Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

She’s alive!

Since February, I’ve:

  • been to India and back
  • had two short stays in Horsham and London
  • had an even shorter stay in Bordeaux, and a slightly longer stay in Marmande
  • spent an afternoon burning up in a hammam and sipping delicious tea
  • wandered around Paris discovering new parks
  • succumbed to H&M’s silky soft dresses
  • tripped and fell in front of a cafe-full of lunch-goers, horribly scraping my (still-recovering) knee in the process
  • said sad goodbyes to two of my favorite Assistantes
  • and heard back from all four graduate programs…

…and that’s why I haven’t written in this blog.

A quick round-up of travel expeditions results in these photos:

The primary purpose of my trip to India was to visit my grandmother. And there she is!

While visiting, I got to sit on this porch and watch beautiful sunsets over the Nilgiri Hills.

(Sunsets like this one, for example.)

I also got to soak up some sun and rest my eyes on some of the local flora.

...and take pictures of a naughty smile.

London was a quick trip to drop off my portfolio with Heatherwick Studios and check out their Rolling Bridge project. The portfolio drop-off didn’t lead to much, but the bridge was pretty cool in person, and I created this short video of it unrolling by shooting in paparazzi-mode on my Nikon.

I went to Bordeaux to visit a friend from VT who’s also doing an English assistantship. I felt very Parisian as I wandered the streets, thinking to myself, “Oh, wow, they’re so relaxed here. There aren’t any cars…it’s like I’m out in the country…” Which, all things considered, Paris is certainly not hectic when compared to New York…but when compared to anywhere else in France, it seems to be pure chaos. And when we got to Marmande, even Bordeaux seemed a bit too urban…

I spent my afternoon in Bordeaux wandering around old alleyways, getting yelled at by prostitutes when I wasn't even trying to take their picture. This presumable John was on the prowl at 2PM. Early to bed...early to rise?

Bordeaux also had some really cool textures, and I got a bit carried away taking pictures of door knobs and stonework, which is why there aren't awe-inspiring shots of Bordeaux's reknown monuments).

This was a bridge with an architecturally interesting form...and an unnecessarily strenuous climb.

As for stuff around Paris, I’ll try and go for a more detailed post later, with more pictures, of course.

And I didn’t forget the last thing on that list: remember back in the day, when I was stressing about my applications to Pratt, UC Berkeley, Yale and Harvard? Well I got into all of them! Now, I’m stressing about which one to choose. They’re all pretty expensive, though some are giving me a bit of financial aid…my heart is leaning one way, but I won’t say anything until I’ve done my choosing – and that’s soon! You (and I) will know by April 15, so look out for that Big News on this blog in the next week!

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Bonne Année! (For reals, yo.)

Captain’s Log. Week 2 (or so) of Holiday expedition. London, England.

The Brit and I made it to London on the 29th with little to no hassle (unlike another Eurostar trip or two that I know of), albeit a bit exhausted from a long day. As we dragged ourselves, and our bags (well, the Brit dragged mine), off the tube, up the stairs and in the vague direction of our hotel, who should we run into but Dino, Roomie, and Ray! Actually, what happened was this: I was sluggishly crawling out of the tube station, when I heard an excited squeal and a yelp that sounded something like my name, and was then engulfed by a large, black, puffy jacket, which when disengaged revealed itself to be a couple of bouncing, blond curls, also known as Roomie. Dino and Ray got hugs too, and after a round of introductions, dropping the bag off at the hotel, and saying goodnight to Ray, the four of us made our way over to a pub for a well deserved beer. After which we ‘crashed out,’ as the Brit says.

Birds of a feather…

It was Roomie’s first time in London, and lucky her – she had four excellent guides: two natives, and two…not so natives. Joining Roomie, Dino, the Brit and I for our goings about town was Mr. VK (another member of the anglais persuasion), who in his free time shows little Italian children around the British Isle, and so became the lead tour guide in our day’s excursion. The day’s events included the following (some images borrowed, sources cited):

  • The British Museum: Where Roomie stood next to an Easter Island statue (stolen from Easter Island), where we saw a bunch of mummies (stolen from Egypt), where Dino took us to see clocks (stolen from…?) and where we discovered a not-ancient crystal skull (stolen, but with no vodka inside – what a shame).

