ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monthly Archive: October 2009

Friday

30

October 2009

0

COMMENTS

Hey Smokers – What’s Up?

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Continuing my intermittent series of open letters, here's one to smokers in London.

Dear Smokers of London:

Hey! What's up? How's it going? Stressful day, eh? Relaxing with a nice drag off a (cheaper here than in NYC, even with the exchange rate) ciggie? That's cool.

This is not a letter where I'm going to judge you. I know you have enough to deal with, what with the hacking cough, yellow teeth and lighter wallet (kidding!). Seriously, it's got to be a big pain in the ass to have to leave your cozy cubicle to go outside for a smoke. And you can't even enjoy your vice of choice in pubs and bars anymore! Obnoxious.

Look, I know that this is a habit you have. I know that if I had to step outside every time I wanted a glass of whiskey, or a hot chocolate, I'd be kind of annoyed. And I'm not judging your habit, despite the friendly little jab at the opening of this letter. Look, you know the statistics about smoking, and you still smoke. That's fine with me. I know the statistics and I still chow down on a Krispy Kreme way more often than I should (especially now that I'm living near a Tesco that stocks them 'round the clock). We all make our choices in life, right?

Here's the thing though. Could you PLEASE stop walking and smoking? It's flippin' obnoxious. When people are standing outside a building or pub smoking, that's one thing. I can avoid it. It's obvious – people are in a group, there's smoke, I get it. But when you light up up while walking down Fleet Street on your way to your job, your smoke flies all over the place, swirling around. And you've walked these sidewalks before – there's nowhere for me to go. I can't escape your smoke. You're making me smoke, and it's really annoying me.

Oooh, and you know what's even worse than the smoke? The ASH IN MY EYE. That's right. One of you was kind enough to flick your cigarette mid-smoke, I guess to get the ash off the end, and since you were walking ahead of me, that ash went somewhere, and that somewhere was MY EYE. It did not feel good. It pissed me off. If I wasn't so busy trying to determine whether my eye was on fire, I would have tackled you from behind, NFL-style.

So, to sum up: I have no issues with your decision to smoke. Some of my closest, dearest friends smoke. But they have the courtesy to not blow that stuff in my face, even accidentally. Can you maybe work on doing the same?

Hugs and kisses,
A S K 

Sunday

25

October 2009

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COMMENTS

Brick Lane

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I live very close to Brick Lane, which most people who aren’t from London will recognize from the myth of great curry (if they recognize it at all). While there are loads of Indian and Bangaladeshi restaurants on Brick Lane, they’re pretty mediocre, although they offer cheap prices. There’s also a passable Mexican (more like Tex-Mex) restaurant there as well, which I experienced Friday.

At night, especially on the weekends, it reminds me a bit of what I’d imagine Williamsburg would feel like if they effectively shrank Bedford Avenue. Not so much because of the feel of the restaurants and such, but because of the people – a lot of London’s version of hipsters. A lot of drunk people. And the occasional mini cab attempting to drive through what is essentially a pedestrian thoroughfare at that point.

On the weekends during the day its full of a ton of different markets. There are these amazing food stalls with cheap and very tasty food – Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Moroccan, Ethiopian. Everything. And loads of stalls where people sell their homemade wares and other things. Plus vintage stores (which are there during the week as well) seem to expand and pop up in different spaces. Today I found a coffee shop that has really comfortable seating, makes a decent cup of hot chocolate, and just has a generally relaxed atmosphere. It may become my new study locale on Tuesdays and Thursdays (i.e., the days when I don’t have to go to campus).

Just above where the main part of Brick Lane ends there’s an arts and theater space that shows first run movies but also has free jazz on Sundays and hosts other events. 

It’s great to be so close to such a vibrant neighborhood.

Sunday

25

October 2009

1

COMMENTS

It’s been a month? Really?

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I moved here just over a month ago, and I’ve been able to do a lot in that month. I’m really enjoying my program, and I’m loving this city. There’s so much to do and see, and I’m lapping it all up.

