That’s Your Kew, Spring!

I recently decided to devote a day to visiting Kew Gardens, which has long had a home on my To-Visit list but which I always thought of as too far away to be a spur-of-the-moment activity.  This was dumb, as getting anywhere in London is usually 45 minutes, and that’s exactly how long it took me to get to Kew Gardens on the Overground. I really showed myself, huh!

Even though it was mid-February, the weather was stunningly beautiful, sunny, and just cold enough to be invigorating but not enough to be a hindrance to walking around outside.


My friend Megan joined me, and we began by touring the frighteningly high Treetop Walkway (whose creator had the bad judgment to make the entire thing, stairs and all, out of see-through and occasionally wobbly steel mesh), but the view was mostly of still-dormant trees and bushes. In summer, I am sure it is wonderful and I’ll have to steel myself (ha, ha) to return to the Treetop Walkway again. Note that the picture is from when I was safely back on solid ground.


Then we headed to the Palm House, which is understandably kept at tropical temperatures. Megan’s glasses were not prepared for the immediate switch:


The Palm House felt and smelled like tropical adventure, and made me yearn for my time spent travelling in South America and Megan for her time in Africa, both of which had their own sections in the greenhouse.


Upon leaving the Palm House, we encountered a well-kept garden (shown below), a pond, and a posh old house because… England.


Then came the main attraction: the special Orchids exhibit in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which was only running for a month and was designed with the influence of Brazil’s Carnival celebrations. I love orchids, though have never understood how not to kill them when they are in my care, and this exhibit was a marvel of color, variation, and green-thumb skills.

I even bought myself a white and magenta dappled orchid at the gift shop, inspired into thinking I could manage not to kill it. Time will tell, but so far it’s still kicking!


The Urban Fox

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. 

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.



This post was suggested to me by Martin, my landlord and friend, after I texted him offering the mushrooms that came in my veg box (even though they were the ONE thing I said “please don’t ever give me”, le sigh) and describing my attitude towards them as “meh”. Though unconvinced that it was a real word, which I don’t think it is, Martin basically asked me to detail the “meh” things about London. So it is 49% his fault if I come across as too snarky. The other 51% is mine, for being snarky in the first place. Soz not soz. (Americans: this means “sorry”, I don’t know where it comes from, but I adore it and you should too).

Meh #1: I didn’t realize quite how full of angst I was about this, but Jesus Christ on a bike, the bagels, or rather, the dearth of good ones here. What do you do on weekend mornings, then, British people? I sit around and cry for a bagel, and when I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, I defrost one of the precious Brooklyn bagels an American friend brought me, carrying them in his carry-on luggage like the priceless cargo they are. Of course, nothing beats a fresh, hot everything bagel with scallion cream cheese that doesn’t even need toasting because it has just been handcrafted by a ancient bagelman (it’s a word…in NYC anyway). I have to move on to Meh #2, my drool is getting everywhere.

Meh #2: London is a fabulous city, and I would like to look fabulous in it. Why is there no Rent the Runway or equivalent here? The cost of living here, and therefore looking fabulous here, is far higher and, I argue, the market is far more in need of a designer-wear rental company. Because I can’t afford to even look in the Gold Label section of T.K. Maxx (British T.J. Maxx, possibly his cousin or alter ego), and that’s before I do the mental aerobics of converting GBP to USD. Pro tip: Don’t do the math, it will only make you weep.

Meh #3: People who dutifully pick up their dog’s waste but then throw it, in its non-compostable plastic bag, either into my compost bin or right in front of my door. What did I ever do to you, stranger? I suppose this is a step up from New York, where dogs just crap on the sidewalk and their owners speed-walk away from the scene of the poo, hoping no one calls them out, which is honestly a huge gamble in a city where most people speak their minds to anyone and everyone.

It seems a very English thing to do, appearing to follow the rules dutifully until no one’s watching and then to hell with propriety. Like, I’m going to put my dog’s waste in a bag because this is the proper thing to do, oh yes yes of course, but then — THEN — I shall chuck that bag in front of someone’s home even though a rubbish bin can’t be far off! I hope that guilt keeps them awake at night. This might be my Catholic guilt, but when I make a shared-space misstep like I did the other day, when a older man and I accidentally elbowed each other as we were walking on a narrow sidewalk, he said with deep sincerity, “Sorry!”. I had my headphones on and didn’t hear him until he passed, so lost my window to reply and thus looked like a reticent jerk. That has bothered me for days. What’s that? Therapy? Yes, I’m in it.

