December 17, 2011

No Place

Down to the last two days of London (almost one, at this point) and it's certainly bittersweet. Everyone has been leaving for their various European home countries for Christmas, and I'm anticipating being even more emotional about the whole thing when I'm bidding so long to London myself. I'm trying to make the most of my final days here, but on most of these occasions I've left my camera behind, so not much to show for it, photo-wise.

The strange thing about adventures is how they always seem to come full circle. You see this all the time -- the hero returns home, a previously unlearned lesson is recognized, lovers meet again where they met at the start of it all... It's finally becoming apparent to me how much I really have accomplished this quarter, the ways I have grown, and the skills I have gained. I'm not going to go about pretending I'm cured of co-dependence, deprived of superfluous emotion, or void of anxiety (ha! can't even type that without laughing), but I do believe this journey, this city, and the people I've met along the way have helped me address these issues personally and have spruced me up to more of the woman I would like to become, one fresh coat at a time.

Sort of like a specific scene in a film I hold very close to heart...


Dorothy begins in a world very much in line with what I often perceive Seattle to be. Washington and Kansas have very little in common per sae, but the dreary, overcast, gosh-there-really-must-be-something-beyond-this-gloomy-prison aspect resonates quite well with what I feel every time I hear Dorothy's iconic song.


I have no idea what it's like not to have 
a million different childhood emotions connected to this song, 
and I'm glad I never will. It feels like a security 
blanket and hug from Mom & Dad all at the same time.


In my head, I'm always going to be something of a Dorothy Gale. Dorothy's curiosity, restlessness, familial devotion, innocent egoism (which I may not be able to get away with anymore, now that I'm not 15...), and penchant for total emotional breakdown when things look like they're not tending her way are all qualities I (for better or worse) totally identify with, and have since I was about 2, apparently. My dad and, in some weird Oedipal way, every man I devote myself to is going to remind me a bit of the Scarecrow. Men I do not date will always fall into one of two categories: Tin Men (too emotional) or Cowardly Lions (too macho). Everyone who offends me is a Wicked Old Witch with a weakness to something in their subconscious -- *WATER* WOAH, JUNG -- that has caused them to behave as such. They throw flying monkeys out of nowhere -- stress-demons who threaten to carry you away from the familiar and safe (and your little dog, too). My Mom and every woman I look up to is Galinda: beautiful, poised, and self-confident enough to float around in something as thin as a bubble to gain perspective. And then there are Wizards. Wizards like my laptop and Hollywood and designer clothes double chocolate Hostess donuts and people who claim you need them to get anywhere in life. All those Wizards who distract us from our personal goals -- from the real stuff of life; for no reason but the personal amusement they gain from tempting your vulnerable self-esteem with their humbug siren-songs. Wizards and witches and hearts and brains... what's a girl to do?

Follow the yellow brick road of course.

And I did.

To Scotland...


and Belgium...


through France....


to Spain...


and finally to London, my home away from home.


At the end of all things I'll return to the familiar Spokane, and shortly after that I'll arrive in the Emerald City itself.

On my way I met some Glindas and some Tin Men. Some lions, little dogs, and, unfortunately, some Wicked Witches, too. I had a steadfast Scarecrow helping me through a lot of useless anxieties and uncertainties. I'm not sure I figured out just what my ruby slippers are, but I know they got me to the end of this journey in one very much wiser piece.

It's difficult knowing where you stand at the end of such a long adventure. Part of you doesn't really feel like it's over yet -- like this is just the beginning, the taste, the first episode, of one great enormous confusing whirlwind of a good time we call life. Realistically speaking, I know I'm reentering reality with its unfortunate brown-and-white wash of familiarity, albeit calming in its simplicity after so much technicolor. And with this, I know the fantasy freeze-frame that was the last six months (2 years, if you count all the planning) is finally coming to its close, and the time has come to face much bigger adventures -- ones without gleaming slippers and perfectly paved roads to lead the way. Despite this, I do feel I've gained a set of skills from this trip that will see me through all sorts of issues. I won't bore you by listing them all -- I'm not even sure I could name them exactly -- but I will posit this as a final reflection on the matter:

Benjamin Button says: "It's a funny thing about coming home; looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realize what's changed is you."  This quote came on through on iTunes, ironically enough, as I was packing my bags, and I had to smile. There really is no place like home, but not in the sense you might immediately think. It's not so much that nothing ever measures up to that solidified childhood ideal of family and hearth, but more that "home" is no where -- or no place. I'm sure this has to do with that cliche "home is where the heart is" and what not, but seriously: home, like time, is relative. It's wherever we choose to make it, though sometimes where we wish it didn't have to be. I wish the place I've felt more at home than almost anywhere wasn't an ocean and continent away from the place most others would call my "home." I wish the people at the latter location were guaranteed to follow me to my next home, like a little snail shell support system, piggybacking from one city to the next. I guess that'd be a pretty selfish way to live one's life; after all, one person's home is another person's hell.


