The girl over there has thin eyebrows and a laptop with a sticker above the glowing fruit that reads, “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.” There’s a book on her table. Old. Thick. Dusty blue. At the bottom of the spine, a white sticker, like from a library. She’s typing. Sometimes she stops, as I do, and thinks, and drinks some tea. When she gets cold, she wraps a gray scarf around her neck.
There’s a bit in Anna Karenina where Tolstoy describes someone as having ‘bare shoulders and long gloves.’
There are some parts of London that are actually kind of outside of London, which might best be described as small houses full of stuff.
Sometimes while riding the bus, the screen flashes, ‘The next bus stop is CLOSED,’ and I wonder what strange, wondrous world awaits the people who alight at CLOSED.
A Warholian acceleration of perception.
It’s not even time anymore. It’s like something else.
I’m writing this on a particularly cold and grey Tuesday afternoon in London. Over against the exposed brick wall, cloaked in dim light, two men–one young, dark of head, dressed all in black and one older, silver of head, dressed all in flannel–discuss things over a glistening computer screen the way one supposes that on the dark afternoons of some other century, people discussed things over candlelight. Across from me, a woman eats her coffee with a spoon. I’ve heard of this but have never chanced to witness it. Oh! There she goes again. Mug held up like a bowl. Spoon scooped through and up, then slipped between her lips. People. Fascinating creatures.
Of late, there has been much talk in our flat–and in pubs, and restaurants, and the occasional cafe on some dark afternoon–about how, over time, I might experience many more Tuesdays in London without having to resort to hiding with the toshers. We’ll work it out, I’m sure. It’s simply a matter of time and effort. Applying for a visa does have the unintended effect, though, of making one feel like a criminal. Possibly, that’s silly. It’s very possible, after all, that this effect is not at all unintentional.
Recently, a small gathering of lovely people gathered at our flat to eat a ridiculous amount of food and discuss important things such as clowns. This was a past Friday evening. It wasn’t December yet. Nor was it particularly cold. Nor were there women eating their coffee with spoons. It was a different time. A simpler time, in which friends appeared with wine and dressing and brownies and corn bread and quinoa salads and sushi. Yes. Sushi. People. Fascinating creatures.
We sat around the living room, on couch and chair and floor. We ate and we discussed. Old friends and new. All together, and in our own, smaller clumps of conversation. We learned things about each other and about the world. Among other things, some of those things we learned were:
As mentioned, clown eggs. Apparently, it was, possible is, traditional, in order to make sure no two clowns stole the face of another, for one to visit the room filled with clown eggs and compare and design one’s own face and place it upon a egg such that future clowns will see all of the old eggs, as well as your egg, and no two eggs will be the same. This particular slice of the conversation began with one member of our group describing their travels through London and spying a great many clowns filing out of a building and he wondered, ‘Why are there so many clowns here?’
In Japan, this sort of thing happens. This sort of thing being ‘radio taiso’. ‘Radio taiso’ being the sort of thing where people wake up really early and gather together, in body or spirit, turn on the radio, and exercise.
Shipping. Some people did not know what it meant to ship people together. Some of these people will never again hear the shipping news in quite the same way again.
This could have happened on a Monday. Or it might have been Thursday. Might be it doesn’t matter when it happened, so much as that it did.
Except, in this case, I know.
This was definitely Monday.
What I remember is eating a slice of bread, sitting half on her kitchen floor and half on her living room carpet, my legs stretched out and her sitting beside me, my body empty and electric and my heart so still, so terrified to beat because that would mean time passing, and I wanted nothing more than for this moment to last forever, me eating a slice of her bread, us sitting beside each other, drops of rain lingering in her hair like shattered glass, and both of us knowing in a way we had never known anything before.
Across London, in Soho and Camden and Boomsbury (well, Bloomsbury, if you want to be less explosive) and, perhaps, other places, there is a cafe called Yumchaa. They make a golden, soft, delicious lemon drizzle cake which is gluten free and, well, I suppose I’ve already mentioned its being delicious. Another thing they do is have all of their tea out for to smell. More places should let you smell their tea. I like the couches, too. More places should have couches.
He was, like most of that breed of stylish New Yorkers transplanted from elsewhere, a self-invention.
His version was the man who quipped dryly from behind dark or tinted glasses, perhaps in a turtleneck and perfectly fitted trousers, and surrounded himself with friends and associates who if they couldn’t be witty, were at least gorgeous or rich. I always felt a special, tickling shiver when I saw him in public, where he seemed to stand and speak with the droll finesse you always hope such idols will possess in real life but seldom do. via
When I think of him, I think of Angels in America, The Graduate, and Closer–the first being a thing I’ve still never seen, but should; the second being a film I have seen and adored for its ability to be, in turns, rebellious, absurd, and self-aware; and the last being a film that revealed to me at a still tender age the manner in which honesty might shield within it the deadly thrust of cruelty.
