Friday, October 31, 2008

Breaking my own rules.

And losing all my friends. But I've decided that's okay. I keep thinking that I just have to hold the fury in a few days more,and then it will be okay, and I can talk to people again without risking ruining relationships with my anger, but that "few days more" keeps stretching to a few weeks, a few months, and then four more years.

Today is my sixteenth anniversary. Do you know what Catherine and I did on our first date 16 years ago? We went canvassing, handing out literature against Measure 9, an anti-gay measure sponsored by the OCA. A few years later, we were working on No on 13 (same measure, different number). We left Oregon before we had to work against yet another Measure 9.

Seriously, you'd think in 16 years, things would change. I bought into the (Bill) Clinton's administration promise, and look what I got--a president who wouldn't even speak to us at March on Washington, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I got a President who signed Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419, otherwise known as the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. And since that time, I've watched the U.S. become swept up in anti-gay legislation--only five states do not have some sort of statute against gay marriage (in most cases, that "statute" comes in the form of an amendment to the state Constitution). Anti-gay politics has evolved into a very pro-active institution--think of what gay people might want to do, and take that right away from them before they even knew they had it to begin with.

And we're at it again, of course, with Prop 8. There was no point in getting excited about being allowed to marry in California, because you know that ten minutes after permission was granted, we were all pulling out our pocketbooks to fund the campaign to preserve that right. It seems like improvement, fighting for the right to get married, rather that just the right to have sex without going to jail, but let me tell you, it feels exactly the same on an emotional level.

And we're at it again in other ways, too. Once again, I'm being told that I shouldn't expect too much or any support from any presidential candidate. How many times have I been asked in the last sixteen years to put my own civil rights on hold so we could elect "the best" candidate, a candidate that would surely fight for me once he or she got into office? Yeah, and how has that worked out for me? Not very well, I can tell you that. That's why endless comments like those made in response to Andrew Sullivan just piss me off--how many times can I be asked to sell myself and my relationship out for the Democrats? How many times am I going to be blamed for the loss of a presidential election for being too controversial? Don't be too vocal about Prop 8, you don't want to mobilize the religious right in California and lose the state for Obama! Well, fuck that noise.

And news flash for you: it's cowardly for a presidential to say that marriage is a "states' rights" issue. It's also just false. Let me tell you, it's not State law that is keeping me away from Catherine this year, it's a Federal law. A federal law signed by a Democrat.

Well, I waived my right to a secret ballot so I could vote through e-mail from here in London, so I can say that I voted the way everyone around me wanted me to vote. But I don't feel good about it, in fact, I may feel worse than after the last two elections. Once again, all I'm getting is more "separate but equal" rhetoric. Welcome, again, to the back of the bus.

So, when I get yet another e-mail from a friend telling me to be sure to cast my absentee ballot for Obama, I have to stop and remind myself that this person doesn't understand the level of sacrifice they are once again asking of me. It takes a long time for me to lose my political anger after every election season, and I have to work very hard to remember, "These people are my friends, they don't mean to hurt me." And I tell myself, "Really, don't be selfish, it's not all about YOU." And that is so true, it's never about me. If it were about me, I would be able to vote for a President who actually believed that everyone deserved the same rights.

I really miss Catherine, and I hate everyone who helped make this twelve-month separation possible, including myself.


Tourists spend a lot of time and money looking for the perfect memento to mark their trip to London. Some people buy models of red double-decker buses (hi, Beth!), some buy packets of biscuits (hi, Catherine!). I myself purchased multiple postcards with tube maps and images of the Tower Bridge and god knows what all on my first two trips to London. The truth is, however, if you REALLY want to capture the essence of London, you need to buy a Hi Viz Vest, or at least take a photograph of any random street in London, because you will be all but guaranteed to capture the image of some person--construction worker, charity volunteer, policewala, bicyclist--wearing a High Viz Vest at all times, night or day.

