a very Jane Austen day

Caversham: May 23rd
My dear ---,

I will first talk of my visit to Bath, as previous descriptions cannot have given you a very particular picture. On Saturday last Bernadette and I travelled 70 miles of good road to our destination. We took refreshments while changing horses in ---shire and made the town limit in good time. To my particular delight we happened upon a coffee festival. Though it fashionable to drink tea, I prefer a strong cuppa and rarely have I the opportunity to partake. B complained the caffeine made her nervous, but valiantly pushed forward. I was able to secure a coffee cone for reproducing the delights at home. This is particularly pleasurable as my own was lost in the last move.

Okay okay okay. I'm not Jane Austen and can't, for the life of me, write in the style of 200 years ago. And I really can't if the 5 people who read this blog will continue to return. I did, in fact, go to Bath last weekend. And it was my "Very Jane Austen Day" with my homie Bernie. She pretends to tolerate my American enthusiasm, but secretly she loves it (I'm including the forced Royal Wedding viewing in this which she will vehemently deny deny deny). And I wasn't kidding about the coffee "festival" that consisted of one large tent. One large tent populated with an unnatural number of tea stalls for a coffee festival. There was one guy serving his coffee using the line of coffee cones one finds in farmers' markets of the Pacific Northwest. He took pity on me and sold me one of his cones and a stack of filters for a Fiver (that's £5). The day was already a smashing success and we hadn't even started our Jane Austen audio tour.

The tour itself was fantastic. At the beginning, B. has a very strong need to do these things in order no matter where you find yourself on the map at the start of your day, the tour guide voice said we should feel free to pause the tour at our leisure. With that explicit permission our estimated 1 and a half hour tour took about 5 and a half hours. I almost knocked on Jane Austen's front door (the first of the 3 she occupied in Bath and the most fancy), learned how triumvirate of men shaped the look of the city through shameless self-promotion, had cream tea at the Jane Austen Centre (just down the street from her 2nd house at 25 Gay St.), and promenaded along the Royal Crescent. The city loved Jane Austen (present) and Jane Austen detested it (200 years ago); so many conniving, insipid, gossiping, and ridiculous characters stem from the city of Bath that their current residents can do nothing but shrug, acknowledge their own history, and hold out their hand as you buy a button from the BBC production of "Pride and Prejudice." It's a fun relationship.

Other things of note, they tried to make us pay £1 each to sit by the River Avon as we ate our take-away sandwiches for lunch. Instead we decided to sit in a nice round-about across the road that had plenty of grass, a statue, and some trees. It was a fine little spot that even afforded us the pleasure of witnessing a taxi/tour bus battle. I can only assume that the slew of insults and vulgar hand movements we saw is a frequent occurrence. I was quite pleased we saw this side of Bath because it is a beautiful city. Perhaps the fact that Bath has been a tourist destination for so long has something to do with it. They know how to keep the crowds coming back.

Things that I need to return to Bath for: ridiculous fancy dinner and actual promenading in the manner of Jane Austen ("We did not walk long in the Crescent yesterday. It was hot and not crowded enough."), taking the waters, tour of the actual (rebuilt) Roman Bath, taking a turn in the Upper Room. This last one might require an invitation to something fancy which would be more difficult to achieve.

My very Jane Austen day was a smashing success. Even after being interrogated and made to speak for ALL OF AMERICA at a pub. Because it wouldn't be fair to mention that and not give the shining snippet of mostly one-sided conversation, at one point the dude said to me, "I believe all humans have the ability to judge a good horse." The context doesn't help that at all, trust me.


the technological floating population

It's almost 7:00pm at night (in the UK) and my co-workers in the States have been working for a few hours now. I'm chatting with one about a meeting we need to have. She's just starting her day (originally from Slovakia). When I started my day a friend of mine in California (originally from Ecuador) was up working late. Between the 3 of us we'll have had 24 hours of steady work. This, to me, is both normal and crazy. Normal because this happens more than I care to think about. Crazy because this is normal.

