Happy Thanksgiving!

-8

Two of my flatmates (one from Brazil, the other from Puerto Rico) and I had Thanksgiving dinner at The Breakfast Club’s Battersea Rise location. I initially booked us at Honky Tonk, but their T-day menu was more a variation on traditional Thanksgiving dinner with some non-traditional things thrown in (i.e. turkey burgers, quesadillas, buffalo wings, etc.) My Brazilian flatmate was anxious to have an authentic Thanksgiving experience being that this would be his first ever, so I cancelled our Honky Tonk reservation and searched (the night before Thanksgiving) for a restaurant with availability serving turkey without a bun around it. We settled on The Breakfast Club. None of us left disappointed — the food was delicious.

-7

They served a 3-course dinner, with seatings at 6:30PM & 9:30PM. We opted for the 6:30 seating. For our starter, we had “spiced winter pumpkin soup with Parmesan cornbread,” and they gave us some diced bacon & crème fraîche as optional toppings (which were not optional for any of us *NOM*). The soup had a great flavor. The cornbread was savory, not sweet, which is a departure for me, but it was so. good.

-3

For our mains, we had a choice of “chilli and beer buttered Norfolk turkey roasted with shallots” (which we all ordered) or “roasted acorn squash filled with macaroni & cheese and topped with parsley and panko breadcrumbs.” Both were served with “honey and rosemary glazed carrots, maple sweet potato mash, and roasted brussell sprouts with cranberries.” My Brazilian flatmate finished his food, then ate the carrots left on my plate that I was too full to eat. I wish I’d taken a picture of his plate in the end. The only thing left for him to do was lick it clean.

-2

A Lemongrass Collins? Hit me.

A Lemongrass Collins? Hit me.

For puds, we could choose either pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (flatmates both ordered this), or cinnamon cheesecake (which was supposed to come with raspberry coulis, but came with fresh berries instead). When I was done, my plate looked like there’d never been anything on it to begin with.

-1

In addition to food, glorious food, the atmosphere was perfect. American oldies played on the speakers, the lighting was festive and low, and despite all the people, each table felt like its own little world.

-5
-6
We were all pleased with the experience, but none more than my Brazilian flatmate, who was so excited and happy to share the holiday with us that he asked the waiter if he could keep the menu as a memento. He told us that celebrating Thanksgiving with us was what he was thankful for 🙂 My Puerto Rican flatmate and I got a little misty after that, not gonna lie.

I may not be spending the holidays with family and old friends this year, but I’m incredibly thankful to have new friends in my new home — a place I’ve wanted to call home for ages — and to be doing what I love with the support of the loved ones I’ve left behind. I’m also thankful for everyone who reads this blog. It’s nice to be part of a community, even when you can’t see the people who comprise it.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Advertisements

“Cwtch Me, I’m Welsh”

Hello and Happy Monday, everyone!

My weekend was rather full. Thursday evening, I went to Guildford Town Centre to see the Christmas lights get turned on. There was also a killer fireworks show afterward, and some of the fireworks actually exploded into shapes (hearts and smiley faces). I don’t have pics of the fireworks — I just wanted to enjoy them with my eyeballs 😀

-15
-17
-16

Friday, I attended an event that was part of the Richmond Upon Thames Literature Festival. It was a sit-down with two contemporary authors of Victorian Gothic Fiction, Essie Fox and Lynn Shepherd, called “A Feast of Blood: The English Obsession with Vampires.” Chilling, eh? To set the mood, the talk was held in a blood-red room inside Strawberry Hill House, home of the author Horace Walpole, who published the story recognized as the very first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, in 1764. Incidentally, today we are actually one month shy of the 250 year anniversary of the Gothic genre (Castle of Otranto was published on December 24, 1764)! This wonderful anniversary is already being commemorated by the British Library with their current exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (which I spent nearly three hours happily getting my mind blown by). The exhibition is on until January 20, 2015, so take a look if you’re at all interested in the Gothic and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Strawberry Hill House is in the midst of renovations, but what little I saw of it was lovely and the perfect setting for a horror film. At one point, my friend and I wandered down a hallway that, no joke, made me feel like I had fallen through a space-time hole into the movie Suspiria. Yeesh.

I had to use a flash for the patterns on the walls to be visible since the event was at night. Just imagine being enveloped in a spooky, orange glow while walking down this hallway...

