exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

the enchantments of paris

by Jen at 8:26 pm on 15.08.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: photo, travelology

ah paris! it never fails to enchant. the sidewalk cafes, the grandiose buildings, the magnificent art, the impeccable style with which they carry out everything – it all makes me long to spend my days sipping coffee by the seine, smoking galluoises, and waxing poetic.


statue

mural

fountain

grand palace

bright

fountain

girl

sacre coeur

montmartre

graffiti

corner

notre dame

gargoyles

balconies

bookshop

more photos here.

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world cup and world travels

by Jen at 10:03 pm on 22.06.2010 | 3 Comments
filed under: photo, this sporting life, travelology

in spite of the radio silence, i’ve got a lot to write about… but as many of you non-Americans will know, about 2 weeks ago the world cup got underway.

like lots of american kids, i played soccer for several years. and like a lot of american kids, promptly forgot all about most anything soccer-related once i left high school until the spectacular women’s world cup victory in 1999. it was an electrifying and unifying event (i recall people setting up televisions on the sidewalk and watching with all their neighbours) – but that was largely seen as an anomaly. then a few years later, when the mls began to get some attention, my friends and i became enamoured of the new england revolution team, and followed their season all the way to the finals at gillette stadium… where we lost.

but it was only natural then, that when i first moved to the uk, i assumed that i would become immersed and fully fluent in the football culture – after all, i’m a sports fan, i’m a fan of fit men with nice legs, and i understand the basics of the game. i even decided in advance that i would support arsenal as my favoured team. i was prepared to become a full-on footy lover.

imagine my disappointment when i arrived to discover that the english premiership league television rights were exclusively owned by the skysports cable channel – a premium pay channel. unfortunately i didn’t control the cable in my flat (my landlady had the contract in her name) and as a premium channel, it would have been prohibitively expensive even if i did. all my nascent football passions fizzled. without a means to watch regularly, i never really had much opportunity to follow the season fortunes, never really learned who all the teams were, and in general, never really had a chance to get caught up in it the way i do with my other beloved sports.

but the world cup… well, the world cup is different. as an american, i’d had no awareness of it before living in europe. but during the last world cup in 2006, we were travelling through south east asia, watching games with all the other backpackers on outdoor screens in vietnam, gathered in ramshackle cafes in laos, and boozing in backwater bars in cambodia. the fervor and intensity with which both westerners and easterners alike congregated and cheered their teams was amazing to experience. i was hooked. in hindsight, with my love of giant multinational sporting events, and my love of the underdog, it was a natural fit.

so i’ve been a little distracted lately. i’ve been supporting the u.s. team (natch), the south african host team (obvs), and pretty much any underdog team i can find (go cameroon! go honduras! go north korea!) i’ve been calculating probable group winners and twittering about blown ref calls. when even jonno is bored by the less-than-scintillating matchup of slovakia v. paraguay, i’ve been glued to the screen. i’ve got the fever, and if the u.s. manage to win tomorrow (please god let them win tomorrow!) it is unlikely to abate any time in the next few weeks.

in the meantime however, i’ve edited my pictures from our recent holidays in the scottish highlands and venice/croatia. both were incredibly beautiful (why did no one tell me how stunning scotland was!!?) and we were fortunate enough to have fantastic weather for both.

a few favourites below. more of scotland here and venice/croatia here.

go team u.s.a.!!

eilean donan castle

isle of skye

old man rock

lake

venice

venice

venice

rabac

unije

unije

zadar

bride and speedo guy

dubrovnik

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unije

by Jen at 8:28 am on 9.06.2010 | 6 Comments
filed under: family and friends, photo

i don’t really know how to write about this. the fact is that, no matter what i say, or how i say it, there are some experiences that are intensely personal in a way that doesn’t translate into words. so i can’t explain why it meant so much to me to see the little island of unije, where my grandfather was born, any more than i can adequately explain why my surname matters so much to me.

it just does.

americans are, by definition, immigrants – it is as much a part of our identity as anything we call our own. ask any american where they’re from, and they can proudly tell you the different ethnic heritages they are descended from. we are american, yes – but we are irish-american, african-american, vietnamese-american.

me? i’m a second generation croatian-american, from croatian grandparents on my dad’s side. my grandfather’s immigration story is a typically american one, right down to becoming part of the great melting pot. it is so typical, in fact, that most of the families of unije, croatia also have a story like mine.

my grandfather died in 1993, and the memories i have of him are distinctive, sharp and clear – he is etched in my mind as a deeply tanned, square jawed sailor, standing astride his boat, backlit against a sea blue sky. but in many ways, poppi was always something of a mystery to me. he lived in florida, so i never saw very much of him growing up. when we did see him, he and my father often clashed in dramatic fashion – that scared me, and the force of poppi’s personality intimidated me. much of his personal ethnographic history has been omitted through the years – part of the common desire at that time to become a fully immersed “typical american” – so the family stories i know of him come to me secondhand, filtered down through his children.

