Monday, November 29, 2010

Dr. Who?

As one of my all time favorite T.V. doctors, Leonard H. McCoy aka Bones of Star Trek, once stated, "The only constant in the universe is the bureaucratic mentality." And it is bureaucracy, and nothing more, that has prevented me from registering for my MFA spring semester classes. Apparently I have one of those annoying 'holds' on my account for never having presented a record of my vaccinations. An issue which would appear to be easily remedied, save for the fact that my doctor passed away a few years ago and I now live in England. Of course, the vaccinations themselves aren't really required. What is REALLY required is a doctor's signature on a pre-formatted piece of paper, something that no doctor in the States will give me. This leaves me with one option, getting something called a titer blood test, which will then prove that I have received the appropriate vaccinations. So it is off to my local GP to see if he/she can sort out this mess.

The inside of the St. John's Wood Hospital is more or less what one would expect of a medical facility, replete with icy cold receptionists and long stretches of sterile white walls that give one the impression they are walking in place. When I finally hit the reception desk for my 3:40 appointment it is 3:42 and I'm told to wait in an area that vaguely resembles Alistair Cook's Masterpiece Theater. Despite the gold studded, high-back leather chairs, this reception/study area is seriously wanting for reading material. Unlike the customary unstable piles of magazines that teeter precariously along the edges of doctor office coffee tables all across America, the St. John's Wood's reception area is a Zen Buddhist shrine, with nothing to distract oneself accept for a few pamphlets on Breast Cancer (and one on Chlamydia). The focal point of the room is a large LCD panel, which gives one the sense they are waiting for an oil change rather than a check-up (although I suppose some males over 50 may be waiting for something that could be described as an 'oil change'). The displays function is to notify patients of their turn with a singular beep. Given, however, the symphony of chirps and chimes originating from other parts of the hospital, eager patients can often be found rhythmically snapping their necks upwards in unison, the waiting room version of a "flash mob ."

Moments after having just read about the possible ramifications of having "altered skin texture and drawing in of the nipple" the LCD board beeps. Up next: Barbara Walters... and I'm being serious. Unfortunately, this Barbara, while short and old, doesn't appear to be the one who spends her days tut-tutting Whoopi and Joy's comments. Regardless, this is a promising start to my first visit for sure.

Forty minutes and a discrete self-breast-exam later the LCD board finally flashes my name and it is off to "Room One" to meet Dr. T. Sharma. When I open the door I am surprised to find the mousy doctor already inside waiting for me. Slight and nerdy looking, Dr. Sharma sits stooped over her desk, feverishly clicking her mouse, half-looking as if she were expecting her Dungeon and Dragons opponent rather than a patient.
"And you are Mr. Mazzenga?" Her Serenity inquires.
Socialized health care really is the way to go, I think, you get a medical and an existentialist examination all at once!
After confirming my identity I take a seat in the first of a long row of blue chairs positioned adjacent to Dr. Sharma's desk, the office feng shui decidedly more 'job interview' than 'doctor's office.'
"How may I help you?" Dr. Sharma says folding her hands across her flat chest.
To the point, I succinctly explain my graduate school vaccination dilemma and what test I require to resolve it.
"You sure that is all you need?" The existentialist portion of my exam apparently not over.
"Yes, I'm sure." I confidently replied.
Dr. Sharma then proceeds to tell me that such an exam may not be possible unless I have private insurance, as it hardly seemed fair for the taxpaying British citizens to have to pay for an exam that is required in the United States. I look down at my slightly olive skin and wonder if I'm in Arizona.

"OOOOOOOOOOKkkkkkkkk...." is all I can really verbalize.

