Clubbing

There was a short period of time in between moving into our flat and starting classes where the seven of us (flatmates) had little obligation and a lot we wanted to do. A friend of a friend knew of a good place to go clubbing that was recommended to her by a friend, and the seven of us were invited. Not the bunch to turn down drinking (sorry mom) and dancing (not sorry) we made plans to go out to The Electric Ballroom in either Camden or Soho, I forget.

We invited the others over to our flat first and had a fine time pre gaming (sorry mom) and talking and getting to know new people, which is always very fun when you let yourself do it. We left the flat and all of us were already a little drunk (mom just don’t read this). We followed the people who knew where we were going and ended up at the club at around…I think 10. It was right outside of the tube stop and we recognized the venue from the stereophonic reverberations thumping out of the building close by. We were ID’d and patted down by security and let into the Electric Ballroom.

The place was decently large. There were two main sections of the club: a circular bar was off to the right, occupying a space with a few small tables around it and open room to walk around and socialize. Off to the left was the main dance floor, which was very large. It reminded me a gymnasium, actually, which probably would have turned me off more if I wasn’t drunk. Anyway we got there, had a few drinks at the bar and danced for a while on the gym dance floor. It wan an interesting enough space and was decently crowded. The lights were neat. I can’t talk about the club without commenting on the music, though. After that night I learned something that made the music choices make sense, but when we were there, the entire night the club played American music from the 90s like the macarena, Journey, Sheryl Crowe and other stuff like that. It was absolutely bizarre. None of us really paid any attention or minded in the moment, but looking back the next day we were asking ourselves sort of incredulously (and shamefully) if that’s what british people think American people listen to all the time. A few days later one of the girls read that that particular night was “’90’s American night,” which, of course, made all the sense in the world. I think if we’d known what the theme was ahead of time though, we might not have chosen the Ballroom.

Caleb and his friend Mike found two british girls and we all talked to each other for what seemed like a long time but probably wasn’t. In particular, there was one blonde girl I got to know a little. The classic elementary school sound of the ‘90s was going strong so in order to talk we had to talk right into each others ear. Regular Dan strained to listen but drunk Dan was too interested in the accent. Although drunk Dan had a good time, I remember the exchange well and remember her being very real. British accents are ubiquitous on the tube, the street, and everywhere you go, really. Although having one belted in your ear by a contemporary at 1 in the morning in a club was an experience I hadn’t had yet. The person inside I found to be real, curious and ordinary. It’s important to remember that beneath the differences in culture, voice and sometimes look, foreigners are people. I hope drunk Dan remembers that.

 

We left the club and meandered into the road. The lucky sober ones among us navigated home with the help of the night bus (the tubes stop running at midnight – a real drag.). We went home and slept. It was good to sleep.

Officer Bron

The borough of Kensington and Chelsea is in West London and it’s one of the more wealthy areas of the city (William and Kate live here). As a result it is, comparatively, far less busy than central London, or at least the people who live here are more proper and stay inside more. I could be wrong, I’m still a tourist.

With a rough image of Kensington concocted, walking through the gate and onto the campus of Imperial College felt like jumping into a pool at night during a party of some kind. The college is guarded by walls that separate the campus from the sidewalk and the city. The part of the campus we entered is a massive, grassy square with a coble stone path leading about 500 feet away to the entrance of one of the buildings. Giant stone towers housing students rise from the four corners of the square, connected by smaller, though longer stone corridors. I describe passing through it to jumping in a pool because when going through the gates, you abruptly leave the sounds of the city behind and are enveloped by a stillness that owes itself to the silence of the square, compared to the rumblings of the city feet away.

We were here for an orientation with the police, to become familiar with British law. We had the whole ICLC gang, and the lot of us formed a massive queue (God help you if you say “line”) for free food before the evenings entertainment. Officer Bron and Lee arrived and gave us the low down on the law. They described what the deal was with things like drugs, theft, cabs, knife crime, and what places we probably shouldn’t go to. When I say “they”, I mean Bron, who was all too thrilled to be there. Really, once he let a few jokes slip and found his audience to be receptive, he began to thoroughly enjoy himself. Lee was as stoic the lawman as ever and only spoke when he fancied it, or, I suspect, to guide Bron back onto the rails of professionalism (bless him). Here’s hoping they make a buddy cop movie some day.

Most notably, Bron went on a long description of the penalties of being caught with weed, only to wind up saying, basically, “if you want to use it just do it in your own house.” Bron enjoyed himself, which made us enjoy him. When they were finished, Bron was all smiles and “cheers,” and Lee, the old miser, was all gruff and “thanks.” I suspect he was either embarrassed or jealous of Bron, with his jovial rapport with us kids, and my tired American heart went out to him.

