PIC OF THE WEEK 05/31/2008
 

recently i got a great, new camera -- and a new country to live in.  i'm taking a lot of pictures these days, so i decided to make "Pic Of The Week" to share some of the things i'm digging.  i'll change it once a week. 

if you have a comment or question about any of the pics, feel free to leave it here, on this blog.

thanks.

 
 

Chelsea Captain John Terry cries after missing the penalty kick that cost his team the Cup.


last night i watched some English football.  specifically, an exhibition match where the United States was playing against England.  as you probably know, this was of particular interest to me, being an American who now lives in England.  the plan was set, a few pints of Stella were purchased for the occasion and for only the second time in my long life i sat down to watch an English football match.

i didn't want to be too obvious in my hopes that the U.S. would win, but being low-profile is not my forte.  the whole evening i was thinking to myself (and probably muttering):  "i hope we beat those f-ing Englishmen."

then i realized something terrible:  David Beckham was playing for ENGLAND'S team.

"what the hell is he doing?"  i exclaimed -- and i immediately hated him for running back to England, even though it's America that currently finances he and his scary wife's gluttonous lifestyle.  i was informed that the players did not have to be playing professionally for the country on whose team they played in this particular match.  in short, this match didn't mean much to anyone at all for any reason -- the stadium wasn't even full.  nobody cared, it seemed -- except for me.  i wanted to see something American triumph at the new Wembley stadium.

but wait.  before i talk more about the match itself i want to mention how the producers opened it.  surprisingly, the first thing they did after the players lined-up was put a woman at a microphone on the pitch (known in America as the FIELD) to sing America's national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

and this is always a potentially horrible two minutes.

if you're American you're probably used to seeing various gospel, country or R&B renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed before a major sporting event -- particularly baseball and NFL games -- and if you've seen these, you already know that the poor anthem gets mangled and rearranged into impossibly ugly renditions more often than not.  and this match was no exception.  the woman singing was all over the place.  she got the words right, as far as i could tell, but she was so...  umm...  BIG in her rendition that the frigging audio system at the new Wembley Stadium was popping and crackling all over the place.  it was pretty embarrassing.  i'm not sure if the woman's voice was to blame, or the audio person working inside the stadium, but either way it made listening to my national anthem a shitty little experience.

getting back to the actual match, i must admit that i really, truly wanted to see John Terry (captain of Chelsea Football Club AND captain of England's team in this match) score a goal.  this was because last week i watched him lose a penalty kick in the Champions League final against Manchester United in Moscow, which cost Chelsea the Cup.  the poor guy had the entire match riding on his shoulders -- just one man -- and when Man. U. won, John Terry sobbed and sobbed like only a deeply defeated man can.  so, i wanted the guy to score a point in this match against the U.S., even though i deeply wanted the U.S. to win. 

and guess what.

he did score.  and his goal (a crazy header, no less) turned out to be the first of two goals scored which led to the U.S. being defeated 2 - 0. 

ugh.

when the match ended, my attention turned to the commentary of three hosts, all of which were men from the United Kingdom.  and what i heard kinda upset me.  one commentator criticized:  "the Americans are a team of spoilers."  later another commentator said:  "Americans are a poor side."

now, since i've been in England i've felt my share of American paranoia.  when i'm out in public i speak quietly -- so people won't hear my American accent.  i try to lie low because i know that for some ridiculous reason most Europeans dislike Americans.  not me specifically, but every single person who says they're American or just SOUNDS American.  i'm not sure exactly when or why this dislike of Americans by Europeans and Brits began, but i think it was probably long before September 11th. 

and it drives me up the wall.

what have Americans done to England -- other than the obvious Revolution back in 1776 -- or perhaps technically 1781-83?  near as i can tell, people seem to make fun of Americans for...  umm...  having a lot of land and and opportunities and money and religious freedom?  yeah, that's a GREAT reason to dislike an entire nation of people you've never met.  and i'm not going to get up on my soap box and talk about how great my home country is, because everyone pretty much loves their homeland no matter where they're from, and that's great.  i just wanted to say that i feel unfairly disliked in my NEW home, England, and it's primarily because i'm American.

i don't know who pissed in the English football commentators' Wheaties yesterday morning, but it must have been pretty fucking bitter to make them speak so rudely about a visiting team that had already lost with zero points.  i mean, REALLY.  the English have a reputation in America for being civilized, proper and well-read, but it seems almost everywhere i turn i run into someone dissing me, or speaking negatively about Americans or barreling into me on the sidewalk without saying excuse me.

so let's get one thing straight everybody:  Americans are not perfect, but neither are the REST of you.

we would all do well to remember that the next time a foreigner tries to call a new country their home.  maybe try to be nice to them -- or at least, don't be so stinking mean.

 
PIES AND QUEEN 05/28/2008
 

i've noticed in my four-and-a-half weeks here that England really likes PIE.  i see pies on almost every menu and on the various food shows on the TV.  what i didn't notice (until last night anyway) is that the word "pie" doesn't always refer to a baked fruit dessert in a crust.

in England you can't just say you're craving pie.  you can't even really say you want pie for dessert, because someone might look at you like you're crazy.  this is because in England the word "pie" also refers to entrees that are nothing like a dessert, and usually contain a combination of meat and potatoes.  the obvious example would be Shepherd's Pie, which i always thought was some mysterious, delicious British dessert until about seven months ago, when i had one.

