Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Living the Sweet Life

The Temporary European is finally home and settled back into NJ life. I've had some time to reflect on my life in London and the experience was definitely worth having but I do have to say there is no place like the USA. Since my return, I have been asked numerous times what it was like to live in London; that is a very hard question to answer. I find my stock answer is, "It was a great once in a lifetime experience." Beyond the rude people, crazy weather, bad showers and missing top sheet, my inability to consider ever becoming an ex-pat is hard to describe because the reasons are intangible. It is easy to describe the not so subtle differences differences, as this blog proves but the other "stuff" is nearly impossible to explain. To put it as simply as possible, beyond my obvious pining for family and friends, life in London was devoid of the American way of life -- there is something about Americans and the way we live day to day that really sets us apart. I am not saying we live in a perfect utopia but there is something about us that makes us different (in a positive way) from all other cultures. Whether it be in our major cities or our small towns, we exude a sense of connectivity that is inherently part of being an American. When meeting another American while in Europe, you exchange an easy nod that acknowledges this kinship created by the connection to the red, white and blue colors that bind us. I have always been a patriotic person but I am even more patriotic now. This is not to say that I am anti-EU, I just have a greater appreciation for being American and realize what a privilege and honor it is.
There is so much we take for granted here in the USA and I am trying to take that learning into my life and be grateful for everything I have. I think it should be mandatory for every American to live outside the USA for at least 3 months; we may do less complaining, more celebrating and have more understanding. But, as we all know, especially during these tough economic times, it's not possible for everyone to get outside of the USA and have the opportunity to look back at our mother land fondly while also experiencing what the rest of the world has to offer. I am grateful for having been blessed with that opportunity.
I made many great new friends, saw amazing places and things that will stay with me for a lifetime and I achieved a life goal by walking through the Bronte house. What more can a girl from Warren County NJ ask for? OK, I'm still asking for a published book... That's my next goal and I hope you all come along for that ride.
Thanks to all of you who read my blog faithfully and commented on my funny and not so funny experiences. I couldn't have survived the separation without all of you, my dear readers.
God Bless America and all her people!

The Forever American in Body, Soul and Philosophy

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Fine shopping, or should I say dining?

Go to any department store in London and you will find something decadent, expensive and fattening -- they are called Food Halls. No, no, I'm not talking Food Courts. Food Courts are where you find greasy pizza, limp salads and salty, hot pretzels. At Food Halls you find imported cheeses, exotic fruits, fresh seafood and catering services. It is odd though to be admiring and drooling over a Gucci bag or sniffing the intoxicating bouquet of Coco Mademoiselle Chanel and then a mere steps away find yourself drooling over puff pastries and sniffing freshly baked bread. Shopping can already be a dangerous proposition but the addition of such tantalizing goods takes it to new levels of scary. Do women really want to try on those new skinny jeans with the scent of delicious chocolates wafting through the air? Come to think of it, who wants to add the burden of dreaming about hot out-of-the oven scones when trying on a bikini? This is more dangerous than I originally thought! I wonder if this concept would work in America... I guess it could work at say Nordstrom's or Saks but honestly, I don't know if the stingy corporate folks would give up precious floor space for the likes of imported salami. I think we are safe for now but if you go to London be warned that a trip to the department still could likely result in $50 purchase of prosciutto, virgin olive oil and organic oregano and thyme. Bon appetit.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Where in the World Are My Wellies?

Of course it's going to rain all week, I sent my wellies back home via UPS on Saturday...the real irony is, I didn't wear them once while they were here. 

Soggy in the UK,

The Temporary European

Monday, 27 July 2009

Tostadas in London Rescued by the French!

