Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Well Daniel says it's the best place that he's ever seen

They say smell is the scent most closely tied to memory. It certainly felt that way when I arrived in Bilbao, Spain, lat week. I'd taken a long weekend for a holiday to my old stomping grounds in Spain and, I'm not sure how to describe it, the air just instantly felt, somehow, Spanish. (Sometimes on hot, windy days in Athens, the air felt the same for just an instant when rounding to corner of Union Street at Bromley dining hall.)

And it was exactly what I needed. My Spanish wasn't nearly as rusty as I'd feared, my days were blissfully unplanned, and I had plenty of me-time to do some soul-searching as my internship nears its end. I got to get some of the things I'd been craving—like sidra and pintxos—and was pleasantly reminded of things I'd forgotten about—like vino con gaseosa and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I spent most of my time in the always-amazing San Sebastián and went to Pamplona one afternoon to hang out with my friend Yolanda, who I haven't seen since my days at the Universidad Pública de Navarra way back when.

My days generally started with this:
An hour or two of newspaper-reading and people-watching at the cafe later, I'd perhaps go for a paseo on the beach:
Followed by a massive Spanish-style lunch during the siesta and then an evening hike up one of the mountains to the east of San Sebastián, like San Pedro:
I didn't want to leave! But alas, London was calling, so I packed up the Spanish-language books and hunk of Roncal cheese that I bought and flew back for the usual grind. When I left Spain in 2006, I had no idea if I'd ever return. I don't know this time, either, but it's good to know that Spain is still there, waiting for me. Hasta luego.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

It's just the way we feel

I'm easily fascinated. The pigeons that land outside my window, the London bus system, flight: all these things and many more I find incomprehensible and delightful. When experiencing these things, I usually have a moment where I'm filled with delight -- this is wonderful! -- and confusion -- how did I end up here? My latest fascinating moment? Last Sunday, watching the sun break through the clouds as I stood on the hilltop overlooking Oxford with a dozen women old enough to be my grandmother.

It all started on Hampstead Heath a week before. I was traipsing about there with Greg, his wife, and her mother's friend Liz, a fellow South African expatriate. While we all enjoyed the sunny skies from Parliament Hill and some pub-hopping, Liz told me about the Ramblers' Association and invited me to join her on one of their hikes.

So there I was, early Sunday morning, shaking hands with a dozen grandmothers sporting titanium walking sticks and hiking boots. We went over and up nine miles worth of hills around the city while I heard about Margret's twin grandchildren, a Scottish woman explained the logistics of cross-country skiing in Norway, and I learned how to make a delicious borscht.

After a tour of the city's colleges, we sipped tea in the crypt of a church in the city center. Sitting there, exhausted from the hike, I couldn't believe that I had ended up there, of all places, with this random assortment of people. I love the unexpectedly delightful and fascinating. I can't wait to see what happens next week.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Home sweet home

Nearly two months after I moved in, you can finally check out my new flat.

I've traded in the Nigerian hair salons, Turkish kebab shops, Western Union offices, and the occasional bum of my old neighborhood, South Hackney, for the wholesale shoe stores, Vietnamese noodle shops, mosque minarets, and the occasional strip club of my new neighborhood, Haggerston. I love it so far: great flatmates, closer to work, and right around the corner from 1) Haggerston Park—which I can see from my window—and its Hackney City Farm, 2) Regent's Canal, which is great for a run all the way to Victoria Park, and 3) the Sunday-morning Columbia Road Flower Market, just south of Hackney Road.

If you had been here the other night, you would have witnessed a delicious pumpkin bread and my first-ever coq au vin:
That's oregano, fennel, and two basil plants in the window box. Any other herb and spice suggestions for the other window box?
Notice the regular door and the iron-bar door. Each morning, I have a moment of panic when, after going out the regular door and closing it behind me, I fear that I've left my keys inside and trapped myself between the regular door and the iron door:
The view into the neighboring courtyard and into Haggerston Park from my bedroom window:

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Some London of my favorite experiences, organized by the five senses

Heard: The sounds of post-iftar prayers wafting from the back room while I waited for my doner at a kebab shop on Hackney Road.

Saw: Fireworks after a free Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performance in Shoreditch Park.

Smelled: Flowers of every kind jammed along Columbia Road for the Sunday-morning flower market. Walk down to the market from my flat and stroll slowly through the packed stalls and shouting vendors, think about buying a small basil plant to put on the windowsill, sip my £1.70 latte, maybe get a 90p filled bagel down on Brick Lane. Sublime.

Tasted: Everything in Borough Market: fresh fruit, samples of cheese, chorizo, baguette sandwiches full of all the Thanksgiving fixings, beer, hot cider, two-for-one wine specials, wild mushrooms, yuppie pies, and possibly the best fish and chips I've had in London.

Felt: The wind whipping across my face when I walk over London Bridge on the way to the office in the morning. On the left I can see the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the HMS Belfast, and City Hall; in front of me I can see Southwark Cathedral and buildings being torn down to make way for The Shard; on my right I can see Tate Modern and St. Paul's Cathedral. Awesome.