This week I went to Cambridge, which is a town filled with these amazing old colleges. Seriously, they’re celebrating their octocentenial. 1209-2009! What was going on in NYC in 1209? Were native americans even there yet? I genuinely don’t know. The town is larger than I expected, and full of twisting streets and loads of pubs. We visited two: The Anchor (which is on the river) and the Eagle (where Watson and Crick announced their DNA double-helix “discovery”). There’s also a great market right in the center of town. Because my friend Dan and I went on a Sunday, we were able to see the chapel at Kings College for free, as we attended Evensong and heard the amazing Kings College Choir. Damn. They’re really, really good. The trip was the first of about 20 I really want to try to do before I leave here – pictures are below.

This week was busy, with a few extra lectures (one on post-war mental health for civilians, one on LSE essay writing and one on risk assessment in health care). The work load is still manageable, but I haven’t been assigned an essay yet. I think for all three of my courses I’ll get the questions in about a week and have a week or two to write them. I’ll have to get on it early, because my first visitor is coming! I’m so excited – Allegra is coming in November, and we’re going to head down to Barcelona for a weekend. I’ve never been to Spain – if you’ve been and have suggestions of things we must see, let me know!

Wednesday was suit night in my building. We’re kind of silly, so a few of the guys dressed up in suits, us ladies went with dresses, and we sat around drinking and playing poker. Excellent.

Saturday, however, was the most ‘cultured’ of my days this week, even including the trip to Cambridge. I met up with Suzanne in the morning (it was overcast and spitting rain on occasion) and we took a tour of the West Cemetery at Highgate. It is gorgeous and overgrown and creepy and PERFECT for right around Halloween. I’ve attached some pictures. My camera was acting up (spooky!) so I didn’t get great ones inside the crypt. Oh. And there was this eerie moment where a leaf was just spinning in the air. At first it seemed like it was maybe hanging from a spider web thread or something, but then the wind shifted and it moved in a way that suggested it was just stuck in a pocked of air. When I started to walk as the tour moved, it got right up in my face. I like to think one of the spirits wanted us to remember where exactly we were.

Finally, last night I went to Royal Albert Hall to see the Carmina Burana. It’s such an amazing piece of music. And it was performed in what is actually a pretty smalll performance space, with FOUR HUNDRED SINGERS. And a huge symphony orchestra. So amazing. SO amazing.

And now it’s Sunday again, and I need to study. But I got an extra hour in the day thanks to the surprising time change. Back to GMT.

Sunday

18

October 2009

1

COMMENTS

American Football, British Education

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Last night I ventured to Sports Cafe – the place in London where one can go to watch all sports, including American football. It’s also a great place to go if you’re interested in getting picked up by creepy British (or American) men. I was there for the football. The USC and Notre Dame alumni associations took over one of the bar areas for the game last night. It was excellent. Epic. Fabulous. Primarily because Notre Dame lost.

Today I’d hoped to go to Hampton Court Palace; however, due to work on the railroad my friend Dan and I decided to head up to Cambridge instead. There are actually many colleges that make up what we in the states think of as Cambridge; you can check them out here. What’s crazy is that the first of these colleges was started in 1209. No, that’s not a typo. That’s EIGHT HUNDRED years ago. We wandered through the adorable (and surprizingly large) town, stopping at a great market in the center of town. We also caught the King’s College Choir at the Evensong service at the chapel. The chapel was finished by King Henry VIII about ten years before he changed the nation’s religion. It’s pretty spectacular:

Last week I also joined Kate, Richard and Kate’s sister Lee for tea at the National Dining Rooms at the National Gallery (in Trafalgar Square). For a reasonable price you get a quite lovely spread. Ah, clotted cream. It’s like butter with a side of butter.

I’ll have pictures of the latest adventures up in a few days; now I have to go to bed so I can be up for my marathon Monday – four hours of class followed by a departmental lecture and then drinks. Yes, I’m managing to fit studying in amongst the travels and cultural outings. Luckily for me, I never have two days of school in a row, which means as soon as I make it through one day I can (in theory) sleep in the next.

