Exploring

May 30th, 2004 § One comment § permalink

Some more fragmentary observations from my trip.

London is an excellent city to wander through with no destination in mind. I set out from Charing Cross last night intending to get a pint at whatever pub seemed the most inviting. For a while, I walked through the West End, which is utterly mad on warm Saturday evenings in May. Crowds thronged in the streets, people pushing past one another and going around the fences at the edge of the sidewalk, which are meant to discourage jaywalking. I spent several minutes trailing a parade of Hari Krishnas, some of them dancing, others playing cymbals or saxophones. The crowd lit up as they walked by. Quite a few people joined in the dancing, generally ignoring the flyers that one of the Hari Krishnas kept trying to hand out.

After several detours, I wound up in Soho at the Toucan. Some bars in London, including the Toucan, are licensed for sidewalk drinking, so I stood outside with my Guinness for a while, watching couples walk by and utterly failing to work up enough nerve to talk to any of the locals. I wandered around for a while longer after that, then returned to the hotel. The only time I got lost was once I reached Trafalgar Square and started actually thinking about which direction I needed to go. (I suppose that’s little more than a truism; one can’t be lost if one isn’t trying to go anywhere in particular.)

Today we visited the Tate Modern, which I wandered around for several hours. Long lines and my own impatience forced me to skip the Edward Hopper exhibit. Perhaps I’ll have time to return before we leave. In lieu of that, I discovered Cornelia Parker’s remarkable Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (which, sadly, the website does not do justice), enjoyed John Curran’s Honeymoon Nude for, I think, the third time in person, and sunk very deep into several Mark Rothkos. Then I wandered around the city for a while longer, got caught in a rain shower (joyous!), stopped at my hotel, and now here I am, back in the easyInternetCafe, waiting to meet my family for dinner.

And now a quick British vocabulary lesson:

  • Instead of “for here or to go,” you say “eat in or take away”
  • The word “scheme” does not connote nefariousness; there are signs everywhere about “road improvement schemes” and the like
  • To my continual frustration, the word “centre” should not be pronounced as it would be in France
  • French fries are called “chips”
  • Chips are called “crisps”
  • Crisps are called “tarts”
  • Tarts are called “saucy wenches”
  • Saucy wenches are called “French fries”

Somehow I’ve managed not to eat any Cadbury’s Creme Eggs yet. I must set about rectifying that.

London calling

May 29th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Hi, everyone. I’m in London right now with my family. We’re staying at a very posh hotel above the Charing Cross railway station. Within my first 20 minutes in the room, I had managed to break a wine glass, cutting my hand and scattering shards of glass all over the carpet. I feel like such a rock star.

Before coming to London today, we spent several days in Dublin, which was okay; I would have enjoyed it more had I not been sick for almost the entire time. I will say that they pour a mean pint of Guinness at the brewery. The River Liffey runs east-west through the city, dividing it into south Dublin (the more fashionable half) and north Dublin (the down-at-the-heels half). North Dublin really is rather grotty. Lots of cheap council housing, lots of streets with utterly demolished sidewalks. The Spire of Dublin is on the north side, and on account of its location, it’s referred to as the “Stiletto in the Ghetto.” Dubliners have clever names for all their statues.

Oh, my time on this computer is running out. What other random Dublin facts should I mention? The streets are torn up all over the city–as they have been for years, apparently–because Dublin is building a light rail system. The cars look pretty slick, but my understanding is that the system is years behind schedule and way over budget. Sound familiar, my American friends? Also, not that anyone cares, but the storm gutters run down the middle of the sidewalk on most streets, which struck me as odd.

Okay, I’m going to go drink a pint of something cool and foamy. Like water from the Liffey, perhaps. Ew. We’re staying a stone’s throw from an Internet cafe, so perhaps I’ll post more while I’m in London. Otherwise, see you all in Copenhagen or stateside.

Textless

May 22nd, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Find out how the public realm would look if it were devoid of text.

