Sunday, 31 May 2009

City Sunbathing

The parks in London are truly fabulous. I've been to numerous little parks and squares as well as the infamous Hyde Park. Today I ventured to Regant's Park which is just a fifteen minute walk from my flat (well, fifteen minutes for those of you who don't get lost finding your way out of a paper bag.)  Regent's and Hyde are tremendous in size and are host to cafes, man-made ponds, fountains and much, much more. Not being a city gal, I've only ever seen photos of people hanging out in Central Park, NY in the summer. Sure, I've strolled through the park on sunny days but I'd never come across those real city folk who don their bathing suits in the park. I always wondered how odd it would feel to be in the middle of the city, in a bathing suit without a swimming hole in sight. Today, I played the part of city gal, and I rented a chair in Regent's Park (£1.5o for two and 1/2 hours, not a bad deal) and sunned myself with all the other city people. Okay, I wore a tank a skirt; I still don't feel comfortable wearing a bathing suit in the literal middle of a city). But, I was there with a sandwich, ipod, a good book and a newly purchased beach (?) towel from Marks and Spencer (I'll tell you about M&S at a later date) along with hundreds of others. The park experience was interesting-- people in bathing suits, people drinking champagne and wine, even people celebrating a one year birthday party in the park complete with Thomas the Train helium balloons. There was water but it was only decent for the many swimming fowl (geese, swans, ducks and some other unidentifiable feathered friends). The closest you could get to the water was in a rented paddle boat which just seemed like too much work so I passed. Some people came to the park unexpectedly and decided to sun bathe in their underwear, others were planned right down to the fancy bikinis and matching covering ups.  The sun worshippers were as diverse as their attire -- I heard German, Italian, French and some English being spoken.  The one thing we all had in common is that we wanted to be outside on this unusually warm May day and we were either too cheap, too poor or too tired to take the two hour train ride to the beach. 
My mom will be proud to know, I wore my sunscreen; I can't say the same for all the other park lovers and red skin was abound. I find that no matter the country, most people can't seem to grasp the idea of sunscreen. Ah, humanity.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

A Little Help From My Friends

Yeah, yeah, I know that's the title of a Beatles song but they were from England and this blog is dedicated to my friends so it's fitting for a blog.

All of my family and friends have been extremely supportive during my time here in London but I have to give a "type out" to Nadia, Jenn, Fran and Stacey. With the likes of email, blackberry messenger, facebook and skype, I am in constant contact with these ladies at every moment of every day.  I am convinced we are solely responsible for clogging up the cyber super highway.  All the ladies have me covered from the start of my day until the very end. Please see schedule below:

Nadia and Stacey are my early rising friends -- they get me through my mornings while the rest of my back home people are still sleeping and getting settled into work.

Jenn jumps onto the electronic bandwagon around 9am USA time and stays with me straight for the remainder of my work day.

Fran picks up the nightshift and we talk on skype until it's time for me to hit the sack, or Alex needs a nap  :) 

P.S. Stacey BB messengers during breaks in her school day and Nadia checks in on me during her train ride home.

No worries that here in London I’ll find better friends than the ones I have at home; no one can ever compare to my Soul Sisters. Thanks ladies, I honestly don't think I could have made it this long without your love and support.


The Temporary European

Friday, 29 May 2009

So Close But Yet So Far

When I was in high school, my AP Brit Lit teacher, Mrs. Michaels, gave an assignment to read any British novel and write a paper on said novel. This paper was the real deal -- footnotes and references, a thesis statement -- all the stuff I was no where near prepared for at the time (need I remind you that computers were not yet a household item rather electric typewriters and those plastic whiteout strips reigned). 
I searched that two page list of titles and my head hurt at the thought of reading some stuffy old book by some dead Englishmen. I decided to cross out all the novels written by men and see what the women had to offer. As you can imagine, that left me with a very short list. And there, at the top of the list, were the names of two sisters, Charlotte and Emily Bronte.  Jane Eyre sounded too simple but Wuthering Heights, now that seemed dark and tragic (just like I loved my literature!). Needless to say, I fell in love with Catherine, Heathcliff and the moors. I was so enamored with the book, I finished it in a week and I made multiple trips to the school library (no internet research folks, this is 1987) and read all I could about Emily and her family.  I was so sad to discover that Emily didn't write any other novels because she died so young -- I actually cried. I loved this family with its sensitive sisters and unruly brother.  They were plagued with illness and died very young, yet somehow despite their sequestered lives, they produced some of the best British Literature that survives in the literary canons to this day. 
I went on to read everything I could find that any of the Brontes had ever written. As my literary life grew, so did my readings of the Brontes; biographies, literary criticism, articles and the like. I could envision the little parsonage they grew up in and I could see the rolling hills outside of Emily's bedroom window. In some ways, I feel like I've been there, but I haven't. Not yet. 
Haworth, their little hamlet, is a two hour train ride from London (imagine the trip back then!) and will require an overnight stay at a little B&B.  Despite the journey ahead of me, I will go to their home and walk their garden and put my hand on the very staircase banister that Emily held onto when she went up the stairs of her home for the last time before she died in confinement in her little room.  
I'm sure you can sense my passion for the Brontes after reading this blog; imagine my post after I've gone to their home! I may be speechless and beyond the written word for a while, but I will definitely recover and tell you all about it. 

