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

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