Also. This weekend will feature an absurd amount of sitting on couches, eating pancakes, and drinking coffee in honor of binging Gilmore Girls. If you’ve never seen that show, and you love shows capable of inflicting referential whiplash (seriously, there is an entire wiki devoted to the show’s encyclopaedic wit), as well as shows in which things like this exist, then you should probably watch it. Few shows depict the generational lovestrife of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, quite so well. If, any. I’m sure there are some. I can’t think of any. Oh, except for this. Still. Very few manage to, as I’ve said, include things like this.
Happy Friday, readers.
I’m pretty sure Lorelai and Rory would’ve loved the hell out of a Mike Nichols marathon. This seems like a good weekend for it. Brew some coffee, or tea. Find a proper couch. Get to work.
Last night, I attended a screening of Gyeongju, shown as part of the The London Korean Film Festival. A full review of that will appear shortly, including descriptions of the crowd what included sparkling converses and spider-haired men that smelled of beer and damp sheets.
The other day, in this post, I described a moment from my life. I enjoyed it. I will most likely do it more, and I will tag each such entry with the tag, ‘moments’. Many of the moments will probably be moments that involved me. Some of them may not. Some of them I might make up. All of them will be real, though, and will have happened to me. Especially the ones I make up.
Happy moments, readers.
p.s. As you go to sleep tonight, try to remember one moment. Could be from today, or yesterday, or from a film, or a story someone told you once. Hold the moment in mind, let it sit on the tip of your tongue. See if it speaks to you in your dreams.
p.p.s. That came out sounding much more romantic and, um, dreamy that I originally intended. Ah, well. These things happen.
At the moment, EG’s up front, getting ready, and I’m taking this moment to draft a blog. I’m sitting on a small, black chair, in a room of small, black chairs, on which sit other people chatting and tapping and munching on popcorn and drinking elderflower cordials, all of us gathered in East London, in a warehouse-cum-office building, awaiting the start of the latest in an ongoing series of events called 300seconds (here’s some video from an event at Facebook‘s UK office) dedicated to putting a diverse set of smart people in front of other smart people and letting the magic happen. Or, in their own words:
300 Seconds is a series of talks by and for the digital community. We believe that digital is better when we can learn from the brilliance of the many, not just the few. With our events we hope to give our peers, and in particular women, a means of gaining confidence and experience in speaking in public.
It is now tomorrow. The event finished. Many interesting people spoke about disrupting art, managing mental illness, Ugandan tech culture, responsible responsive web development, and so forth. On a whiteboard, on the left-hand wall, were written the wi-fi network, password, and a hashtag for the event. Tweeting was encouraged. And people did that. And that was cool. A part of me, at one time, might have avoided live-tweeting out of a misguided notion that it would prevent me from paying attention–which turns out to be the opposite of true! Live-tweeting perhaps forces, nay! encourages, people to listen harder, for those cool quotes and key ideas.
One might consider turning off the Tweetbot bleeps and bloops, though.
The lightning talk style, while perhaps leading some to not quite finish, means there’s never a chance for boredom to set in, nor a chance for speakers to become unduly nervous. After all, you’re only up there for 5 minutes. Considering their mission, in large part, is to cultivate a new and diverse group of speakers who might otherwise not take that first step towards public speaking, it works and works splendidly.
Also. EG talk good. She make people laugh. And go oooh and ahhhh. She wrote about the experience here.
One late night, while walking through a field near Oxford, Mississippi, a friend turned to me and asked, between the shush-shush of our steps through the tall grass, “Do you ever feel like when you look up at the stars you see more than other people?”
We were walking to a pond near a farmer’s house. We were meant to go skinny dipping. A late-night walk, a late-night swim, a return home, a goodnight, a goodbye. One of our friends was leaving the next day for distant mountains and very well known dangers.
I looked up. I saw more stars than I had ever seen. It was so dark and so clear that you could see the dust between the stars. Galaxies caught in the winds of dark matter.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean because we grew up with Star Trek and Babylon 5 and Star Wars, because we read Foundation and Dune, because we care about the multiverse and so when we look up we see aliens and star destroyers and sliders surfing the dimensions. We see stories.”
I knew what he meant. And I said so.
“I know what you mean,” I said. “Stories in the dust.”
Now, thinking about it, I suppose I could have said that people have been dreaming into the dust since forever. I could have mentioned Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune, or Dante’s various planetary paradises, or those Hindu epics of flying machines that flew equally well underwater or in outer space. But, that wasn’t what he meant. And I knew what he meant then and now. He meant that we possessed a shared inheritance and responsibility of wonder that had been passed down from forever and, for us, that wonder happened to be populated with Skywalkers and Baron Harkonnens, as opposed to angels and demons, and it would be our job as writers to keep populating the dust with stories of what was and what still might be.
