Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Shepherd's Bush, London

In 2011 the UK census revealed that the percentage of people living in London who identified themselves as "white British" fell below 50% for the first time. Although in the UK as a whole this "white British" category outnumbers the others three to one, there are places in London where the demographic is definitely skewed in the other direction. A search for goat curry took me towards the Shepherd's Bush tube station, in an area of west London where the Westfield London shopping center (or centre) has, since 2008, sprawled over 37 acres (not including parking) to form what is not quite the UK's biggest mall.

I didn't go there.

I went to the Shepherd's Bush Market tube station, where I came up from underground to see another shopping area, this one a covered outdoor market; it's covered partly in canvas and partly by the overpass for the Hammersmith & City underground rail line, as it has been for a hundred years longer than the upstart marketplace hulking to the north. According to the same 2011 census, half the people living in this area were born outside the UK. Almost 20% of the households surveyed then had no one living there who spoke English as their first language. Interestingly, for the Hammersmith and Fulham borough in its entirety, most of the immigrants in 2011 were from France, Ireland, and Australia. There is a well-established Polish community, and many immigrants from Somalia and northern Africa. Half the population is Muslim, and more than half of the women I saw on the street were wearing a hijab or niqab, or even a head-to-toe black burka.

There were plenty of places in the covered market to buy ready-made veils and headscarves, or fabric to make them. The Pakistani population was catered to as well, with entire shops filled with rolls of embroidered sparkly cloth for saris or salwar kameez. There were lots of sweets stands that children were tugging their mothers towards, and the usual collection of discount tableware, pillows, saucepans, and other household miscellany you'll find in pretty much any market like this.

A few stands were selling British souvenirs, keychains and whatnot, so I think this is still a magnet for tourists due to its history, though it's not as hip and happening as the Camden Lock Market (which I never did get to while I was staying in the north London area, but on the other hand, I've been to the Portland Saturday Market and it's much hipper and happening-er, she says loyally). From what I've read it seems that since the mall opened in 2008 it has become the shopping destination, and most people go there now instead. However, last year the borough approved plans to expand the market and work towards bringing it back to its 1914 prominence and importance in the area. A few months ago the Financial Times ran an article about the gentrification of Shepherd's Bush and the housing prices have been going up steadily since 2008, when the new shopping centre drew peoples' eyes to this area.
I wasn't in the market for anything in particular - having to periodically stuff things back into what I swear are shrinking suitcases rather cuts down on the urge to accumulate possessions - so I just wandered around for a bit, past rows of plastic toys and cotton towels, real and artificial flowers, jewelry and watches and probably the same leather belts and wallets that were being sold at the weekly market on the Place Jean Jaurès in Tours. There were a few food stands selling falafel and things like that, as well as a very fishy-smelling fish stand at one end. There weren't that many other people there, but maybe just before noon on a Monday isn't a popular time to be out shopping. It reminded me of the big market in Shipshewana, Indiana where people aren't really there to buy things, necessarily, but more to just peruse what's on offer, unless they see something that's too good a deal to pass up. A place to pass some time, chat with friends, maybe try on a pair of sunglasses.

The restaurant (technically speaking) I had come there to get lunch at was closed until noon, so I had a half an hour to spare for a bit of sightseeing, and wandered up and back along the main road. It's definitely not the prettiest neighborhood in London - a bit grotty in places, in fact - but it's one of the more interesting.

I was a little disappointed in the food at Ochi Caribbean because although it was good, it wasn't freshly made; I think they reheat things in the microwave, because the sauce from my goat curry was congealed around the edge of the plate. Or maybe it's just certain dishes that they reheat, with others made fresh. Their jerk chicken gets good reviews, in any event. The tiny kitchen probably can't have everything cooking at once, which is probably why they only offer their cow foot stew on Fridays, though you can get fish tea any day of the week.

Now I know where to go if I want to give goat curry a go myself at home, or at least at someone else's home when I'm back in London in December. I'm sure the two cats there would be more than happy to help me eat it, if I didn't make it too spicy. Goat meat is lean, with more protein and less fat (saturated and otherwise) than chicken. A Canadian heart health association provides this recipe for Ragoût de chevreau au cari épicé which I have translated for your edification and use:

1.5 pounds cubed goat meat
2 Tbs curry powder
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 habanero chilli, minced
2 Scotch Bonnet chillis, minced (they like their curries hot in Canada)
1 branch fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp brown sugar
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced potatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 cup water

Put the meat in the bottom of a large heavy pot, pour all the other ingredients on top, and cover the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for one hour or until the meat is tender, stirring from time to time. Serve with steamed brown rice.

Other recipes I saw use sweet potatoes, and at Ochi Caribbean they serve the curry with Jamaican peas and rice, which is amazingly good. Now I'm hungry.

