And the horse you rode in on

YOU. Yeah, you. C'mere. You wanna read some cuss words and see some multimedia? Hot damn, sister! Or feller. (<---Me addressing you old skool gangsta style, like how they blogged in 1938).

I'm from San Antonio, TX. I write about art, film, and culture for Glasstire, The Village Voice, LA Weekly and other places.

Si quieres escuchar este mensaje en español, pulse dos. Es broma: orale, ven aquí! Soy una escritora de San Antonio, y estudio de la USC hasta mayo, luego me voy a Londres este verano. (Pssst No se lo digas a los que hablan Inglés-solamente.)

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Letter from London 6

A few very minor complaints today, y’all.

This twin bed is killing me. Every morning I wake up with what I call “Weird Neck,” at least one limb asleep, and back pain. I need a massage, a really painful one with somebody pummeling me and stepping on me. Massage seemed to me a thing of unconscionable luxury, until I neared 40 and various body parts started going on strike. Now it’s a staple, along with stretching. My friend Carolyn Ellis remarked to me recently that as she ages, stretching is no longer just another healthful activity; she must do it on order to function. Me too. As soon as I’m conscious, I contort myself and groan for a good fifteen minutes. Here, I do that and still walk kind of bent-up and hesitatingly for another half-hour.

I still haven’t begun my internship. I begin on Tuesday, because Monday is a bank holiday. I don’t understand bank holidays. It’s not Memorial Day (not over here anyway- Memorializing in London is just kind of omnipresent, built into the culture, more on that later), it’s just a bank holiday, so nobody works. Sometimes the bank holiday “means something;” ie, is also Boxing Day or Good Friday, but Monday’s is just “Spring Bank Holiday.” I am OK with this but want to know why. OK, I just looked it up. Very detailed, and kind of boring. Sometimes the British mania for administrative details seems excessive. But I like holidays, so whether or not a particular one is mandated by Bank Holidays Act of 1871 or the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which remains the statutory basis for bank holidays, I’m down. 

Semi-related, experientially: London is decidedly not the city that never sleeps. The U.S. 24-hour culture is not in effect here. It seems like 3/4 of the retail business is closed by 8, with the exception of drugstores and some grocery stores which stay open until 11 or so. Many businesses are closed on Sundays. Mostly I’m in favor of this, actually. I think it’s better for people to go home at night. That plus the bank holidays, you get a breather, and more time with your family or friends. AND MORE TIME AT THE PUB!

Next up: I live in an apartment house which has been converted to student flats. There’s the USC contingent I’m part of, some University of London-ers, and a gang of young’uns in the basement from…Wisconsin, maybe? Or Michigan? There is a high ‘bro quotient. A couple of days ago, a sweet-faced boy stopped me in the entrance hallway, flirted with me a little, and invited me to a party. I was flattered, but mind you, the lighting in the hallway was very low. If he’d encountered me in daylight he would’ve assumed I was somebody’s mom.

Last night, that party happened, and went on until 5 am. There was also some sort of party across the street in the dorms, with a line of about a hundred kids waiting to get in, and dance music throbbing. My bedroom window refuses to close all the way, I overheard a lot of youth drama. I tried to keep it in perspective. I talked on the phone to my brother Alex, and he reminded me that I was once a loud, oft-drunk American 20-year-old making an ass of myself in London once. (I lived, as I’ve said, in Dublin, but I was here a couple of times too, partying mostly) True, he added, it was over twenty years ago, but I should be patient. After all, it’s not the drunk kids’ fault I’m old.

My brother lived abroad in Rome when he was a college student. He did things like get trashed, not make the last bus to his dorms, and decided to curl up on a mattress with some homeless men. Another time, he and some other guys passed out in the Coliseum, came to in the morning, poked their heads up like meerkats from the ruins, and scared a tour group. Then there was the incident in which his gang of pals set a campfire on the Acropolis and were chased down the hill by police, and Alex got caught because he elected to fireman-carry a girl with asthma and it slowed him down.

And another thing; there are sweets everywhere. A bright spot of los Angeles was the ease of healthy eating; there’s so much pressure to be fit that even f you hardly mean to, you wind up eating fruit and nuts and raw vegetables and few carbs. London is full of sweets and bakeries, and people walking along devouring various delicious-looking carbs. Lots and lots of drinking, too. I will have to be on my guard. I’m not completely neurotic about what I eat, and I “cheat” quite a bit, but one week in the country and I’ve already bought shortbread and a chocolate orange just like they were regular ol’ groceries. 

