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April 10, 2009 / Brittany Hendrick

London, Cardiff, Dover, Barcelona, Paris, New York… Buffalo?

From the time I was a teenager, I’d wanted to take a trip to the UK (that would be United Kingdom– not University of Kentucky, as one person thought).  I was intrigued by the history, architecture, attitude, life approach and humor of the British people– the very opposite of America.  Of course, these wonderful attributes are acquired after having the “crap bombed out of you,” as I like to say.

And I don’t mean that glibly– such tragedy and reconstruction force a society to reform practically and simply, to realign what is important in life.  Not that I’ve done research on this sort of thing, but… er… I’m starting to wander now and get myself in trouble.

My interest in visiting the UK increased as I studied mostly British Literature in school, taking only the one required American Literature course…grudgingly… a 2000-level class… my graduating semester.  However, I did get joy out of telling off that professor in my final exam (he deserved it).  Also, coincidentally, a few years earlier, I had a dream that my least favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, took me around London, where she ended up doing a reading in a park and I was shushing people who were talking throughout.  Wow, American Lit. ended up being fun after all.

I’d always felt a magnetic pull that I “belong” in the UK; the long-running joke is that I want to be with “my people.”  Yet I never made the journey, citing excuses such as not enough money, not enough time, no one to go with me, fear of plane turbulence, no passport, and so on.  Instead, recently, I did what most jobless people do and eschewed financial responsibility to spend a week in Europe.  I had a lump sum of severance pay, cheap airfare, and a travel partner with a London connection and a good camera.

All photos that occur throughout this post are courtesy of my fellow travellers: my old GSU chum, Mikey, and his girlfriend, Ani.  I am not much of a picturetaker, and I don’t like being touristy and having my picture taken in front of buildings and shit.  Instead, my lengthy written follies are my snapshots, as follows:

London, England: Many boyfriends, and Cockfosters.
Everything began at tinier-than-expected, quiet Heathrow Airport.  I’d already rehearsed in my head the answers I’d give Immigration.  I wasn’t nervous about crossing the border, but there were some details about my trip that could be perceived as suspicious.  Like the fact that I have no job.  And no hotel– we were staying with Mikey’s British roommate’s brother in East Putney for a few days.  There were other problems: 1) all I knew about the brother was his name, address and phone number, 2) I was alone; I flew directly from Atlanta, while Mikey and Ani flew from JFK, and 3) my Immigration officer wasn’t as jolly as the others.

I won’t divulge what I did and didn’t tell Immigration.  But for a second, it looked like I’d be pulled into a special room.  When I finally showed the officer my flight itinerary, all was well.  He wordlessly, expressionlessly stamped my passport.  Some minutes later, as I walked through a breezeway to meet Mikey and Ani, the officer and I passed each other.  I guess he was going on a break or something.  I smiled and nodded at him, as it’s my nature to do when I see someone familiar.  He looked at me and cracked a tiny, tiny, tiny smile.  Aw.  I declared him my first official boyfriend of the trip.

There is backstory to the boyfriend jargon.  I jokingly refer to men who favor, fancy, or are charmed by me, “boyfriend,” even though they’re not really anywhere close to being a boyfriend.  And I do this in the privacy amongst friends and family– NEVER with the guy’s knowledge.  Sheesh.  I’m not delusional.  It’s just a funny thing I do.  Kidding, jokes.  Metaphor, hyperbole.

Now, as you can tell, I don’t look like most American women.  I am tall, thin, pale, pointy-nosed, red-headed (not at he moment), green-eyed.  Definitely not… the standard blonde, tan, button-nosed, thicker, average height woman with a body that screams the come hither, evolutionary “I’LL HAVE YOUR BABIES” message.  And not anything you’d see on a VH-1 reality show.  I look like a not-far-down-the-line European– half Dutch (Mayflower), half Italian (Ellis Island).  This combo hasn’t worked for me in America.  Yet I think I am attractive in an unconventional way.  I always had a feeling I’d go over well in Europe.