So if you're interested in living in London and want to get in on a relatively cheap fixer-upper in an ethnically diverse, historically interesting, fashionable-or-grotty-depending-on-location neighborhood then Shepherd's Bush is where you want to be. It's about half an hour from the City of London by rail, but it's also within walking distance, if you're willing to walk about six miles. That's what I did after lunch, and I'll tell you about that walk in the next post.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Flock Of Friends

One of the things that makes me happy these days is the fact that I am meeting new people and seeing new places. The exhausting suitcase-dragging hours-on-the-road(or -rail) aspect of travel is the only negative, but it's quickly forgotten with the first conversation or amazing landmark. Even non-amazing landmarks are neat, because they're so different from wherever it was I had been previously.

But even better is going back to visit people later, conversations continued through the space of months or years, catching up and reminiscing. My address book is filling up with names from France and England, and I hope that I can add more countries and contacts over the next several months. Au revoir, mes amis!

The lovely Mandy in Devon and the ever-inspiring Pascoe in London.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pondering My Next Move

Tomorrow I get on the train and head north to York, where I will be taking care of three cats and a long-legged Saluki cross until mid-October. Then I'll get back on the train and go even further north, to visit relatives who live outside of Glasgow. I'm not entirely certain how long I'll stay there but I need to be back down by Plymouth around the 28th of October at the latest, and then I'm set to go through the first week of January when I finish up my final UK housesit in London.

I am still hoping to be chosen as a volunteer for the Geilo Ice Music Festival, but I've decided to go to Norway in January anyway to see Bea in Flekkefjord, whether I go on to Geilo in February or not. My plan is to go first to Buckie, spend some time with my Scottish relatives there, then fly from Aberdeen to Stavanger. Eventually I will get to Oslo, and then - change in plans again! I have decided to go to Hungary. I'd like to connect with my Magyar heritage. I have absolutely no idea how I am going to pull this off, but now is the time to start writing to Hungarian cheesemakers, looking into the Workaway opportunities, and putting this post out into the ether to see what sort of energy begins sparking through the universe to help get me to my goals.

Azonban, a határ a csillagos ég úgy szép az élet, ha zajlik. Kérem segítsen, a légpárnás hajóm tele van angolnákkal.

"The Lewis Chessmen ... were probably made in Norway, about AD 1150-1200. At this period, the Western Isles, where the chess pieces were buried, were part of the Kingdom of Norway, not Scotland. It seems likely they were buried for safe keeping on route to be traded in Ireland ... The chess pieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks." - British Museum website

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Age Of Enlightenment

During one of my three "tourist" days in London before I started the first housesit, I perambulated towards the British Museum, thinking to spend a half day there before going to get a dosa at one of the handful of southern Indian restaurants not far from the museum. However, since I got lost (again) I arrived later than I'd planned, and my feet were already sore and tired - I must get new shoes soon - and so I only visited a few exhibits briefly. I'd like to go back for a longer visit, in December, this time without the walking part beforehand; the Transport For London site says that it will take me an hour to get there, Southeastern to London Charing Cross Rail Station, Northern line to Tottenham Court Road Underground Station, #7 bus to British Museum. A small amount of time, really, considering the huge span of time covered by the exhibits.

The main building, an open square fronted with that broad staircase and Greek columns, was completed in 1853; in 2000 the open square was closed by a huge glass and steel canopy, making it (according to the Museum's website) "the largest covered public square in Europe." It reminded me of the glass and steel pyramid at the Louvre, and that in some ways the modern and classical styles work well together, but while the pyramid seems out of place in the Paris courtyard, here the 21st-century canopy almost makes the older buildings look artificial somehow. There were crowds and crowds of people in the big open space, and in the smaller galleries to either side. The museum's free, which is fantastic. I'm glad of it, since I saw very little of what is on display, and will need to go back multiple times to see the rest. On the other hand, I'm not drawn to the exhibits on Africa, Asia, and the Americas, so I can leave those for last.

I'd like to spend more time in the Middle East. Who knows what ancient treasures are even now being bombed or razed into oblivion ... while I am not going to get all colonial here, and there are good reasons to either not take things that have cultural significance out of the countries in which they have such significance or to return them later when those countries ask politely if they might possibly have them back, thank you very much, I think it is a shame and a horror to lose art and history to war, or to "purification" squads. Or looters. It's too bad that wars aren't conducted in some remote uninhabited arena, far from civilians and civilization.

Above: Egyptian bust probably brought back by British looters in the early 1800s; gold-leaf-covered goat, southern Iraq, 2600-2400 BC (the statue was called "Ram in a Thicket" originally but it's obviously a goat); cuneiform tablet with a history of King Tiglath-Pilesar I, northern Iraq, 1110 BC; terracotta plaque from southern Iraq, 1800-1750 BC, depicting Ishtar, Ereshkigal, and/or Lilith; Below: 3rd-century Roman mosaic floor uncovered in 1806 in central London

In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.