1/16/14

Camden Market and The British Accent

The same day as the Great Abbey Road Scam, we met up with our other flatmates in Camden. We bid adieu (french) to Tessio (the frenchman), saw a Charles Darwin lookalike on the way to the tube, and rode the sucker to Camden, a “hip and trendy place frequented by London’s youth culture.” I just made that up but I imagine some guidebook somewhere says that.

The girls were at a place called the Ice Wharf or something with one of our flatmate Emily’s british friends. In order to get to the Wharf we had to walk through a street market, Camden Market. London is famous for (among other things) their street markets. This was a fine one, as far as markets go. We were just passing through but we all ventured into a record store to look around. The place was small but had a great collection of things I like (classic rock and such). There were several Beatles records on old Capitol and Parlophone and one original Sgt. Pepper pressing for 100 pounds. I think this was a Tuesday and I plan on returning because there’s a basement only open on Fridays and Saturdays with “rare Beatles records.”

We passed the filming of a soap commercial and found the girls inside a restaurant and bar with Emily’s friends, a riotous crop of british youths. There are local people here who either have soft, light accents or people who have very thick, “throaty” accents, I would say. Neither carry any negative connotation, but the latter is much more enthralling to listen to. These kids had very thick accents and it was hard to listen to their english without being enamored by their british. I’m trying to remember my history and deicide which accent had to have come first and I imagine the british accent must be far older than the American one. I thought of this as I was sitting there, nursing a beer. I think the tambor and rhythm of the British accent varies throughout England, but as for the rich accents I’ve heard in London, they seem more musical to me than American ones. I don’t think anyone in America dislikes british accents and people joke about them a lot, but I never really thought of the comparisons until I came to live in an environment where it was the norm. As I was sitting in the restaurant, listening, I could imagine how it was a superior way of speaking. Not communicating, but speaking. From there it was easy to imagine and understand how, sonically, I guess, it became whittled away from North American ways of talking. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I’ve never been hypnotized by an American accent the way I was in this instance with a British one. Credit where credit is due, I guess, right?

 

The Great Abbey Road Scam

Because we had great luck finding a flat, in that we didn’t have to look further than Kensington, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to ride or learn the tube at all. On Thursday we didn’t have anything to do until 5, when we had a mandatory orientation with the police, so until then we devoted the day to traveling about. Josh, Caleb and I decided to go to Abbey Road.

I’ve ridden the NYC subway system and the Boston T and everything I’ve heard about the London Underground is true: it’s the easiest and best mode of public transportation I’ve ever used. It’s very clean, there are signs everywhere so it’s impossible to get lost or lose your way, and everyone knows not to be a weirdo or solicit you God or talk or something. It’s very pleasant. After a couple hours of riding it around I now have zero trepidation or apprehension with regard to city wide travel. What a gem.

Unlike New York and similar to Boston, tube stops in London are assigned actual names (my favorite is “Canada Water,” followed by “Cockfosters” – what a laugh). So when Caleb, Josh and I perused the tube map and saw a station name called “Abbey Road,” we were all pretty jazzed to visit the Beatles crosswalk. Herein follows something ridiculous.

The Abbey Road station was far away. I mean far away, which should have been our first indicator. After a 40 minute tube ride we arrived. We left the station and came out into a very desolate, slummy area (this “slummy area” being nicer than most parts of Manhattan). We walked around trying to find the crosswalk, couldn’t for the life of us (we didn’t see any signs pointing the way or landmarks or anything), and asked a woman on the street where it was, specifically, the “Beatles crosswalk.” She pointed us two roads down. We checked it out but still couldn’t find it and asked another woman. “Oh sweetheart” (very british) “you’re in the wrong place!” Ok listen carefully. She then told us that the real site of the Abbey Road photo was in London (I guess we rode out of London), but that our “photo opportunity” was just straight up the street. Does your brain hurt? We walk up the street, headed toward the tube, and we see a crosswalk with no one around in site save for a this one guy in a neon little uniform right by the crosswalk. He called us over because we looked lost and proceeded to tell us where we had to go for the real thing.

The lady from before pulled up and yelled out the window “this is it! This is your photo opportunity!” The guy had something to say about that, let me tell you, because I literally think it’s his job to stand at the crosswalk and specifically tell people that they’re in the wrong place. Josh, Caleb and I went back to the tube station to leave the slum, when we saw an official Mayor of London sign that said, to effect, “looking for the Beatles crosswalk? Well you’re in the wrong place! Go to St. John’s Wood!” Bear in mind we saw no such sign when we got there. As far as we saw it was only on the exit platform. Why the city wouldn’t change the name of the tube station to something far less misleading is a little lost on me. If they’re comfortable naming something Canada Water, I’m sure they could think about re-naming this stop. We came to the conclusion that this whole thing is a scam to trick pay-as-you-go Oyster (subway card) users, out of money (this station being in Zone 4. The nosebleeds, am I right?)

