A match burning in a crocus

Walk home from the office
My walk home from the office.

Thought: Perhaps part of what makes city-folk aggressive is the anonymity of urban life. I was thinking about this while watching people gripe and shove on the Tube (a few weeks ago, a large woman actually pushed me, as in, a hand flat across my back, into someone else so that I’d get out of her way). In little Charlottesville, I wouldn’t attempt much public rudeness, because the chances are strong that I could run into that person again. Maybe she is my postal office worker. Maybe she is my future financial adviser. But in the big city, cause a scene, yell, or shove, because you’re a free agent; no one knows your name; you will never see these people again. You’re not accountable to anyone. Anonymity, I surmise, tends to make people assholes (see: almost every comment section on the internet).

Correlated thought: And YET. I think London is an infinitely more polite city than New York? So far? At least, it is quieter. People stick to a strong sense of silent decorum on the morning commute.

Neighborhood strolling(The title: Love this line from Mrs. Dalloway. I think, if I recall correctly, it’s from Septimus or Lucrezia looking at newly sprung flowers in Hyde Park.)

Strolling through those colleges

Oxford

Strolling through those colleges past those ancient halls the roughness of the present seemed smoothed away; the body seemed contained in a miraculous glass cabinet through which no sound could penetrate, and the mind, freed from any contact with facts (unless one trespassed on the turf again), was at liberty to settle down upon whatever meditation was in harmony with the moment.

— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (read on)

OxfordSpent a really charming day in Oxford with Caroline and got to attend a sweet baby shower for Emily. It is a majestic, lush place. Woolf was on the money (and yet you can still feel those remnants of exclusion and separation).

OxfordOxfordRadcliffe Camera(The sky really was this insanely beautiful. This is not a joke.)

OxfordOxfordOxford CastleOxfordBroad Street, OxfordOxfordOxford

Collect, overbalance, and fall

Camden and Regent's Park area

So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying ‘that is all’ more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking. 

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Camden and Regent's Park area

Cold city of beautiful giants

Charming AmsterdamDespite the cold, we had a lovely past weekend in Amsterdam. I’ve always wanted to visit, namely because my dad is half Dutch, and I bear a vague sense of family longing for this place I have never seen. We had just the briefest introduction to Holland, but it was certainly a charming one. Such gorgeous, friendly people living peaceably in such a gorgeous, friendly city.

AmsterdamCharming Amsterdam

Red light district
The red light district is really not that shady in the daytime.
Vondelpark
Gazebo and tulips in Vondelpark.
Vondelpark
European ducks are flashier than the ones we have in the US.
Amsterdam
Husband in Vondelpark.
Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum
Obligatory windmill painting.
Rijksmuseum
Library in the Rijksmuseum.
Rijksmuseum
Rembrandt’s “Night Watch.”

Hope to see you again, (distant) homeland.

Amsterdam

The body alone listens to the passing bee

Hyde Park and KensingtonEver since I read Mrs. Dalloway for the first time, perhaps 10 years ago, I have been dreaming about Hyde Park. (And Regent’s Park, for that matter, which we now live just a few blocks from.)

Hyde Park and KensingtonOn Sunday, which was gloriously sunny and warm, we walked about five or six hours, starting at our flat and then to Hyde Park, through the park, then to lunch in South Kensington, and then to the Victoria & Albert museum. And then home. Exhausted and a little sunburned and very happy.

Hyde Park and KensingtonHyde Park and KensingtonHyde Park and Kensington

Hyde Park and Kensington
Can you spy the three perfectly camouflaged parakeets? Such an adorable invasive species.

Hyde Park and KensingtonHyde Park and Kensington

Hyde Park and Kensington

Hyde Park and Kensington
The square in South Kensington where we lunched.
Hyde Park and Kensington
Grilled octopus leg for lunch.
Hyde Park and Kensington
Kensington Palace and gardens.
Hyde Park and Kensington
Sleepy G. at the V&A.

She would buy the flowers herself

Neighborhood strolling(As a preemptive warning, all of my post titles are probably going to be lifted straight from Mrs. Dalloway, which I am currently re-reading for the fifth time. I am suffused with emotion! It is everything I remembered it to be and more, particularly because I am actually living in her pulsing city.)

Neighborhood strollingThis is our neighborhood. It is immensely charming.

Neighborhood strollingNeighborhood strollingThese gardens are the grounds of our neighborhood church in St. John’s Wood.

Neighborhood strollingLooking forward to our first full weekend together in the city!

Happy haze

Our flat
Living/dining room of our flat.

We are settling in to our new (temporary) life here in London, and everything—commuting to the office on the Tube, buying groceries at Waitrose, strolling around our neighborhood—feels surreal, as if we were suspended in this magical and yet very domestic dreamworld.

Guion bought himself a guitar yesterday, so he’s certainly feeling more whole.

Walking around the neighborhood on day one

Our flat is a short walk to the magnificent Regents Park. We walked there on Sunday in a jetlagged haze but still enjoyed all that it had to offer.

