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.

maybe i have the wrong passport

On Full Day in London (this go-around) #1, I started the day by sleeping. Until 1:30 pm. I’ve averaged about 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night since last Thursday, as a lovely lead-up to the all night flight to England. So, needless to say, I was bushed. And decided today was a good day not to set any alarms and instead sleep as late as needed. Also, I didn’t go to sleep until about 2 am or so. Not because I couldn’t but because I was doing things.

I awoke to lovely sun streaming in the sky-lightish windows on the angled-with-the-roof ceiling (I’m living in an attic, more poetically referred to as my English garret), but as I prepared for my shower I began to hear faint pitter patters on those same windows. Yep, a glance out the western windows confirmed that gray clouds were moving east into the territory of the sunny skies. Man, I should’ve woken up earlier to enjoy the sun I’m told is pretty shy here.

Eventually the sun sort of returned, but it brought along some very gusty wind. Finally around 4:30 or so I ventured outside to find the library and some internet access in case someone wanted to hang out tonight. I don’t quite know this place well enough yet to be initiating invitations. And the internet AND home phone went down today, the two means of communication I’ve distributed to the folks I’m hoping to hang out with most immediately. I’m glad I emailed my parents last night to let them know I’m here. Sometimes I feel like internet challenges follow me around. Surely that’s not true, but it really feels like it sometimes. For now, the only contact info people have for me doesn’t work. Lovely way to feel isolated in a new country. Oh well. Onward to the library to remedy part of the problem.

I had an enjoyable time getting a British library card. How great! Libraries suddenly take on greater value when you’re traveling, giving you access to all these books you couldn’t bring with you and making you feel like you’re part of the local community. The guy who helped get my card was very nice. Once I had the card in hand I was able to sign up for the queue for internet time. And was awarded a grand total of five minutes. Whoa. Generous. But then I chatted with a different nice librarian who noted wryly that the whole internet queue system is very complex (which is why I was somehow given only five minutes; they were very busy today) and that’s why they have to employ people like him to manage it. :-)

This same librarian also asked me if I was from Australia or New Zealand. I admitted that I wasn’t. He said I had a very unusual American accent and asked where I was from, then acknowledged that he really doesn’t know much about such things and probably mostly hears East and West Coast accents in movies.

Post-library success (the getting-a-library-card part not the five minutes of internet part) I moved forward in my next quest: getting my cell phone set up. I entered the local Lewisham Shopping Center and suddenly remembered that the shops there seemed to close fairly early (by 5:30 or 6) when I was there in February. I managed to collect a bit of information about my SIM card options but didn’t manage time to make a decision before they closed. Tomorrow. Hopefully.

So I moved on to Woolworth’s, whose window displays suggested they might have a couple of the things on my shopping list. Among other things I found a priceless light bulb for one of the lamps in my room. I wasn’t sure it would fit the lamp because the lamp socket looked like it wouldn’t accept a normal bulb. Maybe it’s an antique lamp or something. After all I am in Britain now. And everything here is supposed to be old. As I looked at the light bulbs, I slowly put 120 and 240 together and realized light bulbs that run on Britain’s 240 electrical current could probably reasonably be expected to have different-looking connectors from light bulbs for good ol’ American 120 current. The things you learn abroad: light bulbs aren’t the same everywhere. I guess I always have taken light bulbs a little for granted.

Then as the workers were trying to find a price for the light bulb (it was really priceless), I chatted a bit with one of the cashiers. She, too, asked me if I was from Australia. Again, I had to admit that I was not. She was surprised that I was American and told me I had such a lovely accent. How fun. And funny that in the US we always think it’s the Brits with the nice accents. And it has also humored me that to we Americans accents from England, South Africa and Australia all sound about the same. And it seems impossible that anyone could think an American sounds like an Aussie. So I never stopped to think before that perhaps other speakers from native English speaking lands aren’t able to distinguish the difference between all the other English-speaking accents besides their own.

And it also humored me that we tend to think of Brits and Europeans in general as being so cosmopolitan and world wise, especially compared to we backwoods Americans. Yet, librarian man reminded me that that’s probably not the case. Hmmm, stereotype in serious danger of being broken.

I’ve long wished I could, for just a little while, experience life as something other than an American. If I keep sounding Australian to people perhaps I could pull it off. And then I won’t have people asking me non-stop about McCain and Obama and bail-outs. I think the cover would be blown, though, the second they asked me anything about kangaroos or the outback.

I’ve only been out twice now, last night to the grocery store and this afternoon, but I’m loving walking places. The train station and its next-door-neighbor grocery store are probably 15-minutes-ish away. And they’re downhill on the way (but uphill on the way back, of course). The family I’m staying with is superb. Very friendly and welcoming. Great. I think the two boys (6 and 4 years old) think I’ve come just to play with them. I’m working to convince them they’ve got plenty of time to show me all their toys. Today the oldest said he can’t wait until the weekend when he can see me all day. :-) Yesterday they peaked into my room when they got home from school to see if I was awake from my nap yet (I hadn’t closed my door, which is at the top of the garret stairs, tightly). When I later got up, they excitedly gave me a full tour of T & J’s many enterprises, from hotels (which I’m staying at) to post offices and other Limited businesses.