Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why My Phone Bill Is So High (Or, How I Came To Find Myself Locked In A Fitting Room For 45 Minutes)

One Friday evening, I found myself locked in the Covent Garden H&M fitting room for over 45 minutes.  Don't worry - this lock-down was entirely voluntary and, to make matters even stranger, I seemed to be mumbling at my phone and letting out frustrated "tsks", willing it to send an urgent email.  Four urgent emails, that is - all to my mother.  Each had a photo of me, not unlike the one below, attached with, "Yes, no, maybe?  Is it too short?  Is it too boring?  Does it wash me out?"

"Send," I pleaded quietly with my Blackberry, seething with jealousy as I overheard the voices in the cubicle next to me where a mother was giving her sound opinion to her equally opinionated daughter.  "Darling, it's TOO tight," the mom countered as her daughter tried on what I imagined to be a dress. "No, it's NOT, MUM," her high-pitched daughter yelled.  "I CAN BREATHE STILL."  I considered flinging open the door for a minute and asking brightly, "Excuse me, my own mom isn't here, but would you mind telling me what you think of this ..." but quickly realized I might be escorted from the store for strange behavior instead.

Too impatient to wait any longer (I had been in there for 45 minutes, after all), I pressed call and took a deep breath.  When my mom answered, she sounded deep in sleep.  It was 5:30 a.m. in Seattle.  "What?" she asked, not unkindly, but slightly annoyed.  "Mom," I whispered, urgently. "I need you to go to the computer, NOW.  I've been walking around with the same skirt in my hand for an HOUR now, mom, and I DON'T KNOW WHETHER TO BUY IT OR NOT!!!" I realized that I was now shouting, in the middle of the shop floor at H&M.  I was becoming hysterical.  "Okay, okay, let me see," my mom said, opening her emails.  "Oooh, that's quite special," she said, referring to the skirt. "YUCK!  Definitely NOT," she said, referring to a maxi-dress.  We quickly hashed over the final decisions again, before I made my way to the till.  Sorted. 

Yes, I'm one of "those" - women in their late 20s approaching 30 (and yes, I know I look about 15 and still get asked for ID when buying alcohol IN THE UK) who still, incredibly, remain staggeringly close to their mothers and seek their approval over nearly decision (especially those involving sartorial choices).  I think, every morning, when I complete my work outfit in front of the mirror, "Would mom like this?"  I reach out hesitantly when selecting a skirt from the rail at Banana Republic to try on, desperately wondering what my mom would say if she was there.

You see, we have traditions when I go home to the States.  And they all involve shopping.  From Ross to Nordstrom, we hit every store within a 1-hour drive radius from our house - we don't stop unless hunger or foot cramps force us to.  It's may be sickening, but I'm pretty sure that there's nothing in the world I enjoy more than shopping with my mom.

But it's not just clothes I have a hard time deciding over when I'm without my mom.  It's those important life decisions as well.  Should I change jobs?  Should I move to a new area?  Should I go to Cyprus or Croatia for my beach holiday?  It's not that I can't decide for myself - it's that I want my mother's approval, whether tacit or explicit.  I want her to say she loves my newish long hair as much as I do.  My heart soars when she tells me my holiday looked "relaxing and luxurious".  I breathe a sigh of relief when she emails me back to say, "Great that you've joined a book club now."  It doesn't mean I won't do things I still want to do without my mother's approval, it simply means I'll think twice before doing it.  And in the case of clothes, I just won't buy them.

I'm sure there's a Dr. Phil out there or other self-help psychiatrist who will say, "You need to let go, honey," but I don't think there's anything wrong with continuing to seek my mother's approval - as long as that desire doesn't rule my life.  Perhaps it's my way of coping with how much I miss her.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yankee Doodle Dandee: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Performs 'American Classics'

I knew as soon as I received the Cadogan Hall brochure earlier this year that I wanted - no, HAD TO - go to this concert: Bernstein, Gershwin, and Copland all in one place?  Not gonna miss out on this rare opportunity.  So just because no one wanted to go with me (cue sobs) didn't mean I couldn't go - I just went by myself.

Upon arriving at Cadogan Hall, however, it was clear that I had totally misunderstood the seating chart on the online booking screen. What I thought was the back of the auditorium was actually the front, facing the stage, so I basically ended up in the first violins' armpits (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the sound is a bit out of balance - however, it did allow me to notice, for the first time, what a vital part the harp plays in the Overture to Candide - who knew?).  The last time I was this close, I was sitting with my mom under Julian Lloyd-Webber's nose, as he performed Faure's Elegie.  Good times, good times.

Next to me was an attractive older man in an expensive business suit who was also unaccompanied. We both stole sideways glances at each other as we fiddled with our Blackberries before the concert began.