Anyway, we made the long treck back into central-er London , got off at the right stop, saw a Beatles inspired coffee shop, and made the few blocks walk to Abbey Road Studios. There are two men in the same neon uniform who are stationed there to take pictures of people on the crosswalk (which leads me to believe even more that that poor guy was only at the other place to correct tourists), but I don’t think they’re employed by the city at all. There are no stop signs here (actually, there aren’t any stop signs in London – that’s not an exaggeration) or a traffic light, so what happens is once there’s the slightest lull in traffic, you have to run in position and the guy quickly snaps the picture. The commuters hate it, it’s funny. We enlisted Tessio the Frenchman to be our George for the photo. It turned out well.

Outside of Abbey Road Studios there is a gate and pillars and stuff that’s littered with signatures and quotes and drawings and things tourists write. We signed and we went inside the lobby of Abbey Road Studios but were unpleasantly greeted by the security guard. If you’re wondering – you’re not allowed in there. After the fact, Caleb told me he read that so many people sign the wall outside that the city paints over all of it every week or so.  Now that I think on it, I imagine he’s right.

 

Next: Camden Town, Officer Bron and Clubbing.

1/12/14

 

 

The King’s Head and Poem #1

The King’s Head is an average establishment, I suspect. There are something like 4,000 pubs in London and I’ve seen next to none of them so it’s hard for me to judge a good pub from a bad one yet. It was loud in here. Crowded and sufficiently lit, though it was dim enough to encourage flirtation or private conversation. The bartender made hearty suggestions and there was a dark brown sheep dog roaming under the tables and brushing against legs. It was hard to feel inspired here, though, and I suspect it was because of the size of the place (small).

We closed The King’s Head and went out to a drizzle. We resolved to get breakfast the next morning and Josh, Caleb and I made plans to ride the tube around for the first time.

Poem #1
She spoke, and words flew from her
like a breeze through the spring:
firm enough to mean and soft enough
to betray the suggestions she wished to hide.

Her cheeks were flushed and I imagined the blood in them
rise to accommodate her heart, in spite of her brain.
Her tensions were noted and understood.
Her silent maneuvers noticed and admired.
Her honesty whispered and cherished.

Gentle as the breath she breathed,
she ran a hand through her hair and left it
swaying by her shoulders.
Her movements matched my mental meanderings
in their delicate sense of purpose and purposeful sense of comfort.
And in a moment, she was gone.

1/10/14

The Flat Hunt

It was about 10am on the day we arrived, although it felt like 5am to us, when we began flat hunting. For those of you who don’t know, we have to find our own flats (apartments) to live in for four months while we stay in the hotel for five days. I had five people to live with and three of us, myself, Josh and Caleb, were all in the London Center that first morning. We bumped into ole Bill and I told him we were looking for a six person flat. Bill, the old rascal, took it upon himself to mutter something and shepherd us down to his office, whereupon he picked up his phone, bowed his head to the number pad and rang his blind Egyptian landlord friend. “Alan. It’s Bill. What do you got for me?” He led us and some other students to Alan’s office where we met with the infamous landlord, a harmless Bond villain, and his red haired mistress or wife or daughter or something. She showed us a great flat for six people with a balcony very close to the Center for the cheap price of 110 pounds per person per week. We loved it, although it was very small. The other three people in our group where somewhere we didn’t know (none of us had phones yet), so the three of us that were there resolved to track them down, give them the lay down and talk it over. But first we went back to the hotel for a pint.

That evening, after not being able to find the others, I had my first legal drink (Kronenbourg) and Josh, Caleb and I walked to Earl’s Court (the site of our future home) and got Thai food at this great place tucked between two buildings.

The next day, after facebooking the other guys to meet us, we heard from them that they wanted to break off and find a place of their own. The three of us who were still together scrambled to try to begin finding more people to add to our group as we walked to buy cheap phones in Earl’s Court – when we were stopped in the street by an Italian voice from behind. “You guys looking for flats?” I think my backpack gave it away. “Uhh…yeah…” We turned and say a man getting out of a car with four girls from our program – one of which I knew. He was showing them a flat and told us to tag along. We didn’t want to steal anything from the girls but we figured we might as well. When in Rome, am I right?

The second place he showed us all was great. It was huge, across the street from the Earl’s Court tube station (that’s “subway” for you Americans. When in Rome, am I right?) and a five minute walk from the London Center. It was also in the same building as a Barclays Bank, which is Bank of America’s English partner. For 143 pounds per person per month, the seven of us decided to make a go of it and we got it together. We sign the lease on Saturday. Our landlord, Fabio, is a Colombian treasure.

