Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Time We Went to London

My dad’s side of the family are all dentists, and every few months my dad, convinced that not a single doctor in Canada compares  to the mastery of the Soviet ways, flies to Estonia to get his teeth checked by his sister.  He always invites us, and because I hate having another person’s hands in my mouth unless on very special occasions, I always say no. Except for this year.  This year, my sister and I conceded and flew to London and then to our home town, but  I’ll fill you in on the latter location at a later date because I might run out of binary code if I try to cover everything in one entry. Disclaimer: I avoided getting my teeth checked anyway. I don’t follow rules, I break them.

Our overnight flight from Ottawa to London started with a warm welcome by the ticket machine at the airport telling me my identity does not exist. Thirty five swipes later, there we suddenly appeared, and while I confirmed with the company (months ago) that the three of us would be sitting together, the screen indicated that my dad would be sitting seven rows away.  When I asked the ‘attendant’ about it (you know, the guy who hides behind a pillar and acts like he doesn’t see you) he said: “What happened was, you see, we changed aircraft at the last minute, and your father’s seat was gone, because of the aircraft…structure.”  Brilliant. I’m no engineer but I find it slightly difficult to believe that by switching aircraft, we suddenly entered a Salvador Dali painting..

Where all seats remained intact EXCEPT 26D, which was sucked through a vortex of dimensional continuums, out into the depths of the cosmos, and back into a fluid paradigm of itself, a parallel existence known as seat 21D, where my father will now sit (or would it be a 21D version of my dad??).  When I told him his explanation made no sense, he said there’s nothing they can do and walked off, which left my face slightly resembling this:

har har another Dali reference

Onboard the lovely aircraft, we were given those little pillows that I never know what to do with. They’re not quite wide enough to wedge between your shoulder and head, but too rigid to be folded in half, just waiting for the perfect moment to spring open and all over your face.  Nobody knew how to act.

When you fly with FascistAir, the time of your flight is irrelevant. Electric purple lighting will not dim while you sleep, and you certainly will be reminded at 18 minute intervals to move your “ELBOWS ELBOWS ELBOWS ELBOWS!” as the flight attendants march through the aisles, screaming.  Care for a sopping burrito at 4 am? “CHICKEN OR BEEF CHICKEN OR BEEF CHICKEN OR BEEF CHICKEN OR BEEF?!” will be your options.  And of course, I understand the need to depict the choices for the awaiting passengers, but one look at the non-existent leg-room and it should become quite obvious that, with the intimate nature of our collective environment, I heard you the moment you started yelling, back in first class. Sorry, what did you say after chicken? I didn’t quite catch that. After the flaccid burritos were devoured by weary travelers and I managed to score a sweet half-bottle of water, we finally settled in for a hopeful nap, when “JUICE JUICE JUICE JUICE!” rolled through the alleys once more, followed by “GARBAGE GARBAGE GARBAGE GARBAGE!” and, as I had given up on the idea of sleep, close to landing time, “SEATBELTS SEATBELTS SEATBELTS SEATBELTS!” were gently requested by flight crew.  We left the plane exhausted, with my right eye twitching the way it does about twice a year when I’m exceptionally stressed out.

Oh, can I just ask why it’s so hard to not say “THE CAPTAIN IS REQUESTING IMMEDIATE SEATBELTS”, or to at least qualify it with “…but y’all ain’t dying” ???  Requesting.  Immediate. Brb having a stroke.

Here we are actually flying inside Amsterdam's Red Light district

Seven hours later, none of that mattered when we heard the first airport announcement in Heathrow, telling us to mind our luggage in the cutest, sweetest British way possible. Prior to the trip, I asked my dad what he'd like to see since we'd only be in London together for a day, before he would go on to Tallinn and Val and I would stay for a while.  On his list were Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, Abbey Road, and Buckingham Palace.  Prior to the trip, I worked tirelessly on an itinerary that incorporated his choices, creating a step by step plan that would guarantee us both seeing all of those points, and still having some time for culture and impromptu promenades.  The moment we stepped off the plane, my dad said "Here is a list of things I would now like to do" and handed me the back of a receipt. On it: 8 vintage stores, one market, and the word "LEESAPOR".  Sweet. I should've foreseen this, because nothing is ever easy with him, but he always catches me off-guard.  I silently crumpled up my seven pages of itinerary, and felt my eye twitch once more. Why my dad was so obsessed with vintage shops, I will never know.  None of them had what he was looking for: a Rocky-esque 70s bomber jacket.  But that's okay because I found a killer top instead, and in that magnificent, elusive way, it happened to be a perfect fit. More on that later, though.  After the vintage shops, I convinced dad to check out the British Museum.

