Saturday, 23 February 2008

Fall / Winter

I've been really remiss in keeping this blog up as much as I'd like. I'm on the computer all day at work, so when I get home I don't always feel like sitting down at my desk again. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. But unfortunately it means I haven't kept up as much as I want with my writing. I do have an idea for a new book though, so I'm hoping to take time to work on it in the next year. Mary said she'd do the artwork for it, so that would be a fun collaboration for us.

The last few months have really been non-stop hectic. My cat Lint passed away back in September and that was really hard, I still miss him. He was my buddy for 10 years so it's been an adjustment not to have him by my side. I still think he might be there sometimes when I wake up but then I remember. When I think about him I don't really get sad, I just laugh remembering what a brat he was, and what a sweetheart.

I've had a lot of visitors in the last few months, and gotten to travel some more, so that's all been great. Becca & Jake came on their honeymoon and we went to the markets, and ate fish & chips and went to the park, and just had a really fun time. They're so cute together, it was great to have them here and to show them around. I miss my Beccer.

Then Celine and her boyfriend Dustin came to visit in October. Celine is a really good friend of mine from college, she lives out in LA now. She works on reality TV shows, which she's been doing for years - ever since she randomly ended up helping cast the first Big Brother. Celine's awesome and even though we live far away, we've always kept in touch. I used to stay with her in Venice Beach whenever I went to LA.

Celine and Dustin went on an ambitious 5 week trip through Europe for her 30th birthday, and came to London for a few days at the end of it. Dustin is really into Banksy, a famous London street artist. There's tons of Banksy pieces around where I live, so we walked around and looked at some of them. I took them the Lazarides gallery in Soho, which is the only gallery that directly represents Banksy. There weren't any Banksy pieces but we got to see a really cool exhibit by Space Invader. He'd created huge pixellated mosaic tile portraits of famous characters - Bonnie & Clyde, Scarface, Travis Bickle. The mosaics were all made out of Rubix cubes. I was impressed both by the art and by the sheer amount of time it must have taken to make some of the pieces. I don't think I have that kind of patience.

I took them to Denmark St to see the music shops and Dustin bought Celine a guitar for her birthday. What a good boyfriend! I'd heard about a burlesque night they were doing at Lounge Lover, a beautiful cocktail bar down the road from my flat, and I thought they might enjoy it. I made reservations and Dustin & Celine & Miguel & Nuno and I went. But the burlesque was pretty shoddy. There were one or two attractive girls and one who could really sing, but other than that it was awkward. They tried to do some theatrical burlesque, but two women covered in opaque black gauze lurching around on massive stilts is not only ridiculously unsexy, it's fucking boring.

One of the better sets was a girl who did a piece as Little Bo Peep and she came over and hooked Dustin with her pink cane and dragged him up onto the stage. Celine and I were crying laughing. Celine & Dustin were super sweet and treated me & the boys to champagne and drinks. We really had a blast, even though the burlesque turned out to be some sort of amateur night gone wrong.

In November, Rick came and we had a fabulous two weeks together. The day after Rick arrived in London was Guy Fawkes Day, which is a British holiday. This dude Guy Fawkes was a Roman Catholic revolutionary who tried to blow up Parliament in the 1600s. He was caught, tortured, and killed (along with all the other people involved). But although he's a British traitor, there's some people who see him as a hero. He's actually the inspiration for the comic & movie V for Vendetta.

So Guy Fawkes Day (also called Bonfire Night) is a holiday celebrating the fact that he didn't succeed. They burn big bonfires with effigies of Guy Fawkes, and shoot off fireworks. In the week leading up to the holiday all these little fireworks stores started popping up all over my neighborhood. All night long there would be bangs in the distance from kids setting fireworks off. It sounded like gunshots, which reminded me of Brooklyn. Aah, Brooklyn.

But I now realize where we got the idea for how we celebrate the 4th of July. And it also hit me that 4th of July is an even bigger "fuck you" to the British than I knew. We basically took a British celebration of a failed rebellion and used the same trappings for our celebration of a successful rebellion. Take that, Red Coats!

