This past week I had the pleasure of visiting the country of Belgium for the first time. Specifically, the city of Bruges -- or Brugge, as is the proper Belgium name -- which is a lovely, old 15th century canal city.
Most people know Belgium for a few things: great chocolate, big waffles and beer. When I got there, the thing that stood out was definitely the chocolate. And I mean a LOT of chocolate. On every block of every street there was a chocolate shop. With no exaggeration I can say that they literally had chocolate shops next door to other chocolate shops, which were located across the street from still more chocolate shops -- and yes, I ate that chocolate at least four times per day.
The photo above is of one of my favorite chocolate shop display windows: a huge chocolate dinosaur. If you look closely at this photo you'll see that the "spikes" down its back are actually figures of different types of people standing up, mixed with bears standing on their hind legs. As you move down its back you also find three-dimensional chocolate pigs, birds and little crouching children. The forelegs are made of chocolate leaves and balls, with two large heeled shoes as "hands."
If you look from his head down towards his feet there are also chocolate men's shoes, chocolate bowling pins, chocolate elephants, frogs, leaves and champagne bottles.
How can you NOT love a place that's founded on chocolate?
The experience was delicious...
to follow-up on my recent blog about smokers and cigarette butt trash, i have to tell you all that two days ago i was riding a bus through the Hammersmith area of London and while we were stopped i saw a borough sign on a street lamp post. the sign declared that a £75 fine would be imposed for dropping a butt on the ground (see sign above).
now, i doubt a single ticket has been issued for this littering offense, judging by the number of butts on the sidewalk, but it's a step in the right direction.
with so many trash and butt bins all over the place there's just no excuse for dirtying London with your butts. i hope people DO get the £75 fine. that'll mean something -- IF law enforcement actually writes the tickets.
OK -- i'm off my soapbox now ;-)
England may be a tad behind the times when you compare it to a place like, say, the state of California, but it does seem to be coming along. On July 1st of last year England (like most of America before it) instituted a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places including offices, factories, pubs and bars -- just not outdoors.
This "not outdoors" part is what seems to be getting to me lately. Now, I know people have the legal "right" to smoke if they so choose, but even outdoors in public their smoke is interfering with my right to breathe clear air.
The most current example of this is at London city bus stops, under the bus shelters. In London a majority of people use mass transportation and don't even own cars -- a lot like New York City -- and I am one of those people. At least five days a week I find myself standing at bus stops and more than waiting a long time for the next bus, the thing that annoys me most is when someone else standing under the bus shelter decides they are going to have a cigarette.
Yes, technically the bus stop is outdoors, but when you're sitting on a bench in a two or three-walled bus shelter and the man or woman sitting beside you lights up, their smoke goes directly in your face. There's no way around this. And smokers in London don't seem to give a damn if it's drifting all over your face, clothes and hair. They don't even have the courtesy to stand up and smoke a few feet away from the rest of the people. They are oblivious to the concerns of the people around them -- even when shoulder to shoulder with them on a bench.
Maybe this is a European thing. I know Europeans love their sidewalk coffee cafes and chain-smoking cigarettes, but clearly in a country that has taken the step of banning smoking in enclosed public spaces the residents must have gotten the message of just how gross and offensive their cigarettes are.
I'm not going to get up on my soapbox and rant about the health implications of smoking, nor am I going to suggest that smokers only smoke inside their homes. I just want to ask why smokers aren't a little more considerate of the non-smokers around them.
An insane example of what the smoking ban has created can be seen outside any bar, pub, restaurant or other place where lots of folks hang out. Anyone who goes out knows that in order to step in or out of a pub they will walk through a wall of smoke created by the people obeying the ban, but who only step a few inches outside the doorway to the establishment they're patronizing. Frankly, it's pathetic. When I see these clusters of people all I can think about is how sad and ignorant they must be, and then I wonder about their level of education. Can any reasonably intelligent person really be a habitual smoker in this day and age?
I walk past a large hospital on a regular basis near Hammersmith (my area of London), and it never fails to amaze me how many men and women are standing outside smoking. It's not just stressed-out family members of sick patients, either -- it's people wearing scrubs, people in hospital employee uniforms and yes, patients in nightgowns with a coat and sneakers on, sucking on cigarettes like infants at their mother's breast. It's truly a shocking sight -- I imagine it would be even for some smokers. Walking on the hospital's sidewalk along the main road is like being in a haze. I actually walk by and see how long I can hold my breath because of the amount of smoke in the air. It's outdoors, yes, but that fact doesn't mean the smoke magically disappears directly upwards into the atmosphere.
And while I'm thinking of it, there's another element to smokers that is on my nerves lately. Could someone please tell me who in the world's history decided that cigarette butts are perfectly OK to throw on the ground? Why aren't butts considered garbage -- nuisance litter -- like other things people inconsiderately toss on the ground? London is a filthy city (in my humble opinion) and I couldn't BEGIN to count how may butts I step on during a walk to the tube station or grocery store.
