Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sunday Night

I have had a relaxing weekend in. I did yoga, I went on walks, I cooked, I watched movies, I read a lot. Finished up two books that have been partially-read for a few weeks, and am now focusing on Harry Potter.

Opened a bank account yesterday, which is interesting as a foreigner. There is much fear that I might be laundering money, so there were lots of hoops for jumping through. Now that's done, and I have to build credit. Spent much of the weekend putting bills on auto-pay so I don't have to think about them. Had a lesson in writing checks last weekend, so that's good. (I'm not a moron, it's just that the checks look a lot different here...there's an extra line that's not intuitive when you're used to a different format.)

I worry that I killed a duck. About a week and a half ago, I was in a hurry and ducks were crossing in front of the house so I had to wait. I thought they'd all passed before I drove, but now there are signs by kids saying, "Kill your speed, not a duck," and they appeared the morning after, so I fear I may have gotten one under the wheel. I hope not.

Went for a leaving do for a colleague at a place called Bistro Live. They cater to hen parties and large groups who aren't large enough for a private hall. They feed you just-okay food and then they play music for dancing. I danced with reckless abandon (as I usually do,) and now my colleagues think I'm wild. I've explained that it's really just a good sense of rhythm and a bit of hyperactivity, but they're not buying it.

Should be an easy week, and then next Sunday I am spending the day with my friend Anne and her daughter Siri as they fly through to Johannesburg.

Reality Shows done right

People ask me if they have all of those horrible reality shows here. The answer is, "Yes, they invented most of them." Brits seem to have a prurient interest in watching the lives of others, and so they do a lot of it. Big Brother is all the rage, and the people they put in the house are certified freaks, so it's like watching Carnivale on HBO, except real. They have shows like Celebrity Love Island where you can watch C-list celebrities attempt to seduce each other. I know I've already covered The Farm.

But this interest in watching people function in contrived situations has taken the reality show to new heights. There are two on right now that I can't stop watching:

Dealing with Dickenson: If you've ever seen Bargain Hunt on BBC America or TLC, then you know who David Dickenson is. For the uninitiated, he's a flamboyant, overly-tanned, pompadoured dandy who knows the antique business, and has made a side career of helping others buy antiques on television. In his new reality series, he's taken £50K of his own money and is training six normal people who dream of being antique dealers and he's teaching them to buy and trade for profit. In the end, if the things they buy make more than £50K the six split the money, and if they don't then Dickenson loses the difference. He has fits and yells and makes irreverent remarks about their bad taste for an hour each Sunday night, and they go to antique shops and auction houses and look through things for hidden gems.

The House of Obsessive Compulsives: You think I'm making that up, right? Well, no. They've actually taken a group of severely obsessive compulsives and put them in a house with therapists in a last ditch effort to heal them. Their individual OC behaviors vary, so they are sometimes in OC conflict with each other. Talk about entertainment, not to mention a bathroom floor you could eat off of.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Classic links that deserve another visit

The Exorcist Re-enacted by Bunnies

Jesus of the Week

Totally bizarre thing that makes me bellylaugh

The Sloganator Memorial (the First Amendment lives, at least for now)

NEW ADDS:

From my friend Pam: Everyone forgets them now that they've sold out to Quizno's

Music to Su Doku by

Gillian Welch
Ryan Adams
the Bad Livers
Dave Brubeck
Scissors Sisters
Jolie Holland
HEM
Prince
Adam and the Ants (not just Adam Ant)
Royal Crescent Mob
The Jam
Celia Cruz
Astrud Gilberto
Mary Gauthier
Thomas Dolby
Brand New Heavies
Beulah (Anything is better with Beulah)
Tom Waits
Ry Cooder
The Maxwell Implosion
Brother Jack McDuff
Barry Manilow

Let me know if you need a Su Doku CD. I'm happy to make you one.

Su Doku

It's nearly impossible for me to do crosswords here. At home I can do them in pen, I usually make it until Wednesday before the NYTimes puzzle starts to get hard, and I have successfully completed several NYT Sunday puzzles (no Saturdays to date, but I keep trying.) Here, I don't get the clever puns and I don't spell well yet (all those extra u's and s's in place of z's trip me up.) So my puzzling outlets are down to what I can find on the internet.

Until now.

The Sunday Times does a puzzle thing called Su Doku. It's a number grid of 9 boxes of 9 spaces. They put in various numbers, and you fill in the rest. You need 1 - 9 in each box, and in each row and column of 3 boxes. It's addictive puzzling fun, and I highly recommend it to all.

I stayed up until 2 am on Sunday trying to finish a screechingly difficult puzzle this week. I have burned my dinner trying to get one right. I'm a wagerer who does a lot of, "If you do this, this and this, then you get THAT" to motivate myself, Su Doku has become a regular reward. Poor Howard hasn't been touched in a week, so obsessive is my love for Su Doku. (Howard is the uke, kids...don't get pervy.)

