The Urban Fox

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This particular fox has a magnificent identifier: a tail that is 80% hairless. Clearly the result of some accident, but unnerving that you can see the bone of his/her tail. 

When I moved to London, I didn’t know that I’d be trading a daily plethora of subway rats for the rarest sightings of tiny, and frankly pretty adorable, dormice who shiver as the train comes and then skitter away. Nowhere in sight are the NYC native rats (The Rats? Their dominance suggests they deserve proper nouns) that steal whole bagels or dropped slices of pizza while glaring at you and shaking off the haters. Respect to those Rats, but I don’t miss them.

Londoners treat The Urban Fox like New Yorkers treat The Rats, as something they grudgingly respect for their survival abilities but find to be a pest. In all my ex-pat shiny newness, I still get excited and a little bit scared when I see them. Will they bite me? Do something fox-y and crazy? TALK TO ME? (Please talk to me.)

For some reason, I have an overwhelming desire to converse with these foxes. I think this stems from reading (and rereading) Roald Dahl for the majority of my childhood and adolescence, and specifically Fantastic Mr. Fox. They just seem chill, like they’d be down to chat. After all, they are just roaming the streets back and forth with seemingly no purpose. Certainly they know that garbage day is Wednesday, so their big night is Tuesday after midnight, when rubbish bags galore await a good tearing open on the sidewalk. Any other day I spot them, they are not focused in hot pursuit of food or trash, but simply ambling about the neighborhood. The Foxes I’ve seen in my neighborhood are very clever, as foxes are often depicted to be: they know how to wait for traffic to cross the road, and do it every single time. They are territorial, so I see the same 3 foxes who patrol my street – and hear them having insane fights late at night that sound like sorority girls fighting each other with their nails.

Two nights ago, both I and a pedestrian coming the opposite way stopped in order to allow a fox to pass between us on the sidewalk, as he considered whether he wanted to enter that property (photo shown above). He approached, paused, and thought about it while we waited (perhaps cursing the broker who denied his offer, to sell to another?). Then he retreated back to the other side of the street, robbing me of the chance to ask him if he also hated Wes Anderson’s rendition of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

*For more on The Rats, read “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan. It’s amazing and horrible and will haunt your dreams, but you’ll know so much more about rats. 

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Lumiere London: A Feast of Light

 

The Lumiere light festival was in town for the first time January 14-17, showing off beautifully designed light shows, exhibits, and experiences. The displays were not just pretty lights, as one might imagine considering the festival is named after the famous film-making Lumiere brothers, but also large and complex structures that must have required a lot of technical attention.

Luckily, I didn’t have to think about that aspect of the festival, and my friends and I were awed by the exhibits we saw. On one section of road near Regent Street, ghostly flying forms took flight to strangely calming music, while on a building facade nearby, a film of dappled lights combined to show people’s faces. Standing exhibits in Leicester Square felt like walking into a magical storybook — impossibly tall flowers that glowed from within, color-shifting fairy lights and red-topped, giant blades of grass were dotted all over.

Many people, like me, lost their companions several times when one or the other person stopped to admire a display. The usually hurried and harried people of London took a pause to take in the art, perhaps because it was unusual and diverting from the standard tourist-center attractions. But I stopped and gaped, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed, because the festival of lights played a chord deep inside me, where the happiest memories of childhood adventure and discovery lie.

This was a joyful activity that didn’t require much money, just transportation to and from the displays, and which brought a wintry, sullen London more to life as its inhabitants flocked to the streets to see the lights. It sounds like a scene from a Garcia Marquez novel, but it’s true: there was magic and nostalgia in the lights somehow, and the people felt it. I look forward to welcoming Lumiere London back next year, and will make sure I see all of the exhibits, because the feeling they brought me was really priceless.

 

 

The Year-Long View

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The view from the top of Parliament Hill, on Hampstead Heath, is a favorite of North Londoners, and a personal favorite of mine. Every time I go for a jog on the Heath, I struggle up the steep incline to Parliament Hill just to take in the vista. I do this regardless of the weather, however the photos from those trips tend to come out in grayscale. Whenever I have visitors, I haul them up to the top in ragged breaths and await their praise of the crown jewel of my neighborhood. Usually, I am not disappointed by their exclamations. (The pictures, taken on a phone, don’t do it justice.)

Many people have a place like this near their home, where they love to stop and admire the view even if it is a bit out of their way or a picture wouldn’t come out — because they’re not visiting for the picture, they are simply enjoying the view and the environment.

Here are some of the loveliest snapshots from the last year and a half.

Hello From The Other Siiiide (Of The Ocean)

The challenges, and attendant questions, of moving abroad to another country are many. Where do I live? How does the transportation system work? Can I really eat that? Could you please repeat that, slowly?

Undoubtedly, one of the greater sacrifices is distancing oneself from family and friends (if you liked them enough to live near them before, which I personally did). With modern wonders such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, I can stay “in touch” with all of the people I miss.

One of my closest friends, Emily, and I have an interesting bestfriendship (Yes, this may not be a real word). When we lived in the same city, we often saw each other and when we weren’t hanging out in person, we were in contact via text. We didn’t really talk on the phone — there seemed little need, because we saw each other enough to be properly caught up and our texts essentially served to set up the next time we were going to do so (and also to complain about/gush over things we discovered during the day). I remember calling her one day just to say hi, when we both still lived in NYC, and she said, “Oh my god, what’s wrong?! Are you okay?” After a beat of confusion during which I was clearly alive and uninjured, Emily said, “Well, we never call each other just to chat!”

I had to admit this was true. Emily and I chat in person, where we are both far more engaging than on the phone. I felt momentarily guilty for that, with “calling to chat” being the apparent social-pressure litmus test for how good of a friend you are. So for us to transition to an international bestfriendship where we would necessarily have to talk on the phone has taken some effort. We still don’t Skype very often, preferring to text each other as we always did with questionable outfit pictures (“Can I wear this with this? I feel like no, but I need your opinion!”), minor life updates, random observations, pep talks, and sometimes, just emoticons detailing how much we miss each other and how much pizza we’re going to eat while watching a Pixar film next time we are together.

I am learning that the relationships which can withstand the test of time, distance, and time difference are often those that don’t require constant or even occasional catch-up sessions or check-ins. The solid gold nugget of those friendships is already formed. There is no guilt for living a life outside of the friendship. If I haven’t communicated with Emily for a while, I can still send a stupid GIF without explanation or an email with a link to an event in New York she might like to attend. It’s an illusion of being a short subway journey away, instead of 3,000 miles.

The only downside is that we see each other much less often, of course. When we do get a day or two together, and then must finally say goodbye, we are just two grown-ass women crying in the elevator, thankful for our gold nugget of friendship.

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