Sure enough, I scored my second boyfriend before leaving the airport, when we bought our tube passes.  Mikey purchased his and Ani’s passes together.  As I made my transaction, the clerk asked, “Why didn’t he [Mikey] buy yours?”

“Because I’m not his girlfriend!” I retorted.

The clerk, who was a very handsome Muslim man (turban, beard and all), made some comment about that I could be his girlfriend and he’d take me along with him.  I melted.  I think I’m going to like this place.

We took the tube into London.  We giggled at the train announcer lady who said that our line ends at the Cockfosters station (eh heh.  we’re mature).  It became a catchphrase for our trip, when we’d randomly blurt out “Cockfosters” in a British accent.  We liked how it sounded, and it was fun to say… over and over again.

Once into the city, we immediately did some exploring.  None of us had slept in almost 24 hours.  We thought the best way to combat that malady was to have some beers at a couple pubs.  At the second pub I ordered the first round of drinks, which totaled £7.50.  I handed the bartender my debit card.  He told me there was a £10.00 minimum for cards.  Well, that’s just ridiculous.  I can understand a 2.00, 3.00, 5.00 minimum.  But 10.00?  I told him I didn’t have any cash on me.  Mikey had cash, but he’d gone off to get us a table and I didn’t see him anywhere.  So, I just looked at the bartender in a way that said, “Well?  Either you get paid, or you waste three pints.”  This was hard to do with a straight face since his hair was spraypainted red and he was wearing a red clown nose in observance of Red Nose Day (we never figured out what that was).  It was an uncomfortable deadlock, but one I was willing to endure.  Finally, he gave in and let me pay on my card.  Yeah, another boyfriend.

Our next day in London was filled with lots of walking.  We trekked from the Natural History museum, Big Ben (Parliament), Westiminster Abbey, a lovely little park, Buckingham Palace, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Trafalgar Square, back to Big Ben (Parliament), Tate Museum (you need an entire day devoted to this– we barely made a dent), all the way down to Tower Bridge.  Lunch and dinner occured somewhere in there.  I don’t know how much distance we covered, but I’m guessing it was roughly 349,028 kilometers.

Here are my additional observations:

— Street signs are not situated as we know them to be in America.  Here, we have nice posts of uniform height and size, in an easy-to-read color scheme, loyally located at road corners that tell us the cross streets.  In London (and Barcelona et al), street signs are placquards on the buildings– some high, some low; some big, some small; some right at the edge of the building, some indented; some in black paint with white background, some engraved in stone.  All of it screwed up.  I didn’t know where we were half the time, because I couldn’t find the damn roadsign on the building, or I couldn’t read it from a distance because the typeface was so small.  Basically, if you’re driving around and don’t know where you’re going, you’re lost.  You have to take your eyes WAY off the road to search for the street sign!  Doesn’t this setup cause lots of car accidents?

— There are not many skyscrapers.  If there are any, they are clustered in an area outside the historical parts of the city.  This is actually very nice, because you can see the sky when you look upward!  It’s nothing like NYC.

— Many words are not pronounced as they look.  I knew a lot of these already, but this was of great abundance.  Gloucester = Gloster, Leicester = Lester, quay = key, Marylebone = Marleybone.  And many more I can’t think of right now.  Entire syllables are omitted.  I’m surprised ..London.. isn’t Loon, and Cardiff isn’t Carf, and Cockfosters isn’t Coasters.

— Bathrooms are called “toilets,” which sounds crass to me.  What I liked about public restrooms: every single one I went in, the stalls had NO spaces in between the doors.  You know what I’m talking about.  No one can peek in on you.  Despite the modernized, airtight stalls, the water fixtures had separate hot and cold faucets…  What I didn’t like: you actually had to pay to use the restroom at train stations.  It’s the damnedest thing.

— Everyone drives hatchback cars.  Again, I knew Europeans drove small cars.  But to witness this fact in-person is a sight.  This must make police car chases very difficult.  Why hatchbacks, I wonder?

