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Archive for March, 2010

Yes, I know I have an addiction. An unhealthy, worthy of bad reality television sort of obsession. In fact, there are moments where I see my future: I am a patient in a rehabilitation center for crackberry addicts. All around me are shelves of books– classics, cheap romance novels, New York Times bestselling non-fiction– and these books block all power outlets in the center. I couldn’t charge my crackberry if I had wanted to. In this place of purported assistance, I fail to fall asleep. I spend my nights contemplating what is transpiring beyond the walls of the G-d forsaken compound. What is Lady Gaga’s latest twitter update? Who is the mystery man in my friend’s new facebook album that I cannot electronically stalk? Is Israel on the brink of nuclear war with Iran? Important, life-altering questions left unanswered.

I realize my life in England is a sort of rehabilitation center. I am crackberry-less, and yet I manage to survive. It should be a lesson to me– it can be done. But the minute my plane landed, you and I both know that the first thing I did was switch on the long lost lover and watch as my email messages from the the last eight hours of flight poured in. It was magical. I even shed a few tears of happiness. And since that cold, gray Thursday night, I have slept with my blackberry. It has a special place beside my ten year old teddy bear-Sherbert- and together Sherbert and my crackberry keep me safe and warm during my waning weeks in the States.

Now I am off to my final leaven bread-filled supper. Here is a preview of what it is bound to bring:

Classic New York.

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Bath, the inspiration for two of Austen’s novels– Northanger Abbey and Persuasion– is the quintessential British resort town, complete with the requisite 100+ bed and breakfasts and corner store cheesemongers. It also seems to specialize in the realm of used and rare books, which as you might guess spells yay, happy literary times for one traveling twenty-something. For example, for about $1500, one can own the first edition of all of Austen’s novels. And trust me, if my bank account had not already been thoroughly depleted by Paris and Stockholm, I might just have splurged. Instead, I was forced to purchase the following bag from the Jane Austen Centre:

Perpetuating an impossibility one eco-friendly bag at a time...

Unfortunately, I did not settle for said bag. I also bought the accompanying bumper sticker despite my lack of car or moving motor vehicle both in England and in the United States. Simply stated, the Jane Austen Centre was built for spinster college girls trying to avoid the inevitable adoption of a cat named BooBoo. In place of household pets, it offers multiple inanimate forms of one’s dream man– in shopping bag, bumper sticker, and even chewing gum form. In regards to the gum, I imagine it is a case of if you can’t have Darcy and eat him too, then you’ll just settle for the edible portion of the adage.

But Bath offered more than an opportunity to indulge my inner Austen. It also provided Marissa, Adina, and I an opportunity to try on replica corsets, circa 1880. Oh, and of course there were absurd hats and poof skirts involved. Frankly I believe the only reason we visited the Fashion Museum was to bask in the glory of the feminist rejection of clothing designed to subject the female population to inordinate amounts of pain. After wearing a corset for less than five minutes, I could feel my rib cage contracting and my inner limbs being thrust upwards.

Hey, Mama, welcome to the 80s (1880s, that is)!

Needless to say, I was happy to remove the corset and all its faint-spell inducing hardware. I traded in the 19th Century for the 4th Century, when the Romans built the infamous Roman baths in the city.  Discovering hot springsРthe only hot springs in the entire countryРin the city of Bath, the Romans designed a socio-religious gathering space around the springs. Ironically, the religious component of the bathing process involved the removal of all clothing. Basically Bath was the site of the first nudist beach, where men and women walked about in their birthday suits. My cohorts and I opted to experience the bath experience fully clothed, however, as it was overcast and rather cool for a mid-March morning.

Smiling not at the camera, but at...

the Roman wannabes.

Bath, of course, followed two days of contemporary literary bliss. The Oxford Literary Festival provided me with two rare opportunities– one in which I encountered Patti Smith and the other in which I ogled Dave Eggers, in a completely kosher, 4 feet apart manner. Both, despite their success as American artists, were incredibly humble and surprisingly entertaining speakers. Smith even broke out into impromptu song, at which point I realized I lack any Patti Smith on my iTunes and blamed my parents for depriving me of an appropriate musical education. And Eggers, well, he is just one of the most versatile modern authors. Writing fiction and non-fiction alike, he really engages his subjects and does not fear addressing any topic. His latest book, Zeitoun, tells of a noble Arab-American, who in the midst of Hurricane Katrina encounters the wrath of the Bush administration. Describing it as poignant doesn’t do it justice, but the fact that I consumed the contents of the book in my flight between London and New York should convey the captivating nature of his writing.

