6.30.2016

graffiti portraits @ Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road Shop sign

London, perpetually cool, damp, and humid, is at least photogenic. I've been taking more photos than I have time to review them. Walking past Abbey Road Studios the other day, I snapped a few quick shots of the graffiti wall honoring The Beatles—and presumably other musicians who have been recorded in the studios for decades, but mostly just The Beatles—a wall that seems to be continuously repainted, presumably to hold all the graffiti from millions of visitors, year after year. A nearby brick wall has a sign posted, asking people to instead use the white-painted wall, not the brick.


graffiti at Abbey Road: early Beatles


hippy Beatles

Imagine: There is someone in this extremely wealthy city whose job it is to periodically repaint (over and over and over) a wall well scribbled with Beatle-mania graffiti.

6.24.2016

exit through the rear door

London telephone box

London seems in shock. I've been catching up on Brexit articles this morning, as I hadn't paid much attention to the referendum till yesterday, not thinking an EU exit would actually happen. It's strange as an outsider from the New World to see this Old-World island country—or rather, set of island countries dominated by a post-colonial economic power—not identify as part of the continent of Europe with allied goals. (Weren't any lessons learned from World Wars I and II?) The difference between southern England and northern France only stems from plate techtonics, shiftings of rock below the surface ages ago. But maybe that's much easier to see from the distance of a North American hitched to Canada and Mexico.

For giggles amid earthshaking news, read here. I'm off for some fresh air.


6.23.2016

Brexit voting day

Brexit polling station sign

We had four would-be callers this afternoon: two from the organic-food delivery service Abel & Cole, trying to sign us up; one who was unidentified because I was too busy cooking our organic dinner to bother sticking my head out the window to shout down and ask what he wanted, though we saw he was carrying a white plastic Waitrose bag and got into the passenger side of a car across the street and was driven away (?); and one guy from the Labour Party, reminding us to vote. I admitted we were American, but, to cheer him up, said that we would have voted 'Remain' if we could.


"Vote Remain" canal boat sign at Paddington


6.22.2016

pink peony love

pink peony bloom

My beloved maternal grandparents we lived next door to growing up till I was 16 had a pink peony bush on the north side of their house that bloomed in late spring or early summer, up there in the Oregon high desert. In Portland, peonies bloom in May. In London they are only now in season.


pink peony buds

I picked up a bunch of tight buds at the corner grocery a few days ago for five pounds of pink loveliness. They are just opening into their lushness. My friend, coming home after a weekend at a wedding in Lille, France, exclaimed that they're her favorite flower (though in college, I remember her saying that daisies were her favorite flower—tastes change). I suspect she doesn't often buy flowers for herself, and neither do I, but we don't have a garden space here, so for us we must either visit flowers in public parks or bring purchased flowers home, preferably both. (It's one of my goals to keep the main room stocked with a vase of seasonal flowers all summer long.)


pink peonies in turquoise vase

Peonies are one of my most favorite flowers, too, though more fleeting than roses. (It's impossible for me to pick a single favorite flower.) And pink feels very British, a common but still fresh pop of color against all the flat white and gray of a northern clime. So I have both my past and present here in one room.


6.21.2016

home in London

fireplace with candles

The weather is colder and wetter in London, even though almost summer. Warm days are more humid. The flora feels familiar—roses, honeysuckle, geraniums, oaks—but with more decorative palms and no pines. The birds sound trillier, and even the doorbells are melodic. The tap water is thick and somehow oily, filming brown the insides of porcelain cups, so it's being run through a pitcher filter. My friend's recently rehabbed flat is charming: tall ceilings, high halogen lights, big front windows with beautiful northern light, a nonworking fireplace I filled with her candles that glow against the black-painted brick in the evenings. The kitchen is short on cupboard space but with a lovely raw-brick wall. The main floor wood is painted light-gray, the bathroom minimalistically tiled, while the bedrooms and hallway are lined with a flat, durable carpet I've never seen in the U.S. Most everything seems of a higher taste and quality than I see in America because, well, this is Europe—our primary cultural sourcebook.


kitchen brick wall


hanging stained-glass bird

I experienced the same feeling at the Queen's Park Farmers' Market on Sunday, a market carrying the same fruits and vegetables and flowers as Portland, yet the prepared food, the tarts and savories, and the handcrafted jewelry and secondhand stands in the Hall were far more upscale than I'm used to at neighborhood markets. In video game terms, I've leveled up, several levels. Portland, an American mecca of hipsterdom, feels provincial by comparison. But still, I have only brushed the surface here. I am letting myself sink into the atmosphere slowly, infusing myself with the daily sounds of speeding trains and cars rushing past like waves, the shrieks of children from the nearby school grounds, the buzz of fat flies flown in from unscreened windows, the myriad languages spoken on the streets: Polish, Russian, French, Arabic—and English.