— No one talks on the subway.  In America, on any given city’s rail system, you know the business, lovelife and drama of those around you, complete with a rap soundtrack that can be heard blasting through some thug’s iPod earbuds or, if you’re lucky, a guy rapping aloud.  Americans are loud and indiscrete.  In London, people don’t talk while on the tube.  No cell phones, no audible music, no boisterous conversations (post-football matches may be a different story).  Londoners read or contemplate their day.  The railcars are narrower than those in America, so there isn’t room to display much of anything, much less your personal business.

— Restaurant service is horrible.  Waitstaff are paid a wage and don’t give a shit about you or the fact that you MIGHT tip them out of custom.  This is not the fault of the English.  Most waitstaff are Eastern European, and they suck.  We started to get a complex, thinking that maybe people didn’t want to serve us because we’re American.  We had to flag someone down for everything.  The only place we didn’t have to do that was at a breakfast deli… where our waitress was English.

— Topshop is bottomshit.

Cardiff, Wales: “We’re not all like that.”
If you’ve ever wondered where unicorns, rainbows, glitter, faeries, drunk people and old stuff come from, where Candy Mountain is located, and where leprechauns reside eleven months out of the year, it’s Wales. Wales is the most magical place on Earth.

And we almost didn’t make it there.

After London, the only place I absolutely wanted to visit was Cardiff, the capital of Wales.  I was dead-set on doing some damage at Spillers Records, which is the oldest record store in the world.  Not that I think Spillers carries special inventory apart from any other independent store or would have some original victrola vinyl of Lord Tennyson reading his own poetry.  But I think it’s exceptional that an indie could survive over 100 years, and that must be supported.  Besides, the vinyl I’m looking for, I’ll never find in U.S. stores– I have a greater chance running across a Loop, Fluke or Chapterhouse album in the UK (eBay is not as fun).  Most compellingly, Spillers came to me, which is a very cool sidenote story that I’ll just asterisk here and you can read about it later.*

Just a few days into our trip and, already, time was not our friend.  We squeezed in a Cardiff plan at the Eleventh Hour, requiring us to take a two-hour bus ride, giving us only a handful of hours to take in the city before we’d have to turn around and go right back to London.

The trip through the countryside was the usual British quietness, except for one rude guy (neither British nor American) who insisted on talking loudly on his cell phone and bugging the shit out of this poor young man who was too polite to tell his antagonist to piss off.  Unfortunately, Mikey and I were in the crossfire; we were sitting at the very back of the bus, so there was not an aisle separating us from this mess.  From left to right, it was Mr. Rude, Mikey, me, Mr. Polite.  Ani smartly had moved to a regular seat earlier.

Mr. Polite was trying to read a book, Mikey was trying to watch a DVD on his laptop, and I was trying to figure out why the grass is so green and why the hills resemble landfills.  Mr. Rude, between vociferous cell phone conversations, felt it necessary to chat up Mr. Polite about books and Nietzsche.  Usually, when the topic of literature arises, I am anxious to contribute.  But you’d better believe I stayed out of this one, without once looking to my left, and prohibiting myself from laughing.

Every once in a while I gave Mr. Rude a “shut-the-fuck-up” side-eye.  But I could feign looking out the window and squarely face Mr. Polite, who was also trying not to lose his shit to laughter.  Given his clipped responses, he clearly did not want to talk to Mr. Rude.

“Don’t make eye contact,” I whispered to Mr. Polite.

“It’s hard!” he chuckled, defeated.

Not everyone found this situation funny.  The guy seated directly in front of Mr. Rude quit that bitch and moved frontward.  The guy sitting in front of me threw deathwish dagger stares so intensely that I thought he really would pull a knife on Mr. Rude.

Not only was Mr. Rude disruptive, he was disgusting.  He kept spitting on the floor. Mikey moved to sit with Ani, so I placed a paper bag of my belongings in his place.  Mr. Rude, who had been dozing on and off throughout, put his foot on my bag.

