Monday, 28 April 2008

Borough Market of London - Become An Illegal Immigrant - Sign Up Here

The borough Market.
If there's one experience, less dreaming, we often take for granted in our lives- it's the consumption of food. Everyday we swallow a ton of it, and yet we give little thought to how food can become apart of us, even shape our perspective of life by the social interactions that surround it.

Food has changed a lot since I was a girl. Grocery stores now sell shelf-ripened, chemical enhanced, seed cloned varieties of vegetables designed for profit rather than taste. On occasion I'll frequent local markets and farms for my fresh vegetables, spices, breads, however unlike the major cities of Europe where a centralized market exists, and accessible by public transportation- our ability to obtain such quality food is often expensive and time consuming.

One of my favorite markets, and one of the best in the world, is the Borough Market in London. It's actually an unlikely tourist spot, and I probably wouldn't have known about it, if it wasn't for the advice I was given before we departed to London. This is the real London, and a visit to the Borough Market at the beginning of your visit can provide sacks of nourishment for the duration of your visit. Of course, after a cup of mulled wine, or a taste of Caerphilly cheese you may just start hunting down an estate agent to move closer to these amazing food experiences which you now realize you've been missing your entire life.
I'll take one wilder-beast please!

Unfortunately the Borough Market is only open on certain days so we had to wait till Thursday to go. It's centrally located, adjacent to the London Bridge Tube Station. Hidden by the facade of modern London, you might walk past it if there wasn't a chalk board sign propped upon the sidewalk. Walk through the emerald gates, and the market opens up to reveal a giant expanse like a time machine to another time. (It's bigger on the inside.) Every imaginable food from Italian to German, to French to Polish is available. Hogs' heads hang from the hooks, and you can bottle your own wine from a barrel yourself. One vendor serves a sort of "fried grilled cheese" sandwich, where they actually cook the cheese to a crisp on a griddle in French butter and then pile it onto two inch thick fresh bread. It's these sort of things that overwhelm your senses, and flood your mind with the most incredible, sweet emotions. Suddenly you feel like a member of some remote African tribe who has never seen the "white man" before. You feel like your world has become smaller just by the realization, even by food alone, there's so much before you that you've never experienced.

Is this a dream or heaven? Either way don't wake me!
Of course, one can only eat a certain amount of Polish sausage (stuffed by a actual Polish person), mint truffles, and chocolate bananas; as you lose yourself in the Borough Market, and before you're recognized for your American food envy. It's a dead give-away, the complete look of shock and surprise, as you move from vendor to vendor, item to item, from cheese wheel to fresh bread.

It was at the Borough Market the experience suddenly turned weird. While buying wine from what appeared to be a young English woman, she suddenly stammered and replied back to me in an American accent. At first, my brain a bit confused carried on with the transaction, but the questions within the depths of my mind were now causing my head to do that slight tilt as we all do in times of confusion. Was she American, pretending to be English? Is she an illegal immigrant? I wasn't prejudiced against the idea like many Americans are of Mexican immigration. To the contrary, I wanted to know why, how, and where can I sign up?

I mean even Bono hasn't found what he's looking for? Maybe it's more human to be that illegal immigrant. To seek and find, to go boldly into the night where no one has gone before? Perhaps that is what it feels like to be alive, and everyone else including myself (if I don't act) is dead? For most of mankind's existence we've been nomadic, and now we're all happy to sit in our boxes of glass and wood and stare out at the world as we eat ourselves to death in front of giant televisions. In fact, I will go as far to say that this wine girl embraced her true human desires, to become migratory, to fullfill her nomadic callings, a beckoning ingrained in the DNA of each of us. She gave into this desire, how romantic is that I thought?
Selling sausage: My future.

As we began to walk away, lost in the maze of my mind, I could overhear her telling the gentlemen, likely her employer, she was off to lunch. I grabbed Shannon, whom I wasn't quite sure had caught on to any of this and dragged her along following my new interest like a 007 spy. The covert mission made it's way to the other end of the Borough Market, where our surveillance found the target exiting through a grim side-alley. There, a bustling little restaurant called "Fish!" queued hungry locals. As the woman ordered her fresh boneless haddock and chips (French fries), I carefully paid attention and duplicated her actions. I wanted to ask her "what's it like? where do I start?", but became distracted as the chipper (the name given to people who work at a Fish and Chip shop) hand dipped my filet in their own "world famous" batter. Alas, in the commotion of paying, and smothering malt vinegar on my clearly more important desire: hunger, I had capitulated on my attempts to understand how to reinvent myself as a British Borough Market wine maiden. Mission: failed.