  • The Walking Tour of Everything: From Big Ben to Westminster. Okay, so that’s not a very far distance, but we did walk up and down Oxford street for what seems like ages, and over to Buckingham palace and the place where the guards are on horses, Carnaby Street and Trafalgar square (for a quick stop into the National Gallery), and all of this under a steady drizzle.
  • St. James’ Park: What distracted us from the infamous view of Buckingham Palace were the birds. Some, recognizable (pelicans, swans, gulls, pigeons, ducks, geese), some not-so-recognizable (check out the little guy below). This is also the Land of Very Brave Squirrels, as evidenced by one that tried to climb up Roomie’s leg.

  • The Crazy Candy Shop: Cyber Candy, where they have almost everything you could want, including Nerds (which is apparently what gets Mr. VK excited). Image courtesy of Dino.

The Italian Job

Now, this actually happened on the 30th, just like the rest of the events described above, but it’s very special and deserves its own section. Not because the food was exceptional (it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful, either), but because the service was…Bean-tastic, shall we say. And we ought to have guessed.

Clue number one: If you find three Italian restaurants in a row in Chinatown, remember you’re in Chinatown.

Clue number two: If your tour guide’s recommendation of “They’re all amazing!” is followed by “Well, I think so…I was pretty smashed, so I don’t remember much of any of them.,” do keep that in mind.

Clue number three: If the one restaurant you choose to enter calls itself ‘The Italian Restaurant,’ it probably isn’t.

Clue number four: If the staff avoids eye contact for more than 15 minutes while you huddle around the hostess stand, they’re probably not going to be much more helpful when you’re seated.

Clue number five: If they offer you the basement, just don’t do it.

Clue number six: If your waiter looks like Mr. Bean, and if your waiter acts like Mr. Bean, he probably is Mr. Bean. And that’s about the level of service you can expect

Well, here’s what happened. We weren’t seated for ages, and when we finally were, we were stranded in the Twilight Zone. The Italian waiter took an instant dislike to Mr. VK, for some reason (maybe something he’d done last time, something that he doesn’t remember?), and brought out four meals, completely ignoring Mr. VK’s appetizer and pizza. When we finally reminded him of the appetizer, he brought it down in a not-so-timely manner. He then must have completely forgotten about the pizza, and when his manager came downstairs, we reminded that bloke about poor Mr. VK’s dinner; of course, being yelled at by his manager probably didn’t put the Italian Waiter in a very good mood – so the pizza still didn’t show up.

In the mean time, the rest of us ate our meals. We were interrupted by the following events:

  • The couple at the next table over dined and dashed, I’m pretty sure.
  • An old man came down the stairs, turned on a string of Christmas lights, and went back up.
  • A woman brought down a little boy and girl, had them use the restroom, said something in French, then shuttled the troops up stairs.
  • Mr. VK went to the bathroom, at which point the Italian waiter attempted to descend the stairs, saw he was missing, decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort, heaved the heaviest sigh in the Twilight Zone, and marched back up.

Finally, some waitress must have been banished to the basement, because she appeared out of nowhere and had Mr. VK’s pizza down in 15 minutes; the rest of us had finished eating, of course, and we were all itching to go. The Italian waiter came back around, pulled out his pad as though to take our dessert orders, then said “No.” and walked away.

By the time we got our bill, he’d added a charge for a bottle of still water that was supposedly on the house and we (minus Mr. VK) were hungry again. Incredibly tempted to dine and dash as our fellow diners had earlier, we resisted the urge by paying for the meal but not leaving any tip what so ever (not even the “included” service charges). It was, on one hand, a truly abysmal dining experience; but on the other, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strange parade of events occur around a meal, and the food itself wasn’t half bad, so….

The last day of two thousand and nine.

To end 2009 we went and saw really big things.

  • Dinosaurs: I can’t decide if I was more impressed by the dinosaur bones in the exhibit, or the design of the exhibit and the building itself. If not for the dinosaurs, I think the Natural History Museum would be worth a visit anyway: the over-the-top ornament (with monkeys scaling beak-footed columns), while not my aesthetic, can certainly be appreciated for its technical skill.