For the life of me, I can't remember which Dick Francis book contained the following scene: our hero needs to swap horses between two horse trailers without the driver of horse trailer A noticing the switch. So, he and his co-conspirators set up a fake census checkpoint along a dual carriageway, and then proceed to flag down the drivers of horse trailer A. The drivers park the horse trailer and go into the caravan to fill out lengthy census forms. While they are distracted, our hero swaps out the horses. The drivers return, notice nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, drive away.

You'd think this plot wouldn't work in real life, but Dick Francis remembered they key element on which all successful subterfuge relies: the Hi Viz Vest. If you are wearing a Hi Viz Vest, you can do ANYTHING in London (and probably the whole of the UK) and no one will question your right to do it. You can dig holes in the ground, park illegally, stand in traffic, ask people questions, force people to queue--the Hi Viz Vest is all powerful. Dick Francis noticed this 30 some years ago, and people still believe it in 2008.

Sadly, I already have a day-glo orange reflective vest w/matching arm and ankle bands for running after dark, so I don't need to buy a piece of authentic London to take home with me. But, I really should, because even more than the announcement that "There is a good service on the Piccadilly Line," or people nightly trying to force a copy of the London Lite in my hands as I go into King's Cross, the Hi Viz Vest is emblematic of my every day life in London.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Early Winter

According to one of the free newspapers that everyone abandons on the floor of the tube during the evening commute, today was the first October snowfall London has had in seventy years.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I think this proves my point.



Decided to spend my Saturday around Canary Wharf yesterday (photos here). Usually, I'm pretty good at finding my way, but somehow I read the map upside down and ended up wandering around quite a bit before ending up at my intended destination, the London Museum in Docklands. I had my camera, so hopefully my wandering looked intentional to passersby.

If you only judged by the photos I've taken in my four trips to London, you'd think all of London lived quay-side, Thames-side or canal-side. I'm not sure how I always end up walking next to the water, or more precisely, how it is that I only have my camera with me when I'm walking next to water.

Anyway, I haven't been to Canary Wharf since 1997, we took a quick look-see at it with my Victorian Society Summer School, to check out the rebuilding after the bomb. It was then that I decided that I wanted to write my dissertation about bombs and buildings--too bad that was vetoed by my then adviser, as I would have been going on the job market some 4-5 years later, just in time.

The Museum in Docklands is quite nice. There's a special exhibit up on Jack the Ripper, which I didn't see. It was super crowded, either because this was the first Saturday of half-term break for school kids, or because it was the last Saturday of same, not sure which. I really only went there to see the London, Sugar & Slavery exhibit, anyway, so I kept my focus on that.

Well done exhibit, not nearly as brutal as I probably would have made it, but I guess that's why I'm not a curator. One thing I really liked about it was that the issue of slavery (and implicitly, empire) was brought into the present day (or at least up to 2007). What I found a little puzzling was the exhibit's starting date of 1700. There was a wall of statistics for the slave trade, listing the ships, number of enslaved Africans carried, destination, etc., but the stats all related to the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Enslaved Africans were used in the American colonies starting from 1650 or so, and I know Jamaica had rapidly growing enslaved populations in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Anyway, that's more of a side issue--the main point is that at least the museum is trying--not too long ago, it seemed as if Madge Dresser was talking into an empty void of indifference.

My favorite part of the exhibit was a bit of technology, actually. They had an interactive map that showed traces of slavery around eighteenth-century London. For instance, it had marked St. Botolph without Aldgate as a church with many African congregants, and a site of many African burials. It would be really brilliant if you could take the museum's map, and lay it over top of the maps from the Sugar Refiners and Sugarbakers database. If you could also overlay maps of trading houses for goods produced on plantations, and add to those maps locating domiciles of slave holders, or those with financial interest in slave ships, or those who produced the goods to trade for sugar, or the places where rum was bottled, you'd have an incredibly dense map, demonstrating fairly conclusively that slavery changed the geography of Thameside London as much as any seventeenth-century fire.