Now I am back in the land that gave us H & H Bagels. Sadly, Passover begins in less than a week, and my time with the coveted baked-good is limited. I must take every opportunity before Monday morning to enjoy the wonders of the New York Jewish diet, a.k.a. heart attack inducing meal plan, before I sacrifice my culinary happiness to the matza gods.

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Welcome to Stockholm, Sweden, where hostels take the form of boats, rather than say, grounded buildings with firm foundations on dry land. Yes, for some peculiar reason, involving an old Viking legend about both seagulls and icebergs, af Chapman, our hostel, decided that the best place to put a bunch of traveling and impoverished-looking twenty-somethings is as far away from the rest of humanity as possible. In other words, Adina and I are less of a menace to society on a boat in the middle of the water than in hotel room in the midst of Swedish civilization.

Ok, maybe "middle of the water" was a bit of an exaggeration.

But the mistake our hostel made is that said boat is centrally located in the heart of the city and off the island of Skeppsholmen. Simply put, we had easy access to Swedish civilization, and because we all love tall, blonde, and blue-eyed individuals, we took full advantage of our centrality. Our first stop was the Swedish Opera house, which strongly resembled the French Opera house I had seen only four days prior. It was gold, gaudy, and yet absolutely breathtaking. If I had not been financially restricted in ball planning, my ball would definitely have been in one of these two opera houses– though probably the Swedish one, as the inevitable Swedish waiters would have been such a novelty to a bunch of British Jews, who tend to be short, brown-eyed, and brown-haired, like most Jews in most countries frankly. And then there is also the ancient animosity between the Brits and the French, which I would not have wanted to awaken in the context of an alcohol heavy event.

Swedish Opera Hall of Mirrors modeled on...

French Opera Hall of Mirrors.

After our little cultural rendezvous, Adina and I ventured to the Moderna Museet, or Modern Art of Stockholm, which is the most popular museum in the entire city. And guess what? It was even directly on our island of Skeppsholmen. (So much for secluding the twenty-somethings!) The main exhibit, ironically, involved a chronically of Lee Lozano’s art work, which can be described as a 1960s feminist, slightly drug-induced take on life in New York City. Lozano only painted from 1960-1972, when she vanished from the art scene entirely, and this exhibit was the first ever attempt to restore some of her visual glory to its former state. Below is my personal favorite, which seems to capture the witticism, vulgarity, and attitude of an struggling female artist in 1962:

Basically I could have lingered in that museum for hours, contemplating how far the feminist movement has come. It was a bit strange to have this conversation with myself in Sweden, as Sweden and its Nordic neighbors are some of the most progressive countries in terms of gender equality. For example, Sweden provides maternity and paternity leave, encouraging both sexes to be equally involved in raising a child. And Swedish Parliament is comprised almost 50% by women, a statistic the United States or Britain does not come anywhere close to. Basically, the Swedes have successfully conquered the issue of gender inequality, and while it was therefore not too shocking to see such an exhibit in Stockholm, I could think of a few American cities that would benefit from the work of Lee Lozano.

But my favorite Swedish moment did not occur in a museum. Rather it transpired in a cafe called String, where for 65 Kronor (or about 6.5 pounds) you could enjoy an unlimited buffet brunch. While the food was decent, the best part of the morning came from people watching at the window. We all have stereotypes about Nordic people, and in general, we know that stereotypes are not known for their accuracy, though they are largely based on some foundational truths or commonalities. Well, Sweden challenged my perception of a stereotype, making it seem more real than ever before.

A typical table of Swedes in String.

Yes, they were all blonde, blue-eyed, and incredibly tall. While I am aware of my short stature, this country reinforced my shrimpette mentality more than any another before it. Swedes are genuinely a beautiful population with overall lovely dispositions and manners. And if I could withstand the reality that even in March it is snowing there, I would move to Stockholm in a heartbeat. I would bask in the glory of an excellent, yet socialized healthcare system, a gender neutral political infrastructure, and the access to free education at every level of schooling. But until I master the Swedish language and develop a polar bear sense of temperature, I will think fondly on the final statue I saw before departing the “Capital of Scandinavia,” as they like to market themselves.

Never forget your Viking helmet.

Side note: I will be in Bath for the next two days (until I fly home to the City that Never Sleeps!) and will update on my adventures in the land of Jane Austen upon my return. I may even throw in an anecdote about my chance encounter with Patti Smith. Can you even handle it?!