Happy Wednesday, readers.
p.s. Later this month, EG and I will be seeing 2001. It will be her first time. Hopefully, we’ll catch Interstellar, as well. One must never stop re-wondering the imagination.
another, possibly the first, in a neverending discussion of the differences between the U.S. and UK.
Sometimes differences between the U.S. and the UK are obvious, but not immediately noticed. Such as the way British people wear jumpers and U.S. people wear sweaters. You would probably not notice this unless you entered into a conversation with a British person while both wearing a ‘knitted garment intended to cover the torso and arms’ and complimented them on their sweater only to hear them say, “This old jumper? It’s good, innit? Nicked it on sale from Somewheretherebe’s.” 1
Sometimes the differences between the U.S. and the UK are not at all exactly obvious, but immediately noticed. Such as the manner in which British doors very often lack doorknobs.
And sometimes the differences betwen the U.S. and the UK seem to conform to such widely held stereotypes that you doubt if what you’re seeing is really happening or if someone has put on a stage play for your benefit.
EG and I attended a recent Q&A between Richard Ayoade and a film critic, in which were discussed, among other things: Ayoade’s career as a writer, actor, and director, as well as a Truffaut film–to be screened after the Q&A–called La Nuite américaine, or, as they say in the U.S., Day for Night. It was a great Q&A. Ayoade being brilliant and funny and not at all ruffled by his being interviewed by a film critic that at times appeared like a caricature of Britishness you might expect to find on the cover of The New Yorker (the closest thing the U.S. has to a British paper, really). The critic ridiculed, fairly straight off, the U.S. title of the film, saying, really, we’ve lost all the romance there, haven’t we? (which, yes, to be fair, but The American Night plastered on a marquee would just as well lead people in the U.S. to believe they were about to see a period film concerning Paul Revere). He also discussed, at length, in the run-up to one question, the particularness of the male psyche, and it’s desire to be loved, and how very unique it is to a boy, this need to be loved. He also very often asked questions to which it seemed fairly clear he already knew the answer, or, at least, the answer he expected or believed correct. Ayoade did not particular engage with the questions along the lines of the special magic of being a young boy, as opposed to being a girl, and, in one of the more memorable exchanges, when the film critic posited a question surrounding whether or not as a director Ayoade’s job was to answer questions, sometimes without knowing the answer, such as to what lens to use for a particular scene, but to still appear to know what what he was doing whether or not, in fact, he did, Ayoade responded, simply and effectively, thusly:
“That’s one approach, yes. You might also say, I’m not sure, and what do you think. Rather than, well, lying.”
So there you have it. British people are snobs. Also, British people are funny and not snobs.
There is a danger, of course, in experiencing a single event outside of your culture and attributing the nature of said experience to the entirety of that culture. For example, once, in England, I walked into someone and that person apologized to me. Would it be right for me to assume from this one experience that English people deploy apologies the way certain other cultures deploy ‘fuck off’? Probably not. But, I do it anyway. I am from the U.S., after all, and we excel at nothing if not the ability to hold fast to our beliefs whatever gusts of fact the heavens might send.
Happy Tuesday, readers.
You should hear my British accent sometime. It’s even worse. ↩
On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of the one-thousand nine hundred and eighteenth year, the first world war1 ended.
This would be why, in the U.S., Veterans day falls on the 11th of November. Armistice Day it used to be called, before it became Veteran’s Day, a day for veterans of all the wars, world and otherwise.
A great many of you probably know this. As do I. Sometimes. Other times I forget.
Something I did not know, and have never forgotten, is that in the UK there is a thing called Remembrance Sunday. This falls on the second Sunday of November, the Sunday nearest the 11th of November. On every such day, royalty, politicians, and soldiers gather at war memorials in cities, villages, and whatnots, to lay wreaths of poppies and blow the Last Post for the not-to-be forgotten dead. At 11 a.m., two minutes of silence are tolled by church bells, often muffled. And everyone is silent. At the memorials. Across the entire country. In homes. In shops. In restaurants.
This past Sunday, EG and I met friends for breakfast at Smith’s, a multi-floored restaurant/diner/night club/etc, which sits across the street from the old Smithfield Market where one could, at one time, bring one’s pig for to be slaughtered and sold and eventually eaten. During breakfast, I was quite taken with an old-style train schedule board. The kind with flipping numbers and letters. It was blank for most of breakfast. And then, it flipped. It read.
Our conversation changed.
“Is that today?”
I didn’t understand.
“Is it going to happen here,” I asked.
They said yes.
“Is it going to happen everywhere?”