While I'm not a huge fan of history, my dad has always been an avid enthusiast. "Germany!" he said when we walked in, but as soon as we started walking towards the Germany corridor, interpretive dancers emerged from what I guess was a hole in the wall.  They spread quickly but silently, almost looking like people until the intermittent leg would find itself in the air. At first there were four, then sixteen, then fifty, and then we were surrounded.  There we were, the three of us and about twenty other unsuspecting visitors, unable to move while this surprise dance troupe continued to perform their slightly frightening dance routine all around us.  I wasn't super excited about what was going on so I led my stunned family around the dancers despite being repeatedly asked to stop moving.  The rest of the visitors followed, as the dancers swarmed newcomers in similar fashion. In hindsight, I still wonder if it was all a big hallucination. Some highlights from the British Museum's architecture:

A balcony and a canvas: how people become art

Refreshed by Germany, the Byzantine Empire, and the Vikings, we hopped on the tube and headed back into the city for some holiday-themed sight-seeing.  One reason I really, really love London is that London really, really loves Christmas.  Call it strategic marketing, old traditions, or my personal favourite: a steadfast belief in Santa, but you really can't not smile when seeing this much dedication to making the season bright:

Later that night, we took a train to Gatwick where I was mistaken for a hooker by two police officers. The next morning, at 4 am, I took my dad to the airport to check him in. There, I saw the most glorious washroom loo that ever did exist.  Every stall has its own sink and disco hand dryer!

Something exciting for Jamie Oliver fans...there's a Jamie Oliver café right in the airport! I wasn't suuuuuper hungry in the middle of the night, but I know Anais, you would be all over that ;)

A few hours later, we woke up to what I thought was my 9 am alarm, but instead, it was 11:30 and we had missed breakfast. We were going to just let bygones be bygones, but then decided at the last minute to drop by the dining room on our way out. The conversation went as follows:

Me: I think we missed breakfast..
Waitress: Yes. It ended at 10. But we can make you something in the kitchen. What would you like?
Waitress: We'll make anything you want. Eggs?
Me: ...okay..
Waitress: Bacon?
Waitress: Mushrooms?
Waitress: Toast?
Me: .....okay...
Waitress: Juice?
Waitress: Cappuccino?
Waitress: Oh, how about a side of English sausage too?
Waitress: Oh! I almost forgot! How about a fruit salad?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??
Me: Well, if you're gonna twist my arm..

And so, for absolutely no cost, our first official day in London started with this smorgasbord of goodness, courtesy of the Gatwick Holiday Inn. That's some pretty great service!

After breakfast, we took the train back into the city, where my train ticket got it bang on.

One super offpeak STD please!

And then, about an hour later, we started thinking that the scenery wasn’t looking quite like it should. That’s when a bloke sitting nearby laughed: “You’re going the completely wrong direction!” Grabbing our suitcases and nearly falling off the car, we stumbled out and realized we were in the middle of nowhere:

Luckily, the lovely conductor let us use our STD tickets to get back on a train going the right way, and before we knew it, we were back in London’s festive mecca of all that is perfect. This included these adorable penguins playing with underwear, a too-delicious Christmas spread in the window of the Fortnum & Mason, and a 68000 pound gold iPhone case. NBD.

Of course, Costa Coffee puts little cinnamon snowflakes on their lattes, and Starbucks sets up little Christmas trees in every corner of its Oxford shop. True to European form, the treat displays are very committed to effortless cuteness:

We also saw The London Eye, Big Ben, and a glorious statue at Buckingham Palace.  Because the sun was setting at like 2 pm, a lot of our sightseeing had to be accommodated under dark conditions.  Thanks, SPAO, for teaching me about exposure, or something.

Some exciting things we saw on the tube included Tupac:

And a poster for an exhibition by Austrian painter Egon Schiele, whose work I had the super awesome luck of seeing at the Leopold Museum in Austria a few years ago, a memory catalogued only by the watercolor vagina I sent to my mom in a postcard with the words “wish you were here!” When I returned to Ottawa, I asked her if she had received it, and she turned red and said no.

One of my favorite pieces from the National Gallery was this untitled display by Jannis Kounellis. I like paintings, but I love interactive art. These birds were illuminated in a way that cast shadows not only on the wall but the floor before them, looking as though they were still trying, against all odds, to break free.  The birds are supposed to symbolize "the death throes of imaginative freedom", or I guess, one of my biggest fears, really.