  • An enormous column: Or, the V&A museum, which houses a plaster cast of an enormous obelisk from Italy, to be precise. Of all the things in the V&A, (and we saw quite a bit – architectural models, glass work, silver work, jewels, clothing…) I think I was most impressed by the object pictured below.

  • Fireworks! We arrived at the Thames at 18:00, and there were already plenty of people there. Luckily, we managed to find a spot almost directly across from the London Eye, and so had quite the view of the show. For the next six hours, we shivered in our boots (the heat packs stuffed by our toes stopped working after hour 2), chowed down on sandwiches and gummy candies, and tried not to listen to the DJ’s terrible taste in music. But the chattering teeth and frozen toes were worth it – the show was incredible. My favorite bit was when they filled the sky with golden fireworks.

…and the first of two thousand and ten.

It snowed for a few minutes after the fireworks as we weaved our way through the crowd searching for the nearest tube station; I’m told that’s supposed to be good luck, but it wasn’t helping us find the tube! We wandered for at least an hour before we finally found an open station that wasn’t stuffed to the brim with people, and chugged our way back to the hotel, where we met up with a friend of the Brit’s for a champagne toast and a couple of rounds of Catchphrase.

After napping away the early hours of 2010, we perked up as our tummies started grumbling. They led us to some street food (a sausage with fried onions, ketchup and mustard in a hot dog bun – mmmm) and then to wander down the Thames River Walk to burn off those oh-so-tasty calories. We dropped off the Brit’s friend near Tower Bridge, and then headed to grab some dinner before one of the coolest things in the world: The Lion King, the musical.

Dinner was at Sophie’s Steakhouse (near Covent Garden), and the theater where we saw The Lion King was only a few steps away. The food and service were much, much, much better than at The Italian Restaurant. I had fish pie, it was some of the tastiest fish pie I’ve eaten (by the way, whoever said English food is bad was lying – I quite like fish pie and fish and chips and bangers and mash and Yorkshire pudding…). The Brit wasn’t feeling too well, but after we drugged him (hush you, the over-the-counter pain-killer kind of drugs) he was in better spirits and ready for the awesome that is The Lion King, the musical.

Now, did I mention how amazing the musical version of The Lion King is? There are reviews abound, so I won’t bother with the details, but will let you know that the costumes were fantastic (both amazing and fantastical), the guy that played Zazu was brilliantly witty (more than filled Rowan Atkinson’s animated shoes), and the wildebeest scene was a surprisingly authentic reproduction of the film. You’ll just have to go see it to know what I mean.

And that, dear readers, ends our stay in London. Dino, Roomie and I said our good-byes to the Brit early the next morning as we boarded the Eurostar to pillage and plunder Paris. But that is a story for another day…

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Sunny ol’ England, Part II

We now present the second portion of Amrita’s first visit to the UK.

So, where was I? Ah yes, one more museum.

#6: The British Museum. I’m a huge fan of the atrium Foster did at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, so of course I wanted to see the “original,” so to speak.  Foster’s first attempt at the technique was actually at the British Museum, and on our last day in London, the Brit and I decided to check it out.  Well, we made it over to that part of town around lunch time and were both really hungry.  I was determined to eat fish ‘n’ chips before I left England. We walked up and down three streets, apparently the only streets in London that don’t have a fish ‘n’ chips place or a pub, spent over an hour looking for a place and finally gave up.  We grabbed a quick lunch of baked potato and wandered back to the museum.  Guess what we found on the street right beside Foster’s masterpiece? Yes, a handful of pubs and fish ‘n’ chip joints.  Go figure.

Britmus

The atrium at the British Museum. We checked out the actual exhibits, too. The English stole a lot of really nice ancient artifacts.

