeah, you 

The week was over before I knew it, and this leaving was harder than the first time. There wasn't the distraction of needing to figure out the basics in London, and the full brunt of how much I'd miss the people who love me at home just bodyslammed me at the airport. 

Some things are more important than I would have thought four months ago, and I don't want to miss out on what I know makes me happy. I'm closing in on what I think I want, and I'm just anxious about making good choices at each of these itty bitty life junctions. 

Please do bear with me.

Until then, we're holding down the fort with persistence, spiderwebbing, and a little luck.

And where does Clay Aiken live?