Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Final Post, on the occasion of the anniversary of the July 7 bombings

For the past six months I've been meaning to write something here -- a final posting, something with a sense of finality, something to sum up my experience in London, and acknowledge how it changed me. Clearly, this was too hard a task. First it seemed too soon, and then it seemed too late (and I haven't exactly been displaying the ability to write anything at all recently, to tell the truth.)

The July 7 anniversary seemed like a nice, non-arbitrary occasion to take the plunge. Because July 7 really did mark a turning point for me. It marks the moment that I began to feel like a Londoner.

I mentioned in my post about the bombings that what really got me, what made me clutch myself in fear, was the image of the bus with the roof blown off. I didn't relate, though, the time I actually cried in public: it was a week later, when I saw, near Russell Square, a poster advertising the New Issue of Time Out London, a while field with large black letters: "OUR CITY." (That magazine cover is now posted behind my desk.) It was not clear at the time -- and remains a bit unclear -- why this made me cry. And, honestly, when we're dealing with an event of faces blown off and mangled limbs, it probably would have been best to just pull myself together and repeat R—'s always-relevant mantra "It's not about you".

And yet, in the very smallest of ways, it was about me, inasmuch as it was about everyone who called London home. Of course, by July of 2005 the process of coming to feel at home in London was gradually progressing. I had met R— on May 21, B— on June 11, my dinner party on June 18, and (perhaps most importantly) my first Londonist post went up June 21. (My first post was about Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's upcoming London performance, which I missed, and now she is gone, far far too soon.)

My reaction to the July bombings says something about me, but it also says something about London. A phrase that I've been using a lot to describe my feelings about the city is "genuinely cosmopolitan." Unlike many American academics who come to Britain, I have no affective bond to the England or Englishness. But I was drawn to my sense that London really was, in certain way, in certain places, among certain people, a space beyond nationality. A place that a foreigner can feel at home without a radical identity transplant.

There are many caveats to be made, and obviously cosmopolitanism is a luxury only open to the few. And yet... the sense of living "in the world" in London isn't a simple matter of interacting with immigrants on a daily basis or having the choice of a lot of different restaurants. The sense I'm trying to get out has more to do with the news media: the British newspapers and broadcasters have many, many problems, but compared to news outlets in the US... well, there is no comparison. Consider that the newspapers the people actually read in London (let's leave out the tabs and the Standard) aren't "London" papers at all. The London papers are the national papers, and the national papers are international in remit and outlook. And the global outlook in the papers filters down to a more global vocabulary in (for lack of a better term) the public sphere. (Yeah, I know, poor choice of phrase; bear with me.)

So in returning to San Francisco from London I didn't just move from a city of seven million to a city of three-quarters of a million. As much as I love the Queen City by the Bay -- and I do -- it feels so much smaller in the mind.

It's funny, all the little things that annoyed me in London when I first arrived were pretty much still bugging me when I left. Being misunderstood, having to repeat and repeat and repeat myself, the officiousness, the "Oh you're American?"... I doubt I would ever really get over this were I to live in London longer. As I think I implied in very early posts on this blog, my first impulse, in any foreign situation is not to confront and interact, but rather to become invisible.

But Philip Larkin, in the poem "The Importance of Elsewhere," observes how comfortable being a stranger can be. The poem end with his having returned home, as I have, and observing

Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence

I'll be back to London one day. I need to get back to London.

This blog is now really, officially, over.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yet More Photos!

Algebra Grafitto
Originally uploaded by gwdexter.
Click on the picture, and get swept away in the photostream. Prepare yourself for:

• Politcally dubious Victorian buildings!
• Jil Sander white shoes!
• Waterfowl under football grafitti!
• Literary cheeseburgers!

PS - If you're wondering, I'm still homeless in SF. It's getting old.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pictures! Pictures! Pictures!

click for more photos
So, I've been meaning to post more picutres since... well, since I last did it, which was, what? 10 months ago?

When you let 10 months go by, you do tend to collect a lot of pictures. Unfortunately, flickr has a monthly upload bandwidth quota if you have a free account. And since I want to post large-sized versions of my pictures, that means I hit the quota pretty fast. (I wouldn't have hit it quite so fast, except my first batch I downloaded as super-extra-large files, which ate up more than their fair share.)

In any case, next month I'll post another batch of the remaining London photos. And, who knows, maybe some Seattle photos. Although by that point, this blog won't exist anymore.

You can click on the picture at right—not a good picture, but the text of the signs amuses me—which will take you to my "photostream." Also, you can link straight to some collections:

My House and Wood Green
My Jogging Route

...although there also photos which aren't in any collection. (Another thing you're prevented from doing if you have a free Flickr account is create more than three collections.) If you're really pressed for time, this is the single best photograph I took in the UK.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A short list of things in Seattle which remind me of London

[Pictures to be added later, if I get around to it, which I probably won't]

1. The Coliseum. Alas, not the home of opera in English, but rather an old movie palace, which has been converted into a very large Banana Republic.

2. The Paul Smith section of the Seattle branch of Barney's. (On an unrelated note, how is it that Seattle gets a Barney's before SF does? Isn't that a little odd?)