Speaking of fire, the only other galleries I really spent time in were the "docklands at war" rooms. They had a film clip borrowed from the Imperial War Museum, showing the inferno caused by incendiary bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe--I wish it had been longer, because I was riveted by it. I regret not being able to write my dissertation on Canary Wharf. Maybe the "bombs and buildings" wasn't such a great idea, the London Museum in Docklands demonstrates that somewhere in my research, I would have found an interesting, and hopefully worthwile, topic.

Friday, October 24, 2008

That's ridiculous.

So, I just tried to look up the name of an Anupam Kher movie--I know the general theme, but not the title. He has 285 movies listed under name on imdb. That's just outrageous.

ETA: Found it, believe it or not. Anyone who can score me a copy of Daddy wins my eternal gratitude.

Game Over.

What I look like on a Friday night after a week of feeling homesick, two days of being ill, and an afternoon of a sad movie:

Not a lot accomplished these past few days. I held steady through Wednesday, but yesterday just couldn't stay at the library. In the morning, I tried to do some research at the Royal Society, but ended up spending much more time feeling sick in the loo than I did doing actual work. I also spent some time sitting by myself on the platform of the Piccadilly Tube Station, watching trains go by, but feeling too upset in the stomach to get on any of them. When I did finally get on, it was clear I wasn't going to be able spend any quality time working, so I rode back and forth for a bit on the Piccadilly Line, waiting for my temperature to come down a bit.

In the end, I decided to spend the afternoon at a museum. I didn't feel like going all the way back to the house, and anyway, I knew my housemate was trying to get her lesson plan done and she didn't need me to be in the way. Museums have bathrooms, and they have benches, and they often have temperature controlled rooms, so that sounded promising. So, on my second time through the South Kensington station, I got off the tube, and walked over to the V & A. I spent a lot of time in the Sacred Silver collection, as well as in the stained glass collection. If you're feeling like you might vomit, these are good places to be, because the lighting is dim, no one else is around, and you can bolt down the ceramic staircase to the bathroom in an emergency. Also, the lighting is dim in the hallway with Lord Leighton's frescoes, and there is a nice floor-to-ceiling window at one end, so that is also a good, quiet retreat in times of distress.

What is NOT good for distress is to book a ticket for a special exhibition. This might seem obvious to everyone else, but it's difficult to walk out of a ticketed exhibition in search of a bathroom. I was thinking only, "High end exhibition = good temperature control, surely comes with benches." Unfortunately, it also comes with a tightly controlled path of movement--once you're in the exhibition hall, you're stuck until the end. Still, Cold War Modern was worth the nine pounds, even if I rushed the last two rooms a bit (the rooms for "revolution" and "last utopias"). If you're in London, and you're an architecture student, this is a great place to look at some architectural renderings for Soviet building projects--they're amazing, and they're BIG. I also enjoyed the recreation of the 8-minute "light and sound" experience originally plotted by Corbusier. Fall-out shelters, space suits, modular furniture, hammocks---this exhibit has it all. Except an easily accessible bathroom, so keep that in mind if you're not feeling 100%.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank god for globalisation.

Otherwise, I would have been forced to spend 20+ quid on a hair cut at a shop in the high street of Cockfosters. Thanks to aggressive capitalist markets, I instead spent only 12GBP for a trim at the Supercuts in Shopping City at Wood Green.

Actually, that's not true. I spent 15GBP--I gave the hairdresser a 25% tip. Part of my generosity was due to the fact that she took on the challenge that is my head 20 minutes before closing time. Most of my generosity, though, was because she was nice to me, and talked to me while she was working. Well, yes, hairdressers often try and chat with me (ask Catherine about the woman who sometimes cuts hair but mostly just talks in the shop out at Whitehall), but I tend not to engage in small talk. It's often the end of the day--or the beginning of the day--and I'm tired, and not really in the mood to chat. I'm polite and all, but not really talkative. Usually. I don't know what happened yesterday, but I had a real, honest to god conversation sitting in that tippy chair.