I had to use a flash for the raised patterns on the walls to be visible since the event was at night. Just imagine being enveloped in a spooky, orange glow whilst walking down this hallway…

The talk itself was actually less about “the English obsession with vampires” and more about the work and processes of the two authors present, as well as about the Gothic in general. I did enjoy the event overall (though I found myself getting a bit bored by the end as we kept circling back to the same topics). The bit I most looked forward to was when Fox and Shepherd each read excerpts from their latest novels. I walked away with a copy of The Goddess and the Thief (Fox) and A Treacherous Likeness (Shepherd), though Shepherd’s latest is actually The Pierced Heart, a novel in dialogue with and inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Shepherd uses classic English literature as a jumping off point for her own works. The novel I purchased that evening actually chronicles much of the Shelley family’s history and the creation of the story Frankenstein. Fox works a bit more traditionally in that she does extensive research to supplement an original story idea. Not that Shepherd’s stories aren’t original works, but Fox’s work isn’t specifically meant to be linked with any existing literature (like Shepherd’s is). Here are some more snaps of Strawberry Hill House. I hope to see more of it some day!

-18
-19
-22
-26
-20
-21
-25
After the talk, my friend and I stayed out for some food, drink, and good conversation. I can’t remember the name of where we went, but I do remember how to get there from the Strawberry Hill train station and will probably go back. I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour because I was told to be at the bus stop for my trip to Cardiff the next morning by 6:30AM. So of course I ended up missing the last train to Guildford, panicking about what to do, and taking an expensive taxi that dropped me off home at about 1:40AM. Ugh. I managed to get a few hours of sleep and to get to the bus stop on time… only for the bus to be late. In the end, we made it to Cardiff and actually had a bit too much time on our hands there.

-31 -30 -27 -14 -12 -11 -10 -9 -8 -7 -6
-29 -28 -13
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1
The people from the company in charge of the trip (Outgoing) basically walked us to the city centre, pointed in various directions while telling us what was currently on in the immediate vicinity, and left us to our own devices. It was not a well-organized trip. My friends and I mostly walked around a small area and spent waaaaay too much money on souvenirs for people and ourselves. We went to Bill’s (my current fav UK restaurant chain — haven’t been disappointed yet!), the local mall and surrounding shops, checked out the Christmas market, and had a peek at Cardiff’s “Winter Wonderland” (which included giant slides, ice skating, a funhouse, and some cool looking rides). I’d like to return to Wales with someone who knows the country and can teach me some things about it. One really cool coincidence though was that we were in Cardiff on the same day the Wales rugby team played New Zealand. The streets were PACKED and everyone was in a great mood 🙂 I’ve never seen so many sheep-shaped hats in my entire life.

Sorry this post is kind of all over the place. My routine’s been a bit jumbled lately. I’ll hopefully get myself together soon. Before I forget, let me introduce you to my new boyfriend:

10731157_10102392024550448_7584850547574751452_n
Ain’t he a doll? 😉

Poetry Br****l

-1

Last night, I attended an event at the Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery in London, put on by a lecturer in the Creative Writing department of my school, called a Poetry Brothel. Apparently this kind of event is gaining popularity across Europe, and in New York City. The main dealio is this: rather than exchanging money for sex, you’re paying to hear poetry. At this particular P.B. you change money for “tokens” (£5 per) in the form of miniature playing cards. A blue card got you a drink, a red one got you a reading with one of the brothel girls (or guy). You could purchase as many tokens as you liked. Each courtesan was appropriately dressed in corsets, gorgeous skirts, feather boas. One even wore a top-hat (which was super cute), and the guy had on 1920s appropriate garb. I paid for a session with one poet-of-the-evening and totally got my £5 worth. It may have been because I was her first customer of the night, but she read me 4 poems, which shakes out to £1.25 a poem (like that cider deal I thought I was getting, except this one was legit).

The space is (as its name suggests) an art gallery. The current exhibition is a solo show by Kirsten Glass titled Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Here are a few of my favorite pieces:

In addition to private poetry readings, there was burlesque dancing by Talulah Blue.

-7
-8
-3
-9
-5
-6
I had my fortune told, which was fun. I got an interesting (and scarily accurate) reading. My supervisor also read from the new book he’s been working on (and wore a feather boa to get into the spirit of things 😀 ).

I met new people, chatted with folks I already knew, drank lots of wine and beer, and had an all-around good time. I’d highly recommend checking out an event like this if you find one in your area! In fact, there’s supposed to be another one in London soon…

Tomorrow I’m attending a talk on vampires at Strawberry Hill House, and Saturday I’m headed to Cardiff!

Talk soon 😉

Liebster Awaaaaard!!!