After finally getting our phones, I went for a walk to a local grocery store to see what kind of things London stores carried. I roamed around Kensington  a bit before meeting Josh, Caleb and the girls for a time at a pub called “The King’s Head.” British people love to drink. I suspect the vast majority of them go out for a pint after work every day. The fact that most pubs close at 11 makes me think this suspicion is true.

1/9/14

Virgin Atlantic: Part One

I was sandwiched between two girls for the six hour flight to Heathrow. I don’t get claustrophobic often, but six hours on a plane had me experience about two instances of cold sweats for a little while.

We descended from above the clouds into one of the grayest, rain cloaked days I’d ever seen. We landed hard and shuffled out into Heathrow, a giant of an airport. Immigration gave me a hard time because I didn’t know something specific, but I got through without being arrested or something.

We were greeted by Bill, a specter of a man. Bill’s been with the Ithaca College London Center since he was a wee lad of 1000. Slow in his movements and lazy in his speech (“lazy” being used with the least negative connotation possible), he’s a delight (and the punchline of many a harmless joke). We were also greeted by Jess, a generations younger, lovely Londoner with very big glasses and very British teeth. We went to the Millenium Gloucester Hotel, had orientation, checked in, then went to the Ithaca College London Center – a refurbished  old mansion in Harrington Gardens.

1/9/14

Prologue

I’ve decided to write in a leather bound pocket journal full of hundreds of course yellow pages instead of type my thoughts on my computer. I generally don’t like doing this because my brain works faster than my hand writes, but I’ve never been to Europe before and all heresay and common sense points to the fact that this may be one of the defining moments of my life, or at least my young life. So, under the weight of such a romantic dream that the next four months may prove to be, I figured I’d document it in this fat romantic journal, by hand, like some roaming poet or story starved wordsmith. Also because it makes me happy.

That will be the hard part: looking back on and recounting days and trips and experiences after the fact, with the slowness of my hand. What will be easy will be the other things I hope to use this journal for: writing in the moment, when the moment makes me. Whether that be description, observation, examination, poetry or insights. I also have a project I will use this for. I’m going to spend all semester writing a short story. The only rule for this short story is that it can only be written in pubs (though the country the pub is in doesn’t matter – in fact the country and pub name will be listed at the start of each installment). I don’t have a plot in mind and I don’t know who the characters are, but I’m excited and curious as to what comes out of writing in that kind of atmosphere.

 

This is a prologue. At the time of this writing, I’ve successfully flown out of the United States and into England, have spent my first day here and have had a good time of it. But before I go into some more specifics on that, I have to finish the prologue. And for the end of the prologue, I want to talk about romance.

 

I mentioned it twice above, the first seriously, the second a little tongue in cheek. There’s no denying that this trip I’m on is romantic. Leaving the US for the first time to explore London, England; traveling to other countries on the weekends, getting on planes at 6am, driving along the Irish countryside, throwing myself into Berlin for the Berlin Film Festival without having a place to stay (yet) and doing, really, whatever I want to do in whatever country I want to do it. Europe is the kind of place that millions of people spend their whole lives thinking about, learning about, knowing about, but never going to. It’s the world, for God’s sake. And because I’m seeing it now, living here now after having grown up with the idea of Europe in my head, I’m a little – very, starstruck. It’s very romantic to think of fulfilling a vision decades in the making. There’s anticipation, curiosity, naiveté, innocence and wonder. It’s a childlike experience to be here and I think it’s fascinating that romance and innocence should be linked in such a way now that I am older.

 

 

Now that I am older. When I was younger, in high school, it was very easy to romanticize everything: college, growing up, different philosophies and ideals. These things should be romanticized and enjoyed and embraced, but what was missing from these idealized thoughts in high school was the responsibility that romance must demand. College is a dream in that you’re free to do what you want with who you want to and where you want to do it. But you must expect to work harder than you ever have. You must be prepared to fail and observe your failures as the greatest tools of learning. You must try to prepare yourself to have an open mind and learn how to use, or not use, different opinions about your work. It’s very easy for a young man to blaze off on a trail of passion and leave behind the burden of responsibility and subconsciously dismiss it as a hindrance.

I say this because that’s what I thought about, sitting by gate 54 in Newark Airport, waiting for Virgin Atlantic flight 0002 to start boarding for its flight to London. I was excited, I am excited, and eager and very, very tired. And even though I went into an analytical zone for a second, probably brought on by the 30 hour day I just had, I’ll end with the point of all this being that I’m excited for myself and what I hope to create and accomplish in the next four months. I love writing, I love directing and I love filmmaking because its the most damned romantic thing there is to do and it tears me up inside whenever I have what I think is a good idea because all I want to do is get it out. But I also think that over the past three or so years since I started college, I’ve matured in those things I’m passionate about and gained a responsibility to a lot of things. And I’m excited what the combination of romance and responsibility will bring.

 

I also watched Drinking Buddies on the plane and it was great.

1/7/14