3. A British Affaire. Allow me to quote the website, which appears to be down at the moment: "Foods, Teas and Fine China from Great Britain For the Little Bit O'Brit in All of Us." It is in the same mall as Barney's. It sells HP sauce. And salad cream.

4. The Elephant and Castle Pub. They sell "the Welsh Burger." Are they aware of the area of London they are named after? One suspects not.

EDIT: 5. The steel and glass canopy that covers part of Pike Street by the Convention Center looks, from certain angles, like Canary Wharf DLR station.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

It has happened twice now

Okay, so my first full day here in Seattle I decide to go wandering around familiar places. And I walk into my favorite Seattle coffee house (which, incidentally, is near the school I attended when I was 14, although it didn't exist then), and what do I hear, but the voice Rachel Stevens, critically lauded British pop star, formerly of S-Club-7. This is exactly the music I thought I would never hear again -- Rachel isn't even listed as an artist in the US version of iTunes, even though if you switch to UK iTunes there are a half-dozen albums. The coffee house is just playing the whole album, while the (apparently American) barista was explaining to cashier why she was so great (which she is). A coincidence of timing, but it seemed significant.

Then today, I popped into a vintage store on Broadway (vintage stores here are so much better). And the store is playing, again as an entire album, "Different Class" by Pulp. I mean, I guess people in the US listen to this album (I know you do, BQ) -- but you certainly can't count on hearing "Disco 2000" every single time you go out in the US like you can in London.

So it goes.

Not Quite the End Yet

I have arrived safely in the United States. This means that I am now jolted awake by Morning Edition, rather than by The Today Programme. Morning Edition is very, very different from the Today Programme. And not necessarily worse. But not exactly better either.

And thus Greg's London Ramblings begins to draw to a close. There will be a few more entries, however, with pictures, an account of my leave-taking, and final thoughts.

For those of you keeping track, I will be down in SF in the week of January 16th. At the very latest, I will be there for the Pansy Division gig on the 20th. Then I will find an apartment, then go back to Seattle to drive my stuff down and move in around February 1.

This means I desperately need an invite for something fun on New Year's Eve in Seattle. Does anyone know anyone? I have taken to messaging random strangers on Friendster. This is uncharacteristically forward of me, but then again, I have nothing to lose.

With due apologies for exceeding the strict purview of this blog, I must point out two things about my three days spent in New York:

(1) I made a special trip to Bergdorf Goodman's to see the Thom Browne collection. I've been curious about Thom Browne ever since the Fantastic Man interview, in which he seemed to say so much that exactly echoed my thoughts about men's clothes -- the need for a "uniform," the abhorrence of costume, the short-hemmed trousers. And then I read this thing in the Grauniad, in which a blue Thom Browne suit is chosen as the men's look of the year for the UK Costume Museum. And seeing the cloths in person... well, I think he may just be what we've been looking for. Certainly if I had $6000 just lying around that I wasn't doing anything with, I know what I would be wearing every day.

(2) I saw Robert Rauchenberg. At an opening at the Met. An exclusive opening. He is old, and in a wheelchair. Thanks A—!

Let's review the famous people I've seen in the past 12 months:

Robert Rauchenberg
Dawn French (at the Andreas Scholl recital)
Alexander McQueen
Simon Pegg
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Eric Hobsbawm
Paul Smith
...and I think I might have seen Dan Savage walking down the street in Seattle a few days ago, but I'm not sure.
EDIT: and also...
Andy Bell from Erasure
The food guy from Queer Eye US
The decorator guy from Queer Eye UK

Yes, I know that last one is not an actual "celebrity" in any meaningful sense.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Leaving Do

I feel like there was a post here months and months ago in which I expressed my amusement at the phrase "leaving do" to mean "going away party." And now here I am, inviting people to my "leaving do" left and right, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It begins in two hours.

Paris was great. I have discovered that you can make a lot more progress in the Bibliothèque Nationale if you take clandestine digital photographs of the mocrofilm reader, rather than argue with the photocopy-flunkies. It is the most useful my digital camera has ever been.

I have learned a great deal more than I knew before about Gilbert-Louis Duprez.

Since getting back, it's been one "last thing" after another. I had a list. I'm not going to make it to everything on the list. Iceskating at Somerset House and climbing to the top of The Monument will, I fear, not happen for a very, very long time. But I did go the Freud Museum.

Monday, a last night with R—. Tuesday, a swank dinner with B—. Wednesday, a night out with the housemates. Tonight, the leaving do. Tomorrow, an intimate dinner at the home of O—.

My ability to introspect seems to be dwindling to hitherto unknown levels.

I. Hate. Packing.

Oh and last night? Out with the housemates? I did a thing that I have never done before, and will never, ever do again. Don't worry - it was entirely legal and safe. But let it suffice to say that when you are leaving a country, you have very little dignity to save.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I forget to mention

I believe I forgot to mention that I got my passport back.

And that am I now in Paris.

Ah, Paree!

I'm typing this in an art gallery, where the wireless is free.

More soon.