#7: Hyde Park. I did mention that it was surprisingly sunny and warm for late September when I visited London, right? The Brit and I went for a leisurely walk through Hyde Park, and as we both have incredibly sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), and it was such a gorgeous day, we nibbled on some ice cream as we made our way around the Serpentine.  Deliciously romantic.  When I told Roomie about it, she proposed a Flight of the Conchords analogy, though I’m not sure who is Bret and who is Jermaine…

Not my photo, but that's the park! Thoughts on Hyde vs. Central?

#8: Friends. I was definitely excited about visiting London, because as a design student visiting a new city is a fun way to add to your visual vocabulary. And, of course, I was excited about seeing the Brit after a five-month separation.  One thing I was slightly nervous about was meeting his friends, as anyone in a budding relationship will know. Especially when he told me I’d be meeting two of his oldest friends! But it all went well, no awkward conversations, a lot of joshing around and, as they say, taking the piss.  I think our two groups would mesh rather nicely, though the opportunity for that is a bit slim, since they’re separated by an ocean (or the Equator, in the case of Queen of the Lab).  There’s more to be said on this subject in the post about the next UK visit, as that was the primary goal of the trip.

#9: Slang. Of course, when you’re friends with or dating someone who speaks another language (yes, American English and UK English are different languages) or is from a different culture, you spend a bit of time discussing the socio-linguistic differences. I spent one incredibly funny evening in London hanging out with the Brit and one of his old friends discussing the actual definition of “douche” and the appropriate time to use the word.  Then I learned all kinds of terrible British slang, some of which should never be repeated (um, “wank tank”?), and some of which might come in handy one day.  For example, who knows what “chuffed” means?  Urban dictionary has it kind of right: to be surprised and happy, as in, “I can’t believe I won the lottery, I’m so chuffed!”

#10: Food. And if you know me well enough, you know I can’t visit a place without talking about their food.  The highlights of cheap London dining are as follows. Sandwich places are delicious, the English have mastered the salad sandwich, i.e. chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad.  They even have chicken tandoori sandwiches, which just sounds wrong, but tastes sooooo good.  The Brit’s mom made us dinner most nights, and it was nice to have some home-cooking (delicious at that) to break up the daily eating out; she made a variety of things, from this Asian-inspired chicken dish to a casserole-esque dish. I don’t know what they were called, I just know they were yummy.  Oh, and at one point we ate out at this South American restaurant, where for £12 we got the largest meal in the world: a steak with an egg on top, lots of rice, salad, beans.  It was iHop sized. The steak was cooked just right.

Well that’s the round-up of the first London trip.  It was quite whirlwind, we covered a bit of ground (physically and topically) in only 4 days. I was sad to leave, but as soon as I saw the Eiffel tower on my way to the apartment, things started to pick back up.

Next time, on Jumping over the lazy dog: Amrita has her first full week of teaching. Dun dun dun.

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Sunny ol’ England, Part I

I have a theory.  God made England sunny for a September weekend so that when I visited London, I’d find it quite pleasant and want to come back, thus not disappointing the Brit and causing him to spend oodles of his own cash with mandated trips down to Paris because I’m terrified of coming up to face yet another rainstorm. As it turned out, it was the Brit’s trip down to Paris that resulted in a downpour or two, and my last trip back up (just a week ago) was pleasant with only a few drops of rain and gusty winds – yes, even in Scotland!

In case you don’t believe me, I thought I’d give you some evidence that England can, in fact, be sunny.  Consider this our first flashback.  All the way back to September, when I left the US (for quasi-good) on a jet plane headed to Gatwick Airport.

I arrived in London at dawn, and after a confusing half-hour stumbling around the airport looking for a coffee shop in the wrong terminal (that’s what happens when you arrive in a country without a cellphone and no calling card), I managed to meet up with the Brit and he shuttled me off to his country estate. Ok, not estate, but rather a nice little house in a charming town called Horsham.  After a recuperative nap and some unpacking, we took a walk around town and through the park, where we ran into the Brit’s paternal unit. A brief chat later, we snagged lunch (a real English sandwich!) and did some more wandering before heading back home to meet the maternal unit and one half of the sibling set.  The meet-the-parents routine went rather well, I think, though I felt bad for bringing a bottle of wine when his mum doesn’t drink (but I’m making amends with my next trip up).