Of course at that moment I was still under some belief, some silly American sentiment, that moving to the U.K. and living the life of someone else was a crazy, perhaps even irresponsible. Even as I stood there trying to talk myself out of what I was feeling, I was beginning to realize that what I wanted was what she had.  What's worse, is merely by this random encounter I now knew it was possible. I could do it. I just had to make the choice. Like the food I had eaten, I was given insight and perspective, I had tasted what's possible, what could be, if I just start asking the right questions.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Getting Back To Oz

The Oz Factor is a term to describe the strange, seemingly altered state of consciousness commonly defined as "the sensation of being isolated, or transported from the real world into a different environmental framework...where reality is but slightly different, [as in] the fairy tale land of Oz."
It's been about a week since we flew back from London. I feel like I've returned home to some shadow of reality. I've managed to remaster driving on the right side of the road again, yet can't explain why I feel so lonely in my large American car. Perhaps I feel isolated in my vehicle because I'm not sharing the company of a few hundred of my neighbors as Londeners do on the Tube. Local etiquette has me perplexed. I don't believe once that I heared "cheers" from anyone as I checked out at my local grocery store nor did the cute guy I accidentally on purpose bumped into comfort me by saying "no worries, love."  The British may avoid saying thank you, but American manners leaves something to be desired. It's tough love as you realize the familiar faces of home have endured your absence and are reluctant to welcome you back.

As if some punishment for leaving, I immediately contracted a cold upon landing Stateside. I'm now apparently so allergic to this New World that I now cough and sneeze merely by arriving back on American soil. Returning to work seems rather unimportant now as I'm beginning to accept I'm having a hard time re-adapting. I'm tired and lethargic, and honestly I can't get our trip out of my head. It's as though London has corrupted me. Perhaps such is true anytime someone travels to other countries, though I never felt this way about Canada, the Bahamas or Mexico. It's as though I'm heartbroken. Depressed that the fantasy has ended. As if Dorothy in all her time in the land of Oz, finally gets home, and then tragically realizes she'll spend the rest of her life trying to get back to Oz.

My parents always used to say I had gypsy in my blood. Like some sort of calling to travel. I've seen a glimpse of the world and I want more. The problem is it really interferes with your mindset when you're trying to tell yourself you're just a mental case and really need to get back to reality.

In one breath, I want to say as I did when I returned from Philadelphia, that "there's no place like home", but this time I can't. As educational as the travels to the City of Brotherly Love was, I never felt attached to the place. On the other hand, London and Cardiff was profound. It didn't demand my respect as domestic travel often does, it romanced me and made me fall in love with it. It's of course likely to be treasonous to suggest such non-American sentiment, I'm sure, and it's duly noted that the grass is likely greener on the other side, but, I can't help but wonder how much better America would be if we chose acknowledge those things that other countries do better than us, rather than ignore them and pretend we're perfect.

Most Americans don't just think their country is the best, they know it. They believe it with a unshakable naivety because they've never known anything different. Ironically, the tragedy isn't merely the distinction that some people believe this in a spirit of blind nationalism, but it's that they never get to see themselves for who they really are, for how others see them. Those of us who serendipitous travel down the Yellow Brick Road are forced to confront ourselves as narrow minded and ignorant, and to return to a world in which no one will believe what we've learned. I'm grateful for my time abroad and while I can't say if I'll ever make it back to Oz, like any fairy tale that changes its reader when we they just stop blindly reading and become apart of the fantasy themselves, I am forever changed.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the Undrinkable Bottle of Mead.

Shakespeare's Globe Ice Cream Truck.
One of our most anticipated visits while in London was the Shakespeare's Globe theatre. We felt some sort of odd connection to this almost holy sanctuary for actors, as two former drama majors who had studied the Globe, performed Shakespeare, and began our relationship in a theater. The Globe is by far one of the more expensive things to do in London, even just for a tour, but it's probably one of the most worthwhile adventures, though vacation cliches you'll never regret. More to the point, since this is a reincarnation of William Shakespeare's Globe theater, and it is a work in progress, your money helps further the construction and return of the Globe theater.