By the way, in case you didn't know this - many Brits still call us 'Yanks' and sometimes refer to the US as 'the colonies'. It always makes me giggle. Also something I learned, which I admit that I was totally ignorant about before, is that Canada is still part of the British monarchy and under the domain of the Queen. How did this piece of knowledge escape me? I don't know, but I'm really starting to think less of the NY educational system than I even did before. Maybe I wasn't paying attention in class but I don't think we ever learned much about Canada other than that Canadian mounties ride horses and wear funny hats, and they have some good bacon & maple syrup up there.

But yeah, so Canada never really fully separated itself from England and now they have free healthcare and free education and aren't hated by the rest of the world. So, uh, it's a good thing we revolted against all those high taxes and the government intruding in our lives and telling us what to do! We really showed them, eh? USA! USA!

On that topic, a quick note on another thing I've learned about how people perceive Americans in the rest of the world (besides thinking we're fat, ignorant warmongers), there is also a prevailing opinion that we love to chant USA! USA! USA! in a really loud, obnoxious voice any chance we get. Especially after uttering some ridiculous ignorant statement in a southern accent. That, my friends, is our caricature around the world. I've seen this rendition of 'an average American' so many times in lots of different countries, as I'm sure any of you who have traveled outside the US can attest to.

It's obviously about as annoying as going up to an Irishman and miming being insanely drunk and talking about four leaf clovers and pots of gold in an accent reminiscent of the Lucky Charms dude. And about as accurate. But I take it with a grain of salt, because there's not much I can do about it other than prove them wrong just by sake of being an intelligent, friendly American, and also, every country and race has it's own demonized caricature to live down.

But whenever someone does the USA! thing, I can never help but think - and maybe it's because I'm from the Northeast - that I don't think I've ever actually heard anyone do that before in real life. I've probably seen it on TV in sporting events or something, but before I started traveling, I'd never actually seen anyone do it in the States. Now I hear it all the time.

So anyway, I digress. So back to Guy Fawkes... Joao and Anjalie invited Rick & I to go to Alexandra Palace (which everyone calls Ali Pali) to see the fireworks. Ali Pali is a Palace that was built to be used as a recreation center, and they have ice skating and events and stuff. It's really high up and overlooks the city so it's a perfect spot to watch the fireworks. It reminded me of going to Bald Hill, which is the highest point in Long Island, to watch the fireworks on 4th of July when I was a kid.

There were hundreds of people there of all ages. We found a grassy spot on the hill to sit and watch the fireworks and it was really really cool. I told Rick I had arranged it all to welcome him to London. He said I'd done a good job.

Then we went back to Joao and Anj's place and Anj cooked us a delicious dinner and we spent the rest of the night watching all 20-something chapters of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet. Which is the dumbest, most insanely brilliant thing ever. That man is an idiot savant. If you haven't seen it, I strongly recommend it. You will really never be the same again. You can't help but be horrified that anyone spent time and money making this garbage, but at the same time, you're utterly transfixed. Aah, the human brain, such a fickle instrument.

I had to work the first week that Rick was here, but while I worked he kept busy. He went to a lot of museums and walked all over London. In the evenings we met up with friends and went out to Vietnamese and Mexican and Brazilian food and to pubs. I took Rick to dinner at Bacchus one night and he was in heaven. I was so glad he finally got a chance to eat there, after I've been telling him about it for a year. Rick is definitely a man who can truly appreciate a fabulous meal. And Nuno is definitely a man who can cook one!

Rick and I had planned to travel while he was here, and so we left on Friday after I got off work for our adventure. Work had been really hectic and I was completely stressed out, so it really couldn't have been a better time for a break. We took the train from London to Dover and stayed overnight in a B&B. We saw the white cliffs of Dover, which are really beautiful, and took the ferry across to Calais.

The ferry only takes about an hour or so and the ride is really fun, although it was pretty rocky and I got a little nauseous. I really love boats, but I don't know how much they love me. The first time I stayed on my aunt's boat I got really sick. She wasn't very happy with me. But now I know to take dramamine and wear these pressure point wrist bands that keep you from being nauseous. I wear them when I fly too and they help a lot.

We got to Calais, which although it sounds nice, it's kind of a shithole. It's just a grey place with a ferry terminal and a parking lot. We ate some prison-style slop in the ferry terminal while we waited for our friend Jon. Jon picked us up in a rental car and we headed to Dunkirk. We wanted to see the WWII stuff around Normandy, but it was pouring rain and we didn't really know where stuff was. We met people at a cafe in Dunkirk and they told us to go to the Museum of Dunkirk.