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that a young, impressionable twenty-something walked off a Eurostar train in Paris and was greeted by a small French child, holding, stereotypically enough, a baguette. Said child remarked to her mother nearby, “Est elle une vampire?” (translation: Is she a vampire?), pointing in my direction. Yes, I, the impressionable 20 year old, resembled more a blood-sucking creature of the night than an American girl trying desperately to fit into the French landscape. My eyes, as per my state post-Ball, were terribly bloodshot, and in true New York style, I was all in black. I also forgot to touch up my blush before exiting the train, and hence was quite pale. It probably didn’t help matters that I shuddered at the sight of the child’s cross, dangling from her adorable little neck.

And yet, despite this slightly scaring initial encounter, which was soon followed by Chloe, my hostess, looking at my eyes in complete bewilderment, I thoroughly enjoyed Paris. I fell in love with the city in the most cliche way possible. The chocolate shops, the Opera House, the Parisian apartment bathroom full of soaps, perfumes, and nail files– all of it left me with a wonderfully aromatic sense of satisfaction. The highlight, as pictured below, was sitting beneath the Eiffel Tower one night, consuming lemon-flavored macaroons and watching the sun set on the Eiffel Tower, while Spaniards, only feet from our location, consumed vast amounts of alcohol and frolicked through the grass.

5.30 PM

6.15 PM

7.15 PM

8.00 PM Light Show.

Other notable moments in Paris included our trip to Rodin’s home, which as Chloe described, “Hardly fits the mold of the starving artist.” (See visual evidence below). This visit also helped me to realize that I adore art in three dimensional form. Sculptures, a huge component of Rodin’s art, capture so much expression, thought, and ¬†vulgarity. They exude intensity in a way a painting or a photograph, simply by their mechanical forms, cannot. At least not in my opinion. And while I enjoy other forms of art, such as photography, Rodin has certainly helped to expand my art appreciation horizons.

Rodin: The Only Artist To Die Financially Satisfied.

The Thinker: the inanimate sculpture I strive to be.

Of course, the juiciest event in Paris transpired in LIDO, a cabaret on the Champs Elysess, where I was exposed to an entirely new genre of art: the female body in awesomely 80s prom attire. From angels to devils to street rats, no ridiculous costume was left out of the nearly two hour spectacle that comprised the cabaret. And just for good French measure, they threw in a juggler and mime, the latter of whom lacked significant amounts of hair on his head– a detail he drew attention to time and time again. Overall, it was something uniquely French. Chloe and I agreed the female performers were chosen less for their choreography skills, which left much to be desired (and I say this as a zumba instructor here) and more for their pristine, baguette-deprived body types.

"Heaven must be missing an angel"

But at the end of it all, Paris had cured me of all my ailments. My eyes had been restored to their original human-looking glory, and my long distance lover–sleep– and I had rekindled our once dying flame. I had enjoyed three nights of 10 hours of sleep each. Did I mention there was quiche involved too? Well, more on quiche when I recount the tales of Stockholm.

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But before I plunge into a lengthy discussion of the advantages of Parisian heels and Swedish furniture, I will provide a summation of my frolics around the British countryside.

The Cotswolds, better known as the breathtakingly, beautiful British countryside (I apologize for my excessively elementary level use of alliteration), provided a necessary reprieve from what has been the most academically rigorous trimester of my university life. Between the double-essay-a-week tutorial system and the madness that was JSOC ball, sleep and I experienced the challenges of a long distance relationship not even Skype can salvage. The countryside, therefore, offered an opportunity to relax, and even hit the snooze button a few times on my alarm clock without a sense of Jewish guilt settling in.

And while quaint is the first adjective that comes to mind when I think of my day in the Slaughters and Broadway, I am not sure such a word does justice to the experience of complete serenity that overcame me. Though you might not associate serenity with a town named Upper Slaughter, I can offer a logical explanation now. Slaughter, in the case of this particular village, comes from the old English word “slough,” which means muddy and not made for women in heels. And well, Upper Slaughter certainly lived up to its 16th Century reputation. Muddy, yellow, and lacking even a grocery store, it was the pinnacle of every British stereotype come to life, from the cucumber sandwiches at High Tea to the plaque commemorating the presence of Princess Diana and Prince Charles there almost 30 years prior.

Small towns: They get their kicks where they can.

Of course, the Slaughter experience was complemented by a climb to the top of the tallest tower in the Cotswolds, which as indicated in the previous post, is not exactly a New York skyscraper. Apparently, though,  from the top I could see 13 British counties, in all their countryside glory. However, there was one little factor that slightly obstructed by ability to see anything: the wind. Moses, was Mother Nature breathing furiously fast at the top. Case in point below:

I remind myself of Alfalfa from the "Little Rascals."

