altera ego

Monday, June 16, 2008

I don't really want to taste Marmite

I was told by a friend that while in London, I would write like never before.
Problem is, I don’t feel like it.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve mostly been doing things alien to me; or, rather, avoiding what’s kindred.
I don’t even feel like putting this up on my blog.
I keep thinking that when I move into my flat, or when I become used to work, or when Ben and Virus arrive, or when anything that’s not this & now will happen, I will begin to write again. I will begin to do yoga again. I will begin to be myself again.
When I am not working, or busying myself some other way, I would rather stare at the ceiling. Or stare at the sky. That’s the sad truth. A mourning feeling like when Oma passed and I felt her everywhere out there. A lack of words to sum it up.*
I know my friends back home are waiting to read all about it. Don’t I just love it here? Isn’t it wonderful? I don’t know how to explain that I’m almost alone, but wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The food sucks. Everything is bloodly expensive. The weather can be down right depressing. Here, my sense of smell has finally developed to recognize a permeating sweet scent of stench. I don’t really have anything good to say about this place, but you would have to tear me away from it kicking and screaming. I can’t explain it. Words fail me.*
So I have nothing to declare. Nothing to report.

I can say that I am packing. I will be moving out of P’s place this week. Of course, I feel nostalgic about leaving this room/house/court/street/neighborhood/daily tube ride. I’m a bit afraid of living alone too close to work, mostly because I don’t trust myself. I’ll become a hermit. I’ll revel in my solitude and in the excuse work provides. I’ll work late and come home and indulge myself in a long evening of staring at the ceiling or the sky. I can see myself becoming that woman already.

*What is it about words always coming up short??

Monday, January 07, 2008

Rain and lightening and thunder

It’s raining hard on Montreal tonight – forecast was for “faible pluie,” and I am considering the amount of bottled water and can preserves I should buy. New York is afraid of planes overhead, but we in Montreal get nervous once it starts raining in January. Ben says not to worry: no chill is forecast after the rain, but when was the last time the forecast could be trusted? The snow’ll melt, that’s for sure. Most of it. And all the dirt that’s been covered by it in the past month or so will surface. It’ll start to smell. Not that that’ll bother me much. I’ve been forever spared the lilacs and all the other springtime scents. It’ll surely snow again before the winter’s over. It’s been that kind of year. Warm. Last year the snow held off until mid-January, having birds and frogs appear out from hibernation. Then the frost came and they died. This year, it’s been just a bit colder. Cold enough for it to snow. Just so. What a lot of people don’t seem to know is that it can only snow when it’s relatively warm – warm for winter, that is. Temperature’s gotta be between -4 and 0 degrees for it to snow. Above that, it’s too warm and the snow turns to rain. Below, the snow freezes up there in the clouds; the sky becomes a sheet of frozen gray. Below that, it no longer snows. When it gets really cold, the snow becomes a frozen landscape, and it stays that way. A congealed world. It’s a cycle: the leaves fall off, it rains, and the rain becomes colder. Then it snows. And then it freezes over for a few months. Then it snows some more before the rain reappears. And then the rain becomes warmer until all the snow is melted away, and the leaves sprout out in a fury. That’s winter. Not +10 at Christmas. And not rain in January. So just in case…
- 4 big bottles of water (must find a spout)
- kerosene for the portable BBQ
- 12 cans of bean soup
- 8 cans of beans
- 8 cans of tuna
- 8 cans of salmon
- 2 big sacs of rice
- cans of veggies: green beans, green peas, baby carrots, beats
- fruits sauces: apple, pear, combinations
- 12 cartons of soya milk
- batteries for the flashlights
- candles, for when the batteries run out

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back in Montreal!

It’s now 5:45 Montreal time and I have been wide awake for the past 45 minutes. I’ve decided to relate how my trip has ended and, to my dismay, have discovered that I now have trouble with my keyboard… Quite annoying, such switches.

I will begin in chronological order.

