Friday, October 23, 2009

Four Hours to Paris

This has been a very adventure-packed week. On Monday I went to Covent Garden (hello Eliza Doolittle…) to see “Dirty Dancing” with Jeff and Kelly. It was sort of cheesy but definitely very fun and the dancing, as you might guess, was great… or dirty? Before the show we saw a bunch of people who were sitting around us trying to take a picture of something or someone. It happened again during the intermission so I asked the girl sitting next to me what was going on and she told me that Craig Revel Horwood was in the audience. He is a judge for their “Dancing with the Stars” equivalent, “Strictly Come Dancing,” and the girl next to me said he is a very harsh judge. He was there because Monday night marked the three year anniversary for “Dirty Dancing” in the West End. I had strawberry ice cream during the intermission.

Tuesday I went to the BBC Television Centre in White City for a tour with my media class. It was so much fun! Our tour guide, Ian, showed us around Television Centre including the news room which was literally out of a movie or TV show. The room was massive with tons of casually-dressed people drinking coffee and looking at computers or TV screens while typing. The room had purple swivel chairs and accents of the BBC’s signature color, red. We got to see this room via a one-way mirror, and my favorite part of the tour was when I saw one guy get up and offer chocolate chip cookies to his colleagues. Another fun fact from the tour was that Jennifer Lopez refused to walk 20 feet to the entertainment entrance from the parking lot, so she illegally asked her driver to drive her to the front door. Only the Queen and this one guy from “Top Gear” had ever driven down this circular driveway. Whatever JLo. I also liked playing fake weather girl in front of a blue (not green) screen for the people in my group. I put on the worst possible British accent that I could in order to describe the weather, and I’m sure the British people on our tour thought I was a total lunatic. Oh well.

After the tour we went across the street to the Westfield Mall, which is the largest mall in Europe. While the mall itself has two floors on which you could walk, each store has two levels which made for extremely high ceilings. The food court was absolute gorgeous insanity. From salads to British pies this place had everything, but it’s not your mother’s food court. The place was chiq and sophisticated with low lighting, neutral tones and modern seating. I opted for an Indian food stand where I purchased chicken tikka masala with thinly-sliced cucumbers and mango-chutney, all wrapped in naan, with some sort of herbal-infused yogurt on the side. Absolutely delicious and beautifully placed on a square white plate with rounded edges.

After lunch I went to the Buttercup Bake Shop stand (did you really think I was going to pass out on dessert…) where I picked a passion fruit cupcake; think vanilla cake but a bit sweeter with a distinctly passion-fruit buttercream frosting. My style all the way. We unfortunately had to leave this wondrous haven of food (who cares about the clothing stores!) to go to our next tour at the Globe Theatre and also get another great view of St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge.

The Globe Theatre was as beautiful in the day as it is at night, although certainly more charming when the smell of bear and hot chocolate is in the air. We got to go on stage which was awesome and I pretended to die several times to honor the late, great William Shakespeare.

Our tour guide was very theatrical and just spout out Shakespearian sonnets and prose at the drop of a hat. One of the most interesting things that he taught us was that the actors at Shakespeare’s original Globe would be given a scroll with just their lines and line cues on it. This scroll could roll up into a roll creating the “role” as we know it today. After the Globe, we walked a minute or so over to the Tate Modern to pick a picture which we will later discuss in our British Life and Cultures class. I chose this drawing of a hamburger drawn by Andy Warhol that was blown up and therefore made grainy to show the immediacy of fast food. The Warhol room was covered with a bright yellow and pink wallpaper print he had made of a cow and was an eye-popping piece against the otherwise white walls. The Tate was followed by Tuesday night yoga, which was followed by an amazing dinner by Emily of sliced sausage, penne, whole canned tomatoes, onion and red and yellow pepper. The secret? Fennel seeds and a splash of red wine. Absolutely delicious.

