Sunday, December 14, 2008

break a leg

You might as well hear the news straight from the horse's mouth, or so the saying goes and is going tonight: I was very happy to be flying under the radar of the flu/cold causing viruses floating around London infecting my friends. But my luck didn't hold. Those little pests found me. In an act of defiance at not wanting to let them ruin my last week-plus of London explorations (which they have been disrupting since Thursday), I accepted my friend Beth's last-minute invitation to join her for a bit of London theatre, courtesy of a generous friend of hers.

Cold or no cold, how could I say no to enjoying one of the very-London things I haven't yet partaken of these three months past? So I said yes. And am very glad I did (especially if I wake up miraculously mucus-free in the morning). Beth and I found our ways separately (her by bus, me by DLR) to a hidden gem of a performance space that would have been a treat in itself even if the play had been rubbish, which it wasn't, of course.

On tap was The Cordelia Dream, a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's too late and I'm coughing too much to try to offer a review of the play, so I'll just say: it was interesting, intense, dramatic and worth seeing. And it was especially worth seeing at Wilton's Music Hall, a nearly derelict old space with a colorful history that folks are trying to keep alive. Far from the glitz and the suffocating, look-how-fashionable-I-am crowds of theatre central around Leicester (pronounced "Lester," just for future don't-sound-like-a-tourist tips when you visit London) Square, the hall is tucked inside a brick-paved pedestrian road called "Grace's Alley." As you walk down Cable Street in East London toward Ensign Road, there are no real clues that you're anywhere near a theatre. Which means you feel like you've been let in on a secret when you pass through its barnlike and almost miss-able main doors into the warm yellow glow inside. And perhaps you have. One of the best kinds of secrets.

the front doors

Grace's Alley

don't get excited. it's just rain, not snow. it's okay if you get excited about the theatre banner, though.

fyi: go to the right of the staircase to enter the main performance hall.

kitchen reflections

If I lived in London's City of Westminster rather than its Borough of Lewisham, I might have heard Big Ben chiming twelve as I returned from my theatre jaunt, but I don't. And neither did I hear any less famous substitute, as there don't seem to be chimes in this corner of London. Only occasional sirens that are more than occasional (think "very normal") during rush hour. Anyway, my eye caught this intriguing sight after brewing a cup of pre-bed tea (chamomile, vanilla and honey. Yum!) and grabbing a literal midnight snack. My camera was on hand and the lighting was sure to be different in the morning. It was a now or never moment. And like the worst storytellers, I won't leave you in suspence. I went with now.

You might call it "Still Life in the Kitchen."

You might call this "Alien causes flower stems to grow mysterious bowl of oranges. (No one has been able to get to the bottom of this yet.)"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

hot off the presses!

One of the things among many that I've loved about London is its newspaper culture. This is a city of not one, not two, but many major newspapers. And there's a way in which that gives life to a city, I think. Or maybe the city gives life to its newspapers.

I suppose it helps that London is a city of commuters who don't have to pay attention to their driving while they the travel to and fro and, instead, can pay attention to their news. But, even DC, which is also a city of commuters, never seemed to have the relationship with the newspaper that London does.

There's some thoughtful, witty writing in some of these newspapers. I especially appreciate that because my city's primary newspaper is increasingly hard to appreciate in terms of quality or coverage. And Nashville's not exactly a sleepy little hamlet with nothing going on. These London newspapers leave make me less resistant to being called a journalist (I prefer the term writer, as I think it has more depth and more possibility) because they actually showcase some excellent writing. (as does the New York Times, by the way)

From my new friend The Evening Standard, which comes out later in the day instead of in the morning, to the freebies London Lite and The London Paper that are distributed as the evening commute begins to the well-respected Guardian and Observer, newspapers and newstands abound. (and that's not all of them!) Most of them are also printed tabloid style which I personally think is much, much easier to handle and read than the broadsheet layout of most American newspapers (I think I got those terms right!). Maybe that's the reason for declining newspaper readership: give people something that's not so ridiculously bulky to manage, something you can still see around while you're reading it, something that doesn't require a table the size of a football field (American football, that is) to hold it when you read it while eating.

I also love living in a city where magazines I might want to pitch stories to actually have offices. Even if I never meet the necessary editors, there's something so hopeful in the possibility of not being dependent only on emails (which inevitably get snagged by over-zealous spam filters) or phone calls to plead your case. It's possible, if needed for some reason, to drop by the offices of these media mavens. It makes access to work for a freelance writer feel much more probable.

And for all the moaning and pontificating about the end of the reading culture, I still see lots of people reading books everywhere here and in lots of other places too, and those are just the public places where people read. Although I will admit that I also see lots of people with earbuds tucked inside their eardrums, a habit I have yet to appreciate. Do you really need music with you so constantly that you must drown out the rest of the world whenever you're in the midst of it? I want to engage with my surroundings too much for that, always watching for a chance to exchange a smile with a stranger or something. That's less likely to happen if the stranger's eyes are closed and their ears are plugged and beats are emanating from their body.