“Oh.  Don’t let me get in your way,” I said sarcastically.  He’d crossed the line with me now.  When that happens, I am not a nice person.  His eyes were closed, but I knew he was awake.  He had to be awake enough to move his feet from the floor to the seat.  I tugged on my bag.  The fucker’s foot wouldn’t budge.  I pulled harder, no luck– I really wanted to do this the easy way, without having to touch him.  Just as I was about to shove his foot off my shit, he sat up and passed out again.  I shook my head.

“We’re not all like that,” Mr. Polite offered.  He said that Mr. Rude had been drinking some very strong beer of some sort– I never looked over long enough to see that– so the guy was drunk.  With Mr. Rude now slumped in the corner, Mr. Polite had no problems talking to me for the remainder of the ride.  We talked about music, traveling, school, Wales.  He told me that the previous day was “Rugby Day,” so we’d just missed a bunch of drunk people roaming the streets of Cardiff.  I think I’d seen enough of that already.  At our destination, which was the absolute, final stop, we left Mr. Rude sleeping.  Mr. Busdriver can deal with him!

Cardiff isn’t what I expected from a capital.  It is small and quiet.  I bet even the construction workers do not make noise– and there was plenty of construction and scaffolding to go around.  Like Lilliputians!  The only noise exception was some belltower that needed a seagull to give it the “shut-the-fuck-up” side-eye.

So small, no need for a subway system.  We walked straight to Spillers, where Mr. Polite told me its location.  But Mr. Polite forgot to tell me that Spillers is closed on Sundays.  Rargh!  I am not used to such business hours!  I had no idea.  This was the only day we could go to Cardiff anyway, so it didn’t even matter.  The day also probably explained why it was so quiet.

Next, we walked to Cardiff Castle.  So funny to see a castle in the middle of modern streets and buildings.  Even funnier, the fort surrounding the castle grounds has neon signs along it.  I pulled a huge no-no when we toured the the house: one room had these little doors in the wall that opened to a shelf.  Like a fake laundry chute or dumbwaiter.  I opened one, gestured placing a cup on the shelf, shut the door and said, “It looks like where you’d put your urine sample.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to touch anything,” Mikey warned.

Whoops!  I wasn’t meaning to be disrespectful– it’s not like I put my hands on things in museums.  But I see similes and metaphors in practically everything; when shapes or objects remind me of other things and are thought-provoking, I point them out.  I don’t recall being told not to touch anything.  The things we weren’t supposed to touch were roped off.  But if Cardiff Castle suddenly collapses someday, it’s my fault.

So far, Wales was winning as the place with the nicest people.  The real test would be at dinner: would the waitstaff ignore us the same way they have in London?  Of course not, because the waitstaff are Welsh, too.  We had a lovely girl who actually smiled and talked.  We tipped her generously, which we knew we didn’t have to do.  But we felt so weird not leaving a tip as accustomed, and she deserved one.

Adding to our great pub experience, was a group of about ten men standing around a table, drinking, who broke into an impromptu football fight song.  It was a good time.

We scooted back to the bus depot to catch our ride back to London.  The next day would be our last full day in England, which was dedicated to Dover, clear across, on the opposite coast.  We were so glad to have made it to Cardiff.  Before, Mikey and Ani probably didn’t care either way if we visited, but they left as fans.  Strangely, I made no Welsh boyfriends (Mr. Polite was English).  A nasty rumor must’ve been spread about me before my arrival; or maybe word quickly got around that I molested the castle.  But I absolutely loved, loved, LOVED Cardiff.  I’ll get back there someday, I know.

Dover, England: Whoa.
This is the excursion Mikey had been waiting for– his chance to drive a car in England.  I had no desire to partake in this activity.  The only thing I’d be doing is sitting in the back seat, eyes glazed over, focusing on nothing in particular, hoping I don’t die in a car accident; Ani would be doing the same from the front seat.

The car rental place is where I met my next little boyfriend (I forgot his name already).  Mike kept confusing Dover’s place name with its main attraction, calling it the “White Doves.”

“White Cliffs of Dover,” my new beau corrected.

“White Doves of Clifton,” I deadpanned.