They said yes.
They didn’t say yes. They said, “It’s going to be an experience.”
The TV flipped on to the ceremony taking place. The queen, old, burdened with layer upon layer of mourning black, standing, waiting, to do the thing with the wreath.
I said it felt like church.
“Exactly like church.”
Tradition. Ceremony. The stuff that, as a kid, could give me goosebumps and tears, and later, feelings of clausterphobia combined with goosebumps and tears, my ritual and pomp loving soul responding to the magnificent sorrow and awe, my angry, teenage soul, feeling angry at all these old people playing dress up like they believe in heaven and hell when, by their actions, it’s clear they keep using that word but maybe that word doesn’t mean what they think it means.
The bells rang. On TV. In the city around us. Servers gathered by the bar. Some people still ate. Chefs still cooked. No one said anything.
Teenage feelings overwhelmed me. Of being trapped in a culture and a ritual. I thought, if no one built monuments to war, would war stop? No. Probably not. But I was angry about it anyway. And sad. I wanted to shout into the silence, but I didn’t.
What if, instead of a war memorial with the names of soldiers who died, we had one with the names of all the civilians who died? Of all the refugees?
I thought angry thoughts. I thought. No.
No to politicians laying wreaths. No to kings and queens laying wreaths. No. No. No. No. No.
I thought it’s beautiful, but.
The silence ended. People spoke, but hushed. Servers moved. The queen and her husband placed their wreaths of poppies. Others came forward. And then, in the midst of the laying of wreaths, the restaurant’s speakers kicked on, perhaps to a song queued for this moment, something appropriate to the sombre mood of memory. Something to fit with tradition.
Into the hush, in the aftermath of bells, a synth beat bopped its way into the ridiculous and gorgeous opening electronic keyboard riff from a-ha’s Take On Me.
The entire song played over the rest of the ceremony.
I’ve never been so happy to hear 80s synthesizers.
Whoever queued that up in the restaurant should be applauded.
We don’t have things like this in the U.S.
Yes. We have holidays. We have the 4th of July. We have Christmas. We have Thanksgiving. We have, in fact, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But. Really. Is there any regularly scheduled ritual which so grips the nation of the United States that inside every restaurant, year upon year upon forever, at a particular time, all would go silent.
As someone said, this is why they love England. It wouldn’t happen in the U.S. You couldn’t be so serious and so absurd. Which is true. As a country, I’m not sure the U.S. knows how to take things seriously. Individually, perhaps. As a whole. Not so sure. We pledge allegiance. We sing the national anthem. But we have trouble in believing in anything for very long. There’s something to be said for believing absolutely, and also having a-ha queued.
Those are my rambles, today, readers.
Remembering things is confusing.
Question. Why is it only in the 20th century that we have had world wars? I mean, why do we call them world wars? Were there no wars before those wars in which a great many countries fought? Is it because newspapers and news were such that these were the first wars that everyone felt truly connected to?↩
Last night, what involved the Southwark Fireworks Festival, proved the perfect distribution of eating, riding, walking, watching things blow up, walking some more, and riding home. Curry consumed at Shad, near London Bridge, which features beautiful glass plates, trimmed in red, that they promptly removed upon our ordering because, I guess, we did not order the special food that rewards the orderer with being able to keep the pretty, pretty plates. We rode the bus to the park, or close to the park, and then walked with a lot of people, passing down an alley, people hanging out the windows, watching the sky explode with light in configurations resembling spirals, willows, and hornets nests. I waved at some of the people. They did not wave at me. This makes sense because of the aforementioned sky exploding probably distracting them from the ten thousand people passing by and the one boy waving.
In the park, we stood under a tree, still holding onto a smattering of autumn leaves, and watched the pretty lights flashing in the sky, as well as those more earthbound shiny things a few hundred yards to our left what included a carousel and glittering, spinning, swing thing. They played Frozen during part of the fireworks. It reminded me of Vietnam and a boy who said he was so tired of that song and I asked him if he was tired of the song or people singing it and he said, people singing it. He said he actually liked the song. That’s the way of things. You like them, but say you don’t, because.
Someone asked about effigies. Someone in the comments yesterday, and also someone who was me, last night, before I even saw the comments, because effigies. Apparently, they don’t do them very much anymore, and not so much in giant public gatherings because fire bad, protest scary. Apparently, not too long ago, children pushed wheelbarrows around with unlit effigies in search of candy. Which helps explain why Hallowe’en was not that big in England considering they have children carrying around death figures every November 5th, so who needs pumpkins?
We went home by way of a long walk, three of us discussing school, Harry Potter, fandom, fairly rare and beautiful messes of hair and what’s to do be done with them, authors we love, authors we heard about once, authors that wrote whole books about a baseball.