Anyway, that's the soapbox. The real point is "long live newspapers!" ;-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

field trip

I'm not normally a fan of modern architecture or skyscrapers or anything close. I also don't really know what quays are except I think they're pronounced "keys." But tonight I took a field trip up the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) to a place called Canary Wharf/West India Quays. And I'm glad I went.

Though I left the house around 4:45-ish, it was of course already pitch black making it feel like evening when it was still late afternoon. So I only saw the quays and scrapers in the dark. Which is a beautiful, if probably incomplete (that whole thing about darkness hiding things) way to see them. The Docklands are basically across the Thames from Greenwich in the spot where the river twists down and back up in a deep capital "U" shape. The London guidebook I picked up in Bratislava's Next Apache used book shop explained to me (while I sat in a Canary Wharf Starbucks) that the whole area has been fairly recently developed away from the shall-we-say disrepair it had fallen into. Apparently the quays were (are?) part of London's shipping biz. I think they're man-made, but I'm not sure. Perhaps I should go visit Wikipedia, but I don't feel curious or awake enough for that right now.

Tonight the trees outside the high-end shops at the Canary Wharf DLR station and outside the high rise buildings housing offices of people who work late-ish trying to figure a way out of the world's financial free-fall, tonight those trees twinkled with subtle, elegant bluish-purple lights that I think are in honor of Christmas season but could be there all year for all I know. Either way, they're nice.

And unexpectedly, so are all those high rises with office lights mostly still on even as the offices emptied (I'm surprised they get away with that in environment-conscious London, but it would be less striking if they were all dark). It's definitely a different facet of London than the others I've visited thus far. Perhaps I'll make it there in the day time. Sometime before Dec. 23 when I will end this go-around of London life.

In other news, I've been discovering little tricks of the trade lately, little tricks that I'm learning about too late to take much advantage of. Like tonight, for example, I discovered that Lewisham station's DLR entrance boasts TWO ATM machines that are a good five minutes closer to my house than the one I usually go to to get my rent money and other cash. For WEEKS now, I've been walking FIVE whole minutes further (that's TEN minutes round trip of course) than I've needed to!!

Also, tonight in less of an annoyed tone I discovered that the movie theater (aka: cinema as they call it here, probably because this is actually a place that has lots of real theaters where live people perform so that saves any confusion) at West India Quay is actually pretty cheap as movie theaters go. PLUS it's only a cheap DLR ride away. And I've finally firmly concluded tonight that I like the DLR a lot. It just feels more gentle and easy and less grinding than the train I usually have to take to get to places like cinemas. For those of you who have no way to test my theory on this, just trust me. You would agree if you were here. I just know it.

So I concluded my field trip tonight by trying to catch up with my book group in Nashville that read The Secret Life of Bees for November and then went to see the film together. I've handled that book in book stores so many times but never succombed to purchasing it or checking it out from the library. Since I'm still finishing October's book group book and want to read January's book, I decided here was my chance to skip the book and just catch up by watching the movie. It's a good flick. And it was a good night for such a flick.

So there you go. Field trip done. On to tomorrow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

happy thanksgiving!

My cousin Melissa arrived in town Wednesday night, just in time to make it feel like a holiday weekend. She is stopping by on her way back home following a few weeks of travel in Madagascar and Mauritius.

On Thanksgiving Day we headed out to Cambridge for a few hours on our way to Thanksgiving dinner.

Since I don't actually have any pictures from our dinner, I figured I should include this food picture from a market in Cambridge in honor of the meal. From Cambridge we proceeded to Huntingdon where we joined a proper American feast courtesy of a friend of mine who was visiting his aunt and uncle and invited us to join in.

Nearly at the end of our Thanksgiving Day, we were thankful to be able to wait indoors for our next train instead of out in the cold.

And to you and yours....HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!! (a day late)

Friday, November 28, 2008

things in Europe that have made me smile

Italian stop sign - obvious, isn't it?

First, you should know that I’m easily amused. Second, you should know that these aren’t the only times I’ve smiled. Just in case you were worried. ;-) In recap style, here you go:

*Stop signs in Italy, or at least in the part of Italy I was in, are in English, exact replicas of stop signs at home. Why? Did some American stop sign maker score a seriously good business deal when he convinced the Italians that everyone has watched enough American movies to know the English word for stop? (Incidentally, this same stop sign maker’s sales person apparently scored deals in Slovakia too, though I didn’t catch photographic evidence of that, only saw it.)

