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What’s Buggin’ Me May 21, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
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The weather in England is fabulous, so what could be wrong? I’ve been through two, count them TWO, computer adaptors, and I’m now running on the second battery. T’was not meant to be. But, I just had to post this photo of a poster I took in the window of a shop at Southwold.

I’m half-way round the world and the first thing I thought of when I saw it was, “Bug Girl (on my blogroll) would love this!”

Lesley and I had an outrageously fun day in London. We went to the National Gallery first. Touring a gallery with Lesley is oh so educational.  She studied Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, in which Venus lounges while Mars is having a snooze, and announced, “They’ve obviously just had sex, he’s smoked a fag and is already asleep.” I think these cultural exchanges are invaluable.

When I return, I shall post about our romp through The Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern, and resting on the crypts of some of Britain’s most historic personages. In the meantime, Lesley and I are conspiring to win the Turner Prize, and there are chickens that need tending. From across the pond.

Always, Jan

Leaving on a Jet Plane May 16, 2009

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Forget what clothes I should pack. I’m too busy trying to figure out which cables, battery chargers, and atomic reactors I need to take to keep me and my Significant Other (Mac) up and running in England. Then there’s the cell phone and the digital camera…  So much for getting away from it all! If you’re feeling a tad envious that I’m jetting off, just reread Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet. Feel better now?

Photo Credit: Leaving on a jet plane by Aky B on Flickr.

London Calling May 9, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Travel.
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Screen shot of Lesley showing me her date book so I would pick a date.

I’m off to England, I’m off to see the queen!  No, not THAT old girl – my friend Lesley, a sassy redhead, who could teach the royals a thing or two about having a good time.

“You know this is all quite mad?” Lesley said as we chatted via SKYPE. But it wasn’t so much of a question as a statement of fact.

But some days, I think the whole world’s gone mad. Fortunately, I subscribe to the “Life is short, eat dessert first” school of thought. So, when I found out I got accepted to graduate school (See Masters of the Universe), I knew I needed to reward myself before I got bogged down with classes two nights a week for the next year. And since the classes start only four days after the last day of school in June, it had to be soon – before the end of school.

Lesley and I met via the internet less than two years ago. When she invited my husband and me to come to England to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her family in 2007, all of our friends thought we’d both gone quite mad. (See Thinking of England) But, we’re two crazy redheads, and yes, everything they say about redheads is true! I once read an interview with a man who’d lived to be 105. He said his secret to a long life was he stayed away from “wine, whiskey, and red-headed women.” Poor old sot!

After Lesley and her family spent two fabulous weeks with us last summer, we both worried it would be too long until we met again. So, I couldn’t believe it when she’d offered to pay half my airfare just to get me over there. I found a cheap enough flight, so I’m going on my own dime. I was able to sandwich (as in The Earl of…) the trip in between Testing and Open House, so I’ll only miss five days of school. The MANDATORY MEETING for grad school is May 15th. On May 16th, I’m outta here til May 25th.

We’re taking the train to London for a day to see the art at the Tate Modern and the National Gallery. The rest of the time, I’ll be blissfully enjoying English village life in Framlingham where we plan to sit out front of The Dancing Goat cafe each morning, have breakfast, and watch the world go by.

I’m still deciding whether to take my laptop along so I can blog from the UK. I’ve been known to get “the DTs” (Digital Tremors) when deprived access to the internet for too long. I’m SO not PC –  as in I don’t do PCs, so I might have to pack my Mac. Okay, I’m taking it. You should know that we redheads are prone to impulsive behavior, but we DO know how to have a good time.

Can’t help but add Mad World from one of my all-time favorite movies, Donnie Darko.

Thinking of England December 30, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Travel.
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littleengland

I was done writing cloying holiday posts, but then my friend Nora sent me this Christmas ornament. It arrived in a big box delivered on Christmas morning and was handed to me by an exceptionally cheery guy from Fedex, who smelled of pine and overtime.

Alas, I tried to pry the little suitcase open, hoping to find a miniature raincoat and Wellies, but no luck. It did remind me though of what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we’d just arrived in England so I could finally meet Lesley, the friend I’d met via the internet only months earlier. Yes, it was all crazy, but some things in life are meant to be. I made up a cover story so my parents wouldn’t worry – something about visiting people we’d met in California.

I didn’t even know Lesley’s real name and actual address til the week before we left. At one point I emailed her and asked if she wasn’t concerned that we might be serial killers and she could end up in a shallow grave, what with us being Americans and all. Lesley was nonplussed. She informed me her brother was a police detective in Ipswich, so we’d never get away with it.

When we staggered off the plane at Heathrow, there was Lesley and her husband, Ian, waiting. We fortified ourselves with coffee (Yes!) and then made the two-hour drive back to Framlingham in Suffolk. All bodies were accounted for.