My boyfriend laughed, which meant he couldn’t look in my direction anymore.  Typical.  But he was super nice by allowing us to keep the car past closing time, to return it to his home instead.  After a couple hiccups and near-death experiences, Mikey got the hang of driving on the left side of the road.  He ended up doing really well.  We made it to Dover, accident-free.

The cliffs are absolutely astounding. I cannot even describe in this medium.  We spent most of the day walking the cliff trails, sometimes teetering very close to the edge.  Seriously, you have to be careful, no horseplay, because there is no guardrail.  One slip, you’ll be sleeping with the fishes and France will send you home to your family.  Dover also has a castle on a cliff.  It puts Cardiff Castle to shame.

We didn’t have time to visit Canterbury, but I believe we saw the cathedral from the highway.  We safely returned the rental to my boyfriend, whom we met near his home.  Ani and Mikey kept teasing me about him.  We tried to get him out so we could buy him a drink, to thank him for basically breaking Enterprise company policy and creating a massive liability.  He wasn’t able to go out because his girlfriend cooked dinner for him.  So, we had to break up.

Barcelona, Spain: Ciao!
Here’s a nice thing about Europe– here is how everyone over there is so well-traveled (aside from rail system): there is a cadre of airliners that offer cheap fare to certain destinations throughout the continent.  Barcelona wasn’t part of our original England-Scotland-Wales plan.  But when Ryanair can fly you from England to Spain for £12.99 fare, you’d better go.  The taxes cost more than the fare yet it was still an unbelievable price.  I can’t even fly within my own country for that cheap.  The catch is: flights are limited and operate out of, like, Eighth-World airports.  Never before in my life had I seen young, dirty lost souls laid out on newspapers, camped out in sleeping bags, treating the airport like a hotel.  What happened?  What are they waiting for?  What are their stories?  It was sad, eerie and fucked up.

Once in Barcelona, we did a lot of aimless wandering, spent some time at the beach.  Ate dinner at a little restaurant where the owner, an old man who was also our waiter and bartender, replete with a lame leg, spoke no English.  Very authentic.

At nightfall, we visited the Gaudi House museum.  Upon entrance in the lobby, a staff member, who spotted my drink bottle, reminded me not to drink from it while in the house.  (Really, I do not have bad museum etiquette, I promise)  I wouldn’t think to drink in a museum anyway.  But OK, no problem, I told him.

As we made our way through the 8 billion levels of this Alice in Wonderland-type house, I noticed something– the guy from the lobby happened to be everywhere we were.  I shook it off as my imagination.  But by the time we got to the rooftop, Ani noticed the same thing I did.  And now it was really obvious– this guy would look right at me and then scribble something in a notepad.  Goddamn, I said I wouldn’t drink in the house, man!  I looked at the guy again.  He made no attempt to avert his eyes.  He didn’t break his gaze– then he looked down and scribbled in his pad.  Ani and I got a little scared.  We told Mikey, “We’re being followed.  Let’s get out of here.”

Of course, Mikey had to use the bathroom on the way out.  While I paced the hallway, wishing Mikey would be quick, I saw the museum guy AGAIN!  His pad was open, so I peered at it as he passed me.  And what I saw… Oh, God.  Oh, no.  Oh, dear.

“Ooooh, so you’re DRAWING in there!”

He turned around and came back to me.

“I thought you were– I wondered– you were following us– ” I stammered.

The young man explained that he sometimes gets bored at work and likes to draw people.  He flipped through his sketches and landed on an incomplete one– the poor guy had been drawing me.  He said he liked my look, my hat, my glasses.  He had been following me to capture all of it.  He asked if I’d let him finish his sketch.  Of course I did.