Ordinary magic

May 11th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

From a New Yorker article about Kirk Varnedoe, the art historian:

The appeal of football wasn’t that it “built character”—he knew just how cruddy a character a football player could have. It was that it allowed you to make a self. You were one kind of person with one kind of body and one set of possibilities, and then you worked at it and you were another. This model was so simple and so powerful that you could apply it to anything. It was ordinary magic: you worked harder than the next guy, and you were better than the next guy. It put your fate in your own hands.

Indulging my inner foodie

May 1st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

After far too many nights of eating pasta for dinner, I decided it was time to do some proper cooking tonight. The farmers’ market has had lovely fava beans for weeks, so I decided to make a sauté of fresh fava beans, onions, and fennel. It was amazingly good. That’s mostly to the credit of the recipe–it was dead easy to make.

I made some orzo to go on the side, so I guess I still wound up eating pasta for dinner. I tossed the orzo (about a cup when it was dry) with a tablespoon of lemon juice, half a red bell pepper diced fine, and salt and pepper. Not very exciting, but the fava sauté is complex enough that a simple side dish was appropriate. (A little feta with the orzo might have been nice, though.) Also, it’s an aesthetically pleasing combination: bright green fava beans on one side of the plate, jumbled with pancetta and strips of fennel in a small pool of sauce, and creamy orzo on the other, studded with little red cubes. Garnish with a sprig of dill and you’re golden.

Pho oey

May 1st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

What is it about the Bay Area and overhyped Vietnamese restaurants? Example one: Tu Lan in San Francisco. People claim it’s the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city. It’s certainly cheap, and the food is more or less okay, but it’s hardly spectacular. Example two: Vi’s in Oakland’s Chinatown. A friend of mine had raved about it, and it’s listed in Zagat’s. I went there with some friends last night, though, and had an utterly forgettable meal (although, again, it was cheap).

People, the Bay Area has much better Vietnamese food than this. Spend a couple more bucks and go to Le Régal in downtown Berkeley or Battambang in downtown Oakland. (Battambang is actually Cambodian, which is sort of a cross between the best parts of Thai and Vietnamese food. The service is spotty, but the food is worth it.)

HOV and pavement: a natural combination

April 30th, 2004 § Four comments § permalink

If you liked The Grey Album–a mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album–you should definitely check out The Slack Album, which combines Jay-Z with Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. Super-cool stuff.

Incidentally, when The Grey Album came out, I was delighted to learn that Jay-Z also calls himself “Hov’,” which has a rather different meaning in transportation circles. That discovery led me to rewrite some of the lyrics to Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement“:

My name is HOV, H to the O V

I drive cars with high occupancy

I guess even back then you could call me

So concerned with air quality. HOV!

I could probably be a bigger dork than I am, but I’m not sure how.

Tunak tunak

April 26th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

This Indian music video is fantastic. If, like me, you have 11 major tasks on your to-do list for the week (not including school assignments), it should serve as a welcome distraction. Tunak tunak, tunak tunak tunak, tunak tunak tunak, tun da da da!

When reading becomes dangerous

April 21st, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

A quotation from Proust, via a rather long New Yorker article about P.G. Wodehouse:

Reading becomes dangerous when instead of waking us to the personal life of the spirit, it tends to substitute itself for it, when truth no longer appears to us as an ideal we can realize only through the intimate progress of our thought and the effort of our heart, but as a material thing, deposited between the leaves of books like honey ready-made by others, and which we have only to take the trouble of reaching for on the shelves of libraries and then savoring passively in perfect repose of body and mind.

“This has been tough weeks in that country”

April 13th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

I applied Microsoft Word’s autosummarize feature to President Bush’s responses at tonight’s press conference. Here’s the 94-word version of his answers:

The Iraqi people need us there to help with security. Saddam Hussein was a threat. We needed to work with people. People needed to come together to work. John?

John?

People are sacrificing their lives in Iraq from different countries. It’ll change the world. We’re an open country. We’re at war. Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a tough time for the American people to see that. The American people may decide to change. Now’s the time to talk about winning this war on terror. Free societies are hopeful societies.

The only flaw in this summary is that it does not urge us to remember the lessons of 9-11.