After a mentally regrouping, I intimate that the EXAM isn't necessarily required, so much as her signature... a suggestion that would never fly in the US.
"You just need a letter from me?" Sharma's voice quizzically rising. The subtext being, "Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" Turning her attention to the blue glow of her monitor, she quickly types out a letter for me (although she used the hunt and peck method to type... horrible). A final forceful keystroke later, and without any examination or inquiry at all, I have my letter. Dr. Sharma, abandoning her keyboard for a moment, picks up a pen and casually ticks a spartan white pad in front of her. I can't help but wonder if she is the most indifferent doctor I have ever met or a true slayer of bureaucratic bullshit.
"And you said something about a cough?" the Doctor says, returning her attention to me.
I had. While this visit was largely about the vaccinations, I figured I might as well mention a lingering cough I have had for the better part of 2 years. I tell her how I had been to several doctors in the past but had yet to find a sufficient treatment for my ever present and constantly annoying cough.
"You say you've been to doctors in the past and that nothing has worked?" Sharma inquires without so much as flinching.
"Yes." I replied.
"Hmmm... well I don't see what I can do for you?"
Was she kidding? Weren't doctors supposed to help their patients? Wouldn't she revel in the medical mystery that was and unfortunately, still IS, my cough?
Dr. House T. Sharma is not.
"Oh OK," was all I could muster, as Dr. Sharma's pen "ticked" a piece of paper again.
And without so much as saying "AHHH" I was on my way home, feeling somewhat empty despite having received what I came for. I can't put a finger on it but something.... something was missing. Was it attention I desired? Have I come to enjoy the customary doctor/patient song and dance? The thrill of false promises and regiment of endless testing?
While frustrating, Dr. Sharma's approach to medicine is certainly honest if not brutally direct. What else should I expect? Afterall... She is a doctor, not a politician...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Royal Relationships

Personally, the idea of hiking through Kenya hasn't the least bit of romantic appeal for me. It must for some though, as just the other day Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Whales proposed to his girlfriend of 8 years, Kate Middleton, sending all of England abuzz. The impending royal wedding has been quite the story and will most assuredly hold my Blighty brothers' attention over the next year. Interestingly enough, the English are not the only ones affected by the recent news. Jessica, my better half and Star Trek watching partner, is also completely smitten by the announcement. A quick check of recent Google searches on my computer might reveal the following words: Prince William, Ring, Royal, Wedding, Kate Middleton, When, Will, It, Be, Me...(maybe not exactly those words).
When questioned Jessica can't really explain what about the engagement makes her all "atwitter." In fact, I find the entire nation's infatuation with the Prince's relationship to be a bit confusing. I get that William was once the delight of squealing pre-teen and teen girls all over the world, Jessica herself having confessed to once having harbored a serious "tween crush." Handsome, rich, and with a title, William's appeal is understandable but C'MON... that had to have passed by now, right? Especially given that the Prince's once boyish good looks have faded considerably. His signature shiny blonde mop of hair, now looking unhealthy and thin, his "crown" now well-exposed. His face, once dainty like his mother's, is now long and horsey, more akin to his charmed-in-life but not-in-looks father, Charles. Even the very reality of royal weddings has grown old and tiresome over the past 30 years, with 3 of Queen Elizabeth's 4 children now divorced a fact highlighted by Princess Di's death. So why the crazed fascination?

In an attempt to understand my adopted country mates (and Jess), I will endeavor to analyze the relationships of several high profile "Royals":

1) Larry King
Relationship history: King has been married 8 times to 7 women.
Current relationship: Married...well kind of... more like "Hanging on."
Relationship fun facts: King has married not one but TWO Playboy Bunnies. He was also recently accused of having an affair with his WIFE'S SISTER.
"Sexiest" quote: "There is a reason I needed double hip replacement..." [1]
Analysis: Larry King's marriages make no sense to me. It isn't as though I don't understand why they fail, given the second fun fact that part should be pretty clear. It's more that I don't understand WHY THEY HAPPEN! Who in their right mind finds Larry King attractive? Larry King is essentially a human 'Turduken.' Recipe: take one old guy, stuff him with Burgess Meredith, then stuff him with Keith Richards, leave them out in the baking hot sun of the Sahara desert for 10 years and VOILA-- Larry King.
Fortunately, given King's wish to have his body cryogenically frozen, we'll have more time to study this phenomenon.

