London Travel Diary, Day Two

Because I always need to have a regular coffee shop, I went back to CoffeeWorks Project in the morning. Again, I ordered an Americano and the lemon curd muffin that made me feel a little bit sick the previous day and found a spot where I could sit and use the internet. Though I’d been planning on this trip to London for months, I hadn’t actually planned out what I was going to do. I had written down about fifty things on a single sheet of a legal pad while I was at work, folded it up, and stuffed it in my backpack before I left. I took it out while I was waiting for my coffee and looked it over.

The first two items on my list were the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Katie had mentioned an exhibit that was “on” at the V&A about wedding dresses that was supposed to be good and I like portraits in general, so I decided those two museums would do for my first day and figured out a route using an app called Tube Map.

On the Tube, I people-watched. An older man wearing a green velvet suit with a pink shirt and bow tie who I tried and failed to photograph. Two couples on holiday together, husbands guffawing at their own crude jokes, wives clinging to their husbands faux leather jackets in an attempt to avoid the germs on the pole that I was holding with my bare hands. Several different women with the same schoolmarmish look, their hair pulled back tightly in low buns, wearing high-necked blouses under blazers too thin for the weather.

sculpture hall at the v&a

sculpture hall at the v&a

I walked through a long tunnel from the Tube stop to the V&A. And then I walked into the museum, smiled at a security woman and entered a long hall full of sculptures. There was no ticket line, no one asking to look inside my purse, only a plexiglass box with a suggested donation printed on the side. I walked slowly through the sculpture hall, wondering where I might find a map or a sign to point me in any direction. I eventually found a kiosk outside of the Constable exhibition, where the attendant allowed me to buy a ticket to the Wedding Dresses exhibition and gave me a map, which I think I shoved in my bag and never looked at again.

I walked back through the sculpture hall and found the entrance to the Wedding Dresses exhibition. It was surrounded by some sort of permanent UK-fashion-through-the-ages collection, which I inspected alongside other women, on day trips with their girlfriends or daughters or yawning husbands. Both in this exhibit and inside the cylindrical structure that held the Wedding Dresses, I heard at least fifteen comments about which clothing items people might have worn in Jane Austen’s time.

1920s wedding dress

1920s wedding dress

The Wedding Dresses exhibition turned out to be more about the evolution of our treatment of clothing than weddings, which was a relief. Women went from wearing their best Sunday dresses to the local church in the eighteenth century to commissioning wearable art for their ceremonies in the twentieth and twenty-first. I liked the idea that women used to alter the dresses that they wore on their wedding days in order to wear them again in less formal situations. Of course, there wasn’t a single dress from David’s Bridal or its UK equivalent on display among the contemporary dresses, but I do think that the idea that a wedding dress should be special and one-of-a-kind – even if it’s actually not – has been prevalent for so long that showing a dress a middle class woman would wear today as part of this exhibit alongside couture would be pointless.

There’s a lot to see at the V&A. I walked through as much as I could in the hour after I left the wedding dresses. I’m not sure how, but I kept ending up in the Japanese collection in front of a woodblock print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi titled “Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre.”

lunch

lunch

It was past lunchtime and I didn’t feel like finding a place to eat, so I went to the V&A cafe. I bought a sandwich and salad and carried them to an empty table on an adorable tray. I attempted, with varying degrees of success, to eat and read Renata Adler’s Speedboat at the same time. I’ve always found some comfort in at least looking busy while eating alone. It makes the actually being alone part a bit more tolerable. Two sixties-ish women, who I deemed to be academics even though I can’t remember them actually saying anything about academia, sat at the table next to me with pastries and a pot of tea between them. One of them spoke with an American accent. Her occasional British inflections told me that she’d been living in or around London for sometime, but she also could have been there for a week for all I actually knew. I’m no Sherlock Holmes and I’ve met plenty of assholes who’ve come back from a summer abroad with an unintelligible accent. The women gossiped about a mutual acquaintance who’d gone crazy and left her husband who’d cheated on her for years for a much younger man. I tried to write down the details of the story in my phone but I worried they suspected that’s what I was doing, so I stopped. Distracted, I looked at the same page of Speedboat for so long that I got annoyed with myself and put it away. A V&A employee sat on the other side of me with her baby, who pawed at my sweater until I smiled at him. I packed up my things, reluctantly left my tray and plate on the table for someone else to clean up, and left the museum through the sculpture hall, where an older gentleman sketched a larger statue of what was probably a Greek god while surrounded by a crowd of schoolchildren.