The Museum told the story of the town and had lots of models of ships and these fabulously detailed dioramas. The guy who'd made them was some unsung diorama-making rock star. I've never seen dioramas so cleverly done, his grasp of perspective was so superb that you could walk around the diorama and the scenes would shift. My inner diorama-making 4th grader was in awe.

Jon's friends had recommended that we check out this town in Belgium called Brugge. It was only a few hours drive, so we headed up there. We parked the car just outside of town and took the bus into the town center. We weren't sure where to get off so I asked this guy on the bus where we could get drinks & food. His name was Brian and he turned out to be really cool and he said he'd show us where to go.

He took us to his favorite bar and a group of his friends were drinking there. They were all actually in a fraternity together, even the women. It was kind of a social fraternity that basically seemed to involve getting drunk, singing songs, and wearing big sashes. They were pretty awesome, I totally wanted to be in their frat. The bartender poured us some of Belgium's famous beers - Duvel & Jupiler for the boys and Cherry Lambic for me, and we were all grinning from ear to ear.

After we were a bit soused (as my Grandma Anita would say), we went outside to the town square and Brian showed us this food stand where they had the most incredible frites ever. American french fries are like limp sticks of greasy potato next to these fabulously salted, thick, crunchy Belgian frites. And they pour a huge dollop of mayo over the top. It's a heart attack waiting to happen, but man it tasted fantastic. We loved it so much we tried half the rest of the food they offered. We got huge bratwurst sausages with mustard and chunks of meat on a stick. Everything was amazing. You just really can't go wrong with meat on a stick.

The beer there is over 8% alcohol, so it's super strong. The Belgians warned the boys not to drink more than 3 Duvel but of course they didn't listen. I was a bit more conservative and I was the only one spared a splitting hangover the next morning. But we had a fantastic time hanging with the locals and eating lots of frites and Belgian chocolate and checking out the bars. Brian gave us some suggestions for places to go, but he said not to go to this biker bar that was in the "bad" part of town.

We wandered down there later to check it out, because we were curious as to what the "bad" part of this beautiful town was. It seemed really nice to us. We were puzzled at first, but we then realized what he meant about 'bad' was actually that it was the locals-only area of town, and being tourists, we weren't really welcome. Especially, we were told by some people, because Rick is "brown" (he's hispanic).

We came upon the biker bar at some point and it actually reminded me of Motor City bar in NY. It looked like a cool little punk rock hangout. We went inside to check it out and everyone there ended up being really friendly and cool and we stayed for a few hours and made some new friends. The guys that hung out there were all in a biker club. This girl I was talking to told me that her husband was in the club and that he was away in the Army and everyone looked out for her while he was away, which was nice.

I told her how people said we shouldn't go to that bar and she said it was probably because of Rick. But she said that it wasn't a problem because 'he isn't dark enough'. Which spoke volumes. She said if someone looked Turkish or similar they wouldn't have been welcome. She said she wasn't racist and she didn't support it but she was honest and told me there was a lot of it around and that some of the guys in the biker club were racist. They were all very cool to us, but we didn't stay very long after that.

Later that night we went back to the bar that Brian had taken us to earlier. It was way more crowded at this point. People were dancing to house music and a lot of the patrons looked like they didn't get the memo that the 80s were over. A bunch of guys were staring at me and I thought it was because I looked foreign. But the group closest to me were giving me really weird vibes and I couldn't figure out if it was positive or negative. I started feeling tension from them. They were dressed somewhat like skinheads and I had a sudden realization that they were Nazi skinheads and they were probably looking at me because I'm white and blonde and I was with a brown guy.

I told Jon and Rick and they didn't believe me at first but then this guy walked by with a Swastika and other racist patches on his coat and we figured that was our cue to leave. Outside there were people fighting and on the way back to the hostel we saw a big group of Nazi skinheads walk past. I really loved Belgium and so many of the people we met were stellar and totally welcoming, but that kind of put a damper on the trip.

