Apparently both of my parents are of Scottish descent, which makes me of Scottish descent. I spent last weekend in Scotland, and I had no knowledge of this. All it took was a quick email query to each parent, and boom: Scottish. I can’t believe all the times my middle school friends and I made insensitive jokes about stereotypes assigned to our respective races and heritages, I never once was on the losing end of such jocularity. Nor did I ever, after the tom-foolery ceased, give any thought to this and ask my parents exactly what kind of “white” we were. Turns out I’m the whitest white, as I’m also English and Irish. No surprise, really.
Had I known of my origins, I may have been more inclined to make friends in the north, but I had yet another incredible cultural experience nonetheless. Seven friends and I booked a hostel in Edinburgh for the first two days of the weekend. However, our class schedules varied, and I had to travel Friday afternoon, rather than with the majority of the group in the morning. Me and another friend met after class several hours before our flight with a distinct plan to reach the airport.
Nothing went according to plan. Not a single thing.
Of course it was raining. It’s always fucking raining in London. But this was the heaviest English rain I’d experienced, and I was running a couple minutes late right from the start. When we finally began the perilous journey, we learned that a tiny fragment of London’s underground system — the exact segment we would have utilized to get to the bus — was inactive due to a fire alert. Then, after taking a 30-minute detour on the most packed subway car ever, we arrived at the bus station only to wait 20 extra minutes before realizing our bus wasn’t coming and dropping more cash to take an alternative. When we finally got to the airport, the flight was delayed! Luckily, this error was in our favor, as we were about 20 minutes late, and likely would not have made it otherwise.
Oh yeah, Scotland. Sorry about that, I desperately needed to vent about my minor misfortunes somewhere. Anyway, we arrived at night, and our other friends had already been getting “dolled up” in preparation of a night of clubbing. We had made plans weeks in advance to go to a venue called The Hive. No cover charge, half-price drinks, and a name that suggests a “buzzing” social setting? Yes please.
There was no one there.
Well for the first hour or so. We experimented with the cheap drinks, discovering (obviously) delicious brands of whiskey and some weird “alcopop” called WKD that looked and tasted like it should be served exclusively to children. We made our way between the punk-pop room and the hip-hop/hits room via a series of anachronistic, five-foot-tall tunnels. Eventually, we happened upon a cocktail room full of super-scene teens who had clearly dedicated their lives to playing in unsuccessful three-piece indie-punk bands. We scanned the drink list and quickly realized that the Scots are really into sugary ingredients. Fearing an inevitable sugar crash, we asked a bartender to serve us a pitcher of their least sugary drink. He made a concerned face and picked the “Fuzzy Duck” seemingly arbitrarily. We didn’t complain much. The place filled up rapidly thereafter, and it became a fairly typical dance club. Our American dance moves lured the photographers to us almost immediately. Winky face.
When we finished with The Hive, my intelligent, wary, reliable friend Joey invited the rest of the group to come to a bar that was offering another great discount. As soon as we went in the door, they directed us down to the basement. I knew this was weird, but I let it go when I saw a group of similarly dressed men huddled close around a coffee table, drinks in hand. Hmm … now it seems weird that this comforted me. Well, I guess the fact that they had to unlock the door to let us leave shows that they were at least keeping us safe. Ah, wait. Oh my god. What were we doing. Oh well, they let me work the bar.
(For those interested in hearing about more respectable fun and the sights of Scotland, those will come in parts two and three.)
After consecutive weeks of canceling lectures, the professor that teaches my programme’s two main courses has withdrawn from the semester on account of an undiagnosed illness. Although he’s only been giving us bi-weekly lectures for a half of a semester, his passion, humo(u)r, and personable nature made many of us quite fond of him. We never saw him at his worst, and I am confident that releasing himself from the intellectual and physical burden of scampering between lectures several days a week is the most effective step toward his making a full recovery. It is with heavy-hearted reluctance that I admit that my resultantly liberal schedule has allowed me to explore, produce, and have fun like I never have before.