and yet, the older i get, the more i see the reflections of him in my own father… and in myself. his effusive, emotional nature, the salt-water that ran in his veins, the stubborn streak at the core of him, the silver hair and prominent cheekbones. i have come to associate these as immutable family characteristics, passed down to me through genetics and upbringing. so for many years, now, i’ve wanted to see where poppi came from – the place and time that made him who he was as a young man setting out for the unknown shores of america. the land where he was born and raised, and the land he left behind. the land that launched this offshoot of my family tree with branches now so numerous and far-flung, it’s becoming hard to keep track. i wanted to see it for myself.

and it seems i’m not alone.

we first ran into silvana the evening we arrived, when we were sweatily, tiredly, grumpily chugging our way up the island’s highest hill, dragging our dusty wheeled case loudly behind us. she asked us if we were lost, and she wasn’t far wrong. we’d arrived at the island without any accommodation, somehow missed the island’s designated travel agent who met the ferry at the dock, and were now bumbling our way about trying to find a place to stay via the charitable assistance of the woman from the market – she’d made some calls on our behalf, then told us in broken english to look for a “blue house”. we were lost in a town of 200 people, looking for a blue house.

that blue house would turn out to belong to her niece (the travel agent we’d missed). when i mentioned in conversation with the niece the next morning that i had a family connection to unije, she passed that information along to her aunt, silvana. and so when i ran into silvana in the single-room town ‘market’, buying bread and cheese for breakfast, she stopped me and asked me about my surname.

silvana is a talkative, engaging woman in her mid-fifties, who happens to have been born on unije – she lived there until the age of 12, then immigrated to new york. after living in astoria, queens for most of her life, she recently moved back to unije a few years ago, and has become something of a local historian, actively working on island preservation projects, and keeping up the local lore. as a side hobby, she likes helping visitors to unije learn more about their ties to the island, and so it was that she approached me in the market, offering her assistance.

before i knew it, she’d asked around with some of the island elders and identified the house that my grandfather was born in (*), showed us some of the historic features of her own house, found someone who was probably related to me by marriage, and showed us where there were ancestors buried in the local cemetary. she told stories about island life before full electricity and telephones arrived in the late 70s/early 80s, when all communication was relayed through the post office and turning on a light switch in the middle of the day was a revelation. she spoke about how, to this day, whenever they receive notice that someone from unije has died, an old woman is dispatched to ring the church bell. she talked about how families used to farm their own food, and keep old stone barrels just for olive oil, and bake the day’s bread in a built-in bread hearth. she told us about the sardine factory that was closed, bought and re-opened by the state, then sold and closed again. she talked about the old families that left the island, the families that had returned, and the new residents from places like russia and bosnia who bought property and rented it out. she talked about the old women of the island who remember all the original families and their houses, and the arrival of the new rich yacht owners who anchor offshore in the pristine bays by the dozens. she discussed the change for the better (income from tourism, connections to the mainland) and change for the worse (the dying dialect, the increased litter and pollution).

she talked for hours, eager to share knowledge with those who came seeking on their personal quests. she told me about the newer phenomenon of people who are now several generations removed from the island, returning to explore their roots. these days, while visiting unije is logistically a bit of a pain, it’s far from insurmountable. complicating factors like political instability and civil war are now safely distant in the historical rear-view mirror. travel to and from croatia has become cheaper and easier than ever, and more and more individuals like me are taking the opportunity to see their ancestral homeland in person. every summer, she told me, she encounters people looking to trace their history – and it is those links which she believes will keep the essence of unije alive into the future.

her stories struck a deep chord, and as jonno and i spent the next day wandering the hill and coves of the island, taking photos, watching the sun pass along the sky and into the sea, listening to the background music of the waves and birds, eating grilled squid, drinking beer amongst the locals… i found myself trying to pinpoint more precisely what need this particular experience filled within me. as i ran my fingers over the stone walls of houses hundreds of years old, as i walked amongst the ruins of the old sardine factory, as i sought the shade of the olive trees, i couldn’t help but try to picture my grandfather’s life here as a young boy. and i felt the way i imagine adopted people searching for their birth history must feel: a longing for that sense of connection, that familiarity of seeing people who look like yourself, that internal, personal understanding of where you come from, not as an abstract idea, but as a tangible touchstone that slots into the foundation of *who you are*. and in seeking, finding a bit of who my grandfather was as well.

in a population of billions, this is a universal truth – we are all of us, searching for who we are in the world, and where we are from. for some of us, that is encompassed by a place, for some of us, a person, and for some of us, a purpose and future.

and in unije’s houses and families, crystalline waters, sunsets and fishermen, i somehow found a piece of all three.


(*) upon further clarification by a few other island elders, it turns out that was one of three houses that it might have been – oh well!