- 2 Kings 15:29
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

- Matthew 5:9
Spectator 1: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers."

Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?

Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

- "Life of Brian" (1979)
History is written by the winners.

- George Orwell, February 1944

The easiest thing to do is to fill in the holes afterwards. Even in our information-saturated internet age there will likely never be what one could truthfully call the whole story in any given situation, especially since truth depends on the person speaking at the time. Perception can turn fact into fiction, or the other way around. Back in 1325 or so someone in or near Tring, in Hertfordshire, created a set of earthenware tiles depicting the early life of Christ, a popular subject in the 14th century. In the tile above, Levi is slapping the young Yeshua across the face; in some texts of that time related to this apocryphal history - frankly, the Bible is all pretty much apocryphal, but let's not get into that - Levi slaps him because Yeshua refuses to answer a question, and in others they're quarreling over doctrine. These "lost years" have invited much speculation over the centuries. Some people believed that he traveled to India and Tibet, both learning from and influencing other religious leaders. Others assume that he spent his twenties working with his father as a carpenter in Sepphoris, a few miles from Nazareth. Here in England, legend has it that Yeshua sailed over on a trading mission with Joseph of Arimathaea, who may or may not have been his uncle or great-uncle. Other legends say that Joseph of Arimathaea came here afterwards, as a missionary, and that he brought the Grail with him; his walking staff became the Glastonbury Thorn, a tree that blooms twice a year in the courtyard of St John's Church, Glastonbury. An 1804 poem by William Blake was set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916, and the hymn "Jerusalem" has become a sort of unofficial British anthem. It's sung on St. George's Day (April 23rd) and was used both in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton the year before.

And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land.

- William Blake (1757-1827)

Facts replaced fiction, for the most part, in the Age of Enlightenment, and the British Museum devotes an entire gallery to a collection of books, artifacts, manuscripts, and specimens from around the world, all brought back or collected by the leading scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians of the 18th century. Or looted, if you want to look at it that way.

Back in the days when information was stored using paper instead of pixels, personal libraries were one of the signs of both wealth and culture. The gallery was originally built to hold King George III's library; those books are now in the British Library, which I would also like to visit.

How many of you remembered that George III was the monarch against whom the American Colonies rebelled in 1776? I didn't, until I was looking things up for this post. I did remember the movie "The Madness of King George" was about George III, but that probably wouldn't score me many points on a history exam. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to look it up over and over again using Google search.

"I wish nothing but good; therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel." - George III

This was the last room I went into, and I didn't spend enough time there due to being tired and increasingly hungry, so I'll go back in a few months and look more closely at the collection. I can use a little enlightenment.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Perambulation

While it is true that I have technically perambulated London, it's only in the historical sense (Latin per- + ambulare, to walk all over or around; back in the Middle Ages this referred to walking and recording the physical boundaries of an area) and only for the historical London, the City of London that is only one tiny square mile in the middle of thirty-two boroughs forming the whole of the Greater London area. I did manage to set foot in other boroughs in my wanderings, mostly to the north of the Thames, and when I go back in December I'll check a few more off the list. In August I was in the northern district of Haringey, housesitting on Muswell Hill and walking the dog around the grounds of Alexandra Palace (or "Ally Pally"), the Victorian-era community arts and entertainment center that was built so people didn't have to go all the way into the center of the city to get their culture. It's high on a hill, and the BBC Television Service made a broadcast from the studio there back in November 1936, in what was the first high-definition program of its day. When you stand in front of the commemorative marker on the building under the old transmitter, you can look south over the City and the Thames towards Crystal Palace, where the modern transmitter is now.

We have really everything in common with America nowadays,
except, of course, language.
        - Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost (1887)

It's nice to be back in a country where understanding what people around me are saying doesn't require any mental energy. I am trying to not adopt a British accent, but I am doing my best to mute my American one, which comes out mostly in the A-sounds and of course my inability to avoid enunciating the letter R. I'm not going around looking for things that would make American teenage boys snicker as I was back in 2007 but as always if something strikes me as odd, I'll probably take a picture of it, just because that's what I do.

Some things have definitely changed in the last seven years. Red telephone boxes have morphed into black wi-fi hotspots. There are CCTV cameras everywhere. There are many more tourists than I remember seeing on my last visit, though that could be because I was walking around London in August instead of May. You have to have an Oyster card to ride the bus now, and travel via bus or tube has gotten a lot more expensive. London in general has gotten more expensive - in fact, several 2014 surveys say that it's the most expensive city in the world.

