Friday, March 27, 2009

European Laziness

Hey,

So, I've become rather lackadaisical about these blog posts. This is probably due to the fact that a) my classes have ended, leaving me utterly free from all pseudo-responsibilities I once possessed, and b) I've been busy.

What have I been doing? Well, I went to Dans le Noir on Monday night with a group of friends. We all agreed that the eating-in-complete-darkness concept was fun and nifty but not worth the 40 pounds a head. It was quite risky, as we kept taking swigs of wine when we were reaching for our water glasses. And we all ended up eating with our hands.

The rest of the week has been spent frolicking in Regent's park among the daffodils, eating pork buns and ice cream and generally being young and frivolous. Not doing the dishes. Sleeping until late in the afternoon. Growing a beard. Letting laundry accumulate on the floor.

In all fairness, I do manage to keep my room very tidy. And I continue with my sporadic German learning. But I haven't been writing. This I must admit. Right now I should be packing for Dublin.

I think I'll eat some soup for breakfast.

Cheers and such,
Ali

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life Takes You Strange Places... And You Can't Always Talk About It

Yes, that title is a quote from Watchmen. For anyone who hasn't seen the film or read the graphic novel, I highly recommend both.

I've discovered that England has no shortage of self-involved narcissists and mixed-signal senders, and dirty bearded men in camo jackets who eat sandwiches out of rubbish bins. Despite all this, I've still managed to make some meaningful connections while I've been here. Friends fo' life. It's a nice feeling, to be so far away from everything I know and still to gouge a few trenches of familiarity in the streets of this foreign city. The corner pub and the tube stops that echo with my name. Etching myself into civic memory.

Sometimes I try to etch against surfaces too hard for my chisel. Helas, I need to learn to quit while I'm ahead. A London word I picked up recently is 'long.' It means not worth the effort. As in "longshot." In America we preach the value of persistence. In England they think that most things aren't worth the bother; it's better to leave well enough alone.

I'm not sure which philosophy I prescribe to more at the moment. But I think the passive British mindsit doesn't sit well with my natural boldness. Perhaps I don't quite feel American all the time, but I've soaked up the pioneering spirit somehow, in my two decades of residence in the USA. Sure, Americans are forward, but is there anything wrong with that?

Cheers peeps,
Ali

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

World-Traveler-Am-I

Classes are winding down, and spring is winding up. So naturally I don't plan to spend much time standing still in the next few months. Here's my itinerary:

- This weekend I'm going to Paris with the two most fabulous gay men ever invented.

- Next week classes end, and on Friday I'm heading off to Dublin with Anne, my pseudo-Irish friend from Idaho.

- For April I'm trying to organize a trip through Germany and Austria, with a stop in Amsterdam along the way

- My creative writing final is due at the end of April

- In May, I'm heading to Portugal and southern Spain (Seville, Granada and Alicante)

- My final exams take place May 11-June 12, don't know exactly when yet.

- I'm currently applying for a teaching position at an English summer camp in Italy, which would start in the middle of June

And that's that.

Talk soon,
Ali

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spring Is Here: La Primavera Trompetera Ya Llegó

Spring has come to foggy depressive overcast London, and the sun is too damn bright. Where did you go, lovely cloud cover? It's like the sky took off its sunglasses.

I've ditched my down coat for the light trench I bought in Spain. Otherwise, my winter habits persist. Coffee, markets, cider, & AJ, the hyper-stylish man in my life.

We go to either Portobello market, or Brick Lane market, or both, every weekend.

I sleep over his flat and he cooks for me. When we go out, people ask permission to photograph him. And he sometimes photographs me. He's been cited by vogue twice for his blog: http://www.stitchsociety.blogspot.com/
Someday he will be a fashion icon (if he's not one already.)

For his birthday on March 16th we've decided to stage a public engagement party, with a scandalous conclusion in which I catch him making out with our future best man.

In other news
I read a book,saw a film,started a writing group, and began learning German (Das Mädchen isst ein belegtes Brot = the girl is eating a sandwich.)

I chipped my front tooth biting down too hard in my sleep.

As you can see, I'm growing and changing as a person.

The other day I saw a man walking down the street eating a cup of custard. Straight custard. A big cup.

Walking home on Portobello Road, I get a strong whiff of arugula coming from someone's ciabatta sandwich. I spot lots of skinny ankles sprouting from vintage boots. Watch yellow-red paella swirling around a giant pan. Watch people trying on fedoras. Watch tourism and home-bred style sharing the same space. On the tube, a pink-clad baby plays with a stranger's oyster card and reaches hungrily for her iphone.

There's no place like London.

Cheerz palz,
Ali

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rafael, Portrait of the Artist

Rafael is from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He lives in the same building as me. He's here in London on his summer vacation (which happens in winter!) to study English at the EC School in the West End. Back home he's a second year law student. But what he really wants to do is write poetry.

He reads lots of poetry, in Portuguese, French and English. He bought so many books while he was here that he'll have to ship them home. Another thing he did while in London: he got a tattoo on his arm in Russian. It says "the Death of Ivan Ilyich."
In his last few days here, he worked furiously on a leatherbound book of poetry for a girl back home named Julia. He painstakingly illustrated every other page, while listening to Wagner. (And Vampire Weekend, at my insistence). The book was 100 pages long when he finished.