Wednesday was a pretty lazy day. I woke up, did some homework and watched “The Sweetest Thing” before heading over to class. Theatre class was cut short so that we could get to the Soho Theatre on time to see the play “Orphans.” Before the play, Jeff, myself and our friends Ashley and Lauren went to this Italian sandwich shop called Café Deco on Gloucester road to sit down for a sandwich and dessert (I had a salad with an Italian meats sandwich and a slice of lemon loaf). Our uplifting dinner could not uplift the evening, however, as the play was very dark and depressing. We decided that this depression could only be cured through a Fruli (strawberry fruit beer) and some chili rice crackers at the Queen’s Arms which is conveniently situated directly across from my dorm room window. The four of us then studied for our theatre final and headed to bed. The following afternoon I took my theatre final (I think it went well), walked to the gym through my favorite backstreets and ate a chicken and vegetable stir-fry with plum sauce prepared by myself and Jeff. After dinner I watched “Glee” and nearly died. I know it is probably very lame, but I genuinely like watching that show and I think it’s pretty clever. Well except for that little “Thong Song” bit… Anyway, today I finished a paper for my British Life and Cultures class, handed it in and ran several errands on Kensington High Street. For dinner Emily made a very rich macaroni and cheese with lemon broccoli and halibut. We walked over to the Queen’s Arms for a Fruli, stood outside like all good Londoners do and discussed our plans for the next week.

Tomorrow (AKA in four hours) I will be traveling to Paris with Jeff, Rebs, Emily and Brian. We are going to be in Paris until Wednesday when we (just myself, Jeff and Rebs) fly to Barcelona until Saturday to be back just in time for Halloween! I think tomorrow we’re going to check out a museum or two because the weather says rain, but for the rest of our days in France we are going to be enormous tourists, do a walking tour, possibly a river cruise and (hopefully) go to Versailles. As for Barcelona, Jeff’s mom lived and studied there for a while so she gave us a bunch of places to visit such as Las Ramblas and La Sagrada Familia, but also told us about some less touristy sorts of things. In general I plan to eat and smell as much as I can, and hopefully document every bit of it well enough so that I can convey what is sure to be the beauty of Paris and Barcelona to all of you. Until then, au revoir, adiós!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Movies and Mascarpone

It’s really interesting to think about how much there is to do and see in London. For example, today I went to Sloane Square, which is just two tube stops away from where I live and it is entirely different from this area! Ok, not exactly a revelation, but it made me feel as if I should just take the Circle or District line to its end and hop on and off at each stop to check everything out. Definitely wouldn’t be the most sensible thing to do, but hopefully I’ll get off at each stop eventually. I was in Sloane Square on a date with my gay boyfriend Brian Galm to see “The September Issue.” The movie was amazing, eye-opening, beyond just fashion and I have now fallen even more in love with André Leon Talley. That man is insane. I’m not really into fashion, but I appreciated how every little detail of the magazine is put together. Also, I love “The Devil Wears Prada,” which was entirely not the point of this documentary at all but whatever. Speaking of amazing things, on Thursday night I saw “Mother Courage and Her Children” at the National Theatre and it was spectacular. “Spec” as in spectacle, and “tacular” as in…. hmm. Anyway, Mother Courage was played by Fiona Shaw, or as some might know her, Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia. She literally brought the house down.

The play takes place during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th Century, but the director chose to bring it up to date with a relatively new translation, new music and modern costume. The music, provided by Duke Special and the Band was interesting and a bit strange but had a militaristic, rock-and-roll feel. I love the National Theatre because of the opportunities it gives young people to afford to see plays cheaply, practice their art and receive advice from the staff at the National. I also love how you can get into this bustling place for free to see a concert in the foyer or sit down to have a drink. It also doesn’t hurt that their carrot cake is unreal. The South Bank in general between the National and the Globe is probably one of my favorite places to be at night because there are tons of people, bright lights and you are just a step away from the water. Beautiful.

