signs i’m definitely back in london

1. this sign greets me at the tube station —

Announcing: British Biscuit Festival!

2. hulu doesn’t work here.

3. british television is ever at the ready with documentaries about the world wars, reruns of questionable cbs sitcoms, programs about walking, and an incessant supply of fresh prince of bel air episodes.

4. weather mood swings, from needing a jacket and socks to needing little more than tees and sandals — just an ordinary, late spring day in the uk.

5. sunrise is at 4:52. sunset… what sunset? ah, gloriously long lit spring/summer evenings…

framing the artist

There’s little I can say that hasn’t already been said about the film “The Artist.” Prior to seeing it, I had read very little about it and had read almost none of the available reviews — just a feeling I sometimes get with some movies for fear that the words of others will ruin my own viewing experience. I knew that it was a modern take on silent films and that my mother-in-law had raved about it. This afternoon, after an exhausting few days of post-illness recovery, I finally left the flat and sat in a nearly empty theater just around the corner and took in this cinematic experience. I’m embedding the tap dancing, fancy-filled trailer here.

George Valentin is at the one center of this dual-nucleus film and is portrayed by the devastatingly charming Jean Dujardin who, along with his film co-nucleus Bérénice Bejo, the utterly enchanting female lead, offers a layered, nuanced, and loving letter to a key moment in film history. In addition to the two main actors, this film also serves up a panoply of supporting actors all of whom deliver poignant and punchy performances regardless of how many or how few minutes they are on screen — including James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and Penelope Ann Miller who call attention to the many dimensions of screen presence that go far beyond vocalization or verbalization of lines in a script. Eyebrows move, shoulders shrug, hands gesture and hold strong, looks are held and broken, there are dance numbers, and playful and meaningful glances and grazes. And what comes through in this film, more so than in many I’ve seen recently, is the strength of the visual framing of the story. The characters and the narrative are elegantly and precisely framed, especially moving are the shots that incorporate staircases and mirrors in fantastic ways. My teacherly self wants to recommend this as a core text through which to explore this practice of framing and the play of sound, song, and speech off one another. And the pop culture connaisseur in me can’t help but think of the ways in which the stories about artists in the public sphere are framed and played out in various texts and media outlets. Or how, in my walks through the city, I have seen artworks framed by adjacent structures and the ways in which my own movement helps or constrains the ability to see the art.

Art from afar
Art from afar
Art up close
Art up close

And for those who have watched the film, click here for a parting gift — a bit of video fun in which the much-celebrated lead of The Artist, whose voice we barely hear in the film, collaborates with FunnyOrDie to put his vocal talents on display in this excellent example of self-parody.

a wednesday

weather: cloudy with a threat of rain
alertness: on the precipice of emerging out of jetlaggy haze
agenda: hang out, eat well, be amused, and learn new tricks

yesterday was spent largely in the company of my aunt and uncle who live just outside of the city. i dare not call it a suburb for fear of evoking images of sprawl, vast amounts of ill-used space, strip malls, and an endless supply of sport utility vehicles. no, this is a lovely little town where they have lived for close to 40 years, in the same house, which was just an image in a photograph for most of my childhood. (another favorite photo featured by older cousin dressed in his school uniform, which included bright red knee socks, standing begrudgingly next to the front door.)

my aunt met us at one of the gates to kew gardens, the well known botanical gardens just a stone’s throw from their home. thus our visit began with a walk and conversation and occasional discussion about various types of holly — was i the only one who assumed all holly was the same? — and the installation of the japanese garden a decade earlier and a few choice bits about the history of the gardens. we spoke about our respective experiences returning to french class after significant time had passed since our introductions to the language; this among the various other things we discussed stood out to me as a hallmark of what it means to continue to live and be present in the world. both my aunt and uncle are retired for more than a few years now and they lead lives that, to the occasional observer, are full of experiences in which they continue to place themselves as learner. and perhaps this is key.