We went through all the usual questions--do you ever color your hair, why are you in London, do you have any children--and then got onto the topic of Skype, and how it was saving my marriage. She also uses Skype, but said she gave up using it with her mother, because her mother always cried at the end, and because she was a "big wuzzy", she also ended up in tears. It was easier to say goodbye on the phone than on a webcam. Somehow we moved on from there to a discussion about aging parents, and I admitted that was one of the worst parts of being away for a year, the worry that I might not see my parents again.

She told me that her father had died three years ago or so, and talked about how hard that first year was--hard for her, but also hard because she had to step up when her mother fell to pieces. She told me that it was something for which you tried to prepare, but until it happened, you just didn't quite understand what it was like. The father of a friend had died a bit before hers had, and she tried to be supportive, but it wasn't until her own father died that she realized just how much she didn't understand what her friend had been going through. The first year was the hardest, but then she was able to move on--it got easier with time. Still hard, but better.

I don't know, she was remarkably upbeat about the whole thing. Serious, but also looking out for the points where a positive turn could be taken--didn't I have siblings that could help, wasn't it good that my father had a course of treatment that kept him here this long, etc. It was the first real conversation I've had in weeks, and I don't think I'll ever forget her telling me about her parents, and how they loved each other, right up to the end, even after 45 years of marriage. "My father was a good man," she told me. I could tell she meant it, she was telling the truth, and it was really kind of her to share that moment with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Documentary fiction.

Amu: I've been watching the old people lately, thinking about how much trauma they must be carrying around inside them. Yesterday specifically, I was watching the old people at the Diwali celebration on Trafalgar Square, wishing I could overhear their thoughts just for a moment. If you're eighty years old, and you were born in the Panjab, you probably directly experienced Partition. Maybe you can remember it clearly, or maybe you've suppressed it, I don't know. You definitely remember the Emergency. If your family moved to Delhi after Partition, you're carrying around memories from the 1984 massacre of the Sikhs. Or if your family moved to Mumbai, you have the 1992-1993 riots in the back of your mind. Even if your family had already emigrated to the UK--thus explaining your presence at the Trafalgar Diwali celebration--you've probably got some family members who were directly affected, even if they weren't living in the metropolitan areas. And of course, if you're living in London, you probably aren't a stranger to anti-immigrant violence that in all likelihood was tuned to the pitch of "anti-Pakistani."

All of this is to say that there's a lot of violence to explore in the history of India and Pakistan, just as there's a lot of non-violence to explore in the history of those two nations. So, I understand the intentions behind a film like Amu, particularly when the Indian government does such a good job at denying that such events have happened, and that certain sections of the government in fact enabled them to happen. And it wasn't a bad film, it just wasn't a great film. I felt as if the screenwrite and the director couldn't decide whether they wanted to make a documentary, or a work of fiction, so they flopped back and forth between the two genres. That made for some really stilted dialogue. And the stilted dialogue reminded me that, oh, this is following a script, this isn't real, thoughts that kept me from being swept away into the story. I love Konkona Sen Sharma, but her American accent slipped one too many times. And I'm sorry, but no person of color who grew up in L.A. and is old enough to remember the 1992 uprising is ever going to be puzzled about riots and massacres. Maybe a white teenager might ask earnest (and stupid) questions about the police role in violence, but not someone who is supposed to have the background of Kaju.

This sounds like a negative review, but it's not. It's a worthwhile film, obviously. I think it wasn't meant for people who study the history of India for a career, but for those who have only heard whispers in the background of their lives about earlier troubles. It's a nice entry point into that history, and because it was done as a popular film, perhaps more people will hear about these important events. It's a film the creators can be proud of, and I think I would recommend it to the right people--not to a completely naive audience, but one that knows something about India, but might not have been able to figure out how to learn about this bit of the past.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"This has been my best day ever, Lee Carter."

