After all the ear-piercing emergency alerts and subway shutdowns and class cancellations, Juno never hit us. We woke on Tuesday morning expecting to see white white white outside the windows, but there was only the young, friendly Russian courier wearing his regular parka and boots, shoveling out the last inch of slush from the cement front patio of Tom’s building. Beyond that, there were a few greying snowbanks and more slush. Continue reading “Travelogue: A Snow Day in Takayama, Japan (#SnowBigDeal)”
We planned very little to do in Paris except eat and drink. Ducks confit and magritte, wine, pastries, chocolate, steaks and more pastries. More wine. The occasional sliced fruit or glazed berry that came glistening atop whatever tarts caught my eye. It was Paris. Even if we died from heart attacks, they would be the most delicious heart attacks in the world.
Continue reading “Before Christmas, In Paris”
I remember the contents of Tom’s small, mini-bar sized fridge because I took a photo.
Everything was moldy except for the bread, Thai leftovers and condiments.
Continue reading “An Awkward Encounter in London”
|Lost souls please go to Nunhead.|
This time last year, I was readying to visit Tom in London a second time. The plan was to spend a weekend in Cambridge, return to London and rendezvous with some friends who were also visiting the city, attend Tom’s raucous company holiday party and then, the morning after and presumably hungover, board the Eurostar to spend two gluttonous days in Paris before heading back to London to pack and move Tom back to New York.
“So he’s a boyfriend, then?”
|The view from Tom’s window.|
Two hours later I was at the corner of Curtain Road and Old St., where Tom’s corporate apartment was located. We stood across the street from each other for a few moments, waiting black London cabs and red double-deckers roll by. I smiled between each vehicle. Tom waved to me from across the street. I waved back, the hem of my leopard coat billowing in the brisk London air. The light changed and he walked over. I thought he was smiling but as he came closer, saw it was a pained expression with a smile plastered on.
|Sure that’s all they took?|
In London, this past week, I visited POI for a second time. On my second night there – perhaps it was my third, I can’t remember – it occurred to me I ought to call my parents. We were on the second floor of a pub in Soho when the thought occurred and I told POI that I’d be back. He handed me his work phone, saying the signal was better, and I took it downstairs, past the bar which was, at 10PM, packed with tall, well-dressed British men. In the States I would have assumed they’d all just come from work, but it was a Saturday night and they seemed to just be dressed that way, regardless. It had been overly warm in the pub and I did not bring my coat with me, finding the cool air outside refreshing. I wondered what I would say to my parents as I dialed. My father picked up, as my mother was teaching her Saturday morning Chinese classes.
“How is it?” my father asked.
“Good,” I said, “We’re out with his friends right now. I just thought I’d say hello. I haven’t called in a while.”
“Well, we’re doing fine too,” he said, and then did the thing he always did when I asked about their weekend plans, which was list all their upcoming dinner engagements. It was going to be a busy weekend for them as well. He listed the usual suspects and the usual restaurants. Same old same old, he said, though I knew he looked forward to it.
POI and I were headed to Cambridge the next morning, and I told my father as much.
“Ah,” he said, “Well. Didn’t you want to study there at some point?”
I laughed. It was typical that he would remember something like this. Every elite school I had ever even just vaguely remarked about wanting to study at, he remembered: Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Brown, “Yeah, and I still do…just not sure what.”
“Oh please, please,” he said jokingly, “One degree at a time. Finish the one you’re working on now.”
“I know,” I said. A group of young, drunk teenagers walked by, some stumbling more than others. They laughed loudly just as they were walking by.
“Are you at a party?” my father asked.
“Outside a bar,” I said, “We’re heading over to karaoke soon.”
“They karaoke over there in England?” he said, “You went all the way to England to karaoke?”
“More or less.”
|Other photos from that night are expectedly blurry.|
On the curb next to me, three young Chinese people stood staring at their smart-phones, trying to make Karaoke plans of their own. They heard me speaking Chinese and took turns stealing glances in my direction. I smiled. Had they called their parents yet? I wondered what they were studying.
