Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Kind Of Town

Much of my genetic makeup can be traced to various places in the UK, which is perhaps why I find it so easy to fit in here. And then of course there's the fact that everyone speaks English, which is often a nice change from the stimulating yet exhausting daily communication in French I've been having the last two years. I still pronounce place names as the French would, which sometimes confuses the English-speaking people I'm talking to, and I am only now breaking my habit of answering the phone with oui, allo? A few times when people have asked what I did in France, I found it hard to answer in English; sometimes only French vocabulary will describe French experiences.

And then of course there's the fact that my namesake is the titular ruler of this country, and no one has problems spelling or pronouncing my last name, although they do pronounce it differently (and more authentically) the further north I go.

This blog is jumping around in place and time as I try to catch up with the last bit of France and my first weeks in London; there are still things I want to write about that took place over a year ago, in fact. "Why do you have to catch up on your blogging?" my friend Pascoe asked me at lunch two weeks ago. A good question, especially since this takes a lot of time and energy that I don't get paid for, and most people who are trying to make a living with their own business tie their blogs somehow to that business, to attract new customers and advertise and generally bring themselves to the attention of a wider audience. Maybe the problem is that I haven't settled on a "business" yet, though I am now committed to the freelance writer/editor work, and enjoying it. The series of cookbooks I have planned would definitely benefit from a blog, but since they're on French cooking and French recipes, would that really work if I'm not in France? I'm traveling around and seeing interesting things, and in many respects this is a travel blog, but I'm not writing articles for travel magazines. Maybe I'll be able to turn all of these photos and notes into a book some day, but while I enjoy looking back through the posts and remembering the joys and the difficulties and the everyday same-but-different-ness of living in Oregon, in France, in England, in who knows where next (though I hope it's Norway and Italy, in that order) would anyone else find it interesting enough to buy a book about it?

Probably not. I haven't gone through any major epiphanies, haven't renovated a Tuscan farmhouse, haven't sought or achieved enlightenment, haven't had a string of virile European lovers (damn it anyway). I've just had a life. Done what I wanted to. Sought and taken advantage of and created opportunities. Made friends (and one enemy) and learned new things. It has been enough for me - it has been more than enough, and I have only an increasing sense of wonder and gratitude that I'm living this life - but so far I have not spent any time thinking how to translate that into income.

The nice thing about housesitting though, even though I'm not asking for or receiving money (yet) for it, is that I don't have to pay rent or utilities or internet bills, which leaves me money to go out to eat occasionally. Since I'm in England, that means fish and chips. The last time I was here I had fish and chips in Plymouth but had to peel the coating off, as I was already gluten-free back then, and back then no one was offering non-gluten alternatives. Now there are several places in London that cater to gluten- and allergy-sensitive diets, and two places which offer GF fish and chips once or twice a week, with dedicated fryers and everything. I'm not coeliac, so I don't have to worry about cross-contamination, but the owner of Oliver's Fish and Chips is very aware of the possibilities of trouble for those who are, and makes sure that on gluten-free days there's nothing that will cause problems. I talked to the owner for a bit (that's him in the mirror, and I have totally failed as a journalist because I do not remember his name) about his family who started the business - they came from Turkey 30 years ago or so - and about his efforts to try to find gluten-free desserts to serve. I suggested sorbet and fresh fruit, as he mentioned how worried he was about the possibility of cross-contamination if they made anything in house, though he did try to do an apple crumble at one point.

Frankly their portions are so big I wouldn't have had room for dessert anyway. The day's special looked really very good, but since I had come specifically for the fish and chips, that's what I had. Though I might go back, for that dish or the dish of the day, because everyone is really very nice, and the food is really very good.

I wish Mom were here to enjoy the food with me.

I wish Morgan were here, because some of my best memories are of taking him to different ethnic restaurants in Portland and introducing him (starting at the age of five or six, at least) to the flavors of wasabi and berbere and fish sauce and coconut milk and coriander. I'd like to spend some time traveling with him, talking about anything and everything, and maybe geohashing the European graticules.

I wish Leah were here, meeting her, um, second cousins twice removed? Something like that. I think she and Alexandra would have a lot to talk about. I know I would like to take her up to Buckie to see the house where Papa was born, though now that both Catherine and Kathleen are dead, the old rope-and-wood swing in the attic where he use to play is probably gone. But we still have distant relatives there, and we could go to Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and maybe up into the highlands, following the heather and the pipes.

I wish Mom and John were here, because there are so many places we didn't have time to go back in 2007, and I wish all my friends could be here having fun with me, because travels are more fun when shared.

And I suppose that's why I want to catch up on my blogging, because that's how I feel that everyone is here with me.

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