Yeah, so...sorry. I had a bad week and didn't much feel like talking about it. Barely dragged myself out of bed on Monday to make it to work. Thought I'd shake things up and reinvigorate myself by working at the RIBA Library on Tuesday, but ending up falling on the sidewalk instead. Sore--in both the emotional and physical senses of the word--all week, and just generally angry at London.

Fortunately, I spent some time with friends this weekend, so I'm a little less surly now. Alex and Matt just got a new puppy--SO CUTE--so I went out to Ealing yesterday to check it out. We had great Chinese food for dinner, and watched Son of Rambow while the puppy chewed on its toy. I really liked the movie, but it was nothing like I expected it to be--I think the U.S. trailers for it must have been completely misleading.

About 14 hours after I left Alex and Matt for the night, I met up with Alex again (Matt stayed home to take care of the cuteness that is Chiyo). I think meeting up with Alex should become a trend, as he seems to have good taste in food, and I can use the variety in my diet. A group of his friends were gathering at the Blue Elephant in Fulham Broadway to celebrate a birthday, so I hung out with them for awhile, then headed home for a much-needed nap. On the way home, though, I saw a Diwali poster on a tube station and remembered that today was the Diwali celebration at Trafalgar Square. Couldn't just blow that off, so I stopped by for a while and listened to covers of Bollywood songs. A lot of good Diwali energy, but I was feeling pretty beat, so I came home before the lights came on, etc.

The neighbors have been celebrating Guy Fawkes Day a few weeks early--for the past two weekends, they've been putting on their own light show with fireworks in the garden. I guess I can count that for my Diwali show.

I also spent a good chunk of yesterday just wandering around by myself, trying to learn how to use this new camera (photos available on flickr). I'm not sure I want to spend the time learning everything about it--I'm not in this to become a professional photography. I can see that I'm going to have to invest in a perspective-control lens, though, and learn how to use some of the light-compensation settings. I left everything on AUTO yesterday, and it mostly worked out, but not completely.

Son of Rambow: nice movie. I caught myself laughing out loud a few times, making those weird noises you make when you can't control your hysteria. Some of the accidents the kids had were just too damn funny. Of course, some of the accidents the kids had were just too damn tragic, and at one point, I turned to Alex and said, "Man, that would put me into therapy for ten years. Oh...and there's another ten years added on." Something about the movie felt really familiar, but it wasn't until the second half, when the mother was having a flashback to her childhood that I figured it out. The lifestory of Will is driven by his mother's participation in the Plymouth Brethren. There's a scene in the movie in which the church elders come to have a talk with Will's mother about his behavior, and it put my heart in my throat. Ah...the church elders. I know exactly how this is going to go, how conditional the church's love is, even for a child. I spent most of my teenaged years desperately trying to prevent anyone from sussing out my atheism, because I didn't want to go through one more of those damn meetings. Christian love--at least as I experienced it--is so tenuous. The moment you transgress the church doctrine, you're out of the fold. Even if you repent, they are always watching you, waiting for you to screw up again so they can kick you out for good.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Fine Day Out.

Yesterday I walked Section 17 of the London Loop. All nine miles of it. What was I thinking? Well, from mile 6 to 9, I was thinking "God, you're a dumbass, just stop!" alternated with "God, don't be such a wuss, keep walking!" I swear, the last three miles took as long as the first six, I'm that out of shape. But it was a warm sunny day, something that's soon to be a scarcity around here, so I really wanted to get out into the country side. Unfortunately, I have no photos to share because while I'm alert enough to pick up the camera before I leave the house, I'm not alert enough to pick up a fresh battery. So, you won't get to see a team a draft horses pulling a wagon through a field, the "most charming part" of Turkey Brook, or the view up the lawn to Forty Hall. Trust me, they're there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pissed, and not in the good, drunken sense.