The Temporary European yearning for the little village of Haworth
PS Despite additionally reading Jane Eyre and doing a paper on both sisters and their works, Mrs. Michaels gave me a C; she said my thesis was too weak. Sadly, she was too jaded to realize she had inspired a student to read not one but two books, start a life-long love of literature and plant the seed that eventually led to a doctorate in literature. Sad, sad, sad, for her. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

New Jersey is a State of Mind Not Just A Place I Call Home

I'm glad that as my blog title says I'm only temporarily here in Europe. I miss my family and friends and I miss my home state. I want to dedicate this blog to New Jersey, whose name origniates from a British island in the English Channel.
Yes, our taxes are high. Yes, we have a corrupt government system. And yes, we have a lot of traffic. But quite honestly, it's yes to all those things here too and I assume it's the same in many other places. It's easy to get caught up in the "hating NJ" hype but New Jersey has a lot to offer whether you love the city or the country (or both, as I do).  New Jersey's varied, stellar qualities are a well-kept secret; many think New Jersey is nothing but shipyards and oil tanks thanks to the view from Newark airport. Those parts of New Jersey are the defenses that keep too many from discovering our state and overpopulating it even more.
My state is home to the best tomatoes, the best malls, Hot Dog Johnny's, Princeton, Thomas Edison, The Boss, the Sopranos and the best beaches and beach communities anywhere (and that's just the short list).  But the things I miss the most about New Jersey are not easily put into words because they are intangible yet vivid and comfortably familiar when recognized by the senses. During May, in particular, there is an undercurrent of anticipation that dwells in the very fiber of a true NJ native; it is the yearning for summer that can't be controlled and is easily set off by the nose's keen awareness of the first scent of Summer. Summer smells distinctly different from Spring; it's a heavier smell and carries with it the impending humidity and flecking off of the trees and flowers as they drink in the sun. It's the birds' wings stirring up the makings of their nests as their baby birds start each day anew.  It's the grass in the morning still covered with dew before the sun strikes it hot and sizzles the wetness away. 
More literally, there is the anticipation of the perfect beach day, the expectation of grilling burgers and hot dogs, the intoxicating smell of coconut suntan lotion and extended sunlit hours that allow a few more minutes on the deck/at the lake/on the boat. 
I miss the anticipation of May and if you are lucky enough to be in New Jersey as you read this, go outside and breathe in deep and think of me. Let your toes wiggle as they anticipate flip flops and smile because it's almost summer in New Jersey.

My Heart is Forever in New Jersey even if my physicality is, The Temporary European.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Deep (London) Thoughts

Part One of a series:

London is considered to be among the best world cities, New York is number 1 (and for good reason folks!), but here are some things that make the London ranking a real head scratcher;