Think you're up to the challenge? This week's puzzles are available at the link above. I recommend you work from easy to difficult, because you'll feel humiliated and demoralized quickly if you don't. And don't get cocky and use a pen. It's deceptively simple, and the next thing you know you've got two 5's in a row and you're rubbing out and starting over.

Good luck.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Saturday by the River Thames

Friday was my birthday. We had a team meeting in the AM at our offices, and then those of us who felt like braving the ongoing terrorist threat that has become London went into the city for the night. I'd say only two or three people didn't go because of bomb threats. There were 18 of us in total. We had lunch at a fancy hotel, did a quick scavenger hunt, and then had dinner and drinks and nightclubbing to fill our evening. I realized I was truly old when I passed off a chance to go to Heaven, a happening gay dance club in Charing Cross, because it was late and I had blisters on my feet from walking around the city with inappropriate footwear. How pathetic is it to stay in on your birthday when you have a choice? ("In" still meant socializing until 130 at the hotel, but you know what I mean....I really just wanted to rest my aching feet and to get a good night's sleep. My youth has officially gone.)

On Saturday, my colleague Anna and I left the hotel around noon and wandered along the embankment from our hotel, past the London Eye, and on to the Tate Modern to meet my friend Patricia. Patricia has recently moved here from Minneapolis, and though she lives on the other side of London it is still pretty easy to meet in town for dinner and whatnot. She's a museum type, so she loves going to the same sorts of places I do. Our plan was the Frida Kahlo show I've been talking about.

The walk along the river was absolutely wonderful. The city of London has done/is doing a load of work to make the South Bank an arts corridor, and they've done really well. When you're near the Eye, the walk is crowded with tourists. The Saatchi Gallery is in County Hall, and there is a great Salvador Dali museum, as well. If you pause to stand and look across the river you get a great view of the houses of parliament and the Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridge to Charing Cross.

Once you've passed the Eye, things break into a more leisurely pace. There's a busker or a street acrobat every few yards. There seems to be an unofficial gallery of living sculptures there...you know, those people who paint themselves with grey or metallic paint, dress in some costume and sit perfectly still? Never really understood it...He's sitting still! Well done!...but they seem to be making some money doing it, so good for them. On Saturday we got there early enough to see a few of them putting their makeup on and getting dressed on the nearby lawn. Odd to watch someone totally cover themselves in a solid color that gradually obscures their individuality.

As you get closer to the National Film Theatre, you hear more music and spoken word. Every time I've been there, there is also a used book sale with thousands of titles under the Waterloo Bridge. Saw a great handbook to 1910 etiquette for ladies, not to mention a scary comic book about a boys' school that revolts into anarchy. Would have spent a lot more time browsing here if I'd had time, so I'll go back next weekend. There is a bit of an impromptu stage in front of the National Theatre for actors. Further on there are restaurants and boutiques, including an amazing array of custom design jewelry, textiles, furniture, and other items in the Oxo Design Galleries. Saw some wonderful gifts for next Christmas. Once you're a bit further on, you hit the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre. It's great.

The Tate Modern is an unbelievable building. It's built in an old power plant, and there is a phenomenal atrium that soars five stories above the entry. Its exhibits are sorted by subject matter, not time period. I really like this, because it challenges you to compare subject matter between disparate artists.

Didn't spend time in the main galleries on Saturday, just went to the Kahlo show. It was everything I wanted it to be. I've always found Frida Kahlo's work to be strong and independent and raw. Grouped together, it is extremely powerful stuff. I think I'll be going back on a weekday, because time with each work was limited by the crowd.

In the late afternoon, Patricia and Anna and I stopped for lunch at a nice little Italian place along the riverwalk. We sat on the patio on this sunny/cloudy, slightly cool day, and ate delicious antipasti. I had a ribeye steak that was perfectly done, and a rocket/parmesan salad.

I highly recommend a day along the Thames in the heart of London. The people watching is great (even saw a GINGER balancing a soccer ball on the end of a wooden spoon he was holding in his mouth!) People go there to relax and stroll and enjoy their day. You should, too.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Ginger People

I have a new obsession. I have discovered a new racism.

Brits hate redheads.

They call them Ginger people. Sometimes, they pronounce it with soft "gih" G sounds like it rhymes with finger (if you slur the G a bit). Which, by the way, rhymes with "minger," a slang term for a really unattractive loser.

They make jokes about having ginger kids like it's some sort of birth defect.

Mind you, as with most things the Brits ridicule, they won't hold being ginger against you. They talk about all sorts of physical traits that are, in theory, less than perfect, but if you exhibit one of them they still like you and it's all just good natured ribbing. You've seen their teeth.