It turned out the reason all the racist skins were in town was because the next day was Armistice / Remembrance Day, which is a national holiday in Belgium, France, Canada and other places. It marks the end of WWI, and there are big celebrations in Flander's Field in Belgium. We celebrate it as Veteran's Day. The skins are very nationalist, so they turn out for celebrations like that. They were all in Brugge because Flander's Field wasn't far from where we were.

Jon, who's Canadian, especially wanted to go to see the ceremonies. We did too, but we had reservations at a Champagne cellar tour in France in the afternoon. The traffic on the way to Flander's Fields would have taken up over half the day.

We had Belgian waffles with ice cream and warm chocolate for breakfast and it was as good as you could imagine. Then we headed off to Reims, which is in the Champagne region in France to drink some Champagne in Champagne.

Rick & Jon had stayed up really late at the hostel getting hustled at pool by two 14-year old girls and then falling up the stairs and jumping all over the room until 4am. They were so hungover they could barely function. Rick passed out in the backseat and I kept Jon company and navigated through the beautiful rolling French countryside. We passed countless farms and quaint little towns, which all had a steeple near the center and little white houses with chimneys. It was just like I imagined.

We went to Taittinger, a famous champagne vineyard, for a cellar tour. We saw the chalk caves where the monks made and stored all the champagne for centuries. It was really amazing to go in these huge cool caves and see thousands of bottles of champagne stacked everywhere. They showed us how the champagne was made and afterwards we each got a glass to try.

Then we went into Reims and saw the exquisite cathedral where they used to crown the Kings of France. We had an amazing steak dinner in town and then drove to Jon's apartment in Paris.

My whole life I have wanted to go to Paris. I studied French for 4 years in anticipation of visiting Paris one day. I've had many plans through the years to go, but for different reasons, was never able to. I couldn't have possibly been more excited about finally getting to see Paris. And I don't care what anyone else's experience has been or what they have told me, Paris absolutely exceeded my expectations. I loved it.

Jon was studying at La Sorbonne and he was living in a tiny little apartment in a really beautiful area of town. It used to be servants quarters and it was actually two servants rooms attached, which I couldn't imagine because they were both so small. The shower was in the kitchen and the bathroom was in the hall, shared with the other apartments. The servants must have been really pissed off back then because Jon said the apartments downstairs were huge and then they had to live in these little rooms.

Jon was really gracious and gave Rick and I his bed and he slept on the kitchen floor in front of the stove. Jon is a really fantastic guy and we had such a great time with him. He was so accommodating and awesome about having us there.

My friend Jesse and his boyfriend Mike were in town too so the next day we met up with them at this cool boutique hotel where they were staying, called Hotel Amour. Each room is decorated with a different theme, and their room was this really pretty leafy green color with cute little sayings and sketches stencilled on the walls. Jesse is in grad school at Harvard and Mike lives in NY, so they try to see each other when they can. Mike works for Google and was in Europe on a business trip, and he extended his stay so he & Jesse could meet up for a romantic weekend in Paris. We crashed their party a bit and we all had breakfast together before they headed home.

Jon & Rick & I walked around to galleries and ate croque monsieur and drank wine and had fondue for dinner. We ate so much cheese in Paris. We developed a habit of shouting 'Ou Et La Fromage?' to each other. When we got some cheese we'd exclaim 'Ici La Fromage!' Rick and I briefly considered getting tattoos in homage to fromage, but fortunately decided against it.

We walked all over with Jon as our tour guide and I practiced my incredibly bad and rusty French. Jon took us to this great wine bar that's also a library / book store. He read us a children's book about a little rabbit named Caca Boudin, which means shit sausage. I don't pretend to understand French quirkiness. I just admire.

We thought people were being nice to us just because we were with Jon and he looks like a GQ model and speaks fluent French but actually when Rick and I spent a day by ourselves and had to survive with Franglish, we found everyone we met to be really open and friendly.

People were totally cool about giving us directions and advice. They treated us really well and they were curious and asked us about ourselves. I'd heard from so many people how nasty the French are and how rude they are to Americans. But I have to say, I didn't experience that once the whole time I was there.

Truth be told, and I don't care if you don't believe me, the absolute truth is that when Becca & I were not with our Irish friends in Dublin, people were mean and nasty to us, which was the last thing I expected from the Irish. However, when we were with our Irish friends, people were nice and friendly. In Paris, people were super nice to us whether we were with French speaking people or not, which was also totally unexpected. And there ends another lesson about bullshit stereotypes.

