Goodbye London

End of trip.

My last weekend in London I decided to not do much at all. Friday I spent most of my time at Borough Market. Which is worth wandering around on a lazy day. I circled the stalls sampling bits of cheeses, spreads, cookies, olives, breads and jams. it was a tiny bit of heaven. Or many tiny bits of heaven, suspended on toothpicks, until they found their way to my mouth. Inspired again to be a decent house guest, I bought a greek spread with soft cheese, mint, tomatoes and onions, a crunchy baguette that smelled like angel wings, an assortment of olives and some savory pies. The pies came in many varieties. I took forever to decide until settling on leek with brie, broccoli, walnut with stilton and tomato with goat cheese and herb de provence. I'm surprised that two of the pies actually made it all the way home. The market is bustling, people shopping for groceries or lined up for lunch. It seems to go on forever, each corner a new culinary surprise.

That night was family night. Hung out with Steve and Patrick until Janetta got in. Then we went and met Tessa for Tapas. I love sharing food and sampling as much of a menu as a I can. Tapas is perfect for me. It was a small, quiet local place. Simple, well seasoned food. We had a nice time and time to really talk. A small space without a three year old, not that we didn't miss him, but still a slice of adult conversation is nice from time to time.

Saturday was my last day in town. I spent most of the day doing not much of anything. Working on the suitcase, soaking in the bathtub, drinking tea. Eventually I made it out of the house to meet Janetta and Tessa. Luckily, Steve had stopped by the house and led me to downtown. I had forgotten that the tube line was down. I would probably still be there, trying to figure out the buses, crying into my scarf if it wasn’t for him. He was my knight in shinning tennis shoes.

Janetta, Tessa and Patrick were seeing a film. I showed up, we walked a bit around the city, we walked behind a chocolate festival, sampling. And then after that we sat for drinks. There was a party associated with the film festival. Apparently we never made it to the backroom where the party was. We were in the bar room, wondering why there was no dancing. I managed to meet new friends. Talking about the US, UK and traveling in general. Paris came up. My new friends said that my American accent would be better there than a British one. Smirking, the younger boy stated, “old rivals, French and British”. “Still mad at them for helping America break up with you?” I asked. “They got you away from us and gave you a statue, what have you done for the French?” “World War II?” “The stupid French surrendered.” “Well,
you still have to be nice to me because of the war.” A beer was earned. Let this be a lesson kids--those history classes will come in handy (thirty years later, in a bar, while you are awkwardly half-hitting on two men), both probably gay. Stay in school.

A twisty drive through the streets of London and a night full of half sleep ended my last night in weekend.

And now, hello America. Hello friends, pets, 5,000 work emails. I’ve missed almost all of you


UK March 2010: Winding Down

Because I am apparently legally insane and want to collapse when I get back to California, I ventured out the other day for a full, full day of site seeing. Left the house at 9:30, am got back at 11:00 pm. Let me explain. The original plan was a full day at the British Museum. It's a pretty full museum especially if you like Greek, Assyrian or Egyptian artifacts. I had three main things to see on my list. The collection is very impressive. The British did a great job of looting from the world for centuries. You can see a huge chunk of ancient world treasures and artifacts without ever leaving London. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of important items there and get burnt out before you finish your tour. Pack a lunch, break for water. Span time.

My first item was the museum's big draw-- the rosetta stone. Even those of us that are slightly jaded, have to be taken back by the importance of the stone and how much was learned through it's discovery. I have a weakness for Egyptology, so it's been a big win for me. And also, I have the rosetta stone to thank for my coffee mug from the Luxor that spells out 'Rachel' in hieroglyphs. Talk about ancient treasures, I've had that thing of beauty for five years now. Everyone was huddled around the stone. Some there, slightly bored, seeing it because their tour map told them to. Some of us just staring for a bit, walking around the front. The back. The sides. Sizing it up. Somehow these treasures of importance that you read about in school, like the rosetta stone, seem to detached from your daily life of cleaning the house, fighting for a seat on BART, and wrangling chihuahuas. And then you see it and suddenly things are more than captions in books, this is real. Very real and probably very heavy.

From there I took a one minute stroll over to the Parthenon. Just like that, I was looking at an Athenian treasure. Or parts of it. The British Museum has quite a bit from the ancient structure, in a room designed to house the bits and pieces known as the Elgin marbles; named after Lord Elgin that sold them to the museum. Greece kind of, sort of wants them back. A small sign in the British Museum states that the marbles are still there because they 'would not survive being moved'. Do your own math on this one.