This socially accepted practice of throwing finished cigarettes anywhere they want is infringing on my right to safely walk my puppy in the local park. Every day when we go to this particular park -- which is large, grassy and popular -- my little puppy starts to chew or choke on a cigarette butt that he's picked up off the ground. This happens whether playing in the middle of the grassy expanse or while sitting on the fringes at a riverside bench. It's really sad and disgusting to pry my puppy's mouth open and find that the item he's got is someone's discarded cigarette. It's just another reminder of the personality of the average smoker.
I'm sure someone reading this is a smoker who now feels offended -- or perhaps an ex-smoker who now agrees with me about cigarettes. I don't really care. I just wish the people who CHOOSE to ruin themselves by smoking wouldn't ruin my day in the process.
British television has some pretty fucked up TV commercials (see my previous blogs regarding the Cadbury and Orangina ads), but i must say they sure use some good music. i don't know if it's a lot cheaper to license famous songs for use on television in England than it is in the United States or what, but classic hit songs and new discoveries are everywhere on British TV.
for example, right now there's a Renault car ad that uses the Rolling Stones classic "I'm Free" (not the later, well-known cover version by the Soup Dragons) and there's an Andrex toilet paper ad using Aretha Franklin's "Respect." now, i'm not exactly sure what respecting women has to do with toilet tissue, unless they want women to respect their butts by buying plush toilet paper, but hey -- still a good song.
in the lesser-known-but-really-cool category there's Muller's yogurt using Nina Simone's "Ain't Got No, I Got Life" -- a pretty random oldie, i think. and again, not sure what a Nina Simone version of a classic from the musical "Hair" has to do with cups of yogurt, but it's a lot more cool than some of the junk you get on American TV. also, from the funky-ass era of the 1970s we get Ernie K Doe's "Here Come The Girls" used in a Boots drugstore ad -- my current personal fave.
there's also the occasional commercial that uses really good music by someone you've never heard of. a good example of this is Orange mobile phone provider's spot using "Hummingbird" by Born Ruffians. after seeing that advert a number of times i really wanted to know what the song was and tracked it down on Google. i then bought the band's CD on iTunes. perhaps the iTunes sales are what's allowing such good music to be used in ads for things other than giants like Nike and Apple who can afford to use any music they want. being in a commercial almost guarantees an increase in CD sales.
lately i've also heard the Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night" used in Dreams mattress store ads, not to mention Kool and The Gang's "Ladies' Night" advertising an online bingo site. there's an unusual ad for a Citroen car that uses MC Lita's cover of "Stayin' Alive" under a visual of a Transformer-like robot dancing down a New York City-syle street mimicking the infamous John Travolta strut (the robot turns into a Citroen car at the end). it's a pretty cool ad, as car ads go, though it's strange that a European car ad takes place in New York when they don't even SELL that car in America.
i have to admit that even when using current pop songs, British TV adverts (that's what they call them in England -- "adverts") are hitting the nail on the head. there's a terribly catchy use of the Scouting For Girls song "She's So Lovely" in the Next.co.uk shopping website ad. it's already an over-played hit song over here but i don't mind hearing it on TV for some reason -- i suppose it's a catchy tune.
i'll see which of these commercials i can find on Youtube and will stick some above and below here for you Americans to enjoy.
The leaves along the road today.
it's October now, and it's cold in London. i mean, long sleeve shirt under a sweater under a coat-and-scarf cold. but something i've noticed since moving here is that i'm quite a baby when it comes to cold, blustery weather.
perhaps my blood's too thin from living in sunny Los Angeles for 10 years. perhaps i have developed a tendency to get cold faster as i get older. maybe it's the chilly rooms inside my flat, where we're conserving the expensive heating for evenings and even colder days. i dunno. what i do know is that while i'm walking around bundled up like it's snowing, i see Londoners walking the same streets next to me in jeans and a t-shirt.
this is confusing to me. where do these people come from that they are more than comfortable wearing flip-flops and short sleeves when it's barely 60 degrees outside and extremely windy and/or raining?
yesterday my day's errands had me walking around quite a bit, and it started raining. of course i had my umbrella in my bag, as i do every day, so i was fine. but my dear husband who met me for a coffee was wearing a thin windbreaker with a drawstring hood and no brellie. he walked 20 minutes each way in the rain, his face, hair and half his body getting soaked without wanting an umbrella. he won't share mine and he doesn't want to own one of his own. believe me, i've asked him a dozen times. he claims he doesn't want to have to carry one around. he'd rather get soaked, even when on the way to work. clearly, he is an Englishman to the bone.
do my gloves, scarf and umbrella make me stand out like a sore thumb here in England? i'm not sure. i do keep my eye out for others dressed in wintery outfits and there are a few. after all, big scarves on women is extremely in fashion at the moment. i do feel like a wimpy L.A. girl when adding my big coat and gloves, though.
to be sure, Autumn is upon us here in London, no matter how many people are still strolling about in short sleeves. this morning while i was out walking i came across a long patch of sidewalk covered with fallen leaves. as my boots crunched on the leaves i felt happy, smelling that familiar, crisp scent of dying Fall leaves underfoot. it created a sort of calm in my senses even as i walked along the incredibly noisy Great West Road.
a warm nod to the changing of the seasons.
after i wrote the above entry i went out for an errand. it was bright and sunny so i left my umbrella at home. by the time i got to my bus stop it was HAILING outside. not rain. HAIL. no shit. it really is goodbye to Summer!