me and my hero

me and my hero

The National Portrait Gallery begins on the top floor, but I didn’t know that. I started on the bottom floor, where the contemporary portrait exhibit begins with a portrait of Kate Middleton, which is flanked by signs prohibiting photography. I walked right past it, toward a large, mostly white canvas. Finding myself alone in that section, I took a selfie in front of it. I thought for a few seconds about how I would caption it on Instagram before settling on “Kicking it with Dame Judi Dench.”

Once I figured out that the oldest portraits were on the third floor, I took the escalator upstairs and wound my way down through the rest of the museum. Many of the portraits were of people who aren’t of much importance to us now, but they were important or rich enough during their lifetimes to have portraits painted of them. For two hours, I briefly considered hundreds of individual lives. I was drawn mostly to the women, who were actresses and wives and mistresses and scientists and queens and writers and daughters of wealthy men. I was reminded of a book I had when I was a girl that had short biographies of each First Lady of the United States, with one page devoted to their life story and one to their portrait. I read it over and over again and am still able to recall most of their full names, small details from their childhoods, and what they wore in their portraits.

I hurried back to Chris and Katie’s, where I met Chris so that we could take the bus together to meet Katie at her office. On the way there, I heard about Chris’s trip to Japan, from which he’d just returned. I thought about how much more traveling I have left to do in my lifetime.

Chris and Katie and I ate at a restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush called The Bird in Hand. The menu was full of modern takes on classic British fare, which is, I think, true of many menus in London. We had a scotch egg and foie gras and something called ale soup and the first of many pizzas that I would unexpectedly eat during my trip.

at bush hall

at bush hall

We saw our friend Will’s band, Delta Spirit, play at Bush Hall. The chandeliers and the ornate moldings in the main hall made me imagine one of those choreographed dances you see in a BBC costume drama having taken place there centuries ago. However, upon consulting Wikipedia, I discovered that Bush Hall had been built in 1903. During the show, I drank two Jack & Cokes. I don’t really like whiskey, which I forget all the time. I watched people dancing in the crowd. Two women on the older end of middle-aged shook their butts together. Two men in natty business casual wear nodded their heads and pumped their fists. A young man with a leg injury waved his right crutch in the air near the stage. After the show, as the audience was filing out of the hall, I took a photo of Chris with a girl who had recognized him from his band. She introduced herself to both of us and as I shook her hand and told her my name I thought about saying something like, “I’m not important,” but then I thought it better to say nothing like that at all.

Advertisements

Songs of 2014

It’s mid-December, which means it’s time for me to share my favorite songs of the year. There are 75 here. That seemed like a manageable number. For variety’s sake, I only included artists once (unless they were featured on another artist’s song I liked, in which case I allowed them to be included again, because I like to make things complicated). I did include one cover – ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ – because I listened to it so much that I couldn’t resist. Also, there’s at least one song that was released in 2013 here. You can blame PC Music, which I became deeply obsessed with this spring, for that.

All songs are linked below. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist and a Soundcloud playlist (for songs not available on Spotify).

