14 November, 2010

THE ITHACA COLLEGE STUDENT'S GUIDE TO A SEMESTER IN LONDON, or Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Went But Had No One to Ask

-       Buy Oyster Card (travel card for Tube, Bus, etc.) BEFORE you leave so it is waiting for you when you get there.
-       DO NOT USE TRAVELER'S CHECKS. I REPEAT, DO NOT USE TRAVELER'S CHECKS. Convert about £50-100 before you leave, so you have some cash for the first few days. When you are in need of cash, try and find a Barclay's ATM or HSBC. They have the cheapest ATM fees, and are free for some American banks.
-       Try to walk and explore as much as you can. The tube is really convenient, but it's really easy to get dependent on it, and before you know it, you'll realize you know very little about London aboveground. Take the bus, which takes longer, but has a view, or walk to ICLC in the morning if you can. I highly suggest bus surfing, aka hopping on the first bus you find, getting off at a random stop, and exploring. It's a really good way to get to know the city, and you will see things you would never have seen otherwise.
-       London is one of the safest cities I have ever been in. I felt perfectly comfortable walking around by myself in the middle of the night. Moreso than I do in Ithaca, actually. Obviously, don't be stupid. Don't go out alone if you've been drinking, don't flash your cash or wear ridiculously skanky clothing if you're by yourself in an unfamiliar part of the city. But if you're smart and alert, it's a really safe city, and one that has a lot of cool details you would never notice if you weren't by yourself.
-       Forget the iPod. Listening to the people around you as you walk/are on the train is one of the best parts of London. If you don't want people to bother you though, wear your headphones but don't turn on your music. But just a tip, it's sometimes really fun to let people interact with you. You'll meet a lot of really cool people that way.
-       Be conscious on the sidewalks. People walk fast. There's not really a specific side of the sidewalk that people walk on. I think the British prefer to walk on the left, like cars do in the roads, but they are so used to tourists, they just weave. Watch for what everyone else is doing, and do that too.
-       DO NOT BE A WEIRDO TOURIST. Try your best not to be obnoxious or stick out as an annoying American. It's the #1 way to piss people off. What worked for me was to imagine I belonged there. I was not a student staying there, I was living there. It makes a difference when you try to become part of the city rather than someone visiting it.
-       Keep a camera with you whenever possible, but don't spend your time in London looking at it through a camera lens. While I do wish I had some more pictures of my everyday life in London, I'm really glad I didn't spend my whole semester glued to my camera. You miss so much when you're taking pictures of everything. Just put the camera down and experience the place, God dammit!
-       Get your mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse. There are locations everywhere. Get the cheapest phone for £5, and get a pay as you go plan. Put about £20-30 on it, and you'll be set for most of the semester, depending on how often you use it. Try not to call your family and friends back home. Skype is your friend. And it's free!
-       If you ever find yourself in need of Wifi, McDonald's has it for free, so do a few cafes. But most places in London charge for wifi, which sucks, and the Internet there is kind of bad. But you'll get used to it, and you'll figure out loopholes in how to make it work best for you. Be patient though, because it will most likely get frustrating.
-       Washing machines in Britain are usually Washer/Dryer combos. But the dryers usually suck. They just make your clothes really hot, but just as wet. I suggest buying/bringing/improvising some sort of drying rack.

-       Boots – a pharmacy, like CVS or Rite Aid. (Fun fact: pharmacies are sometimes called "chemists")
-       Tesco – Your basic grocery store. Tesco Express is like a tiny convenience store with sandwiches, milk, eggs, etc. The basic stuff. Tesco Metro is a decent sized grocery store, and Tesco Superstore is a GIANT one. There is a Tesco Express near ICLC, which sells a lot of good sandwiches and pastries and such that are good if you forget to pack a lunch that day.
-       Sainsbury's – another grocery store, with a lot of different options. A lot of things are pricier here, but if you shop around you can find deals.
-       Primark – Picture every one of your favorite clothing stores. Now roll them all into one and knock off half the price. Welcome to Primark. There are several locations, but the best one (though always SUPER crowded) is on Oxford Street. Take the tube to Marble Arch (District/Red Line.) and it's right near the exit onto the street.
-       Ella's – a cupcake shop in Covent Garden. They sell the best cupcakes you will ever eat in your life. Kind of pricey (about £2,50 each), but you HAVE to have at least one during your time in London. They are life-changing cupcakes. AND THEY SPARKLE.
-       Ryman's – a stationary shop. They sell school supplies, etc. and they offer a student discount. HOWEVER, BE FOREWARNED. School supplies (notebooks, glue sticks, binders, etc.) are SUPER expensive in England. If you have room in your suitcase, try to bring some notebooks and school stuff with you.
-       Waterstone's – The UK's biggest bookshop chain. Kind of like Borders or Barnes and Noble, only much cooler and more British. Go here for your schoolbooks if you're taking a literature class, they usually have a 3 for 2 deal. The Charing Cross location is GINORMOUS.