We saw as much of Paris as we could in the few days we were there. We went to a famous cafe called Les Deux Magots where all the writers and artists used to hang out, and had quiche and croque madame. We ate lots of creme brulee (my favorite) and went to cool bars in the Marais. We went to the Luxembourg Palace & gardens and the Place des Vosges. We went to the Musee d'Orsay and saw so many masterpieces my head was spinning. Paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Monet, Degas, it was unreal. The French are totally hogging all the good art. Bastards.

We hung out at this cool bar called Le 10 Bar in the Saint-Germain one night and Jon filled the jukebox up with Velvet Underground songs and we relaxed and drank wine and talked all night. Then we got crepes at 5am and chatted with the cops who were hanging out at the crepes place.

One of the reasons we'd planned the trip is because it was Rick's birthday that week. On his birthday, we spent most of the day walking around the Centre Pompidou, which is the big Modern Art Museum. We absolutely loved it, it was so huge and crazy and had tons and tons of fantastic art. It was sensory overload. Matisse, Duchamp, Dali, Basquiat. So. much. art.

There's a beautiful modern restaurant on the roof of the Pompidou called Restaurant Georges. We sat up there and looked out the huge windows of the restaurant onto stunning views of Paris. The Eiffel Tower was sparkling like a disco ball. Jon said they do that, they light it different colors and make it shimmer and sparkle, it looked really cool.

We ate escargot (snails) and Rick had never had them. It sounds gross but they are actually really good, they taste kind of like seafood and they were in a pesto-style sauce. After the Pompidou we met up with my friend Kat who lives in Paris. Kat is a photographer and I know her through Annick, they went to college together at Parsons.

We all went to dinner at a Tunisian place that Celine had recommended and ate merguez sausage and salads and sole and cous cous. It was delicious. Afterwards we walked around and saw the Arc de Triomphe and I finally got to see the Champs Elysees. It was night and all the stores were closed, but that's ok because I couldn't afford anything anyway.

We stayed out drinking late into the night with Kat. Jon and Rick drank 'Lion's Drink', which is a drink Jon learned in Trenchtown, Jamaica. They take Guinness and mix it with Red Bull (or in this case, French energy drink). It's called 'Lion's Drink' because it's supposed to make you be able to *bleep* all night. I can't confirm the validity of that because obviously we were staying with Jon in close quarters and that wouldn't have been respectful, but I think Rick had a really great birthday anyway.

The next day Jon took us for this amazing breakfast of steak and creme brulee at a cafe near his apartment. It wasn't something you'd normally eat for breakfast but it was our last few hours there and we wanted to try it. It was delicious. Then we bought some bread & cheese & sausage for our trip home and said goodbye to Jon. We were sad to leave him but I'm sure we'll see him again very soon.

It was the 2nd day the Eurostar high speed train was going into the newly refurbished St. Pancras station, and it was really fun to take the train. It's only like 2 hours from Paris to London on the train, it's amazing. We had breakfast in Paris, lunch on the train, and dinner in London. Very glamourous :)

That night was Jorge's birthday party so we pretty much went straight out to dinner with 20 or so friends, and then we rested the last day Rick was in London. He headed back to NY and we were sad to part, we'd had such an amazing time.

A few days after Rick left, Mary and her boyfriend Kramer came to visit me over Thanksgiving. Mary stayed with me & Kramer stayed with his friend Maartje. We had Thanksgiving dinner at my place and Kevin came over, and a friend of Mary's who was in town. Our kitchen is pretty small, so we couldn't have lots of people, but we had a fun & cozy dinner. I actually cooked, shockingly enough. I made a Hungarian dip called Kurizit and Seven-layer cookies, both from my Mom's recipes. The cookies didn't turn out the way I wanted because the base is supposed to be graham cracker and they don't have that here. I tried to substitute with ginger cookies but it wasn't the same.

Mary & I didn't have tons of time together, as it was a short trip. I was also sick part of the time they were here, but we managed to get to the markets and walk around and I took Mary to Indian food on Brick Lane. We stayed up late talking one night. I miss late night talks with Mary. She really loved it here, which is great because I'm trying to get her to move to London. I don't think she needs much convincing though!

