Sunday, January 22, 2006


Before I begin: check out my new blog. It's meant as a more academic discussion of what I'm thinking about with respect to work, geography and all that stuff that probably does not fit the loose confines of this site. The address is and should be linked on the side above Jed.

The more time I spend in this country, the more I'm struck by the implicit differences. To echo Pulp Fiction, 'they have the same shit over there that we have's just a little different...'

In many cases, this is more than true in terms of things, popular and material culture: yes we have those damn furry boots too and the latest fashion trend for women--dress shorts. ?? just wait. If they're not on the streets of Anytown USA, they will be there soon.

The difference to which I'm referring is as systematic within in the culture as it is in the landscape, and in many respects, the two are mutually construitive. My flatmates and I, after a particularily debauched evening, spent a Sunday afternoon watching some neo-western movie on the television, and though they all had been to US, none were able to apreciate its general openness. By openness, I am not referring to tolorance, or acceptance but rather the physical environment and how much distance there is between places. Last week, flying to Nantes, it took about an hour. In such time in the plane, I had crossed the entirety of London and South West England, the English Channel, Norman Beaches and finnally landed in the French countryside. It actually took longer by train to get from my house to the airport than it did to transcend two national borders, and in that regard, there were more official interior controls to my movement in Britain than there were leaving the country and entering another.

Remember that all of Great Britain is roughly the size of Kansas, and movement is impeded by population density rather than spatial proximity. That is why watching this film, I was struck by the miles and miles open alfalfa fields, something I'd causually observed from the back of my bicycle in the past but never apreciated at a deeper level. For me, this realisation was akin to the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean and pondered its significance, standing from my spot on the beach at Carmel and remarking 'my God, there is only ocean between here and Japan!"

This compression and expansion of distance is expressed within the culture as well. My experience in the US has led me to believe we will travel great distances to participate in a particular activity, whether it's drive to Iowa for a bike race accross town for boozing. Here, the thought of going all the way accross London to go drinking is almost a novelty, an experience that should be savoured. Out of this sentiment arises the concept of the 'local' not in esoteric terms but in the sense of the pub. The 'local' refers the nearest public house where friends and neighbors alike meet for food and drink. Ours is about 50 feet from my front door and called the "Moby Dick." The 'Dick is as equally crappy as the name may suggest. So, more often than not, we go the 'other local,' called the Ship and Whale, a proper pub with good food and awesome beer. For those who have this question on their minds, yes, most of the pubs in my neighborhood do have a maritime theme, probably having something to do with my location in the Docklands and proximity to a 10 century long tradition of shipping.

What the 'local' provides the community is just that: community. This tradition is rapidly dying in Britain with the commodification of experience, but the roots will probably always remain, though I guess there is also a convienence factor...
In this sense the stereotype of the English does live up to its expectations; the English loves their drink but hates doing it alone. The name 'pub' suggests this trait; short for 'public house,' the concept of the pub allows people to come together in sociable circumstances in a completely egalitarian system where the only gentrifying factor is the ablity to buy the round when it comes up, and more often than not, if a patron finds himself light one Friday, someone will extend him credit until the next--expecting of course to have the favor returned when circumstances are reversed. The pub is the great equalizer; I've now drank in some of the seediest places in the city with what would amount to some of the hardest criminals of the past and present, and despite the inherent differences between us, we are all equal(ish) in the free house, subjected only by the bar man who controls the flow of booze. I might add that gender differences evaporate in the pub, and an East End lady can easilty out drink, smoke, swear and fight most anyone I know who did not grow up in under the bells of Bow. In the context of the pub, however, all are welcomed as friends as long as their funding holds, and in the context of the local, the welcome often extends way beyond the social and economic.

My train of though is derailed as I slip into the unfortunate academic habit of adding unnecessary articles infront of adjectives transforming them into nouns, so I'm off to ponder the distance between my couch and the nearest cup of coffee.

take it easy, thanks for reading

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Le Doper!