2) Prince
Relationship history: Prince has been married and divorced twice... TO WOMEN.
Current relationship: dating Bria Valente
Relationship fun facts: Prince is STRAIGHT (I know... blows the mind), Prince has also been romantically involved with Kim Basinger, Madonna, and Carmen Electra.
"Sexiest" quote: "I guess I must be dumb cause you got a pocket full of horses, Trojan and some of them used..."
Analysis: Given all of the hurdles Prince has had to overcome: a predilection for ass-less chaps, an outdated pampadour and tiny mustache combo, and his recent conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses which he described as being, "like Morpheus and Neo in the Matrix," and it is astonishing that Prince has been able to hold down a relationship for any amount of time. Although, if he ever sang Raspberry Beret to me...

3) Rex Grossman
Relationship history: Rex has had many a public affair with Ms. Fumble and Ms. Interception along with a not-so-public relationship with Peyton Manning, whom he gifted Super Bowl XLIV to.
Current relationship: Married to Alison Miska for 5 years.
Relationship fun facts: It was Miska, not the media, who actually coined the terms "Good Rex" "Bad Rex" in regards to his ummm... performance.
"Sexiest" quote: "I'm not going to force anything."
Analysis: For those of you who may not know, Rex Grossman is an NFL quarterback, having played for the Bears, Texans, and now Washington Redskins. Rex, given that he is the world's worst quarterback, has either actually found true love or is married to a sadist. Recently (and inexplicably) Grossman was called into a game to replace the healthy future Hall of Famer, Donovan McNabb. On his FIRST play from scrimmage, with his team down by only one score with two minutes to play, "Wrecks" Grossman fumbles the ball which is then picked up and run back for a touchdown.... but I digress.

4) Queen
Relationship history: Have been together in some form or another since 1971
Current relationship: Broke up with Bad Company's frontman Paul Rodgers in 2009.
Relationship fun facts: Hairy chests, mustaches, and spandex jumpers were once cool and sexy, especially when combined... Seriously.
"Sexiest" Quote: "Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin' world go round."
Analysis: Queen had what one might call an 'open' marriage, sharing their rock anthems with hordes of admiring fans-- truly a match made in heaven.

In summation, here is what I've learned in regards to "Royal" relationships:1) Marry a Playboy Bunny once shame on you; marry another, and get invited to the Nickelodeon Awards. 2) If you are into door to door conversions and ass-less chaps you may just land a hottie or two. 3) There is still room in this world for the lovable, chin up Prince Harry. 4) The best royal relationships are those that involve 4 men.

[1] No one has ever overheard Larry say this but I'm SURE he has.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Giving Thanks

Outside of the feeble toilets and the cluttered tables at Starbucks, the transition from the US to the UK hasn't been too difficult. Being November, however, I am reminded that for the first time in my life I will have to make a serious adjustment and do without my all-time favorite holiday-- Thanksgiving. I do plan on putting together something of a Mocksgiving for posterity's sake, but there may be a chicken instead of a turkey, and the only football I'll be watching will not be of the American kind. That being said, I will endeavor to stay true to the spirit of the holiday by giving thanks for that which I have been graced with.

Things I am grateful for in 2010:

1) Children with British accents- If your "adult" British accent amplifies the impression of intelligence than a child with a British accent nearly doubles, NAY, TRIPLES the cuteness factor. Take the following conversation I overheard a young girl have with her mother on the bus this afternoon and imagine it with a cute little English accent:

"Mum? Mummy! Did you know that you can eat snow? I tried it once... on a bench. It was VERY cold and VERY white."