“Well,” my father said, “Enjoy yourself, I suppose.”
“I know, I will,” I looked up to the steamed windows of the second floor, where POI and his friends,- three Asian Americans and two Italians chemistry students – stood chatting around tall pints. I told my father goodbye and to not miss me too much.
“And you try to miss us a little more,” he said, “But thanks for calling.”
“Oh,” something occurred to him.
“Write something,” he said.
“Write something,” he said, “About your time there. About Cambridge or London or England or whatever it is you’re going to do. And share it with me. I should like to know even though I still think the words on that website of yours are too damned small.”
I nodded slowly, taking in the scene before me on the street on a corner in Soho square, thinking about the people upstairs, all of whom I’d just met. I thought too about the songs I was about to sing in a small, dark room. Inside the pub, one of POI’s best friends in London was buying shots of tequila at the bar. Somewhere down the road, friends of friends were making their way out of the Tube to meet us. More shots waited at another bar. Poorly performed covers of Miley Cyrus. U2 and Taylor Swift and Backstreet Boys. Rent.
I would write, I told him.
We hung up and I went back inside, running into POI’s friend at the bar. He handed me two shot glasses and a small plate of lime wedges.
“Can you handle all that?” he said, “One of them is yours.”
I nodded, and carefully ascended the narrow stairs, spilling just a single drop of Jose Cuervo on my left hand. I was aware that I wouldn’t write anything that night. Or the night after. I wouldn’t write anything for the next two weeks.
|I’ve definitely seen uglier houses. Atalia’s room is the top right window. (Atalia, hopefully I did not just invite random cyber stalkers to your window. If I do, I hope they sing you sonnets).|
A month before I arrived, POI suggested we take a weekend trip from London.
|We ended up arriving closer to 1:30PM-ish because I did not understand roundabouts.|
|Oxford: Where religion and bicycles peacefully coexist, until your bicycle is stolen and not even God can help you recover it, no matter how vehemently you say his name in vain.|
|Two community college success stories (until I am unemployed again) standing before Hertford Bridge, more commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs, though according to Wikipedia that is a misnomer.|
We strolled thirty minutes from Atalia’s residence onto campus, stomachs growling. POI had made breakfast that morning: two slices of toast, one smeared with butter and marmalade, the other with butter and marmite, which is his lifeblood and which, to give you an idea of the class of food it’s in, is marketed as a “food spread” with the motto “Love it or hate it.” To borrow a phrase from POI, I did not care for it. Breakfast was a sweet gesture, but paled in caloric comparison to how much I normally ate.
|“See anything good?” “Traditional as opposed to…” “With mushy peas. Wonderful.” Eventually a young, naive-looking waitress explained in absolutely earnestness that they were meatballs. “What’s so funny?” she wanted to know.|
|None of us, though all quite liberal, were in the mood for faggots.|
|POI and I wondering/marveling/ talking about Harry Potter within the Bodleian Library Quadrangle. I was certainly the only person wearing cheetah print jeans on campus. Thank you, cousin Michelle.|
|The Radcliffe Camera, probably Oxford’s most recognizable building, was built from 1737-1749 in the English Palladian Style. FYI “camera” is the Latin word for “room.” And that’s about as Highbrow as this post will get.|
|More bicycles and cobblestones en route to The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.|
|Obviously this shot came first. I don’t backtrack.|
|And this shot before last, of Atalia, our wonderful tour guide. There’s something tremendously refreshing about being guided around one England’s most English institutions by an Australian educated in America.|
|The courtyard of the Queen’s College, where Atalia is studying.|
|From another angle. POI had really wanted to take a photo standing in the middle but the girls on the path would not move.|
|Mail for the students arrive not at their dormitories but at their colleges. That day, Atalia received a postcard from Mickey Mouse.|
|POI and I replay scenes from the movie in our heads, wondering how much trouble we’d get in if we broke in.|
|Basically my expression for the entire trip.|
|One of many entrances to Borough Market.|
POI did not make it to lunch. He was held up at work and I, being of the understanding-and-generally-capable-of-entertaining-myself-especially-when-in-a-foreign-country-sort, made my way around Borough Market, tasting more cheese samples than I had appetite for.
