Saturday, September 03, 2005

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

I was appalled to learn this morning, while watching the CNN coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, that in the list of countries donating to relief efforts, there was a glaring omission from the list. Sri Lanka, one of the world's poorest countries still reeling from the effects of the tsunami, had donated $25,000, yet the big GB has offered up not a pence. Blair is apparently happy to send his people off to kill and be killed alongside the Americans in Iraq, but when it comes to monetary aid for his bedfellow Bush, his humanitarian spirit runs dry.

Which simply goes to highlight how darn CHEAP the people here are. My friend Catherine was recently soliciting pledges for her Breast Cancer walk this month, and of the large multinational list she sent her email solicitation to, sadly lacking among the respondents were any of her British friends and coworkers. Meanwhile, the Americans were tripping over themselves in their efforts to donate. We spent a few minutes mulling over this curious fact in the pub one night, but were never able to reach any conclusions as to why there exists such a great cultural divide in the giving spirit.

Meanwhile, my friend Meg and I were accosted in the tube yesterday by a lovely little old lady who noticed our accents and went out of her way to say how sorry she was for the disasterous state of affairs going on in our country at the moment. So I guess it just goes to show, humanitarianism here is not exactly dead, just hiding out in the hearts of British grannies.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Daily Gripe(s)

Had to let everyone know that tonight, we FINALLY get to use our enormous air conditioning unit that I made Steve rush out and buy in June, which I've since been using as a bedside night some of you may recall, it's size is such that it could cool Belgium. Meanwhile, perversely, the appliances that you use here on an everyday basis were clearly invented by a midget hell-bent on revenge against the British race. Their fridges are little more than picnic coolers apparently only intended to house child-size condiments:

(And yes, Rana, I know we'd have more room for food if we didn't need to dedicate the top shelf to wine). The ovens are what we at home would refer to more accurately as 'toasters'. The washer is a combi washer AND dryer unit that does neither job effectively and takes a full eight hours to do one load consisting of a pair of pants and some underwear.

Anyway, I digress. It was 32 degrees today (89 Fahrenheit), which is a near record-breaking temp for Britain. I was at Shakespeare's open-air Globe theatre this afternoon, where two audience members fainted and had to be carried out on stretchers--Brits, no doubt. These people have no idea what hot really is until they've experienced NY--or anywhere else in the States--in August.

It was a great production of The Tempest and seeing a show at the Globe was an amazing experience which I can now highly recommend to anyone here during the summer months. Embarrassingly, I have to admit that I've never actually seen a Shakespeare play staged before (I know, I know--how was I an English major who spent so many years in NY without experiencing Shakespeare in the Park?) Shame on me.

In any case, in this particular production (and if anyone wants to enlighten me on whether or not this is the norm in America, I'd be grateful), only three actors played all of the 12 or so characters. As there were no costume changes or any other telltale signs--and since my Shakespearean Olde English is on par with my French--it took me about a third of the way into things to figure out that this was happening. Meanwhile, I kept wondering why Prospero seemed to have multiple personality disorder and when the shipwrecked victims that I vaguely remembered from the character list were going to appear. I'm sure now that I'm "in the know", tomorrow's production of A Winter's Tale will be that much more enjoyable.

Last but not least, I will leave you with an incredible and stunning (at least to me) fact about London that I discovered yesterday when I went online to subscribe for home delivery of the Sunday Times. Apparently, you cannot get the newspaper delivered to your doorstep here. You can get home delivery of your newspaper in a backwater town like Cheney, Kansas (population 1,783), but you cannot get home delivery of your newspaper in the cosmopolitan likes of London. So much for cozy winter Sundays spent curled up in my flat with a cup of tea reading the paper. Oh well, I'm not really much of a tea drinker anyway.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Coming Attractions

While you can expect an updated post on our weekend's trip to Canterbury very soon, as well a posting on a strange incident that transpired recently in our neighborhood, it's setting up to be a busy next few days here in Blighty.

For one, Steve is taking driving lessons (!). Hopefully in a week's time, he will at last, at the age of 35, be able to drive a stick-shift car. His lack of know-how in this area has been a repeated sore point in our relationship during every European vacation since stick-shifts are the norm here and I get stuck having to do all the driving (AND navigating) while Steve can leisurely tipple away on wine during dinners and casually make belated statements like "I think you're going the wrong way" five miles after the turn-off he was supposed to be watching out for.

The situation came to a head after 9/11 when I had to drive a stick-shift with manual steering through the winding roads of Tuscany with my arm in a cast after being trampled on Fulton Street two weeks prior. Now that we live here and will hopefully be taking a lot of European vacations (hint to Steve), I've insisted that the situation be remedied so we can share in the hair-raising experience that is driving in Europe.

While I will not be attending the lessons (which I know would make for some great blog material) since my weak nerves aren't up to that sort of challenge, I do plan on providing a full vicarious report from the driving instructor.

Meanwhile tomorrow, my college friend Meg arrives from Seattle, and we have plans to take in two shows at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre--The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Meg is a huge theatre buff and is seeing several other shows here this week as well, so the Shakespeare was at her impetus, which I am looking forward to with both excitement and trepidation.

Although I'm thrilled to be attending my first ever show at this world-renowned venue--which is only open during summer and is a faithful reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse of 1599 where Shakespeare worked, I must admit my total ignorance and consternation when it comes to all things Shakespeare. While I did take an entire class on his body of work in college, I have no idea into which mental cravasse any of that knowledge has fallen, never to be seen again. While I'd recently bought the annotated editions of the plays we're attending in hopes of being able to make some erudite-sounding statements pillaged from the annotations, I'm afraid that was a bit of an optimistic goal and they've remained collecting dust on my coffee table, dog-eared at about page three, at which point they were forsaken for more interesting reading material, such as Hello! (the British equivalent to US Weekly).

In addition to Meg's visit, our friends Mike and Rana Leibowitz, along with their three kids, are moving to London from NYC on Wednesday. Ironically, we all lived in London together before during 1999-2001, so this is a bit of a deja vu experience. Anyway, the Lebo's are loads of fun and I'm sure there will be many a future blog entry incorporating my adventures with Rana.

Last but not least, this week I'm preparing to host my book group's next meeting, taking place next Wednesday. (My book group is comprised of a group of fellow expatriates, many of whom are from my grad school days at Cambridge.) You may ask why I'm preparing a week in advance for this occasion, but there is cooking involved and after Lourdes' Pollo Con Mole at the last meeting, and Catherine's Basil Chicken Salad at our recent picnic, my original plan to serve take-out pizza has lost its luster. Besides, one of my many mottos is why worry next week when you can worry today? Anyway, this week I'll be doing a number of my infamous "test kitchens" to try out various recipes, one of which I hope will turn out to be edible enough to serve without facing the utter humiliation and embarrassment of resorting to Pizza Express.

For anyone interested in London history, we are discussing a book with a fascinating topic called The Great Stink--a novel set in Victorian London about the birth of the city's modern sewage system. It seems that in Victorian days, sewage flowed from underneath rotting tunnels directly into the Thames, and in the hot summer of 1858, the stink from the river became so unbearable (even worse, apparently than the smell of the NY subways in August) that the members of Parliament were driven from chambers. Afterwards, they hastily approved funds to modernize the system, which became one of the greatest engineering marvels of its time and is still in use today--something for which, I, for one, am very grateful.