That these are my main feelings of distaste — imparted by the dynamic use of “meh”– means I have it very good here in London. But I would never turn down better bagels or rentable high-end clothes that I can pretend belong to me. The people and their poo-chucking, I can do little about. It only takes one non-compostable bag to spoil the bunch, metaphorically speaking, so I endeavor to live another day not being that bag.

A “meh” post script: I know I don’t have Em dashes in this Content Management System, or a pound currency symbol. In case anyone thought I was just… leaving those out.

Turkey Lurkey Loo

Thanksgiving fast approaches, and because I like a challenge, I’m hosting 14 people this year on the Friday. On the actual day, Thursday, I’m going to my friends’ place and being cooked for, which I’m sure will make me grateful enough to then put in my own massive effort in the kitchen the following day.

I recently wrote about my 2014 effort for Refinery29 here but now I’m only a few days away from single-handedly hosting the biggest dinner I’ve ever done. Although it must be said that, thank God, friends are each bringing something so that I am just in charge of turkey, mash, creamed onions, and sides like cranberry sauce and gravy and pumpkin pie. I can handle that? Rather: I can handle that with the help of Malbec!

To prepare, I did buy groceries and ordered American specialty items, but I’m also mentally preparing by listening to the great Adam Sandler ditty  “The Thanksgiving Song”, which any first-time listeners should be warned is not entirely appropriate.

Happy Thanksgiving! Pour one out for the turkeys.


A Grace-ful Reunion

In October and November, I did a bit of travelling around Europe, something I didn’t do enough of during the school year. Note to self: this winter, take a long weekend somewhere sunny before you forget what sun is! The struggle of Seasonal Affective Disorder (winner of the best acronym ever, SAD) is real and forceful here in England.

First up was a whirlwind barely 48-hour trip to the Asturias region of Spain with my former study abroad roomie, Grace. Grace is in the US Navy and currently stationed in southern Spain, but when we were chatting and hit upon the idea of taking a trip together, she had just moments before booked a flight up North and was scrambling to see if she could move it or cancel it without a fee so I could come to the south. Having never been to Asturias, I just said: Why don’t we meet up there? I hadn’t done any research on what the trip would hold, and neither had Grace…nor did we until a day before we left. Turns out, you don’t need to plan ahead too much when you’re gifted beautiful weather and sights and partnered with a friend you haven’t seen in person for six years.


The first of the two cities we visited, Oviedo is the capital city of the Asturias province. The cathedral, a central feature in many historically important Spanish cities, was gorgeous (see below; I wasn’t kidding about the weather, was I?).


First order of business was sitting in the Plaza Mayor to eat patatas bravas made with queso cabrales and drink sidra and, every 15 minutes, saying “I can’t believe we’re both here” (this was me, Grace is far more pulled together when faced with the realities of six years apart).

We toured the city squares and parks and stores, saw some gorgeous artwork (my fave, El Greco, included, as well as Dali and Picasso) and buildings, and then went for dinner. Let me just say, the term “4-cheese pizza” has a whole new meaning when you’re in a cheese-producing paradise. After dinner, we rambled about until we found a cute bar near the cathedral, and stopped in for a nightcap. The bartender was interested in our story, and why we spoke Spanish that sounded like it had once been good, so we bantered with him for a bit then went home to read by mutual decision. It was a great relief to have a travel partner who was on my level, wanting to see the touristy stuff but also to simply wander and discover, and who would rather have a long, lovely dinner and then get some rest. Had we wanted to do different things, we would’ve, but unless Grace is the world’s best liar, we agreed on everything.

One of those touristy things was to take a bus out of the city to see two pre-romanesque churches built in the 800s, which my mind still struggles to comprehend. The tour guide told the story of San Miguel de Lillo, the smaller of the two churches, by saying it was built in the 800s and then, around the 12th century, suffered some serious structural damage because it was built near a river. And in 2015, it is solidly standing and you can do a tour in it. What! So even architects or builders who didn’t survey the land around them did a better job than anyone creating edifices today. If erosion over hundreds of years could’ve seriously been a factor in the structural integrity of your building, you’re doing all right.


Making our way down from the pre-romanesque churches, we came upon a stilted structure with no windows and we got a little creeped out. Grace said what we were both thinking: “What is that, Baba Yaga’s hut?” We wondered if we were walking swiftly by someone who was being imprisoned in this fairy-tale hut of doom. (Later, on the bus to Gijón, we passed a few more and Grace wanted to know what they were so badly that she paid for phone data to Google “creepy hut on stilts asturias”, which actually got us an answer: it was a hórreo, or grain storage building. This did not stop us calling it Baba Yaga’s hut.)