I am now collecting pictures of ginger people. I'm not sure why. It just seems like a good idea. They always smile for the camera, and personally I like red-heads just fine.

By the way, Brits also insist that anyone under 5 feet tall is a dwarf, which is funny from a nation of 5'3" men.

What's (pardon me) American

At least once a day someone starts to say/do/discuss something they consider American, stops to apologize directly to me, and then continues with their thought. These things are not necessarily American, but they give us insight into the image we've been putting out into the world over the past decade. Here are a few of the things that have been attributed to America in my presence:
  • Loud, boisterous, and vaguely uncultured behaviour
  • Entrepreneurial, aggressive sales techniques
  • Wordy explanations
  • Quaint, old-fashioned opinions
  • Uptight reactions to bawdy subjects
  • Closed-minded judgments
  • Joey
  • Cultural self-centeredness
  • The phrase "the dog's dinner" (not a phrase I know, but maybe it's southern?)
  • Savvy marketing
  • Sexy marketing
  • Pretty much all marketing
  • Slapstick, unnuanced humour (see Joey)
  • Showy, extravagant spending
  • Over-produced, sensationalist news coverage
  • Panicky hatred and/or isolationism as a reaction to terrorism
Sigh. I have some PR work to do.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I'm fine

As mentioned before, I don't live in London. However, I do go there on occassion, so when things like today's incidents happen I will update my blog as soon as I can to let you know that I'm fine.

Don't know exactly what's happening, but don't worry about me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

My weekend in London

Good grief! You'd think I could find time to write more than once a week, yet here I am a full week after my last post with so much to tell you. Perhaps I'll blame my houseguest. He's delightful, and it's so nice to have someone to hang out with after work, so I'm taking advantage of personal (rather than computer) interaction. He leaves on Friday, so you'll hear more from me then.

First week back has been just fine. Work was busy, but not crazy...out on time mostly. Got some groceries, got some sleep, watched some Big Brother, had some dinners out, made some excellent Thai Red Curry Soup. Then it was Friday.

Had a little work thing that came up on Friday night, so I had to go to London anyway. Two of my colleagues and I went to a fancy-shmance Hyatt on Portman Square for a tour, dinner, and drinks with some folks from Hyatt. We had a great time. Our hosts were Farida and Shulto. Farida is just lovely...very sweet and friendly. We've discovered a shared love of art, so we'll be getting together for museum time and dinners. Shulto is very tall and very funny. Made us laugh quite a bit. We shared gin and tonics to calm down from our travels, went upstairs to look at their new bedroom (they're remodeling,) then came back down to have dinner. We sat at a chef's table (you get to watch them cook), and had delicious new-cuisine British food. My crab cakes came on mandolined cucumbers with sauteed lemons and a fresh-flavoured aioli. My sirloin and chips were done perfectly, and the rocket salad on the side spiced things up nicely. The mojitos (not British, but still good) were excellent. Shulto went to the mens room and came back all atwitter. Chris Martin (of Coldplay) and Gwyneth Paltrow were dining in the Italian restaurant in the hotel. We needed to go take a look at the venue anyway, so we went in and did some star-gazing. The maitre d came running to give us the bum's rush, so I backed up to the door and ran straight into Michael Stipe. I've had my love/hate with REM's music, but I've always admired his stances so that was even cooler than a skinny blonde and her rockstar boyfriend who pretty much looks like Andy Sweet in person. (Nothing against Andy, just saying.) Now WE were all atwitter, and had to go to the ladies to calm down. When we came back out into the hall, Chris was on his cell phone. When we moved on to the bar, so was Michael Stipe. I felt kind of stalkerish, so I made sure I stayed put until all celebrities were well on their way home.

While we were in the bar, I became the main attraction for a couple of Indian guys across the way. They stopped having a conversation and basically just stared at me and smiled and laughed at things I said. Mind you, I know I can be a bit, oh, shall we say animated in public sometimes, but this was a work function and I was being pretty tame really. I felt really paranoid, but then my colleagues noticed it, too, and I felt better. Before these two guys left, one of them came over and said, "I'm not Arab...I'm Indian. (The Arabs in this bar are looking for Russian prostitutes, so that's good, I suppose.) I have to tell you how much I enjoyed watching you. You enjoy your life. You are beautiful, happy girl. You are THE BOSS!" I suppose that's a nice thing to say to someone, but I was pretty much taken aback. Not quite as weird as Bowdie, the guy from the party in Venice who tried to convince me he was my past-life lover, but if you'd been there you would understand that this, too, was odd. Not to mention difficult to live down with work colleagues.