After Mary & Kramer left, the Slackers came to town again. My friend Tiffany, who is Marcus from the Slackers' wife, came to stay with me for a few days before they got into town. Tiff's a photographer and she works for the NY Post. We walked around a lot and I showed her all the good spots in East London. She took lots of pictures and when she got back to NY she was able to syndicate some of them.

We went to a bunch of art galleries and saw this fantastic street art exhibit at Open Studio Space gallery with Pure Evil, Eine, and a bunch of other artists. We met Pure Evil and he was really nice. I showed her the pubs near Spitalfields where Jack the Ripper used to meet his victims. Then on Tiffany's birthday, the Slackers came and played and me & Tiff & Jorge went and I brought my friends Anne & Roy to the show. We all went out afterwards in Soho and it was good to see all the boys.

That weekend Tiffany and I went to Amsterdam for 3 days. We walked around as much as we could in the frigid cold. It was really freezing but also good because it was the off-season for tourists and there was a lot of room everywhere we went. Tiff said in the summer it's super packed.

I got to see all the canals and all the ladies in the windows in the Red Light district. We went to the coffee shops and visited the Anne Frank House. It was really crazy to actually see the house where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis; to see the tiny rooms that these two families were forced to hide in and think that they could never go outside or leave. And that when they did leave, it was to go to their deaths in the camps.

One night we met up with Chenoa & Amber, who are friends with the Slackers. All the other girls were traveling on to see the Slackers play at this club called Ernestos in Sittard, which is one of the Slacker's favorite places to play, they've even recorded an album there. I had to go back to London though, so I wasn't able to see them play in Sittard. One day I'll go and see this place that I've heard so much about.

After Amsterdam, I just worked until the holidays. Work was supposed to be slow, but the last week before Christmas ended up to be insanely busy. I had originally planned to go to Portugal with the boys, but I decided to stay in London. Annick and her whole family were coming for the week, to stay with their close friends who live in Notting Hill.

I spent most of the week hanging out with Annick, we went to the Tate Modern and just caught up. I really miss seeing her all the time. Annick's family friends who live in London - Janet and her daughters Alex & Gina - are really sweet. Gina is an Opera singer and she's studying at the Guildhall. She's still a teenager but she's really mature for her age, and has an incredible voice and presence.

The two families put together a beautiful church service in honor of Annick's Grandmother, who was in town with them. Annick's Dad and some other people did readings and Gina and one of her friends sang and they were amazing. I'm sure one day Gina will be a very well known Opera singer, she's an amazing talent.

Annick & her family and I all went up to Oxford with Anya to check out the University. We had tea & scones in town and then took a walk around Anya's college in the dark, which was very creepy. There were almost no electric lights and we were just walking around these old quiet stone buildings with nothing but moonlight to illuminate our path. We felt our way around in the dark and Anya told us we were stepping on the gravestones of people who were buried in the floors, which when we shone the light from our cell phones on the floor, we could see was true.

We walked around the grounds and Anya took us to this big mound and told us that they say all the people who died from the plague, which hit Oxford very hard, are buried in a mass grave there. There were huge skeletal trees with bats flying out of them and we were surrounded by stone walls with sculptures of grotesques carved in them and with the full moon, and the mound of dead bodies, I don't think it could have possibly been any more of a horror-movie scene. Annick's family happily clambered up the wooded mound, but Tyler (Annick's sister Jojo's boyfriend) and I refused. Although we both agreed that it's always the ones who stay behind out of caution that get killed first in the movies.

Afterwards we went to the Eagle & Child pub - where J.R.R Tolkien & C.S. Lewis used to hang out and talk about their books and get drunk with all their writer friends. We had some pints there and I walked around and looked at all the 1st edition Narnia book covers they have framed there. Very cool.

Annick and I stayed over at Oxford and the next day we headed back to London, while Anya flew back to Maine for the holidays. Bacchus was closed for the holiday so we decided to do Xmas Eve dinner there, much nicer than at our flat! Nuno cooked an insane meal of salmon & pork belly & goose & prawns. Miguel's Mom was in town and she Nuno cooked up a storm together. She brought this amazing salted fish all the way from Portugal, which her parents had driven like 100 miles or something to get for us. It was incredible. Even Annick liked it and she doesn't like fish. Miguel's sister came with her boyfriend and for a small group of people, we had enough food to feed an army. We had cheese and salads and amazing chocolate mousse dessert and basically stuffed ourselves silly.