And then there was uhh, this. And by this I mean the basis for all of my future nightmares.

oh yes, some of them *do* have faces

One of my favorite days was when we walked to the Tate Modern, over an equally modern bridge, where people were blowing bubbles.  It was a perfect sunny day, and two Chinese men were playing guitar, singing some song about 'flood gates' (?), kids were dancing and clapping, and the water was perfectly still.

Sidenote: I really, really love drums. I love listening to live drum performances whether they're played by actual drummers or by homeless people on old buckets in metro stations. I just love the sound, I love it when it's loud, and I love that every few seconds they change the beat and really go nuts with it.  This guy's name is STDrums. I think I watched him for close to thirty minutes and not once did I see his eyes. His bangs were perfectly thrown against his cheeks, and as he swung his head to the beat, all we saw was the sheer happiness in his giant smile.  He was amazing, and I bought his CD, but as always, music from a computer is never like the music you hear between birch trees. Nonetheless, he was fantastic.  I would describe his sound like if a robot had too much to drink and suddenly realized he forgot his wallet miles away.  Mixed with a bit of Rob Zombie. Outstanding percussion mixed with techno!

The walk to our hotel was down this adorable winding street, and the view was always of a city half-asleep.  On the second day, I started a small fire in our room, after which I wasn't sure what to do with the adapter (which was really the reason for the fire, because of some stupid mishap with my blow dryer).  We had to go to bed, but you know how adapters sometimes randomly explode? I was sure this one would do that, so I thought about putting it in the bathroom because it's not like fire has a hand to open a door knob.  But then I thought it might just burn through the wall and kill my sister, so instead, I put it in a tiny bag and tied the bag outside the window.  I figured the fire would probably fall on the ground and at worst, kill someone walking by, but the odds of that were far slimmer than any of the other horrific fire-related scenarios I could think up.  Anyway, the next morning, the adapter was still there, so I put him in my suitcase for the next night, and so then my suitcase smelled like burning for the remainder of the trip, ugh.

no chance of random fire climbing into window!

One day, we went to the London Symphony Orchestra, because Val loves music.  A change from the demographic that visits the Ottawa's NAC, fellow patrons were generally under the age of 90.  It was actually pretty cool to see young people rocking out to Rachmaninoff for 45 minutes straight, and the decor was really stunning as well.

And after the orchestra, we went to a Christmas village, where we ate giant hot dogs and drank mulled wine until we forgot where we were...

love the side by side couples making out!

Since Val has never been to London before, I thought I should take her to a proper English high tea affair. The Orangery at Kensington Palace was one of my favorite places from my trip with my Benisa a couple of years ago...

 So I figured Val would love it too..and she did!

If ever you decide to go, be prepared to come out really, really full. It doesn't look like a lot (everything is miniature), somehow it combines to make the most filling meal ever. And then if you also drink an entire teapot full of tea, well, get ready to roll on home afterwards. Oh and the gardens at Kensington Palace look stoic even in bad weather. Look at how heavy the sky is, and how little space it leaves for everything else.

After the palace, we went to another Christmas market, where I saw my muse, and the reason I started this blog.  I grew up watching Moomin, a Finnish show about a family of hippos, and their little grumpy friend Little My.  I don't remember why she was always grumpy, but somehow it stuck with me. The rest, in between now and then, shaped what has become this collection of stories. Anyway, it was so lovely seeing her again..

Other things I love about London include:

That this bag of tea is the first thing we saw walking out of the London airport. Of course!

That anyone can find their SeoulMate here...

 The hugs and kisses that road signs often receive...

That....well, no thanks, but good to know it's an option!

This epic McDonald's burger! WITH PIZZA FRIES...

This heartfelt homage to Chanel.

That you can unlocking and repair accessiers anytime!

That you can take a bus to white city...and that the gentleman on the second floor likely has a one-way ticket.

That, if ever you're lonely, you can sit at the back of that bus and have your knees touch those of the rider across from you. So, so, so, so, so close.

That flowers like these still exist here...

 That they've somehow found out my darkest secrets and conceptualized them on little plates:

And that you can give this to your loved ones this Christmas...

Val loved the Patisserie Valerie, named entirely in her honour..

And I loved looking pastel pink..

And also there was this asshole..

I also love that on any given day, you can expect to read news such as this:

And that, in its truest, loveliest self-depricating form, British marketing strikes a chord in your heart, like no other..

Oh, and maybe the fact that you can see this Canada emblem as well as a big blue...well I'll just say cock. Right in the middle of the city.

And, as we admired this stunning Christmas tree at the Heathrow Airport, waiting to fly back..

I thought that maybe, what I loved most about London, was Val.