1. What's with the random one way streets that make no bloody sense? Try getting a bus in a city where one way streets reign. Your return street could be anywhere!
2.  Fabric seats on commuter trains? I appreciate the cushioning for my bum but I want to burn my clothes after sitting on those germ havens...seriously.
3. Black cabs -- Yes, they symbolize London for all of us but have you ever tried to get out of one gracefully? The combination of the low rounded door entry and the ridiculous height from the ground results in a near crawling out of the cab onto the street. Note to self: Never wear low cut blouse or skirt when traveling by cab.
4. Pickles -- I have yet to get one pickle with any burger or chicken sandwich. What gives? What do pregnant English women crave??
5. The bathrooms: Now this actually could be a post of its own but I will keep it short for the purposes of this blog entry; May I ask, what is wrong with a mounted shower head? And why are the tubs all so bloody high? Toilets should be ROUND, I have yet to meet anyone with a square ass. Shower curtains should reach the floor and go ALL the way around the tub/shower. And finally, wash clothes are a must!
6. Bikers from hell: This city has THE craziest bike riders ever. They ignore traffic lights and signs and they have no qualms about running into you. A girl at work was hit by a biker her first week in London and she spent a week in the hospital. The police don't seem to care about the bikers gone mad.
7. Speaking of police, they need Clinton and Stacy here, badly. Yes, there are some wonderful boutiques and forward-thinking designers that hail from London but the people in the streets are a gaggle of Vogue's fashion dont's. It hurts the eyes.
8. To seat myself or not? That is the question you will be plagued with here in London when it's time to eat. I think I have finally figured out that at a truly British restaurant you must find a table, peruse the menu, then place your order at the bar/hostess stand and then go back to your table and wait for your food. HATE that. It's especially hard when dining alone as you must carry all your belongings to the bar and hope someone doesn't snag your table while you are ordering. My solution, don't go to British restaurants opt for Italian or simple Cafes.  
9. WiFi-less! They are just catching up with the times...and the real kicker is, we can thank Starbucks for the WiFi that is available. No one here thought of equipping cafes, coffee shops, hotels and even their homes with WiFi until the coffee gurus introduced the idea. My love for Starbucks continues to grow.
10. Beauty Treatments MIA! It appears that the classism we read about as students in British Literature is alive and well here in England. Until recently, beauty treatments such as waxing, manicures and pedicures were purely an upper class luxury. As a result, the Spas and Nail Salons are sparse, even in the posh hoods, and the services are still on the expensive side. American woman truly are seen as pampered divas with money to spare! A simple mani + pedi puts you in the elite class. 

A friend from home put it so well when we were discussing London. He said, "It's a great city but it's like going to New York City, circa 1975."  

I'm sure as I continue to live here I'll find more Deep London Thoughts to share with you. In fairness though, I will say that London has the BEST public transportation system ever; it's safe and easy.  And of course, the history and architecture are tremendous. 

Missing home,

The Temporary European

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Keira, is that you, mate?

It is with a tremendous sigh of relief that I announce "I have a new, wonderful home."  After many trials and tribulations, I am finally settled into my new place. I am in the West End, which I have come to find is a very posh neighborhood. I like to describe it as a mix between the Village and SoHo. On the weekends mums walk around with their prams and shoppers canoodle at cafes while fashionistas shop themselves into a near coma (a far cry from the drug-dealing neighborhood I formerly occupied). 
You cannot imagine the angst that accompanied selecting this flat as I had NO idea where to live in this massive city. But I knew I made the right decision when one of the young, trendy girls in the office exclaimed, "Wow! You live in the West End at St. Christopher's Place?"  I do have to confess that before I signed the lease, I stopped at a boutique next-door to my flat and approached the hip salesgirls and asked them, "Would you live here, alone and feel safe?" They looked at each other and laughed and proceeded to tell me that they'd looooove to live on this street (it's actually a cobblestone-like pedestrian plaza). So, I had conducted my own market research and felt good with the results (N of 2).
Before I finish bragging (I feel I deserve if after the HELL I went through to get here), I'd like to say that Laurel told me she met Keira Knightley at my local grocery store; apparently she and Madonna shop there. I guess I have a knack for picking just the right hood...
Okay, now I'll tell you that it's a three flight walk up (which is technically four because these Brits have Ground, 1, 2, 3, etc), the world's smallest water heater and I can't close the bedroom door because the bed is in the way. Feel better now? 

Monday, 18 May 2009

Americans Aren't So Bad...

So, you have been very patient waiting to hear about the CD and how we get along. I knew very little about Adrian when I departed for London, except that he was new to the office, extremely creative and highly sought after in the industry. After my brief introduction, (see previous post) I feared we would not be friends but I was still hopeful to learn a lot from him.

We finally chatted on my second day, I could tell he was being cautious and wasn't quite sure he liked this whole exchange thing. I could also tell that my sex and my nationality put me into question. There was nothing I could do except win him over with my charm -- ha!

