Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Comprenez-vous des fleurs?

Definite confirmation that I'm never going to fit in here--no matter how much I may like beer, be able to withstand the country's bizarre fascination with Posh Spice, and fluidly pepper my conversations with Briticisms such as "Brilliant!"and "Lovely!"--arrived in the form of a recent trip to the local gardening center. Being a city slicker who's never owned so much as a cactus for fear of the responsibility, I immediately fell for the enchanting array of colorful plants on display--look what I'd been missing out on all these years! Needing to keep up with the Jones', or in this case, with Mrs. Sayers next door (yes, that's an aerial view of her lush little Garden of Eden below), we loaded up a dolly full of beautiful indoor and outdoor varietals.

We bought geraniums, petunias, hydrangeas, daisies, African violets, and a lovely purple blossomed thingy that I'm still not sure what to call since the ID card fell out in the delivery van. Well, that was three weeks ago, and the fruits of my attempts at "gardening" (as the British appear to refer to any form of purchasing a plant and placing it somewhere) have failed miserably. I think my friend Georgina, who doesn't beat around the bush, pretty much summed it up last week when she said, "Every plant I've seen around here so far is dead."

It hurt to hear, especially coming from an English person (their innate ability to garden seems to come as naturally as our ability to breathe), but it was true. My Daisies--bent over on their stems. My Hydangeas--either not enough water or too much sun--we're still not quite sure which, but either way they've gone from a vibrant shade of pink to a not-so-lovely state of shriveled brown. The African violets--not only dead but also appear to be sprouting a white fur-like substance.

The sad thing is, I've really tried. I've followed all the given instructions, watered religiously, and placed each in the position that seemed optimal per its ID card. I've been blaming my failure on the unseasonably hot British weather we've been having, but a short walk around our neighborhood (the lovely rose garden to the right is located across the street) and this weekend's trip to the Royal Botannical Gardens seem to have proven that theory wrong. Everywhere around me, as if in mockery, there exists a flourishing, flowering paradise that remains elusively out of reach from my non-green-thumbed grasp.

Thank goodness I have other pursuits that I'm more successful with, like French, for example. Or so I thought up until recently, anyway. Last week I had my phone interview for the French language course I'm taking during our upcoming vacation in Paris and am fairly certain they may have placed me at beginner level again (this coming on the heels of four years of French study)...not positive as I only understood about 10% of what Mme. Guillaume was saying. Either way, they're going to leave me a message about it, or perhaps I'm supposed to leave them a message...not really sure which but am hoping to know more details before we board the train on Friday.

The one thing I'm definitely certain of is that Mme. Gillaume knows I may have cheated a bit on the written exam they sent me. I know this because the one moment I could make out with enormous clarity was the shock in her voice when she told me how well I did on that (and who wouldn't, with four text books and 12 hours spent on it...official time allotted: 45 minutes with no dictionary). I tried to cover by telling her--or attempting to tell her--that my grammar and vocabulary were way better than my speaking ability, but not sure if she believed me since I didn't understand her reply. Perhaps it's time I threw down my gardening trowel, burned those french textbooks and took up something I will surely excel at--like cooking, for instance.

A Visitor's Gruesome Discovery...

Yes, unfortunately this is exactly what you think it is--a picture of Steve in his new role as avian undertaker. Just when I thought I could focus my worries on some of the bigger and more pressing issues at hand, we had guests over the other night who made a grim discovery indeed.

All was going well as we graciously served up canapes (store-bought, naturally) and wine, basking for the first time in the fruits of our hard-won labors by relaxing in the friendly confines of our new home. Our guests were full of delightful admiration of how things had come together as we proudly showed them around, displaying our handiwork in all of its jury-rigged glory (sofabed with newly bracketed-on legs, stairwell still sans a few critical banisters that can render trips to the third floor positively deadly after a cocktail or two). While regaling our visitors with tales of our previous pigeon woes as we stood in "The Room of Countless Sleepless Nights", a.k.a. the new guest room, one of them made the rather unfortunate decision to open the window to check out the new pigeon net over the roof that I'd been waxing on about so excitedly. The expression on his face quickly turned to one of sheer horror and, certain it was merely a sick attempt to play into our deepest fears, we all moved in for a closer look.

I rather wished I hadn't. You see, apparently there's been a breech in the new Pigeon Defense System...either that or I grossly (and I do mean grossly) misinterpreted its purpose. It seems the birds have been having no problem at all getting in through it, it's just getting out to find food and water that's become problematic--hence our inadvertent foray into a bustling rooftop mortuary business and Steve's newly developed skills as an ARRS (Avian Recovery and Retrieval Specialist). Not sure he'll be adding that to his resume anytime soon though.

Monday, July 11, 2005

On Sto·i·cism (stō'ĭ-sĭz'əm), n.

Things are slowly getting back to normal here, though all hope of arriving at your destination on the tube--never a winning proposition during the best of circumstances due to curious occurrences such as "Leaves on Track" or "Not enough staff on duty" (actual messages posted on the write & wipe boards here at various times)--has understandably become impossible given that many of the major lines remain out of commission, including large portions of two of the biggest--the Piccadilly and Circle lines.

While the sheer magnitude of what happened is certainly not of the 9/11 scale which so many of us unfortunately witnessed up close and personally, the effects have been no less traumatic and the ramifications for us all are equally far-reaching. Seeing the photos of the injured, missing and deceased, as well as hearing the stories of those who were on the bombed trains (and bus #30) who lived to tell the tale certainly puts things in our own lives in perspective.

The attitude here is definitely more upbeat than late last week, though if I hear one more proud word about "British stoicism", I will inflict certain bodily injury on the person who utters the phrase and point to the nearest overflowing pub as the major contributor of said "stoicism". Since when did stoicism become a positive attribute anyway? The last time I checked, this was still the definition:
The last time I checked, this was the definition:
sto·i·cism (stō'ĭ-sĭz'əm), n.
Indifference to pleasure or pain; impassiveness.

Be sure to see my upcoming post on my travails with the National Health System here--I suspect this is the Petri dish where this particular trait is fermented.

And lastly, for those of you who've asked, no, Steve and I are really not an innocuous front for an Al Qaeda sleeper cell, despite the fact that wherever we move, terrorism seems to soon follow. (Though just to be on the safe side, I would advise New York City dwellers to perhaps arrange for a long sabbatical in the few months immediately following our return home.)

If you would like to donate to the British Red Cross efforts to aid the bombing victims and their families, click here.