  1. A.G. Cook ft. Hannah Diamond: ‘Keri Baby’
  2. Beverly: ‘Honey Do’
  3. Alvvays: ‘Archie, Marry Me’
  4. Taylor Swift: ‘Blank Space’
  5. Angel Olsen: ‘White Fire’
  6. Tinashe ft. ScHoolboy Q: ‘2 On’
  7. Ryn Weaver: ‘OctaHate’
  8. Sun Kil Moon: ‘Ben’s My Friend’
  9. Fear of Men: ‘Descent’
  10. Yumi Zouma: ‘The Brae’
  11. Dreamtrak: ‘Odyssey, Pt. 2 (A.G. Cook Remix)’
  12. Cymbals Eat Guitars: ‘Warning’
  13. Lana Del Rey: ‘Brooklyn Baby’
  14. Jessie Ware: ‘Champagne Kisses’
  15. SOPHIE: ‘Lemonade’
  16. Caribou: ‘Can’t Do Without You’
  17. A Sunny Day in Glasgow: ‘In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)’
  18. Kero Kero Bonito: ‘Sick Beat’
  19. Jessica Pratt: ‘Back, Baby’
  20. Swick & Lewis Cancut ft. Tkay Maidza: ‘Wishes’
  21. Doss: ‘Softpretty’
  22. Leon Bridges: ‘Coming Home’
  23. EMA: ‘So Blonde’
  24. Hannah Diamond: ‘Every Night’
  25. How To Dress Well: ‘Words I Don’t Remember’
  26. QT: ‘Hey QT’
  27. Rustie ft. Danny Brown: ‘Attak’
  28. Allie X: ‘Catch’
  29. Young Thug ft. A$AP Ferg & Freddie Gibbs: ‘Old English’
  30. Julia Holter: ‘Don’t Make Me Over’
  31. Grimes ft. Blood Diamonds: ‘Go’
  32. TOPS: ‘Outside’
  33. Katie Rush ft. Samantha Urbani: ‘Dangerous Luv’
  34. Perfect Pussy: ‘Interference Fits’
  35. Thee Oh Sees: ‘Encrypted Bounce’
  36. Panda Bear: ‘Mr. Noah’
  37. tUnE-yArDs: ‘Wait For A Minute’
  38. Ariana Grande ft. Zedd: ‘Break Free’
  39. Future ft. Pharrell, Pusha T & Casino: ‘Move That Dope’
  40. Saint Pepsi: ‘Baby’
  41. GFOTY: ‘Bobby’
  42. Frankie Cosmos: ‘Birthday Song’
  43. Shura: ‘Just Once’
  44. Becky G: ‘Shower’
  45. Drake: ‘0 to 100 / The Catch Up’
  46. Charli XCX: ‘Boom Clap’
  47. Sales: ‘Getting It On’
  48. Tink ft. Jeremih: ‘Don’t Tell Nobody’
  49. Shamir: ‘On the Regular’
  50. Lapsley: ‘Station’
  51. FKA twigs: ‘Two Weeks’
  52. Ex Hex: ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’
  53. Wye Oak: ‘Glory’
  54. You’ll Never Get to Heaven: ‘Caught in Time, So Far Away’
  55. Marissa Nadler: ‘Drive’
  56. Shabazz Palaces: ‘Forerunner Foray’
  57. Redinho: ‘Playing With Fire’
  58. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks: ‘Little Fang’
  59. Dum Dum Girls: ‘Too True To Be Good’
  60. Grouper: ‘Clearing’
  61. Sinead Harnett: ‘No Other Way (Ryan Hemsworth Remix)’
  62. Tomas Barfod ft. Nina K.: ‘Pulsing’
  63. Spoon: ‘Do You’
  64. Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne: ‘Rather Be’
  65. Billie Black: ‘I Don’t Need Another Lover’
  66. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: ‘Simple and Sure’
  67. Snakehips ft. Sinead Harnett: ‘Days With You’
  68. ScHoolboy Q: ‘Break the Bank’
  69. Real Estate: ‘Talking Backwards’
  70. ILoveMakonnen: ‘Club Goin’ Up On A Tuesday’
  71. Zola Jesus: ‘Dangerous Days’
  72. Cloud Nothings: ‘Psychic Trauma’
  73. Cam’ron / A-Trak ft. Juelz Santana & Dame Dash: ‘Dipshits’
  74. Sharon Van Etten: ‘Our Love’
  75. White Lung: ‘Face Down’

***

London Travel Diary, Day 1

Thoughts and experiences from my first day traveling to/in London in November 2014. 

jetlagged/maybe still asleep after my first flight, but drinking coffee anyway

jetlagged/maybe still asleep after my first flight, but drinking coffee anyway

Somehow, I survived my first flight – from New York to Iceland – and then my second flight – from Iceland to London – and found the Heathrow Express, which would take me from Heathrow to Paddington Station, where I would have to find and board an Underground train that would get me to Islington, where I would have to find my friends’ house. The only things I’d consumed since leaving New York were two Nyquil caplets, seltzer and two cups of coffee. My phone was about to die. I charged it on the train using an adaptor I’d purchased at the airport for some amount of Icelandic money I hadn’t bothered converting to US dollars because, I thought, fuck it I’m on vacation.

