Friday, March 29, 2013

bookish: the remains of the day

I have really loved being a part of a book club this year.
Every month, a book is chosen and a small but formidable group of us gathers together in a cozy bookshop to discuss it. I have to say, it has become one of the highlights of my month - even though I usually just sit back, eat some breakfast, drink my coffee and listen.
We have recently had to decide on a new meeting place for our gatherings, because our bookshop/coffee shop is closing down on Saturday...
But that's another sad story for another day.

I have met some really smart, amazing people through this group. I've also read some books I never would have picked up otherwise (or probably even heard of).

This month's pick was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
While I enjoyed reading it, I think the true secret passion of this story lies in what is not said.
And the more time I spend away from it, having finished it, the more the story touches me.
It's a slow but deliberate realization, how beautiful but tragic this book is.

It is told entirely from the perspective of Mr. Stevens, the butler of a grand English house called Darlington Hall.
He finds himself facing a motoring trip around the English countryside, which is highly unusual for him, having dedicated most of his life to serving at the house, never having cause to leave it.
The house is now owned by an American gentleman, but the majority of the story is focused on Mr. Stevens' memories revolving around his many years serving Lord Darlington.

World War, politics, powerful leaders, rumors, Jewish oppression, Nazi support, and how to serve a proper dinner are things Mr. Stevens is confronted with throughout his life service to Lord Darlington.
Through it all, he is loyal, steadfast, and an absolute professional.

I found Mr. Stevens to be a fascinating person. He spends pages upon pages ruminating on the ideals of a truly great butler, and what qualities he may possess. He also seeks the true definition of "dignity", and wonders if that is exactly the kind of quality a great butler must have.
Some of his inner musings were really quite moving. I turned down the corner of a few pages, to remember the parts that particularly drew me in.
I loved the way he would talk about the English countryside, being in the presence of true greatness, and then compare that same greatness to how you might feel in the presence of a great man, like his father.
I began to see the trend of relationships he had enjoyed, but invariably lost.
With his colleague Mr. Graham, who he spoke of fondly and often in the beginning, and most especially Miss Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington Hall and perhaps his closest friend.

But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently?
One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way...
Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, 
they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one's life; 
but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had.
Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one's relationship with Miss Kenton...
There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.

What a powerful, tragic, and completely accurate depiction of life and relationships. 
Everything is clearer in hindsight, right? 
When we are young we are invincible. We do not dwell on endings, only beginnings. We have the whole world ahead of us, our whole lives -- and with such carelessness the world slips right through our fingers.

On a happier note, Mr. Stevens references the fact that he is consistently troubled by his lack of bantering skill with his new American employer.
He is extremely stressed that he cannot joke quickly or easily, and has never carried on a bantering relationship.
He listens to the radio, reads books, in order to try and better his bantering skills.
For such a professional Englishman, it is funny, sweet and a little sad to see him try.
Observing strangers on a pier, he thinks to himself:

Listening to them now, I can hear them exchanging one bantering remark after another. 
It is, I would suppose, the way many people like to proceed. 
Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically.
After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in -- particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.

There you are, Mr. Stevens. Quite right, indeed.
Perhaps human warmth is the heart of the matter all along. 

In love and warmth,

P.S. If you read The Remains of the Day, please let me know what you think! :)
I plan to watch the highly acclaimed 1993 movie soon, as well. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

London, day 3: all you need is glove

I hope you're enjoying my witty titles.
I sure am.

On our third day in London, we had so many grand plans.
But then we realized we couldn't wake up at 7am, and it was snowing outside.
So we narrowed our itinerary a little bit, choosing only the most life-changing, eye-opening, history-making things to experience.

Up first?
Abbey Road.

As I've said previously (in regards to Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice), I don't know how you feel about this particular band, The Beatles, but for right love them.

As we made our way to Abbey Road, it began to snow quite officially. It was so cold!
And on top of that, we didn't really know exactly where we were going...

I've recently begun using Vine, which is a pretty fun new app. 
It's basically like Instagram, but with little shared video clips instead of photos.
I'm really, really bad at it, but it became a fun tool to capture live-action moments of our trip!

Once we arrived in the general vicinity of Abbey Road, we ducked into a Costa Coffee to grab our morning brew before asking directions.
The wind was pretty crazy, and I was actually wearing my sunglasses to keep the snow out of my eyes...
Yes. I looked like a total weirdo.

Even so, the nice guy at Costa Coffee pointed us in the right direction and we headed off once more!
We hit a dead end road, and slow realization began to dawn on both of us.
This is it.
It looked nothing like I imagined.
Obviously the trees were not leafy, the Beatles were not there, and there was not a Volkswagon Bug anywhere in sight.
It was only the funny little posts that had Beatle-mania graffiti all over them that signaled us to look around. And there, right in front of us, was Abbey Road Studios. In the flesh.