Accepting that one's home is transmutable is refreshing, but bittersweetly so. It makes everything impermanent, and there's a kind of sadness to that. It's interesting, as we do in the world of nostalgia, to trace back our history through our old homes -- our dreaming minds accomplish this best. Think about how often you have house dreams. (Better yet, research what they mean sometime -- it's crazy.) I imagine by the time we're lying on our deathbed our memories will have constructed an entire neighborhood through which we might examine parts of ourselves, abandoned or otherwise.

In mine, there's a big old-fashioned mansion with lonely rooms that I associate with a childhood fascination with the unknown. Outside the window there's a tree house where other kids play, which I regard with mingled longing and anticipation. Beside the tree house there's a park where memories of early teenage friendships -- not all of which have died -- dance beside a pond in the sunlight. Across the pond lies a humble cottage with good food and good friends, cushions and pillows, and the room is alight with bobbing candle flames, which are really just voiced emotions kindled by empathy. There's a blue bird flitting in and out of the window, chirruping a very interesting song. And beside this there's a round modern art-ish structure with a staircase that seems to reach a mile high, and on each level there are eyes staring, judging, watching. In the structure's window, though I see the happy face of a wise man, reaching out to point me to the next level. And on the roof is a garden. And beyond the garden, I can't yet see.

I'm so happy to have been afforded this experience, and it's difficult to find words to express why. Any personal journey is impossible to translate perfectly, but I imagine you've experienced something comparable -- something important enough to build a house in your own brain. Maybe even something so great it got sucked up in a tornado and transported into a reality of its own.

Blessings, Peace, Comfort and Joy,

Thanks for reading.

-R.B.

December 13, 2011

Keep Calm and Have a Pasty


Life's gotten awfully quiet around here now that I'm pretty much completely finished with all my work. I don't mean quiet like boring, but my brain keeps scraping around for some responsibility, coming up empty, and sort of giving me this confused "Well, now what do we do with ourselves?" My brain and I have actually been becoming pretty good friends lately -- reading for pleasure, watching TED videos, seeing all sorts of London sites. It's not often I let it rest, and I think it's really enjoying the extra oxygen.

Sunday morning I headed out early for Oxford Street. This is it, I said, I'm finally going to get some solid shopping done -- nothing on my mind, no schedule to tie me down, not raining yet... I will find Christmas presents, and maybe even get myself something at Top Shop finally. Oxford Street around Christmas is CRAZY. So much that they block off the entire road and just let shoppers wander as they please. I'm sure it's a nightmare for people who drive here, and truth be told it's a nightmare being a shopper, too. Since I got there early I didn't have to brave too crazy a crowd, and I actually quite enjoyed myself, wandering past the little Christmas bands and carolers on each block. But after I'd been in and out of about five stores, I got really disgusted with the whole lot of it. For some reason every person that bought a waffle from the overpriced stand on the road, every woman with twelve bags walking into Selfridges, every guy comparing the prices of various smart phones in the O2 windows just upset me. I didn't have the urge to buy anything and I didn't think anyone I knew deserved to get any of the shit that was being sold here. Then I started feeling kind of depressed about that. Then I realized that this whole Christmas shopping culture -- all that stuff the Grinch complains about -- really does make you feel like an outsider if you just don't get a high off it. It makes you feel like a failure if you can't find that thing you want, or if you can't afford it. It makes you feel an urge to prove yourself through buying. But it's not supposed to be about buying -- it's supposed to be about giving. It was only that day I recognized what people have been spouting about for years about consumerism and the holidays. It's all very well to wrap and give, unwrap and get... we do recognize appreciation in this way. But maybe it can go further than that. I guess I'm sounding kind of preachy -- everyone says stuff like this these days -- but this year, I'm really going to try for it.

At the end of my Oxford "failure," I found a little shop that sold Cornish pasties where an Italian guy was teaching his friend how to work the cash machine. I bought a Pixie Pasty (1/2 size cheese n'onion -- yum!!) and thought about how much nicer it was to be amongst people (and good food) than things. That evening was spent with the IH group watching Love Actually (It was great fun getting to yell "TRAFALGAR SQUARE! COVENT GARDEN! SOMMERSET HOUSE! SELFRIDGES!" as they passed by on the screen -- best of all was Sophie's ecstatic "WE LIVE THERE!!!") Being with 15 wonderful friends afforded me far more happiness than anything in Top Shop could've. Of that I am dead certain.