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lucky number 9336!

by Jen at 12:22 pm on 15.05.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: photo, run for the ellies, this sporting life

i got my race number yesterday!

runningnumber

so far i’ve been trying not to talk a lot about my training, for fear of jinxing it. and things were going pretty swell until my 18 mile run – since then my hips have been complaining loudly. however i managed my 20 miler, and have been trying to mostly rest and do physio exercises, in the hopes of making through this marathon with my legs still attached.

i only know that one way or another, i will complete it. painfully, slowly, or otherwise, i will get to the finish line. i’ve never dropped out of a marathon yet, and i don’t intend to start now.

so it seems like as good a time as any to remind y’all that i’m trying to raise a few bucks for one of my favourite causes – the elephant nature foundation. you can read my lyrical waxing about it here and here, but suffice to say it’s an amazing place doing amazing work. can you spare a bit to sponsor me? it would do so much good towards saving an abused elephant.

big thanks for all those who’ve donated so far – your support means a lot to me and to the ellies )

elephantschilling

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a. thomas maddock, 1917 – 2010

by Jen at 5:52 pm on 27.04.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: family and friends, photo

last wednesday i got the call – grandpa is dying.

thursday, literally just 3 minutes before the deadline to close the UK skies due to volcanic ash, my flight home miraculously took off. we went straight from the airport to the nursing home.

his appearance was shocking – he was crumpled in on himself, gaunt skin and bones. but when we walked into the room, his eyes lit up. “he hasn’t been that alert in ages,” the nurse would later tell me.

“grandpa, i came all the way from england just to see you, and tell you i love you”

“i love you too.” it was difficult to decipher the words, but the intensity behind them was clear.

i kissed him, held his hands, massaged his feet, made small talk. i told him i loved him, over and over again.

he died on saturday, peacefully, painlessly, amongst family.

his mother was a settler of the american west, in a genuine covered wagon with a sod house. he lived through the great depression, served in the phillipines in the second world war, watched a man land on the moon, celebrated the turn of the millenium. he had three children, 8 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren, and a 53 year marriage.

he had a rich, long life, and died surrounded by loved ones. i’m not sure you could ask for anything else in this world… but we were the lucky ones, really.

tom004

TOM002

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feel it quake with the joy resounding

by Jen at 6:37 pm on 1.04.2010Comments Off
filed under: photo, this sporting life

sorry for the silence of late. between my marathon training and crazy workdays and continued insomnia, i feel as though my days are all blending into an unending haze of work/run/eat/lie awake all night.

i’ve had posts to write, but no time or energy to spare.

but in the meantime, i leave you with this:


run1

the lightning storm and downpour of earlier today breaks, the clouds clear, and i head out for a run. the brisk air cools my face and neck as i turn towards the common. i pass the dripping forsythia newly burst in bloom, the cloying scent undercut by the fresh undertones of rain. there is new budding greenery suddenly everywhere, crowding in from all sides, bright against the golden afternoon dappled amber rays and the washed blue sky. this song is playing and the soles of my shoes seem to be filled with helium, rising, rising, rising of their own accord. my heart and lungs like to burst, my legs burn with speed, and yet i can’t slow down. it is impossible for me to not run faster and faster, the joy of presence in my body bubbling up at the back of my throat, exploding into my brain. it’s spring and i am more alive than i have felt in months and every cell in my being tingles with the overwhelming effervescence of pure effusive adrenaline.

run2

Now we’re all allowed to breathe
Walls dissolve
With the hunger and the greed
Move your body
You’ve got all you need
And your arms in the air stir a sea of stars
And oh here it comes and it’s not so far

All light beings
Come on now make haste
Clap your hands
If you think you’re in the right place
Thunder all surrounding
Aw feel it quake with the joy resounding
Palm to the palm you can feel it pounding
Never give it up you can feel it mounting
Oh its gonna drop gonna fill your cup and
Oh its gonna drop gonna fill your cup

the age of miracles

indeed.

golden age – tv on the radio

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running for the ellies

by Jen at 8:24 pm on 27.02.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: photo, run for the ellies, this sporting life

so they say the third time is the charm.

this is the third time i’m entered to run the edinburgh marathon, taking place on 23rd may. twice previously, i became injured and had to withdraw – last year, just a few days before the race.

however with the help of some physiotherapy and my natural stubborn streak, i am running again, and determined to complete my fourth marathon.

and as i’m going through all the trouble, i thought i’d try to fundraise some money for an organisation very near and dear to my heart: the elephant nature foundation.

elephantschilling

those who know me well, know just how strongly i feel about the work that the elephant nature foundation does. Lek and and her team work tirelessly to save the asian elephant, rescuing one ellie at a time. Lek is also a brave and outspoken advocate of eliminating traditional abusive training methods.

having seen first hand the dedication work of Lek and her team, and having experienced the beauty of an “elephant haven” where ellies can spend their days just being the gorgeous creatures they are, i cannot recommend this organisation highly enough.

elephantslekandellie2

lek and the elephant nature park have been recognised for their work by the humane society of the united states, national geographic, and time magazine.

but don’t just take my word for it – read more about Lek and her respected foundation in the news here. watch videos of the ellies they have rescued here.

a hundred years ago, there were 100,000 elephant in Thailand. today there are fewer than 4,000 Thai elephants left.

if you haven’t already read about our experience at the elephant nature park, you can do so here, and see more pics here.

elephantsbathingjenandjonno

they are magnificent, sentient beings, and lek’s commitment and drive are an inspiration to me. if she can dedicate her life to saving the ellies, in the face of incredible odds, then i can certainly try to run a few hours and raise a few bob to do my part.

a world without these amazing creatures is not a world i want to live in. please consider sponsoring me at my justgiving page.

thanks in advance.

