Sunday, November 29, 2009

Funny Paper

Randomly found on an Oxford street --

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ben and Xander’s Guide to English Dating (or lacktherof)

My favorite part about bumming around Oxford for a week is being able to spend time with Xander, Miranda and their friends. The conversations they have over pints are the highlights of my trip. I consider myself to be very funny. It’s a skill I have carefully honed over years. But at my best, I am only just able to keep up with the witty conversation. I’ve been laughing so hard, so often in fact, that I’m beginning to see abdominal muscles appear under the layer of fat I’ve developed from eating meat pies and pasties every day.

For example: Ben and Xander’s thoughts on Dating.

Over a bottle of beer outside Kazbar on Cowley road, Xander and Ben explain the mating behaviors of the British male. Miranda provides eye-witness testimony to the accuracy of their account.

English men never ask women out on dates. To ask a woman out on a “date” would be far too direct and risky since the only outcome Englishmen can imagine is that they will be turned down flat, and laughed at publicly. Since the Number One priority for an English male is to save face, there is no “dating” in England at all.

At this point in the conversation, I point to a young woman pushing a pram with a pink pudgy baby blinking over its blankets and ask Xander and Ben, “So, how does that happen then?” Evidently, the English still manage to have sex.

Xander explains: “You go out to a pub with your friends, some of whom are girls, get too drunk one night (but not too drunk) and end up sleeping with one of them. Then, suddenly, you’re in a relationship. And since she’s already slept with you, you won’t be rejected - presumably. And it usually works out quite well since you were friends first.”

Breaking up is hard, since it is very English to avoid confrontation and disagreement. I got the impression that the breaking up ritual frequently involves the man’s shoes being chucked out the window or into the sea (whichever is closer at the time). But that could just be Xander’s bad luck.

I yell at both Ben and Xander with every ounce of American self-righteousness I possess that “The English Killed Romance! This is cowardice!” I harangue them, saying “I’d never date a man who didn’t have the nerve to ask me out on a proper date!” My boyfriend can attest to the brutal truth of this rule. Ben and Xander just shake their heads. That would never happen in England.

They tell me that in England, women have complete control. They choose who they will go out with and then somehow lead the men to think the relationships were the men’s idea. If a woman were to go up to a man and ask him out, the answer would almost certainly be yes. The men would be so relieved. I am sorely tempted to put this theory to the test with the Oxford Eye Candy… but, alas, I have a boyfriend. One who asked me out on a proper date too.

Ben tells a funny story of when he went to the Caribbean for a friend’s wedding. He was sitting in a restaurant with a group of English guys and one American man, and there was this beautiful girl sitting alone at a table across the room. All the guys were talking about her amongst themselves until the American gets up, walks over, and asks her what she’s doing the next night. He makes the date and gets her number. The English guys are floored. In shock. They spend the rest of the trip marveling at the American’s success and asking him how he did it.

With a history brimming with brave and chivalrous English Men, one would think the descendents of that noble past would be able to man up.

However, I can’t get too high and mighty – as much as I’d like to. The “hookup” is quickly taking the place of dating on college campuses, and for much the same reason as the British non-dating: Less pressure on the men, less risk of rejection, less commitment by avoiding the label of “date.” Men need to put forth less and less effort. They don’t need to be brave, they just need to be there for some girl to find.

Well, not on my watch. Sorry Charles, you gotta do everything the hard way. Because I have ideals. And I know you’re man enough to handle them.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Creative Class

Oxford, October 13th

As I’m writing this, I am sitting at The Crown pub, the oldest in Oxford. Shakespeare stayed here and shagged his friend’s wife according to the plaque at the entrance.

The lighting in pubs is of a warm, dim, golden quality, almost like candlelight although everything is electric. This makes taking photographs inside pubs impossible; they don’t turn out at all. Which is why you won’t see any here. I’ve tried to take pictures of the outsides of pubs. However, that leaves you – and me, when my fuzzy memories fade – on the outside looking in.

The last few days have been a blur. I feel like I should have been taking notes the whole time, but according to my SD card and run-down camera battery, all I’ve been taking is pictures. Much of my time has been spent in pubs with my hosts, Xander and Miranda. The pub culture here is unlike anything in America since the Founding Fathers drew up the Declaration of Independence on a bender.