The show must go on.
Sorry for the cliché, but it’s semi-appropriate for the ensuing story. I saw a theatrical production today. The Events, written by David Greig, performed at the Young Vic. These three things are all I can say confidently about what I saw without feeling as if I’m intellectually and artistically inept, or somehow doing Greig a terrible creative injustice. But I’ll try to say more anyway.
There were only two actors in The Events. They were backed by a choir, various members of which played several minor parts, script often in hand. The female lead played a lesbian priest while the male played several roles, including the other lesbian partner, a controversial politician, and a young mass shooter. The crime of the latter was the only semblance of plot in the production, but extensive pseudo-intellectual banter about the consciousness of the youthful mass-murderer seemed to be the primary artistic vehicle. I laughed at and was impressed by the candid awareness Greig displayed by deciding to highlight the likely prominence of pop culture figures (often deemed immoral) such as Dizzee Rascal and Call of Duty in the lives of criminal — if not almost all — adolescents. There were some slightly obnoxious, perhaps insensitive, moments of meta-thematicism and self-awareness, but the actors were so phenomenal that I ultimately had a good time.
That was fun, wasn’t it? Let’s move on to something weird! I went to an area of London called Peckham last week. It was fairly far away, and economically much different from the area around my housing. You know “that guy” who is super obsessed with his hometown and constantly talks about its cool convenience stores and invites you to come visit and get drunk on cheap local beer? Well one of my close friends is that guy from Philadelphia, and according to him, Peckham is extremely similar to Philly. The It’s Always Sunny Philly.
We went to a pool club (think billiards), where I won a few free drinks by hustling some people as a dumb, worthless American who isn’t good at anything. Turns out, that’s pretty much the universal opinion of us held by the Brits anyway! After sinkin’ a few 8-balls, we hit the dance floor. Right?!? A dance floor in a pool hall! I said the same thing when I first saw it, but it was actually tons of fun. The DJs were phenomenal, and everyone was happy and friendly. Before we left, we had a few stuttered, hesitant words with the pool zone’s supervisor. He very quickly brought up crystal meth (to no one’s surprise) and we decided to get out before some Breaking Bad weird shit went down.
As we waited for a bus to take us home, we noticed incredibly loud music coming from a building directly behind the bus stop. Because there weren’t any open doors or signs advertising a club event in sight, we decided it was probably just a raging house party. After a few minutes, the drunkest person ever wandered out of the closed bakery behind us to light up. We asked him what the deal was with the music, and after a few slurred syllables I took initiative and wandered in.
Bakery by day, Jamaican-themed birthday party venue by night. We were so surprised that instead of trying to figure out what was happening, we just started dancing. There was a DJ, a bar, and even a small stage. And believe me, I’ve looked this place up, it’s a harmless 9-5 bakery according to every online source. I won’t say the name of the place for fear that this party may have been (definitely was) illicit. This experience convinced me to start taking my camera everywhere I go to capture evidence of moments of such absurdity as this. This time around you’ll have to take my word for it.
As you might recall from my last post, I arrived in Sweden at an airport/seafood joint/comic store. Well, this made plenty of sense in hindsight because it was a miserable two-hour bus ride away from any civilization, including Stockholm. But we eventually arrived in a city that was architecturally newer, brighter and livelier than Budapest, so it was easy not to let that miscalculation of ours bring me down. Plus our hostel had hyper-futuristic décor, as well as (I swear) the internal layout of a submarine, despite the fact that it was a multi-level, above-ground building miles from any bodies of water.
Because we arrived after 5 p.m., we decided the best choice would be to seek out a pub immediately. For some reason, there were no drinking establishments around, and we ended up walking down an exciting stretch of markets that seemed to be tailored directly to tourists (yay us!) in order to find a pint. We soon discovered that Sweden was playing in some big important “football” match. I’m not even going to spend a few seconds googling who they were playing or why the game was significant to provide some context here because, you know … soccer. But this event meant that every single Swedish human was already in one of the three pubs we found, gripping a cheap ale and tensely watching one of several screens. It wasn’t my favorite night out, but it was nice to see this sort of cultural phenomenon outside the context of my own language.
