Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Somewhere in my youth or childhood

There was one thing I wasn't anticipating doing in London. I was only going to be here six months, I figured, and besides, cultivating these things takes time. Plus, who wants to have to say goodbye?

What was that one thing? Making friends.

How wrong I was. Here I am halfway through my time in London and I can honestly say I have two genuine, honest-to-goodness friends here. We hang out, joke around, and have had those uber-sappy "I'm-glad-we're-friends" moments.

The first is Greg, a coworker at the office. At first we would just chat in the office, commenting on the hyperactive children playing in the schoolyard outside my office window or musing on the eccentricities of the English (he's Greek-South African). Now we hang out outside of work too, popping into the pub after work to debrief from a long day or going for a stroll through Hyde or Regent's Park on the weekend with his wife.

The second is Phoebe, my flatmate. We both like to cook and drink wine. (We share a philosophy of Julia Child's: "I enjoy cooking with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food I'm cooking.") Last Saturday, she invited me out to her mother's house in rural East Sussex. It was so low-key and relaxing, just what I needed after spending so much time in London. (You don't realize all the noise and lights around you in the city until you're out in the silence of the countryside with about a bajillion stars overhead.) We hiked up Firle Beacon, sipped pear cider at a country pub, and took part in one of my favorite pastimes: porch sitting. Her mother stuffed me with obscene amounts of delicious food -- we're talking brie quiche and the like -- and then insisted I eat more. (I obliged.)
I guess, originally, I didn't really want to make any real friends while in London. When you care about people a lot, it's excruciating to have to say goodbye to them. I just did it with graduation in June and then leaving Ohio. I wasn't keen to do it again. But that's the price we pay for loving people, I guess: having to feel the hurt of leaving them. The only alternative is to never have them in our lives. C'est la vie.

I'm certainly not looking forward to saying goodbye in three months' time. So I'll just raise my glass high and appreciate my time left with my new friends. That's the only thing any of us can really do, I suppose.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

"You know I always wanted to pretend that I was an architect."

With freakishly beautiful weather lingering into the weekend, I had to take advantage. And what better way than Open House London, the annual weekend in which over 650 buildings, normally closed to the public, swing open their doors to allow the public to gawk to their hearts' content. And to top it off—free!

I started with Christ Church Spitalfields and Shoreditch Town Hall, which I see from my bus and I've always been curious to have a peek at. Then it was down to Aldgate, where I got to see St George's German Lutheran Church, which I'd discovered whilst walking to work last week.
What I intended as a quick stop turned into an hourlong chat — and tea — with a talkative gentleman and two old ladies who told me everything I ever wanted to know about German immigrants in the East End, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and how little the three of them cared for Gordon Brown. They have concerts there about once a month, so I think I'll swing by again for the sounds of organ music and German hymns.

Later, I met up with my new flatmate, Phoebe, who's an architect. Which means: priority pass! No more queues for me! We headed off to Shoreditch Prototype House, a model of eco-living a short walk from our flat. If eco-living means these sorts of views from the bedroom window, count me in:
After taking a quick coffee break on the steps of St Pauls Cathedral — and showing off my priority badge — we were back on the architecture trail.
We jumped more queues at the former Daily Express building on Fleet Street, gawked at the lecture halls at Queen Mary College in Whitechapel, and popped into St Matthias and Container City in the Docklands. And no need for guidebooks with an architect in tow to explain everything.

We finished the day at—where else?—the Royal Inn on the Park. Sitting on the patio, sipping a London Pride, and patting myself on the back for a weekend well spent.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

These boots were made for walkin'

Recent uncharacteristic sunny weather and a need to save a few pence have led to a most delightful change of my daily routine: walking to work. Factoring in the time in takes to wait for the bus means that it doesn't take me that much longer to walk from my new flat—a total of 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how leisurely I'm walking. Despite the smorgasbord of other things to do in London, this remains my favorite activity: walking around. (Pubs aren't far behind.) When I'm on the bus, I'm usually burying my nose in a book or wondering where the bum who's always camped out by Liverpool Street Station managed to get such a nice backpack. When I walk, whether I take the more direct route down Bishopsgate and over London Bridge or the more roundabout way through Bethnal Green and over Tower Bridge, it not only gives my nosy, curious self much more time to take it all in, but it allows me to discover things I might not otherwise have found. Some highlights:

-A swarm of Haredi preschool-age kids on some sort of field trip waiting for the bus, on King William Street
-The London offices of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, on Dawson Street
-Oodles of Einesigns visible before shops open in the morning, along Hackney Road and in Bethnal Green
-St. George's German Lutheran Church, in Whitechapel

I don't know what it is about walking, but I sure like it. Maybe it's because of my many good memories that involve walking: strolling with my parents along the path around the pond behind their house; completing the Camino de Santiago with Nick; exploring New York with Adam; shoveling Wendy's french fries into my mouth while stumbling back from Court Street with Laura; hiking along mountain ridges with my relatives in West Virginia.

Walking certainly beats the bus any day—unless, of course, it's raining.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

What's more English than the pub?

It's been a little hectic around my parts lately. I just moved into a new flat in Haggerston (more on that in a later post), and I've been busy hosting my cousin Amanda who was visiting for the past week. We had a blast! Of course, I had to take her to my favorite places in London, like my favorite local pub, the Royal Inn on the Park:
And the Columbia Road Flower Market on Sunday morning, which is just a short walk from my new flat:
She made me feel like I was on vacation too, complete with a night of Spamalot, the stage adaption of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and conveyor-belt sushi:
She even took me out for high tea:
All and all, it was a great week. I couldn't have asked for a more considerate, pleasant and fun house guest. What better way to end it than at the place where I spend the most time in London after work and home, The George:

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Questions I've been asked more than once

"Are you from California?"
"Do you think Obama will win?"
"I hear that British TV shows are popular in America. Have you seen [TV show I've never heard of]?"
"Excuse me, I'm trying to [outlandish story] and I just need 50p for the bus."
"Don't you love New York? It's so cheap!"
"I love your accent! Are you from California?"
"Ohio? [blank stare]"
"If I give you some money, will you buy me a pack of fags in the off-licence?"
"Where's Ohio? Is it near California?"

Yes. Yes, it is.