I wanted to cry.  I felt so awful, so terrible about ruining this guy’s moment.  I don’t think I was supposed to know what he was doing.  I apologized to him, explaining that I was on high alert because I’m a foreign traveler.  He apologized that he looked sketchy.  I exclaimed, “But you ARE being sketchy!” (get it?  hahahaha!  No, even my pun didn’t make me feel better)  I didn’t exactly look or feel so hot by this day in our trip, operating on little sleep, exhaustion, dirty jeans, no make-up, and I’d already lost some weight.  So I was extremely flattered that I inspired him.  I also felt like an ass.  I didn’t know what else to do or say.  I should’ve given him a hug.

Our flight to Paris the next morning was very early, which meant we’d have to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the 5:00 a.m. bus to the airport.  Something like that.  We just needed a place to nap, at best.  We checked into a hostel for a few hours.  The old lady running the place didn’t speak English.  Fortunately, I was able to communicate with her.  Ironically, one word I couldn’t get in my head to understand was “Euro.”  My dumb ass thought she was saying “uno.”  In my defense, Euros didn’t exist when I studied Spanish.

Even though I had my museum boyfriend and was able to save the day with Spanish, Barcelona was my least favorite city on our entire trip.  I can’t really articulate why.  Maybe because Mikey bore into Ani’s and my heads that Barcelona is famous for its pickpocketers.  And my skinny white ass, with zero olive-skin undertone, stood out in a crowd, that said, “Hey!  I’m not from around here, so you can take advantage of ME!”  Even though I wore a backpack and had nothing to worry about.

Also, I think I was frustrated because I don’t fully know the language.  I know plenty of Spanish, but I learned Castilian.  Barcelona speaks Catalan, which looks like a combination of Spanish and French.  And I don’t know how to pronounce a lot of French.  I’d rather not know Spanish at all, than to be in a place where I can understand half of what I read, sort of understand the other half yet not know how to pronounce it.

Despite my grievances, Barcelona was nice enough, but I couldn’t live there.  Practically everyone drives a scooter… at all hours of the day and night.  All I kept thinking about was Eddie Izzard from his Dress to Kill routine talking about Italians, their scooters and how that ensemble seems to say “Ciao!”  The constant buzz of scooters would drive me crazy.  I’d never get Eddie Izzard’s “Ciao!” out of my head.  I’d never stop announcing “Ciao!”  Take me back to the land where I can sleep like Gulliver while Lilliputians quietly toil on scaffolding around me.

Paris, France: “You’re in my shot.  MOVE!”
Our morning in Paris started with breakfast at a cafe with the cutest stereotypical French waiter.  He was his 40’s, jovial and scatterbrained, wore a button-down shirt and vest, singlehandedly carried items on a tray, worked the entire room by himself, and said “bon appetit!”  I wanted to pinch his cheeks.

We were so tired, and Paris is so large, we decided to do one of those city tour bus things.  That way we would be able to at least see the outside of every important building.  The architecture for the entirety of Paris is mindblowing, from Notre Dame to the Louvre.  Can you imagine the skill, time and MONEY that went into all of that?

Later, we rested some more at a park next to the Space Needle Eiffel Tower.  Then we checked out Montmartre, where we could climb the steps to Sacre Coeur and view all of Paris.  At the edge of the street, we encountered a bit of trouble.  Scam artists.  There were several young men holding colored string.  This is how they work– and when I say “they,” I mean “they,” because two, three at a time approach you: you stop, one offers to make a bracelet, talk to you… and while your wrist is held hostage, your attention on the nice bracelet maker man, his accomplice swipes your shit, and you can’t do anything because you’re trapped in string… if you even realize your wallet is gone.

I don’t fall prey to anything street performer-wise, so I really was not in the mood for this shit.  There are two things that turn me into a major bitch very quickly: unwanted people who invade my space, and people who physically try to drag me onto a dancefloor.  As I waded through the crowd, sure enough, three different people got in my face.  I ignored them.  Just keep moving.  I know the drill.  Again, I didn’t have anything to worry about, really, because I had a backpack, jacket and pockets zipped, everything secure.  I just didn’t want to engage these fuckers.

But I had to stop– because Ani and Mikey were trapped, wrists in string.  Oh, no!  I wanted to make sure no one came up behind them and tried anything.  This was fatal, because I knew stopping was the worst thing to do.  These men kept hitting me from all angles, getting in my space.