*Another strange sight: Jessica, Stephanie and I walked past a nicely situated house during our walk along the Tuscan country roads near their house. Upon passing back by the house, I noticed a red mailbox just like the black one outside my growing-up house. Upon further inspection, I discovered that this mailbox in the Italian countryside also said “U.S. Mail” on the mailbox door, just like the box at home. Upon even further inspection, I discovered that all the names on the side of the mailbox were Italian names rather than something like “Smith” that would have made more sense. Perhaps they picked it up as a souvenir during a jaunt to America?

*Watch your TV listings for a special Geraldo Rivera special on going undercover as a Bratislava tram driver. While Julie and I waited for the correct tram one Bratislava day, a tram approached that was not the one we were waiting for. And sitting in the driver’s seat wearing a warm-looking, off-white, cable-knit, high-necked, zipped-up cardigan (it seemed odd that the tram drivers in Bratislava didn’t wear uniforms, just normal clothes) was a dark-haired, mustached dead-ringer (at least from a side viewing from a distance of a couple yards away through tram glass) for good ol’ Geraldo. And who would put it past him to be doing a special on a week in the life of a tram driver? I’m sure it was him. Definitely. Except that the necessary camera crew was doing an amazing job of being incognito.

*During one of my first couple weeks here, I think I saw a chimney sweep during my walk back home from the Brockley train station. I’ve already been enamored with all of London’s chimneys, so spotting a soot-covered (face, clothes, everything) man carrying a broom toward a van parked beside a quiet stretch of residential city road only added to the old school charm of the chimney culture. (And, of course, started such tunes as “chim, chimeree, chim, chimeree, chim, chim, chi-ree” singing through my brain.)

*Walking to the train station one mid-day (the Lewisham station I use most often), I turned left off Brookbank Road toward the short stretch of road leading to the pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks. As I passed halfway down the block, someone was carrying things into their house or something. Their front door was open and suddenly, loudly out the front door rang an exuberant line of song that transported me back home as I chuckled: “Ain’t nothing but a hound dog…”

*Late last night as cousin Melissa and I walked back up the hill on Brookbank road, two guys were petting the orange cat who’s been my friendly greeter on several of my very regular jaunts up and down the hill. I hadn’t seen the cat lately and have been wondering if it’s been locked inside since it’s been so cold out. Yesterday was warmer. I stopped and asked the guys whether it was their cat. It’s not. And they aren’t sure where it lives, but perhaps five doors down, they said. I explained that the cat had accompanied me down the road the morning I was rushing downhill with my suitcase at 4 am to catch the bus to the airport. That is not the time you want a cat rubbing up against your legs for a friendly morning greeting. I was more generous when it greeted me during my 3:30 am return from my travels two weeks later. I stopped to pet it that time. As we walked on up the hill from our brief conversation, one of the guys called out, “Happy Thanksgiving!” I guess our American accents were pretty obvious.

What determines a mailbox's nationality? Where it's located or what it says on it? And for that matter what if you put non-US mail in a US Mail box?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

just for fun and because the music's good

Here's a link to the MySpace page for the band I wrote a bio for while I was in Italy: St. Lola in the Fields. They've posted the bio, and you can also check out their music. Good stuff!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

round 1 of italy photos - from jessica's camera

When you work in the kitchen, you get to eat scrumptiousness before the retreat kids arrive: hot brownies, real raspberry sauce, chocolate chips melted by the hot brownie and whipped cream on top of it all.

Apparently cutting and serving pizza is serious business in Italy.

The logistics/teaching team for the retreat: Jessica (MCYM staff person), Kami, Cheryl (Jocelyn's mom), Jocelyn (MCYM staff/main teacher/speaker for this retreat), Jaime (Jocelyn's friend), Tido (MCYM regional director).

I enthusiastically manned the "Olive Oil Shop" for a couple hours at the end of the retreat. This is grown and bottled across the street from the retreat place by the Ammirabile (sp?) family I mentioned having lunch with. Notice how green it is? That's what olive oil looks like when it's first bottled during olive harvest time, but the green part (the chlorophyl?) settles out by the time it reaches American store shelves.

View from the back of the main retreat building. Even more stunning in person. All those gorgeous Tuscan pictures you've seen are true.

Pretty stand of trees along the nice country walk Jessica and roommate Stephanie and I took by walking down the road from their house. (i.e. they could see this every day if they wanted to!)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is really in Pisa! (confession: Before learning that I would be in Pisa, I had never before stopped to realize that the "leaning tower OF PISA" was anything other than a name. I never realized that that probably meant there was a town called Pisa somewhere.)

We were trying to make ourselves look nearly as interesting as gorgeous San Gimignano in the background in it's stony, towery glory.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

next apache is the name

Life feels as it should today. I’m in Bratislava in a slightly smoky, cozy tucked-away café (that gets extra points for having a roomful of used books—in English--for sale), and I’m typing away, working to tell the story of a great London-based charity, wishing I could spend more time with their clients and have more space for words to tell their stories. The room I’m in was mostly empty until just a bit ago. Julie is in another room meeting up with some women for a Bible study. The main room of Next Apache has filled up, but since the other patrons are speaking Slovak to each other, I’m not so distracted as usual as I try to block out the conversations around me. In this cozy space, Slovak sounds prettier than it has to me most of the time here.