Meanwhile, my lovely friend (originally from Sweden) who opened her home to me is sitting on the couch listening to a lecture from a globalization course she's taking through Oxford. Yes, that Oxford. The line I just heard (in some indistinguishable European accent) was, "Are we Superman or are we Homer Simpson?" Again I'll say, yes, that Oxford. Today I'm particularly struck by the strange web of people I know where this is the norm. There are people who never leave their state, sometimes almost their home town and I'm having a strangely normal day filled with accents of the Great Technological Floating Population. Though I do technical things I'd hardly consider myself technical. So I feel a bit on the outside of this group I just made up. Actually, I'm sure there's some well-established names/fancy studies on this. And I did steal that floating population bit. But still, it's new to me and the same discovery can happen at different times in different places. How's that for logic? This is all a very long-winded way of saying I'm boggled, this fine evening.

My mind is boggled by accents and location and work. The cure for said malady is to go download my free audio walking tour of Bath. This is fantastic news because it's a Jane Austen's Bath walking tour I'm taking this Saturday. You see, this is how nerds de-boggle the mind.


secrets and such

shadow dance.

Where to start? Where to start? When I last left you I was complaining. Not much fun there. And I was complaining about food in England. A rather predictable topic, I'd say. So, no complaining this time. There will, however, be a slight amount of unpleasant reporting. Don't worry, it's not as bad as it could be.

Things that are awesome: I went to London last friday to do a bit of walkabout before our Secret Cinema excursion. Both the walkabout and the event were fantastic. It might not be the most efficient way to go about things, or provide the most complete view of things, but I'm rather enjoying simply walk walk walking around as a method of being a tourist. I had an agenda, but that didn't work out due to my unwillingness to wait in line for an hour. Whatev. The experience of the Secret Cinema was fantastic as well. It was held in the Old Vic Tunnels by Waterloo, in the theater built for the premier of the Bansky film "Enter through the Gift Shop." Imagine Algiers in the tunnels of London. Also awesome: going to a Reading FC match. The crowd was quite polite, but the visiting side (Derby County) had hilarious fans who chanted and sang to their hearts' content. The home side won the day, so everyone left happy. Okay, maybe not the Derby fans, but whatev.

On to the unpleasant reporting. I'm currently locked in an epic battle of wills against my head. The migraine has not struck, but yesterday and (now) this morning, things are on the cusp. Normally I'd schedule an acupuncture appointment, but I'm not around my lovely Luke and Melinda and I've received no recommendations. So wish me luck!

** Lunch time update: things are looking up, people! Head appears to be cooperating and the loud lady with the particularly grating voice who sits directly behind me is almost quiet today. Almost.


a note on food.

It is lunch time, yet I sit at my desk willing my stomach to limit the growling noises that threaten to escape. It's not that I don't have a lunch waiting for me. The meatloaf sandwich I made this morning waits patiently along with an apple to my left. It's a late night at the office you see, meetings on various continents being what they are. So I hold off. Dinner won't come until sometime around 8:00pm. Now that I'm thinking about it, I might save the apple until mid-afternoon. I find this is an appropriate time to mention food, both because of my (now) growling stomach and the fact that I've been in England for a full month.

Long, long ago I cynically told KFR the secret to remaining optimistic (or some version of happy) was to foster perpetually low expectations. This isn't exactly how I operate, but sometimes it's necessary to get by. And sometimes it is essential. I find this to be the case with the food in England. Not nice to jump on the bad-British-food bandwagon, but I feel they've more than earned their reputation. I should qualify things a bit. I've had some fantastically bad food from restaurants and some beautiful food from friends' kitchens. I've come to a couple conclusions: first, the joke about Britain taking over the world to find better food is true. Because even some of the pies and pasties I've had, in the British culinary wheelhouse if you will, are not spectacular; second, the British stiff-upper-lip reserve bites them in the ass when it comes to food. People can cook here. The friends with the delicious food exist! The standard for restaurants, however, seems to be rather low. I imagine one friend saying to another when deciding to head into a restaurant, "well, it tasted crap and my dog refused to eat the leftovers, but it's better than the place across the street." It's as if the entire nation is a bad tourist trap where the 5 restaurants in town all have the same menu.

I will spare you the list of specific complaints I have. I will also return to the one pie-shop that is exquisite. That's it for now. The meatloaf sandwich calls.