“Do you speak French?”  one asked.

“No.”

“I’m from Africa…” he began.

Yeah, obviously.  Because right now you and your cronies are like horseflies swarming a zebra’s ass.  I didn’t say this aloud, of course, because I didn’t want to be killed.  It was smarter for me this way.  And my anger level, believe it or not, was only an 8 out of 10, so my sharp tongue still had a modicum of self-control.  But I still wasn’t nice.

“I said NO!”  My voice escalated.

More insistence and following and jabbering.  For fuck’s sake, when will Mikey and Ani be set free?  I had a plan.  I took out my camera.

“Get out of my face,” I demanded.  “You’re in my shot.  MOVE!” and I gestured a shove with my hand.  I was also shouting by now.  “Get away from me!”

I caused a near-scene, but I didn’t care.  A part of me wanted to give it to them good anyway.  Don’t get in my face like that.  It’s simple.  If you’re going to be rude to me, my toothpick ass will be 100 times more rude than you can ever imagine.  The group of swindlers had reconvened, about 10 feet away from me.  They were talking shit about me, I could tell, because they kept looking over at me.  As if that was supposed to hurt my feelings.  I made no Paris boyfriends.

The high point of Paris was the food.  I had the best omelette, the best bread and the best creme brulee, ever.  I didn’t drink any wine– cheaper than soda and water– because I had to drink Carlsberg beer on draft, which is impossible to find in America.  I know of only one restaurant near my house that serves Carlsberg…  and I always forget to go there.  Mmmm, Carlsberg.

We took Eurorail back to London, where we spent our last night in a nice, comfy hotel.  Goodbye, boyfriends!  Goodbye, Cockfosters!

New York, New York: My real-life [gay] boyfriend, and “Dwehnrehd.”
It’d been four years since I was in NYC last, so I was overdue for a visit.  I have plenty of friends there, so I don’t know what my problem was.  I stayed at Mikey’s place in Brooklyn for a couple days.  Ani cooked us a wonderful breakfast.  It was good to sleep and do nothing.

The remainder of my time there, I stayed with Chris, whom I met way back in June of ’05.  Chris called it on the first day of our summer on a bus: “You and I are going to get along.”  Needless to say, Chris and I know each other very well.  He is my gay boyfriend.  I can’t help but love a man who has a tattoo of the Periodic Table on his forearm.

Ani and I met Chris’s hot new boyfriend one night.  *jealous*  The next day, I met Chris’s French roommate, Virginie, who is a designer for Catherine Malandrino.  All we did was eat and drink the entire day.

Virginie is such a character: a very pretty girl who inexplicably thinks she’s fat (she’s not fat) and owns one too many shift dresses.  “No more shift dresses!”  I told her.  She’s young, so lots of things excited her.  She was describing the first time her parents visited her in NYC, and of all the places she HAD to take them, it was “Dwehnrehd.”

“What?”  I asked.

“Dwehnrehd?” she repeated.

OK, I could understand everything else she said, but this one I couldn’t figure out.  “What?”

“Dwehnrehd.”  Confusion… Chris had to translate for me: “Duane Reade!”

Hahahaha!  Those diphthongs were hard for Virginie to say with her French accent.  It became the catchphrase for my NYC stay.

I fit in a visit to the Sony Music office– suuure, finally, after I’m laid off– and caught up with some friends there.  Then I went to the NY Times office, where Chris works.  I am so proud of him.

My stay in NY was bittersweet, though: I realized that someone whom I considered to be a friend for a few years is merely an acquaintance (don’t worry, Mikey, you’re safe!).  Yuck, disappointing.  The best part of NY is that my real, genuine friends were there, too.  And Chris showed me how to do pivot tables in Microsoft Excel– something that would’ve been handy to know while I had my job.