Hello all; so it's confirmed, Heras has to go to the Spanish courts to defend himself. I don't really care about dopers in cycling or any of that; I just choose to use it as a segue because I read it in L'equipe while sipping a coffee in some boulangiere in Nantes, and let me just say one thing about France: it rules. Despite what people say about snobbering and being rude to Americans (they are generally are both snobs and rude to Americans) the people whom I met were very nice, very sociable, helpful and friendly. Because of these things, I return from my holiday relaxed, happy and once again in sorts with my world.

So, why do the French have such a bad reputation? I spent a lot of time in cafes and bars sorting this one out, amongst other activities that do not bare discussion as they are only of interest to other degenerates like myself. My conclusion is pride. The French people are very proud of the culture and heritage, and this is reflected in strict adherance to language and food. In this respect, they are a lot like Texans. Immensly proud, head strong, etc, but the French don't feel the need to boast about their superiority because they implicitly know they are better than anyone else and do not make it necessary to prove their worth by the size of their trucks or how loudly they talk (and for you Texans reading between the lines, yes, the French are better than you, and any Texan who takes issue with this is welcome to show up to my neighborhood where I will be happy to oblige by stomping the shit out of you...go get fatter, burn some more oil in your penis compensating trucks, eat some bbq--and fuck off).

The implicit pride, though in some ways it may materialise itself as rudeness, is really a desire to share with others the things they as a people love: food, wine, fellowship. My last evening, I was dining at a restaurant recomended to me by my landlord, and once it was made clear that I was dining alone, I was invited to join the table next to american sharing a meal with 'freedom hating surrender monkies'--where we dined for several hours over many courses of food and drink. For this culture, food and drink are so important not for their inherant value as tasty things to swig down but because they are gateways to social relations--fellowship, friendship. Keep in mind, this was all made easier because I actually do speak the language, both French and that of wine and food, but even if I didn't, the fact that I was willing to make the effort as a foreigner to not be so foreign opend doors. Yes, we made fun of the president, but I was pretty drunk by that point and am not sure if it was dubya or chirac that was getting most of the venon: probably both.

Either way, the point is what I saw in France was something that America and Britain seem to lack, and it goes beyond manners. All conversations begin with Bonjour/soir Monseur/Madame, regardless of situation. Upon only a second meeting, and often the first, there is a handshake between men, and kisses between women or women and men; I was quite taken aback when the landlord shook my hand after I came in for the evening on my first night and when his assistant kissed me the the next morning. These little things, however, make society more civil, and congenial.

But, enough about manners. The city itself was very cool and everything that one would expect a really old European city to be. Cathedrals, a Chateau, cobbled streets, built on a hill, winding paths, plastered stone buildings, etc. Once I get unpacked, I'll be posting some photos. The apartment I rented was in the middle of the old part of the city, adjacent to the Marche de Talensac (a medival market still in operation) and next to a really old church. The room itself was a bit austere, but I since I wasn't there to sit and watch TV, that didn't matter. I spent the days eating, drinking and exploring a part of the world about which I'd only read about. Truly seeing a gothic cathedral for the first time is amazing. I snapped some photos, but I'm sure they won't do the experience justice. Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip were the all famous cafes. My favorite dated from the 19th century and was something out of a LeTrec painting. Tiled floors, spotless bar and amazing table service. No one seemed to mind that I spent an afternoon reading and writing. Though it was always politely implied that one should order another drink (coffee or other wise) or pay and leave.

That, I think is the message I got from the my trip. Whatever one does, do it with manners, not for the sake of being polite, but for the sake of commeraderie. Because it is the right thing to do.

On that vein, I'm in danger of bable, so I'm going to quit. For any Texans who are offended, please, after the stomping, I'll take you to the pub and get you pissed (the british version).

take it easy, thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for photos,


Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Greetings Sports Fans!

After a few days, I'm finally back to normal and have a lot to report.

First, I finally got around to buying a digital camera; therefore, there will be some photos on this site now. That's right, I'm finally entering the 'modern' world.

Second, I am heading to France next week for a well deserved vacation. What's this you say? "Haven't you been on vacation," you might ask? Well, actually, "no". This is my first time out of the UK since comming to the UK, and after getting a draft of an article, my revised proposal and a presentation together, I've decided to get out of dodge for a while and see the continent. Besides, I'm going to Nantes which is known for its mussels and steely dry Loire Valley whites. MMMM mouelles et vin.