So on Saturday, my colleague/friend Jo and I bummed around London. I treated myself to a new French scent at Selfridges (not the perfect one I've been seeking, but heck, I'm THE BOSS so I deserve an intermediate perfume, right?) About 3pm, I switched from posh hotel #1 to posh hotel #2, the Grosvenor House. Nice, but undergoing a very necessary remodel, and it's a bit shabby these days. Not that I'm complaining....the staff were extraordinary, and they gave us a giant suite overlooking Hyde Park. My friend/colleague Anna met me there, and we went window shopping grabbed some sushi for lunch, and then headed to Hyde Park for the REM concert. A colleague of mine had tickets to the original concert (scheduled for a week ago), but the event got postponed due to the terror attacks and they couldn't go on the new date. I, on the other hand, could, so I ended up in the front of the "unreserved standing" section with a clear shot of Michael Stipe. Not close enough to touch him this night, but he is an amazing performer and the show ROCKED. I am now solidly FOR REM. Back to hotel. Ordered a pizza. Watched The Omen. Slept.

Sunday I came home on a noon train and basically did nothing. Read the paper, watched a little telly, went to bed.

Today was an annoying Monday, but made it through. Fred brought delicious wine back from France so we had it with our pasta and chocolate, and now I'm going to sign off and start reading Harry Potter. Tomorrow we're on our way to London to meet my friend Patricia (and someone named Lyle) for dinner at Carluccio's. Wednesday I have a meeting all day offsite for work, and Thursday is Fred's last day here so we will be dining out for a curry that evening. Friday we are in to London for a work thing, IT'S MY BIRTHDAY (hint), and so I'm going to stay overnight and then will meet Patricia on Saturday for the Kahlo exhibit (postponed due to last-minute REM tickets), and maybe the Impressionists Who Travel exhibit at the Royal Academy.

I'll be online again Sunday with tales of my week. Take good care.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Back in the UK

After my two-week blogging absence I am now settled back in the UK. My jetlag is surprisingly fine this time round...I made it through a productive day today at work, and it's almost 9 PM and I'm still awake! Whoo hoo!

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip home. Had great visits with friends and family, packed up my desk at BI, shipped some stuff across the pond so my house will feel homey (or homely, as they say here, which sounds ridiculous.) Didn't get sick, and other than a tighter-than-anticipated schedule, my visit was trouble free.

I've decided I definitely prefer flying American Airlines. It's not non-stop like NWA, but it goes into Heathrow and it's a 777 route so I had personal video choice, not to mention more legroom. What's a little layover in Chicago when you have 8 hours of comfort? Plus, it's like two hours less time in a car once you land, which is also a good thing. OH! And I saw Doogie Howser at Heathrow. He's shorter than you'd expect.

Many of you were wondering how I'm feeling about the terrorism thing. I won't lie and say it's not freaky. I have been through two of the stations affected in the last month, and it is definitely a bit intimidating to think about riding the tube again. But it's a fact of life...we are threatened by terrorism wherever we go, and if you're going to get hit then you're going to get hit.

The imagery on the news has certainly unearthed some feelings from 9/11 for me, but frankly, many things still do. Watching Independence Day with my nephews made me freak out a bit. I still can't look at images of the WTC without cringing. I can feel my blood pressure rise when I hear people use 9/11 to justify the war in Iraq because I think it's increased the threat of terrorism rather than reducing it as promised. I want to feel safe again.

I think about 9/11 pretty frequently, actually.

But I think the most difficult aspect of the attacks in London for me are not the feelings unearthed by this senseless terrorism, but by the conversations with my family since the bombings. Most of you know that I was in NY and scheduled to be in a meeting in the WTC that morning, but you might not know that there were about three hours that morning when my parents thought I was at ground zero instead of safely uptown by Rockefeller Center. The phones were down so I couldn't call them to tell them I was okay. They were worried sick, seeing images of the towers falling and hearing stories of several blocks of destruction. If I ever needed proof of how much they love me, I could hear it in their voices when I finally reached them.

Now I hear their worry when we speak on the phone. It makes 4000 miles seem a lot further away than it really is, and I don't worry nearly so much about being caught in an attack as I do about trying to protect people who love me from fearing for my safety if this happens again.

I don't live in London, I live in Milton Keynes. I don't expect additional terrorist attacks in the coming weeks, and even if I did they're not coming after our indoor ski slope or the many American chain restaurants. They're making progress in finding the perpetrators. But today they were searching a car at Luton airport, which is only 20 minutes away. I live in the UK, the other major player in Iraq. It's no safer here than it is at home. And while I hope for the best, I know that the reality of our world is not quite as pretty.

But I'm not going to stop living my life because it's a little scary out there. I'm off to London on Friday night. I'm going to try to catch the Frida Kahlo show at the Tate on Saturday. I'm going to hope for the best and assume I'll be fine, and I'm going to take the tube because that's how you keep on living your life. That's how we win.