Monthly Archives: January 2013

Natural History Museum London

Here’s a few photos of when I went to the Natural History Museum for probably the 10th time. I still love it. (Pittsburgh has better dinos though!)

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The mighty Coelocanth, rediscovered by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer in 1938.

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Walking the Victoria Line

When I called my friend Lenny (over at RunnyCustard Photography) and I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk with me, she asked me where to, obviously. I just said “We’ll see how it goes, see how far we get”. We walked from Brixton to Walthamstow, the entire Victoria Line. I don’t think she’s forgiven me yet.

We met at Brixton and by Stockwell (a tradition by now), the weather took a turn and we got caught in a rainstorm. Thankfully by the time we got to Vauxhall, it had stopped.

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The walk from Brixton to Vauxhall to Victoria  and on to Kings Cross was fairly easy. I was feeling energetic and Lenny wasn’t tired yet, so on we walked. To Highbury and Islington (a surprisingly long way from Kings Cross) and through my old neighbourhood to Finsbury Park. We stopped to refuel (cider and a JD and diet coke, if I remember correctly) and kept walking on to Seven Sisters. It was at this point that we simultaneously walked near a reservoir in a really gorgeous summer evening and totally hit the wall.

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This is the reason why, if you’re going to go for a long walk, you should start out in the new place if you are ending in a place that you’re familiar with. I guarantee that if you get to the new place at the end of a walk, you will not care how pretty it is or that there are cute little baby geese. You’ll just have ‘Blackhorse Road’ repeating in your head like a mantra and the dread in your heart that you’ve still got to walk to Walthamstow Central after that.

Finally, we made it.

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Things I like: Maps

This will probably not be the last post about maps. Along with the Underground, maps are one of my top obsessions. Here’s some of my latest favourites.

Rebecca Foster’s amazing maps. Apparently hers actually get her where she’s going too!

Map shade! from achica.com via Lizzie Pancakes

Karen O’Leary papercuts. So cool!

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Eric Fischer data visualisation. This is 5000 walks all aligned.

 

Stephen Walter’s Map Of Subterranean London | Londonist

 

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Book Review: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

It’s been said in a lot of other reviews that a summary of this book is really difficult to write and once it has been written, the book loses its entire meaning and most of its appeal. Murakami reaches the height (along with Kafka on the Shore) of his zen-like philosophy and narrative ambiguity, blending reality and fantasy into a beautiful and bizarre love story.

Typical of Murakami, the main character is the most boring man. Middle-aged and very average, his life up to this point has been painfully ordinary. Then he quits his very ordinary job and things get weird. After the disappearance of his cat, he starts getting bizarre phone calls, his wife leaves him and he meets his 16 year old neighbour who is obsessed with death. A friend of  a (fortune-teller) friend brings another vein to the story – that of the Japanese conflict in Manchuria. This mixes with the story of his saviours, also psychics of some sort and they too are connected with the Japanese army in Manchuria during the Second World War. Their grisly tales somehow blend their way into the story and give Toru clues to finding his wife and bringing her and their cat home.

Overall, this book, I think, has a very clear narrative (despite the number of separate story-lines being developed simultaneously), but it does have a pretty vague outcome. There is a huge emphasis on dreams and mixing realities in this novel that can’t be really explained in ‘real-world’ terms. Murakami frequently explores the idea many realities and many, equally valid, truths. Could Cinnamon know for a fact what her father saw in the zoo in Manchuria while she was on a boat far away? And does it really matter? Does any of this actually have to do with finding the cat? And does that matter? Indeed, the book itself is an exercise in exploring this concept. It forces you to try to find what the one ending to the novel is, if there is one. You’re left with questions that you have to figure out for yourself, though not as many as at the end of Kafta on the Shore.

Personally, I really like that. I loved this book. I loved the fact that it’s a love story underneath it all. And I love Murakami’s style that you have to just give into and just have to accept whatever the book throws at you. I love that by reading the book, you are made to explore different realities and practice the surreal philosophy that is exemplified in the book. However if you are one of those people who like clear-cut, obvious endings or even story lines you may be frustrated early on.

 

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Amsterdam in October

Growing up in the states, as a kid, we were all fascinated by Amsterdam- you can do WHAT? And it’s LEGAL???!? Finally, in October, I got to visit for myself.  While you can totally have the kind of experience that’s too good to remember, if you catch my drift, Amsterdam has so much more to offer than that.