That's more or less it for now; I've put on a photo of the view from my balcony for the sake of practice. What you are seeing is Finland Dock. Off to the left, if you squint, is the River Thames; the hazy greyness is the air, since today's a bit drizzly, and one of the boats is a floating bar. And, for you fisher folk, especially those who have nymphs and cadus flies tattoos, I've not seen anything jump, but there a quite a few old guys who fish the dock anyway.

I've gotta run. Thanks for reading


Sunday, January 01, 2006

knock down drag out

You haven't lived until you've spent the evening in a pub with a few Brits, a few Kiwis and the odd Aussie, and that night happens to be New Year's Eve. I don't know the score, but there's a big hole in my brain right now, and as details come in, I'll share--but as all stories of epic happenings, there may be a touch of a morality tale tied onto the back.

The day started inocously enough. Woke up at around 11 after a evening spent in the local. My flat mates and I had a nice meal and afforded the opportunity to sample the local stout. I then went on a long run before I took my meal and then spent the afternoon working on Viv's computer trying to figure out how to make it connect to the internet. Failing at that, Pete and I decided it was time to head south, having to first stop off at his place in Camberwell for a pre-dinner drink; I believe they call them aperterifs. Assuming, wrongly, that we would be sipping a Vermouth or other dry spirit, Pete proceeds to pour me the largest glass of Jamison that I have ever seen. Score after the first round: evening 1, me 0.

We'd all been invited to a meal before the pub where I was to be the guest of honor. Aparantly, holidng up the American end the other night in Balham did wonders for my social calendar. So, after a long bus ride on which to regain sobriety, we found ourselves in Stratham (it's next to Brixton) at a wine ship bringing our contributions. I selected a nice Navarra blend (red) and a bottle of bubling Pino Gris, and upon arriving at the dinner party, we were all warmly welcomed. Score: 1, 1.

After the meal, a vegetarian curry that was halfway standup, despite the vegetarian nature, and all glowing from the wine, we managed to get ourselves to the pub for New Years. From this point, it get's hazy and with a few pints on top of the Whiskey and wine with a midnight tequila shot, the room took on a violent tilt, and as I traded futures on my verticality between belts of Auld Lang Syne, I began to understand that this game was starting to go very wrong. Seeking encouragement for my mates, I noted that they too were questioning how this one was going to end. Next thing I know, I'm up on the bus, Viv and Pete are passed out to my left and right, and I'm deperately trying to figure what langauge the bus driver is speaking when he's explaining that he can't take us to Waterloo because we're there. Score: 3, 1 (I allowed 2 more points).

Wondering around Waterloo Station is one of my favorite London activities: the people, the hustle, it's intense to say the least. Stumbling through it at 3 in the morning hoping to God that the tube is still running because there is no way I can handle another hour home on the bus, and Pete's staring at the wall. Fortunately, my nap on the bus helped clear my head, and we were able negotiate the elevators to the subway and a few twists, turns and miscelaneous ramblings and rants we made it back home. Score: 4,2 (I get a point for making it home, gave up one for not getting some late night food--something that will haunt me later).

So now, it's midnight again. I've finally managed to keep some food down and have made only one resolution, which you can probably guess. I've been taken to task some hydrocarbons, reaffirming my dislike for the wickedness of the Agave and have a new apreciation for the warmth and comfort of my bathroom floor tiles. Remembering that I am the worst kind of atheist, today, I prayed. So horrible I felt, that I was wondering if I've been drugged. going as far as checking my wallet and phone, which were intact. Comming down from most the drugs I've done feels better than this.

On that note, hope your New Year's was as happy as mine. Good company, good food, plenty of drink and religious expereince at the end.

thanks for reading, oh and if anyone can recomend a good Thai and/or Indian cook book, drop me a note. It's high time that I get out of my haute cuisine rut and explore another part of the world's cuisine--probably influenced by not being able to find the remote and couldn't be bothered to get off the couch--except to evacuate my system.