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he drives me crazy

by Jen at 9:20 am on 20.02.2010 | 3 Comments
filed under: now *that's* love, photo

jonno

things that drive me crazy about jonno:

- he leaves empties everywhere. empty tubs of peanut butter, empty cartons of milk, empty bottles of shampoo. there’s nothing like going to use some clingfilm/margarine/coffee only to find a container full of air.

- he kicks me in his sleep. rhythmically. he’s got periodic limb movement disorder, which means that just as i’m ready to fall asleep… i get kneecapped. it does not make for restful nights.

- he smokes. i’ve been trying to get him to quit for years, but no dice. my favourite is when he has a cigarette right before climbing in bed.

- he’s immensely cheery when he’s hungover. no matter how rough the night before was, he springs out of bed in a sprightly, hypermaniacally happy manner. when i can barely open my eyes, it makes me want to strangle him.

jonnoandjen

things that drive me crazy about jonno:

- he makes me belly-laugh, every goddamn day. it’s a kooky, goofy side that he keeps private, but when we’re alone together, his offbeat sense of humour is infectious, and it makes my life immensely richer.

- he is loyal to a fault. family and friends always come first, and those priorities are crystal clear for him. moreover, not only does he put up with my crazy family, but he actually likes and values them – and the feeling is mutual. that makes all the difference.

- when he wakes up in the morning, with his sleepy eyes and tousled hair, i can see the little kid he used to be. and it makes my heart melt.

- he’s driven to achieve the things that are important to him. for nearly two years now, he’s been studying for an accountancy diploma via online coursework. at home, evenings and weekends, he’s been turning down social engagements, and studying his little brains out with a discipline i am in awe of. and he finally received his diploma, just the other day. i couldn’t be prouder.

- he is steady and calm and unfazed by all my insanity. he is kind and good to the core. he always does the right thing. he is a better cat parent than me. he has the most wonderful eyes.

i love the hell out of that guy.

happy anniversary to us! five years down, only 45 to go.

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it’s a good thing we don’t have kids

by Jen at 12:14 pm on 7.02.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: photo, zeke the freak

sure, everyone has nicknames for their pets… but i like to think we put a little imagination into it.

IMG_0617

zeke
ezekiel
zekey
zizi
zekelino
bubba
buddy
pipsqueak
dingleberry
fuzzbucket
twinkletoes
prancer
frog-stomper
teh kitteh
furry feline friend
peeping tom

…and on sunday mornings at 5:30am, an especially heartfelt “for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy-and-good-shuddup-already!!!”

lucky for him he’s pretty cute.

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look, the spangles

by Jen at 6:27 pm on 15.12.2009 | 3 Comments
filed under: holidaze, photo

IMG_0473

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

~little tree, by e.e. cummings

christmas time is here – vince guaraldi

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the irritating jingle of the belly-dancing phony turkish girls

by Jen at 3:57 pm on 3.10.2009 | 4 Comments
filed under: holidaze, photo

and so, i hear you clamouring, how was the vacation?

let’s play a little game, shall we? guess how many pictures i took with my camera? now, given that for most of my holidays, i come back with anywhere from 300 – 400 photos to sort through and edit, and given that i was in sun-soaked turkey for a week, you’d probably expect somewhere in that neighbourhood, right?

three. i took three photos with my camera. despite dutifully lugging it everywhere in hopes of capturing some bucolic holiday shots, i might as well not have brought it along at all.

(now, i didn’t let this whole experience go undocumented – oh no. i did take a whole dozen pictures with my iphone. i’ll share some of them below, with apologies for the quality).

i preface my moaning by saying that i’m *not* a high maintenance kinda girl. those of you who know me in person will attest to that. i really feel i need to mention that disclaimer.

i’d signed on to this holiday completely sight unseen. my good friend Tracey asked if i wanted to join herself, another acquaintance of ours, and two friends of the acquaintance (whom i hadn’t met), on an “all-inclusive” package holiday to turkey. given my druthers, package holidays are not generally my preference, but i’d been on two before and enjoyed myself. sun, food and alcohol are really what all-inclusives are all about, and so, i said ’sure’ without even thinking twice about it. the hotel was supposedly 5-star, but i also knew to take that rating with a huge grain of salt. i just wanted some sun and a few umbrella drinks.