***

I have all of these people on my Gchat list – most of whom I don’t speak to on a regular basis or, actually, ever – whose “status” is always their location. Not the location in which they live, of course, but places they’re traveling. There’s never an explanation. Just, simply, “Buenos Aires.” Or on occasion, something like “Lima -> Vancouver -> NYC.” I have mixed feelings about this practice because, on the one hand, I think it’s pretty pretentious. But, on the other hand, if I had the opportunity to travel a lot, I’d probably be an asshole about it too.

***

Walking from the Angel tube station to Chris and Katie’s house was one of the most terrifying short journeys of my life. There were two reasons for this. The first was that I was using precious international data to Google map my walk. The second was that I was completely unable to cross any street without imagining myself getting hit by a car because I had looked the wrong way.

Once I found the house, which was not as difficult as I’d imagined it would be, I let myself in with a key that Katie had hidden for me in an exhaust pipe. I had about four hours to kill until Katie got home – Chris was on a trip and returning the next day – so I took my time getting settled, which took a lot less time than I’d anticipated. After I’d showered and dressed, I turned on the TV. I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, feeling a little guilty that it was two seasons ahead of where I’d left off in my Netflix binge and also that I was watching Gilmore Girls on vacation. The only thing that forced me off the couch was the fact that the internet at the house wasn’t working.

***

I felt very at home at CoffeeWorks Project. The name was dumb, but it reminded me of the coffee shop I’d recently had to stop frequenting at home. It had a limited menu of espresso drinks and tea. There was also a selection of whimsically flavored baked goods for sale. The space was modern and airy and the furniture was mismatched and rustic. It really did feel like it could have been in Brooklyn, which was both comforting and disappointing.

casually took two photos of this little tableau before getting embarrassed for myself and picking up my book again

casually took two photos of this little tableau before getting embarrassed for myself and picking up my book again

I found the only unoccupied corner, where I drank an Americano and ate a raspberry muffin filled with lemon curd as I used the internet for all sorts of things on my phone. I checked Instagram, where I was still getting likes on the selfie I took in the airport in Iceland. I used Viber to text my mom and Vincent, to let them know I had gotten to London safely. I deleted about 65 shopping emails and read and responded to the only two real emails I’d received. Then I wrote an email to my dad, who was celebrating his birthday.

It was getting dark outside, which was a relief because that meant Katie would be getting back from work soon. I’d killed more time getting to the coffee shop than I’d even meant to, as I realized I’d left my debit and credit cards at the house when I got to the bank to take out cash and had to go back. I read some of my book – Renata Adler’s Speedboat – until I realized I felt kind of sick, probably from the lemon curd in the muffin. I took a different route back to Chris and Katie’s, down an alley-like street where vendors were breaking down their market stalls.

***

When Katie got home, I felt insane. I was happy to see her, of course, but I also was so jetlagged that I had no idea if the words that I thought I was speaking were actually coming out of my mouth. She asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner or just rest and order in. It was Guy Fawkes Night – or Bonfire Night, or whatever they call it – and we could already hear quite a lot of fireworks going off.

“Let’s go out,” I said. “I’ll just fall asleep if we sit here.”

Katie took me to a pub called The Scolt Head which, despite its blunt-seeming name, was warm and had a lovely little garden that I would have liked to sit in if it had been warm out. We caught up over a bottle of wine and I ate chicken and bacon pie, which I thought about not ordering until I remembered that I was on vacation. After dinner, we walked back to the house, unable to hear each other very well over the explosions. We stayed up a little later talking, but Katie had to go to work in the morning and I hadn’t actually slept in like two days, so we said goodnight. I slept for 11 hours, which I felt very proud of in the morning.