Friday, February 29, 2008

Cabs in Another City

Allison sent me this link to the Cabspotting project in San Francisco; the site features some mesmerizing images showing where cabs travel around the city. Someone may be using this information to investigate the “economic, social, and cultural trends that are otherwise invisible,” but to me, it just looks like art. (I have a thing for art created from underlying patterns, such as these striped scans by British artist Jonathan Lewis, based on blown-up images of candy wrappers. How I love the Peppermint Pattie.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Word on the Street

One thing I love about London is the way the news headlines are seemingly hand-lettered in black marker on white paper and posted up at news kiosks so that you can see the big story of the day and avoid reading the paper. But where do these signs come from? (They are the same all over the city, so it’s not as if each vendor is deciding what to write up.) And sometimes the headlines change during the day. And sometimes there’s more than one poster up, when there are several newsworthy stories (usually one involving football). Perhaps these posters developed from the tradition of town criers? I don't know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Local News

Locals call the preferred pub in their neighborhood the “local,” and this is the sign at one of our many surrounding pubs. This one is perhaps a bit too local for us. We’re more likely to go to a local gastropub, such as The Garrison or Village East, which is perhaps just a restaurant. (But check out their website because it’s really quite impressive, as is their twice-baked gruyere and parmesan soufflĂ© and their charred poussin with chermoula and chorizo, which is what I had last time we were there).

In New York, the best (maybe the only) gastropub is The Spotted Pig, with British chef April Bloomfield.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More Museum News

The Fashion and Textile Museum just reopened with a splash of mango and hot pink in the middle of the gray bricks of Bermondsey Street. (I read, in fact, that this is the only building in Europe designed by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.) I dropped in to see what's up, and although there's not much going on in the exhibits department yet, there is a wonderfully curated little gift shop, with architecturally pleated scarves, tweed purses, and ceramics imprinted with textile textures.

Monday, February 25, 2008

First Visit to the British Library

Statue of Newton, after William Blake, in front of the British Library.

I saw a fabulous exhibit at the British Library this weekend, called Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde, 1900-1937. “Because of its very nature, the avant garde was denied traditional modes of communication and exhibition, so participants became adept at finding alternative outlets, publishing their own manifestos, poetry, magazines and books, and creating new genres, such as the artist’s book and the photo-book,” according to the accompanying catalog. The exhibit was all about typography, visual poetry, “the total work of art,” and new ways of looking at text (among other things).

A few of my favorite things from the show:

Apollinaire’s calligramme called "Il Pleut" (It's Raining);

Tristan Tzara’s instructions for how to make a Dada poem (which, by the way, can yield some perfectly wonderful insights, if not poetry);

a Hogarth Press edition of Eliot’s The Waste Land;

a Man Ray photograph showing superimposed images of neon lights in Paris, which was commissioned as part of the government’s promotional campaign to get people to use more electricity!;

and this snippet from the wall-plaque bio of Wyndam Lewis: “In his plea for a commission in World War I, Lewis claimed that he had ‘organised the “Cubist” invasion of England without the loss of a single Cube.’”

British Library in the foreground; some part of St. Pancras train station in the background (I think).

Friday, February 22, 2008

World's Best Taxis

I’m not sure why exactly, but London cabs have been voted best in the world in a poll conducted by I would have to agree that London cabs are the roomiest and have the most polite drivers, but those are things that matter only occasionally. New York cabs (which came in second) should have won for affordability and ubiquity, I think. In terms of aesthetics, however, I'd have to vote for Tokyo cabs, what with their white lace seat covers, doors that open automatically and that no one should touch, and graphic taxi lights, which I’ve posted about before. And finally, for most character-filled cabs, it's got to be the cabs of the Caribbean, in which the driver often has a can of beer in the drink holder and pictures of his kids and/or Haile Selassie on the dashboard.

What do you think? Best taxis in the world are where?

All of which has reminded me of my favorite (NY) cab driver quote, from Taxi Driver Wisdom: "There's always something in the tunnel." So beware.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Website(s) of the Week

Time Out’s cover story this week is about the 50 best London websites. Check out the entire list if you have that kind of free time and interest in London. Here are three sites that I found particularly rewarding:

Beasts of London, which, as it says on the opening page, is “a chronicle pertaining to strange creatures and out of place animals in the capital,"

a fascinating interactive map of 1827 London, and

entries from the diary of Sameul Pepys, presented in blog style. And if you like this one, you should check out the bio by Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which offers an in-depth look at the day-to-day life of both Pepys and London.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Signs of Spring

at the flower shop on Bermondsey Street

Also, these veggie necklaces make me think of springtime, somehow: look at the peas! I'd like to see a whole strand of these, like pearls. (Via mocoloco.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In Praise of Punctuation

Gotta love the semicolon; or, rather, I do.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Weekend with a New York Feel

After theater on Saturday night (David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, which was good; the crowd even stood up for it, a response that I’ve found to be less common in London than New York, perhaps because theater is better in New York?)