so we arrived, and the hotel looked a bit tacky – strange constellations of fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, balloons and crepe-paper streamers as decor, fake plants, all a bit motel 6-ish. which, you know, is not a big deal. it was a cheap holiday, and i didn’t have terribly high expectations to begin with. the room was fine – i had to change rooms after the first night because being located next to the stairwell was too noisy, but that was fine too.

here’s me on day one – all excited about a week of pure relaxation ahead.

day one.

we check in, settle, head down to check the pool (it’s still really early). the pool is appealing, although unheated. there are plastic sunloungers abounding, and we strip down for some spf-30 roasting action. bake-turn-bake-turn. it’s soon breakfast time and there’s a giant buffet of good food (including the bizarrely faux-pink turkish sausages which have that red-dye you sometimes see in bologna). for drinks, however, there is automated a sad little automated coffee vending machine (blech!), and Tang. several varieties of Tang, being paddle-stirred in large slurpee-style dispensers.

now, if you were a child of the 70s in America like me, you’ll remember Tang as the powdered imitation orange flavoured breakfast drink of the astronauts. in the 80s, however, Tang fell out of favour and largely disappeared from the shelves.

ladies and gentlemen, i am here to tell you that Tang is alive and well, and being served in cheap turkish resorts in place of real juice.

and this was the first harbinger of doom. because really, can you not provide real juice at an “all-inclusive” resort? i hasten to add real juice *was* in fact offered – fresh squeezed orange juice, for just an additional 2 turkish lira, or roughly £1. i kid you not.

so we had lots of Tang, because Tang was what was on offer the entire week – unless you went to the “bar” and asked for some flat generic coke or lemonade or orange soda, served in an airplane-sized plastic cup, half full of ice. there were a few large cups floating around the hotel, and we took to holding on to them when we were lucky enough to stumble across one. which is, in and of itself, pretty sad – we were hoarding plastic cups.

so we headed back to the pool, where we are surrounded by 99.9% brits. fine, okay. there are several copies of the daily mail paper spotted, and books like “ant and dec’s bio”. there is lots and lots of smoking going on – probably 90% of the adults and many of the children (*maybe* 14 years old at a stretch?) are smoking. it wasn’t terribly pleasant to be constantly surrounded by smoke, and see cigarette butts littered everywhere. but hey, it’s turkey, right? everyone smokes here, not a huge deal.

the whole pool area is nice enough. here’s a picture – the building across the street is another “resort”.

pool

the music in the pool area starts up. it’s a strange mix of s club 7/take that/tom jones (as to be expected), lady ga ga’s “poker face” (maybe 50 times in the week?), too fucking much michael jackson, some oldies (for the senior set), and lots (lots!) of the black-eyed peas “boom boom pow”. if you care to, you can have a listen here, but the lyrics go a little something like:

That digital spit
Next level visual shit
I got that boom boom pow
How the beat bang, boom boom pow

I like that boom boom pow
Them chickens jackin’ my style
They try copy my swagger
I’m on that next shit now

I’m so 3008
You so 2000 and late
I got that boom, boom, boom
That future boom, boom, boom
Let me get it now

I’m a beast when you turn me on
Into the future cybertron
Harder, faster, better, stronger
Sexy ladies extra longer

‘Cause we got the beat that bounce
We got the beat that pound
We got the beat that 808
That the boom, boom in your town

so that was fun.

after lunch, we got a little thirsty. as part of the “all-inclusive” there is free beer and wine, and free vodka drinks – at least, until 11pm, when, as it turns out, drinks are £5. i wish i could say that the drinks were even palatable – it’s not like i’m some kind of snob! – but truly, they weren’t. the beer was watery, the wine was practically vinegar, and the vodka drinks… well on does get tired of tiny thimblefuls of cheap vodka and orange soda (again, no juice!). after day two, i just gave up.

and so it turns out that the only thing worse than a tacky, rundown, boring holiday is a *dry* tacky, rundown, boring holiday.

it only went downhill from there. the activities were minigolf (putting into a wooden box) and boules, facilitate by crazed activity staff who ran around shouting at the guest, haranguing them to join. the cafeteria tablecloths became soiled and weren’t changed (yet strangely people dressed to the nines in glitter and stilettos for dinner!?!) the glasses were frequently dirty. the towel stand was only open on alternate days? (thus negating the point of the towel card – having to drag beach towels back and forth every day.) in the evenings there was no entertainment – we played cards until bedtime like a bunch of oaps. the incessant music went on until well past 2am. the other guests were loud, crass and generally rude. we nicknamed one family the Clampetts, if that’s any indication. after two days on holiday, i actually started to feel rather depressed – was everyone else having a great time besides me? was i just being a big old snob? i began tweeting my observations (at 50p a text), simply because i couldn’t keep them to myself.