Shepherd's Pie is a hot casserole dish basically consisting of minced lamb meat and mashed potato topping baked together.  it is definitely delicious, but it is not a "pie" to my American brain.  there is also something called Cottage Pie, which is made with ground beef.  and this is neither here nor there.  it's just to let you Americans out there know that if you visit England, be sure to read the definition of the "pie" you're ordering from the menu before you ask for it.

other than pie, something else seems to pop-up a lot in my new life in Britain.  it's Queen.  not THE Queen Elizabeth II, as one might expect here, but the quite non-monarchial 1970s rock band "Queen" featuring the one and only Freddie Mercury.

and it's not Queen as a band in general -- it's one Queen song in particular:  "Don't Stop Me Now."  and for those of you out there who know this song, i hope you understand why i find it so amusing.

i have heard the beginning portion of Don't Stop Me Now" at least once a day, every day, since i got here.  at first i thought it was being used as a production company's music at the end of certain TV shows.  then i realized that this production company must produce a shitload of shows to have their logo and music on so many times each day.  then i realized that the thing i was seeing was actually a cleverly disguised, very short commercial.  but still, i had no idea what the commercial was for, and i was an Advertising major in school.

eventually the day came where a longer, somewhat bizarre version of the commercial aired.  in this commercial you hear the intro to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" as the screen shows various oddly-shaped airport-type concept tarmac trucks/vehicles turning on and rolling forward, lights engaging.  these strange vehicles are driving themselves with only a vague suggestion of people present as they line-up into position for an acid-trip-like drag race.  "don't stop me nowwww..." is repeating as the race starts.  the various tricked-out vehicles are racing and swerving and passing each other as luggage spills onto the tarmac and Freddie Mercury blares "'cause i'm havin' a good time -- havin' a good time..."

then the commercial ends abruptly with a small graphic of something that looks exactly like a production company's logo -- a tipped glass of milk with the words "A Glass and a Half Full Production."

who or what is this commercial for?

Cadbury.

you know Cabury.  as in Cadbury Eggs, the ones you get at Easter?  you know, the giant candy corporation?  yes.  drag-racing space trucks that drive themselves to the tune of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" are advertising a candy company.

who knew?

i guess the commercial works if i'm sitting here writing about it, but that doesn't make it any less amusing. 

oh, and the icing on the cake was that recently i watched one episode of "Britain's Got Talent," and in that episode i watched one poor guy audition who had chosen singing as his talent. 

what did he sing?  "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen.  and that wasn't so much funny as it was just plain sad, because everyone knows only one person can sing like Freddie Mercury, and that person is dead now.  the poor guy.  i felt like i was watching American television for a moment there...

anyway, i'll keep my ears open for other examples.

"don't stop me now..."

;-)

for those of you with time on your hands, here's the Cadbury ad:

 
 

well, here goes.  i'm gonna try writing a blog on a public website for all to see...

it's not really the "public" part that causes me anxiety, but rather the knowledge that i am a perpetual editor and that from today forward i'm going to be fighting the urge to come back into this blog and revise something i've written or fix a typo i missed. 

later on today, tomorrow or next month i'll be scanning my old blogs and will decide a certain sentence would sound better another way, or that i wasn't totally clear on a point i was trying to make and i'll want to do a re-write.  this is my nature and i have a hard time fighting my perpetual editor syndrome (P.E.S. for short).  but, despite my P.E.S., i've decided to use an automated blog formatting system so i can't screw around with the dates and times of when i wrote what.  therefore, taking a stab at this blog is a whole new, anxiety-riddled adventure for me. 

Geronimo!

it's raining today.  i'm in London, where i live now, so the rain really isn't a surprise.  in fact, it wasn't even a remote disappointment for me because in England the weather forecasts are amazingly accurate.  unlike the States -- where you have as much chance of predicting the weather with your own pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey weather map as you do from listening to the news -- you can actually plan your holiday weekend based on what you see in a BBC weather forecast the Thursday prior.  this is almost unparalleled (unless, of course, you live in Los Angeles, California, where the forecast is pretty much "clear and sunny in the high 70s" every day of the year).

what i wanted to mention (before i forgot) was something i noticed in my new local grocery store, here in the Hammersmith area of London.  my local grocery store (and by "local" i mean the one i can walk to fastest) is called Sainsbury's.  Sainsbury's is your average grocery store, nothing too fancy, but a solid average.  kinda like a more urban version of Ralphs, for you Californians out there.  anyway, i was in the potato chip section of the store (not to buy potato chips -- which the English call "crisps" -- but to get some salted cashews), when i saw something rather...  umm... unusual.

in the British potato chip (or "crisp") market there appears to be a market leader called Walker's.  now, i must say i have already eaten Walker's chips on two international flights out of Heathrow (and once more by choice) and wish to note that they are positively scrumptious -- they get my vote for the best chip in town.  what freaked me out about them in Sainsbury's was the variety of FLAVORS (which the British spell "flavours") that Walker's offers.  right beside the usual Salted and Sour Cream and Onion flavors were  "Marmite," "Roast Chicken," and "Prawn Cocktail" chips.  i kinda threw up in my mouth a little bit when i saw this -- certainly no one has the desire to taste shrimp cocktail when they bite into a potato chip?

i don't know.  i'm new here.

and while i'm talking about food, i'd like to call everyone's attention to something else that thoroughly grossed me out.  apparently in British McDonald's restaurants they sell a fish sandwich -- with BACON on it. 

holy cow.

or pig, as the case may be.

going back to the grocery store for a moment i'd like to mention that yellow squash does not appear to exist in England (or at least not in Sainsbury's in May).  i also can't find those tiny, skinny bean sprouts used on sandwiches and salads.  i'm not sure what other name i should be using for them -- the internet seems to suggest "cress sprouts" but either way, i can't find them.

i'm sure this is not the end of my food culture shock.  it's definitely only the beginning.  but if any British people out there can help me find some good veggie dip, Ranch salad dressing, Brown Sugar Splenda and Smart Balance spread, please let me know.