Buffalo, New York: Family, food, beer.
The final destination on this 2+ week escapade ended on a decidedly non-exotic note, my hometown, where all my aunts, uncles and cousins still reside.  I hadn’t visited since my grandmother’s funeral last April.  Rather than fuss with car service and airport and security just for a short flight to Buffalo, I thought it’d be easiest (and most relaxing) to take Amtrak.  That way I could take care of myself: just walk to Penn Station, and forget about it.

I was greeted at the Niagara Falls depot by my aunt, uncle and my cousin’s two boys, Dylan and Anthony.  They both are infatuated with trains– it’s all they talk about– so I’m sure they were like pigs in shit, by getting to go to the depot.

Dylan especially likes me, and Anthony was too young to remember me from last year.  But the boys squealed with excitement when they saw me.  These are the first words I heard when I got in the car:

“I’m six years old!” Dylan exclaimed.

“I pooped in the toilet!” Anthony announced (he’s four).

Ah, yes.

There isn’t much to do there– even though my aunt and uncle live in North Tonawanda, “Home of the Carousel” (sorry, Wales), and on Wurlitzer Drive.  What does that mean?  That means there are two museums– carousel and Wurlitzer (I could walk to that one)– that I’ve shamefully never been to.  That’d be something to do.  But, nah.  I’ll just eat a lot of food instead.  Obviously, this is the Italian side of my family.

Food is special in Buffalo.  It’s one thing I miss about living there.  Georgia does not have certain good food items that Buffalo has.  Good food exists in Buffalo because there is a large population of immigrant groups– mainly Italian, Irish and Polish.  Each time we make a visit from the south, it is imperative that these items make it back to Georgia:

— grated Romano cheese.  It MUST come from the Italian market, Caruso’s.  My mom made a fatal error the last time and bought some pre-packaged shit from an imposter.  She got in trouble for that one.
— dried ceci and favi beans, also from Caruso’s.
— Sahlen’s hotdogs.  Unavailable in Georgia.
— cured olives
— sponge candy.  Unavailable in Georgia because it’s too humid to make it.  It MUST come from King Condrell’s candy store, which is walking distance from the house where we lived in Buffalo.  I used to go there as a kid.  Condrell’s has the best-tasting dark chocolate.  I will not eat sponge candy from anywhere else.

The other thing to do, besides eat, is drink beer.  My cousins and their husbands like to do this.  So, one night all of us went out and did just that.

I also met up with my good friend Terrie.  I did lots of eating with her, too.  And drinking, but tea and not alcohol.  She has an expansive loose tea inventory.  We visited her mom’s house, which also serves as an animal sanctuary (she does animal rescue).  I got to meet all the animals: the dogs, cats, ferrets, cockatoos, iguana, bat, sheep, goats, llama, horses, ponies, ducks, chickens, pigs and turkeys.  I got to pet a turkey, which was surreal.  Their heads are so warm!  I thought I was petting a soft lightbulb.  Who knew!

Terrie and I were supposed to drive to Cleveland to see Brian Jonestown Massacre, but her car unexpectedly had to go to the repair shop the night before.  Just as well.  I was all traveled-out, and I finally fell ill on my last day in Buffalo.

On my plane ride home, no one else was sitting in my row.  So, I moved from my aisle seat and sat in the window, which I hadn’t had courage to do in many years (I had a bad experience, once).  And something hit me– I can’t believe I’d been missing out on this for years: to look for meandering streams, oxbow lakes and meander scars.

When I was younger, I HAD to sit in a window seat.  I loved looking out the window, and I was always fascinated by meandering streams.  Only, I didn’t know they were called that.  The snakey rivers looked so calm, ominous and spooky to me.  What are they about?  Why are they not like normal rivers?

A college geography class taught me about meandering streams.  I learned how they worked, got the terminology… but never took to the window seat on a plane.

 

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Lillian / Jun 28 2009 6:11 pm

    I don’t know what “pivot tables” are, but they do sound intriguing. 😉

    Like

    • Brittany Hendrick / Jun 28 2009 6:16 pm

      I just made a new post in your honor! Or maybe in Jason’s honor… 🙂

      “The incurable itch of writing possesses many.”

      Like

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