|She was very generous with the samples.|
|I couldn’t tell if these mushrooms were very expensive or not.|
|Wheat grass being turned into green water.|
|As opposed to old season game.|
|I truly regret not eating one – actually, all three – of these.|
|He was also very generous with the samples.|
|As opposed to the Not Posh At All Banger Boys on the other side of the street.|
|In case you forgot why you were at the market.|
|Gorgeous Friday afternoon light.|
|I took this photo to show how long the line was for Applebee’s takeaway. Applebee’s in London is quite different from Applebee’s in the US, which is essentially an institution for obesity.|
When I was in danger of becoming ill on cheese and jam samples, I walked behind the market down Stoney Street and towards the river.
|POI things it is incredibly creepy that I like to photograph children in school uniforms. Perhaps. But as you can see, I keep a safe distance.|
|Apparently this is where I was.|
|For those of you who follow me on Instagram: the original caption is probably still best: “British guy behind me: ‘Rihanna wrote a song about these.'”|
|Fashionable people getting ready for Friday after work/class drinks.|
|“Are they real?”|
POI eventually arrived at 3:30PM. He had apologized profusely throughout the day, pushing lunch back until it was clear he would not make any hour deemed appropriate for lunch. I was not angry – it seemed reasonable that POI do well at his job. Logistically, it was the reason I was able to visit. Back in New York POI had been the most punctual of men while I, normally a punctual woman, was late to every single date.
“The trains,” I would say, breathless from having jogged from the subway station, “I just…don’t understand them” (when in fact I suddenly turn into a sloth whenever it’s time to leave the apartment).
“That’s alright,” POI would say, “You’ll figure them out soon enough.”
He arrived, grinning. Work was over and done with; the weekend could now begin.
He clapped his hands together. He had not had time for lunch and was hungry.
“Let’s go find me a grilled cheese sandwich.”
|A blurry photo, but suffice it to say it was the mother of all grilled cheese sandwiches. Seeing it, I conveniently forgot all the cheese samples I’d already had and took a huge bite.|
And a beer. We went round the corner to The Rake, one of POI’s favorite pubs in the area, though he seems to like most pubs. There was a small outdoor area populated with colorful metal chairs and voluble, easy-going men who were anything but rakish. It was Friday afternoon and they had left any work-related worries behind at the office. Now it was time to have a pint.
We sat outside on a bench next to two men in suits. They sat opposite each other with their legs crossed and I could see their patterned socks. I could not decide if they were careful dressers or if men in London simply wore patterned socks. POI, in a fleece zip up and checkered shirt had other thoughts. He disappeared inside. The men in patterned socks talked shop, then went on to discuss their female colleagues, who had not been invited to the pub. I looked around – there were no women in the patio and only one girl inside the bar, but she seemed to be a student or someone on holiday. Women, it seemed, stayed later at the office. Even on a Friday.
POI returned holding a large pint for him and a half-pint for me.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Like a cider?”
“I asked for cider,” he said, “but the bartender gave me a look and said they only served beers.”
I took a sip, “Tastes like cider.”
POI laughed, “Well, here, it’s an apple beer.”
I produced the Lamington. He had sent me on a mission to find one while he was at work. POI is not so into sweets but he very much likes Lamingtons, an Australian dessert. At Borough Market, they are quite hard to find and I spent nearly twenty-minutes going from pastry tent to pastry tent, soliciting confused stares.
“A Lamington? It’s a….sweet thing?”
“A banana tart?”
And many such conversations. Finally, a Turkish man put down a tray of turkish delights and raised his arm slowly to point somewhere behind me. He nodded gravely like a prophet and in thickly accented English said, “There, that red tent. There you’ll find the Lamington.”
|Big pint, half pint and Lamington (the unicorn of desserts in Borough Market).|
Two weeks before I moved to New York, my new passport arrived in the mail. Continue reading “The First Stamp”