06 December, 2007

Something Pretty

It's been a bleak and gray day here. Rainy and miserable. Maybe thats why I've had a low-level nervousness all day about boyfriend-leaving and London, again. So all I'm posting is this pretty photograph to soothe my mind.

04 December, 2007

London Trip Journal Entries: part 1

Today I've been feeling rather down, so I decided to flip through some writing I did in London. I thought I'd transcribe a few entries, and share a few photos:

"October 19

Sitting in a cafe in Cambridge now. It's been an oh-so-extravagant afternoon for me- I bought a hoodie! Or a jumper, as they'd call it. I feel incredibly under dressed here in jeans and my converse all stars. I forgot what slobs Americans look like next to Europeans. I haven't quite figured out how to dress for Cambridge or London yet. I feel so silly worrying about these things, but I can't help it.

Anyhow, today I wanted to write about some differences I've noticed. Everything is a little bit odd to me. It's all familiar-enough to make me feel like it's a safe adventure, but different-enough to force me to pay attention to everything, all the time. Social expectations are a little lost on me, but I can feel they are different from San Francisco.

I've noticed how environmentally aware people are. Lifestyle changes to save the planet aren't great burdens placed upon them, but necessary shifts in attitude. A lot of people have washers but no dryers, for instance. There are taxes imposed upon drivers in certain areas. It's just a different attitude about things. Convenience always wins out in America, but it doesn't seem to be the case here. I appreciate a certain level of convenience though... it's hard to judge how things are here when I'm only here for two weeks.

Money is another thing. People spend money differently here. Of course everything seems expensive to me, but that's because of the exchange rate. But $20 is almost throw-away cash to me, while the people I was with balk at spending £19 on something like a toaster. I don't know how to explain it, but Cambridge people aren't consumers in the same way Americans are. I'm not sure how to explain the difference. It IS expensive here. But, hm... it's like $20 isn't the same as £20 worth of stuff. It's like everything is about 1/3 more expensive. I'm not talking about the exchange rate, but if $1 had the same worth as £1, then what we buy for that dollar would cost £1.30 to them. I dunno if I'm explaining it right. There's just a difference in what the money is worth...

A few other differences in phrasing, "for rent" is posted as "to let". Of course there are the obvious "vest", "trousers" versus "pants", "jumper", "brolly" , "wellies", etc. I was looking for my black pants and had my young cousins in fits of giggles before I realized that "pants" means underwear. Whoops, I meant looking for my trousers, kids.

Also, doorknobs. Placed higher than anything in the US. On almost everything. My hand keeps bumping things while searching for the handles. And half the time they don't even have handles, just a lock that you open the door with as you turn the key..."

"Oct 20

A Greek, a German, and an American went to London...

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it was the start of my first day in London. I met up with a few students from Cambridge at the train station this morning. It was very cold, despite my layers, and the coffee in my hands didn't seem to be warming them any. (I think I've begun buying coffee every few hours just to keep my fingers from freezing. CAFFEINE WEE!!!) I met up with my two traveling companions, and we made our way into the city.

We began our day at the British Museum, seeing the largest collection of Egyptian, Assyrian, and Grecian art I'd ever seen. It was overwhelming, and we didn't even see half of the museum.

We met up with some friends (two more Greeks, another German, and another American) at a local pub for lunch, where I was surprised to learn that pub food is NOT bar food. Pub culture is somewhere between bar and coffee house culture. It's a social space with alcohol, but you can take your kids with you, or write there, or meet there. It's not a bar, or a club. And the food wasn't so bad.

After lunch we did the tourist thing, and walked down to see Parliament and Big Ben- which wasn't nearly as tall as films make it look. It was lit to its best advantage though, and looked stunning. It was neat to see such an iconic structure. When I took a picture, someone walked by yelling, "it's just a CLOCK!" Yes, but it's a pretty clock. *shrug*

We continued along the bridge to the South Bank area, which was more touristy. We walked along the river bank, listening to the water lapping against the cement and mixing itself with the sand. It was here we watched the sun go down, amongst kids on skateboards, a mime or two, and tourists pointing crudely at one thing or another.

It was low tide, and two artists were making a sand sculpture in a protected sandy area along the river. I threw a few coins into the center of their target on the ground that said "please throw a coin if you take a photo", and recorded their brilliant little sand octopus. Why are tentacled beings so damn cute?

One thing I noted today: the soles of my boots are very thin, and the streets and sidewalks here are very textured. Rarely do you see the solid, uniformed blocks of cement that create the San Francisco walking experience. Here I could feel edges of bricks, cobblestones, and textured pavement every few feet. It drove me a little crazy.

There are no billboards here either- advertising is prohibited excepting buses and the Underground. So of course, every available surface of the Underground is covered in ads. But it was refreshing to note the architecture around London, instead of the crap that usually covers the architecture.

We wandered all over the South Bank area until we could see Tower Bridge. I took a billion photos today. Everything was lovely, and I think I could get used to living here. I feel refreshed, even though my legs ache.

We were all tired and silent on the train ride home. But I was lucky enough to catch the barista at the coffee stand in the Cambridge train station, and I got a steaming Hot Chocolate to sip as I bundled up and walked home. Yum."


