Sunday, September 21

Darlin' don't you go and cut your hair

I cut my hair. I was always going to. I had been stuck inside sick with a cold all day, in short left to my own resources for far too long. Here is what it looked like just after, when I ruffled it up. It took two hours to do it, but I suppose some people reading this have had haircuts from me that lasted as long or longer. It's a slow business. And I don't know that I achieved what I wanted to by doing this, but I like it just fine. I left the hair in a plastic bag in the sink for Owen to find when he came home from vacation, haha.

Jess is in London! It is wonderful to see her again. We have seen each other here, across the ocean, probably as much as we did in the last year back home. She put together a little birthday picnic yesterday in Victoria park. After a relaxing morning, during which Owen and I nourished ourselves with his delicious homemade brownies, we headed to Broadway Market to get picnic provisions. Several free samples and hordes of Saturday hipsters later, we were armed with two kinds of beautiful fresh bread, some saucissons, assorted olives, and a bunch of cheese that was marketed as a 'Basket for 4 for a fiver.' Say that out loud. We asked them why it only had three cheeses in it, and they insisted that the three cheeses could feed four people and that's why it said four. We punished them by making them give us samples of everything.

Jess brought enough friends to feed three cheeses to. Rokas (pronounced like the word that means boisterous and disorderly) is her boy, a very tall blond Lithuanian she met on the beach in Finisterre. Looking at him, you can just picture him there, a kind of beach god. He brought two Lithuanian friends who are living with him here in London, Vitaly and Gedas. And Erin is a very cool Kiwi whom Jess also met on the Camino.

Did I mention it was a stunningly beautiful day? It was. And Warm. The warmest day I'd felt since coming here. Thanks for coming to our party, sun. You can have some cheese, too.

The picnic was exactly what we were supposed to be doing that day. We ate and drank copiously and very leisurely, scattered around enjoying the day. It was organic in a sort of crazy classical way, or maybe this is only retrospectively. We were transformed into (ourselves maybe?) these traveled creatures, living moment to moment, fauns with handfuls of late sunlight, tossing and golden. Rokas strummed the guitar, Gedas and Vitaly had their harmonicas, Erin her yoga mat, the grass a miraculous warmth, and Jess face paint. The face paint was the hit of the party, unless you count two giraffes of unkown origins named Achoo and Icki.

It's true, Giraffes love mousse.

A very lovely day. We stayed together, back at Jess and Rokas's, until everyone and the day were exhausted. Tomorrow will be another picnic.

Brighton: Not Just That Store In The Mall With All The Things With Hearts On Them

Elliot in the kitchen the first morning looked at me and said you just seem so content all the time.

Monday I rode a bus down to Brighton and stayed two days. It was supposed to be only one day, but I think a trend has started here. Things want to extend, I can only let them. Brighton is on the English Channel. Sounds like a series on British television. When I arrived, I walked down the Pier, which was like a small-scale version of the boardwalk at Ocean City--rides, greasy food--except a pier. And not as many Russians. Or people in general, really, but it's the off-season already. The beach in Brighton has no sand. It is made of stones and shells, small and smooth. I picked one up with a groove that fit my finger perfectly. I sat on the stones and it was a little like sitting on one of those things they always have in the nature and science store, a million metal pins that mold to your face or hand and feel really good. Remember those? I sat there for a long time. And maybe took a little nap there. Surprise.

I told Elliot I would be the one with the backpack. He said he is the one with the colorful van.

He drove me to the house where he lives with a bunch of other guys--I still don't know how many of them actually lived there. A guy named Virgile from Provence was also surfing there. He loves Django Reinhardt and plays guitar beautifully, especially this old classic french song Il n'y a pas d'Amour Heureux, there is no happy love. He was very funny, and his English was very funny. We made pasta and meatballs on night two. Elliot is also a really talented musician, with an insatiable taste for reggae beats. These two played together and it was so cool. They tried to get me to play accordion. I played the egg. Actually I didn't. But I drew a picture.

Another good thing that happened was we had a barbeque, though it was not as delicious as some other barbeques I know.