Two other quick anecdotes before I jump back to what I should be working on…

My Italy travels produced a new entry in the story of my crazy job. Thursday afternoon after my arrival and after one hour of sleep the night before, I was doing a quick email check in my friend’s office while she shopped for retreat food. Then I planned to take a nap to shake off a bit of the fog of small sleep. Well, the email account I check less frequently contained an email from a Nashville acquaintance-friend asking if I did musician bios and if there’s any chance I could write one for his new band by the next day. They’d decided last minute to apply for a music festival and Friday was the deadline. I generally don't turn down assignments unless there's really just no way to finish them on time, and I've been on a working holiday more than a vacation these past two weeks. So with a couple email exchanges we decided to go for it.

I collected a bit of info from him via email, took a quick little nap until my friend returned to her office, emailed Jeremy her office phone number, and then participated in a conference call: me in Italy, Jeremy in Nashville, and his bandmate in Canada. Then, between that night and the next morning before Jessica and I left for the retreat, I whipped out the fun assignment. And it was more fun for the fact that I had to get it done so quickly that it never even made it onto my to do list, so I could never feel behind on it. :-) And it was nice to have a connection back to Nashville for a few hours.

Anecdote #2

Sunday was a really lovely day here. After church Julie and her roommate-ish/co-worker-ish/friend Heather and I went to lunch at the home of some friends of theirs from church. Karen is from New Jersey, and Lubo is from Slovakia. They have a nine-year-old daughter Alexa. They live in a lovely house outside Bratislava in the village of Marianka. Our lunch party was rounded out by Nick, an Australian ESL teacher, and Roger, a British businessman in Bratislava for a week who found the church on the internet. So it was quite an international collection of people.

We had a really delicious and leisurely lunch followed by our choice of coffee or caramel espresso. I chose the espresso courtesy of my week in Italy (not courtesy of my five years behind the Starbucks bar). Then late in the afternoon as dusk was arriving we all went for a walk to the village center, stepped inside one of the oldest churches in Slovakia, and toured the stations of the cross set up along a path bounded by tall, old trees. We returned to the house and sat around on very comfortable couches enjoying hot drinks and good, thoughtful, wide-ranging conversation. Such a nice, leisurely way to pass a Sunday.

However, Heather, Julie and I thought we’d been trapped in the Slovakian Bermuda Triangle on our way home. The buses and trams we needed seemed not to be working, and what should have taken us an hour tops took about 2.5 and included multiple walks back and forth between different bus and tram stops. Not so lovely, but it ended well since we got home eventually. :-) Oh, and by then it was raining. And cold. Everyone’s favorite end to a really nice day. :-)

Okay, that’s all for now. Next entry will be posted from London. I’m off to pack up for my evening flight. (Oh, yeah, I’m no longer at the cute, cozy café. A few hours have passed since the beginning of this entry. :-) )

continental recap

Tomorrow is the end of my first continental visit, and I've decided to tell you about it speed style since I'm unlikely to find any more time for recapping after I get back to London than I have during my visit.

Here goes....

1 - various locations in Italy's Tuscan region, mostly in the vicinity of Pisa and Florence
2- Slovakia, primarily in Bratislava, the capital

1 - Like everyone else in the world, I like Italy. I'm trying to figure out if a cute little apartment in Florence should be my next writer-base-du-jour (or month or three or six). The exchange rate between the dollar and the euro is better than it is with the pound and surely I could pick up enough Italian to get by, right? :-)
2 - I'm not adding Bratislava to my list of possible writer-base-du-jour spots, though it does have some charming old-Europe parts of town and though I do think the manhole statue is very clever. Unfortunately, it doesn't help that I just don't find Slovak to be a pretty language in how it sounds or how it looks. So Slovak has not made it onto my list-of-languages-I-want-to-learn.
1- In general, people are friendlier in Italy.
2- In general, people on the streets are less friendly in Slovakia than in Italy.

1 - Eating lunch with the Ammirabile family (spelling?) and Jessica and a couple other guests. The Tuscan countryside was in view, and the olive oil and wine were born and bred on the land surrounding our table. I also quite enjoyed participating in the real post-meal Italian espresso tradition.
2 - Going to Vienna (yep, that would be Austria) for a few hours and meandering around town instead of being in consume-everything-you-can-in-a-day tourist mode.
1 - Going on a walk with Jessica and Stephanie in the Tuscan countryside around their house and visiting San Gimignano, an old and still lived-in city built of towers and warm-colored rocks.
2 - Today's 3 or so hour hike to Devin castle, somewhere west of Bratislava near the Austrian border. The hike through the woods was gorgeous, the company was fun, and the village we finally found was nice. The castle was mostly a pile of falling down rocks too high up to see much of at dusk. :-)
1 - Reconnecting with college friend Jessica.
2 - Hanging out in Europe with my old friend Julie while we both contemplate where God's directing us next.
1 - Meeting a new culture and its people.
2 - Meeting a new culture and its people.