After the holidays, I tried to take it easy and rest up for my trip back to NY for Erika's wedding. I went to NY in January for 10 days and got to see everyone, which was awesome. I stayed with Rick in Brooklyn and one night we went to my friends Brandon & Gabe's new restaurant, called Roberta's. They do really delicious Italian food - pizzas mostly, made in a huge oven they imported from Italy. The food is really good there, if you get a chance you should go check it out, it's in Brooklyn off the Marcy stop I think.

One night we went to one of the readings Mary curates for a series called Readings between A & B. Then Rick & I went to dinner with my cousins Matt and Amanda at Momofuku in the Village, it was really great to see them. I hung out with my Dad one day, but didn't get to see Max unfortunately because he was sick.

I did a lot of shopping because everything is so much cheaper for me to buy in NY. My friend Karen who owns a punk rock clothing store called Lawanna's in Brooklyn opened a new, bigger store so we went down to check it out and visit Karen & Stella. I got to hang out with Minor a bunch, and that was good.

We had Erika's bachelorette party, which we did a fancy hotel lounge bar crawl for, and it was so good to see all my girlfriends. I tried to see everyone as much as I could, 10 days just didn't seem like enough time, but it was a great trip. I went out to dinner one night with Annick & Walter & the old Boston crew - Anne & Hiro & Becca & Mary & Kramer. I was bridesmaid in Erika's wedding and so we did the whole wedding party stuff - rehearsal dinner with the family, getting nails done with the bride & bridesmaids, it was a lot of fun.

Robyn came to town for the wedding and she did Erika's makeup and was kind enough to do mine as well. Erika looked absolutely gorgeous, her dress was beautiful and had a really cool touch of black lace trim at the bottom that gave it a kind of Spanish flair. She and Ian were beaming the whole time, and the wedding was so fun.

At the wedding I got to hang out with so many friends who I really miss - Megan & Heather & Rachel & Erin & Jordan & Danielle & Grant & Kate & Annick & Jesse & Katie. Everyone was looking beautiful and Kate gave a really good speech, and the Slackers played, and we ate good food and danced all night and it was just really a fabulous time. Tiffany was the wedding photographer and I can't wait to see all the pictures, I'm sure they're amazing. It was really good to have Rick there and see Robyn, especially since she just moved to Hawaii, so who knows how long it'll be before we see each other in person again!

I couldn't have wished anything more for Erika. Ian is such a great guy, and I was so happy for them, and all their friends and family were there wishing them the best. I was sad to go back to London and leave everyone, but my life is here now, so back to London I flew.

Towards the end of my trip, I'd gotten a sore throat and when I came back to London it got worse. I ended up having a really bad chest infection that turned into some kind of virus. I heard a lot of people were getting this really bad illness that lasted weeks. I don't know what the deal is, but I was sick for almost 3 weeks straight and I didn't get better until I finally got a doctor's appointment and I got antibiotics.

It's cool the health system is free here (you pay with your taxes but there's not much cost on top of that), but it was really hard for me to figure out how it works. I was able to get looked at right away at a clinic, but there's not much they can do for you but check your vitals and make sure it's nothing super serious and tell you to rest. To get a prescription or have tests taken, you need to go to a doctor. But you have to register with a doctor first, and you can only go to a doctor who is in your neighborhood.

You have to go on the NHS website and they tell you which doctors you're eligible to go to. Then you have to see if those doctors are taking new patients. I found that getting a hold of them is very difficult, and then you have to get an appointment to register which can take weeks, even if you are very sick.

Then you go register, but you can't see a doctor. You have to make another appointment. So really not a good situation when you're ill. I was feeling good about the British healthcare system after watching Sicko, and it really is amazing that everyone here can get care and that prescriptions are only 6 pounds and stuff, but my experience in actually trying to navigate through it and get care when I was sick was pretty stressful.

And it made it even harder to be that sick and feel so far away from everyone. So I was getting a bit sad for awhile lying in bed all day for weeks not really being able to do anything and feeling pretty awful with no one to take care of me. The boys were mostly gone traveling and at work but they would check in on me now and then. My Mom received quite a few phone calls from me, she's always good at making me feel better!