Friday, my second to last day, I decided to get out of the center of London. I was not much in the mood for crowds and buildings. I was considering going to Oxford or Cambridge to check out those old schools that house old dreams of mine of studying Eng Lit in the UK, but instead I went to Maidenhead, a suburb to the West of London that not many people have heard about as I had before the time I got in touch with Marc-André on Facebook. We went to high school together and hadn’t seen each other since graduation. I spent the afternoon at his quaint suburban home and we chatted about London, the programming business, and caught up on the past years. I met his wife, a lovely woman. He is a father of one. The last time I saw him, he didn’t speak English.

By 6 PM I was at Canary Warf to pick Claire up from work. It is the most horrible part of London. Developed only recently, it is East of the old financial district and set like a peninsula in part of land surrounded by the Thames. I believe it used to be a port. Now, there is nothing but tall glass buildings. A landscape of glass buildings is a very barren view, one that the few posh pubs that line its ground surface, there to serve the hard-working anybodies in a suit, do not succeed at livening up. It was horrible. I also noticed that the tube stations in that area, just as at Westminster (the most tourist one), all have glass casing along the platform, separating the platform (people) from the train lines and wagon. The glass casing is equipped with doors that open and close as the tube wagons’ doors do. I described them to Claire as the Anti-suicide stations, which made her laugh. I am nonetheless convinced of it, all the more so seeing where these anti-suicide stations (or anti-pushing someone on the rails) are located.

After that we joined Pinakin in Soho for supper and a drink. Guy joined us a little later and we ended up drinking a bit more than expected. We found a club (not a pub, that stop serving at 11 PM) and busied ourselves on the dance floor. We had quite a good time. So much so that the next day, Claire and I pretty much stayed in and took it easy until later afternoon. Saturday night, I had supper with Matthew.

We met at Waterloo station. Matthew had been reading my blog so he knew what I had done (“You’ve done quite a bit!”), and had decided to show me a bit of London that my itinerary had neglected: Covent Gardens. We crossed over on a pedestrian bridge that has, in his opinion, the best view of London. On it there is a plaque that represents the Northern skyline and identifies the buildings. Covent Gardens is on the North shore of the Thames. It is indeed cute, but unfortunately in an overdone way. The old fruit market looks much like the village houses at Tremblant: renovated to look old. The area was mostly busy with tourists (Matthew had worn me about that on the bridge). A mix of restaurants and cobble stones, theatres and pubs. We had a drink and then went for supper in an Indian restaurant. He asked me about my opinions of London (had my thoughts on the food changed?) and we generally conversed about life in London and its surroundings. By ten past 11 he had to scoot off to catch his train and I was forced to walk through the neighborhood because the closest tube station was closed. Strangely, I heard more French (from France) in that area than English.

The next day Claire and I did some shopping so that I could get the last things on my list. We went down to Piccadilly Circus first and then made our way to Camden Town, where Pinakin lives. He came to join us at the tube station and accompanied us to his home (which he owns) before meeting his buddy Russ at a close by pub. After a meal and some drinks, we walked to Camden Market where I was told that I would be able to buy my brother’s extremely vague request of “something cool from London.” Now, my co-worker Michael had told me that Soho on a Saturday night was like the first scene in Blade-Runner. I went to Soho twice at night and could not see it. But Camden Market, even in the light of day, could have very well been the inspiration for that set. Pinakin told me that 10-15 years ago, the market was much smaller. It was located about old stables, and it eventually grew and morphed into a maze of alternative clothes shops, food stalls, antique stores and electronic music booths. I did indeed find there my brother’s “cool London” souvenir.

By the time we finished shopping, Russ had left us. Pinakin, Claire and I went to a pub where we drank and had supper. I liked the place quite a bit. I believe I like the neighborhood quite a bit also. It was like St-Henri, with it’s rich and poor, posh and marginal. Afterwards we went back to Pinakin’s, where we played some music and generally had a good time and stayed too late. (“Putain, il est minuit et dix!”) I’m glad I spent my last evening in London in their company.

