Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Worth Doing In London (Part 2)

September 29, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I brought you my very own “bucket list” of five “on the radar” things you really ought to do in London.

As promised, this week I’m following that up with a list of five “under the radar” things you ought to do in London, but probably don’t know about:

1. Open House London – This has to be one of the all-time coolest things I’ve ever done in any city. Once a year in September, Open City – a non-profit, architecture education organization – identifies buildings in London of architectural interest and opens their doors to the public. Through Open House London, we’ve toured super-modern private flats, normally-closed-to-the-public government buildings, turn-of-the-century guild halls and environmentally-friendly houses. And all of it for free. This is something our family looks forward to every year when autumn rolls around. If you live here, or happen to be visiting in mid-September, don’t miss it!

2. Christmas Pantomimes – Here’s another seasonal treat, albeit for Christmastime. One of the signature cultural events that accompanies Christmas in London (sort of akin to ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City) is the Christmas Pantomime. A “panto” is a musical-comedy theatrical production based on a traditional story or fairy tale that typically includes song, dance, slapstick, cross-dressing and – most important of all – audience participation. They’re often quite bawdy, though usually aimed at a family audience. My favorite venue in London is the Hackney Empire. Brill! (As we say over here.)

3. Brick Lane – While London is justifiably renowned for its rich royal palaces and history, it’s also important to take in contemporary London. My recommendation on this score is to go over to Brick Lane in East London on a Sunday afternoon. A walk up and down this bustling street market will tell a story of London’s recent immigration history, with the bagel shops of yore sitting cheek by jowl with today’s Bengali curry shops. Afterwards, take a tour of the neighborhood with one of the seasoned guides from London Walks and learn more about its rich history, which dates from Jack the Ripper.

4. The Geffrye Museum – As long as you’re over in East London anyway, be sure to pop into the Geffrye Museum, a museum of – yes- living rooms through the ages. If you’re into social history, you’ll love this place, as it enables you to trace middle class life in England from 1600 to the present. Each room is – literally – a recreation of the average living room in any given period. Splendid fun for the whole family.

5. Sir John Soane’s Museum – I’m not even sure that I really know who Sir John Soane is, other than that he was an architect who lived and worked in London back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this guy assembled the neatest (and most varied) collection of art, sculpture and personal effects and they now constitute a small museum in his home right in the heart of London. It takes less than an hour to tour, but you’ll see things ranging from a Roman sarcophagus to a model of the Bank of England (and back again…) Once again, the kids will love it.

*****

I’m over on http://www.PoliticsDaily.com today talking about health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Brick Lane by roboppy via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Drinking Fountains Making A Comeback

September 27, 2010

Still or Sparkling?

Apparently, that’s not just a question for restaurants anymore.

Last week  – and proving, once again, that it really *is* the coolest city on earth – Paris unveiled a water fountain in one of its parks that serves – wait for it – sparkling water.

The move was motivated by a desire to make Paris greener. The average person in France drank 28 gallons of still or sparkling water last year, making this country the eighth biggest consumer of bottled water in the world, according to figures from the Earth Policy Institute. That’s a whole lot of plastic waste (262,000 tons to be precise.)

Apparently, the French are perfectly happy to drink tap water. But the major stumbling block is that they prefer it with bubbles. So – following on a successful experiment in Italy – the Paris authorities decided to meet the consumer where he or she lives…and added some carbonation. (Before you go dismissing those frivolous Parisians, allow me to confess that I can relate.)

The fizzy French fountains (sorry, it had to be said) build on a revival of water fountains around the globe. Here in London where I live, Mayor Boris Johnson commissioned a special advisor two years ago to look into where public drinking fountains might go in the city and how much they would cost. About a year ago, a fancy public drinking fountain was unveiled in Hyde Park, the first public drinking fountain in this city in 30 years. Shortly thereafter, more fountains were installed at heavily trafficked rail and bus stations.

And it’s not only in Europe where drinking fountains are witnessing a renaissance. In California, a new law requiring schools in California to have free drinking water available in cafeterias is awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger. (It’s hard to believe that this has to be legally mandated, but there you have it.)

It’s funny, but until I read about the fizzy fountain in Paris I hadn’t stopped to realize what an endangered species the public water fountain had become. Back when I was a kid, they were quite literally everywhere. But somewhere along the way, we began to identify shared drinking fountains as a public health concern, even though there’s no evidence for this (and some evidence that more bacteria live within bottled water.)