Friday night we baked chicken in the oven with a mascarpone-tomato sauce and had boiled asparagus and sweet potatoes on the side for dinner. I stayed in to watch “Pretty in Pink” with Brian and an episode of “Glee” with Ashley and Emily. I also ate an iced lemon loaf from this café called Fait Maison up the block. I will be going there often. On Saturday I was productive! Yes, I really was! I wrote a paper for my theatre class, made myself lunch (turkey and roasted red pepper on a kalamata olive roll) and went to the gym. Instead of walking to Kensington High Street to get to the gym, I took the back roads down St. Albans Grove. The combination of beer and smoked wood made these small streets smell fantastically Halloween-ish. The area is sort of artsy with a bunch of restaurants and a few cafés. There is one French café in particular that I’d like to go to one day. But speaking of Halloween, I still have no idea what I’m going to go as. I think we’re going to a Halloween party in France too. My mom said I should be a French maid.

For dinner that night Brian fried our leftover asparagus (scramble one egg, dip asparagus in egg and then roll around in salted breadcrumbs. Heat canola oil in a pan on a high heat, place asparagus in oil and remove after a few minutes. Place the fried asparagus on a plate covered with paper towel to let the excess oils seep out) and made spaghetti with pre-cooked chicken meatballs and tomato sauce. We ate in the dark of our third floor kitchen where the light no longer works, and quickly went back to our rooms to get ready.

I went with a bunch of people (including Jeff’s girlfriend Kelly who is visiting for the week!) to a club called funkybuddah near Green Park.

We had fun dancing and I met some cool people on the twenty-minute bathroom line. I guess women’s bathroom lines in clubs are payback for the fact that girls usually don’t have to pay to get in. I tried sneaking into the guy’s bathroom but one of the many security guards quickly spotted me and escorted me out toward the bar. Oh well, story of my life. We eventually went to O’Neills followed by our ritual trip to the Chinese restaurant with the picture of Mao Zedong hanging on the lime-green wall. Rebs and I split pork fried wontons and vegetable fried rice, which we later supplemented with soy sauce from our room. Today I went to the gym to make up for last night and after our movie date, Brian and I went out to this Thai restaurant down the block from our dorm. We very romantically sat by the window and gazed off into the evening sky while eating sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice. We finished off our date by eating Phish Food. We are a truly classy couple.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Weeks of Updates Plus a Little Rain

So its officially started to rain in London. I don’t totally mind the rain; it was something I was expecting when I packed my rain boots, coat and two umbrellas, and something I thought was strangely missing in August and September. October starts the “rainy season” and also, I suppose, my true experience of London. As a travel agent told me last week, “You haven’t really seen London yet.” I guess rain is part of the culture here, which I kind of like. Running from a tube stop into a café to simultaneously avoid the rain and talk with people is a good thing, I think. The rain gave Jeff and me an excuse to sit back and enjoy a delicious snack two Wednesday’s ago, but more on that later. Anyway, if being in London means watching the rainfall through a storefront window while eating a scone, well, then London is the place for me.

I haven’t posted in over two weeks (ah!) so I will try to summarize as best as I can. On Tuesday, Sept. 29, my British Life and Cultures class took a trip to Parliament.

The houses of Parliament are stunning, ornate and historic. Words can literally not describe how beautiful Parliament is. I can just say that I personally felt that the House of Lords and its subsequent rooms are more striking than the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace. What I also loved about Parliament was its traditions. The way votes are cast, the way Members of Parliament enter the building or even receive their mail. All of it seemed so ceremonial; it must be amazing to work in a place like that. After our tour of Parliament, I took a quick nap and then headed to Tuesday night Yoga with Jeff. We had chicken and vegetable stir-fry for dinner, and started to seriously discuss our travel plans for the remainder of our stay.

On Wednesday, Jeff, Rebs and I met up with Rebs’ friend Dan from home (Long Island). We grabbed some cheap Thai food before heading into the British Museum. The museum is much larger than I imagined. We gravitated directly to the Rosetta Stone, which was carefully secured behind a frame, and then walked around the Egyptian, Roman and Greek exhibits. I especially liked the Greek exhibits for its statues and busts of those from Greek mythology, and even those unknown men and women who had been represented through art. We ended our visit in the Enlightenment room that looked like an old, dimly lit library. It was filled with pieces from each of the exhibits in the museum, entertaining the idea of past work leading to future thought.