The next morning (yesterday), it was cold and raining. I had stayed up later then Claire, doing my best at trying to get my luggage closed. I eventually succeeded, but the suitcase was too heavy and off balance, so the little trolley wheels didn’t quite work. With a broken heavy suitcase and an over-bulging packsack and purse, I slowly made my way to the tube station (sometimes carrying my suitcase, sometimes kicking it like a soccer ball, sometimes pulling it while walking backwards to be sure it was steady, and sometimes trying to push it along like an oversized curling stone), then transferred to another line, then made my way through the train station where a train would bring me to the airport. By the time I checked my luggage I was tired, sweaty, and my hands hurt. I was even glad that I had to check my packsack because the lighter my load, the better! I boarded the plane at 1PM and we took off at 1:30 on what has been the longest plane ride I have ever taken. By 11 PM I was in Montreal (6 PM Montreal time), and I fell asleep like a log three hours later.

I still have to unpack. I should do that now. Last night I basically gave Ben his gifts and showed him the last of my pictures. It’s strange to be back. It smells different here. It smells something I like. Maybe due to the fact that this city has so many trees? And it is much warmer in Montreal than it is now in London. It’ll be strange to be back at work (in 2 hours!). I must say, I really did enjoy my holiday.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Garbage in the Tube

Wednesday I had my lunch at the gate of Westminster Abbey. I had to rush off to get to the Globe, so I did not walk the 50 steps to throw my trash away into the bin near the entrance, figuring that I would dispose of my leftovers in a trash can along the way. None were to be found. I made my way past the Houses of Parliament, to the Westminster tube station, down in the tube on the platform, and still I hadn’t encountered one. I asked a security guard about it and he replied that there hadn’t been any trash cans in tube stations for the last 25 years for security reasons. Seeing me with my hands full of rubbish, he told me to simply leave it on the banister that stretched out along the platform wall. “Someone will come to pick it up. The stations are cleaned every half hour.” I can hardly believe that to be the case for every station because some don’t look so clean. Then again, I might have mistaken cleanliness with run-down. Nevertheless, in a London tube, it is strangely not frowned upon to litter. I guess, better safe than sorry.

This reminds me of a random act of kindness I saw on the tube that same day after the play. A woman on the platform was coughing something horrible. A young man, a stranger I presume, offered her what was left of his bottled water. She took it and thanked him. She asked him if he wanted it back; he said “no.” Grant it, I wouldn’t have taken it back, but then again I wouldn’t have offered it to her in the first place…

Thursday, September 20, 2007

DAY 10... or is it DAY 11???

I am in London and I am home sick. I am very well surrounded with friends, acquaintances and chance encounters, yet I miss my bosom buddies from back home. Every day I do several interesting things, and am starting to feel tired of it. I don’t think my body functions all that well on vacation… Because I am in London, I don’t allow myself to laze around and read. So I “do something,” and don’t laze around and read. I am starting to understand how people return from holiday more tired than they were before leaving!

I usually set out at around noon. I bring a lunch, which saves me oodles of money (more on that later). Yesterday I was a bit tight to go to the National Portrait Museum before the matinee at the Globe, so I passed by Westminster Abbey instead. I didn’t go inside because the fee is 10 £ (about 20 $ CDN) and had little time, so I took a few pictures of the outside before heading towards the South bank.

The Globe is a recreation of the theatre where Shakespeare worked and presented his plays. It is set pretty much where the original Globe was located. It is an Elizabethean theatre made of wood (uncomfortable seats), with an open roof (if it rains, you and the actors get rained on, and pigeons eventually become part of the performance) with an expanded stage that spreads into the parterre, where the 5£ ticket holders (that’s me!) stand throughout the play (that’s right, the parterre has no seats). I saw Love’s Labour’s Lost, a comedy. The Globe seeks to recreate the spirit of Shakespeare’s plays as they were presented 450 years ago, which means that instead of being scruffy old Shakespeare as most imagine, the plays include music, singing and dancing, there is lots of room for burlesque type physical comedy, and in a whole they are “popular” and coarse (and in some cases, down right vulgar). Also, they encourage the audience to participate in the play, much as viewers used to do, voicing their pleasure or discontent directly to the actors. The standing for 3 hours was a bit rough, but well worth it! It was funny, the actors were engaging and generally I had a great time. They are also showing The Merchant of Venice now, which could be interesting to do this week-end.