2) Liberty- No, not the kind of Liberty that hangs out with "Life" and "The Pursuit of Happiness"; rather I'm referring to the Liberty department store in London. Unlike the gaudy interior of its rival Harrod's, one will most assuredly NOT find a bronze sculpture of Princess Di and her Lover releasing a dove, nor will one find any "Egyptian" escalators. Liberty is a class act. Housed in a beautiful Tudor style building Liberty is what commercialism should be-- charming and subtle. If you only have a few days in London and need to scratch your shopping itch (I won't ask where that most likely occurs) check it out.

3) Harry Potter- Admittedly I've never read one word of JK Rowling's tales of the misguided little wizard BUT... I have seen the movies. And given that the movie is set to debut in one week I've officially caught the Harry Potter fever. It isn't so much the story, the acting, or the special effects that intrigue me, rather it is the enjoyment of what I call "Nerd culture." As a life long Star Trek fan, I've taken a lot of shit for wholeheartedly throwing myself into the fictional world of James T. Kirk and co. (my therapist suggests I use the term "fictional world"... just kidding... or am I?). So I love the fact that in another 7 days I can go to a movie theater and see a long queue of fellow nerds (although they are more closeted about their nerdom) rocking everything from Gryffindor scarves and wands, to lightening bolt scars. And if I ever need a reminder that Nerd culture is alive and well in London, I can just pop down to King's Cross station and actually see platform 9 and 3/4.

4) No Thanksgiving- Did you read that right? Did I just say I was THANKFUL for the lack of a Thanksgiving, my aforementioned "favorite holiday" of the year? Let me explain... While I will, in some ways, mourn the loss of a year without Thanksgiving, it also can be viewed as a tremendous blessing. For one thing, seeing as though the English have no concept of our holiday, November 1st signals the ALL OUT START of Xmas replete with white lights, ribbons, trees, wreaths etc. I figure if I can't celebrate Turkey Day, then I may as well squeeze another few weeks out of the Xmas season. Also, seeing as though my Thanksgiving won't actually be occupied by the holiday itself, I now have more time for exploring this beautiful world of ours. Which leads me too #5...

5) Half-Naked Women Who Fall In Love With White Bulls-- If you are unfamiliar with the story, legend has it that Zeus, being the horny little king of the gods he was, fell in love with a beautiful mortal named Europa. Zeus then disguised himself as a handsome white bull to attract Europa and eventually carried her off for a wild love making session (Which makes me wonder if Europa coined the mid-sex tradition of moaning "Oh god! Oh god!"). Anyway, Europa's progeny went on to spread all over the continent which we now call, you guessed it, Europe. So if not for that saucy little lady, I may not be able to enjoy my Thanksgiving in Madrid, where I shall surely think of her every morning as I dine on a breakfast of churros and hot chocolate.

As for my peeps in the States... Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the bird (and I don't mean that in the "Leda and the Swan" kind of way).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Parent Visit aka Sorry for the Late Blog Post

The Slaughter stone...the Heel stone... these are but a few names given the towering megaliths of Stonehenge. Standing before the millennia old blue stones, one can't help but feel the mystic energy the ancients sought to tap into. In fact, in 1921 the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins conceived of the existence of ley lines, invisible pathways or "lines" that generate a form of mystical energy. These ley lines were said to have had an important role in ancient societies and that many of the most famous ancient monuments are founded upon the intersection of these psychic currents. The merging of...

"Where are the holes they keep talking about? I didn't see any holes?"
"Mom, they are called Aubry holes and they are all over the place. They are labeled, just look down."
"It says right here in the guide that these might have been built by aliens."
"Dad, that is under the myths and legends section. They are trying to say that one of the MYTHS of Stonehenge is they were built by aliens."

The merging of life forces have intersected at the "Parent Visit."

For the last few months in London I have led my life relatively free of any taxing responsibilities. Sure, graduate school kept me busy but that was relatively enjoyable. Plus, outside of the distractions of London there wasn't much else standing in my way. This has all changed recently, however, as I've begun teaching on a more permanent basis at a London based school. The grading and prepping, while not overwhelming certainly makes it slightly more challenging to keep up with the ever increasing grad school workload. Top it off with a 10 day parent visit and I'm feeling as though I've criss-crossed one too many ley lines.