Now they’re coming back. A combination of recession-induced economics coupled with the growth in awareness about the environment has revived the idea that public drinking fountains might be a good thing.

I wonder what else we’ll see come crawling out of our collective unconscious in the category of formerly-bad-but-now-we-realize-not-so-much. My money’s on Crisco.

Anybody?

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the demise of press freedom in Mexico as a result of the drug wars.

Image: Drinking Fountain Moon by Kevin H. via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

September 24, 2010

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Where would we all be without The Onion? Here’s a marvellous send-up of anti-Obama fervor entitled 1 in 5 Americans Believe Obama is a Cactus.

2. And speaking of polls, I really enjoyed Clever Title TK’s twin lists of 10 of her Favorite Things along with 10 things she doesn’t like so much. (Totally down with you on the lemon desserts, sister. In fact, I think we should extend it to all fruit-based desserts.)

3. Madam Mayo linked to this incredible video of what San Francisco looked like in 1905 right before the earthquake. Wow!

4. In honor of the Jewish holiday, Sukkot, check out the 12 winners in the 2010 Sukkah City contest in New York City. Absolutely mind-blowingly amazing.

5. One of my first big breaks as a blogger was when I was featured on Barbara Swafford’s Blogging Without A Blog in her blog registry. Barbara brought me many new readers and since then has served as a constant and useful blogging tutor. If you’re new to blogging – or want to tool up on what’s going on in the trade – Barbara is a great teacher.

Have a great weekend!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Worth Doing In London (Part 1)

September 22, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I was having coffee with a friend the other day who may be leaving London soon to return to the States. Like me, she’s an American who’s been living here for several years. As we chatted about what it might mean to “Go Back” (capital G, capital B), she told me that when she mentioned this to a friend, he immediately asked: “Do you have a bucket list?”

A bucket list – according to the Urban Dictionary – is a list of things you need to do before you die. Presumably, this man wanted to know if my friend had a list of things she wanted to do in London before she departed. She responded that a. she doesn’t “do” lists of any sort (right on, sister!) and b. she’s made a point of already seeing everything she wants to see in London.

I know what she means. While I can’t profess to hate lists, my family has also made a point of really “doing” London during the four years that we’ve lived here. Precisely because we were never quite sure how long we’d stay, my husband and I always approached each year as if it were our last and tried to make the most out of our fair city.

Since I’m told that expats know best when it comes to travel tips, here are my suggestions for five things worth doing in London. (This week’s list focuses on some “obvious” places to see; next week will focus on the less obvious):

1. The Tower of London – Yes, it’s touristy as all get-out, but this historic castle on the North bank of the River Thames is a real gem. It’s loaded with…um…gems, but also armour, torture chambers and even its very own collection of ravens. Extra-special, supercalifragilisticexpealidotious tip? Go to the Ceremony of the Keys which is held every night after dark when the castle is locked up, and has been going on for 700 years. If you’ve read Hilary Mantel’s spectacular, Booker-prize winning Wolf Hall you will be dying to see this place up close.

2. Houses of Parliament – Don’t just go look at them, take a guided tour of them. We’ve done this twice, once when the kids were very little and more recently, when we could actually listen to what the tour guide had to say. These hallowed chambers of British government are chock full of history. And it’s very cool to meld that visual history with the live history that still goes on in the House of Commons and House of Lords to this very day. (After our most recent tour I promptly sent our M.P. a request to watch Prime Minister’s Questions live.)

3. Borough Market – London is famous for its outdoor food markets, and this is the largest of them all. Located just a stone’s throw from London Bridge, Borough Market is positively bustling every Thursday-Saturday with food, people and activity. I’m not much of a gourmand, but I love walking around and seeing the hares hanging upside down in the butchers’ stalls alongside the jars of English jam. It’s a fundamentally social experience.

4. British Museum – Yeah, yeah, I know. This is obvious. With items ranging from the Elgin Marbles (shhh…don’t tell Greece!) to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is one of the famous museums in the world. But what I think a lot of people don’t appreciate is how great this museum is for kids. If you wander into the small library that’s tucked away in a far corner on the first floor, you’ll find that you can take out back-packs for children ages 5-11 that will engage them with exhibits on Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt and many more. And kids over 8 can become a Young Friend of the Museum, which qualifies them to spend an overnight there. (Warning to parents contemplating this activity: get an air mattress. Trust me.)