the rest of the day progressed much like most other days i’ve spent with them. afternoon tea and homemade german pastries, talking for hours around the table — in the summer it might have been some snacks alongside a pimms and peach nectar cocktail, my uncle’s specialty, while seated outside in my aunt’s meticulous (but unfussy) garden — followed by a tour of their recent travels as told through the informative yet uncluttered photobooks that my aunt creates after each trip, then more conversation, some dinner prep, and then more conversation over dinner. while there, i snapped this photo of a painting that hangs near the entrance to their kitchen that captured much of what i feel when i’m visiting their home, and even just in their presence — unhurried but purposeful:

i also learned the following two food tricks:
a) you can cook rice from scratch in the microwave. again, am i the only one who didn’t know this? either way, good news for me because i have yet to figure out the indecipherable cooktop in my micro-kitchen (exhibit a below)

b) a simple pumpkin sautee (with some tomatoes — canned or fresh — popped mustard seeds, green chilies, and a handful of spices) that is easily frozen can be transformed, upon defrosting on the stove in a saucepan over low heat, into a saucy concoction that can accompany rice and various other grains with the smallest addition of yogurt.  (i definitely need to tell my friend at little brooklyn kitchen about these choice tips!)

unhurried but purposeful. to aim for that will be my goal these next few months, and longer if i can remember to remember.

while you were sleeping

jet lag is a strange thing. your body fights it, tries to trick its power, and ultimately falls hard under its spell. the result: walking zombies. in this zombie-like state, attempting to ward off Jette Lag — likened in my mind to a nefariously comical villain from an 80s-style spy movie — we went on a stroll last night that took us to the the south bank via the waterloo bridge. the video below was taken at dusk, as the busy london workforce rushed over the bridge to one or other tube stop. just behind the bridge to the southeast, is the ever-turning london eye all lit up in electric blue.

after a bit more walking and overuse of the tube daily travelcard purchased by mistake — and therefore one must get full use of it, even if it is just to go one tube stop while fully absorbed by the human crush that is london rush hour — the penultimate stop on this delay-JL walk was the nearby Sainsbury’s supermarket; not a Sainsbury super as the internet had promised, but just a Sainbury’s local. the plastic, blue shopping basket was full of an inexplicable collection of odds and ends including frozen meals created by the Quorn company* — fantastic news for a soy-free vegetarian! at the self-checkout the computer politely asked if we would like to register our Nectar card. what is this Nectar card, so full of the promise of untold bounties and joy — implied, perhaps, by the very word nectar. a store helper heard me muse this out loud and asked whether i’d like to join this “national loyalty program” and not being one to shy away from a program that accrues points for purchases i’d make anyway (case in point: my love of, i agreed, we swiped, and we were on our way!

nectar card info packet

the evening was a blur that included a simple but surprisingly delicious meal (me: green salad with steamed broccoli and roasted cashews and the Quorn tikka masala and basmati rice). prepared, by the way, in the micro-flat’s micro-kitchen that is par for the course in london abodes — well, maybe not quite so micro. more flat pics to be unveiled as time passes (and as i find clever ways to photograph its unique features).

the micro-kitchen - a model of efficiency

post-dinner: setting up a temporary, unlocked mobile phone and taking in some BBC news before passing out at a respectable 8:00pm local time.

all in all, not a bad way to start getting situated in this town. today’s mission (other than finishing up a few lingering Stateside todos): take the long, meandering, city-exploring walk i usually like to do upon first arriving in a new place, regardless of how familiar it already is. it’s my way of getting a lay of the land so that i end my map-reliance sooner rather than later. and of course, find a good cafe or two 😉

*in the States, a completely different and much more limited assortment of Quorn products can be found in select grocery stores.

the video was good, but for real bookshelf… ahem…

the site is called “bookshelf porn” and i blame t’s always-entertaining away messages on her gchat profile for providing curious and stimulating fodder.

from the website’s description

“…bookshelf photos from around the world for people who *heart* bookshelves.”

and two of the many pics on the site:

new stuttgart library




good tidings and good intentions

woody guthrie‘s new year’s resolutions (via @boingboing)

woody guthrie's 1942 new year's resolutions

i especially love the sketches made to emphasize the resolutions — see for example next to #31, the outstretched hug and kiss (Smack!) to the world on the bottom right.  and #15 — “Learn People Better” — couldn’t we all use a lesson in that?