Part of the reason for the culture of the pub is that drinks are large, cheap, and only moderately alcoholic: beer, cider, and perhaps watered down whiskey. Try to order a martini in a pub and you may end up with a gin and tonic if you’re lucky. Pub music is quiet enough to talk over. It is a place for conversation, the sharing of ideas, and the making of big plans. Xander and his friends hatch their most creative schemes at the pub. In fact, they are currently buying plane tickets to New York for a December Beatles Tribute concert that his musician friend, Ben, will play in – along with other musical and literary endeavors by all three of them along the way. They explain it better than I can – I wasn’t quite drunk enough to follow the conversation.

Xander and Miranda move in a world of creative people: writers, musicians, poets, novelists and comedians. East Oxford has quite an active music scene on Cowley Road. I haven’t spent much time with musicians to be honest, but they do come with a reputation, don’t they? The musicians I’ve met here (other than Ben, who is very nice and relatively normal) are very cool with their leather jackets, skinny jeans and combed-forward emo hair. They look sexy until they begin to speak—true of almost all men in my experience. But conversation among musicians is limited to the minutia of recording, recording technology, the music business in general, and the last time they came down the stairs wearing nothing but a tight thong that pushed their large, hairy balls out on either side of the G-string. True story. And I was not nearly drunk enough to appreciate it.

It is a glamorous lifestyle. Hanging out with musicians, traveling, being the struggling writer. Yep, I’m envious of Miranda. She is surrounded by creativity. She can talk shop about writing and getting published with her friends. No one looks at her like she’s crazy for not following a more conventional career path because none of them are following conventional career paths. There is camaraderie there and a sharing of joy in being artists. That’s Oxford in a nutshell: creative people constantly striving to do big things. I can relate.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Lit Crowd

October 9th, evening

Xander and Miranda are going to a housewarming party for one of Miranda’s friends from the Oxford Brooks writers program, and I get to come along. We walk a few blocks to Iffley Road past rows of stone houses that could be described with the same adjectives as supermodels: tall, skinny, and fashionable. Miranda’s friend has moved into one of these. Her parents own it and are renting it to her. Oh to be a poor writer who has parents with money. >> /end bitter rant<<

So there I am, talking with three other twenty-something female writers. Two of them, including Miranda, are writing novels, the other is working on a collection of poetry. I think Miranda’s friends have both been published in The Guardian. But, despite their literary achievements, their perfect, poreless matte skin, and their posh intellectual accents, I actually feel pretty cool in my own right. This is a first for me. I have really amazing and impressive friends – and, no fault of theirs - I usually feel like a hanger-on underachiever when I’m with them.
For the first time, I feel like I belong with such a stellar group. I quit my despised day job, which these ladies would all like to do; I am successfully supporting myself by writing (though most of the paid work is ghostwriting); and I’m traveling all the way around the world. There is no company in which that is not really cool. I am not embarrassed to say what I do or where I work anymore. I don’t feel like I have to make excuses for my life. I don’t feel like a wannabe, doomed to dream in a cubicle decorated with postcards of places I’d like to go someday.

I am so happy.

And that is worth giving up a thousand fat paychecks.

NASA bombed the moon and Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize

October 9th 4pm

Jetlag doesn’t begin to cover it. I slept from 10pm to 12pm – 14 hours total – after not having slept for around 30 hours, thanks in large part to a Spanish woman on the plane yelling to her friends behind me every time I was about to fall asleep. Vaca Gorda.

I have every excuse to not want to move today. My throat is a little scratchy and my nose a little sniffly thanks to the sudden change in weather. I give in to sleep. I dream that I wake up at 5pm to hear Miranda coming in from work, but I wake at noon and force myself to deal with the plumbing. See, the most traumatic part of travel is figuring out the bathrooms of other countries. In England, older sinks have two faucets, one on either side. One faucet spews boiling hot water, the other pours ice cold water. Either causes instant injury. There are two solutions to this problem: 1) catch the cold water in your hands and carry it to the hot water, thereby only burning the tips of your fingers; or 2) wash your hands very quickly with the hot water spout before it has time to heat up all the way.