Queen's Park garden

The past few days, I have been exploring on foot the Queen's Park Ward within the Northwest London Borough of Brent and the districts of Maida Vale and St. John's Wood by car while outside and discovering Gumtree (the British Craigslist) inside. London intimidates me. Pedestrians must be especially alert or risk being hit. I am unused to being a tourist in a place where I speak the same native language. It all creates an interesting juxtaposition of familiar and foreign.


built-in TV cabinet display

Travel is the best way I know to gain instant humility. It feels especially disorienting not having access to my usual sources for secondhand items since that is how I shop for most everything other than food, shoes, and underthings. Most 'charity shops' here focus exclusively on clothes and books. But we need housewares, specifically big baskets, a coffee table, and furniture for a preteen. My lovely, smart, creative expat friend has been in survival mode for years during and after her divorce (a feeling I can relate to), feeling the constant pressures of being a working single mother, so one of my goals for the summer is to help her create a home she can sink down and relax into more often, instead of always being in go-go action mode.

One can have practical beauty on a budget, even in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It starts by shopping the cupboards, digging out treasured gifts and placing them on display—to be of use. Broken leafy branches gleaned from the sidewalk can be set into a handpainted vase full of water to function as a placeholder for a houseplant. Seasonal flowers (blessedly for us, pink peonies!) purchased from Tesco, the local mini-grocery, can dress up a built-in bookcase, while a set of handmade pottery cups can be lined up in front of the rarely-used TV, awaiting tealights. Possessions can always be culled, with too-small or ill-fitting clothing and unwanted books and furnishings sold or donated to free up more space. Windows can also simply be opened to air out a room.

Next, we will buy a string of what the British call 'fairy lights' to drape around the flat. We will source a nice used wooden coffee table on which to set a steaming cup of herbal tea at the end of the day as we chat to wind down after a home-cooked dinner. We will find a few secondhand table lamps for cozy evening reading and movie watching. We will splurge, maybe, on a colorful Moroccan leather pouf as extra seating. We will buy bunches of hooks for the bathroom and hallway and borrow a drill. I will knit us a bathroom handtowel from thrifted natural linen-cotton yarn brought over from the States (because I was asked to teach her creative, intuitive, funny, clever daughter to knit). Since I've barely done any knitting in years, such a simple project feels meditative. I am doing more yoga. I am sleeping more hours. I am slowly adjusting to London time. I am loving the long, light-filled days of summer here in the land of (some of) my ancestors. I am wondering why they ever left.


6.18.2016

field trip: Milwaukie Farmers Market (June 2016)

orange alstroemeria flowers

If things have been quiet around here lately, it's because . . . I'm in London for the summer! More on that soon. But before leaving Portland, I made it to the Milwaukie Farmers Market two weeks in a row, one Sunday to buy organic vegetables and fruit—kale, chard, baby carrots, maitake mushrooms, a jar of local honey, the last of the d'Anjou pears—and the next to buy a handmade pottery gift, plus a half pint of raspberries that I immediately ate while sitting on sun-warmed cement steps in front of the Milwaukie City Hall.

The Milwaukie Farmers Market is one of my favorite farmers markets in the Portland area, though it's a bit overstuffed with prepared-food vendors and could use more farmers selling whole fruits and vegetables. Still, there's something for everyone, from beautiful turned-wood bowls to metal garden trellises to hard-to-find herbs to handmade soaps to fresh flowers.


handmade soaps


Milwaukie Farmers Market scene


herb list on painted door

I've become a fan of Phyllis Koessler's pottery, made in West Linn. In the last month, I've bought two of her sweet little pitchers that remind me of a stylized bird with imprints for thumb and finger when pouring, a turquoise one for me and a white one with tinges of dark blue for my summer host and best friend from college. The versatile design makes for a lovely, unique small vase or creamer—an inexpensive, practical gift.


Phyllis Koessler pottery booth


maitake mushrooms

It helped when carrying loads of vegetables, mushrooms, and honey home on the bus that I'd recently found a large herringbone-woven French market bag trimmed in brown leather and with long leather handles (at Versailles Gardens in NW Portland) that I'd been wanting for years—it holds so much! And, inspired by Zero Waste Home, I finally converted from plastic produce bags to cotton drawstring bags in various sizes (S-M-L-XL), a switch I highly recommend and should have done a long time ago (though I reuse plastic bags for scooping my cat's litter box). I've even been using the drawstring bags to organize my travel items: a bag for my slippers, a bag for a pair of sandals, a bag for power cords, and so on. But if you can sew such cotton muslin bags yourself, all the better.


beet display


lettuces

So as a public service announcement, before my topic completely shifts to things-to-see-and-do-in-London-when-short-on-money, remember to check out your local farmers market this summer, wherever you are, wherever you may go. When fed from trusted local farmers, we ensure that what we're eating is fresh, seasonal, healthful, and tasty. A farmers market visit can feed all our senses.


plant booth


hanging baskets


hanging begonias

On a walk yesterday, I saw a sign promoting the Queen's Park Farmers Market here in NW6 on Sundays from 10 AM to 2 PM in a school parking lot. Can't wait!


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