Another big item on my list was seeing the bog man. I became a interested in the whole bog body thing while traipsing around Ireland. Learning about the landscape and how the peat grows in layers, the old layers begin releasing acid which preserves the bodies and since it is a low oxygen environment there is not much to rot them. So you see lines on hands, scars, tattoos and analyze stomach contents from people that died in the Iron Age.

At this point my day was running late. I'm known to wander. One of the items on my list was the National Portrait Gallery. They are open late on Thursdays, so I decided instead of heading back for dinner that I would grab a bite and hit that museum before my evening plans started. I was hoping to see the Irving Penn exhibit, so I was happy it all worked out. I think we can all sense a theme of me being drawn to photography exhibits in general, and then you add in the Vogue factor. I would've been upset if I missed it. I stayed in the gallery with his work for awhile. Mixing up the order I saw everything in, zooming in close and zooming out. I had made small talk with the gallery employee at the door on my way in. Probably what stopped me from being arrested during the zooming in part.

With time to kill and a credit card I had emptied before I left for my trip, I felt inspired to take a quick look again around Soho and see if I needed a proper souvenir. I found a pair of shoes to properly mark the trip in my memories and justify the exchange rate. Here.

My next step was the opera I had decided to see: Satyagraha. I butchered the title several times and then just settled on calling it 'The Gandhi Opera'. I have never been to a proper opera before and had settled on going to this for three key reasons: you try new things on vacation, it sounded interesting, the balcony tickets were cheap. And so there I was with my heavy coat, big purse, camera and box of new shoes squeezing into a tiny packed row for a three plus hour show. There were four women, a group, between me and the aisle, and we all chatted for a bit before the show and at break. I had bought the program. The opera was in Sanskrit. I wasn't sure I would've fully understood in English, so this gave me an excuse to read the program heavily. I shared it with them at break and we all spent a couple of minutes picking out the literal items from Gandhi's life and the ones created for the show. They helped me with the Hindu gods that appeared, I figured out Krishna and Ganesh, needed help beyond that. The show was moving, the music simple, more like a backdrop to the voices and to the stage set. The set was also simple, but powerful. Non-violence and transformation were the key themes throughout. Gandhi goes from a lawyer dressed in British clothes to the image we are more familiar with, him in a robe. First the shoes come off, then the coat, the hair... The newspapers in the set are held up by the players and become a temporary screen for words, then for weapons, then they are taken off the stage and then giant paper mache creatures come out.

Gandhi gets linked to Martin Luther King Jr. towards the end. A small door opens in the top of the corrugated back drop of the stage. You can see the figure with his back facing you and know who he is. At the podium arms slowly moving, not to distract from Gandhi and the Salt March scene on stage, but to accent. And to link two big figures of non-violence. Two more windows appear in the backdrop next to King. They are covered in thin screens, you see the backdrop of The March on Washington. First photos from the march, thinned and vague, then the heavy outline of players acting out the protest march. In silhouette only-- a figure crouched on the ground, shielding his head while two other figures stand above with billy clubs. The other screen, a person on the ground, the outline of a thick boot repeatedly kicking them over and over. Powerful. Then the screens are torn open and people in riot gear climb down ropes, meeting the stage, and flooding around picking off the salt march protesters and pulling them off the stage. The stage is left with just Gandhi and the MLK Jr. figure still up in the backdrop. Curtain drops.

Entering the streets of London again after that was surreal. But I weaved through the crowds of theatre goers, all seemingly let out at the same time. Found my way to the crowded, crowded train and through myself into bed as soon as my key clicked the front door closed.

Almost done. One more travel update to go. Stay with me folks, I'm running out of steam.