I found his work ethic rather beautiful, so I asked permission to take some photos.

Rafa, there's a girl on your bed... But he's too busy to notice. Now that's dedication.

I'm going to miss him now that he's leaving. He was a good friend.

Adeus, mi brasileiro
Ali

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quarterly Review: The Weird American Girl Takes Europe By Storm

I've been abroad for two entire months now (January and February), so I feel like it's about time for a review of the things I've seen and what I've learned about myself thus far. I have four months left. Perhaps I can apply the lessons I garner from this review to my remaining time in London and elsewhere.

I've learned not to try to drink a diet coke while running up the stairs (it's a disaster waiting to happen.)

I've discovered a fire escape crushed up between my building and the one next to it, giving it the allure of a secret passageway. It leads into a small private courtyard littered with cigarette butts and empty beer cans (so I guess it's not that secret, but still. I like it.)I love Lily Allen. She is London to me. She's just so damn cool. Sometimes life here feels just like a nouvelle vague French film. I won't elaborate how.

According to my friend Andrea: alcohol is the ultimate time machine.

According to a girl from my writing class: if you kiss someone when they're sleeping, they always kiss you back.

I've been called weird American girl, strange American girl, unique American girl, more times and by more people than I'd care to admit. Am I really so weird, strange and unique? Given, sometimes people just call me "the American girl." And I am - that is, American.

My friends here tell me "I can't believe your life" and even "I love your life" and more rarely still (but most preciously) "I love you." They call me crazy just as often as they call me weird.

I've discovered I'm not neurotic after all. I'm actually a genuine "free spirit," excusing the stupidity of that phrase. I do what feels right at the time. I make opportunities for myself, or rather, I recognize them when I see them and I take full advantage. I guess that makes me weird, and strange, and crazy, and unique. But it doesn't make me American. I was just born that way.
Cheers, amantes
*Ali, the Weird American Girl*

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Spain Part IV: Don't Forget About the Duck

This is where I talk about the miscellany of my trip, which I couldn't fit into my more coherent posts about Spain.

The streets in Barcelona’s older districts are about the width of almost one car. Sometimes the narrowness can make you do crazy things.

One night I bought a duckling on La Rambla. His name was Pascal. Beth tried to convince the vendor not to sell him to me, saying that I didn't live in Spain and I had no place to put him. But money talks, and the man took my 5 euros without listening to Beth's objections.

He put Pascal in a little cardboard box. I patted his head and gently slid him out into my hand. He immediately ran up my sleeve and hid in my right armpit for most of our time together.

Beth and I walked into the fruit and vegetable market, with Pascal tucked snugly into my upper arm. He was tickling me. We bought some fresh-squeezed juice, and I informed those around me that I had a patito in my coat. One person offered to help me extract him, and together we managed to get him into the palm of my left hand without any injuries. He then ran up my other sleeve. And peed on me.

I returned Pascal to the vendor about 45 minutes later. He didn't give refunds, but he agreed to let the duckling return to his friends nesting in the wood shavings of their cage. Now he has probably sold the same duck twice.

La Rambla also has bunnies and songbirds and fish for sale. If there had been puppies, I'd be a goner by now.

While shopping in Tudela, I ran into one of my former students from teaching English over the summer. Aranzazu (another Basque name), the beautiful blonde, the smartest girl in the class, the one who cried for a week straight and felt homesick even though she lived 5 minutes away. She smiled at me but was too shy to talk. When I asked her in Spanish if she remembered me, she nodded sheepishly, and I remembered the time when she grabbed my hand in her little tan fingers and asked podemos dar una vuelta a Tudela? Por favor? with tears streaming down her face. She wanted me to take her home, but I had 10 other fourth graders to take care of. Her mother asked if I was coming back to teach again. I told her "Um... not exactly" and explained that it was very expensive for me to travel between my home in New York, and Spain.

In only a few days with Edurne and her brother, I learned lots of new Spanish colloquialisms. Hostia, en plan, botellón, cojonudo, joder. The last two are the easiest to translate. They mean "fucking awesome" and "fuck," respectively.

Edurne and my ability to speak English together sometimes felt like a secret power, in a country where most people don't understand my native tongue. The day after the Carnaval festivities, when we met up with gorilla suit and Moroccan soldier for tapas and decided we wanted to go home early, Edurne told me rather blatantly in English “lean against this wall and act like you’re really sick.” I followed her instructions, but couldn't help laughing a bit. The gorilla (now in human form) sympathized, saying "she must be ill from last night. But at least she's smiling." We successfully avoided going to the movies with them without any hurt feelings.

The last tourist attraction I visited before my plane flight was Casa Milà. It's where I want to live. Instead of describing that amazing place, I'll just post some photos. And let me say, when you can design buildings like that, why does anyone build normal things?When I got back, I noticed how odd it felt to be speaking only English. A foreign city in which no foreign language is required? How bizarre. The orderly queues of London were a stark contrast to the airport in Spain. Taxis light up yellow again, instead of green, and the cabbies really know where they're going here (in Barcelona they just use a GPS). Good ol’ gray skies greeted me on my return. I love London.

Cheerio, y saludos. x
Ali