Jeff and I went to our theatre class that evening, and we all ate baked chicken with rice and broccoli for dinner. After dinner we booked our flight to Rome for early December! I am so excited to just spend the entire weekend eating amazing, amazing food.

On Thursday Jeff and I had our afternoon theatre class after which I went to the gym. On my way there I stopped into the GAP (there was a sale sign, I gravitated…) only to find that their clothes were strangely plain. I know the GAP sells some pretty basic stuff in the States, but it’s definitely one of my favorite stores. I figured their British venture would be a bit sassier. Anyway, after working out I called Rebs to let her know that Jeff and I would be going to Marks and Spencer to pick up the fixings for a Waldorf salad for dinner. I’m glad I called because, as she told me, the electricity had gone out in our entire building. We bought the ingredients anyway because we would be eating in an hour or so, and headed back. I literally took a shower with the door open in an effort not to squirt shampoo directly into my eye or accidentally cut myself with a razor. After my shower, this lack of electronics seemingly led way to a little thing called reading. Yes, I read “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” well, about a quarter of it anyway before our room got really pitch-black. We realized that even something as simple as a Waldorf salad could not be prepared under these conditions (we were also in the process of getting kicked out of the building… no electricity is a lawsuit waiting to happen), so we gathered our friends and headed to Byron. The burgers were incredible as usual and brought up my spirits after I had been squinting to read as the sun went down. We walked over to the Imperial bar and hung out until one of our friends called us to say the electricity was back. Electricity, but no internet. I think everyone went to sleep early that night.

Friday afternoon I went to the gym and then did some food shopping at Marks and Spencer now that I knew we’d have a working fridge. We ended up eating that Waldorf salad for an early dinner before Jeff and I, along with some of our friends in our theatre class, made our way over to Shakespeare’s Globe. That Friday night walking over the Millennium Bridge was almost magical. With St. Paul’s Cathedral behind us, the Tower Bridge to our left and the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre in front of us, I could taste both the River Thames and the coming of winter as we walked. As we got closer to the Globe, I could smell beer and wine, and instantly felt comfort, like I was coming home to some winter house on a lake. It’s not really something I can describe, but once you walk into the little courtyard of the Globe you feel a sense of warmth, happiness and community. Once you enter the theatre itself you begin to feel like you are part of something. The theatre was much smaller than I had imagined, but deeply beautiful with the black sky acting as a ceiling. The play we saw was called “A New World – A Life of Thomas Paine,” which was, curiously enough, written by a British playwright. I stood in the standing yard for the first half, and sat for the second (our class got split tickets, so we all swapped in between), but I really did enjoy standing. If there was a scene where one of the characters was giving a speech in front of a large crowd, actors would rush into the standing yard, pushing people aside on their way to hear the speaker. The actors would march through the yard, pass out pamphlets to the people standing and even lean on someone’s shoulder while singing a song. The play takes place about two-hundred years ago, but I felt connected not only because I was physically standing with the actors, but also because the messages were relevant. Paine was a man who believed in equality, and was quoted frequently by Barack Obama during his campaign. I think we need more people like Paine to knock some “Common Sense” into our heads, especially at a time when gay marriage may soon (and hopefully) become legal in Washington, DC. I can’t wait to go back to the Globe for a tour of the theatre with my British Life and Cultures class in a few weeks.

Rebs, Jeff and I woke up early on Saturday to get tickets to see “Avenue Q” for that night. Instead of going to tkts, we went to a half-price theatre ticket stand inside of the Leicester tube station. We got half-price tickets for “Avenue Q” and made our way over to the National Portrait Gallery. My favorite exhibits in the gallery included the Twiggy exhibit in honor of her 60th birthday, and the rooms featuring painted portraits of the royal families. We went to Pret A Manger for lunch, and I walked around Kensington High Street for a little before taking a long nap back at the dorm. I boiled broccoli, baked Brussels sprouts and heated up pre-made tortellini for dinner. We ate quickly and made it to our seats just in time for the opening number of “Avenue Q.” It was my first time seeing the show and I absolutely loved it! I also love how they serve ice cream here during intermission (hello Cookies and Cream Haagen-Dazs). It was Julie Atherton’s last night on the “Avenue Q” stage after originating the role of Kate Monster in London. I snuck in a picture of her receiving flowers, and got a picture of her and Jeff at the stage door after the show.