We had only one day in Gijón, so we decided to just do whatever time allowed. After a quick exploration of the seaside boardwalk and surrounding area, we visited the original Roman baths which had been excavated recently (recently being 112 years ago, because Spain) and which dated to the 1-4th centuries. That some of that brickwork was still standing, and made enough sense to build a museum around it, was mind-boggling. I know I’m American and therefore used to my country’s (non-Native American) settlements being only about 400 years old , but I’m glad seeing history standing in front of us still awes me. It should awe us all.

Trekking up to the Cerro de Santa Catalina afforded an unadulterated view of the Bay of Biscay as well as the town and beach below. A hot air balloon rose in the background, and storm clouds lazed in, to add to the dramatic beauty. A famous landmark in Gijón is a large sculpture called “Eulogy to the Horizon”/ “Elogio del Horizonte”, by Eduardo Chillida. On the plaque nearby, the artist wrote:

“Creo que el horizonte, visto de la forma que lo veo yo, podría ser la patria de todos los hombres.” This roughly means, “I think the horizon, seen the way I see it, could be the homeland of all men.” Grace and I both thought this was particularly moving, and now in light of the immigrant crisis and the terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere, it has even more resonance.


We ambled down to an artisan’s market, where I made important purchases of tinned bonito tuna in olive oil after confirming that I could indeed take it back with me to England. A real life fear is that I will one day buy goods that somehow violate the complex rules on importing and Customs will seize my food (i.e. eat it for themselves, the cruellest outcome). Since I enjoy not having a full-on meltdown in front of strangers, over tuna, the tuna man’s assurance was important.

For our last dinner, we found a place that served croquettas the size of gerbils, and mains (the monstrosity below is called a cachopo and is cheese layered between slabs of beef, then deep fried) far larger than my hand. I took a poorly-shaded picture just to remember that I even once tried to eat something that oversized.

Though we’d planned to be adventurous — and prove to ourselves that we were still young — by going out to a bar for some after-dinner drinks, we had eaten far too much, and by the time the check came, we both looked at each other and just said, “Bed!”. Pathetic, I know, but the stomach wants what it wants and I must not deny it.

The stomach (and the heart) wish very much to return posthaste to Spain, so I’ll see what I can do about that.

A Paris, A L’Angleterre

So of course within the week or two I begin my blog about ex-pat/re-pat life in London, I am actually in Paris with my family on a lovely vacation. The sights and views (and most importantly, the food and wine) here mean we are often ignoring the fact that we only have a few days to soak it all in. It has been a wonderful feeling, however, thinking about the idea of “home” and having that be London, rather than New York. Now that London has been my base of operations for about 14 months, I’m much more attached than I thought I’d be. The window has passed where I would have gone home immediately after my degree, as some of my international peers have done, and I’m determined to make London stick.

The reality of Paris being a short Eurostar train journey away makes it all the better.


A view of a Seine tour we did in the week before the terrorist attack.
A view of a Seine tour we did in the week before the terrorist attack.

I wrote the words above a few days before my family and I left Paris on Nov. 10th, and I was too busy enjoying the sights of Paris to open my computer again to finish or post the entry. As the world now knows, Friday Nov. 13 was to be a horrific terrorist attack killing 129 people and injuring hundreds more. Of course, I am incredibly grateful that we are safe, but I’m truly troubled by the terrorism that is becoming a more frequent occurrence in Europe. In the US, we are very sadly accustomed to hearing about school shootings or cinema massacres, often carried out by lone gunmen who are later shown to be mentally ill. When I moved to London, I hadn’t anticipated I would feel different about my safety, but I did and I do. Once I got used to the police not having guns (and knowing that gun control laws mean most people did not carry guns either), I felt safer than I had in New York City, where it had crossed my mind every day that I worked in Times Square, a high-risk target area.

Of course, no matter where you are, if someone wants to kill badly enough, they will find the means. The Paris terror attacks were well-planned and involved several different teams of killers who stopped at nothing to bring down innocent people trying to enjoy a Friday night in their beautiful city. We cannot search every car or detain every person, and that means on some level we must trust each other.

I am saddened not just by the terrible taking of life in Paris and in other cities like Beirut in the past week, but by a realization that just came to me, though it should’ve been obvious. I will likely not see a world at peace in my lifetime, and it is also likely that we, as humans, will never allow such a thing to exist. We are so much and so dangerously in our own way.