So there you go. Hopefully, photos will follow before long.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


October 30, 2008


The door to human nature captivates me as I sit chilled by
their disregard
their oblivion
their uncertainty
Their lack of simple courtesy
Their pinpoint focus in this big-canvas world.

The outside cold doesn’t have to reach inside.
But it does
as they exit,
open door in their wake.
Minds uncluttered by concern for the comfort of those behind them,

The ones they never noticed during the moment of their co-existence
and couldn’t be expected to remember
Upon parting.

can we say: behind?

Greetings. I'm hopelessly behind here. I've been busy with work and travel these past couple weeks, too busy to visit my lovely little blog. For now, I'm finally adding a post I wrote weeks ago now: way back when it was still October. I first wrote it on paper, which was actually a nice change from the usual: writing on computer screen. It's a nicely tactile experience to write on paper. And it's also nice because there's less chance of losing everything you just wrote as I just did at the hands of two wrong keystrokes or something sinister like that. Long live paper. And now for that promised tome from October. Oh, and for the record, I've been in Florence/Pisa, Italy for a week and am now wrapping up a week in Bratislava, Slovakia. So far my first visit to the "continent" has been quite brilliant. There are plenty of impressions to type your way. Some day. For now, here's October.

Thursday, October 10, 2008

Four weeks into this venture I’m nearing a better rhythm for my days – beginning to better juggle the work in front of my computer with the non-computer work of relationship-building and experience-gaining. I’m also learning slightly savvier was of getting around. It’s good.

Yesterday I wrote a piece I think I feel really good about. Today I finished it and sent it on its way to its editor. And then I headed out – feeling liberated after writing the kind of piece that leaves me feeling most alive – to meet a friend at an art gallery in a part of London I haven’t been to yet.

By only paying for the train to and from Victoria Station and walking 15 minutes instead of jumping on the Tube that would have taken me one stop closer to the gallery, I saved money, got exercise and soaked up another bit of London’s streets. And now I’m sitting in a Starbucks on a busy street corner near Victoria Station not minding the early darkness or the cold because it’s cozy here and I’m stopping for a bit. Sitting. Reading for more than a 10-minute stretch, which I’ve been aching to do since I arrived. Splurging on a mocha instead of the cheaper hot chocolate. Lingering.

And speaking of rhythm: when I get home in an hour and half or so, I’ll still catch business horus in the States and can return some emails I left when I dashed out for the gallery. Brilliant indeed. That’s the part of being five hours ahead of eastern time that I like.

The frenzy of arrival and settling is starting to ebb. I’m adjustable and go-with-the-flow enough that I tend to underestimate the time it takes to re-rhythm things in new places. So I need to keep learning to plan time for that, when time’s available for that. The weekend with the house to myself while my landlord family was away for a wedding was a good time for working my head out of guest mode to renter mode. I have ownership in this home. I’m paying to be here so shouldn’t have to tiptoe around. I’ve never lived with a family as a lodger before, only as a guest, so it’s been unexpectedly challenging to figure out the difference in those roles.

Now just as I’m settling into more productive days that are sprinkled with cozy moments like this one, I’ll be disrupting my schedule with a little jaunt to the Continent. Next week I’m the willing participant in an unplanned (before I arrived in London) trip to the Tuscan region of Italy. I’ll be there nearly a week before I fly back to spend a day at Stansted Airport in London and then leave on an evening flight to Bartislava, Slovakia. This trip to Slovakia was the one big excursion I was planning for this fall. An old friend is there just until the end of November, and we knew we had to visit if we were both going to be in Europe for the same few months. Hopefully I can jump back into my infant rhythms easily upon my return, even if I’m a bit fat with new images and experiences.

I continue to be amazed—in spite of the ever-present challenges of this way of life—that this is my life right now. I feel like I’ve been given the most exquisite, generous gift. I hope I will enjoy and celebrate it well.

The gallery, Saatchi Gallery, was a really nice experience. The rooms were big with only a few pieces in each room, on white walls or light-colored wood floor. The pieces were shown off well by their simple, clean surroundings. They were more accessible than I expected. Most of the pieces were very large but were enjoyable partly because they weren’t all crammed in together. The rooms of the gallery felt more peaceful than the usual museum/gallery display because they did not feel like sensory overload. The current Saatchi exhibit is all by Chinese artists, but for me that wouldn’t have been obvious based on the art. A surprising amount of it felt Western-themed to me.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

apparently i'm not the only one who thinks it's cold

I saw what appeared to be either sleet or maybe even snow last night. But I was snug inside a cafe at the time, and by the time I left, the cold, drizzly rain was no longer sleet-ish. Apparently snow/sleet did happen, if not last night, then tonight. And apparently this is "highly unusual" in London this time of year, as this story attests: "Octobrrrr: London Hit By Flurries" This might beat the time I was in Brazil while it was the coldest it had been there in 25 years. Lovely vacation package for someone who uses a heater in the summer (that would be me). Anyway, we have continued to have a surprising amount of sunny skies here, so who can really complain about the chill when the sky is bright?