I know it doesn't make any sort of sense, but sometimes I get REALLY ANGRY when people mistake me for a man. Or, I guess it's not the mistaking part of it, it's the "is that a girl or guy?" conversation that happens when I am obviously in earshot. I know I've ranted about this before, but bear with me, because it just ruined my day again.

Yes, as I've noted before, sometimes I think it's funny. Case in point: my first day here in the UK, I went to Carphone Warehouse on the shopping parade and bought mobile phone and a world SIM card. Throughout the entire transaction, the clerk called me "Sir," even after I gave him my credit card (only Johnny Cash knows a boy named Sue, surely). And I thought that was pretty funny, because he just never really clued in, despite the fact that when I walk, I lead with one bodacious bosom.

Tonight, though, it just pissed me off. I was on the train home after a decent afternoon at the movies (How to Lose Friends, if you're interested), and I was in the last car on the train with a small group traveling together. Americans, seemingly from three different families, going out to Cockfosters for god knows what reason. Three CUTE little boys that made me laugh with their stated intentions of having 600 kids. So, I was getting off the train, thinking"that was a nice way to end the day, listening to American accents is so effortless compared to what I do most of the day" (one of the adults actually said "Look at this bad boy!" when showing his mate a picture of the largest catfish in Europe, such an American thing to say), and then they had to ruin it.

When we got off the train, just them and me from the last car, I wasn't even 3 feet away from before the catfish guy turned to his friend and said, "Was that a guy or a girl?" and his friend answered, "Yeah, I know, I had to look twice before I could figure it out." Okay, I'm wearing casual clothes today, apparently women in the UK aren't ever allowed to wear plaid shirts, jeans and tennis shoes, but jesus christ, couldn't you just let me get a little farther away before you start talking about me? I'm just saying. No, I'm just saying thanks for nothing, losers with American accents. I hope they are your dead bodies inside that outsize, European catfish.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


I wonder if there's a limit to the number of people you can get to know in a lifetime. If there's a limit to the amount of energy a person can expend exchanging and absorbing life stories. Perhaps if you share too much too often as a young person, you run yourself short on possibilities for new friendships later on in life. You can't keep hold of all those people you knew when you were ten or twenty or thirty, even though they represent a major investment of time and energy and intimacy of sorts. But it's difficult to replace them when you're young, and it's even more difficult when you're older. If you only have it in you to really, truly know twenty people in your lifetime, and you've met and parted with eighteen of those people before your fortieth birthday, you've only got two people left to draw newly close to you in the second half of your life. It's too bad you didn't realize until too late that you should have used your choices more carefully when you had the chance ten years ago.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Doing new things.

I finished up at the British Library a bit early today, so I went to see a movie. I know, Catherine must be picking her jaw up off the floor: I willingly went to the cinema, and guess what--I saw a serious film: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime. I knew nothing about it except that it had Kirstin Scott Thomas in it. I generally avoid movies with her in it, even though I think she's stunning. She reminds me of Eileen, who then reminds me of Todd--perhaps because we saw Angels and Insects with them? I'm not sure. Anyway, Scott Thomas should be proud of her work, as should Elsa Zylberstein. I'm not going to say anything about the movie, other than it was beautiful, but painful. The one editorial I would write about it would give away the last scene, so I'll keep my opinions to myself.

This movie also briefly reminded me of Debbie, because in one scene was shown a poster for Les Jeux Dangereux, which reminded me of the poster for Jeux interdits I had on my wall my freshman year of college at WWU. My first French film, and I wouldn't have seen it if Debbie hadn't taken me to the PAC with her.

In other news, I am eating too much pizza, but at least I'm working hard to get it. I can hardly wait to get to India where I can eat with my fingers like a civilized person. God, silverware sucks.