Finally, the doors closed, the lights dimmed, the winds, brass and strings tuned and the concertmaster (sorry for any UK readers, "leader") took his place. Dmitry Yablonsky, the conductor (and also a world renowned cellist) appeared on stage to luke-warm applause (it didn't seem as though the audience was familiar with him, though his not-small-in-size stature caused two little old ladies behind me to titter, "Oh MY, he's BIG." Tact, ladies, tact.  Even if you're just whispering) and I braced myself for the opening of Berstein's Overture to Candide as it's quite a gutsy introduction, not to mention an incredibly, incredibly difficult piece to play (I've sightread it once).  And it was wonderful - so wonderful, it moved me to tears (and that was within the first page of the score - oops).  The ensemble was absolutely spot on, the sound solid, though I questioned a certain lack of playfulness which the piece requires.  Nevertheless, I was thoroughly impressed and happy to see many audience members around me also smiling and enjoying the piece.  American music - it's toe-tapping stuff.  You can't expect to sit there in thoughtful meditation when imitations of car horns are blaring (Gershwin) or gun shots are being fired in a Western shoot-out (Copland).

The Overture is possibly my favorite piece - ever.  Controversial, I know, but I can't think of another piece that makes me happier, hopeful and in an instant good mood.  And it's the best kind of piece to hear performed live.  Blasting it on even the best hi-fi stereo system won't do it justice.  But like a dessert you never want to end (what - am I the only one who experiences that in restaurants? A sad regret that you didn't enjoy every morsel a tad bit slower?), the piece was over as soon as it had begun and we had reached the next piece, the also highly anticipated Gershwin Piano Concerto in F Major, featuring pianist Farhad Badalbeyli.

Now, I'm not familiar with Mr. Badalbeyli, but I found he had a rather interesting posture when sitting at the piano which involved him gripping the fall, often with both hands, during the rests or before his entrances, as if bracing himself for a job to be done.  How a pianist behaves on stage and in concert is part of what makes him unique, I feel, but for whatever reason, I didn't particularly warm to Mr. Badalbeyli's playing.  That's just my opinion, so don't chastise me if you disagree.  Technically, he executed a flawless performance, but again, missed the playful, jazz-infused, mischievous character of the concerto.  He did, however, after two rousing rounds of applause, return to the stage to play an encore.  Before he had nearly sat down on the bench, he began a serious of arpeggios in the right hand: was it Liszt? I questioned.  No, too modern for Lizst.  Somewhere In Time?  No, not soap-operatic enough, although it did sound akin to a movie score.  So I tweeted RPO frantically (the suspense was killing me) to find out what he actually played and the answer was this: his own composition.  How ... nice?  Despite my slightly unimpressed attitude however, the audience loved him and he returned the favor by bowing deeply and gripping something other than the fall - his heart, which was a lovely gesture of gratitude, I felt.

During the intermission, I exchanged a few pleasantries with my seat partner and he asked (in a voice eerily similar to Javier Bardem's), "Are you involved in music?" "Well, yes, I mean, no, I mean, yes, sort of - I play for the Royal Orchestral Society," I answered.  "And you're American?" he remarked, with a smile. "Yes! I am," I replied. "And these are my favorite pieces!" I said emphatically, pointing to the program. "And you?" I asked, not wanting to offend a famous musician or conductor I had no knowledge of.  "Are you a musician?" "Me? No," he laughed.  "I'm Brazilian. I own a business in Brazil but left it in the hands of my partner so I could go on a 2-month sabbatical.  I lived here 20 years ago and used to come here all the time."  I switched my Blackberry off.  "And you," he said, "Are like me ... always 'on'," he said, gesturing towards my phone.  "Oh no," I said, blushing thinking of my minute-to-minute updates of the concert to Udita and my mom (as in: 'ZOMG, I'm in the front row, right under the firsts' and 'ZOMG, American in Paris is on the program!!! LOLZ').  "Yes, but this is personal, not for work," I assured.

Suddenly, the man in front of us swiveled around and took the opportunity to chastise my new Brazilian friend for "bumping his knee into the back of his chair".  "It's constant, it's like ... like ... like being on a ship," the incensed man spat.  My eyes rolled up to heaven.  I gave a death stare.  There are more polite ways to put forth complaints, you know.  "Oh? Did I?" the Brazilian said, very surprised and deeply apologetic.  "I'm so sorry, I didn't know, I hope you didn't think I was doing it on purpose." "Yes, well that's the problem," the man continued ranting before turning around. "You didn't realize what you were doing." The Brazilian looked at me and shrugged helplessly.  "Would you like to trade seats with me?" I hastily suggested to my new acquaintance.  "There's more room here since I'm in the aisle and you'd be more comfortable."  "Oh thank you," he said, acquiescing.  "That's very kind."  Then the lights dimmed and the orchestra commenced with Copland's Billy the Kid.

I lost myself once again in the music (a disgusting, cliched phrase I hate, but sadly, true).  Having played El Salon Mexico and the Red Pony Suite during my days as a first violinist in our highly competitive but local youth symphony in Washington, I had forgotten how accurately Copland's vast, sweeping melodies (and dissonances) paint a picture of the American landscape.  Copland, of all the American composers, is the only one whose music makes me feel nostalgic for America; I am so easily moved by the stillness and quiet of his pieces and simultaneously wrenched by the jarring dissonances of conflict within as well.