Oddly enough, the shower combines the hot and cold taps to make fairly hot water – and why this technology has not been applied to sinks, I’ll never know. The other thing that baffles me about the hot and cold taps is that the spigots are very close to the edge of the sink so only part of one hand can fit under the water flow at a time. Just – why?

I come back downstairs after my shower feeling so much better about the state of the world. It’s only when I’m in the middle of dealing with foreign bathrooms that I start thinking travel is stupid and England (or wherever I happen to be) is a deeply flawed country.

Then Xander comes up to me and says “NASA bombed the moon and Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.”

“What?” I say, thinking that this is a bizarre manifestation of British humor. Surely he’s being funny. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the British are joking since they do it with straight faces.

“No – it’s real.” He says. “Go to the New York Times.”

So I go to the New York Times website and there it is. Front and center. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’m sputtering things like “FOR WHAT?!” “You do realize that he hasn’t actually DONE anything. All he has done is talk to a lot of people in a lot of places – which is what Democrats DO – and the only action he has taken is to ban clove cigarettes.” I think I’m shouting at this point.

Usually, I don’t get political. It’s too risky with my friends. They’re almost all liberal, and loudly so. As a conservative in California, I half live in fear of being found out. I maintain a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for political affiliation. But at this news, Ugh. I lost it.

Even PrObamas are shocked by his getting the Peace Prize. Xander wonders how the President’s PR people are going to handle this. Is he going to say “thanks” and run with it? Is he going to give it back, acknowledging that he hasn’t done anything to deserve it? Or is he going to say something like “thank you, I hope I can live up to this”? That last one is my bet. I mean, he has to own that he hasn’t done anything but talk when it comes to promoting peace (yes, my liberal friends, I know you think talking is doing something – but it really isn’t). He has gone to summits, traveled, and flown on the wings of his own charisma and the fact that he is the successor of a vehemently disliked President.

I leave America for one day, and all Hell breaks loose.

Oh, and we bombed the moon apparently. Looking for traces of water. As they say here: Brilliant.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oxford Eye Candy

October 8th

It’s 11:43am England time. I put on makeup while waiting for my suitcase to materialize at the baggage claim, exchange money, and pay £26 for a return bus ticket to Oxford – the best deal around. It takes me a while to find the bus and figure out the system. I love traveling, but I’m not a very good traveler. I ask for directions and look lost a lot (though only in safe places like airports – I fake confidence on the street since looking lost in a city is begging for trouble). But, here I am, on the bus, and it is a crisp, crystal clear, bright October day. Not a rain cloud in sight. The bus driver is very funny, every word is sarcastic or understated. I’m enjoying myself immensely and trying very hard not to show it. I don’t want to spook the natives with too much open adoration.

The bus drops me off at the Gloucester Green station an hour earlier than expected. Xander and Miranda, my friends and gracious hosts here, can’t meet me for another hour and a half so I wander around the market square. On Wednesdays the square hosts an antiques market and there is plenty to see. I briefly consider taking pictures of the bizarre, inexplicable 1930s kitchen gadgets for my blog, but opt for a latte and people watching instead. A group of young middle-eastern men are giving me the once-over and seem to be debating whether or not I have been staring at them. I start walking before they can make up their minds.

I walk, hoping to find an internet café, until I discover that my feet know where they are going. I get this feeling a lot in England. Even if I’m in a town or city that I’ve never been in before, I can easily find my way around. This never happens to me in LA. I’ve been to Oxford a total of 3 daytrips over the past 6 years, which isn’t enough for me to have developed a map in my head. My feet, however, lead me straight down George Street and when I stop walking, I find myself staring up at the giant spire of the Martyr’s Memorial – the first structure I remember seeing in Oxford 6 years ago. I find the restaurant my Contiki tour ate in, the church I took pictures of, and I know exactly how to get back to the bus station – which is important because my cell phone doesn’t work here and pay phones baffle me.

I sit on the steps of the spire and fight the urge to take pictures of all the beautiful men here. There are equal numbers of beautiful women, but for obvious reasons, I pay them less attention. I’ve seen around five sexy grownup Harry Potter types, one Cedric type (aka Edward from Twilight), the rebellious intellectual, long-haired types, and my favorite: the tousled brown, curly hair that’s slightly too long type, wearing a long flappy coat. Rawr.

Unfortunately, the only males staring at me are the pigeons parked next to me on the steps. And maybe the guy who just walked by…maybe.

