Saturday, July 28, 2007

Two weekends in one

Two weekends ago had one of those packed weekends that makes it worthwhile being in London for, and also curse the cardinal rule of London social life that all your friends book things for the same night. Still, as it coincided with Ana visiting, I at least got to show her what London is like when it gets down to business. We started on Thursday for Andy's birthday at Freud's. Andy was a bit worried beforehand that the smoking ban was going to affect this old (21 years!) London nightspot. Unduly as it turns out, this place was still jam-packed, with all the staff doing their "Cocktail" routine and the continental feel as big as ever. I remember Freud was one of the bars I went to the first time I lived in London (1999) and loved it then. Piece of home from home as it has the grimy, intelectual feel of some of Porto's nightspots.Ana tried a Mojito for the first time, after downing a Caipirinha in one gulp but still managed to stay upright. Where does she put it all?!

Friday both of us had things to do during the day but convened in the evening to go to the V&A Surreal Things exhibition. This was fantastic, but difficult to take in a couple of hours, not only because of the size but also because of the emotional intensity of some of the pieces. After the exhibition we went to Kulu Kulu, my favourite conveyor-belt Japanese restaurant, where we stuffed ourselves beyond capacity. Back home as on Saturday we had an early start.

Saturday got up at 7 to go to Cambridge for a volunteering day at the Zoology Museum Forest Day. 6 hours of great fun with kids of all ages making butterflies, frogs and birds-of-paradise. Then meeting with a friend for a catch-up on Jesus Green. Managed to catch the planned train down to London, and took delivery of two chests of drawers and three chairs that friends are lending me while they go travelling around the world (gratitude seriously conflicting with insane jealousy here). As I was already dressed to go out to the party we were late for, this had the result of my carrying the furniture from the van to the door in a floaty and plunging (afterwards I put in a safety-pin) party dress and unbuckled high-heeled shoes. Needless to say one of my shoes came off in front of the boozy lads who were watching the show. One of them, before I could stop him, promptly went down on one knee to buckle my shoe. Without of course letting go of his beer, which put a bit of a damper on the romance of it all. Plus his very considerable beer belly of course. Then rushed to Roy and Tom's barbecue in Oval, only managing to get there for the after-party which was a lovely chilled conversation in their fabulous garden, sipping Calvados.

Sunday (you thought it was over?!) went to see the Insider Art exhibition at the ICA, definitely worth it with my favourite piece being Maddona and Child:
Then for a quiet chat on the NFT Cafe benches and home where Ana lent me some of her energy to bring the rest of the furniture upstairs and rearrange my room.
Monday went to see the Royal Academy Summer Show , apparently it's the best one for a long time and I definitely thought it was worth it and was even considering whether I would invest in a limited-edition print (you could get some for just over a £100). Then back to Shepherd's Bush for a lovely, again past-stuffing lunch at Abu Zaad, which I have read is the only Syrian restaurant in London. I must be truly a local now as the maitre (in the picture) greeted me with obvious signs of recoginizing me.
Finally over! Lovely as it was, I am only now recovering and ready for another all-things-happen-at-once weekend!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Floods? What floods? Oh, yeah...

So Britain is in grip of the worst flooding in 60 years and apparently people in London should be ready to evacuate if necessary. (I'm prefectly fine by the way). This was bought ot my attention by several non-British people as the collective reaction of the English people is another of those fine examples of "stiff upper lip" which is one of those admirable and strong characteristics of the British people which probably only non-British see as profoundly identifying. It's a fact that occasionally British people dramatize the weather as was seen by the "storm is coming" alerts a few winters ago. This was laughed at by American and Canadian people who see real winter-storms as a few inches of snow. Possibly English people felt a bit sheepish about over dramatising (the cardinal sin in English culture) but then at that time the trains were going to stop working (as they do in any kind of imperfect weather) and that was a real tragedy, and could be blamed on the government privatisations (Thatcher scars...). Be it that, or the fact that the necessity of showing the terrorists we don't really care about a paltry few bombs (an anti-terrorist weapon that the whole British public have adopted without any effort at all) has carried over into the weather, no one is really showing they're worried about the weather.
Actually, we do care - all the conversations centre about the impossibility of planning the next barbecue, and how the shops haven't made any money of the summer clothes...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On life

Found this poem on the Guardian a long time ago and have been meaning to put it up for ages. It is so accurate a portrayal of how some women feel sometimes that I still find it hard to believe it was written by a man. In case you don't know it, it is a satire on a well-known british poem called the "The White Cliffs of Dover".

The Dover Bitch: A Criticism of Life

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc."
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come,
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour

Anthony Hecht (1923-2004)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Round-the-world-in-London weekend

Managed to have one of those weekends that make it worth being in London for, found out about several new places, people and countries in the process!
Started in my local, The Defecter's Weld, on Friday evening to celebrate Mark submitting his thesis. Well done again, Mark! Even better well done (in my opinion) is that Mark managed to finish his thesis, find and get hired for exactly the job he wanted, in a new country, go through an intensive language course and plan an inter-continental holiday, all in the same few months. Who says that (some) guys can't multi-task? We then headed to a pub downtown, with a last-minute change of venue due to the terrorist attacks. With true English reasoning, this didn't make anyone avoid the West End (which was crammed), we just moved a little further north.

I then went to another party in Fulham, another milestone in my London adaptation - you can't be a true Londoner if you don't manage to get to two parties in the same night in opposite parts of town (using public transport, for you Portuguese people who don't see what's so hard about this). On the way popped by Rita's house for a chat, lovely when you can do an improptu thing like this in London. Finally made it to Alessandro's party, where we were met by Italians, Irish, Venezuelan, English, Greek...
However, the main thing is they were all Imperial College engineering PhD students. For those of you who have not been in a party consisting of graduate engineering students (I have been in a few, courtesy of my housemate Daniele who is one himself), I can tell you it is an experience indeed. This was lightened up by the fact that two of the engineering students were girls, and very elegant and good-looking as well, which I can't be annoyed at because there were very nice too. After conversations on Hugo Chavez and how you could teach computers to recognize emotions, I managed to crawl home.
The next day had to stay in bed most of the day, courtesy of a cold and me trying to lead a 20s lifestyle whilst in my 30s. Did manage to have a brilliant breakfast talk with housemates and housemate's Swedish friend about which countries have the best-looking men and women. One of those common themes... In the evening dragged myself to Clerkenwell to meet other international friends (1st generation British, American, French, Portuguese...). Discovered a brilliant place: Cafe Sport in Exmouth Market, which is of course a Portuguese cafe complete with table football, and a fantastic buzzing local atmosphere. Go! Had a very interesting conversation with Jonathan, an American human rights public advocate, about all that's happening there and in the world through the eyes of an enlightened American. Invaluable.
On Sunday, went with Teresa and Paulo to the Serpentine Gallery to see an exhibition of David Chan. Some of his pieces are really worth it. Then went to a lovely neighbourhood party in Bonnington Sq, in Vauxhall. I was very proud as managed to discover this. Passed by Portuguese cafe Estrela to get a (very good) bite to eat, and then Teresa had a plane to catch. We were hit upon, as a group, twice. Me and Paulo thought it was due to Teresa intensifying her charm. Just in time for her to go and spend a year in Malaysia, via a plane full of Australians.
And wound the weekend up in the same place where I started, at the Defecter's Weld with my glamourous AND down-to-earth (how does she manage it?!) housemate H, who this weekend wven showed up in the papers.