The next day we took a boat tour. My dad (everyone’s dad) would’ve loved this on account of the number of boats we saw while on another boat. Check out these pictures of boats:
And some other cool things:
We only spent one full day in Stockholm, so I’m afraid the pictures will tell most of the story. But I have done some pretty fun things since returning to London, most notably, the Jack the Ripper Tour.
Another perk provided by the English Lit. Programme, me and a few friends were given a all-expenses-paid tour in which we were shown each of the East London locations Jack The Ripper slew his victims. Our guide was not only passionate about the subject matter and London’s general history, but he was quite knowledgeable when it came to the gruesome, gory details of the murders. One student even fainted when he starting talking about (REDACTED). It was crazy gross! And to top it off, the dude was a total silver fox. No man in his fifties this attractive should be doing anything but acting as a desirable dad in a B-list comedy. He was like a shorter, British-er George Clooney giving tours.
But I digress. About halfway through the tour, we happened upon a bar called The Ten Bells. According to sexy tour-guide man, this is where most of Jack’s ne’er-do-well hooker victims drank their gin each night. It is even speculated that The Ripper himself actually haunted this establishment as well. We spent the rest of our night after the tour re-enacting a scene from these dreadful, horrifying, unsolved crimes — the scene where everyone drinks at the Ten Bells, of course.
STOCKHOLM — <<< See that? <<< To the left? That’s a dateline! Because I’m reporting to you directly from Stockholm, Sweden!
Technically I’m at an airport on the outskirts of the city. But the important thing is that I’m traveling through Europe! Like, the real Europe. Not England, where they refuse to be recognized as part of any system at all, be it geographical, political, or economic, except for their own.
I’m on Fall break, which is a five day switchover period between class schedules. We had our first finals of the semester last week before the break began, which is why I haven’t been posting regularly. I was studying, guys.
Naturally, every single student in the programme takes advantage of the all-too-brief respite by booking flights through the mega-cheap and inhumanely cramped (at least for a giant like me) RyanAir, and giddily gallivanting through Eastern Europe. The bros go to Amsterdam for the Red Light District and cannabis, while the biddies go to Paris and Florence for the architecture and charming, chivalrous men. My friend Lauren (she is also writing an abroad blog) and I decided to take the road slightly less traveled and venture to Budapest and Stockholm.
I just arrived at a Swedish airport that looked strikingly similar to the third best seafood joint in the fifth best beach town on the North Shore of Massachusetts, so I haven’t done or seen much yet. But for the first three days of the trip, Budapest happened. And man did it happen.
We stopped by our hostel to set up before doing anything of significance, and it got weird real fast. We spent three nights in a 4-room-stoner-loft-turned-hip-party-hostel. The owner of the place was a 28-year-old movie buff (he claims to have watched 2000 movies in the last year) named Zoltan who was so insistent about helping us figure things out that I was afraid he was going to ask us for some sinister favor in return later in our stay. But with his help, we found some crazy nightlife and spectacular sights without difficulty.
Because we arrived at night, our first move was to inspect the local pubs. We quickly found a “ruin bar,” which was by no means as dark or depressing as its name implies. Ruin bars are giant club-like nightlife venues created out of the remaining frames of abandoned buildings in the city. They had several dance floors converted from what felt like dungeons, and an infinite amount of bars converted from what I think may previously have been, well, other bars.
Though we acted like hip youths at night, we inevitably became obnoxious tourists during the sobriety of day. We visited Buda Castle, and the Citadella, two historical venues so massive, that I dare not try to describe them with my meager words. But in a few: Buda Castle is the royal palace where Hungarian monarchs used to live, and the Citadella is a U-shaped fortress on the top of a hill that has ben a pivotal structure in several major wars.