The thing about me, is once I learn valuable lessons, I often forget them while I sleep, and have to relearn them the very next day. Par example:

Yesterday I went to Harrods and had a similar consumerist meltdown, though this time it was over food items, which seems somehow more forgivable. Everything at Harrods is ridiculously expensive (I'm positive you can buy essentially the same tin of £12.95 ginger biscuits at Tesco for £3.00) and what's worse is that people don't seem to care. Hell, I'm not ruling myself out of this category -- I didn't seem to care either. I instantly thought: "I must get something at Harrods. People do that when they go to England. The biscuits must be Harrods brand, of course. I must get a green Harrods bag." I was the walking realization of Brave New World. Ai-yi-yi. But, all things considered, Harrods is a pretty piece of commercial flesh. It's very shiny and well-organized and everyone there wears smart little hats.

And then you see stuff like this:


And next thing you know your heart is melting all over the place and you're adopting a £2.50 Gingy-man to take home with you, cause god forbid somebody else eats him first.

At the recommendation of an old friend, I went to the Whole Foods in Kensington. It's simply not fair that the one there is enormous (3 floors, my friends, and the top floor is all in-shop eateries) and has all the standard British fanfare when the place originated in Austin, Texas. Yet another thing I wish I could relocate home.




I'll never get over London's architecture. It seems there's a breathtaking monument with this-and-that prominent historical figure around every corner. It's going to be a rude awakening going back to the modernity that is the Western United States. (Though I'm looking forward to the simple goodness of snow-covered pine trees...)

And, as I have said before, there's also a gorgeous, enormous park here whenever and wherever you need one to be. Today it was the quiet Holland Park, just south of Notting Hill. I felt like I'd entered several storybooks all at once.



First Sleeping Beauty...

Then Mary Poppins...


The Secret Garden...




The Hobbit...


and Alice in Wonderland...



As I set up my camera timer to take this shot, a man who was trimming a nearby tree chuckled at me a little. So I felt rather like Alice by the end of it.


Then this guy came out of nowhere:


I'd been warned there were peacocks in this park, but it's hard to believe until they're strutting right across your path like some oversize technicolor pigeon. They were amazing. But tricky little buggers to get photos of cause they move so much!


The park let out in the whitewash Wonderland of Notting Hill, and I had a nice stroll through there before I treated myself to a tube ride home -- walking from Bloomsbury to Kensington one way was quite enough for me on this cold day!



Monday night I enjoyed a carol service at Saint Pancras church and (rather less enjoyably) heard yet another sermon in which the pastor started off like he was embracing all religious beliefs, but ended with "Jesus. is. the king. And he is the only king. And when you let him into your life you will change. And you will begin to understand why these other things are not worth your time." He had kind of segued off some other subject, but I couldn't help but thinking how "these other things" no doubt contained shreds of his earlier referencing of "the Muslims and the Hare Krishnas." I will just never understand the idea that there's only one way of looking at the world -- I don't think God would've made things that boring or simple. Still, it was nice singing carols, having mince pie and mulled wine (I think I'm finally weaning myself off the novelty of both of these things; they really are everywhere), and talking to my friend AK after the service.

Just a couple more classes to go, likely a trip across the Thames, and (I hope) many more adventures and pictures. Tonight it's an end-of-term English department party -- at school! with tutors and stuff! It's really cool that they do this here. I wish that sort of thing would happen at UW. It's not every day you get to talk Shakespeare with your professor over mulled wine and (yes, more) mince pies.

See you soon,
-R

December 10, 2011

Comfort & Joy


Hey guys! Well, Christmas has officially begun for me here in London. I know I've said that about 9 times already, but seriously this time. Tonight we have a Christmas party here at the dorm (basically just music and cheap drinks, but what's to complain about there!) and the kitchen staff celebrated by serving up a proper English feast! I bypassed the turkey and cod and went for something called a Wellington which, for the purposes of this post, I'm going to assume translates to "vegetarian goodness." It was basically veggie stuffing wrapped in a croissant. Life doesn't get better than bread wrapped in bread. Then there was this weird ham thing that sort of resembled an aspic and was served with some of the most fantastic chutney I've ever eaten. I loaded up on the vegetables (they do something with cooked carrots and some other root here that I've never seen before, but it's quite nice), grabbed a bit of Christmas pudding and a mince pie (just one!) and happily found, at the end of it all, Christmas crackers!! Which are a lot of fun, if you haven't played with them before. They come with these marvelous goofy crown hats and have little trinkets and jokes inside. For example:

What do you say when you meet a polar bear?
Nothing, you run away as fast as you can.

Oh, Brits.

I have also finished my last essay. I never thought I had it in me to write eight of them -- massing about 20,000 words -- but I guess we all surprise ourselves sometimes. I definitely still have some editing to do, but the worst is over, and I'm already scheming up ways to make my last 10 days here the best of all.