But I finally saw the doctor and got antibiotics and I felt better immediately. Thank you Alexander Fleming! Excellent work. I've been taking it easy since then so I don't get sick again.

I spent last weekend in Oxford hanging out with Anya and relaxing. We had a lovely night with her friends eating homecooked food and drinking wine, and talking until late in the night. You really can't ask for a better group of conversationalists than Oxford grad students from Scotland, Brazil, Russia and Taiwan. Anya's friends there are all really fascinating and accomplished, and they're sweet, lovely people to boot.

On Sunday we went to a grad student brunch at her college, and then some of the girls took me on a walk around the colleges. Oxford is made up of over 30 different colleges, each with their own campus and traditions. The college doesn't determine your program, you do your degree and classes with people from all the colleges, but your college determines your social life and where you live, stuff like that.

It's a bit confusing but I'm starting to understand it. Anya is in one of the most prestigious and elite colleges there, the New College, or College of St Mary. Although it's called the 'New' College, it's actually one of Oxford's oldest, and was established in 1379. We walked around the chapel and cloisters there, which last time I had only seen at night and were much less creepy and very beautiful during the day.

We also went to Christ Church, and saw the dining hall where Harry Potter was filmed, and to Magdalen, Merton, and some other colleges. They all have their own atmosphere and culture. Some are very formal and strict, others are more relaxed and less traditional. All the colleges are very beautiful. You can only really go on the grounds if you are with an Oxford student, and some colleges you can only go in with a student who is a member of that college.

It was so nice to be out of London for awhile in the fresh air and old stone buildings and see trees and meadows and little rivers. I adored all the libraries stuffed with books and the architecture - massive stone facades, carved with creatures and gleaming with exquisite stained glass everywhere. Oxford is definitely my kind of place. Everyone I met there was warm and friendly and had fascinating stories to tell. I want to spend a lot more time there.

In other news, I finally found a new flat, and I'll be moving into it in a few weeks. My friend Stella, who I know through Jorge & Joao, found a really great flat down the street from where I live now. She and her boyfriend Neil are taking one of the bedrooms and a woman named Rosanna is taking the other. They had one last room to fill, and I went down to check it out. The flat is beautiful, it's a warehouse conversion. There's an art gallery on the ground floor, and the flat itself has been outfitted similarly to a gallery as well. It has huge ceilings, wood floors and white walls with new fixtures and track lighting.

The room I'm taking is nice and big, so I can have one side that's a living area, and the other part for my bed & desk. It has built in closets and an ensuite bathroom with a separate bath and shower, so it's pretty much heavenly. I'm super excited about it and I hope it all works out.

My company is also moving offices the week after I move my flat, so that'll be pretty hectic. But the new offices are going to be brand new and modern and clean and beautiful so I'm looking forward to upgrading my surroundings on all fronts.

My Aunt Sandy, Uncle Jeff and cousin Amanda are coming to visit soon, on their way over to Barcelona where my cousin Stefanie has been doing a semester abroad. I'm looking forward to seeing them and taking them out in London a bit. I've also been talking to Steffie about her coming over here & me going over there to visit.

The last few, and best, pieces of news are that Rick is going to be coming here to stay with me. We decided to get back together and he's going to come and hang out in London for awhile and see if he wants to move here for good. I can't wait until he comes, I really didn't think it was possible for me to miss someone so much.

And the other exciting news is that Adam is coming home from Iraq soon! His unit in the Maryland National Guard is getting replaced there and they are coming home. Adam was also just awarded a second bronze star, which is amazing. I am so proud of him. I know Goli has been counting the days to when they can be together again, and I'm sure Adam has been too. It makes me so happy to think that Adam will be going home to Goli right around the same time that Rick will be coming back to me.

Adam and Goli will be traveling to Turkey in late March / April to spend a month there relaxing and hanging with Goli's family. Rick and I really want to go over there to see them and spend time in Istanbul with them, so I'm working on sorting out the details for that trip.

As always, thinking of all of you back home and sending my love. Please email me or call or comment, however you like, but it would be great to hear from everyone about what you've all been up to.

Much love.

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