The reason I was in the cafe last night was to meet with my French friend Lauriane. About the time we saw the sleet-ish stuff out the window, she was correcting my pronunciation of one of the most basic words in the French language. Apparently I was pronouncing "un" (the masculine word for "a") like "en" (a word for something else). And apparently this mispronunciation will make me unintelligible to French speakers. And no matter how many times she said it, I could hear little more than a minute difference between what she was saying and what I was saying. And even when I could imagine I was hearing a difference, I couldn't figure out how to consistently say anything different than what I was saying. Which continued not to be the right thing to say.

And I think I appreciated this moment, and Lauriane's help, most because in September I was on the teacher side of the "un" "en" lesson. And Farah and Albay (in the ESL class I helped with for Somali Bantu refugees in Nashville) were immensely gracious in letting Shane and me try to help them distinguish the difference between the short sounds for all the vowels. I think their short "e" sound was coming out exactly the same as their short "o" sound or something like that. And the reality is that it makes a difference in how understandable their English is. So we spent part of the class trying to figure out and then describe what was going on in our mouths and our throats while we made the correct sounds. So, thanks to Farah and Albay's example, I accepted my lesson more appreciatively than I might have otherwise. Let me just say that it's much harder being on the student side of this lesson.

In other news, last night I also went to a science and religion lecture at St. Paul's Cathedral. It was nice to be inside the stunning cathedral (which you normally have to pay to enter but the lecture was free). To be honest, though, I was a bit bored with the lecture. I mean, they were trying to answer questions that can't really be answered anyway, and it sort of felt like all the panelists were basically saying that. And there were a lot of people who came all the way to hear them say that. I'm oversimplifying a bit, but that's how it seemed.

The night was redeemed for me, though, when I got up to leave just before the final statements (because I needed to go meet Lauriane) and asked the usher people where the bathroom was. I kind of wondered if there was one in such an old building but figured there was no way you could have so many people gathered in a place with no loo. I was right that there were bathrooms, but I didn't expect that I would be escorted down to the crypt to get to them. And the conversation with my escorter was pretty much the most interesting part of the lecture.

As he led me to the elevator, he said something to the effect of "Christopher Wren didn't think about this when he designed this building." He wondered aloud what they did for such facilities back in the day. Then he went on to explain that Wren also didn't think about heating--because he was a mathematician or something, not an architect--so someone used to have to pull a cart full of coal (I guess some sort of portable coal stove) up and down the cathedral floor to heat the place. I said something about "did he plan a way for the smoke to get out?" And usher man said that the walls, etc. had to be cleaned because everything was blackened by the smoke from the coal cart.

When we reached the crypt level, the security/usher person there told us the women's bathroom was closed. So I had to go into the small disabled person's bathroom that was just inside the door to the men's bathroom. (Apparently everyone else knows to visit a loo somewhere else before they come to free lectures at St. Paul's.) The usher man waited to escort me back to the main level. When I came out I asked something about what he and the usher lady were saying when I reached them. He said that he wasn't sure what he thought about the lecture (that's what they'd been talking about). He thought that he would rather sit down with all the panelists over dinner and ask them what they really think after they've had a couple glasses of wine. He felt like they were all being a little too polite and politically correct that night, and so weren't actually really saying much. As the elevator rose back up from the crypt, I asked if he worked at the cathedral all the time. He does. How long has he been there? Two years, he said, and it's a wonderful place to work.

As for me, I think I'd rather sit down with usher man over dinner than with the panelists. He strikes me as plenty interesting, and he could probably tell me some more things that Christopher Wren didn't think of. As for the panelists, I'm not convinced they'd really come up with any certainties about the relationship between the body and soul, even after a couple glasses of wine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

birthday: english style

Okay, it wasn't really English style, but I liked the title so I went with it anyway. Yippee, I'm thirty-three!

Here's how the day, Saturday the 18th, went:
*fun writing workshop for three hours in the morning. Yah! In the class are two Americans, two women from Poland, a woman from Russia, a woman from Australia, a guy from South Africa, and one born and bred Brit.
*a birthday phone call from my dad
*birthday lunch with Jarrod and Beth, below. More on that story later.
*hanging out at a Nero's coffeehouse working on a project and interrupted by another birthday phone call from a friend from home
*a movie (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People; perfect film to watch in Britain) with Beth and Tim
*review of the day: a really nice British birthday was had by all, or at least by me

Yes, that's Angelina Jolie trying to kiss Tim. Lucky him.