I think a little background information is in order:

It's been about a year since I first thought about how glamorous it sounded "studying abroad". But it all happened very quickly. In October, I visited England. A few weeks ago, my long-term boyfriend and I flew to L.A. where I presented my portfolio to two of the finest fashion schools in the world, and I was invited to attend Central St. Martins. In case you live outside of the design and art world, and have no idea what that means, it's a very, very big deal, and an honor I was not expecting.

I was not prepared to be invited to CSM, so I never visited the college, and never planned for the possibility. But here I am, and the decision has sort of been made for me. I have to go to London, now. This would be the opportunity I'd kick myself for passing up, if I let it go.

Now, the biggest deal: my boyfriend cannot come with me. It breaks my heart every day. It scares the living crap out of me, too. But I couldn't ask him to move, even if he wanted to. He has an amazing career, and a 7-year old daughter here. I am afraid of leaving everything and everyone I know behind, but I'm more terrified of facing a new country entirely alone without him. I am excited by it, too, though. It will be my first opportunity to stand alone, and figure myself out. I've always had someone to lean on for backup, and I am hoping this experience will help me finally grow up. And if the boy and I are meant to be together, we'll see how things work out when I come back. I sound brave when I say that, but really, I'm going to be a wreck as the actual moving approaches. I've had dreams about how hard it will be to get on the plane and leave him here. I'm one scared little girl, lemme tell ya.

All of my friends are excited for me. I keep meeting them for coffee so they can remind me why I should be thrilled. But I worry. And some part of me knows that this knot in my stomach wont relax until I've been in London for a while, and have settled in, learned my way around, made one friend. I hate the process of moving, and this will be the biggest move I've made. I will have to sell a lot of my stuff. I won't have any furniture that I can bring with me. My comfy bed will stay here. (I wonder if I can get new power cords for my sewing machine etc to fit the UK sockets...hmm.) And worst/best of all, I will have to spend some time figuring out where everything is again. Hm, I need hairdye, where the hell do I go? Food... where's the cheapest store? What's the comfiest coffee shop around? I've lived in San Francisco for about 4 years, but I have a very good sense of the place. How long it will take in a cab to get from one place to another; the easiest route to take when getting home from any place; the spots that are open late; the best pie in town. I will miss the comfort of all that. I will be fine once I'm in London. It's just hard facing all the steps between here and there.

Also, I won't lie: I am NOT looking forward to being a starving student. I am not well off, but I'm better off than some of my peers in school. I have a TV, a carpet on my floor, a good collection of books and movies I began collecting a few years ago. I have my own sewing machine and serger. And I have been found guilty of buying shoes instead of food. But I've never been in the position where I have to eat top ramen for weeks. When I get close to that, my boyfriend usually buys me some food (he's good like that). But once I move to the UK, I will be very poor. Not to sound like a terrible person or anything, but I do not do well when I'm poor. I get very self concious about it. I feel very sorry for myself, I'm afraid. And I have developed a taste for decadent experiences. I wonder how much of that is the fact that I have adult friends who live the lifestyle I want. Maybe being around other poor students won't make me so afraid of being poor. But, awful though I may be, I hope I can find people to remind me that it's okay to be a student and live like a student, on those days when I start to feel cranky and lonely.

So that about catches us up, I think. I am trying to be as honest as I can about my feelings about this move, right now. I have to finish about 6 months of school to get my Associates Degree in Fashion Design here in the states, and then my birthday will hit next fall. After which, I will head off to a rather lonely time, as I try and find my footing in the UK. I just now realized this will be my last holiday season here for a while. And, I missed my last Halloween. Aw man....

01 December, 2007

Some Thoughts on History

I visited London in late October for the first time, where I spent two weeks getting to know my extended family in Cambridge, and getting lost repeatedly in London. But being lost was a pleasure in some ways, and I was graced with unusually beautiful weather (albeit shockingly cold in comparison to San Francisco). My handy "A to Z London" map guide in my bag, I'd spend my days wandering around the city, bundled up in scarves and a heavy wool jacket, camera in pocket, coffee in hand.

Being a Caucasian American (and a girl raised without any religion) I've often felt that I have no roots; no sense of history, no community that I am a part of. US American history goes back a whopping coupla hundred years, and our sense of what is "old" is ridiculously adolescent. But in England I found some of what I feel is lacking in my life: a sense of a grounded, lived-in past. It might not be my past, but you cannot help but be immersed in it. Everywhere you go, there is culture- and it's been there for a very, very long time.

European history is in some ways very new to me. Growing up in the leftist Bay Area, I learned about The Evil White Man's history only through the lens of another culture's suffering at our hands. I can tell you everything about Central and South America's history of violent dictatorships, but have never taken US history. I could tell you all about parts of Africa, and pieces of the Middle East, but I know nothing of Europe beyond its saga of looting and colonizing. (To be fair, the museums have an impressively worldly collection because of that.) It has always been a little shameful that I am White, growing up in Berkeley.

But in England, I found myself surrounded by the very history I had been denied. Hell, everyone lives in Castles over there. No really. Alright, I kid. But everywhere I went I found buildings that were 600 years old, that contained artifacts that were thousands of years old. Life has been happening in that city for a very long time, and you can feel it in the streets and architecture. And somehow, that long-lived, deeply ingrained sense of history made me feel at home in this place I'd never been before...