"Your father won't eat here. It is too gourmet."
"Mark, take a picture of this sidewalk. This is a good sidewalk. I want to show everyone back home."

Oh well, only 2 more weeks until Madrid.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Movie Magic

It's been some time since I've last taken in a movie at the cinema, and tonight, a rainy Saturday evening, seemed as good a time as any...

First step: Buying Tickets

Unlike in the United States, where one can casually stroll into a movie theater, find one's seat of preference, and occupy it, the Brits have a bit more rigid system where seats are allocated beforehand upon purchase of one's ticket. While going against the Darwinian natural order of things, this obviously has a tremendous upside. You can purchase your ticket online well in advance, show up 15 minutes late after the commercials and previews have run their course, and still rest easy with the knowledge that you have a specific seat, hand-picked, waiting for you. It also eliminates the annoying behavior of some movie-goers who think they can reserve an entire row of seats for their tardy friends. There are, however, several drawbacks to this system. First, whether you buy your tickets in advance or at the ticket counter, you still have to wait in the same queue. This means, if you've purchased your tickets beforehand, you have to sit behind several people who need to decide, via a floor plan, where they'd like to sit-- a nauseating and time consuming process. Pre-allocated seats also do not take into account the plethora of variables that go into choosing a seat. Row F, Seat 5 may seem all well and good when previewed on a chart, but is less desirable when you discover that you're sitting behind an asthmatic Big and Tall model. Want to move? Too bad.

Second step: Concessions

Everyone knows a concession stand can make or break the entire movie-going experience. Gummy candy, chocolate treats, thermos-sized chalices of carbonated bliss, and let us not forget the bags and bags of golden buttery popcorn. For the most part, a good number of these treats are stocked in abundance at my local Odeon theater with only a few notable differences. To begin with, the concession counter sold Doritos. OK, I love Doritos, you love Doritos, it's not so strange to want a small bag of faux cheddar magic with your movie right? And it would be OK if they were small bags, but we're not talking small personalized bags for sale; rather the Odeon peddles full regulation-sized SACKS of Doritos. The kind that you accidentally plow through when you're either drunk or high. Still, while strange, I'm putting the Doritos in the "cool category." Other items that join the club are wine, beer, and Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Every concession stand has its dark side, however, and the Odeon's snack counter is no exception.

Upon my arrival, I had immediately noticed the absence of a familiar buttery bouqet. Sure there was rather healthy looking popcorn lying in the display case, but where did it come from? Where were the "popping" machines? I didn't have time to ponder this mystery for very long because quickly THE question was upon me, "What would you like, Sir?"
Instinct took over.
"A small popcorn please."
The interrogation continued, "Would you be liking the salty or sweet kind or perhaps a mix of both?"
"Salty?" I requested/guessed and timidly added, "Would you be able to put butter on that?"
While my attendant mentally fumbled with this question, I overheard the gentleman next to me ask, "Do you have any candy in America?" Those last three word said as though he were speaking to someone with a hearing impairment.
"We have a buttery toffee popcorn but you said you wanted salty," 'my guy' finally coming to. Clearly this was one of those rare instances wherein we were simultaneously speaking and not speaking the same language. Now it was my turn to fumble.
Next to me, I heard the man's wife chime in, "They call them CHOCOLATE BARS here, Dear."
"Oh," he corrected himself, "Do you have any CHOCOLATE BARS in America."
"Salty is fine," I surrendered, trying to preserve what little dignity America had left.
And with that I took my non-buttered, bagged popcorn into the theater...