I was lucky enough to be nominated by the blogstress over at Wandering Grad for a Liebster Award! Thanks, Samantha!

liebsteraward

A Bit About the Award:

“Liebster is a word with German origins meaning dearest, sweetest, kindest, and beloved. The Liebster Award exists only on the internet, and is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. The award is given to bloggers with less than 200 followers. The purpose of the Liebster Award is to recognize and discover upcoming talent in the blogosphere through a Pay it Forward initiative.”

Ze Rules:

  • You must link back to the person who nominated you (but cannot nominate them).
  • You must answer the 10 questions given to the nominee before you.
  • You must select a few blogs with under 200 followers to answer your 10 questions.

The Questions:

1. Favorite quote? I’m always copying and pasting quotes that inspire me. The latest and greatest of these I found in a recent post by A Writer’s Path. In fact, I’ve picked up a few current favorites from that blog. My MOST favorite right now is:
“What is to give light must endure burning.” — Viktor Frankl

2. What film or book genre do you think your life is? What do you want it to be? My life is firmly planted in the Psychological Horror genre these days, bahaha. I wouldn’t mind creeping into Romance territory…

3. What’s at the top of your bucketlist? Honestly, my answer to this is “Be genuinely happy.” There are any number of activities I hope to/would enjoy doing, and personal goals that I have. But what I want to accomplish most before I bite it is to be completely happy with and proud of myself. If you want a less vague answer, I’d say being the mom and best friend of a happy, healthy child who grows into a fulfilled adult.

4. If you were made ruler of a country, would you accept the position? Why or why not? I would accept if it meant I could grant people the autonomy to live as they see fit (murder and abuse aside). Also if it meant I’d have honest, top-notch advisers working with/for me. I’d want to ensure no one’s rights are unfairly taken or encroached upon and that people get help when they need it. But really, a lot of world leaders might have intended the same…

5. If you had to choose a singular location to live for the rest of your life, where would you choose? If I could choose ANY place to live, I’d choose either J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world or the spirit world in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. If it has to be a real place, I’d choose London (of the places I’ve been).

6. What current celebrity or popular figure would you be incredibly torn up over if they were to die right now? Aaliyah was the only celebrity whose death REALLY bothered me. There aren’t any current celebrities (per se) who I’d be particularly torn up over. A known, living figure whose death would really hurt me is Hayao Miyazaki who I don’t really count as a “celebrity” (though I suppose he is popular in the world of animation) but whose work has touched so many people. He is a true creator of magical worlds. I appreciate his talent, his mind, and his stories so much.

7. What is your favorite mode of transportation? (bus, train, plane, boat, bike, rollerblades, etc…) Trains. They’re fast enough to get you where you need to go, but slow enough that you can watch the world go by without feeling like you’ve missed something.

8. Do you think your favorite beverage (tea, coffee, wine, whatever) says a lot about you as a person? Yes, but I’d rather not say what that beverage is or what it says about me, hahaha.

9. Who is your role model (real or fictional)?  Career and love-wise, Neil Gaiman. He owns his weirdness, found his audience, makes work he’s truly proud of and excited about, and has a partner with whom he shares SO. MUCH. mutual love and respect. Neil Gaiman + Amanda Palmer 5EVER. In general though, I’m trying to be my own role model each day. As much as I admire what Neil Gaiman (or any of my heroes) has/does, I can’t compare myself or my journey with anyone else(‘s). I just want to be the best version of myself possible, and I think that’s something I have to figure out on my own.

10. What song would you sing for a reality television show audition, and why? Right now, I’m gonna saaayyyyy… “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande. Or “Lies” by Glen Hansard.

That was fun! Even if it took me an inordinate amount of time to come up with my answers to these questions, lol. Can I add “Stop thinking so much” to the top of my bucket list? Anyhoo… here are my questions:

1. What is your spirit animal?
2. What one item do you have to have with you every day?
3. What song makes you happy every single time you hear it, no matter the circumstance?
4. If you could play anyone in a film or on stage, who would it be?
5. What’s your least favorite word (in any language you choose)? Why?
6. How do you think a stranger who observed a day in your life would describe you?
7. What place you’ve never visited do you think you’d enjoy the most? Why?
8. What nickname would you give yourself?
9. If you could choose any famous building/monument to live in, which would it be?
10. What’s your favorite late night snack?

Here are my nominees!:
Wine And Olives
Susan Shirley
Everyday Striving
Beas Louise
Glimpse of Chay

And if anyone else wants to chime in and answer some of these questions, feel free! I’d love to read your answers 😉

Back in the Saddle

Hey, y’all!

