Say hello to Brooklyn, New York, where Coney Island hot dogs sidle up to duck confit dumplings, beach volleyball comes with a backdrop of Wall Street, and Tattly temporary tattoos compete with real ink for bearded man forearm space. It’s not Manhattan, certainly not the ‘burbs, but so cool that all the fixie-riders haven’t managed to pack up and leave yet, and have just replaced two wheels with four — strollers and ironic baby tees never looked so good.
Sincere apologies for being terribly delinquent about posting. In the months since the last update, I learned Arduino and started drinking tea, carved a marble axe and illustrated a children’s book, and am now frolicking in various snow-sprinkled countrysides. In other words, a month and change in London was over in a blink, a semester in Brooklyn at Pratt Institute was crossed off the list, and a few weeks of winter holiday in Italy and Switzerland are in the works before returning to London for the next session. Life passes quickly when you move around this much . . .
So a quick trip back in time to catch up — first, Scotland!
With a few days to spare before moving from London to New York, a couple of us picked up rail passes and headed north. Glasgow turned out to be a rather grey and dreary city — even the buildings seemed stained brown with sadness — but I did get to try lawn bowling for the first time, which makes me at least somewhat related to royalty, I think . . .
But enough of this city stuff! Back onto the train for what is purportedly the world’s most beautiful rail line: the West Highland from Glasgow to Mallaig, a tiny fishing village on a snip of land on the west coast, and one of two locations to access the Isle of Skye. The scenery was breathtaking [and impossible to capture] — craggy mountains toppling into finger lakes, lush green pastures cut by stone walls, clusters of white-washed houses huddled against the wind and fog . . . Along the way we traveled over Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by Harry Potter [the train even stopped at this point, waiting patiently while everyone dangled cameras out the windows], and only slightly less scenic without the steam engine chugging ahead.
We arrived in Mallaig cold and hungry and homeless, and were lucky enough to stumble into the arms of the wonderful proprietor of the Chlachain Inn, who gave us their last room on short notice, fed us breakfast at dawn, and found us a place to stay at a neighbor’s house the following night. The welcome was warm, the locally-produced gin a much-needed relaxant, and the haggis [a meatloaf of sheep organs, oatmeal, and spices] surprisingly tasty.
The highlight of the trip, however, was the Isle of Skye. Never mind the intermittent storms and soggy socks and almost stepping on a poisonous snake, the landscape was bleak and powerful and awe-inspiring — rock-studded mountainsides, winding streams, wild sheep skipping up impossibly steep cliffs, and the silence and weight of a place that’s demanding importance . . . I had the urge to conjure a small log cabin in the middle of the valley and wake up each morning with the sun sparkling off of dewy rock faces and clean air in my lungs. Again, Google has much more impressive photos than I [and you will find some of the amazing Fairy Pools, which are on the agenda for next time]. Check them out and hop on a plane — you won’t be able to stop yourself.
When in London . . . one learns Basque? Well yes, if one happens to go to school with a cohort hailing from nine different countries and speaking a total of ten languages. “Hi, my name is Ali!” Since I was really struggling to convey my Americanness using something other than English . . .
No, it’s been amazing thus far — good enough to fail at taking regular photographs [psh, why would I go to tourist attractions when I’m a local??], so just a smattering to share here.
Wait wait, that’s not London! No, it’s been uncharacteristically hot [“don’t get used to it!” I’ve been told over and over again, yet it’s been in the 80’s since I got here – we just had our first few classic rainy London days – so I’m settling in for the long haul with a new pair of jorts and a serious flip flop tan], and we ran away to Brighton on the south coast. The beach is rocky and the water questionably sanitary, but that didn’t stop me from taking a dip.
Also in Brighton, the Royal Pavilion, a strange amalgamation of Indian-inspired architecture and Chinese interior decoration that was the play house of a British prince in the late 1700’s-1800’s. I spy something that does not belong . . .
Class field trip! We spent an afternoon running down motorists and dodging paparazzi all over central London in this beautifully restored 1958 double decker [seriously, tourists took as many photos of the bus as they did the monuments they were posted up in front of]. It boasted such design details as a perfectly putrid yellow ceiling, painted such to mask cigarette smoke, and a handicap-inaccessible entrance to the driver’s seat, which required mountain climbing up the side of the bus using the tire and one tiny toehold.
The Victoria & Albert Museum is right across the street from school and, like all of the major museums, it’s free, making it a sweetly guilt-free lunchtime getaway. The other day we popped in to see the furniture exhibit [I was schooled on my lack of famous designer knowledge] and splurge on some decadent pastries and tea; even the dining room is a spectacle in its own right.
No explanation. Welcome to London!
A tribute to the past year in SF; a fond farewell.
Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2012: These two were waiting in the porta potty line at the top of the hill, and the woman struck up a casual conversation. SF intermingling at its finest.
Ocean Beach: After all this time I still haven’t learned my lesson — as soon as the thermometer creeps above 70 I can’t help the urge to make a beeline for the beach, clinging to the eternal hope that it will, for once, be sunny. One in twenty times I luck out; most of the time I’m just cold and get sand in my shoes.