Friday

16

October 2009

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COMMENTS

Wait, what? (courtesy of the BBC)

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Man marrying woman

Keith Bardwell is happy to marry couples of the same race

A white US justice of the peace has been criticised for refusing to issue marriage licences to mixed-race couples.

Keith Bardwell, of Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana, denied racism but said mixed-race children were not readily accepted by their parents’ communities.

A couple he refused to marry is considering filing a complaint about him to the US Justice Department.

Mr Bardwell said he had many black friends and frequently married them.

‘No integration’

Mr Bardwell, who has worked in the role for 34 years, said that in his experience most interracial marriages did not last very long and estimated that he had refused applications to four couples in the past two-and-a-half years.

He said he had “piles and piles of black friends” but just did not believe in “mixing the races”.

“They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else,” he said.

He said he had discussed the issue with both black and white people before making his decision.

“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” he said “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”

I try to treat everyone equally
Keith Bardwell

Mr Bardwell added that he checked the race of the couple in question, 30-year-old Beth Humphrey and 32-year-old Terence McKay, when they first phoned him requesting a marriage licence.

Ms Humphrey, who is white, said that when she phoned Mr Bardwell on 6 October to discuss getting a marriage licence signed his wife told her about his stance.

Mrs Bardwell recommended that the couple see another justice of the peace, who did agree to marry them.

Ms Humphrey said she had not expected such comments “in this day and age” and that she was looking forward to having children with her husband.

American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzmann said that her organisation has requested an investigation into Mr Bardwell, describing the case as one of “bigotry”.

She said the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 “that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry” and that Mr Bardwell had knowingly broken the law.

However, Mr Bardwell denied mistreating anyone and said if he oversaw one mixed-race marriage, then he would have to continue to do it for everyone.

He said: “I try to treat everyone equally.”

I’m just . . . huh. Really?

Tuesday

13

October 2009

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COMMENTS

Sunday

11

October 2009

1

COMMENTS

Salted Caramel Truffles. Yes please.

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Friday night I visited another of the museums that stays open late. Suzanne and I met up at the Victoria and Albert museum. That place is crazy. It’s in a gorgeous building, and is a bit of a cluster in terms of artifacts. We spent about an hour there and only saw three exhibits – well, two and a half. There was one temporary exhibition we saw, and it was adequately creepy: Telling Tales. The fashion and jewelry sections were also amazing.

Yesterday Becky and I went to the Chocolate Unwrapped event, which is part of Chocolate Week. For a fee we got to taste loads of amazing artisinal chocolate. The Paul Wayne Gregory Salted Caramel Truffles were some of the most amazing things I’ve ever tasted . . . aside from these crazy good lemon-filled dark chocolates I tried later on. Really, only one stand was a bit of a miss; the rest were indulgent and ridiculous. I know I’ll probably eat a Cadbury bar later this week or next, but man. It’s so fun to be reminded of the really wonderful flavors that are out there. Sesame and lime milk chocolate candies, dark-chocolate quince treats, rich and gooey brownies.

Yeah, it was good. Really, really good. So good that I walked the 3 1/2 miles back to my apartment to try to burn off at least one of the truffles. Oh man.

Today I ran off a few more, as I participated in the Royal Parks Half Marathon. It was a great course, and I hit my personal best (2:05 and change) but am feeling really tuckered out. I raised money for Brainstrust; if you still haven’t given but want to, there’s still time! Just post a comment and I’ll e-mail you the link to donate.

Week two starts tomorrow . . . hopefully my legs will allow me to get to campus.

Friday

9

October 2009

0

COMMENTS

Week 1 – Check!

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I’ve attached below some pictures of the neighborhood, campus, and THE QUEEN.

The week was full of a lot of everything. A lot of class, a lot of reading, a lot of wandering the city. Yesterday it really started to feel like fall; it was bright and sunny but had that feeling of the sun being a bit lower in the sky. It’s chilly in my apartment – the heat only stays on for two hours at a time – so I’m getting a lot of use out of my sweatshirts, scarves and hoodies.