and an excellent dinner of pierogi, eggplant salad, braised rabbit and pork at Baltic, a sleek Polish restaurant with a New York feel (dark space full of people, so full in fact that no tables would be opening up for the rest of the night, so we ate at a bar table, which was fine with us, but apparently the Brits don’t like to do that; a couple in front of us turned down the suggestion; and some of the best places to eat at the bar in New York, after the theater, when you haven’t booked ahead: Blue Hill and Esca),

after all this, we went out to find a cab (you’d think if cabs are going to be expensive, they’d at least be available), when the highlight of our evening occurred. A man walked up to us and said:
Do you know where Great Suffolk Street is?
No, I’m sorry.
Oh, that’s okay. In the end, we’re all strangers.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On Rejection

So the day after Valentine’s Day seems like a good day to post this video about rejection (via bookninja). Perhaps those of you who aren’t writers don’t encounter rejection on a daily basis, so it’s still new and interesting to you. (I long ago figured out how to incorporate rejection into the ongoing writing process, so now it’s just part of the whole.) But surely you’ve experienced rejection in some form, even if it isn’t ongoing, and so perhaps you’ll enjoy this video, which is not uproariously funny but subtly so.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's what I think is a wonderful bit of artwork (cheap, elegant, witty) and a lovely Valentine to NYC: the matchbook skyline.

If you want to do something for a person, however, how about this bread and chocolate appetizer from Ferran Adria. I've made it before and it helps to use the best (fruity, peppery) olive oil and sea salt (fleur de sel) you have around. It might also benefit from a sprinkling of chipotle powder if you don't have the salt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Website of the Week

Take a look at The Sartorialist to see how people are dressing around the world. I haven't noticed a huge difference between New York and London in how people dress, although the men, in general, do seem a bit more put together here, perhaps because there are fewer freelancers, writers, and artists? (The women look better in NYC.) To live as a Londoner, I haven't had to change my daily running-around outfit (jeans, tank top, cashmere hoodie, black sneakers), but Dan has had to adjust his look to fit in. In the banking industry, at least, the daily uniform is business suit and no tie. Think about it: full business suit, often with french cuffs and cufflinks, shiny shoes, lovely striped shirt, but no tie (and the top button open on the shirt). This takes a bit of getting used to. The first time Dan wore this, I thought he was joking. But now it seems all right.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Something to Make for V-Day

Over the weekend, I made a lovely, light, slightly fragrant lavender pound cake from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor. And it occurred to me that this would be a wonderful, subtle dessert (or breakfast) for Valentine's Day. In my book, chef Jerry Traunfeld says in the introduction to the recipe: "When you add just enough lavender to a plain buttery cake or cookie, it acts in the way vanilla does, as a background flavor that adds depth and fullness to the flavor but doesn't announce itself too boldly. Pound cake is particularly heavenly with lavender." (Some other wonderful recipes in the book include cinnamon basil chicken and shrimp in garlic sage butter.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Green Scene from the Weekend

This is an example of “sustainable lighting design” in our neighborhood over the weekend. We went down to the river specifically to see the HMS Belfast, which was supposed to be covered in “camouflage” striped lights of some sort. But as you can see in my blurry photo below, it was bathed in purple light instead. If all the white building lights were turned off, it might be a little eerie, but to light up one or two landmarks with something more energy efficient sounds like a great idea.

Also from the weekend: a NYT article about how cities are greener than suburbs. (Not exactly news. I’ve heard for years that one of the best things you can do for the planet is live in a city.) It will be interesting to see if Americans start giving up houses, cars, and yards in the next few decades. (One of my personal goals is never to have any of those things, though I don’t mind if Dan has a car and drives me around on special occasions). In England, too, people are determined to have some land, though Londoners seem to be happy with a garden rather than a yard. But the garden for many is a must. And every apartment I’ve seen here has a terrace of some sort because I suppose that’s some consolation to those who have to live above the ground floor. (There are also allotments, which exist throughout the country, but the waiting list is so long for city plots that one website says, “The unfortunates who live in the middle [of the city] will have to believe in reincarnation because waiting lists there are very long indeed.”)

Wherever you live, check out the re-nest blog for green ideas and products.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Through a Taxi Window

When we were in Paris, some images in an art gallery called to us from across the street and we went in to discover the artist Elodie Lachaud. On display were photographs taken from inside New York taxis and lit from behind with a lightbox. The pieces were huge and mesmerizing. Here are some images of her work. I especially like how you can read the meter and see that these trips were costing less than $5. Ah, the good old days. (The other day, we glanced into a cab on the road in front of us and saw the fare was up to 99: that would be pounds.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Modicum of Interest

I’m not sure if the Royal Mail timed this new offering to coincide with hype about the upcoming Quantum of Solace movie, but here are their new James Bond stamps, which would look pretty good framed and put up in a den or library or home theater or bachelor pad, if you have any of those things. (Regarding the film title, here are the thoughts of one critic. And I heard a BBC newscaster the other day say she thinks most people will understand only one of the three words.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Things to Consider Every Week

Here's a list of regular, weekly columns that appear in Time Out London that do not appear in Time Out New York (or any other city’s version, for that matter, or so I imagine):

Lies to Tell Tourists (such as, it’s illegal to hand out free newspapers in the Tube)

Overheard Underground (such as, “I told him I didn’t care how many tea towels he had.” Compare this to some of the snatches of conversation I’ve heard on the streets of New York: “You know the last time you got out of jail…” and, from a woman on her cell phone: “You were supposed to meet me at City Hall to get married today.” I keep a list.)