After my hair had been thoroughly beaten by the wind gusts, we ventured into Broadway, which apparently is a bustlin’ little village. Though from the images below, you’d be hard pressed to prove such a claim as there appeared to be little life in the center of the city. The three course meal, which followed in an adorable little hotel where Oliver Cromwell is rumored to have slept many a night, redeemed the pervasive sense of silence that seemed to encompass the entire village. The meal involved many items that account for my current need to detox, conveniently right as Passover, the holiday of macaroons and matza, sets in. Let’s just say there was raspberry cheesecake involved.

London, England or La Plata, Missouri? You decide.

The center of town- Human population: 0. Bird population: Infinite.

Tune in later on today for a full recap of drunken Spaniards at the Eiffel Tower and Norwegian hunks in my Swedish hostel, which happened to be on a boat. And of course resulted in my incessant singing of “I’m On A Boat“.

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and other tales of my travels to the Cotswolds– specifically, the villages of Broadway, Upper Slaughter, and Lower Slaughter, to follow on my return from Paris and Stockholm. Yes, within the next week, I will embrace my inner jet-setter and attempt to conquer the European continent. Or at least the parts that serve quiche and Ikea furniture. And while the juxtaposition of France and Sweden is quite striking, I think it is the most logical pairing of countries. The fashion capital of the world meets the interior design capital of the continent. Oh, and they are both obscenely, rob-a-college-girl-of-her-life-savings expensive.

For now, I leave you with the “biggest tiny castle in the Costwolds,” or so the Broadway Tower plaque claims:

This isn't the 42nd St intersection.

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and that’s not including the night that was JSOC’s “New York, New York” ball.

Basically, in Oxford, the 8th Week of each term is epic. The final week in a 2 month cycle of obscene academic intensity demands a rewarding conclusion. For me, 8th Week began with the JSOC ball. Sunday morning, while sleeping off the Saturday night that was the college bar experience, I was awoken by an angry delivery man.

ANGRY DELIVERY MAN: “Yo, lady, I am standing outside the Regal, and there is no one there to let me in! Where are YOU, Woman?”

ME (half asleep): “According to your contract you are not supposed to arrive until 2.30 pm. And it is only 9.30 am. Come back in five hours.”

ANGRY DELIVERY MAN: “What contract? I didn’t sign no contract. Get here or your guests will be forced to eat cheap London pastries and marmite.” (Why does it always come back to marmite?)

Unable to continue this absurd conversation for much longer, I threw on a coat over my “JM in the AM” pajamas. Note: JM in the AM stands for Jewish music in the morning, and refers to a uniquely Jewish radio station. Only in New York. But I digress.

Running to the Regal took me about 25 minutes. Actual walking distance from my room- 50 min, so I was shocked at the speed of my under-caffeinated, dehydrated body. When I arrived, the delivery man was gone. However, the food and alcohol and random salt and pepper shakers lay conspicuously at the front of the venue. And you know what that meant, Starbucks-less, energy-less me had to schlep all those boxes of caloric catering from the front entrance to the back room where the catering staff would reside during the evening.

I screamed, “Moses, have mercy” at the very moment that Miguel, the manager of the venue, arrived. He grinned, as he does when I make Biblical jokes to the high heavens, and offered to do the schlepping himself. I took that as my cue to taxi home, shower, and try to resemble something other than a New York somnambulist.

Returning later I dealt with decoration issues, which involved me swinging from a 500 pound chandelier at one point. Luckily, Michael, one of the decorators, was there to save me from plunging to sudden death by ball planning. But, oh, what a way to go. Then, of course, there were the little hitches that inevitably occur behind the scenes. A flapper dancer who has lost her will to flap, despite a contract delineating she will do as such (Apparently contracts are not a big deal in the UK.). A balding sound engineer with the attention span of a peanut and a propensity for making jokes about American beer. And a group of waiters confessing minutes before the ball they have actually never waited tables before.

All in all, though, I don’t think the attendees noticed much. They drank the tab dry by 10 pm, and even broke out into a rendition of the circular hora dance at one point.

And then there were the traditional ball “I came, I danced, I drank” photos:

"Oh, yes, it's ladies' night and the feeling's right"

Welcome to the NYC, b****es

Note the bunny ears.

When Wellesley met New York...

And now for some classier photos taken by Mr Herman:

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