The next three days were devoted to London and trying not to miss our trains. We did a lot of walking, I think I counted 7 miles covered in one day, and saw a lot of the mandated tourist destinations.  I’ve got a couple of images from my own camera, before I discovered the sensor had been splattered with dust, and then a couple from the Brit’s camera that will serve as guides to this exciting narrative.  And just for kicks, I thought we’d go sight by sight, rather than follow a timely chronicle, since I can’t remember what we did first, but I certainly remember what we did.  So here’s the London Top Ten, in no particular order.

#1: The London Eye. You can’t miss it if you go to London, and it’s a great way to orient yourself in the city – kind of what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Structurally I found it quite beautiful, and the view from the top was well worth the price and the wait.  The British certainly like to queue up.  Although I couldn’t help but think of that Doctor Who episode every time I saw this landmark…also, there was some random 4D movie experience, basically an excuse to get misted and have wind blown in our face, with some 3D effects that were better than Disney’s, while watching cool shots of the Eye and some little girl.

eye01
It doesn’t look so big, until you realize each one of those little pill-like cabins contains 15-20 people.
eye02
It’s like a huge, turning, bicycle wheel. But it moves incredibly slowly, so it didn’t seem to activate my fear of hights / motion sickness.
eye03
Better than seeing the Eye from the ground? Seeing sunset over London from the Eye! Who wants to guess the time?
The view from the top.
The view from the top.

#2: Big Ben. If you have to see the Eye, then you can’t help but hear Big Ben. I found its architecture interesting, though I prefer the proportions and detailing of monuments in Paris. When we were at the top of the London Eye, in true British style, a gent asked me for the time. And as a truly ditsy American, I searched my purse for a watch, Big Ben ticking away behind me, while the rest of the cabin laughed.

bigben01
The infamous Big Ben was actually one of the first things we saw. We saw it again and again the next few days, but for some reason I only recall hearing it ring once or twice…
bigben02

Big Ben at night, doesn't he look handsome?

#3: Buckingham Palace. So, we didn’t get to see the changing of the guard, and we didn’t go inside the Palace or the Gardens, but I did get to see a guard and he walked around a bit, so it was almost the same.  It was weird thinking that this essentially huge McMansion belongs to a little old lady that happens to be very rich and the (decorative) head of a small island/important country.  And that Prince Charles grew up there, funny ears and all.

Buckpal

That's the guard! And okay, so he moved a total of 10 feet...but he did change positions!

#4: Piccadilly Circus. The Brit describes this plaza as London’s version of the Big Apple’s Times Square.  I will say, it was cleaner than Times Square.  It was also smaller than Times Square, like waaaaaay smaller. I guess everything is bigger in America. But the tiny size and it’s great aspirations only made it quaintly adorable. Wait a minute, that sounds like an apt way to describe England itself…

piccad

It has a lot of moving images, which are interestingly hard to capture on still digital "film."

#5 Trafalgar Square, National Gallery. The Brit and I made it a tradition to approach relevant bits of public sculpture from the rear, and then forget to see them from the front.  We made an exception for Trafalgar Square, only because walking around the sculpture was key to our getting on our way. The National Gallery itself was beautiful, architecturally, and I was especially fond of its bathrooms – one of my professors always said, you can tell how well a space is designed by how much thought is given to the bathrooms, as they tend to be an afterthought.  The art in the gallery was your usual smattering of stuff, though I particularly enjoyed the Turners on display.

trafsq

From the rear at sunset, as we saw it. Take note of the sliver of moon on the right.

That’s it on London for now.  Look for Part II shortly!

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Across the pond…

Greetings! The recent lull in the blog department corresponds directly to a bit of jet-setting that took me to London for a brief tour and then to Paris to settle into my room chez Mimi (that’s the family friend I’m living with).  And I know the story about the road trip has ended on a cliff-hanger…never fear, the conclusion will be revealed in a later post.

Now, I know you’re all itching to see pictures of London, and hear about my adventures there…but there was a mishap with my camera.  I have somehow, despite all precautions to the contrary, managed to get some more dust in my SLR’s sensor.  So I had to use the English boy’s camera…and the pictures are with him.  But don’t worry, they’ll show up on the blog by the end of the month!