England was a dream. Cold and grey, but after the relentless California sunshine, England seemed so utterly – English! We toured the local castle, queued up for fish and chips in Aldeburgh, and trapsed the cobblestone streets of Cambridge. We spent the most memorable New Year’s Eve ever at a posh hotel outside London as their guests. A piper escorted us into a magical wonderland where we sat at a table awash with glitter and crystal. There was unlimited champagne and the revelers sang every rousing verse of “Rule Brittannia” and “Oh Jerusalem” while balloons whooshed overhead like incoming missles.

I figured this was how the English celebrate, what with the waving of the Union Jack and the English flag of St. George until Lesley disabused me of this notion. She looked almost aghast and confided this was all rather over the top – downright Las Vegas-y. (said with a wrinkle of the nose). Oh. How ironic that the first song everyone danced to was “La Bamba.” Pacoima posh.

But the soundtrack for our visit was Amy Winehouse’s CD, which greeted us each morning after Lesley yelled, “Get up, you lazy bastards!” That’s what you call the Queen’s English, I believe. I was surprised that the grass was green in January and most of the houses had red tile roofs mottled with moss, while others were thatched. Indian restaurants were “curry houses” and  “bits and pieces” is English for what we call leftovers or odds and ends. Following this logic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was made from bits and pieces.

But this is the memory I hold dearest. We’d all agreed to eat a late dinner, so while everyone else took a nap, Lesley and I stole away in the dark. Not only was it cold, it was spitting rain. We followed a winding route along a path marked “Lover’s Lane,” which led over a hill. I lost my sense of direction and imagined being adrift out on the moors, even though there were no moors, and we could see the lights of nearby houses. We were taking the back way to Lesley’s favorite pub, The Station, once actually the village train station.

Never could I have imagined how welcoming a English pub could be on a cold winter’s night. A three-foot wide cloud of mistletoe floated in front of the bar. (The bartender, Gareth, is also an arborist.) It was still early and not yet crowded. Lesley asked if we could sit in the “snug,” a small room behind the main pub and off the kitchen. A party had reserved the room, but they weren’t due for an hour so we got the okay.

The snug was aptly named. There was a crackling fire and it was just big enough for two long farmhouse tables which had been set for dinner. It looked like a medieval feast was in the offing. Lesley and I sat at one end of the table and she ordered a bottle of red wine. You could hear the clanking of pots in the kitchen and the pop of the fire. Aside from a plastic child’s highchair folded up in the corner, it probably looked the same as it did a hundred some years ago. (Okay, white Christmas lights outlined the windows.)  As we sat there sharing a bottle of wine by candlelight, this is what went through my mind: I can’t believe I’m sitting here in this magical place with this amazing person I met on the internet! I must take in every detail and commit it to memory because this is the one of the most amazing nights of my life!

We talked and drank, and talked some more. When we’d finished the bottle, we bid farewell to Gareth, and walked back home to join the others. It is this memory that warms my heart when I’m thinking of England.

Back to Reality July 26, 2008

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It took two cars to transport my friends from England to LAX with all their plunder. They gave it their all trying to buoy the U.S. economy. Lesley spent valiantly until the very end. Down to her last $20, she fixated on a lawn ornament at Joanne’s, a metal stake that featured a pyramid of farm animals. She carried this Americana saber around for half an hour before finally admitting it wouldn’t fit in her suitcase.

Instead, Lesley bought some new fangled things, evidently unavailable in England, called paper napkins.These matched the stack of plastic picnic plates she’d purchased on sale. Hey, the dollar is worth only 50 percent of the English pound and all items were 60 percent off. If you do the math, the cashier was handing out cash.

Facing the 11-hour flight back to Heathrow, our friends were in no great hurry to leave until I told them the tonic had run out. That sent them packing. Now we’re left with a big bottle of gin, no tonic, and sadly, no houseguests.

Who could ever have imagined that I’d meet someone over the internet, jet off to spend New Year’s Eve with their family in England, and they’d be sitting out on my porch in sunny California sipping G&Ts six months later? When Richard left for the airport with Ian and Lucy, he said they both waved to our house and said, “Goodbye our American home!”

So, after hosting a two-week long party that made the Boston Tea Party look like a rather sedate and proper affair, it’s back to reality. Reality sucks.

Here’s the skinny on the cultural exchange between the Brits and the Americans. Let’s keep score. (If you’re a teacher, you might want to use a Venn diagram.)

The British learned:

People in LA are way nicer than people in snotty San Francisco.

People in the U.S. have pigs living inside and broom closets outside.

If you use the toilet at a restaurant, someone will take away your salad.

The sun may never set on the British Empire, but it’s always sunny in California

If you order a hamburger “without salad,” you have to also specify that you don’t want lettuce, tomato, or anything green.

The Dewey Decimal system is alive and well in America. (Lesley made a surprise spot check)

Americans eat these strange contraptions called artichokes. Then, after performing a bizarre cutting ritual, consume their hearts, which are actually quite tasty.

The Americans learned:

Brits call leftovers “bits and pieces.”

Brits take this shagging thing quite seriously and also engage in something referred to as snogging, which they say the Scots also do with sheep. We talked about joining them in Scotland to check our the veracity of this claim.