on day three, then, i jumped at the idea of going on a walk to the local beach with tracey. as we walked out of the gates of what i had begun in my mind to call “the compound”, it felt like a huge weight dropping from my shoulders – freedom!! we walked a few hundred yards to the beachfront, only to find… dirt. it was a little smudge of dirt crowded with sunloungers stacked nearly on top of each other. i made some tentatively snarky comment about at least being outside the “resort”, she and i looked at each other and just started laughing. relief flooded over me and i said, “oh thank god! i thought i was the only one who thought it was horrible!” and to my utter thankfulness she said, laughing, “oh it’s *hideous*!!” i nearly knocked her over hugging her – all this time i’d had to hold in my disappointment, worried about hurting the feelings of our other companions who all seemed to be enjoying themselves. finally i had an ally! things were looking up.

here was the beach. it almost looked pretty… from a distance you can’t even see the trash!

beach

from that point on, we made a concerted effort to spend as much time as possible getting outside the walls of the “resort”. we trekked into the town of Altinkum – a shitty little strip of cafes serving up “full english breakfast”, “footy on the big screen”, “x-factor tonite!”. we went on a party boat – broiling in the day long sun, choked by chain smokers. we had dinner and went in search of a bar that wasn’t blaring karaoke or “amarillo”. we got tipsy on real beer and wifi access.

(as a side note: when i arrived, i asked the staff if they had wifi access, which they said they did – they only needed a mac address, which i happily provided. the it manager then told me it “doesn’t work for iphones”. ummmm, huh?! but whatever – being trapped at the hotel with no connectivity only exacerbated my feeling of isolation.)

our other three companions? never ventured outside the hotel. for the entire week, they were perfectly content with horrible drinks, shabby surroundings, and chavvy holidayers. we tried to encourage them, but they declined every time. all i can say is thank god for tracey, because she made the rest of the week bearable, and at times, even fun. we enjoyed ourselves in spite of our surroundings, and not because of them.

i perversely wish i hadn’t taken any pictures at all, because i’ve been told i actually made it look rather attractive, when in reality it was dingy and depressing. nevertheless, here’s my week in pictures:

the poker. we played for a cocktail and i won and ordered a piña colada. that was a tactical error because (without any juice at the hotel) my colada had no piña.

poker

the day we first escaped from the compound. that’s relief tinged with hysteria you see on my face.

freedoooommmm!

some lovely flowers at the dirt “beach”. too bad they were surrounded by a pile of rubbish.

flowers

tracey dives off the party boat. there was no shade, only a few sunloungers (which we possessively claimed in order to avoid sitting on a bench the whole day!)

tracey diving

we ventured to the bar across the street for one night. real cocktails!!

cocktails

this gentleman was sunning himself while wearing a half shirt, a thong, and tube socks. standing up, it was not a pretty picture.

thong thong thong!

some classy ladies out for a night on the town (i.e. drunkenly singing “amarillo” at the top of their lungs). i can see why a night out in altinkum is something you’d dress up for!

ladiezzz

one of our nights out, enjoying a turkish coffee.

coffee

the airport waiting for our flight home. i refused to pay £5 for a slice of pizza.

airport

so to sum up: the resort was awful, altinkum was a shithole, and the most redeeming features about the whole week were the weather and clinging desperately to my sanity via tracey. it took me a week to write this blog post, in part, because i think i’ve been trying to block the whole thing out – i now know why they have those “holiday from hell” programmes. (other people have reviewed the resort here)

this is hell – elvis costello

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the zen of running

by Jen at 6:57 pm on 29.09.2009 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, photo, this sporting life

i am present present present only in this moment, this moment, this moment – this is the rhythm my feet sing out as they hit the ground, over and over. my legs, too short to stride, churn a simple beat. man has been running since the beginning of his existence, and i now tattoo the earth in the same elemental way. lungs fill and empty, synapses fire billions of small miracles as the trees rush past me. the change of season announces itself – there are chestnuts now spilling over in abundance as the leaves begin the cycle of decay, the dry burnt tang of them hanging in the air. it gets darker now, and the moon is a waxen balloon. waxing moon. waning trees. my body knows how to do this instinctively, no learning necessary, just the communication reflex travelling along nerves and sinew and muscle, guided by the brain stem. my thoughts get out of the way, and let the feet do their thing. i do not try to run, i simply do. and even as i subconsciously note the arrival of autumn, and the beginnings of death all around, my body has never been more alive and my awareness in each new second is only this:

i am present present present in this moment, this moment, this moment.