-       Lyle's Golden Syrup – a really delicious sweet, honeyish syrup that is absolutely FAB on tea biscuits, toast, pancakes, bread, etc. Really yummy.
-       McVities Tea Biscuits – plain shortbread biscuits (not cookies. They're called BISCUITS.) that taste fabulous dipped in tea. Also taste really good smeared with peanut butter and nutella and made into a sandwich.
-       All the candy! Cadbury chocolate beats Hershey's by a landslide. My personal favorite are Crunchy bars and Lion bars. A lot of people really like Cadbury Flake bars. There's also these ridiculous candy bars called Yorkies, and on the package it advertises that it is NOT for girls. They're gross. They really are not meant for human consumption at all, but especially not girls. On a related note, near St Paul's Cathedral is a place called Mr. Simm's Sweet Shop. GO TO IT. IT'S FABULOUS. BUY ME TOFFEE. I WILL REPAY YOU.
-       Yo!Sushi – Located in Whiteley's, a big shopping center in Bayswater. There are a few other locations, but I don't know where. Basically, you sit at a bar, and bowls of food go past you on a CONVEYOR BELT. You choose what you want, everything is priced by different coloured bowls, and at the end of your meal, the server charges you based on the bowls you have accumulated. SOOOO GOOD. Such a fun experience. I don't even like sushi and I LOVED this place.
-       Frog – a frozen yoghurt shop in Bayswater. So good, it yog-hurts. Right across from the entrance of the Bayswater Underground Station. Fro-yo in the UK is very different from the US, but sooo good. Frog has a 50% off student discount during the colder months. (Also, if you have time, order me a medium natural fro-yo with raspberries. I will eat it vicariously through you.)
-       Walker's Crisps (Potato Chips) – the label on the packet looks just like Lay's chips. They come in flavors like roast beef, prawn, and bacon.

-       Skins
-       Take Me Out – A HILARIOUS game show in which a man tries to impress a group of 30 women in an effort to get one to want to go out with him. It's like The Bachelor, but in thirty minutes. AND IT IS HILARIOUS.
-       Doctor Who – Yes, Monica, I know you are all over this one already. But seriously, everyone watches it.
-       Scrubs and Friends – Yeah, I know they're American shows, but they are literally on tv ALL THE TIME. Get used to it.
-       X-Factor – Basically American Idol, British people are pretty much obsessed with it. If you hear mentions of Jedward, Leona Lewis, or Alexandra Burke, they are X-Factor winners.
-       Music video countdowns – it's really funny hearing British pop music, although British people basically listen to most of the same things we do. They do some really fun DJ mixes that are good to listen to while making dinner and doing chores and such. Good background music, almost constantly on E4.

THINGS PEOPLE IN LONDON LIKE TO WEAR (Or at least, things they wore when I was there):
-       Boots
-       Leggings/tights (they like coloured/patterned tights)
-       Scarves. Everyone wears scarves.


-       Gloucester is pronounced GLOSSTER
-       Leicester is pronounced LESTER.
-       Malls are called shopping centers. To British people, a mall is a patch of grass in front of a building. They will know what you mean if you say "mall," but they will judge you.
-       Stores are called shops, usually. No one really uses the word "store"
-       Packaged food does not come in "bags," it comes in "packets." For example, a bag of chips is "a packet of crisps." A package of cookies is "a packet of biscuits."
o      Likewise, "fanny" means "vagina." Do NOT, under any circumstance, use the phrase "fanny pack." If you must speak about these things, they are called "bum bags."
-       Bathrooms are referred to as the loo, the lavatory, or the toilet. Brits will make fun of you for saying bathroom, because most of them don't have bathtubs! Go ahead, try to argue with them. It will last for hours. Seriously, I tried.
-       It is prohibited by law to put a light switch of electrical outlet in a bathroom toilet. Light switches for these are on the outside, which makes it easy for roommates/passerby to be jerks and turn the lights off whilst you are in the shower. Anyone wishing to use a blow dryer or hair straightener in the bathroom are SOL.

-       Camden Town (on the Northern/Black Line) – a really cool market town that looks like it's still stuck in the 70s punk-era. GREAT place to explore.
-       Portobello Market – sells antiques, fresh produce, crafts, clothing, souvenirs, etc. Fun to explore. (Near the Notting Hill tube stop, on the District/Red Line) Fun fact! Location of the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie, Notting Hill! Woohoo!
-       Hyde Park – Hyde Park is HUGE. And beautiful. Take a whole day and just explore it. Trees, swans, geese, sculptures, squirrels, fountains, cute guys walking their dogs, beautiful scenery, etc. You could walk in it for days and never see it all. It's a good place to bring a blanket and a book and relax for awhile.
-       Covent Garden – another markety area, with lots of street performers, etc.
-       The South Bank Book Market – Right near the National Theatre, underneath Waterloo Bridge, the market is open air, all year round, underneath this giant bridge. They're all used books, and most of them are cheap. I bought my British HP books here for like £3 each.
-       Angel – on the Northern/Black Line, this is a good place for nightlife. Kind of far, and you have to get back home by bus usually, but there's a lot of clubs and bars that students hang out at.

Got questions? Ask me! I will add more as I think of it or if you guys have a question... I'm so jealous you all get to go!

01 November, 2010

The Lovers

Writing poems about famous images has been an interesting experiment for me. It's an exercise in imagination to build a story behind a single frame, that one moment captured on canvas or film.

This poem is based on a painting by Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte called The Lovers. I wanted to convey a sense of blindly loving someone without actually knowing them, but the initial feedback I got was that my message didn't come through. It was described as "adorable," which wasn't quite what I was going for. Anyway, I've tweaked it a bit, so let me know what you think.

The Lovers

This thin barrier of fabric, rough and crude,
Tastes far bitterer than the sweet lips behind it.
Yet they feel their way,
These lovers,
Ignoring cruel obstacles, and so their passion triumphs.
It thrives in the fight
Against this sad, mean attempt to separate them.

This Pyramus has no moon to light his way,
This Thisbe no crack through which to speak.
Yet this wall has been erected between them
Hoping absence will make the heart grow indifferent.

"One day," he tells her, holding her close.
"We shall lift this veil, you and I."
One day they will finally see each other,
He thinks as he leans in, blindly searching
For those sweet mulberry lips.
The ones he is certain lie beneath.