UK March 2010: Aran Islands

So, the Aran Islands are amazing. As is Galway. In Dublin I loved the sites I got to see, the places I went to, the discoveries. I just didn't fall in love with the city. Paris, New York, San Francisco, London-- those cities can kidnap me anytime. Dublin will not be as successful. Galway and the Aran Islands could easily charm me into repeat visits. I happen to be of the thought that a ferry ride itself is pretty exciting. Then we landed and things got better. I went to Inishmor, the largest of the three islands and the most populated-- around 800 regular residents, more in season. I was still a bit tired from staying out late-ish in Galway and watching bands, so I headed to the b&b with my duffel bag and settled in to my room a bit. Knowing it was the best way to really explore the island, I still declined the use of the bike, I was craving a nice hike and it was a beautiful day. I stopped by the sweater mart first to check out the aran sweaters you hear so much about. I decide not to buy a sweater there. It's an investment and for a bit more you an order online the exact type of sweater you want and to your measurements. If anyone hails from Irish heritage especially the Galway region, you can order a sweater from your clan. If you knit, you can order a kit that comes with the wool and pattern (based on your height/size). Each clan had it's own pattern that was handed down from generation. The different types of stitch work had different symbolic meanings and together made up the clan's pattern. On the grim side, if a fisherman was found after dying on the seas, he could be identified by the sweater in most cases. So if you have an extra couple hundred dollars around and want a warm sweater that shows your heritage, check it out. And if you need my measurements, so you can surprise me for my birthday, just let me know. After exploring the market, I started on my hike. I walked down the road for a bit, charmed by the new houses, the bold Galway Bay, the miles and miles of low, crumbling dry stone walls. Some walls new, some old, they are a way of clearing the piles of rock off the land so that some grass and plants can grow and providing land and area barriers. It is quite a site, the maze of stone walls climbing up the cliffs. Some cows or horses in some, some with new fences, some old and half run down. The patchwork of grass growing between the stretches of stones. People are friendly on the island. Not exactly bustling with activity, I still passed some cars and people on my walk. Everyone waved or said hi. I got into the spirit of things and my the end of the day was taking the lead on the greeting exchanges. There got a point where I decided the real hike would need to begin, bending my map around to what I hoped was the right direction, I found a turn off road and headed up. And then up a little more. And up. The stone walls became less frequent, I was walking on grass, then limestone slabs. It seemed almost purposeful like an expensive, modern floor, but this was just how it had been for centuries. Slab after slab with a little grass thrown in between. The island is known (in addition to the sweaters and knitting) for the stone fort ruins. Dun means fort in Irish. Dun Angohasa is the one most people get to. By the end of the hike, I found myself at a different one, Dun Duchathair or the Black Fort. Hanging on the edge of a cliff, crumbling stone fort on a slate and grass patchwork floor, surrounded by dry stone walls and overlooking the raging sea. I was the only person or creature around for as far as I could see. There was nothing between me and the cliffs. It was a mild day, no wind. I laid on my belly and stared at the sky, then switched to my back and stared down at the wild sea crashing against the rocks. I don't know how far down the water was, the drop seemed endless. And even then, when I walked around a bit, there was a spot on the top of the cliff that was getting wet from the spray. Somehow there must have been a hole or passage in the side of the cliff. One sudden chunk of wetness in the middle of the dry stones.

Two things I tend to do whenever I start to feel out of sorts is look at the water if it's around, or stare at the sky. I don't know what it is, but somehow the beauty and expansiveness of the sky or the waves just stops whatever thoughts are plaguing me and steals them and my breath for a few minutes. Day or night, sunny, cloudy, rainy, I've never not been in awe of the sky above my head. Try it. Downtown San Francisco, crappy day at work, step outside, lean against the wall of some building on Market Street, and just stare up. I then found my breath again, took fifty million pictures and started to weave through the rocks again back down to the road. Those of you that are connected through Facebook have seen some of the shots, those of you that aren't I am hoping to keep going through the and post them soon. When I say I have over 600, I am not exaggerating. But, they aren't all sky and water.

I ended the night with a simple dinner in the pub. I did mention they are a friendly people? I walked in, the women sitting at the tables, men gathered around the bar. As I walked past the bar to grab a seat, an older man grabbed me and pulled me over. "I just need to ask you a question young lass; are you happy?" "Yes". "Well, glad to meet you happy, I'm Owen." Then roaring laughter from about ten, weather beaten older men as I smiled and found my seat. Leaving Ireland involved getting back to Dublin, since leaving from Dublin made things a lot cheaper ticket wise and easier with train connections in London. So, it went like this: ferry to bus to bus to plane to train to train. And then a short walk to Tessa's house and back to my old room.

The next day, Tessa and I just hung out. Went to downtown London to check out some galleries we were running late and worrying about time since she needed to get back in time to pick Patrick up from school. Then at the train station we rain into her ex, Steve. He was able to pick up Patrick from school, so Tessa and I found ourselves with a bigger block of time, walking around Soho, chatting, and running errands. Had one of my favorite days. I'm loving all the sites I'm taking in, but there is something charming about a day with no agenda. Shifting into a shop when the mood hits. Remembering last minute something you needed to do, switching course and just doing it. We got back, Tessa and Janetta had a meeting, so Patrick, Steve and I hung out and talked about dinosaurs. It was nice to be settled back into London, even with the threat of rain looming all around. March is a fickle month for weather.

opefully London will still be kind.