Adrian has turned out to be wonderful. He's gruff on the outside but a teddy bear on the inside. He's shown me some great work that he has created and we've discussed our thoughts on pharmaceautical advertising in general. He respects my expertise and asks my opinion about various things. Sharing the fishbowl isn't so bad. I even forgive that he is a smoker and I forgive the fact that he blatantly told me, "London is an awful place to live." Me= Look of horror and shock. Not what a single gal who has never lived in a city wants to hear from a native Englishman. My wide-eyed appearance made him recant. "Well, it's fine for single people. But once you get married and have kids..." He couldn't help himself, "But it is bloody violent." That's Adrian, he says what he believes and I like that in a person. Adrian and I are actually quite a bit alike; skeptical, hot-headed, full of dry humor and quick to laugh (when it's deserved, of course). After getting off the phone one day after a colorful conversation he said, "I hope I don't swear too much for you." I appreciated his caring but I assured him that if anyone could outswear him, it may be me. He chuckled and I said,"I'm not fucking kidding." That caused him to laugh even harder.

At the end of my second Friday here, I gathered my belongings to leave for the weekend and Adrian said, "I'm really glad you are here, Jennifer. You've changed my mind about Americans. I can see there are some good ones." I laughed and assured him that not all Americans were like me.

I think things are going to be okay at work and I feel proud representin' America and changin' minds, one Brit at a time.


The Temporary European

Off My Mat Please!

Although my yoga practice has suffered in the past two years due to my dissertation completion and an insane work schedule, I respect the practice and the principles for which it stands for. I would assume that most who practice yoga do the same as honor and respect are inherently part of yoga.  Dishonoring the yoga studio (ie walking in with shoes on, talking during class) is like swearing in church, seriously. So, let me tell you about my first and only yoga class in London. 

Imagine, if you will, a large, square room with a peaked ceiling  spotted with four symmetrical sky lights.  There is only one door and opposite that door is a wall of shelves that holds all the yoga paraphernalia (blocks, bolsters, straps), and the two remaining walls are mirrored. The room is packed with mostly women who are oddly dressed in tight pants and t-shirts and some half-naked; due to the configuration of the room, I sit in the back near the wall with shelving. I spread my mat out and begin to concentrate on my breathing and assume the typical cross-legged yogi pose. Women keep streaming into the room rushing toward me and my mat, and I soon realize sitting near the shelves was a huge mistake. Not only can't I concentrate but these bloody Brits are stepping on my mat with their bare, sweaty, unpedicured feet (I'll blog soon about the lack of beauty treatments here in London)! Now, I know we citizens of the good, old US of A are germaphobes, but anyone with any honor or respect would NEVER step on someone else's yoga mat. Good god, I would have to put my face on that mat later in the class (I didn't which resulted in a minor strain in my back as I executed a pose incorrectly so my face remained raised).  

After everyone, all 25 of us, settled into the room that was probably meant to hold 15, I tried to focus on my breathing and the postures but the yoga instructor -- a woman of about 55, in fabulous shape -- would not stop talking. She blathered on about breathing through the pain and how she hated her first yoga class so many years ago and look at her now, she's a yogi.  She did not count for us and insisted on  maintaining the same amount of breathes for each side of each posture. Who the hell could do that with all her babble and reminiscing? It was becoming clear why my classmates had no respect for my mat or their studio... While in mat poses, I also spotted strands of hair, dust and other pieces of dirt on the floor, and I cringed every time any piece of my body went beyond the boundaries of my defiled mat. 

Remember those four skylights I mentioned earlier, well they allowed the sun to pour into the room and it quickly became hotter than Hades and I had flashbacks of my one bikram yoga (hot yoga) experience and prayed to any deity available that this class would be over soon. Let me remind you that I paid £10 for this class and several times I almost stomped out and demanded my money back. Not wanting to be the Terrible American keeps me and my temper at bay here in England...not sure if that's for the good or the bad.

I never wanted to rush through savasana (corpse pose) more in my life. The obligatory Ohm and Namastey and I was out of there, never to return. I now know why there are so few yoga studios here in London; I don't think this bustling city is ready for the inner peace and interconnectivity which yoga stands for; as for me and my mat, we will practice at the flat with the gentle reminders of a DVD I was right in packing.

Namastey to you, friends and family -- honor and respect others, and their mats! 

The Temporary European

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Nodding, Nicknames and Nerves

I'm still settling the flat issue so let me take this time to tell you a little about my first day at the office. 

As I walked to the office the first day, I wondered what my new colleagues would be like. I haven't had a first day in nearly 10 years! After having spent four days in unfriendly London and having a bit of a hard time understanding our fellow English speakers, I feared a lot of uncomfortable moments. I perfected my knowing head nod and friendly smile hoping both could get me through the moments of "What the hell did she/he say?"  