Here is Elliot with his pet snake:
Does he not look like cousin Brandt? I don't remember the name of the Snake. Maybe Martabelle or something. Or Brock. I slept in the room where the two snakes live. I did not carry any little mic in my pockets, and we got along famously.

Brighton supposedly has this wonderful pedestrian area called The Lanes, which I hear has very wonderful and singular shopping that isn't really shopping. I have no iea what this means, but this might be because I never went there. In fact, I didn't really go anywhere in Brighton after getting to Elliot's. We drank tea and watched movies on the couch all day. Purest couch surfing, I'd say.

Though I did go for a walk in the gloaming (a word that nearly knocked us dead when Virgile, who couldn't think of the word for couteau, pulled it out of nowhere) on the second day with Virgile and one of Elliot's flatmates. We walked up into the hills near the house to see if we could see the water, and find blackberries. The channel was hidden by another hill, though the view was still wonderful. The blackberries were hidden by not existing.

But we did find a horse to talk to.

Sunday, September 14

London, I love

I realize I've begun to read people's emails in my head using a British accent.

A sign I've been here too long? Or just long enough? And I am sorry for the last, lackluster post. I guess I didn't really want to write it. London is kind of wonderful. Today I had a cappuccino that looked like a work of art, though that isn't why London is wonderful. Or maybe it is. I asked the people who work in the cafe what there is to do on a nice Sunday in this town. They said London Bridge, and so to London Bridge I went. And it turned out that London Bridge, and the entire south bank actually, was today the site of the Thames Festival. All along the water, for miles, were stands with delicious foods, crafts that also looked good enough to eat, and live music. And people from everywhere in the world. I was walking and enjoying the sights and smells when I heard the sound of drumming. There was a tent set up with lots of djembes and other african drums. A few people were playing and it turned out they were just random people who had picked up the drums, which were clearly there for anyone to use, and started playing together. I joined them, and soon all the drums were taken up by people who were passing and wanted to join in. It was really wonderful. No one seemed to have any training in drumming, but we all just knew how it worked and fell into a kind of organic rhythm with one another. People stopped to watch and listen, or dance, or wait for a drum to become available. I must have played there for forty minutes or something, until my hands were too sore to hit the poor drum any longer. The woman I sat next to, who had invited me to play, suggested we give our hands a break and we wandered around and chatted. She is a Kiwi who just traveled Europe for four months and is settling in Cambridge to work for some time. She is very beautiful and honest. She invited me to hang around with her and meet up with her Kiwi friends to watch the Thames Festival parade and fireworks.

Mel's friends turned out to be just as welcoming, open, and fun as she was. They've invited me to come to a Bad Taste party they are throwing this Saturday, and if I'm still around I think I'll go. The parade was a lively creature, colorful and dancing through London streets. We only caught the tail end of it, so I didn't see my friends with the dragon (which sadly has no name, Scrappy), but maybe it's better that way. We joined in the parade at one point and danced along for a while there, so free and in the spirit of things. And afterward the fireworks were really the most beautiful I've ever seen, exploding themselves over the Thames and hundred of thousands of people all loving them all at once. Or maybe it was just us, the Kiwis and me. We just grinned helplessly at each other. London, what a place you are indeed.

Friday, September 12

When I'm Older I Want to be Just Like Banksy

I am still in London. Remarkably, it is sunny today. And yet, here I am on the blog. I spent the last few days being hosted by a Chilean man named Tito. He lives in a South London apartment full of feathers, books, masks, thin willow branches, onion peels, the illusion of sunlight. The apartment is just around the corner from some very fancy building where Charles Dickens grew up, before his father was thrown in the debtors' prison that used to be across the street from what is now Borough tube station. The area looks updated enough to me. I guess things have changed a lot, and not only for Charles Dickens. Someone I met in the Tate Modern reminded me that the newer buildings around London likely got created because of bombs, and this certainly changes the way you look at a place.