Another thing i miss about Los Angeles is Koreatown. It seemed to me that Korean culture has a pretty no-nonsense approach to the body that I like a lot. The food centers on good nutrition and high flavor, for the most part. I learned so much from grandmas at the grocery store. I love kimchi and steamed green vegetables and fish and using vinegars and hot peppers instead of salt. This-all sounds very virtuous (yuck) but it’s delicious. Brown rice. Barley tea. Another Koreatown pleasure; no-frills spas. At my favorite one, it’s women-only and everybody’s naked, from old ladies to young ones, all sizes and colors. It’s weirdly liberating. And you sauna and bathe and get scrubbed to within an inch of your life and it’s not luxurious or expensive at all; just a way to take care of your body and relax. It’s $15 to get in and the treatments aren’t expensive. You can nap, there’s a cafe. I could sure use one here, but keep internet-researching and not finding anything similar. There are European-style spas but they are crazy expensive, and I don’t wanna be lasered or facial-ed or surrounded by orchids.

There’s so much I love about London. I just want to combine it with aspects of Los Angeles, New York, and my hometown, San Antonio. And get some sleep. The jetlag phenomenon is sneaky; I sit down, I fall asleep for three hours. I’m wide awake at dawn. It’s light out here until after 10pm, which confuses me. I’m a hot mess! Suggestions welcomed.

Look at this thing.

Letter from London 5

Letter from London 5

It’s a short and punchy one today, I’ll try to do Part II later this afternoon.

The upshot: I LOCKED MYSELF OUT OF MY GODDAMN BEDROOM LAST NIGHT. At 2 am this morning, I woke up from a dream involving rain and confusion and something about two bears, waddled out to the prison bathroom I share with Chima, and heard my door close behind me with a nauseating CLACK. 

I tried breaking in with a butter knife. Then it occurred to me to call the building management. My phone, however, was on the other side of the locked door. I was so angry at that fucking door, pinche smug bastard, with all my belongings on the other side. Phone. Slippers. A bra. I was wearing a very unflattering thigh-length navy blue nightshirt that bags out like a tent.

 I thought about waking Imade or Chima to use their phones, but it occurred to me that there’d be nobody in the building office until 9am anyway. So I went to the day room and bedded down on the couch. It was chilly, I had no blanket (I considered making a sort of nest or covering of the plastic shopping bags in the recycling bin but couldn’t bring myself to do it), that damn couch is not comfy, and the room makes weird noises.

The window rattles like hell when the wind blows against it, which is frequent. It’s very Wuthering Heights, and despite my professed secular humanism and all that I got FREAKED OUT. London’s got to be haunted as hell, right? Dammit BRONTËS. You too, Kate Bush. And Dickens and HIlary Mantel etc etc. I was near convinced Anne Boleyn would materialize and chuck her angry disembodied head at me, or Jack the Ripper would creep in. I know they were in different neighborhoods, but still. I wouldn’t even have been glad to see some innocuous or charming dead English person, like Peter Ustinov or Dudley Moore. GET THEE GONE, DUSTY SPRINGFIELD!!

 So I got about an hour and a half of sleep, rigid with fear, expecting the spirit of Winston Churchill or Benny Hill or whoever (AND WOULD I BE ABLE TO TELL THEM APART IN THE DARK?), listening to the windows rattle. I just knew Benny Hill was coming for me. I lay there waiting for the theme music to start up. My plan was to jump out the fucking window.

 I got about an hour sleep I think. Then dawn happened. Here it seems to occur at about 4:45. And very fast. Boing! It’s slightly lighter out, and gray.

 Luckily, Chima woke up at 9, and let me use her phone to call the office. Unfortunately, I’d already wakened Imade at 8:40ish, which wasn’t that big a deal as she had a 10 am thing to go to, but I also had to wake her roommates, who have the day off and were sleeping and not glad to see me. Not that Imade was overjoyed either. 

“Wait, you want me to go with you to the office?” 
“No! Look at what I have on, I can’t go to the office, you have to please go for me.”
Imade pulled her covers down to reveal her eyes, looked me up and down in my nightshirt, and laughed. 

I got ahold of the office though, a nervous Polish girl let me into my room about an hour ago. I’m going to sleep for a little bit now. That ended up being longer than I thought. Ah well.