What I do have pictures of, despite the dust embedded in the camera body, is my room! I was a bit antsy about moving in, as I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it’s a beautiful apartment, and my room is just *so* quaint.  I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence, but it’s decked out in reds, yellows and oranges – and as we all know, orange is my favorite color! So it worked out perfectly.

My room with a view.

My room with a view.

I have plenty of room for my clothes in the armoire (the door in the back, far left), a couple of shelves for my books and art supplies, a private shower and sink (the door in the back, far right) and a WC right next door, plus the piano (which Mimi says is a bit out of tune, but that’s better than nothing!).  I get a private entrance through the kitchen as well, and about ten paces out the door I have a view of the Panthéon (I didn’t realize how close it was on the map, not even a minute away!) and in the other direction, a view to the Eiffel Tower.

So far in Paris I’ve been trying to settle in and sort out some paperwork.  I arrived on Sunday via train, took the Eurostar from St. Pancras in London to Gare du Nord in Paris.  I sat next to a really sweet Australian family, and as usual, wound up spending the trip chatting about cultural differences and what not. A lucky thing, too, that I got along with my co-passengers, because they were able to help me lug my two HUGE suitcases from the train to the taxi stand.

After unpacking I met with a couple of other American assistantes.  We had dinner at a small restaurant in the Latin quarter, and I must say, for €12.40, I got a pretty decent 3 course meal and a couple of glasses of wine.  Plus, the view out the window was of an old church, and I entertained myself by watching pigeons squabble.  The rest of the girls seem fantastic, we’ve exchanged email addresses and I’ll be seeing them tomorrow during our orientation.

Monday was a productive day…I discovered that nothing really opens until 9:30 or 10:00 anyway, so I let myself sleep in a bit, then wandered over to Les Halles to purchase a mobile phone.  Now, here’s a bit of a challenge: I got the phone just fine, and it came with €5 of minutes (11 minutes), and I was told I could recharge it online or via the phone itself.  Well, when I try to recharge it online, it won’t accept my American credit card, and when I try to charge it via the phone, it asks for some random password that I wasn’t aware I had! So I’m thinking I’ll need a French CB (carte bancaire) before I can refill it online…but I don’t get a CB until I get a bank account, which won’t happen until after Saturday…which means another trip to the phone store to purchase minutes manually so that I can actually use my phone in October.

While at Les Halles I also grabbed a map of Paris – one of those Paris par arrondissement deals that’s in a little book and doesn’t make you look like a tourist unfolding the largest map in the world while standing on a street corner muttering to yourself, “Where’s the damn Tower again?”

After a break midday for some lunch (un sandwich jambon beurre – how I’ve missed those!) I did some shopping.  No, I didn’t get any cute French clothes…just the essentials.  There’s an Ed supermarché (kind of like Kroger, but different) right down the street and I bought some basic groceries – pasta, sauce, some fruits, cheese, etc.  On the other side of the neighborhood there’s a Monoprix which is kind of like Target or Walmart (but also completely different) and I bought some cute dishes and silverware and the regular assortment of shampoos and soap.  I didn’t think it would be an adventure, but let me tell ya, I have a hard enough time deciding which shampoo is right for me when the descriptions are in English…at least they had Garnier and the color coding made it a bit easier to figure my way through the massive choices! Interestingly, they didn’t have any conditioner, just shampoo…or if they did, I was completely lost as to where I could find some! I’m still on the hunt for some chapstick; oh, and gum here is ridiculously expensive.  No way am I paying €3.50 for only 12 sticks!

Today’s plan had me hunting down the Navigo pass.  Mine’s a bit pricey, because I’m staying in Paris (Zone 1) and working in Roissy-en-Brie (Zone 5), but I’m supposed to get a 40-50% discount from the school.  I also went and scheduled an appointment to set up a bank account.  I’m meeting with a representative from Le Crédit Lyonnais on Saturday, and will be rounding up my paperwork this week.  Still to do: add money to my cellphone, send off some paperwork for immigration, and grab a FUSAC to find some part-time boulot. Allons-y!

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