I've already managed to have a couple great adventures! First, the 5th of December in Dutch culture means Sinterklaas celebration. This is where the story of Santa came from, of course, but there's elements that I definitely had missed in my holiday history. For one thing, you get these guys....


who seem completely inappropriate, right? But, as my Dutch friends quickly informed me, their faces get like that from going down the chimney delivering gifts. Even so, you can't help but feel really weird about this after similar minstrel-era monstrosities (sort of like how I always cringe when I get to this part of Holiday Inn), and hence the ones I met on December 5th looked like this:

Do me a favor and forget how absolutely cheesy I look here.



And here. I was excited I found Sir. Cadogan.

On the 4th, one of my good friends from IH arranged for our whole group to watch a Dutch film (essentially their version of Love Actually) and eat pepernoten (essentially gingerbread balls) and this really amazing gingerbread marzipan cake that I can't remember the name of. The next night she got us reservations at a Dutch bar in Soho. We met Sinterklaas and I had some really swell Belgian beer, recommended by my Holland buddies. The smurfish helper guys handed out chocolate coins and these anise-flavoured bread bites which looked sort of like gold chunks. I learned a lot of Dutch holiday pop songs, danced the twist, and had some good fun comparing traditions. These people hands down have the best beer. Here's what I had:




Really weird shot, but I'm totally in love with it.

I hope the next weekend opens up some space for more time with these guys, cause they've been my life source for the past three months! I'm going to miss my International besties when I head out, and I'm so jealous of the ones that get to stay and carry on all our crazy slow-to-be-realized plans:

From R-L, our International Crew: Italy ,Germany, Spain, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Holland, Holland, Holland, The Netherlands, England, Italy, The Netherlands, and Australia (and the USA in there somewhere, o'course.)



 A couple nights later I headed out with the Musical Theatre society to WINTER WONDERLAND, which is essentially the coolest place on earth. It was the second time in one week I felt like a four-year-old, for all my excitement. There's nothing like a whole ton of unnecessary lights to set my childhood heart thumping and put a big fat smile on my face.






This moose sang Christmas carols. He was wonderful.

This guy was just in the wrong holiday.

The ice skating rink was what we came for, and it delivered. The stupid thing was, though, they didn't allow bags, cameras, or phones on the ice, so if you brought a purse you had no choice but to leave it with the shoe rental people, and they charged you a £1 fee to do so. This is just one example of the Catch-22 principle London has employed to keep you from overstaying your welcome in their country (by depriving you of funds.) Anyway, I couldn't take any photos on the ice, which is too bad, cause there were some great images I would love to have caught. It also means I have to show you a stock photo of the rink:

 

"Shine yo shoes, gov'nah?!"

I was actually impressed I didn't fall over. Last December I was invited to the Riverpark Square rink with a friend from elementary school, and the last time I'd gone before that was probably around the time we met (in other words, when I was like 7), so I was pretty nervous. But I guess the 1 or 2 years of lessons I took at that age served well, cause neither that day nor this one did I find balancing on those little blades terribly unsettling. On the contrary, by the end of the session I was absolutely zooming around wishing I could do turns and things, wanting to go faster and faster. It was kind of like when I learned to bike down our old house's quite vertical driveway by telling myself I was Peter Pan, incapable of crash-landing. There's something about the feeling of travel -- be it driving, blading, biking, or dream-flying -- that gives you the impression that you're leaving all your troubles behind. Anxious little me has always been addicted to that feeling.

It was also nice having a chance to goodbye to all the friends I made through The Producers, if not a little sad. These three are essentially the people who kept me sane through it all:





This weekend it's off to Matt Bourne's Nutcracker, and I can't wait. If your name starts with K and ends with "owalski," then you know I've essentially been hoping for this since Freshman year. Any Nutcracker is a good Nutcracker, but Bourne's done some really cool stuff with it (see here). My only regret is that I couldn't see this one too.

Some other things which I hope to accomplish before my adventure's over. 8 days! I can't even believe it!!! Being back on USA soil is going to feel so weird.

Ain't nothing better than Michael Caine and a bunch of Muppets. Except when it's playing at a London cinema.

I have yet to get fish & chips! If anyone has any recommendations, I'm all ears.

Need to go back here, Christmas gift-hunting.
Watching this with dorm friends.

My pub! Last chance to try local ales.

Brave Oxford Street to enjoy holiday lights at night.

Anything having to do with this guy.

 And, of course, I can't avoid the responsibility that I so dearly hate to love.


If there's anything you think I've missed out on, please leave a comment! I want to make sure I tackle London to the best of my ability.

Miss y'all bunches. I can't wait to see every last one of you.

-Rach