Not that I’m looking for romance. I have the best boyfriend in the world who would fit right in at Oxford. But I haven’t seen this much eye candy since I studied abroad in London 3 years ago, and I plan to enjoy it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


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From LAX to Heathrow

October 7th 2009

Air New Zealand to Heathrow is a throwback to how flying used to be. Oh – not in its heyday. I don’t mean to evoke images of coiffed stewardesses, and passengers dressed for a party. I’m talking about how flying was 5-10 years ago, when you had leg room and an empty seat next to you in coach class.

It’s great. Except that I can’t use my cell phone during the flight. It’s not just during takeoffs and landings anymore. Apparently my little cell could interrupt the navigation at any time and cause us all to come crashing down. The British man sitting in the window seat of my row (I have the isle) says that’s “a load of rubbish” and that the airlines have a deal with the phone companies to not let passengers use the phones…something about roaming charges. I don’t understand the reasoning, but I’m always up for a conspiracy theory when there are idiotic rules around.

The British man is in his 40’s has curly blonde hair and a classically ruddy complexion, like he just came off the rugby field for a pint. What I like about him – and this is a very English characteristic – is that we can pop into and out of conversation with no pressure or expectation to continue it. I can respond briefly and directly, end the chat there, and there’s no harm or cultural foul.

If you’ve ever sat on a bus or train in the U.S. and gotten into a conversation, you might have noticed that the conversation doesn’t end until one person gets off at his or her stop. It’s awkward. There is a pressure to be friendly once a conversation or any verbal acknowledgement has begun. Not so for the British, God bless’m.

I can’t take the credit for this observation. I’ve been reading “Watching the English” by Kate Fox, a cultural anthropologist. I’m going to try to be very observant while I’m in Oxford to see if I can spot the British behaviors she discusses in the book. Maybe I can keep a few of her rules of conduct in mind so I can more easily fit in.

But, no. I have already failed. The plane hasn’t even landed and I’ve made an inappropriate response to a remark about the weather.

The British man, sure enough, brings up the weather. Specifically, how miserably cold England is and how his wife, who lives in LA, can’t stand it. I, not recognizing the weather conversation pattern immediately, botch it by replying that I really like England even though it’s cold. My first mistake is in not agreeing with him that the weather is miserably cold – the codified response. My second mistake is stating that I like England. The man replies with a completely shocked “Oh? Why?!” Like, how could anyone actually like England?

According to Watching the English, the English habitually complain about England. You’ll never get an Englishman to say something positive about his homeland; it just isn’t done. And then there’s me staring wistfully at the airline stewardesses with their beautiful soft English accents, wondering if they have any idea how lucky they are to be English.

And that, right there, is proof that I am not English. I claim to be. I have the raw genetic material for it. But fundamentally I am not. I love England too openly and enthusiastically to be anything but American. I could never bring myself to complain about it.

-- 8 hours later - -

Pancakes at Midnight

Forget what I said about not complaining. Just as I am trying to get to sleep, take my contacts out, get comfortable and put on my little eye mask, the lights come on and they announce breakfast. Apple pancakes with apple crème fraiche. At bloody midnight. But, it’s 8am in England. Bloody England.


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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coming Home

It's November 6th, which means tomorrow I will be on a plane back to California. And I can't wait. It is very rare for me to want to stop traveling - once I get going I don't want to stop. But this time, I am very much looking forward to water that won't give me parasites or gastrointestinal problems, bland food (oatmeal is the stuff of my daydreams), and a comfy wonderful bed that is not on the floor (Tokyo - futons - 'nuff said).

This month has been amazing, shocking, surprising and sublime. And I've written it all down in my travel journal - this cool Italian leather, hand bound book I bought in Oxford (way better than Borders!). I've used up 4 pens and almost all the pages of this book, so there is a lot to tell. I will spend the next couple weeks transcribing what is in there to this blog, so we will be traveling back in time and go through my trip chronologically: From Oxford, to India, to Tokyo.

And maybe a few postcards from my Tummy, who has had a lot to say on this trip and needs a forum of its own to voice its opinions.

Edit: I know my blog says it's November 5th, but Japan lives in the future (true on so many levels, but also literally). So for me, right now, it's the 6th.