Regents Park on day oneRegents Park on day oneRegents Park on day one

Other mental notes from the first few days:

  • Working in the financial district makes me feel the most like I’m in New York but otherwise, the cities seem to bear little cultural resemblance to each other. The underground, for one, is incredibly quiet and neat. No one is singing or panhandling or talking on the phone or eating pizza. Everyone is stoic and discreet and perhaps a little on edge.
  • Everything is expensive.
  • A classic trench coat was a good purchase, and women here actually do wear them all the time.
  • The other thing all women seem to be wearing are these slim, black-and-white Nike trainers. I think every fifth woman I pass is wearing a pair. (I brought slim, black-and-white New Balance sneakers, so I am decidedly off trend.)
  • It is all very charming and part of me feels guilty about how emotionally easy the cultural transition has been. I expected it to be harder? More jarring? And maybe it will be, as we’re only a few days in…

View of St. Paul's

Can’t you see us bashing around London

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We shove off for our summer in London at the end of this week. After anticipating this brief journey for almost two years now, it feels hard to believe that it is time to go. And we will miss our life in Charlottesville, especially our dear friends, our pups (who will be having a ball at with Juju and TT in Davidson), and our garden.

I am excited about all of the glories that London offers a former English major (and a Woolf acolyte, especially), but I also looking forward to the mundane, domestic aspects too, such as pretending to be a local for a few months: taking the Tube to and from work, acquainting myself with office life, and getting to know our neighborhood.

I hope to post more regularly here with travel notes and photos. Until then, insert some insufferable British farewell here!

(Oh, Teddy, I’m not fashionable enough for London.)

On eating that which is real (and being relaxed about it)

Haricots with chevre

Americans never adopt fads lightly. When we take up a cause, we commit and we go to the extreme. Moderation is a virtue that we never seem to have much needed in the United States of America. Be it the size of our homes and cars, the depth and breadth of our reality TV, our fervent denial of climate change, or our mass accumulation of guns, we do nothing on a small scale. We take on nothing lightly. Nowhere does this tendency seem more clear to me than our current obsession with food.

We could talk about how enormously fat Americans are, which is true, but I am interested in the other side of the spectrum, where people are fixated on healthy food, where we consider ourselves holy because we have not (yet) slipped into obesity. It’s one pole or the other for me and my fellow patriots: Either we wantonly stuff ourselves full to bursting with tasty processed substances or we piously nibble on quinoa patties and congratulate ourselves on our freezer full of free-range, locally butchered delicacies.

Eating the right things has become a class-conscious mania that notably afflicts the middle- and upper-class, who can afford to eat well (which is in itself a terrible injustice). In lieu of humble-bragging about our legitimate virtues, we preen over our organic, local, free-range, grain-free choices at Whole Foods, and we impute it to ourselves as righteousness.* (*Side note: Concept lifted from this great/ruckus-raising sermon by Dave Zahl.)

I am as guilty of this natural-food worship as the next person. I too got fired up years ago when Food, Inc. came out. I too read all of Michael Pollan’s books and attended my farmers’ markets faithfully. I too became a vegetarian for a solid week after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I too believe that it is certainly better to support small-scale farming and to ingest organic food.

But for me, lately, the sheen of this fad has been dimming.

You can’t ask anyone over to dinner anymore without first inquiring about all of their dietary restrictions. Remembering your friends’ food aversions has become as culturally important as remembering their birthdays. Mothers self-flagellate if they don’t feed their children 100% organic, locally grown meals. Whole Foods denizens seem to have abandoned the joy of cooking and eating in exchange for the joy of self-congratulatory nutritional piety.

We eat not to enjoy food but to brag about its origin to our friends or anyone within earshot.

It’s getting out of hand.

I’ve been inspired to think about this loss of “real eating,” while reading the late, great Robert Farrar Capon’s delightfully bizarre book about food and faith, The Supper of the Lamb. As Capon says, considering a man who is obsessed by nutritional fads and rejecting food for the sake of his diet:The Supper of the Lamb

To begin with, real eating will restore his sense of the festivity of being. Food does not exist merely for the sake of its nutritional value. To see it so is only to knuckle under still further to the desubstantialization of man, to regard not what things are, but what they mean to us—to become, in short, solemn idolaters spiritualizing what should be loved as matter. A man’s daily meal ought to be an exultation over the smack of desirability which lies at the roots of creation. To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world, and, by just that much, to set the secular free.

—Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

A touch dramatic, yes, but I take his point heartily.

(As an aside, I am looking forward to taking a page from the Europeans this summer, especially the French, who seem to have perfected the artful seesaw between moderation and indulgence in eating. Both seem to be necessary for a full, happy life.)

If I may bastardize the Gospel of Matthew:

And when you eat organic kale, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to eat organic kale standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you eat organic kale, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Eat real food and enjoy it. Divorce guilt from eating. Share food, not food judgments, with others, and be thankful.