On the Buses: Riding All of London’s Buses, Just for Fun!

Any Excuse for a Drink (in which some sort of holiday—Australia Day— is offered up with a recommendation for what to drink to celebrate it)

and my favorite: So Many Pubs, So Little Time

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Four Things about Poetry

First, I’ve been reading Stephen Fry’s book The Ode Less Travelled, in which he argues that writing poetry—like singing, painting, playing the piano, or any other hobby—should be accessible and enjoyed by everyone (or, rather, whoever is so inclined). He writes: “I believe our poetic impulse is blocked by the false belief that poetry on the one hand might be academic and technical and on the other formless and random. It seems to many that while there is a clear road to learning music, gardening, or watercolours, poetry lies in inaccessible marshland.” The book goes on to take one through the basics of meter, rhyme, form, diction, etc. His goal is to give you the tools to write your own poetry, for fun, as a hobby, not as a profession. There’s nothing in here that you didn’t learn in school (probably), but he has a humorous, conversational way of presenting everything.

Second, I found this short interview with poet Charles Simic in the New York Times to be entertaining, especially his advice for how to be happy! (And here’s one of his poems that I like.)

Third, I have some new poems of my own up at a ezine called Concelebratory Shoehorn Review.

Fourth, I was flipping through Poe: A Life Cut Short by British author Peter Ackroyd yesterday, and it looked promising, especially when I realized that I’ve never read a biography of Poe, and he’s one of those people whose lives are made for biographical treatment. Keep an eye out for when it hits the American market.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Weekend Eating

We had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants on Saturday night: Rasa Samudra. We went in about 10:15 and were the last people to leave before they closed up, which is a bit disconcerting. I still can’t get over how early things close here. Another disappointment was the unwillingness of the appam maker to make us some. Appams are addictive rice-flour pancake things that are delicious with curries. Hard to find outside of southern India, however (we were constantly on the search for them in New York and never found anything that approached the original). And for some reason, the restaurants that do serve them (such as Rasa, and they have excellent ones) don’t like to make them. Perhaps because appams have to be made to order and served hot and it’s just too much trouble, though Rasa does have a little stove and pot at the front of the pink restaurant where the appam maker sits, as if to lure people in with this promise of a small piece of paradise on a plate. Anyway. The food we did have—Keralan fish curry with coconut, chiles, tomatoes, and tamarind and an eggplant curry in a cashew nut sauce—was delicious, as always. The chef behind Rasa has several beautiful cookbooks out, and I bought one when we were visitors years ago, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never made anything from it. Maybe now that I have a food scale and am working in grams and such, I will tackle it. (You can also sign up for a newsletter to receive seasonal recipes by email.)
      After dinner we drove over to the Beigel Bake, which is one of the few food establishments here that stays open 24 hours. I never really realized, I think, how different New York is from other major cities in staying up late. (There’s something comforting about 24-hour delis and knowing you can eat pasta with scallops and sea urchin at Esca at 11:30, after the theater.) We bought smoked salmon for the bagels earlier at Borough Market and Philadelphia cream cheese from the supermarket. And at brunch on Sunday, we had to show some people that the best way to eat a bagel is toasted, with salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and onion, all hot and smushed together.

And thanks to Allison for the use of the picture of London above!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Eating Locally

Lyle’s Golden Syrup—created close to our neighborhood, apparently—has the world’s oldest branding and packaging design, according to this BBC story. It’s pretty easy to find in the States. (I used to get it at D'Agostino's when I wanted to make this recipe. These are not the best cookies ever made, as the recipe intro claims, but they’re good.) I also recently discovered that our neighborhood is "the place where tinned food began,” according to a tourist pamphlet I picked up called “The Story of Bermondsey.”

I’ve been thinking about processed food recently (and I don’t use a ton of packaged foods, except for canned tomatoes and beans, frozen peas and spinach, all of which I’d be lost without) because I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, in which the author attempts to live off her land for a year. Interesting project and entertaining writing but unrealistic for city dwellers like us with a terrace subject to high winds at all times. But it does make one think about eating locally and not ordering asparagus except in the springtime, for example. (More British cheddar for us!)

Another book, A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes is perhaps more suitable for our lifestyle. I’ve heard really good things about this book for a long time but have not yet invested in it. I found some of its recipes online, however, at the Serious Eats blog. Here’s one for Tuscan bean soup and one for orecchiette with peas. (And in the prepared foods department, I am a firm believer that dried pasta—has to be Italian, however—is always better than fresh, at least when you’re doing it at home. My favorite is the Rustichella d'Abruzzo brand, and Amazon seems to have every shape they make.)