Preparing for the production of Whack-a-Mole.
Admission was about £9, which I think we would have spent anyways on the account of the fact they had a toilet inside and we had to go as a result of too many beers in the local pub. Inside the centre, (the outer complex that surrounds the actual theatre,) there's a lot of hands-on exhibits. From original Shakespearean costuming, to instruments, and touch screen kiosks that allow you to learn the secrets of traditional Globe special effects, it's really a lot of fun. For many ex-theater students, it's a throwback to Drama 101 as you find first position and close your eyes, hoping to open them and feel that rush of being on stage again. For a moment you forget that you turned in your SAG card ten years ago when you reluctantly got a "real job" to support your family and began working in a call center selling long distance plans. You start channelling Hamlet in your best English accent, and the reach your hand out over the balcony railing, almost in tears, "Alas poor Yorick! I knew him well Horatio." - Yes, all the worlds a stage, but right now you're that crazy American running around the Globe.

Even the tourists are dramatic.
At about three o'clock our tour began with a young, articulate woman, who was very good at explaining and talking about the theatre. Some in our group didn't realize that this is actually the third rendition of Shakespeare's globe theater, and that the actual, original location of the Globe is down the road, underneath a car park. As she pointed out, and many of us know, Bill's original Globe burned down when Shakespearean pyrotechnics fired improperly during a performance and set the thatch roof on fire. The second Globe theatre  was torn down by some very passionate religious individuals carrying pitchforks, who thought that thespians and their audiences were heathens. (Thus explaining so much of my life!)

Thatched roof: now with sprinklers.
So that brings us to the point in the timeline where some mad individual was clever enough to build a third Globe Theatre. Sam Wanamaker, an American (and likely also a fan of Hamlet,) who was rather enraged that he couldn't find the Globe upon visiting London, initiated the idea, and began construction of the third Globe theater. Wanamaker, (a poetic name for someone who took this monumentally insane challenge on,) soon ran into another problem. There weren't any true pictures or recorded information of what Shakespeare's Globe theatre looked like, originally. That's when Sam made the decision, that the building itself would be as much art as the plays performed in it. They would do the best they could to recreate the Globe, but the expectation is it would also always be changing, always be evolving,  just as it was while we were there. The had just converted the more authentic dirt floor into concrete, and were now painting the Gentlemens' Boxes.

Poor fellow fell in his hole a few seconds later.
I suppose it's all quite fitting. Shakespeare once said "...and all the men and women merely players." We're always changing our roles, always regenerating into some new character, just as any actor. I was beginning to wonder where would I be when the curtain closed, as an actress of the real globe?  This trip to London was but a mere intermission in my life, as I decided then and there I wanted more of it, and purchased a bottle of Shakespeare's Globe mead (nectar of the Gods) from the 21st century gift shop. When I got home, I placed it on my wine rack, and refused to drink it. Perhaps one day, when I come back to Europe and I am cast as a player, thrust into the roll, given the opportunity to live in this beautiful place, and shed my American skin. I'll drink to that.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Stonehenge - A message in time.

One of the things I dreamed about as a child was visiting Stonehenge. When I found out that I in fact might get a chance to walk among one of the most historic ruins on Earth, many suggested it was "just a pile of rocks". They're wrong of course, these rocks are some of the oldest man-made stone sculptures in the world, and to be within a few feet of them is one of the most humbling moments of my existence that I can ever recall.

But why are they there? More importantly, where is there? For those have you who've been to Stonehenge, you know it's in the middle of modern nowhere. (Prior to the Roman invasion and their subsequent revisions, this area would have been a thriving community and trade route.) Today, from London it was about a two hour drive on what the sat-nav system lists as "major roads". Let me clarify, that the British's definition of "major-roads," is roads without shoulders and lanes that are barely enough to walk on, let alone drive. They love to put sharp curbs, big trees, and anything else dangerous they can come up with to increase the risk of your motoring journey. If you survive all this, eventually you'll end up somewhere in the rolling plains in west Britain, where there's a "giant pile of huge rocks."

We got out, paid about £6 and walked over on a pathway which surrounded the monument at a distance of about twenty feet. Around you are the Stonehenge sheep, freely grazing the picturesque landscape of Stonehenge Down. An ideal location for landing alien space ships, configuring the druid calender, or performing ancient religious ceremonies. This is when it hits you! Why would anyone in their right mind, schlep insanely large blocks of stones over thousands of miles, and assemble them in one of the most random places on earth? No one really knows for sure. Some claim to have figured it out, but the truth is all we know is that it's old, very old, and that the current Stonehenge evolved from previous versions on the same site and re-built over the ages. Is it a calendar, a Stargate, a temple, or merely just a prehistoric version of British dominoes for giants? We may never know. I'd like to believe it's a message, a message to that little girl dreaming about visiting Stonehenge one day when she grows up. A message that tells her to leave no stone unturned in life, for what others find as random, she might find an answer.