Stairway to Heaven, Oahu: Go, now.
Sometimes you have to make a pie. Then you eat it. And life is swell.
Squaw Valley, Tahoe: Gotta love having mountains in your backyard [sort of] plus friends with ski racks and Reno casino hotel rooms and eggs benedict with chorizo gravy.
Classic. ‘Nuff said.
Tartine: One of too many delicious eating establishments that gobbled up proportionally more of my money than I their food. No regrets!
“Making of . . .”, SF MOMA: A sad farewell to the MOMA, which shuttered its doors in June for extensive, multi-year remodeling. This series, as part of the finale festivities, was such an awesome send off. Talked to a 93-year-old violin craftsman and snacked on rectangular Japanese omelets.
Much love, San Francisco! May we meet again soon.
Yes, this trip was in February, but so much has happened since then! See you back on this side of the pond in July . . .
I’d seen the sights, taken the requisite photos, lemminged up with the best of the tourist crowds . . . So this time around I just wanted to settle in for a week and live — find my coffee shop, my pub; make a habit of my Underground stop and throw away my downtown map. It wasn’t a vacation per se — I went for a grad school interview [and got accepted!] — but with a half day of obligations floating in a week’s stay, the trip seemed perfectly indulgent. Plus MJW and I were lucky enough to have a wonderful host with loads of recommendations, and a real apartment to call home.
So we did things like this: A coffee shop slipped between glass facade and office building, no wider than a hallway, like a living tableau of “Caffeine under Fluorescents, Perched.” I was mostly enamored with that pick-up-sticks scattering of ceiling lights and the name — The Liberty of Norton Folgate — in what I imagined was hand-laid gold foil.
And this: The Barnet Bees take on the Southend Shrimpers!!! Who wants to watch an Arsenal game anyway?? Not when twelve pounds and the end of the Northern Underground line takes you right to the Barnet stadium for some top-notch footie action! [that’s, uh, the second-to-last place team in the league three levels below Premier] Nevermind rankings, the crowd heckled properly — “Hey number twenty, what kind of football number is that??” [is this supposed to be an insult of any magnitude?] — and the Bees scored an upset over the 11th place Shrimpers. Success!
And of course, you haven’t gotten to the heart of a place until you’ve trawled the aisles of its grocery stores, snatching up items with a mix of hunger and horrified curiosity. Look past the universal Kellog’s corn flakes and imported Ecuadorian bananas and you can dig up some real gems. Best item this trip: Gentleman’s Relish. The ingredient list was primarily anchovies, the label claimed it was “delicious on hot toast,” though advised you to “use sparingly” [what kind of marketing ploy warns you not to overindulge?], and it was packaged in a white plastic can with staid black lettering, looking for all the world like a tin of shoe polish lost in the condiment section. Runners up . . .
Depending on which online source you trust, the definition of squidgy runs the gamut from “soft, spongy, and moist — a squidgy cream cake” to “unpleasantly damp — in the steamy atmosphere my skin had grown squidgy as a toad’s” to “a pink octopus with beady eyes who was won at Claw Machine game by the band Of Mice & Men.” I’m not sure how any of that relates to energy, or might be found appetizing in loaf form, but someone must eat the stuff.
And sneaking in one snack stolen from the classic American repertoire, the old-fashioned, here revamped with creamy buttermilk and sold in the lobby of an indie movie theater, still hot from the fryer — for once the British version pulling off a win.
Tired of frozen fish and chips? Overwhelmed by the urban ballyhoo?? Hop a train to Hastings, the beachside pride of the southern coast! Hastings boasts the largest beach-based fishing fleet in England, necessitated by the lack of a natural harbor and resulting in skis welded onto all the boat hulls and massive winches to drag the boats back onshore after every excursion. This seemed at first cool, and then desperate, until I learned that the townspeople quickly realized that what they lacked in coastal features was more than compensated for in caves, thanks to the lucrative smuggling operations they could entertain. Years later, the local economy was once again transformed when it became, inexplicably, one of the most fashionable seaside destinations in the country. Remnants from each era remain, but the best representation of present day Hastings was discovered in the First In Last Out pub we stumbled into looking for lunch — homebrewed beer on tap, an old geezer of a mutt sprawled by the fireplace, a solid mix of young couples with babies and older folks sharing a bottle of wine, and a hearty portion of corned beef hash, beans, and a fried egg doused with “brown sauce” to pad against the salt breeze.
A more straightforward explanation of “small town”: a place with clubs like the one above and stores like the one below, which could have been transplanted into San Francisco’s Mission as a hipster homegoods outpost, except that here people not only bought eight separate horsehair brushes for eight different purposes but actually used them.
Ok ok, one somewhat touristy shot to keep you traditionalists happy.
And what I fantasize will be the motto of my oh-so-trendy life when I move to London next year — so many vintage furs, but none will do!
“I would go out tonight but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.”
[the showroom of IPR London, a fashion-oriented brand development and marketing firm, of course]