Having seen these locales and learned of their history, I’m now going to be a huge Budapest snob. Buda and Pest — which is pronounced “Pesht,” get it right, dammit — are actually two locations separated by the Danube River. If it’s hilly, you’re in Buda, if it’s flat you’re in Pest. I think it was an inside joke among tour guides to insert that tidbit of geographical identity into every single monologue they give.
To cap off our stay in Budapest, We arose with the sun this morning to spend some time at one of the city’s famous bathhouses. You know how medium-sized towns in America sometimes have public pools? This was a lot like that, except it was more like an interactive museum experience dedicated to pools. There were at least 15 different pools of varying temperatures just begging to be waded through. Indoor hot tubs, outdoor whirlpools, even one with lanes for swim training.
OH! And there were hundreds of old, fat, rich men in speedos! Hundreds! Just stewing in their own filth and lazily mumbling unintelligible syllables at each other. But that didn’t lessen the fun on account of how hilarious it was. And we didn’t have bathing suits, so we just stuck with our underwear, which still gave us more coverage than any of those droopy, floating leatherbags. But since we had to rush to catch our flight immediately after, I decided not to dry my skivvies or stuff them back into my backpack still wet. Instead, I just left them in the middle of a changing room. Hungary, you will always have a piece of me.
2:00 PM to 3:00 PM: Walk — Romantic Inspiration
That’s one thing the schedule had listed for the second day of my literature program’s trip to England’s Lake District. Exciting, right? Naturally, the 11 of us who traveled seven hours for a weekend journey met this vague, perhaps cryptic, label with much speculation: “In what sense is the word ‘romantic’ being used here?” “Is our cognizance of the task at hand going to compromise the chance for actual inspiration?” “Seriously? All you can tell us is ‘Walk?’” And because I’ve always been sardonically cynical when it comes to having an appreciation for nature, I figured at best we’d be strolling through dense woodland where every low-hanging branch smacks me (but none of my shorter companions) in the eyeball and mud ruins my shoes. I was wrong.
Well, my shoes did get totally wrecked, but check these pics out.
We climbed a friggin’ mountain! Or half of a smaller peak of a small mountain range I guess — something like that. But it was unreal. We first stopped in a valley that had a literal million goats, as well as some cows and horses, but mostly goats. After the initial astonishment brought on by the mass of goats faded ever so gradually, we began to realize that, “hey, those mountains and plains over there are pretty damn incredible too.” The sheer verticality of the terrain was stunning, and I was undoubtedly inspired. Romantically? Maybe not. But I’ll certainly be less of a skeptical, dismissive douche next time someone tells me how refreshing it is to spend time at a secluded pond or to hike through a forest.
We traveled to the Lake District with the primary goal of visiting both the Bronte Village and the Wordsworth Village. (You know, since we English majors are all about reading books.) The Brontes came first as we arrived in the village of Haworth on Friday. Our tour guide was knowledgeable, although everyone in the group was rather skeptical of his anti-social behavior and accused him of perhaps being untruthful at points. I didn’t care much, because he gave me enough information to make the caption on the following picture historically flippant.
The village was comfortingly archaic with several artisanal tea and coffee shops lining its single slim cobblestone road. We even got to visit the Bronte Parsonage, where I acquired a new Facebook profile pic of myself in front of a statue of the three sisters. Because that’s what matters.
The Wordsworth Village consists of the late poet’s old home at Dove Cottage, as well as the neighboring few buildings and terrain. Located in Grasmere, this destination was slightly less old-timey, but equally fun to explore. The shops and restaurants were cozy and inviting. The Cottage itself was fascinating, as it maintained subtle structural evidence of specific events that involved Wordsworth’s family and friends. Many of which were caused by what I assume were the electric-koolaid-opium-tests of yore.
Once all the learning and exploring was done, we went out on the town (village) to get inebriated in the same manner and locations as some of the English language’s most esteemed literary minds. We instantly gave up on this effort when we found karaoke, and instead belted Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine while a bunch of leering locals wondered whether this group of dishy yoofs was from uni or simply on ‘oliday.