Brits refer to the lowly rhinestone as “diamonte” and covet it like raccoons.

People from Manchester, England are referred to as Manculians, which is just downright kinky.

I’d say it was an even exchange with the common currency being laughter. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard and so much in ages. What’s funny is that after all my obsessing about where to take my visitors, they seemed to be happiest when sitting out “in the garden.” That’s Brit-speak for a patio. They wallowed in the sun, as I believe it took them two full weeks just to dry out. After a few days they were casually stepping over the pig and throwing the mousetraps back on the couch, so the dogs wouldn’t sit on them. In short, they made themselves at home.

I can hardly wait to say, “Hello English home” again. Hugs across the pond to all my friends in the UK.

Bienvenidos al Los Angeles June 22, 2008

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The British are coming! The British are coming! One by land, two by sea. Okay, make that three by air. My friend, Lesley, and her family are flying in from the UK on July 8th. This is their first visit to the states, or the colonies as I refer to them, and they’re eager to see Los Angeles.

There are so many things to see and do in LA that I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Future diplomatic relations between the UK and its petulant offspring, the US, could hinge on my choices. I don’t want to muck this up like George W. And the timing couldn’t be better, what with the price of a gallon of gas fast approaching that of a vial of Botox. Of course, for each kilometer they fly west, their wallets grow fatter. So America beckons like one giant factory outlet.

I met Lesley on the internet late last summer. After a flurry of emails, and several conversations via SKYPE, she invited my husband, Richard, and I to come to England to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Crazy? Absolutely! But we had such a fabulous time now they want to see how how those wacky Americans live.

Yes, there’s lots of history in Pasadena, but really! As Eddie Izzard said, “I come from Europe – you know, where history is from.” When we were in England we toured the local castle, where Mary Tudor aka Bloody Mary (not to be confused with the urban Bloody Mary who haunts the bathrooms of elementary schools) mustered her supporters in 1553, before being crowned Queen. We walked the streets of Framlingham, their incredibly quaint 17th century village and toured the local church,  which traces its origins to the 12th century. No  I won’t be playing the history card.

When we were in the UK, we trapsed through castles, and along the cobblestoned streets of Cambridge.  We queued up for fish and chips in Aldeburgh on the North Sea. But what do I remember most? The people! For one thing, I’d never seen so many people who looked vaguely like me or so many redheads, including Lesley. But mostly, I remember how lovely the people were. Once we’d mentioned that we thought George W. was the village idiot, people embraced us like the long lost relatives that we probably are.

It helped that Lesley is the town librarian in a town of 2600 people. The library is located in a 300-year-old building that’s a gathering spot for local folk. Think of it as Starbucks, only the books are free. No espresso, but there was a pot of coffee brewing. So much for the stereotypical, “Would you like a cuppa…?” People popped in to pick up DVDs they ordered or for just the chance to chat up Lesley and her co-workers, Sally and Crawford.  It was a delight just to walk about the town with Lesley, who knew everyone!

So what should I show my friends? It’s made me think about what it is I find so unique about this place called Los Angeles, the most multicultural city in America. The place I call home.

I definitely want Lesley and her family to meet our friends and neighbors, a diverse lot indeed. While they’re here, my neighbors, Chuck and Chris, are having a block party to celebrate Chuck’s 50th birthday. They’re also celebrating 10 years of being partners and their house’s 100th year. I’ll count that as history in the making.

And then there’s the food. In Framlingham, we ordered out from the “curry house” one night for fabulous Indian food prepared by the local Pakistanis. Since Fram is an hour east of London, that’s about as diverse as it gets. I recently sent Lesley an email detailing some of the food options. Mexican food and margaritas, Cuban food at The Cuban Bistro in Alhambra, Spanish tapas at La Luna Negra, Thai food from Saladang, sushi, Chinese dim sum, and kick-ass bar-b-q from the new Gus’s in South Pasadena, and a late night stop at In-N-Out Burger. Maybe we’ll get lucky and my next door neighbor, Stella, will whip up one of her Greek specialties which she loves to share.

If my house guests get homesick, we can always take them out for Indian food. But at our local Indian restaurant, the cook is Latino. Only in America.

I couldn’t believe it when Lesley told me she’d never heard of Target. And I thought England had come out of the Dark Ages centuries ago! After a visit to Target, I’ll take her for a look-see at Costco. I don’t think she believed me when I told her you can only purchase soy sauce in a gallon-sized gasoline can.

Then there are the artichokes and the avocados to be enjoyed on the patio with pitchers of sangria. Trader Joe’s alone is worth a trip across the pond. Oh, and I can’t forget the parrots!  We live in their fly-over zone. Not only are they loud and colorful, they too are immigrants, which makes them the consummate Americans. Of course, we’ll have to spend a day at the beach and wallow in the craziness that is Venice.

Come to think of it, I know now exactly what I’m going to show them. I’m going to show them what the New World looks like.  It’s called Los Angeles.

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