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if you’re leaving, come back soon

by Jen at 11:58 pm on 15.09.2009 | 1 Comment
filed under: family and friends, photo

after six and a half years living in London, i don’t really get homesick anymore. not for places anyway. and as for people… well, the awful truth is that you get used to the missing. that ache becomes a constant, uncomfortable but bearable background noise that you learn to live with out of necessity.

so it’s been a while since i choked up on the inevitable departure. i am always sad to leave again, of course, but dealing with that is the price of being an expat. so you deal – you prepare yourself, you suck it up, and you deal.

and so it caught me by surprise to find myself sobbing as i hugged my sister goodbye yesterday afternoon, crying as hard as if it were my first time tearing myself away. i don’t know why. maybe it was the fact that i will once again miss the birth of my newest niece or nephew, due in a few short weeks. maybe it was the fact that for the first time in five years, we were all together for my brother’s wedding, and it felt so good to be in the warm embrace of my whole family. maybe it was the changes in my grandfather, whose memory of me is fading so fast. maybe it was the time spent with old friends that know me so well that we can pick up where we last left off without missing a beat. maybe it was seeing my dad together with his sisters, and realising that the passing years are beginning to have the same effect on myself and my own siblings.

it was probably all of these things and more. these precious, precious things that only grow dearer with time – these stirring longings that no amount of travel or freedom can take the edge off of.

i always believed that more than six years as an expat would inure me to these nagging doubts and guilts. i always thought this choice would get easier, not harder.

but the tears belie the reality – i am missing more, and not less. and with each passing year, the tradeoffs i’ve made seem to pale in comparison to the things slipping past which i can never recapture.

i have, for the most part, become accustomed to the missing. but this fresh spate of tears serves to remind me that that’s not necessarily a good thing.

how i miss you – foo fighters

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in the mid-city, under an oiled sky,

by Jen at 5:19 pm on 31.08.2009 | 1 Comment
filed under: mutterings and musings, photo

In the mid-city, under an oiled sky,
I lay in a garden of such dusky green
It seemed the dregs of the imagination.
Hedged round by elegant spears of iron fence
My face became a moon to absent suns.
A low heat beat upon my reading face;
There rose no roses in that gritty place
But blue-gray lilacs hung their tassels out.
Hard zinnias and ugly marigolds
And one sweet statue of a child stood by.

-from “a garden in Chicago”, by karl Shapiro

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it’s nearly august, it must be rain

by Jen at 6:05 pm on 29.07.2009Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mundane mayhem, photo

back in april, when the metropolitan weather office was optimistically forecasting a “hot and dry” summer season ahead, i sniggered. in may, when they began warning of a genuine heatwave and recommending people paint their houses white, i laughed. i nearly bust a gut laughing – that info practically became the punchline to the running joke that is british summer. it may take me a while to catch on, but after 6 years here, i’ve finally come to understand its cruel annual tease.

still, in spite of my cynicism, some part of me was kind of hoping it would prove true. sadly, this morning’s news was an all too familiar refrain: august will be wet and cold. as per fucking usual.

so, unsurprisingly, no sun outdoors. luckily, i’ve got my own supply in…

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the soft sigh of summer

by Jen at 6:25 pm on 1.07.2009 | 3 Comments
filed under: blurblets, londonlife, photo

just when i begin to think i just couldn’t be more fed up with this city, it has a way of turning around and surprising me into falling in love with it all over again.

an incredible sunny warm summer evening.  husband on the barbeque.  wimbledon on the television. and this view at the end of the couch.

you’d be too lazy to blog too.

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everything was perfect, everything was meant to be

by Jen at 7:24 pm on 28.06.2009 | 4 Comments
filed under: family and friends, holidaze, photo

so here’s what happens when you plan a holiday around sun and beaches: it rains.

it rained nearly every single day of my vacation.  and yet somehow, through the unfailing optimism and hilarious good cheer of my travelling companion, (and copious amounts of beer), it was all okay.  everything we did, was “perfect”.  everything that was even moderately successful was “meant to be”.

i was, as tourguide, overcome with the realisation of just how different i am from the person that lived in boston 6 years ago.  the paths and places i’ve forgotten, the words that tangled up my tongue.  while there are bits and pieces that remain as intimately known as the back of my hand, more and more, each visit back represents snapshots of a life that is more different than i ever remembered, and all the unseen shifting that happened when i wasn’t looking.

time marches on, of course.  would that i could freeze people, come back to exactly where they were when i left, slide right back into my slot, take up my place seamlessly in everyone else’s lives and times.

but i can’t.  and the changes seem more and more pronounced each time i try to pick up where i left off.  i cannot, it seems, expect to indefinitely straddle two worlds – at some point, they drift too far apart.

these observations are not new, of course.  i’ve made them many times.  what was new, was the realisation that it doesn’t really sting so much nowadays.  i kinda wish it did.

other things of note:

  • i have a new nephew! will get to see him in a few weeks when i’m at my brother’s wedding
  • my nephew had swine flu. yes, for real
  • my other sister is also having another baby! due sometime in november
  • i don’t miss getting wound up by the ridiculous media in the u.s.,  at all.
  • lucky charms have inexplicably shrunk their marshmallows and now call them “mini-charms”
  • i may get lost driving around, but i can still home in on the beacon of any dunkin’ donuts within a 5 mile radius
  • customer service, while sometimes verging on the sycophantic, overall remains a far better experience in the u.s.
  • i hate getting charged for using an atm machine
  • boston is actually not a bad little city
  • people in the u.s. are starting to use british slang. i heard “knackered” and “wanker” used. for some reason, this annoys me greatly.