The term “arts” is used in the titles of music venues much more frequently in London than in Boston. And although I think this may be related to England’s stubborn adamantine desire to preserve a genteel palate (whereas Bostonians seem to be thrilled to advertise this as representative of their culture), I don’t really mind the lingering high-brow influence. When a venue is labeled as an arts café or arts club, I feel as if live performers are more likely to aspire to a certain degree of quality or clarity of expression, rather than to a degree of success and recognition. From a completely objective point of view, I am much more likely to expect the latter of these two attitudes to be embodied by a group playing at a spot called T.T. The Bear’s Place (again, speaking objectively). Sick of the clouds and rain impeding my weekend fun, I ventured out during the week on a tour of the musical “arts.”
Power Lunches Arts Café (that’s the punch line) is a venue that puts on shows akin to the basement shows that take place all over Boston and its outlying suburbs. I went to Power Lunches this week to see a cheap punk-rock show. I had never attended this kind of event in America, nor had I been a big fan of struggling, part-time teenage bands, but I had fun. The casual intimacy and lo-fi, technically faulty structure of the setting was comforting insofar as they made me feel like a unique patron of genuine value to each group. And I definitely was exactly this, judging by the persistence of each two-piece band to sell me their debut 7-inch.
Notting Hill Arts Club was a much more refined venue. Refined, not in the sense of poshness or class, but in the sense of having a precise, fastidious identity. What I’m saying is that it was full of hipsters. (It was so underground there wasn’t even a sign at the location.) The music was supplied by two stereotypical skinny-guys-in-tight-buttondowns indie groups. One looked and sounded remarkably like an amateurish Foals, while the other looked like Grizzly Bear and had a sound similar to The Weakerthans. (Look how hip I am, guys.) Both played skillful, catchy tunes that kept the crowd dancing consistently. Once they were finished, the stage opened up and everyone was invited up to continue dancing. However, they decided to play a marathon of 70s and 80s pop-rock hits, which, I assume, fulfilled some sort of ironic obligation for the night.
I finished my week of live music at Shoreditch’s Troy Bar. Every night of the week, this place has a different genre played live in a room full of comfy chairs and couches. Thursday was reggae night. It was awesome. We only decided to go to Troy Bar because we experienced our first Dark n’ Stormies there earlier in the day, but I am incredibly glad we returned. The show is run in open-mic fashion by an MC named Bullit Hardway, who is backed by a four-piece band called Natural Vibes. The fluidity of the experience was unbelievable. The first song I saw was a happy birthday tribute to a pair of who I thought were audience members. In the ensuing half hour, both of these people had also performed in a song of their own that seemed as if it had been practiced 100 times (and I’m now convinced it had been). Before the show ended, my friends and I were the only ones who hadn’t performed. Even some tiny Hungarian dude jumped up and belted out a tune. It was smooth, interactive, and, most importantly, super fun. Then again, the delicious combination of delicious rum and delicious ginger beer may or may not have influenced my attitude toward the spectacle.
I’ve always enjoyed walking through cities. Not because it’s good exercise or because it allows one to savor the urban scenery as it passes or any of that crap. I walk because it’s free. And because I don’t have to sit or stand awkwardly intertwined with six other flesh vessels on public transportation. In Boston, strolling between points was never too difficult on account of my campus being a straight line and my lack of desire to explore too far outside that segment. However, London is nearly 7 times the size of Boston, and the only people who would dare isolate their affairs to South Kensington are the snobbish diplomats and aristocrats that make up most of the local population.
After only a week in London, I have practically mastered the public transportation system (After two years in the Back Bay and Kenmore areas, I had barely figured out the Green Line). I owe this accomplishment entirely to the abroad programme coordinators. I know I finished my last post with a slight premonition regarding the orientation session, and that did reflect the grievances of my friends who had experienced it previously. But, despite its length and exhaustiveness, the orientation was such a miniscule part of the programme-organized events and my overall experience, that I have forgiven the powers above.