Afterwards I practically forced myself upon Valentine (poor thing), a friend of Claire’s who studied Industrial Design in London and now works here. It is the international design happening and thanks to her I got to attend Design Boom, and exhibit of a bunch of young and upcoming designers, from ceramics, to lighting, to textiles. The venue was strange and enchanting: two old side-by-side factories, haphazard, unfinished and unpolished, where the works were exposed in corners, some at the end of labyrinth passages, painted up to suit the needs of the exposed pieces. My co-worker Mike, who had mentioned this design week to me, can now be seriously envious of me! There were people from everywhere, and the imagination and talent of some of these designers is simply amazing. And Valentina is a darling. A memorable evening.

This evening, Claire and I went to the reading & discussion of Jonathan Coe’s new book: The Rain Before it Falls. It took place is a big bookstore on Piccadilly. To my great surprise, this 3 £ event attracted no more than 40 attendees, many of whom seemed to be foreigners like myself. I asked J Coe about it at the end during the signing, and he said that the British audience prefers the biographical type novel. Apparently the turnout was very successful for London. He also said that his Italian audience is much more enthusiastic, and that 12,000 people showed up at his reading in Italy.

Today I walked around a rich department store, Harvey Nichols. I was looking for Harrods, but never fell upon it. HN is overpriced. The customers were mostly older women. Dom’s sister had suggested I go there to try out the sushi bar that’s on the top floor. To my surprise, the food court is filled with bio and fine imported foods. Quite interesting to browse around. As for the sushi, I had decided it would be my lunch. They seat you down along a counter that has a conveyor belt on which various sushi dishes are strolled along. The dishes are colour coded for pricing. The meal was delicious. The sushis did not crumble when bitten into, the fish melt in my mouth, and they had little bean paste treats for desert. The whole meal included miso soup, 5 little plates, and water, and it set me back 23 £ (about 50 $CDN). So from now on I think I’ll be making myself some more lunches…

Today I did get a chance to go to the National Portrait Gallery between HN and J Coe. I found the museum very interesting, but my mood was a bit dampened by a headache. Meanwhile, an official launch was taking place on the ground floor called “Confessions to a Serial Womaniser: Secrets of the World's Inspirational Women” by Jeroo Roy. This city is quite a busy one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My pics!

I've found them!

I hope the link works with everybody.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

DAY 8: Beautiful London

A little while ago, I was discussing with Wolf and Denis M the practice of adding tunes to your iPod. I was saying that I was not used to listening to just a few songs form a particular artist, so that I still tended to put a whole album on my mp3 reader. Denis then said that he prefers listening to albums because the not-so-good songs balance out the good ones. He mentioned how he becomes sort of over-dosed with delight when there are too many songs he loves lined up one after the other for his hearing pleasure. At the time, I found his comment rather cute: it is such a Denis thing to say, to be over-dosed with delight. But here in London, where at every street corner I turn unto a new street as beautiful as the one I’ve just left, I at times feel overwhelmed with beauty and delight. The architecture is breathtaking. The streets, with their signs and cobble stones, are almost always pretty to the eye. And what isn’t pretty is it’s perfect opposite: scruffy, worn, street-chic. At times I feel like I’ve already seen it all, quite simply because London never cesses to offer up everything at once. When we’ve seen everything, do we really need to see more of it? To sicken ourselves on the beauty like children who eat too many sweets? And when it isn’t London proper, it is what it offers up. I went to see the Modern Japanese Crafts exhibit today at the British Museum: pottery, porcelain, lacquer of such beauty I could almost not contain myself. The exhibit is very small but very dense. My European friends don’t see London as I do. “Yes, but Claire, compare it too Montreal!” Indeed. Compared to Montreal, indeed.

I have been shopping. Nothing manic. I remained relatively contained. But it is quite difficult not to try everything on… just to try… And I’ve visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the Charles Dickens House Museum. I’ve eaten Fish & Chips, taken loads of pictures, went out in the East end (the “cool” spot for the new-grunge minded). I’ve visited Notting Hill, Soho, the South bank, the City, and Bloomsbury. Tomorrow, I plan to see “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at the Globe and would like to visit the National Portrait Gallery.

One last note for today: London is busy. It seems like there are people around, everywhere, all the time. To run into someone in the street is relatively common and, because it is a way of life here, people are still quite polite about it. It’s normal to run into people because they are all over the place!