Tito is wonderful. He is literally full of wonder. He loves curiosity for its own sake. He studied metal work in Chile and worked for a long time as jeweler here in London, until the mainstream jewelry companies made it almost impossible for independent craftsman to get any business. He wears a goddess of silver, and he tells me he created it because the objects we encounter all the time are too full of masculinity: 'See, this cooking pot. Made by a man. The window there. This building. Your pants.' His passion is Mayan mythology. He told me wonderful abbreviated versions of the creation stories, stories that actually take entire weeks to tell. It made a huge difference that he loves these stories so much. I couldn't help loving them too. We sat in his kitchen with its yellow shiny tablecloth and the yellow light on the yellow walls full of pictures and postcards, and talked in yellow for nearly three days straight.

But not really three days straight, because there was the Chinese Dragon dance performance. Tito has worked for years with a group called Mandinka that puts on carnival events and gives workshops in different carnival crafts, like mask-making and costume design. They are taking part in the Thames Festival this weekend, a huge event with parades and merry-making on a very large scale. Tuesday evening, Mandinka put on a little preview show, for the festival's sponsors and coordinators, of the performances they will do this weekend. Tito invited me to Monday's rehearsal, and I went. We learned how to create the dragon itself. It will be fifty meters long, which apparently the longest dragon the UK has ever seen. Then we were taught, by a Chinese man who judges dragon performances in Beijing, how to carry the dragon and make it dance. This is really very difficult and it has to be said that I and the British people were horrible at it. We practiced for five hours before we had sort of almost gotten down one or two of the basics. And the following evening, we just dove right in. There were costumes and makeup and everything. I felt like I was a little girl again, getting ready for a dance recital. It was familiar and completely strange, and I just kept laughing every time I realized 'This is where I am right now. This is what I am doing.' It felt really nice to have simply fallen into something so unexpected. It meant I had been open to it, open to whatever.

Here I am getting makeup put on. Scrappy, as you can see I still have my hair.

Here is the front of the dragon in the studio where we practiced. Happy, isn't he?

* * *

And on to a different kind of art. Yes, this is definitely the land of Banksy. The first piece I saw was just around the corner from Owen's flat. The one with the children raising the flag of Tesco. There is a picture of it on Banksy's website. Tito took me to see his work in Waterloo. Banksy, whose work I've followed for a years, and whose identity is still completely unknown (I love this), set up an exhibition of grafitti art earlier this year in a car tunnel that wasn't being used. Huge, beautiful murals covered the walls. Then people came and graffitied over the original artwork. It is hard not to be sad about this, though Tito says this is the nature of the thing.

Tuesday, September 2

Sleeping Beside the Underground

I am safe in London, which is gray. Grey, they would say here, though it looks the same. Owen tells me that last month was recorded as the grayest August in London since records started being kept. That is, not the coldest August, and not the rainiest, but literally the one with the least amount of sunlight. I always picture Londoners holding umbrellas, because I am used to hearing of rain in London. Maybe they should start making umbrellas with UV lights installed in them, like the one I put above Septimus's tank so his little turtle body would get enough Vitamin D. Picture all the Londoners walking around with auras of fluorescent blue coming from under their umbrellas.

Not much has happened here yet, but then I've only been here about nineteen hours. One of those was spent being detained at customs in Heathrow airport. I committed the crime of having vague plans. Airport customs personnel do not like vague plans. They went through my bags and asked for itineraries that didn't exist. It finally ended when I showed them on the internet confirmation of my return ticket home, and proved that I had enough money in my bank account to fund the trip. After that, they were quite lovely to me. They gave me tea from a tea vending machine (I kid you not) and told me Obama should have chosen Hilary Clinton for his running mate. I told them no, and they wished me a safe journey. Thanks, mates.

On the plane from Houston, I sat in the very middle of the very last row. Thankfully, the British guy next to me, named Ray, got up frequently. At one point we spent an hour or so standing in the food prep area in the back, chatting with the american flight attendants. There was one particularly spunky one named Antoinette. She said things that made the other attendants blush. After asking me questions about college, Antoinette turned to Ray and asked him if he would prefer an American Intellectual or a British Tart. As if we were that evening's choices for dessert. I went back to my seat, fed some music into my headphones, and took some sleeps.