Once in the office I saw the open seating plan (AKA no offices except four senior management fishbowls) and I cringed just a tiny bit but then reminded myself not to be a spoiled American. I was greeted by the friendly creative teams and was introduced to my "buddy" Lucretia, a lovely British woman who works in the account services department. After being introduced to many, whose names I'm only beginning to remember, I was ushered to my office -- yes, an office! I would be sharing a fishbowl with the Creative Director himself(!) and we would be facing one another. Glorious. I hadn't met the bloke yet and I could only hope he was kind, talked slowly and would like me.

In the distance, I heard an American accent and I had hope that there was someone I could bond with. Her name is Laurel and she originally hails from San Francisco and I love her in a way that you can only appreciate when you've been away from Americans for a long enough amount of time to realize that you love America and Americans, no matter all our bad manners and historical faux pas. Insert the tune to "God Bless America" here and take a moment to pause and love the Pilgrims despite all their nasty burning of witches and banning of dancing. 

As I sat in the fishbowl waiting for the Creative Director to arrive, I tried to look busy and interesting; hard to achieve at the same time. A few folks popped in and said hello and asked questions -- the knowing head nod and friendly smile were applied successfully -- and I hoped I could soon master the English language. Hey, I'm a Doctor of the English language, right? Well, actually I'm a Doctor of letters so I just have to be fluent in English writing.  While pondering the history of the English language, Laurel came in with another colleague and after we were introduced Laurel asks, "Do you want to know our nickname for you?" I thought, "Do I?" But I said, "Sure..." Imagine my surprise and relief when in unison they said, "JRo!"  I was so relieved it wasn't something like Exchange Girl or Writer Girl. I told them I was used to that one and they seemed disappointed they hadn't come up with it on their own. The whole exchange made me feel more at home and I knew at the least, these people were fun and humorous. I know, I know, this is the home of Benny Hill but there were no women in their underwear being chased in the halls by an old man so how could I know straight away?

And then finally, Adrian arrived. He seemed surprised to see me in his office and said something like, "'Ello Jennifer. So you're here.  Right. I'm bloody late today and have a lot of fucking meetings. I'll see you later then?" All I could do was nod and smile as I thought, "Oh good God! What have I gotten myself into?"

Stiff upper lip my friends, stiff upper lip... To see how my relationship with Adrian has developed, check back in soon.  It's only fair that you experience the same anticipation that I felt on those first few days... so, until we meet again. 

Forever yours,

The Temporary European

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Just the beginning

Typically, it is a good idea to start a blog such as this at the very beginning of the journey but I'm not typical and quite honestly, it took some pestering for me to finally decide to take on this blogging thing! Before I get started, thanks to my dear friend Jenn who taught me all about blogging through her wonderful and touching blog, The Kamienski Chronicles, and thanks to my cousin Jackie for creating my new moniker "The Temporary European."  I so loved the name and the notion that I felt compelled to use it in some way -- thus, a blog is born!

You may wonder where I'm living during my 3 month stay here in London, and I'm wondering the same thing! It appears that my coming over three days prior to my office start date to acclimate was a complete waste; I've come to discover that the area where I'm staying is a bit shady after dark and I've requested to be moved. Before you start thinking, "The American Diva strikes again," let me list some important details that will assure you that my concerns are real and non-diva-related:
1) In a gated complex, I was woken up at 12:30 AM by the shouts of a Eastern European man at my flat door. "PAULA!" he stated sternly as he banged on the door. At least he was kind enough to leave when I assured him through the closed door, that no Paula lived here
2) None of my native London colleagues knew where the heck I was staying (never a good sign)
3) I witnessed a drug deal at 10:30 PM directly outside my complex door
4) When the Global Creative Director of my company (translated = Big Wig), found out where I was staying he shouted through the phone, "Get her the bloody hell out of there!"  

Now let me interrupt this by saying, until number 4 occurred, I was keeping a stiff upper lip (very British of me) and not mentioning 1 & 3 to my London colleagues -- after all, I did not want to be deemed the American Diva.(I'll get into their nickname for me in a later blog...) Never mind that I go to bed at night with a chair propped under the doorknob and don't open my beautiful 9 foot windows due to the scaffolding that calls out to intruders throughout the night, I was not going to make a fuss!

So, here I am at day 12 of this adventure and I am  unsure of where I'll be living in the next week and dreading learning a new neighborhood while in the midst of trying to wow my British colleagues with all my spectacular writing and strategy skills!

I will keep you updated on my progress but in the meanwhile, please pray for my safety, sanity and creative brilliance, as all are sure to be in a state of flux until I find a new place to rest my head in jolly old England.