Classes are good. The lectures are great primarily (in my opinion) because they are true lectures – there’s really no Q&A piece. And you all know how much I loathe Q&A in most situations…

Tuesday I went to a lecture that was ostensibly on the penal system. I think the lecturer’s thesis was interesting, but I was so focused on staying awake (and on the fact that the seats seemed like a huge fire hazard) that I missed a lot.

The seminars are a bit different. They are supposed to only have 15 students (although the dissertation one has everyone in the program, or 28 of us), and are the appropriate place to discuss the readings and the lecture and go deeper into the week’s topic. One of my seminars has an amazingly obnoxious person in it – someone who starts sentences with “well, obviously” and continues on by stating something that is an opinion an by no means obvious or factual. That is possibly my least favorite type of comment, followed closely by the “let me tell you a story I want to tell so I can feel like I contributed but has no bearing on the discussion” comment. There were a couple of those in my seminar today (that’s right, I have a seminar on Friday mornings), but not nearly as bad as the obnoxious person from earlier in the week. Actually, he’s in my program, so I’m lucky I don’t have all of my seminars with him.

I’m done with my required readings for week two (that’s what happens when I have two days off during the week), so this weekend is for fun in London! I’m sure I’ll study some on Sunday to prepare for my four hours of lectures on Monday, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy some of the uniquely London events around town.

And Sunday is the Royal Parks Half Marathon. If you want to contribute and still haven’t, there’s still time!

Finally, the Queen. She was at St. Paul’s for this: UK Armed Forces Memorial. Apparently two of the three princes were there (Charles and William), as was the Prime Minister. But I timed my walk home well – I got to the barriers about five minutes before she exited, and was able to get a few pictures.

Thursday

8

October 2009

0

COMMENTS

Shhhhhhh

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I’ll post something this weekend about my classes – spoiler alert: they’re awesome – but I have to get this out so that I don’t turn into the mean old lady who keeps the ball the neighbor kids kick into her backyard.

My apartment is on the lower (basement) level. To allow for sunlight, the basement apartments all have these awesome, massive old windows, and there is essentially a moat around the building to allow for sunlight. In my case, that moat is covered by a grate that serves as the disabled-access ramp to the building. It was a bit loud on move-in day, but has been quite since.

Unfortunately, my apartment is directly below the front door / reception. What this means is that everyone who smokes convenes essentially in front of my apartment (albeit about eight feet above) at all hours. If they’re making their way back from the pubs, they stop and hang out in front first. And these windows, while old and stately, do nothing to keep out the cold, let alone the high-pitched slightly-drunken squeals of over-stimulated graduate students living in a foreign country for the first time.

I’m exhausted. I’d love to sleep in (it’s pretty calm in the mornings), but I have to be up at 7 for a 9 AM class. It’s quiet now, but generally these moments of silence last just long enough for me to *almost* fall asleep, only to be awakened from that odd pre-dream state where one’s heart starts racing and it takes a minute to figure out what just happened. I have one of those noise block Brookstone toys, but like an idiot I plugged it into an adaptor without a converter, and  blew out the plug. Tomorrow I will track down batteries or a British voltage plug, but for now –

Oh goodie. They’re back. Arg.

Wednesday

7

October 2009

0

COMMENTS

Postman’s Park

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Before my wonderful camera – which I purchased from Herman, who had lent it to me when I went to Ireland the first time – went to the big photomat in the sky, I took these pictures of Postman’s Park. It was envisioned as a memorial to those average people who died while saving the lives of others. The memorials went up in the late 1800s, and only lasted for a few years. However, they added another tile to the memorial in 2007.

You may recognize the first picture – Alice Ayers – if you’ve seen a production of (or the movie) “Closer.”

Stay tuned for some pictures of the neighborhood. It’s pretty interesting around here – a variety of architecture styles and cool winding streets and alleys.