‘Spacious’ living

When I emailed my aunt and uncle to let them know that I was once again back in Londontown, my aunt cheekily asked whether I had returned to the ‘spacious’ flat where I had stayed for several months last year. They had visited the flat once — and brought along some incredibly delicious alphonso mangoes, which M and I politely enjoyed while we all had tea together, and which we both simply devoured when left to our own devices — and, like me, marveled at the efficiency of the one room abode. Theirs is a modest home in the outskirts of the city, ample for a couple with one child and the occasional guest, whose centerpiece is really the garden that is carefully and thoughtfully attended to by my aunt with the incredibly green thumb (and garden gloves to match!).

As it turns out, given the odd amount of time we’re staying this time (3 weeks) and the time of year (Wimbledon), and the fact that the original ‘spacious’ flat was already occupied, this UK visit is split between two main London locations, with a bit of conference travel thrown in for good measure. In my reply to my aunt’s question then I said the following of our two-flat stay:

“this first one is even more ‘spacious’ than the last…”

Let it never be said that the Brits do not know how to economize space. New Yorkers, and NY tv programs, love to highlight what someone can do with a few hundred square feet of space. But what would they say of the equivalent of a small hotel room equipped with kitchenette? Because that is where we find ourselves. Truth be told, however, it’s really perfect on all the measures that matter: location, amenities (including electric kettle & wifi), and cleanliness.

According to the American census, the average square footage of a Northeast US home in 2010 was 2613 sq feet. That number seems unreal to me, having spent all of my adult life in city dwellings that equal a fraction of that space. I first think, “I can barely keep my few hundred square feet in order, what would I do with twice/thrice that much?!” and then I also, almost immediately, appreciate the times when I’ve visited friends’ homes that more truly spacious (no quotes necessary) than all of mine combined, and yet retain a feeling of coziness and while eschewing ostentatiousness.

With more people, pets, and possessions arises the need for more space, but how much do we really need? I ask this with the fullest appreciation for having grown up with an ample yard surrounding our house in which to play, explore, run around, and gather with friends. But what was once idyllic memory can become an instrument of oppression if allowed to become immovable blueprint rather than aesthetic guide.

For now, I will enjoy my latest ‘spacious’ sublet quarters (quotes necessary) which gives me access to a place that continues to feel like home…

Below, a few pics from the first 24 hours, which has already included a nice 5.7 mile walk…. ahhh…..

A monument I had never seen before, on Whitehall St. walking in the direction of Trafalgar Square
Familiar view, from Blackfriars Bridge
View from our ‘spacious’ flat

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 fatwallet.com), 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.

in the land of afternoon tea

a short post for now as eyes beg for slumber to combat extreme jet lag.

i’m having a hemingway moment. out of body and at home at the same time. i slept a total of 15 minutes on the six and half hour plane ride across the pond and barely stayed awake on the tube ride into town. but after planes, trains, and automobiles behind me, i walked into the tiny efficiency that will be my home for the next few months. the woman who is renting the place wasn’t kidding: 225 square feet. not a spare square inch anywhere. the living room is also the bedroom and kitchen; i’ve lived in tight spaces before, but nothing like this — far smaller than any of my previous abodes — and yet it feels full of possibility. i hope this feeling remains when the 16x14x10 brown cardboard box of book and notebooks (filled with field notes and musings of all types from the past six years) that i shipped over arrives later this week. yes, it’s time to kick book writing into full gear. and somehow, this micro-flat seems up to the challenge of motivating me to do just that.

for now, nap time. “kiss them for me” playing on the telly — a bit of cary grant never hurt anyone.

and then it will be time for tea.

the jeering joys of subletting

Subletting is a strange proposition and in many way not unlike the act of making recommendations, except perhaps the onus of responsibility is even more severe on you who wishes to let another make your (temporary) home theirs (temporarily). Yes, you tell the potential subletter, this is a great place to live! And you mean it. Yet, even you know that no place is perfect. The radiator makes an occasional clanging noise that you have started incorporating into your winter time dreams, and the extreme dryness during the cold months is something you address with a few extra cups of water throughout the day and via the purchase of an elephant shaped, kiddie humidifier. But these become relatively minor hiccups as you travel along your daily path because you accept that in order to go about your business (of writing, teaching, fieldwork, office hours, exercise – mental and physical – shopping, cooking, laundry, correspondence, paying bills, reading, living), you must be willing to accommodate some imperfections that come as part of the package of living in an old, pre-war, constantly-under-some-kind-of-construction/repair building. What you get in return for your bending ways is a relatively comfortable abode, close proximity to friends (even if it is sometimes a bit too close to students and colleagues), a few steps from your institution and thus the ability to leave your house just minutes for before a meeting. This, for the procrastinator and unintentional-multitasker, is a truly priceless feature.