Once Jeff stopped freaking out over the picture, we walked over to O’Neill’s to hear the cover band of the night. We got Chinese food on the way back, and it took us an awkwardly long time to get back to our dorms. Nonetheless, when we did eventually get back to our dorms we had fried rice. Or, as they sometimes serve it here, white rice with big chunks of chicken and a teaspoon of soy sauce. I think they should call it “White Rice with Big Chunks of Chicken and a Teaspoon of Soy Sauce” instead of fried rice.

I woke up on Sunday to some nice weather, but decided to stay inside to read a bit more of the book. I think it’s interesting to learn this person’s story (he worked in a field that I am interested in myself), but he seems a little arrogant and racist. I understand that he got shunned from the world of riches and ended up working at Starbucks at 60, but I don’t understand why he keeps having these “flashbacks” of the time when he bumped into Queen Elizabeth II while reaching for a cucumber sandwich, or the time when he executed a plan to save Grand Central Station with Jackie Kennedy. The name-dropping definitely doesn’t help his “woe-is-me” case. He also constantly mentions, and is originally seemingly shocked by the fact that his boss is an African-American woman. Well, I’m sorry he never got the memo, but black people have high-powered jobs in this country! At this point I have finished the book, and I’m really not sure how much this man has learned. I think this is one of those stories that will be better told through a movie (it’s becoming a movie), and certainly better told not in his written word. Anyway, after reading for a while, I went to the gym and then to Whole Foods for a kalamata olive roll. After taking a shower, I was propped down on a chair in the third floor kitchen in front of Brian’s laptop from which I watched four episodes of “Glee.” All of my friends thought it was weird that I had not yet seen the show since I like theatre and all things glee-ish. Well, I watched it and now I am hooked. “Don’t stop believin’”

In between episodes of “Glee” from the previous night, Jeff and I decided that we’d go see the Central Perk exhibit going on at Carnaby Street. Well, as I said before it is officially raining in London, and it was seriously coming down Monday morning. Monday turned into a lazy day, but we did book our hostels for Paris and Barcelona! After we went to the travel agency, I went to the gym for this class called “Hour of Power.” The class is more of a cult than anything else. I have come to the gym on Monday nights while the class was letting out, only to see panting, but cheerful, people. The last person to exit the workout room is always the teacher who wears a shirt that reads “Hour of Power.” Makes sense. Anyway, I decided that it was about time that I became one of those panting, but cheerful, people. The class was intense to say the least, but also like a strange spiritual journey. Let me explain. The teacher shuts off all the lights in the room so that the space becomes a sort of night club, with only the blaring pink and neon lights that border the ceiling offering color to the room. The workout begins with this European techno as the teacher talks about his life and his journey to the classroom today. As the class becomes more difficult, sounds of a didgeridoo blast over the sound system, and the class ends with powerful African tribal music. I laughed for some of the class, cursed myself for going at other parts, but liked it in general. I was definitely both panting (from the workout) and cheerful (over the fact that I would be eating soon) once I left the class.

Tuesday I had class, followed by an internship meeting, Tuesday night yoga and then chicken nachos for dinner. I found out that my internship interview would be the following Monday, which I was kind of bummed out about because I knew I’d have some special guests visiting (more on that later), but I was still really excited and did a bunch of research on the company. Wednesday was a bit more eventful as Jeff and I trekked out into Piccadilly in search of the “Friends” TV show Central Perk thing I mentioned earlier. We got there and found that the line wrapped around the block. It was also raining so I took some sneaky pictures of the place as people opened the door to enter and exit, Jeff somehow won a free “Friends” t-shirt and then we were off. We walked around the back streets of Piccadilly a bit before remembering that Fortnum and Mason and the Burlington Arcade were near by. The rain did not rain on my parade that day for we discovered a land of gold in a small, quaint corner within a big, fancy hall. That place is called Laudrée.