a few photos (more here):

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why hello there

by Jen at 11:29 am on 15.05.2009 | 7 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem, photo

so after two long and painful weeks, i am back online.  i also now hate virgin media with the intensity of a thousand suns, but that’s another story.

how’s everything been going in the interim?  well the move has turned into one of the worst-planned-and-executed operations since napoleon’s waterloo.  however we’re now fully here, sans sofa and a few other essential items.  up until a few days ago, the place was chaos – thanks to the determined efforts of j, it is now a slightly more refined chaos. here’s a peek.

the kitchen:

the lounge (and air mattress we’re sitting on in lieu of a couch)

the hideous orange hallway (why??!)

the peculiar toilet/utility room (i *hate* when they do stuff like this, in a effort to appeal to sharers)

the spare bedroom, cute husband (and icky drapes)

the “master” bedroom with soon-to-be-replaced velvet curtains

the bathroom

the decked patio

the in-need-of-overhaul garden

still needs a lot of work and cleaning.

i’m absolutely run down, falling apart at the seams exhausted.  in addition to the move and between-two-apartments limbo, i’ve been working like crazy (late even! and i never stay late!), and running like mad.  i’m now rather worried, as i’m suffering some sort of painful hip muscle strain and pretty sure i’ve got a stress fracture happening in my foot (which i’m ignoring).  only 2 weeks until the marathon, and i’d be devastated if i couldn’t finish it, so i’m stressing – trying to rest *and* maintain my conditioning.  i just feel run into the ground, like a could take a long nap at any given point during the day.

so i’ve been coming home late, running, eating and falling into bed.  then last weekend, a girls weekend in brighton with my heavily pregnant friend tonia…

brighton

brighton

brighton

brighton

brighton

and j’s birthday on the sunday…

… the sunday which also happened to be mother’s day in the u.s., and which i missed.  guilt.  also, a sad indicator of how reliant i am on those little email pop-up reminders and other internet-based cues, none of which i had access to. also a strong indicator of how very fried i’ve been.  so happy belated to my mum and my two sisters (one of which is due with her second little boy quite soon!) and my stepmom  i’m so sorry i missed telling you what fantastic mothers you’ve been, and how much i love you all.

so that’s what’s been up with me… what’s been up with all of you? )

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south africa preview

by Jen at 9:27 pm on 26.03.2009 | 2 Comments
filed under: photo, travelology

back from south africa – i have so much i want to say about the whole experience, but need to spend some time formulating my thoughts.

in the meantime, however, a few photos:

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yorkshire lass

by Jen at 8:02 pm on 23.02.2009 | 3 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem, photo

we went to a wedding in the yorkshire dales this weekend. i’d never been, and omfg it is gorgeous. like, beautiful in the way i dreamt of when i read “all creatures great and small” as a kid (fitting, as james herriot was writing about yorkshire). and no, i clearly never watched “emmerdale”, either.

i’ve never been particularly enamoured of the english countryside except in a drive-by-on-the-motorway-oh-wow-look-at-the-sheep-and-pasture kind of way. i know that rolling green hills and quaint thatched roofs is what everyone thinks of when they think of pastoral england, but most of the countryside i’ve seen has been of the home counties – and it has never really appealled.

but something about the dales just struck me. had me daydreaming about living out in the sticks in an old stone house and going for brisk rambles with a dog by my side. (working remotely from a london job, natch.) how could you not?

the sad reality is that my marriage simply could not survive rural living – i would get bored, drive jonno insane, and then he’d have to kill me.

but a girl can dream…

dales

dales2

dales3

dales4

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cassowaries, electric blankets, and love

by Jen at 8:00 am on 20.02.2009 | 5 Comments
filed under: now *that's* love, photo

dear j -

tomorrow (today) marks exactly 5 years that you and i have been together, four years that we’ve been married.

tonight, i’m sitting here watching a nature special about cassowaries with you.  you’re doing a running commentary, as you do: “look at the little fuzzy chickies”, “ooh, he’s doing a jump!”, “that bird could eat little zekie”.  i yell at you often when you do that, because you talk so much i can’t even hear the television – but really, i find it incredibly endearing and entertaining.

five years on, i love you more than ever.  i know you probably don’t believe it – after all, i’m hardly as gushy as i was before.  but the highs and lows have smoothed out into a steady, rhythmic, comforting pulse.  a presence i rely on like air.

and yet you still manage to surprise me with the small tendernesses that catch my heart unawares.  the other night i came to bed and found you’d thoughtfully turned on my electric blanket for me so i had toasty sheets.  me, with my reptilian circulation that you endlessly complain about.

and while it doesn’t sound like much, compared to flowery poetry and professions of love… it is, in fact, everything.

you are the endearing, entertaining, tender and surprising constant of my life.  thank you.

j and j morocco

crowded house – fall at your feet

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