It feels like I’ve been away from the blogosphere for decades. I have a lot of blog-reading to catch up on, and a lot to catch you all up on!

Firstly, I went on my first flat hunt last Thursday in North London. I saw three apartments, one of which I loved (683 sq ft, pet-friendly, a small terrace, a huge kitchen, and a crab-shaped doorknocker :D), but couldn’t start the leasing arrangements because I need the second half of my loan to do so — that or a UK guarantor which, after only having been here since the end of September, is an unlikely find. I’m happy I went a-viewing though because 1) I found an estate agent I really enjoy working with, and 2) I have a better idea of what I can get in certain areas with X amount of money. I also learned a valuable thing or two about flat hunting, for instance, that landlords are more willing to be flexible in November and December because people are far less likely to move anywhere during those times. The flat I loved best on my search was a great deal for all I would’ve gotten, but alas — bad timing. I plan to resume my search in January when I have all my money gathered. It’ll be more expensive and more of a challenge to find a place willing to accept pets, but I know I’ll find something that suits me (and the fuzz-butts).

My agent was available for viewings on the perfect day because that same evening, I was slated to see this guy:

1932350_10102361497117668_120005413574611125_n

You know how some artists sound terrible without the benefit of studio enhancement? Yeah… not this one. His voice is just as gorgeous live as it is recorded. Between numbers, Sam gave us a bit of background on each song and chatted to us about how wonderful it’s been for him in the last year. He is so clearly grateful for the (well-deserved) success he’s had thus far, and I was happy to be one of many in a crowd of his supporters.

10425091_10102361883109138_5444614307939753300_n

I got home after midnight Friday morning, and still had to pack for the trip to Barcelona I’d be taking in a few hours. I got about 4 hours of sleep, got up again at 6, realized no buses came to the stop I was at until after 7AM (when my flight was at 7:50AM), and called a cab. After paying £40 for a taxi to Gatwick and getting all the way up to the check-in desk, I realized I didn’t have my passport. I wanted to bang my head against concrete. Hard. I paid to change my flight (with the warning that if I wasn’t back in time, I’d have to pay for another flight change haunting my every step), then bought a return train ticket to Guildford. I got my passport and luckily made it back to the airport in plenty of time to have lunch at Jamie’s Italian before taking off to Barcelona.

The view from the back balcony of my Barcelona flat

The view from the back balcony of my Barcelona flat

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló

The "eyeball building"

The “eyeball building”

The most unusual doorknockers I've ever seen

The most unusual doorknockers I’ve ever seen

10500458_10102370351248918_8601415902755056059_n

Fountain and light show

Fountain and light show

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia (interior)

La Sagrada Familia (interior)

10525846_10102370352062288_9160626387101263378_n

Organ pipes in the basilica

Organ pipes in the basilica

The church's nature doors

The church’s nature doors

La Sagrada Familia (detail)

La Sagrada Familia (detail)

Casa Milà aka "La Pedrera"

Casa Milà aka “La Pedrera”

Park Guell

Park Guell

The view from the central terrace at Park Guell

The view from the top of the central staircase at Park Guell

Barcelona from above

Barcelona from above

The architecture in Barcelona is incredible. My particular favorites are the buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi. That man was a genius — whose work (surprise, surprise) wasn’t well-liked during his time. We saw the Casa Batlló (which looks like it belongs in Atlantis), Casa Milà (aka “La Pedrera” or “The Quarry”), and Park Guell — a giant garden property on which Gaudi and his best friend & benefactor, Eusebi Guell, each lived in their own home. The two had originally intended the place to be a luxury garden neighborhood for the wealthy, but no one was interested in building a home so far from the city centre (and as I mentioned, people weren’t huge fans of Gaudi’s architecture anyway). So eventually, tired of having the property to themselves, Gaudi and Guell agreed to make it public. Today, the Park is visited by hundreds daily, and visitors can tour the homes that once belonged to the visionary architect and his business partner. 

As amazing as those places are, La Sagrada Familia (The Church of the Holy Family) blew them all out of the water. Construction of this Roman Catholic church began in 1882 and continues even now. The vision for this structure — which is meant to have three facades dedicated (one each) to the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory — is sprawling, and intentionally so. Gaudi intended for the construction of the building to be taken over by forthcoming generations, which is in-keeping with the all-encompassing nature of the church itself, which is meant to welcome people of all backgrounds to worship. I’m not a religious person, but the magnificent beauty of this place was overwhelming nonetheless. It looks straight out of an Icelandic fairytale or Lord of the Rings inside, with its columns like trees (that branch out as they reach the ceiling), the intricate stone and iron work, the statues, the door made to look covered in ivy & insects… it’s breathtaking.