The food has gotten better, at least. Even the pub chains are spreading their wings and trying to add more interesting (and expensive) selections to their menus. I'd like to go back to The Anchor & Hope, a new-British-classics gastropub that helped push the UK into the culinary 21st century. I ate there in 2005 and again in 2007. I plan to go back in December, maybe for a Christmas treat; the warm snail and bacon salad is still on the menu, and one can never have too many snails.

The real estate agency Hotblack Desiato is the source of the "Hitchhiker's Guide" character of the same name, not the other way around, as I discovered when I went in to ask. Last night I was watching a quiz show called "Eggheads" and the answer to one of the questions was "Zaphod Beeblebrox," after which a panelist tried to show off his knowledge of all things Guide-y, saying that the only reason ZB was able to steal the Heart of Gold was because its owner was spending a year dead for tax purposes, when everyone knows it was Hotblack Desiato who was the owner of the nameless pure black stunt ship for the group Disaster Area that was stolen. That time, anyway. ZB did indeed steal the Heart of Gold earlier, but only because of the machinations of the mice.

There are cranes all over London, and new buildings going up everywhere. One of the things I like about England is that you can't just knock down an old building to put up a new one, so there are old stone buildings tucked into spaces between towering glass-and-concrete superstructures, and houses that are "listed" can't be changed on the outside, and sometimes not on the inside either, if the interior structures - like the 600-year-old wooden beams in Camilla's house in Ashburton - have historical significance. Unlike much of America, and even Portland, where lovely old homes can be torn down by anyone with enough money.

Not that all buildings in London are old, or even beautiful. There are many areas where people without enough money live. 28% of the people in London live below the poverty level, twice that of the Portland metropolitan area.

London

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most, thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.


- William Blake, "Songs of Experience" (1794)

While London is being built up it's also falling down in places, which is to be expected as the centuries go by. Especially when several of those centuries involved coal smoke, first from homes and businesses in and around London, and later from coal-fired energy plants outside it. Acid rain has chewed off the faces of statues and buildings, although according to a study I just looked up it's not nearly the problem it used to be, with emissions and sulfur/nitrogen percentages both at nearly a quarter of what they were back in the 1970s. A "congestion charge" has been in place for over a decade now to try to get people to drive less by making it more expensive; taking a car into the eight square miles within the Inner Ring Road - the center of which is the financial district of the City of London - during business hours on the weekdays will set you back about $18/day now (£11.50, up from £5 back in 2003). If you actually live within the area, you only have to pay 10% of that cost, but if you live there then (a) you're already paying a lot for the location, and (b) you're probably within walking distance of where you want to be anyway.

Some of the more expensive places to live in this expensive city are the Victorian-era terraces that curve around the outside of Regent's Park. Cumberland Terrace caught my eye in particular, with its neoclassical style, all shiny white statuary and columns. A two-million-pound flat went on sale there this summer - and it has been reduced in price! To only £1,895,000! A bargain at, let's see ... $3,725 per square foot. To be fair, even though it's only a one-bedroom with a living area, kitchen, and bathroom, there is also a small studio apartment in the basement included in the price, so at least your maid and butler can live in without living in, if you see what I mean.

Approximately 900 blue plaques have been put up over the past 150 years (approximately) on buildings around London, and eventually the trend spread around the UK, although the English Heritage Society generally only sponsors the ones in the Greater London area. Here in Salisbury I passed a plaque yesterday that reads "William Golding novelist & Nobel Prize winner was a schoolmaster here 1945-1962," put there by the Salisbury Civic Society. Many of the names I saw on plaques in London were completely unfamiliar to me, such as Dame Fawcett, but the name Aubrey Beardsley rang a bell; I thought that I had seen it on the roster of the Infinite Art Tournament. However, though Beardsley is indeed an artist, I don't think he's included in the tournament, possibly because many of his works, while fascinating, are N exactly SFW.

There are so many other things I could spend time reading about for this post. Dame Fawcett's seminal work, "Political Economy for Beginners" (1911) for one. Or who provided money to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association to set up the now-defunct well, and what or who the milkmaid is looking for, if she is even a milkmaid. Why a depiction of the martyrdom of St. Pancras shows him being eaten by a lion, when by all accounts he was either stoned to death (Pancras of Taormina in 40AD) or beheaded (Pancras of Rome in 304AD). Whether doctors are still prescribing gin and tonics to combat malaria. Which businesses now have offices behind the Egyptian facade of the Art Deco building that used be the Carreras Cigarette Factory, which I was convinced was a gym for some reason. The 134 to North Finchley goes by the guardian cats, and every time I'd think that it was a strangely ornate place to put a health spa.

But I'll leave you to follow those links, if you like. The sun is shining and I'm going to take a walk.

London's history will have to wait.