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We landed in Schiphol airport and within two hours I pretty much wanted to move to Amsterdam. There wasn’t much time the first night to do much other than take the world’s longest route to the hotel (thus seeing a large part of the city as it slowly got dark and more difficult to read the map), and pop in to a couple of brown bars.

Brown bars are the Dutch equivalent of an English pub, stained ‘brown’ from tobacco use or painted brown for tourists. This is a surprisingly effective approach to gaining business as to the untrained eye, it’s very difficult to tell the difference and the brown bars are oh so atmospheric. The good news is that if you can’t tell the difference there’s really no harm done- not many places I found actively try rip you off. (I’d avoid the bars right on Damm Square though including one that was 8 euros a pint and awful.) Brown bars are just as comfortable as your average local (nice local, not the Wetherspoons) and if they’re a truly local brown bar you’ll know immediately because you will be the shortest one in the room and also the only one speaking English. This isn’t to say no one speaks English- everyone does.

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The Heineken and Amstel that you get in London or in the states from the tap or in cans, or the Heineken that is referred to in Blue Velvet (one of the easier to follow David Lynch films), is a completely different ball game to what’s available in Amsterdam. The Heineken and Amstel in Amsterdam are absolutely delicious, have several varieties, and if you’re not careful can definitely take the shine off your tour of the Rijksmuseum the next morning. The beer is served in varying-sized glasses ranging from a rather dainty glass that’s a bit smaller than a pint to a massive stein. It’s also served with a massive head on it and the bartender uses a spatula-like tool to smooth off the top in a well-practised ritual.

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It wasn’t the best weather (it cleared up just in time to go home), but it worked out really well. The dry spells were perfect for exploring the city and the rainy spells were just long enough to explore a museum, go into a brown bar, or order a sandwich in the world’s smallest café (or what seemed like it) that appeared to have every ingredient imaginable piled high on it and was totally delicious.

I wish I could tell you where this amazing café was, but a. I have the worst sense of direction and b. giving directions in Amsterdam isn’t that straight forward. The central part of the city is based around a series of canal rings. These are semi-circular canals intersecting the city and that make it somewhat difficult to keep track of where you are (impossible for me). That’s not to say there aren’t landmarks, there are plenty, but just that there are several easy ways to get to any one place and following a canal is almost irresistible on a sunny autumn afternoon (or a sunny spell as it were), so it’s not always totally obvious where you’re going to end up (which is lovely!)

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There are some distinct parts or neighbourhoods of the city, the oldest part is now the Red Light district. I only went during the day and once during the early evening and I really have no desire to ever go back in the night. There’s some really cool stuff there like the Oude Kerk (where Rembrandt got married) and I guess you have to see what Amstersdam is most famous for. In the Red Light district, prostitution is not only legal, it’s ubiquitous, even in the afternoon. However, the coffee shops were actually totally fine. The only loud or obnoxious ones were the tourist ones. The other ones were just like a regular bar, only playing trippy music and people were just chilling out on couches. Personally, the red light district made me very, very uncomfortable and I didn’t feel totally safe in the evening. As a woman, sometimes the leering men had trouble differentiating between the women wanting to be looked at in the windows and the women who were not in windows and therefore should not be leered at.

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Other neighbourhoods we visited were Jordaan (which I really liked),de Pijp, Museumkwartier. There’s lots of neighbourhoods and lots to the neighbourhoods I didn’t have time to see so I’m sure I missed cool things there. Jordaan is where there are lots of nice bars and restaurants and cool canal houses (They’re everywhere really, but I liked these houses the best for some reason.) It still has a sense of being an older part of the city, but not as seedy as the Red Light district. I was only in de Pijp for the morning and went to a market and had a grilled cheese sandwich. This seemed like more of an area where ‘regular’ people live and I wish I’d gotten to explore it more. (There is a pet store with a very, very adorable collection of kittens.)

Coming from London, Amsterdam seemed so quiet and manageable. A 4 day weekend wasn’t enough because I loved it, but it was enough to get a good idea of the city, do a pretty comprehensive tour of the brown bars and get our money’s worth out of the museum card (probably the single best purchase I’ve ever made on holiday).  There’s loads of history, museums, and other landmarks (Dam Square, canals, iconic canal houses etc.) and loads to see next time I go.

