yesterday i went out to England's National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London -- the home of over a thousand paintings spanning from the 1500s to 1900.  i have to admit that it wasn't as exciting as going to a modern art interactive exhibit like the stuff at (for example) the Heyward Gallery or the Tate Modern, though.  there's only so much a person can take of staring at giant, overly dramatic oil paintings of religious motifs.  only so many "virgin and child" depictions, chubby Christ childs and creepy representations of the dead and/or bloody, wounded Jesus Christ. 

i'm not meaning to be offensive to the religious people out there -- it just gets boring after about the 40th picture.  i don't even know how many of them showed St. Jerome with the lion that he pulled the thorn out of, but there were a lot.  good grief.  there's no better way to make someone under-appreciate a thing than to bombard them with a massive collection of that same thing room after room.

the 1800s stuff provided little more comfort.  i know a LOT of folks dig the Impressionists, and i do recognize the significance of the movement, but again, when i stand in a large room literally filled with Manet's garden-scapes, all i can think about is how the man had double cataracts and how maybe he painted the way he did because the dude couldn't SEE properly. 

i'm sorta kidding, but not really.

some of the highlights of the museum (in my humble opinion) are Van Gogh's "Chair" and "Sunflowers."  in fact, thinking of Van Gogh, i must mention that the Gallery's gift shop was selling a stuffed kid's doll of Vincent Van Gogh and amusingly his left ear is detachable with the help of a little piece of velcro.  accurate, but pretty funny, i thought.  you can have regular Van Gogh or crazy Van Gogh all in one fun toy.

i felt like my memory hasn't entirely deteriorated when i came upon a painting i recognized from way back in high school Western Civilization class.  it was Jan van Eyck's "The Arnolfini Marriage."  i remember i always liked how dark and evil-looking the husband was portrayed compared to his bride, and how people say the little round mirror on the wall behind them has the teensy tiny reflection of van Eyck's image in it.  i've included a copy of this painting above for your reference.  i also like how the bride looks pregnant, when in fact the bulge in her dress was really just the fashion of the day.  yeah RIGHT  ;-)

anyway, a day of culture is always a good thing.  in stark contrast, outside the Gallery on the large area of Trafalgar Square there were numerous street artists layed out on the ground drawing in colored chalk on the cement with boxes sat out to collect "donations" from passers-by.  when the country's National Gallery was free to get into, i found it hard to want to make a cash donation to a guy drawing a yin-yang on the ground.

ah, the plight of the struggling artist.


since i moved to London i've missed a lot of things.  one of these things is the movie experience.  you see, in England not all movies open at the same time as they do in the States -- only the biggest ones -- and often when they do open in England it's many weeks after you have gotten them in the U.S. theatres.  this sucks.  it's also harder to be "in the know" about little indie flicks here unless i read American websites and then seek them out over here months later.  maybe i haven't tapped into the right website or magazine yet, but since i got to London i've sorely missed the quirky oddball films i used to love so dearly.

also, i miss American movie theatres.  more specifically, i miss Los Angeles movie theatres.  places like the Arclight Cinema, where they have a cool gift shop, a sit-down restaurant and bar and reserved seating with gorgeous comfortable seats (not to mention stellar popcorn).  i even miss the Century City Mall theatre, which is a close second to the Arclight, and would even say that the Westside Pavilion Mall theatre (deserted as it was) is sorely missed.

in my new neighborhood of Hammersmith/Chiswick there is one movie theatre that's walking distance from my flat.  it's called Cineworld and i don't think a manager has inspected or upgraded anything inside it since the 1980s.  despite the fact that it has the latest big budget movies on offer, the letters on its marquis are falling off and/or crooked.  when you walk inside it's dreary and desolate with one hopelessly miserable worker behind a counter.  there's a rope system lined up for potential waiting customers, but there's never a line.  this cinema is two stories tall and it has a snack counter on both levels.  this seems a bit over the top considering the most people i've seen in a given theater hasn't exceeded about 7 people total.

and let's talk about the POPcorn here.  it's shitty.  plain and simple.  i think they make it every two days or so, and the last time i ate it it was almost chewy it was so stale, and the pieces themselves were tiny crumb-like bits.  i asked the girl behind the counter if there was any salt (the popcorn was flavorless) and she handed me a giant commercial-sized container of table salt.  so much for the glamour of the movies.

i also ordered a Diet Coke and was told that if i wanted ice in my drink i'd have to go downstairs for that.  being in Europe i half expected them to not put ice in the drink anyway, so i got what amounted to about a half gallon of all soda in my cup (which my movie partner proceeded to spill down the front of his shirt).

upon walking into the actual theatre you get two tiers of seats.  it doesn't matter where you decide to sit, i guarantee that at least one seat in every row will be torn or damaged and many will have their upholstery bandaged together with duct tape.  this is pathetic.  also, you can't sit in the seats near the fire exits because the safety "EXIT" light never goes out and it's got such a bright bulb in it that you can hardly pay attention to the movie on the screen.

this may all sound like futile complaining, and i know that if i was willing to venture on the tube into central London for a flick i would probably find a higher quality theatre somewhere over there, but the whole point is, i have a first-run theatre walking distance from my home and it sucks ass.

even the smallest towns in America have good movie theatres.  come on, London, step up to the plate.  gimme a movie theatre worth paying for.


recently i was in a doctor's office and was asked by the nurse if i knew how much i weighed. 

i looked at the nurse and gave my answer and she twisted her face in a confused and somewhat surprised manner.  you see, i gave her my weight in America's POUNDS, while the nurse was mentally working in the metric system, which is KILOGRAMS, not pounds.  in fact, she had no clue what a pound was, it seemed.  this meant i had given her a number more than twice what it is in kilograms.  adding to the confusion, the British also use a measurement i had never heard of before moving here called a "stone."  a STONE is equivalent to 14 pounds, which means my weight in STONES is even less.  now, i can certainly get used to weighing a lower number, but what i can't get used to is remembering what each measurement means.  i'm just going to ask to get on a scale from now on.