5. BBC Proms – If you visit London during July- September – and definitely if you live here – you’ll want to take in the BBC Proms. This series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall features leading international performers of classical, jazz, choral and world music.  There are even Family proms. And for those who don’t want to shell out a lot for tickets, you can queue the day of any performance (get there early!) and see it for 5 pounds, as long as you’re willing to stand!

*****

Speaking of London, I recently came across this list of 10 Things Not To Do In London. I agree with all of them, except for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which I do think is worth seeing, once.

Image: Changing of the Horse Guards – Buckingham Palace by Popov2007 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Yom Kippur, The Pope And My Reluctant Secularism

September 21, 2010

Sometimes the easiest questions are the hardest ones to answer. Like: What religion are you?

I had reason to think about this issue the other day during a routine doctor’s appointment at a local London hospital. As we were winding up, the doctor turned to me and asked: “Oh, yes, and what religion are you? It could be relevant to your treatment.” He was holding a clipboard and a pen, ready to tick the appropriate box on his chart.

I paused, as if he’d asked me the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. “Umm . . . well . . . I used to be Catholic.” I heard myself say. “But my husband’s Jewish . . . so I guess . . . um . . .”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. As polite as the Brits tend to be, you can tell when you’ve tried their patience. And I could see that this kind gentleman was thinking: “Honey, just answer the question. I’ve got loads of patients to see in the waiting room and I really don’t need an American confessional right now.”

“I guess I’m nothing,” I told him finally. “Yeah, that’s right. Just tick ‘nothing.’ ” But what I really wanted to say was: “Do you have a box for ‘formerly Christian’? Or perhaps for ‘wanna-be Jewish’?”

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Yalmukes by Bekah Stargazing via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Cherry On Top Award

September 20, 2010

Erin over at Cross’ The Pond sent me the Cherry on Top Award – for which I am truly grateful and deeply flattered.

There are rules, of course. I must pass it along to six other bloggers and they too must follow the rules. Here they are:

Answer this question:
If you had the chance to go back and change one thing in your life, would you, and what would it be?
Thank the person who gave you this award.

PICK 6 people/blogs and give them this award. You then have to inform the person that they have received this award.

There are many things I’d change, of course. But the one major thing I’d do differently would be to counsel my younger self not to think that I needed to have it all figured out by the time I was 25. When I was young, I put so much pressure on myself to know what I “wanted” out of life – especially professionally. I didn’t feel like there was time to wander or to test things out. I thought that I needed to know and so I made decisions – important ones – because I felt like the most important thing was to decide. That proved to be so wrong and while we all learn from our mistakes, I now see that if I’d just loosened up and let myself breathe a bit more, I could have gotten to a happy place professionally much sooner. Of course, then perhaps I wouldn’t have this blog – which is all about that journey – or maybe I’d have it but it would be called something like “Finding yourself in adulthood…at 25!” Ha!
So thank you for nominating me, Erin.
And here are my six folks:

LPC at Privilege: A High Wasp Stops To Consider

Katy at The Book Snob

Ms. Bougie at Another Bourgeois Dilemma

Jen at Jenography

Susanna at A Modern Mother

Patricia at Patricia’s Wisdom

Please stop by and visit these folks’ blogs. They are all fab!

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

September 17, 2010

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I’ll pretty much read anything Michael Lewis writes, because it’s always *that* good. In his current Vanity Fair feature on the Greek economic crisis, he does not disappoint. What a great writer.

2. Loved this funny and insightful Salon interview with comedian/author/actress Kristen Schaal of The Daily Show fame.

3. Here’s a nice essay by Liza Mundy on the New York Times Motherlode blog about what it’s like when Moms take a business trip.

4. And speaking of moms, I’ve long been a fan of Literary Mama (Tagline: “For The Maternally Inclined.”) Have a look at this honest and moving essay by Kate Brandt as she contemplates divorce and what it might mean for her child.

5. Over at the Lovely Thoughts blog, I really liked this 19-year-old’s take on signs that you are growing up. (BTW? Totally with you on the curtains…)

6. While I’m at it, let me give a shout-out to Jane Friedman’s fabulous There Are No Rules blog at Writer’s Digest. It’s a terrific source of advice and information about the publishing industry. I’m an especially big fan of her “Best Tweets For Writers” series every Sunday night.

7. Finally, here’s an absolutely devastating piece of fiction from Paul Murray in the New York Times entitled “Back to School” about parenting, marriage and silence.

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