The actual studio is this cute little white building, simple and totally unremarkable in every aspect except for the fact that the greatest band of all time recorded there. Among others. But none of them matter.
The walls in front have been covered, every inch, by Beatle-lovers who came and signed their names, song lyrics, love notes, and in some cases just random nonsense to show their love and appreciation for The Beatles.

I could only imagine how many layers of messages had been written and overlapped over the years.
It seems strange to try and imagine that world, where young Paul, George, John and Ringo walked the streets and spent hours making music together.
It's hard to imagine the thoughts they thought, the words they said, the people they saw and the way they created the songs that would change lives and impact souls for generations.
What a world.

When it came to the picture, the one of me walking across the fabled road...
Well, it took forever.
And it had to be good, so my dear husband had to go through countless shouts of, "GO!" to get a few good ones.
Not to mention the Asian tourists...I won't say a single negative thing about them, but boy.
They come in packs.

I kept thinking about my dad. I could imagine us dancing across the road together, singing Beatles songs and him telling stories about them.
I'd say about 60-80% of my music taste came straight from my father.
Even now, I sit at work listening to British Invasion music.
I suppose it comes from all of those young years spent in our basement, listening to his large collections of oldies music on repeat.
I have quite clear memories of my little brother and I listening to the light-green-colored British Invasion CD, and playing the Sega, drinking juice boxes. If that isn't a classic poster for a 90's childhood, I don't know what is.
Paul is my dad's favorite Beatle, so Paul has always been my favorite Beatle. The Beatles are a part of me that I can viscerally connect to my relationship with my dad, and the fact that he has always been lovingly and rock-and-rollingly involved in my life.

After withstanding the cold and trying to dodge the Asians, we went back over and I wrote my own little message on the wall.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
C+D, '13
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has always been my go-to "favorite" Beatles song.
I'm really not sure why. And no, I don't really care that people say it's about drugs...I think it's one of the most psychedelic, creative, delightful songs in the world. My little brother and I used to sing it together in what we most certainly thought was the best harmony ever accomplished.

We spent some time in magical solitude, listening to songs from Abbey Road and savoring our last moments before we moved on.
I'm all about ambiance, people.

Before we jumped on the metro to head to our next destination, we saw this little beauty!

We may or may not have stopped in to grab an Abbey Road magnet, and a few key goodies for our nieces.
They may have been matching shirts that say, "A is for Apple, B is for Beatles," with a colorful cartoon portrayal of The Beatles on the bottom.
We may be the coolest aunt and uncle ever.

Fare thee well, young sirs. Fare thee well.

We had 1 o'clock lunch reservations for a very fancy little place called Newman Arms.
It's a little pub with a Pie Room upstairs.
Yes. A Pie Room. 
Nothing has quite as much of a ring to it, the musical effect on the eardrums, as Pie and Room put together.

We walked in and were greeted with the most amazing warmth of all time.
Having spent the day in snow, wind and Beatle-mania, we were much obliged by the dark wood and vintage decor, centered with a hearty fireplace in the left wall.
It was a tiny little place, but well loved.

We shed our outer coats and plopped down into the comfort of our little table.
We were surrounded by the smell of English pies, the sound of British accents and the sights of London streets outside our windows.
I ordered a classic Beef and Guinness, and Dusty ordered a Lamb and Rosemary.

Oh. My. Gosh.

The Lamb and Rosemary...I honestly think there are very few times in my life where I truly melt over a bite of food. But this was one of those times.
And the best part? It was over a Pie. A darn good Pot Pie. 
What can be better or fancier than a Lamb and Rosemary-filled English Pot Pie?
Savory insides, dark and full of deeply comforting meat, soft and tender, cuddled by potatoes and healthy vegetables swimming in the rosemary-seasoned juices of a thousand happy memories.
It was a truly grand moment.

For dessert, we settled for two custard-covered treats: bread and butter pudding, and blackberry and apple crumble.
Mmm, mmm, good.

Although we were hesitant to put this part of our trip behind us, we knew we had limited time for more sightseeing before we saw Wicked that night at the Apollo Victoria Theatre!

We left good sir Newman, and hopped over to the nearest metro to take us to The Tower of London.
When we emerged from the underground, we kind of gaped for a little while.
Across the highway, cars speeding by and modern business buildings around us, was a castle.
Do people here really get used to that kind of thing?

We had to go through a little underpass tunnel to get to the other side of the highway, where we could go buy tickets to enter The Tower.
You could also buy tickets to go the bathroom...
Not really tickets, but they were charging 50 cents (pence) to go to the bathroom.
Somehow, in the very depths of me, I felt absolutely outraged at this idea.
Charging visitors to relieve themselves?
Culture shock. It's real.

Walking in, I couldn't help but feel like all of this was fake.
Like going to a Renaissance Festival, and seeing everyone in costume, shouting "Long Live the King!" and serving giant turkey legs for people's amusement. It's all a show, it's make-believe based on true history.
I tried my best to imagine people actually living here, how they would dress, how they might behave...I also tried to imagine living as royalty, what life would have been like. But despite my absolutely impeccable imagination, it was all pretty out of reach.