while i'm thinking of my trip to the doctor's office i'd also like to compliment the National Health Service of England.  perhaps you don't know, but Great Britain has the NHS -- free national health care.  that's right.  FREE.  the doctor's visit is free, the tests you may need are administered for free, even the surgery you could need is entirely free.  the only thing you pay for is medication prescriptions at a pharmacy (if you require it) and even then, any prescription no matter what medicine it is costs just £7.10 (that's about $14 for you Americans). 

pretty damn good deal, eh? 

now i wonder...  why can't America get itself a national health care program going?  in every presidential election at least one candidate speaks of reforming health care and making it accessible and free (or low-cost) to all.  but it never, ever happens.  Americans spend thousands of dollars on insurance coverage and still pay out-of-pocket money on top of that.  why is it that one of the largest, most powerful nations in the modern world can't organize a nationalized health care system like the one England's had in place since the 1960s?

it's a real shame.

i'm not being a turn-coat here, but i'd also like to give props to the people i've encountered who work within London's health care system.  they have consistently proven to be kind, pleasant and attentive -- a far cry from what most Americans would get in the same situation.

come on, America.  step up.


i just finished watching a documentary called "Black Gold."  and no, it's not about "Texas Tea" -- it's about coffee.  specifically, fair trade practices and coffee-farming cooperative issues in Ethiopia.

i'm not going to sit here and lecture anyone about what coffee they drink or what type of products they buy at the grocery store or local cafe, but i AM going to assume that almost everyone reading this drinks coffee.

so i suggest to you, if you're not going to seek out this documentary ("Black Gold") and watch it for yourself on DVD, perhaps consider purchasing a Free Trade category of coffee next time you buy it.  it's right on the shelf with the rest of the coffee.  perhaps one of several types of coffee at Starbucks will be Free Trade.  perhaps one kind will also be produced in Ethiopia.

all i'm saying is, if you watched this film you'd probably feel a little bit of obligation to buy Free Trade products where possible, whether it's your bananas or your coffee beans.

that's all i wanted to say.  next time you buy a bag or can of coffee at the grocery store, or a bag of beans to grind from Starbucks, or order a cup of joe at your local cafe, pick one marked "Free Trade." 

just check it out -- the DVD, or the coffee -- or both.


it's Tuesday morning here in London.  in fact, it's very early Tuesday morning in parts of the U.S. as well, though the people i know there are probably just walking in from a night on the town... 

i've just woken up and checked the weather for the day -- particularly interested because i have several appointments to go to around the city today, and in London that means a LOT of walking outdoors.

naturally, it is raining.  and not just the calm, gray skies and slight spitting drizzle so common to London weather, but actual heavy, solid rain -- predicted to last all day.

the thing i have failed to figure out since moving here is how women get around London in their pressed work clothes, expensive heeled shoes and meticulously-styled hair without looking like a wreck by the time they get where they're going.  London is not a driving city.  despite the fact that the motorways are thick with vehicles, the bulk of the city's population walks and uses mass-transportation to get around.

when you have to walk 15 minutes from your front door to the nearest tube (subway) station, wait for the train, ride the crowded train for 30 minutes and then walk another 10-15 minutes outside to get to wherever you're going it's nearly impossible to look GOOD upon arrival.

i spent the last 10 years living and working in Los Angeles where the weather was technically perfect.  rain almost never hit your face or messed up your makeup, and wind pretty much never gusted crazily, mussing your hairstyle.  the only thing you really needed to do in LA was decide if you wanted long or short sleeves that day.  getting ready was simple.

so, today i take my proverbial hat off to the women of London who get around this dim, dirty, hopelessly drenched city and still manage to look put-together.  i don't know how they do it.  i know i look like a trainwreck struggling to balance an umbrella with my large handbag, wet shoes (and feet), wildly mussed hair and rumpled clothes.  how do you keep your hair from getting all stuck in your lipstick or gloss as it blows around?

i swear that when i leave home i DO look good -- i just haven't figured out how to CONTINUE looking good after moving through the inclimate and highly inconvenient weather of London.  i don't want to be one of those women who apply their makeup and accessories while riding the tube (i think it's rather tacky, not to mention highly inconvenient).

if anyone reading this is a British gal, feel free to comment here and let me know your survival secrets.  surely there's something i can do other than invest in waterproof mascara and giant rubber boots...



today on this mild and quiet Monday morning i'm watching the BBC1 news.  a few moments ago the top story was the evacuation of New Orleans and the impending arrival of Hurricane Gustav.  a heavily covered (though not cheerful) bit of news, even all the way over here in England.  London's local weather, however, was a different story.

a few minutes ago i listened to weather forecaster "Matt" say that today London would be "MUCH FRESHER." 
yes -- he said "much fresher."  the on-screen graphic even read:  MUCH FRESHER (see screen photo above).

now, i don't know if "MUCH FRESHER" is an accepted meteorological prediction, but i found it rather amusing.  shortly after this weather tidbit aired, a female weather forecaster came on screen to advise us that this afternoon London would have "FRESHENING WIND."  again, a dubious and amusingly strange description.

i'm not sure what's going on with the British Meteorological Society's approved weather vocabulary.  whatever happened to things like "partly sunny," "a chance of thunderstorms" and "clear, blue skies" i do not know.  maybe they're trying new, hipper lingo -- maybe their weather reports were skewing too old. 

i am, however, curious to see exactly what "MUCH FRESHER" feels like.  and boy, am i ever looking forward to that "FRESHENING WIND."