Now perhaps it is my emotional state due to my nearing departure from the UK, but I swear I was nearly brought to tears by the kindness of a stranger. It happened yesterday at the Whole Foods (yes, I finally found it 8 days before said departure!); I had just toured Kensington Palace (the former home of Princess Diana) and I was starving. After perusing the third floor organic market cafe, I finally decided on Mexican. I approached the counter and was met by a young man who would both take my order and prepare my meal. He was not happy to be a burrito /tostada/ taco man and he let me know it. There were no menus so I was forced to ask questions and he was irritated beyond belief when I asked what came on the tostada. In my weakened state, I could not fight back and I really didnt' care to because I just wanted peace and some food. Project Smile London was on hiatus with this guy, I reasoned that my ability to restrain myself from verbally assaulting him was gift enough. Anyway, in retaliation for me asking questions, he scooped minescule amounts of rice, beans, chicken, guac and cheese into my BIG tostada bowl. For a brief moment I was tempted to question his laddeling technique but then I wondered if I wasn't being paranoid -- lots of mean people in a mean city can make you paranoid after a few months! I tried to be rational about the whole thing. "Come on Jennifer, this is what everyone gets," I told myself. As I walked my meager contents within their big bowl to the cashier, I wondered how this could cost 5.99. But, I wasn't going to make trouble, you know, the stiff upper lip and all. I could do with a few less calories since I wasn't eating live anymore... And then it happened, the nicest thing ever, the young, French man at the till looked at my pathetic tostada fillings and said, "That seems small."
My eyes widened with shock. "Yes, I thought so too. But that guy over there isn't very happy and he took it out on my tostada."
"Well, if he isn't happy, that isn't your problem." The nicest French man on earth said.
"Thanks, but I don't want to make any trouble. I'll just pay." I said (yes, I swear this is true).
"No! If I were you, I'd be angry. Let me take care of this." And he whisked away my paultry tostada.
He returns a few moments later with a tostada flowing with yummy Mexican contents and says, "I put myself in your shoes. You pay. You want the right amount."
I smiled at that nice, French man living in London and I wondered how long he's been living here and if he's originally from the South of France...

Friday, 24 July 2009

An Old Friend of Mine

Yes, this is going to sound a bit ignorant, but I never realized there was an actual Paddington Train Station.  I was so excited when I saw the station on a tub map and I knew I had to a make a trip there before I left England. I'm not sure if you all know Paddington Bear, but if you do, you know how lovable and adorable he is; if you don't know, please go to your nearest book store and find a Paddington book and read it -- it will only take you 5 minutes, just do it!
Paddington Bear is an old friend of mine; we met when I was about eight. I wish I could remember who gave me my Paddington book and mini-bear because I would thank him/her profusely. I took that bear lots of places and I got the biggest kick out of his suitcase, wellies and attached note, "Please look after this bear." Sadly, somewhere along my journey of life, I lost my little friend. I was saddened but I took hope that someone would look after my bear.
I've always secretly wished I'd find someone else's lost Paddington and I'd take care of that bear, but it's never happened. I have taken a trip Paddington station and once I was there the kid in me couldn't help but look around wondering if the infamous bear would turn up around the corner trying to find his way home. They have a bronze statue of Paddington but I couldn't get my picture with him because I was too embarrassed to ask any of the harried travelers to take a photo of a grown woman with a bronze bear statue! But while I was there, I couldn't resist buying a new Paddington to replace the one I lost so long ago. He is larger than the original but he sure is cute and I promise to take care of him.  If during your travles, you come across a small Paddington dating circa 1979, with a slightly torn hat, send him home but please give him a spot of tea first.

The Sentimental Temporary European

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Better to be French than Parisian...

I would never presume to judge an entire country on a visit to one city but damn, those Parisians make it hard! Arrogance runs high and rudeness is not far behind in the beautiful city of Paris. The Parisians are fortunate that they have the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower to offset their hideousness. Hmmm, could we take the symbolism of Quasimodo further and apply it to the beauty of Paris despite the outward ugliness of its people?...
The Parisians should really tone down their arrogance a notch or two because the Eiffel Tower, their greatest tourist attraction (in 2008 13,999,745 people visited the Eiffel Tower), the icon of France, and the most recognizable structure in the world, was really meant to be in Barcelona -- my favorite European city. It was originally designed and planned for the Universal Exposition of 1888 in Barcelona, but the politicians at the time thought it was odd and expensive and refused Eiffel's submission. He shopped the proposal to the Parisians and they accepted and he started building the tower in Paris in 1889. So, as you can see it is pure chance that Paris is home to the Eiffel tower; it is not some homage to their city as the Parisians would like us all to believe. 
It was worth going to gay Paris and seeing the sights and I would recommend it to any European traveler but just prepare yourself for brisk treatment and haughty glances -- heck, I'm a Jersey girl, I can  be brisk and haughty too, I just choose to represent my country to the best of my ability at all times, to all people. I honor George Washington in this way... yes,  you can laugh here. 
Anyway, dear reader, I hear that the French people in general are very nice and welcoming. I never did make it to the South of France but one day I will return to France but Paris will not be on my destination list -- once is enough for this Temporary European.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tower Power