The store is known for its large assortment of delicious, delicate and flavorful macaroons of which I picked a salted caramel, rose and orange blossom. Jeff and I sat down at a table outside of this gilded store, where we were served our macaroons and tea (I got Laudrée’s red fruit tea). It was a lovely snack in a unique location; however, nothing could prepare me for the glory that is Fortnum and Mason. I’m as Jewish as the next Long-Islander, but that place just feels like Christmas. I mean, first we walk in to this room of candies and tea. I literally get lost staring at the pastries, and then I get a call from Jeff. He is on the floor above me where they are sampling oysters. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME JEFF?” In my life, I have never run faster up a flight of stairs. I got to the top and brushed myself off a bit before calmly, but swiftly walking over to the chef’s prep station where they had prepared the oysters in two varieties for tasting. I slowly ate the baked oyster with prosciutto I had chosen with the little fork they had so kindly provided, and then, at least in my mind, passed out. Jeff awoke me when he realized that we needed to leave in order to get to class on time (who cares about class when there are free oysters to be eaten?!), and I reluctantly left the store. After theatre class, my taste buds were pleased yet again when Emily made chicken parmesan with whole what spaghetti and broccoli.

Despite all of the delicious food I ate the day before, I felt my throat beginning to hurt somewhere in the middle of dinner. I woke up on Thursday with my ears and throat aching, so I went to Whole Foods to pick up some lozenges, tea and probiotics. I was sort of upset thinking that I would not feel well enough to go to the National Theatre that afternoon, but after laying down a bit I decided that I could not miss out on the opportunity. As part of our theatre class, we were able to take a backstage tour of the National Theatre, which is comprised of three theaters, many offices, workshops, bars, eating areas, discussion areas, etc. all inside of one building. It is a seriously amazing structure but I will talk about that more in my next update. I actually can’t remember what I ate for dinner last Thursday night which is sort of strange, but this is possibly because I felt sick.

I woke up late on Friday still not feeling well, but got myself out of bed in time to watch an episode of “Loose Women” before heading to my internship site. I wanted to make sure I knew where the office was located before my meeting for the following week, so I took the tube to St. John’s Wood, found the office (as I am writing this I already had the interview and I got the internship, but more on that when it begins in November) and found a lovely little bakery at which I ate a small blackberry muffin. On my way back to the dorm, I went to Whole Foods for some chicken noodle soup and immune-boosting fresh-squeezed apple, carrot, ginger, celery, pomegranate and lime juice. I rested before dinner which consisted of a fruit salad and challah french toast, which is literally always delicious, and went to sleep early.

Saturday was a very special day involving very special people. Said people will remain unnamed as someone played hooky from work and can therefore not be revealed to the internet world. Anyway, one of my favorite things that we did during their stay was go to the Tower of London and take part in a tour conducted by a Beefeater, see the crowned jewels and a Henry VIII exhibit. I became an instant fan of this one particular Beefeater when he asked if anyone in the crowd was from Pennsylvania, after which he called them a traitor (because of William Penn), but then redeemed himself by saying, and I quote, “At least you’re not from New Jersey.” Score. We also went to the Portobello Road Market, the London Eye and Kensington Palace, as well as a bunch of delicious restaurants such as the Hare and Tortoise for sushi. One night I went with these mystery people to see “Thriller Live!” in the West End which was actually really entertaining. The dancers had the most insane energy that somehow lasted through all of Michael Jackson’s hits. One of the mystery people who came to visit profoundly stated “There is only one Michael Jackson” during the show. Thank you. Anyway, I was very sad to see these people leave and I miss them very much already.

This week is a little hectic because I’m trying to get most of my work out of the way before our break. I still cannot believe that I will be in Paris and Barcelona in less than two weeks! There will hopefully be some exciting and eventful things going on this weekend other than homework that I can blog about before my trips. Cheers!