Also, I should note, by this time my scarf had become less of a fashion statement and more of a life-or-death accessory. I would pull roughly on the longer portion, causing the top part to cover my face entirely, tightly buffering my exposure to the wind. It was the only thing that helps.
So really, it looks completely haggard. Because it was. And so was I. 

Such a crazy example of the stark contrast of historical meeting modern.

On a funny side note, we found out they were actually filming the new Muppets movie all throughout the Tower of London while we were there!
There were sections blocked off, cameras and lights and crew running around. It was really amusing.
Anytime we'd finish with a new sight, I'd say excitedly, "Okay now lets go find the Muppets!"
At one point I even heard an authoritative man telling his minions, "We need three more, a blonde and a redhead."
I was furiously angry there wasn't anything I could do about my hair color at that present time.

Among the sights we saw:

Good old-fashioned torture chamber.

Various towers (names including Bloody, Wakefield, White, St. Thomas's, Brick, Bell, and many more):

We also saw The Crown Jewels, which were absolutely amazing.
No pictures were allowed, however, so you'll just have to see them for yourselves.
But really, I wish every woman could be allowed to wear that much bling at least once in her life.

We also took a tour inside one of the larger buildings, and we got to see the armor and weaponry of various kings and knights and the like.
I'm really not sure what the purpose of this armor dragon was, but we were all happy he was there.

Have you ever had a chance to do something, or even been dared to do something, and you didn't?
Maybe you saw a celebrity and chickened out before you could say hello, ask for an autograph or picture, etc...
Or maybe you were too embarrassed or too worried in the moment, and then realized later what a huge missed opportunity you created in your life.
Missed opportunities are the worst. 

Which is why, when Dusty saw the guards changing posts and coming in our direction, and yelled "GO WALK WITH THEM RIGHT NOW!"

I did.

And now, I have no regrets.

Once we had seen all we could see within the Tower, we ventured to the water to steal a few moments to stare at the bridge.
I want to say something witty like, "And it was totally standing firm!" or "And this London Bridge was not falling down," but both are pretty lame.

Time sure does fly by when you're touring castles.

We realized we had barely an hour to shop at Primark, a store that we actually found and loved in Dublin, Ireland (although there it's called Penney's).
Almost like Forever 21-ish but with all fabulous European styles, all for great prices.
But the stores are huge, and one hour was just not going to cut it.
We hurried away to the metro and upon emerging back onto our dear London streets, we were greeted with this:

A fading sunset that seemed to say, "Life is short. Time is of the essence. Go shopping."

So shop we did.
Hurried, overwhelming, unbelievably stressed shopping.
Trying things on, winging it, saying, "sure, why not!" a lot, getting separated, not being able to find each other, getting confused, and finally being late to Wicked.
BUT we had bags of new clothes and were sweating profusely.
In the end, probably not worth it.
But the rest of the evening was all smiles :) and a few tears.
On Dusty's end.

For those of you who haven't seen Wicked, you're seriously missing out.
I had seen it the summer after freshman year of college, with my mom. We took an awesome few days around LA and Hollywood, and saw it at the Pantages Theater. It was amazing.
But this was Dusty's first time, and he had been wanting to see it for years!
The best part of seeing it in London was hearing all the characters Brit-ified.
Their accents made the dialogue all the more fascinating, and whenever it would appear in their songs it was pure delight.
I think it was meant to be British.

On our way out, we were asked by a very nice Korean couple if we could take their picture in front of the theater. Of course we said yes, happy to oblige.
Afterward, we asked them to take a picture of us, in exchange! They were also happy to do so.
Unfortunately, right then, an elderly couple decided to make the slllooooowwww descent down the stairs right next to us, as the Korean man held our camera patiently.
His eyes slowly got wider and wider, complete disbelief painted on his face that two human beings could move so leisurely.
Stopping on the bottom step, the old couple began to shout at one another.
"Patrick, we are NOT parked that way, no, you're going the wrong way."
"Well, how am I to know which way we came in? It was a long time ago!"
"What do you mean? What? I didn't hear you."
"Do you know which way? I was certain it was that way..."
"No, no, I promise you, you're wrong. You're always wrong."

I thought the Korean couple was going to either join in the shouting, or fall apart in laughter. They couldn't quite decide if they were amused, or outraged.
It may have taken awhile, but thanks to our committed Korean friends standing there steadfastly, we got a picture.
He would only take it once everyone was completely out of the way!

Sadly, we had to go back to our apartment for the last time.
We had only a few hours of sleep ahead of us. Once we packed our bags, we would be getting up at around 4:30am to make our way to the Chunnel station to go to Paris!
It was crazy to think we weren't even halfway done with our trip yet.
We had lots still to see, and Paris to explore!
But even so, it was somewhat bittersweet to leave London. There were many sights unseen and many things undone.
Until next time, London, you saucy lady you, behave yourself.

In love,