I finally saw the soldiers in the red coats and big, furry black hats! I found them at The Tower of London. I guess it only makes sense that they would be at the oldest fortress in Europe. The Tower of London outing was one of the best days during my time in Europe -- the Bronte pilgrimage is still #1 -- despite the rain and the mean Beefeater (I'll get to him in moment...) I reveled in the history on display within the immense grounds. My aunt, mom and I spent nearly four hours at the Tower and we still didn't see everything.
I waited to explore the Tower until I could enjoy it with someone else and I'm glad I did. It is the kind of place that demands turning to a companion and saying, "Wow," or "Can you believe that?," or "Man, that's old!" I had also been told that the best way to see the Tower is with the help of a Beefeater, also known as Yeomen. I prefer to call them Beefeaters because it sounds funny. Beefeaters are retired British Military men who must have served for at least 22 years in the armed services and hold the Long-Service and Good Conduct Medal. They live on the premises with their families and they take their jobs VERY seriously.
I was giddy with excitement as we waited for our tour with one of the serious, old military dudes and I waited patiently for our guide to arrive. He finally appeared in the distance and walked toward us in full regalia -- an impressive black uniform with vibrant red royal insignia and piping. His proper British accent was enthralling and his enthusiasm and booming voice were mesmerizing. Although, under that funny and fancy hat, I sensed a bit of cranky, old man but I figured he hadn't had enough prune juice that morning or something.
As luck would have it the unusually sunny weather I had been experiencing for most of my stay in London was coming to an end and the rain was pushing against the clouds looming in the sky over the Tower grounds. Mr. Beefeater stood on a stone step against the tower wall and told the large crowd that no brollies (translation: umbrellas) were allowed to be opened during the tour because someone could lose an eye -- now let me pause here for a moment, or two and let's ponder this together; 1) London = rain, rain = umbrellas...aren't they used to umbrellas in this city? Which leads to 2) In all my time here, I have yet to see someone lose an eye on a rainy day and I am among the most frenzied, rude, inconsiderate people in London, the hardened commuters. If they can figure out how to avoide gouging out the eyes of strangers I think we could manage at the Tower. Regardless of these musings "thems the rules" of this Beefeater and most of us put our umbrellas in our bags and hoped the rain would hold out.
About ten minutes into the tour, which was really informative and entertaining, the skies opened up and rain began to pelt our large group. In mid-sentence, the Beefeater said, "Get another tour after the rain, folks," and he was gone. It took me a moment to realize that a few tourists had opened their brollies and the Beefeater had stomped away as a result of their violation of his rule. I realize he made a rule and it was broken but what about the rule-followers like me, my mom and my aunt? Not only were we wet but we were guideless in the most historical place in the city! Having been a teacher in the past, I can tell you that to punish the entire class for one student's bad behavior is a big no-no. In addition, he could have considered that the violators may have not spoken English well and may not have understood his brolly rule! Or, maybe those folks who opened their umbrellas joined the group late? I am a firm but fair person and I feel that a second chance is always in order. Mr. Beefy, obviously didn't feel the same way.
We proceeded to buy a guided audio tour and did our best exploring the grounds and garnering all the history we could adsorb. Overall, despite the rain and the mean Beefeater, we had a fabulous time and learned a great deal about the history of England and the history of the Tower itself. It was humbling to think of all the history greats that have passed through those gates; some in good circumstances, but many in less than stellar circumstances. I didn't see or feel any ghosts, which was a disappointment but it was crowded that day and maybe the ghosts needed a break from all the tourists, or maybe the mean Beefeaters have scared them all away!

Yours Always,
The Temporary European