So when one receives a notice from said subletter that highlights a flaw or an issue that arises — that might have arisen had you been living there, as well, but chose this moment to rear its ugly head — you can’t help but feel especially peeved. At whom is this aggravation-wrapped-in-annoyance directed? The messenger? The building maintenance director and crew who received notice from you about potential issues several months ago? Yourself for thinking that subletting would be a worry-free experience? A little from each column seems most likely.

Another response might be the philosophical, in the vein of impermanence — that is, this situation will also pass. An apartment or house or plot of land or country is never permanently a single person’s to own, and we are only caretakers until the next person comes along. But is this point enough to assuage the immediate urgency of someone living situation? Perhaps not.

So with little that I can do while literally on the road, I simply await response to a few SOS’s I’ve planted in the email ether. And I blog. And contemplate advice to give the various parties in charge — because a little experience can make one feel (however rightly or wrongly) like quite the expert. It might be time for a reread of an earlier post about… what was it, patience?

serenity now…

(and following a promised nanowrimo update, the moving chronicles part 2: i forgot i’m the homeowner and there’s no one else to blame in philly… sigh…)

the moving chronicles, part 1

as i finished up the last of my packing/cleaning/packing/cleaning/moving epic marathon this weekend, the possibility of this post kept me going. so, without further ado, here’s a snapshot into my otherwise-housekeepingly challenged brain:

if my apartment was a military mission, it would be: desert dust storm
if my apartment was a color, it would be: dusty rose
if my apartment was a browning sonnet, it would be titled: how do i dust thee?
if my apartment was a famous quote, it would be: i dust, therefore i am (barely)
if my apartment was a line from a shakespearean play, it would be: out, damn spot!
if my apartment was a sporting event, it would be: the dust bowl
if my apartment was an emotion, it would be: all choked up
if my apartment was a restaurant, it would be: the sneezecake factory
if my apartment was onomatopoetically penned, it would read: achoo!
if my apartment was a fictitious character out of children’s pseudo-religious lore, it would be: the dust bunny

if i am ever so unlucky as to have to move again — which i know will be in a year when i come back to my apartment — may i remember to hermetically seal everything and wear a face mask, dammit.

the moving chronicles, part 2 to soon follow… subtitle: learning to live together again, featuring my partner of nearly 20 years: philly.

purging and cleansing

my sister — yes, the recently married one — said to me the other day, as we were doing some window shopping in the big apple, in response to my exclamation that i was in the midst of a closet purge: “you’re always purging! when are you *not* getting rid of stuff?” her question gave me pause. was i always getting rid of stuff? and if so, why on earth was there still so much always around? im not a hoarder — of things of any kind — with one tiny, possible, seemingly unavoidable exception: paper.

PAPER!!!! (exclaimed as a silent scream — with the same energy as elaine’s pill-induced ‘streetcar’ moment — as i sit in this philadelphia cafe, and pump both my fists to the sky, or in this case, exposed beam ceiling.)

is it just a hazard of the job? i try to go paperless, even downloading the occasional ebook and hardly ever printing out an article to read, but the main culprit remains: revisions. REVISIONS!!!! i can get so far in the writing process with just fingers on keyboard and with the use of the very handy reviewing features on the various word-processing platforms i work my way through. but at some point — and there is always a point — i just have to print out the damn thing and scribble, doodle, and generally make a mess all over it using a panoply of colored pens. there are arrows, and stars to remind me where the changes should be inserted; underlines, strikethroughs, circles and more arrows.

this would be all fine and good if, when i went to clean and organize my apartment in preparation for the aforementioned subletter to move in for the year, i did not find not one, not 2, but more a few boxes worth of papers that were just multiple versions of various articles, published well over a few years ago, and replete with scribbles, circles, arrows, galore! but as i started reading through the jottings, non-sensical to anyone but me, i could recall things that i had read that brought me to a new idea; a conversation that inspired new questions or brought me to new texts. i let myself have the afternoon to sit with these writing memories, and i kept a few choice reflective artifacts. and the rest went out with the paper recycling.

but it wasn’t just my apartment i have been purging and cleansing. my email accounts, too, have become a sort of wasteland for all manner of annoying, frustrating, at times toxic messages. and while email remains a source of great joy — in the form of missives, news, and photos from family and dear friends — i have been making good use of email filters and the delete and unsubscribe buttons. it’s slow going, but i feel better, lighter already. my next big decision is whether or not to cut my hair, which is what i usually do at the end of a school year or after a key moment in life. i’d say this counts as such a moment, and yet i’ve gotten attached to the waves on my head. i may have to find other forms of lightness — a superficial antidote. of sorts, to the heaviness that calvino describes here:

“Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification.”
– Italo Calvino (1993, p. 7)

for the past twenty-plus years, chopping off my hair has provided this Perseus-like flight “into a different space.” in other news, i had a fantastic ice cream sundae last week. who knew fluffernutter could be made into a fantastical yogurt flavor?! it was, and it was damn good. i would have a picture of it to show you, but i inhaled it too quickly. not to worry because it’s summer, and there will be more pix (and ice cream!) to come.