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Making: Simple, Lovely Shawls

Making; Easy, quick knitting project for hand-spun wool

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I’m very, very lucky to be friends with a super talented hand-spinner and I’m very lucky she likes me enough to give me some of her wool. My immediate reaction (and I’m sure most knitters would agree) is that I want to make something akin to a bean-bag chair of all the skeins and just collapse into its softness. I want to make some kind of shrine to admire (and squeeze) the skeins forever. Unfortunately, this isn’t practical. The other option is being too afraid to do anything with the wool and this seems like a massive shame to the beautiful yarn and hard work that was put into making it.

With the first skein she gave me, I agonised (agonised!) over what to do with it. Until the day I came across a simple pattern for a triangular shawl to show off the texture of wool rather than to show off the knitted pattern. I think I originally saw this on Brooklyn Tweed (who is probably one of the most talented knitters and designers out there.)

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The first shawl turned out more of a neckerchief than a shawl, but is so soft and so warm. I think it’s camel wool and seriously, it’s incredibly soft

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The second shawl is almost shawl-size and is also super cozy and warm. I used two colours of hand-spun wool (not sure what kind) and since the wool was two different thicknesses it made the stripes into two slightly different textures, which I quite like the imperfection of.

The whole idea behind using this simple pattern is to let the natural shape and size of the wool shine through so it can be used for lengths that are of varying widths or of variegated colours.

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In case you’re curious, the pattern is very simple. Cast on 5 or 7 stitches in any way you like, marking the middle stitch with stitch markers. So cast on 2 (or 3) stitches, put a marker, cast on a stitch, and put a marker then cast on 2 (or 3) more stitches. For every row, knit up to the marker, yarn over, slip marker, knit the middle stitch, slip marker, yarn over and knit to end. Continue this pattern until you either run out of wool or reach your desired length.

You can play around with the garter stich pattern by knitting one row and then purling a row then knitting a bunch of rows. You could also knit a row, purl a row, then knit 4 rows and repeat to make another pattern. This will had some more texture. Or instead of having the yarn overs in the middle, you can also put them at the sides of the shawl. Although, I really like how they’re in the middle in my shawls. It looks a bit like a back bone.

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New Year’s Resolutions 2013

The basic theme of my New Year’s Resolutions is to try to new things and to take more advantage of how lucky I am. I’m really lucky to get to live in London, go to lots of interesting places, and do lots of interesting things. I’m also lucky to be able to have the resources and to be okay at doing certain things and to be in the position to try them out.

      1. Take more photos and share them.
      2. Write 2 pages a day in my notebook, write a story.
      3. Seize the day – early to bed early to rise, be active and go places!
      4. Make new dress
      5. Read 10 new books
      6. Get serious about the blog. Give it a go, see what happens.
      7. Visit home- it’s been too long!

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1. I love photography. I should do what I love more often. My mom let me borrow her old film camera and I want to experiment more and generally document the life. I know I’ll love to look back on it.

2. I want to try to write stories (funny or fiction) and I think if I have material to work with, then this will be easier to do. Also, it’s quite nice to get my thoughts down manually, on something physical. Writing things down gets my thoughts in order and I feel so productive when I gradually fill up a notebook.

I’ve already been trying this one out and a nice side effect is that my handwriting is getting better! When was the last time you hand-wrote something?

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3. Remember this dress I made? I want to make it a buddy, make it into a diptych. Actually, I want to make loads of things, but this is a starting point, a clear goal.

4. It feels like such a waste of a weekend if I get up until 11 and miss out on half the day. It’s also nice to get up and not have to rush around to work. I’m in control of my day, not some unrealistic desire to sleep for 12 hours in a row and still have a normal amount of day left. It’s then important to do something with my day, and I want to travel within and without my city.

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5. Read 10 new books. I love reading and I have a 45 minute commute each way to work. It’s a good chance to read and even when my commute changes I want to continue to read just as much. It’s good for you

6. My final resolution is to get serious about this blog that I’ve had for four years. Four years is a very long time and I’ve only written a very, very sad number of posts. I’ve always kind of envied other blogs that are so amazing and cool-looking and generally entertain me while at the same time making me feel like getting off my butt, stopping reading the internet and going and doing something in the real world for myself.

7. I’m an American living in London desperately missing decent hash browns and diner coffee.  I’ve not been home for over a year and a half and it’s time to have a reunion!

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