But the gem of the evening, and what I had been really looking forward to (aside from the Bernstein), was Gershwin's An American In Paris.  My own memories of this piece involved playing it at a youth symphony summer camp, having been given only one week to prepare and perfect it, under the nose of a terrifying conductor who'd thwack his baton on a black, metal stand whenever he got annoyed we couldn't transition smoothly between the various time signatures and syncopated rhythms.  Picture a symphony orchestra comprised of 16-18 year olds, squinting at an impossible score while being scared shitless by a man who threatened to make you play difficult passages on the spot before you could have lunch.  But it was still a happy memory.  So happy, in fact, that when the familiar, whistling opening theme started, I got goosebumps up my arms.  

I was too shy, but if I could have mustered up the guts to give the RPO a standing ovation from the second row, I would have.  They played as one throughout piece after demanding piece and with an intelligence and sensitivity I haven't yet experienced from any of the English orchestras I've seen so far.  The wind and brass shone (as they usually always do) but the strings were really remarkable, creating a velvety sound that was maintained from the leader to the last stand.

This isn't the RPO, but Leonard Bernstein himself conducting Candide - I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, even if you're not a classical music fan:

Photo source

Monday, May 23, 2011

We've Moved!

Yes, it's true.  Last weekend, John and I waved goodbye to our lovely, bright flat in leafy Maida Vale and moved on to pastures anew in a cute, two bedroom Georgian apartment in trendy, urban Angel.  I'm trying to get used to having Sadler's Wells and a Reiss (along with plenty of my other favorite stores) on my doorstep and a plethora of restaurants to choose from rather than trees, kids on scooters and the same two cafes I frequent every weekend.

The differences between Westminster and Islington are apparent already - for one thing, the council is exceedingly friendlier here (setting up my council tax was like having a nice chat with an old friend over a cup of tea - literally, I had a cup of tea in front of me).  And instead of yummy mummies exiting the door with their offspring during my morning commute, I am confronted by girls my age who look like they just stepped straight out of Grazia's Style Hunter pages.  Cue intimidation.

Sadly, there won't be any more Tube Rants as I've been running/walking to and from work and getting to know the bus routes quite well (but not to worry - I'm sure I'll find something else to rant about).

So stay tuned - I'll be posting updates of the cool places I discover in North London and more adventures galore ... as they say, change is good.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yo, Wills & Kate, I'm really happy for you and I'm gonna let you finish, but ...

Yo, Wills & Kate, I'm really happy for you and I'm gonna let you finish, but we had the best bank holiday of all time:

While you were getting married in some little white chapel and all that, we had iced drinks in hand upon our arrival at Thalassa Boutique Hotel & Spa in Coral Bay, Cyprus.  And yes, that's the beach in the background.  I know, you're like, super jelly.

Your wedding might have cost a fortune, but for 2 euros, we had our breakfast delivered to our private balcony every morning:

And the trees in the Abbey were a nice touch, Kate, but y'all didn't have palm trees.  Major mistake:

I know you stayed at The Goring before the big day and your fam had the run of the place and all, but I'm not sure it beats the poolside view at Ayii Anargyri Spa Resort in Milou:

I also read in People or In Touch or something that you ate well on the big day, but I bet it didn't live up to this amazing, fresh sea bream caught on the same day it was served:

So yeah, congratulations, guys, I'm sure it was fabulous.  But I've got a tan to show for it!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Atari-Ya, Swiss Cottage

Selecting a restaurant that serves sushi for dinner is a tricky business: one false move and you could be landed with either food poisoning or an astronomical bill with unsatisfactory results.  Back in the States, my parents and I regularly rack up hundreds of dollars at our local favorite, Koharu and we order liberally from the sashimi and sushi menus.  However, as delectable the delights at Koharu are, the bill leaves my tummy churning.

With Udita in town, however, dinner called for a special occasion and Karim suggested we all meet at Atari-Ya in Swiss Cottage, one of several sushi restaurants and Japanese food shops operated by T&S Enterprise in London.  Nestled between a corner shop and a few estate agents on the unassuming Fairfax Road, one could be excused for hurrying past Atari-Ya without giving it a second thought.  But I was pleasantly surprised with just how good it really was.

The boys started with some salmon sashimi and nigiri, while we snacked on some edamame that came with our "Party Platter for 2":

Karim's favorite, the spider roll, was probably the best and easiest to eat (most hand rolls are crafted into beautiful pieces of sushi art, but unfortunately for me, my boorish eating habits make a mess of things) in my sushi consumption experience:

Udita had the sake sampler "A", which proved to be a bit meh, but nothing could beat our Party Platter, which triumphed over the boys' choices - what, with its three choices of sashimi, teriyaki salmon and chicken skewers, egg omelette, California rolls, tuna maki and other goodies:

The sashimi was melt-in-your-mouth and the rice around the rolls was perfectly done - not too sticky or gloopy, which I'm usually quite critical of.  The amount and variety of the Party Platter was perfect for two, but I'm tempted to order solely from the sashimi and hand roll a la carte menu on my next visit.

But the best part, aside from the fresh and delicious sushi, was our bill: £76 for four people, including drinks (excluding service).  Madness, really.

Will there be a next time?  Most definitely.  Yes.
© angloyankophile

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