At first it seemed like neglectful parenting, but the programme administrators successfully familiarized us with the city by straight-up dropping us in the shiniest of locations with no organized plans to return. I managed to get completely lost in Greenwich after straying from my pack to get a haircut that lasted two hours. It took me nearly an hour of painfully scrutinizing the maps of the overground rail, the Tube, the DLR — an acronym which, I swear, has no known meaning — and the river cruises to plan my way home.
The initial trip to Greenwich was a cruise along the Thames. The architecture was grand, and I’m sure I could give some intriguing local insight about the following historical landmarks, had the tour guide’s voice not been overwhelmed by the hundreds of vociferating students on board.
The next day, I got lost in North London after traveling to Haringey to play some basketball at the semi-famous Ducketts Common. On the positive side, I met a couple of ballers not-so-aptly named M.J. and Moses who helped me score mad buckets at Ducketts. HA.
As far as the real fun goes, my nights have consisted of local pub crawls and an accidental appearance at a severely under-populated gay bar. The programme held a party at the end of the week where American students outnumbered locals about 100-1. Other than the frequent (drunken) dancefloor interactions with students I had met a single time for five seonds in the previous days, it was a good night. Administrators and RAs scored us two free drinks apiece, which I was able to finagle into four.
In the areas that have a heavy nightlife focus, “promoters” troll the streets at 10-foot intervals aggressively asking every single well-dressed pedestrian what kind of music and atmosphere they are into. Instead of being accosted by several along my trip, I elected to feign interest in the first to appear, and he accompanied us all around Piccadilly Square. Joy! Turns out he’s moving to Boston next year to find a more respectable job. Naturally, we exchanged numbers as we reached our destination.
Remember at the end of season 3 of The Office when Jim decided to mousse his hair up into a neo-pomp, lax-bro formal look for his interview with corporate? Yeah, I fan-girled pretty hard too.
I’ve always had Jim-like hair; when given some autonomy, it’ll pass if the setting is appropriate. For instance, it’s perfect for grinding a gnarly handrail or being in middle school. Or, apparently, for holding a sales job at the leading branch of a medium-sized, middle-man stationery distributor. I’ll be spending the fall months doing none of these things. Instead, I’ll be absorbing a brand new culture with which I have absolutely no familiarity (a shared language, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and all of western historicity notwithstanding). Thus, before I take off for London, I’ve decided to alter my aesthetic character, starting with the hair. But it wasn’t John Krasinski who inspired this decision. I would never dare emulate the two-time SAG Award winner, on account of he’s way too frikkin handsome. Even his IMDb profile says so, right off the bat. (Seriously, did his mom write it or something?)
In fact, it was another tall, 20-something male actor from an avant-garde TV comedy who influenced me. Adam Driver (Adam Sackler on HBO’s Girls) made an appearance at Jay-Z’s extended live performance of “Picasso Baby” in New York last month. In a 10-minute video that captures the “performance art piece,” Driver only appears for about two seconds (2:24-2:26), during the latter of which he briefly smirks and chuckles while sitting directly in front of a spittin’ Hova. I imagine he’s thinking something like, “you call this art? You should see me deliver a monologue about jerking it as a gargantuan middle schooler in season one of Girls.”
In Driver’s brief appearance, his hair is completely slicked back into a voluminous, symmetrical, windswept look. (I used to work at a Supercuts, so I can toss out terms describing hair, which may or may not actually mean anything all day long.) Now, he and I have similar… everything concerning physical appearance. I figured that if he can take his too-triangular face and unfittingly narrow neck and make his visage appear cultivated simply by changing his hair, then I should have no problem doing the same with such an alluringly proportional neck and shapely face.
The results are below.
Ignoring the addition of prescription hipster glasses and a collared shirt, I think I’ve accomplished something pretty nice. From accidental felon to aggressively enunciating intern. Homeless people think I look like Ashton Kutcher.