The aforementioned (in another post) Ikea pillow that just pulled all the colors in my room together into one cheery greeting.

Friday, October 17, 2008


So I'm buried under a pile of work right now. And then I've gotten sick this week: one of those allergy/cold/blow-your-nose sicknesses. And now I'm barely keeping my head above water (if "to do list" and "work" and "desk" equal water), as they say. Which is always a good time to write on the ol' blog.

Today I laughed at myself as I expressed my growing confidence on the train/underground/Tube/sidewalk system by feeling annoyed at the tourists who slowed me down when I got behind them. After just over two weeks here, I have apparently moved myself very definitely into the resident category.

Today I also moved into the I-live-here category when I ran into someone I know at a bookstore cafe! In a city of however many million people, of whom I know about 20, I randomly ran into someone I know. And I was a train and Tube ride plus a walk away from my house! I met Beth on Monday night at this mixer thing for full-time media people. I only met three people total that night and only exchanged contact info (or "details" as they call it here) with two of them, Beth and her friend Amy. Beth's a writer too (among other things) and is also American, fairly recently arrived in London and living nomadically too. We had made plans to meet up tomorrow for a hang out/study date. But then ran into each other today. I was at the cafe to do an interview, and she was there with a friend.

So these two things are how I know I'm somewhat settled in here now. Oh, and I finally found the soup aisle at the grocery story last night. After only my, oh, 12th visit to the "supermarket," as it's more correct to say here. I figured it must exist. So I didn't give up. And speaking of supermarkets, most things are sold in smaller quantities here. And the cereal aisle is MUCH shorter than the wall of sugary goodness at home. And less of it is sweetened, it seems. There's more of the healthy stuff that was always the last to get eaten from the cereal cupboard at home when I was growing up.

This week, among other projects, I've been doing some interviews of some arts folks for a story on contemporary art here in London. It's for the arts magazine back in Nashville that I started writing for regularly this year. Writing for this magazine has turned into a good way to slowly grow my art knowledge. And getting to do such a story so soon after arriving is another great way for getting to know this city better. Fortunately, the church I'm going to is located in a little hub of working class artistry, so I found my interviewees through people I've met at church who knew some appropriate artist types. Fortuitous all.

Hard to believe that this time last year (is it only a year ago? feels like a lifetime!) I was in Zimbabwe getting ready to celebrate with strangers the completion of my 32nd year of life. I wonder where I'll celebrate next year's birthday now that I've started this different-continent-every-year trend.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

trains and southall

leaving London's Paddington Station

three trains passing in the night, er, afternoon

blue sky!

the precious travelcard

the largest Sikh gurdwara outside India
a Hindu temple
p.s. Don't miss the older entry I snuck in in it's correct place chronologically. I wrote it on the plane but only just now got to type it up.

out and about in the sun

Last night I honored the Good Citizen Award I got my senior year in high school and dutifully took a nap and then got up at 2 a.m. in order to see the debate that would cement my decision on who to vote for, and also take me back to Nashville for just a little while. Alas, the debate didn’t make things as certain as I’d hoped, and time’s ticking away since I have to mail my ballot from here in time for it to be received by election day.

One accomplishment in the wee hours of the morning, though, is that my appreciation for the BBC increased. They carried the whole debate live. How nice of them. And they even sent a reporter into the torrential downpour on debate night in order to pontificate on things with her lovely British accent. And after the debate they even interviewed two undecided American voters living in London. The debate didn’t turn them into decided American voters either. It really was kind of nice to watch a bit of post-debate coverage that wasn’t hideously partisan one way or the other (as American coverage always requires time for some representative of each side to explain why their candidate won).

A very few hours after the debate was over morning dawned here, and I dawned with it because I had to be out and about today. And was an excellent choice for a day to be out and about. Sunny ALL DAY LONG!!! We’ve had sun other days in the past week, but it does seem like the clouds usually take over by midday or so. But not today. In fact—wait for this one, folks—at one point today I even stripped off so many layers that I was sitting very comfortably in the sun in my short-sleeved shirt!! I thought I’d missed all such days here, so I’m happy to report that I didn’t quite miss all of them.

My out and about adventures today included two main purposes that required lots of train riding in order to get my money’s worth out of my travel card (a travel card is like a day pass; you pay one flat rate to do as much traveling—on the above ground train, underground train or buses—as you want within certain zones in a single day). Purpose number one: IKEA!! I’ve actually never been to one in the States, but as there’s no Target or Walmart here it seemed to be my best option for finding a couple relatively inexpensive things to organize my English garret office space and to add just enough touch of something artsy and pizzazzy to feed my little artist soul. So I traveled the hour or so there with Anne and Joffie (who was home from school today).