In addition to the insane architecture, my friends and I saw a Flamenco show at the Palau de la Música. I didn’t include any pictures of the concert hall because they all came out blurry. Just trust me when I say the place is beautiful and it’s well worth catching a show there. The performance we saw was quite low-key, though there were costume changes into beautiful clothes; there were a handful of musicians, a trio of singers, and a quartet of dancers (3 female, 1 male). The dancers were wonderful. Their feet moved so quickly, their hands wound about the air, and they watched each other intently. It was thrilling. I felt like I was spying on a semi-formal gathering of friends.

After a looooong day of traveling, I made it home last night and apparently brought a cold back with me. I squeaked and honked all through the night and now I’m polishing up my pages before sending them to my supervisor in preparation for our meeting on Thursday. I’m attending another seminar tomorrow, seeing a musical version of The Addams Family Thursday night, and (finally) visiting the Tate Modern on Friday. Here’s hoping this cold runs its course sooner rather than later 😛

Bonfire/Guy Fawkes Night

-1

Saturday night, I went to my first Bonfire Night celebration (a bit ahead of the usual date) with a club on campus called International Friends. From what I understand, their aim is to facilitate cultural exchange among international students, as well as to educate about English culture. The plan was to meet on campus before being whisked away to Bramley Town Hall to learn the history of the Bonfire Night tradition, then set off toward town to join the torch lighting, procession, and lighting of the bonfire. I was excited to attend because I’d heard mention of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot but didn’t really know the ins and outs of the event.

Here’s what I learned: In 1605 a group of Catholics, led by Robert Catesby planned to assassinate King James I, a Protestant who forbade the practice of any other religion but Protestant Christianity in England. They rented a room in the cellar of the House of Lords and filled it with barrels of gunpowder. When the day came, Guy Fawkes, Catesby’s right-hand man and the explosives expert of the group, was eventually discovered by soldiers in the cellar and arrested (soldiers who’d actually confronted him earlier in the day, but for some reason didn’t find the gunpowder during their first investigation). They tortured Fawkes, who claimed to regret nothing, on the rack until he gave up the names of the other men in the group. Then they arrested them all, hung them until just before they went unconscious, disemboweled them, beheaded them, and cut their bodies into quarters. Then, for good measure, they displayed each man’s head on a spike to make examples of them. Bonfire Night is a celebration of the Gunpowder Plot’s failure.

-2

Everyone lit torches (which at this particular event could be purchased for £5) and paraded through town to a designated spot in the woods, where a mountain of wood was piled high and effigies of Guy Fawkes and the others sat on top. Once given the go-ahead, the folks with torches threw them onto the pile of wood, and everyone watched it burn. Despite my distance from the flames, the heat was insane! I actually put sunglasses on at one point. I can’t imagine what being burned alive must feel like, but I tried that night. It was like standing next to the Sun.

-4

I couldn’t help likening the whole thing to being part of an angry mob — I also couldn’t help thinking of the many other times throughout the history of many nations, mine included, when people were publicly tortured, lynched, and burned, and the fact that this still goes on in some places. There were food stalls near the wood pile and children running around. I felt a bit strange inside.

After the fire burned down there was a fireworks show, which is also part of the tradition and a welcome reprieve from the grimness of everything else. It was a well-designed show that I kept my shades on for because once, when I was a kid at Disney World, I was sitting on my dad’s shoulders watching fireworks and a stray ember fell into my eye.

The Englishwoman who recounted the story of Guy Fawkes to us admitted she wasn’t quite sure how to feel about a tradition in which people pretend to burn a man, and at the end of the night I was in the same boat. She of course made the point that the same kinds of acts don’t occur (to real people) in present-day England, and that the Gunpowder Plot and its outcome were merely a particularly gruesome part of the nation’s history. And truly, as I mentioned above, every nation has had its moments of severe darkness — every person has, too — and there is value in putting yourself in the middle of a reenactment or symbolic tradition: it can remind you of the terrible things we’ve managed to leave behind, and make you come to terms with your own feelings about the history of your home, whether it’s been home all your life or you’ve only recently adopted it.


        Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
        The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
        I know of no reason
        Why the Gunpowder Treason
        Should ever be forgot.
        Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
        To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
        Three-score barrels of powder below
        To prove old England’s overthrow;
        By God’s mercy he was catch’d
        With a dark lantern and burning match.
        Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the bells ring.
        Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

*All photos are mine*