Adventure number two: Southall!! I traipsed over to west London in order to meet up with some lovely friends of friends who are working over there with World Harvest Mission. Their part of town is home to many of London’s Indian and Pakistani and, now, Somali immigrants. Some of the families have been here for several generations now. On my little tour of Southall, I learned about Sikhism and a bit more about Hindi. And I had a very nice time getting to know Amber and Jason and little Elliott and ate a delicious Indian meal with them.

I made it to all the places I needed to go today but was very glad I wasn’t on strict time schedules. I don’t know how anyone ever learns this crazy train system. I didn’t make any mistakes really, but it just seems like such a complex system, and though it is actually well-organized it doesn’t feel like it because it’s so much harder to figure out than Washington, DC’s lovely Metro, the subway system of my experience.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

being too friendly at the library

The internet's been a bit finicky lately at home, so last night I decided that if it was working this morning then I'd go for a quick walk in the morning and explore a nearby park and then come back home to work. If it wasn't working, I'd load up for the day and head to the cafe the church I'm going to runs during the week.

It wasn't working.

To the cafe I went. I'd heard the church was in walking distance from where I'm living and figured this was a good day to test that information: a day that I didn't have to be there by a certain time. So I pulled out my new best friend, a very handy A-Z London map, and found my way there. After crossing a couple busy roads and passing some appealing London row houses, that have probably been smiling onto their streets for a hundred years or more, I found Deptford High Street.

Quick side note here: there are High Streets everywhere here. What's so important about this street and why is it called that? I mean, it's got some sort of poetic appeal for me, but why? I finally asked someone about it and eventually discovered that it's apparently the equivalent of our Main Street. So you know when someone talks about something that's true of all the ordinary folks in a given place and uses a phrase along the lines of Main Street, USA. Well, in England, you'd insert High Street, or it THE High Street, into that phrase (they seem to put a "the" in front sometimes). And they do seem to use it similarly as a generic term.

So, anyway, I arrived on Deptford High Street and wandered past lots of interesting shops that included a number of seafood shops with fish on ice laid out to be purchased. Interesting. And smelly. I wouldn't want to work in the shop next door. Eventually I made it to The Bear Cafe, after 35 minutes or so of walking, and was greeted by a not-so-lovely-for-me sign that said they were closed today. What! After 30 minutes of walking? Grrr.... And I don't know yet what other places with tables and internet access are nearby. The only other place I know of is the library that's in the opposite direction.

Well, I started walking in that direction, not knowing what else to do. And I happened to walk down the road that took me past a different library. Yippee! And it's part of the same library system as the other one, so I can log on there. Great! I settled into an afternoon of work but was eventually interrupted by an old Irish man who probably just wanted someone to chat with. Irish accents are harder to understand, by the way. Eventually he moved on. Then later, while trying to work away, I was interrupted by a Nigerian man who's been in England for a long time now. Once we started chatting he was even more persistent than the Irishman. I'm sure he's a very nice man, but I needed to work not talk. And then he started offering to show me around London. And I'm so horrible at not being nice and friendly, which is a funny thing to say but it can really work against you now and then. And this was one of those times. Some problems follow you from one continent to another.

I eventually left and headed home for tea (aka: supper with no tea involved whatsoever). I took a slightly different route home and walked down Friendly Street. Wouldn't it be fun to live on such a street? Alas, no one greeted me as I walked past their homes.

So, that's that. A lesson in the potential downsides of walking most everywhere you go: it's really disappointing to arrive at your destination and have things not be as you'd anticipated. It took a lot of effort to get there, after all. And now I have to shake a persistent man from my trail.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


First, the news: Kami Rice has apparently really settled into life in the UK, as she now reaches the "UK & Ireland" version of Yahoo (that would be when she types in to reach her email account. This means she will now be reading much more UK news as, in a rather sad state of affairs, most of her news reading consists of perusing the top news stories Yahoo chooses to show her when she logs in or out of her email account.

This news bulletin has been brought to you by eggs, which is currently one of the few things in Kami's pantry.

And in other news, this same Ms. Rice experienced globalization in full force today when she met up for lunch with the Brazilian husband of her (American) college roommate. Said husband and wife live in Texas. The husband was in London briefly doing work for his company which is based in London but has offices in Shanghai (or somewhere in China), Singapore, Houston and New York. Lunch was eaten at a restaurant spawned in Portugal and visited by Ms. Rice (she thinks) during her travels in Africa last year. Based on today's experiences alone, Ms. Rice can say nothing bad about globalization. She is hesitant, though, to call this her last word on the subject.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

scenes from a new stretch of life

Home Sweet Home #1,600,875

The view from the skylight window in my garret bathroom. Yes, the sun does come out here!

One of yesterday's stops and where I am right now as I upload these images.

Another of yesterday's stops. And another of today's stops too.

I love the chimneys, so you may find many pictures of them here, though they may not all be taken at dusk with lovely purple clouds in the background.