Third step: The Movie
You can't judge an entire country based on one cinema but screen 6 of the Odeon could be described as either an incredibly shitty movie theater or an amazing one... if it was in your friend's basement. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the soothing harmonies of violins and cellos instead of the customary Huey Lewis and the News song. The lights dim and the commercials roll [1]. Much to my delight, I observed several reserved seating fiascos, as audience members who arrived early had understandably attempted to grab the more optimal seats, thus cementing in my mind America's movie theater seating dominance. After a few previews for movies I had no interest in seeing, it was time for the main attraction... until the lights went up.
"There is a problem with the film," I stated.
Very cutely Jess replied, "Perhaps this is how they do it here." And while I was 90% certain we were experiencing a technical glitch, I wouldn't have been surprised if she were right. One last chance for everyone to grab a pint before the movie starts?
Unfortunately, the usher's announcement confirmed my initial fears, we'd have to wait a little longer for our first movie in England.

10 minutes later and about 45 minutes after the movie's listed start time, the opening credits began to roll. The movie of choice, Ben Affleck's latest homage to Boston, "The Town." The cameras panned over Boston's beautiful skyline, Affleck slipped into a non-rhotic Southie accent, and I drifted into daydream land--- I was home again.

[1] When speaking in the past tense in German, the verb is placed at the end of the sentence. It is sort of confusing because you don't really know what the person is saying until the last word. British commercials are exactly the same. I have NO idea what they are about until the very last image of the company's logo pops up.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I love lattes.

I love those caffeinated delicacies. The intermingling of cream and coffee, like two Norwegians making violent love on black satin sheets, my own softcore coffee porn. And if lattes are my porn than Starbucks is my brothel, with over 17,000 locations in 49 countries across the world, including England.

For the most part, traveling east for 6 hours has very little effect on this homogenous chain coffeehouse. One finds the same strange naked mermaid logo, the same trendy music (listening to the Shaft theme song right now...Shut your mouth), and the same nonsensical sizes (how can a tall be a small?). Oh, and if you cared, the coffee tastes pretty much the same. The only major difference I can discern between a US Starbucks and a UK Starbucks is the clutter. British 'Bucks are unbelievably dirty. I know what you are thinking, here we go again. First he complained about the washing machine, then the toilet, and now this. Allow me, however, to explain myself. I used the adverb "unbelievably" because it is just that, beyond belief. I have found London to be one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited, especially in comparison to its American compatriots. The tube is so well kept it could be Joan Crawford's closet (NO WIRE HANGERS!). This is all the more impressive given the fact that there are no trash bins ANYWHERE in the entire underground network. The streets are also well-cared for. Every day I pass my local street sweeper, a charming man, who takes great pride in maintaining his little bit of sidewalk magic. Lastly, the Brits themselves are a remarkably sharp-looking people, so well-dressed I feel as though I'm walking onto the set of a movie every time I leave my flat (which given my recent Jonathan Rhys Meyer and Ewan McGregor sightings may actually be true). So why then, are their Starbucks so woefully cluttered?

Two observations:
1) The English prefer their coffee in mugs as opposed to disposable cups. This is no doubt a "high tea" holdover, which while more charming and environmentally friendly, is also more cumbersome.
2) The English have no concept of what it means to dispose of their coffee trash, leading to tables littered with khaki stained mugs, muffin wrappers, and straws.
All this leads me to my recent outrage. Here I sit in a quaint little Starbucks, dutifully working on a small hightop table. I've come well equipped today: laptop, books, legal pad, pens. I'm ready to write. It is the early afternoon and the place is hopping, only one small, hightop table is unoccupied and predictably, it is covered in trash. An attractive (and well-dressed) older couple (60's) has just strolled in and are looking for a place to sit. They spot the disheveled table adjacent to me and think Shakespearean thoughts: To sit or not to sit, that is the question. I assume their daily constitution must have been exceptionally tiring, as they elect to make themselves at home amongst the trash. Eventually the woman begins tidying up. Her one hand sweeps away the golden crumbs, the remnants of some long forgotten stale pastry while the other scoops up the orphaned mugs. But what to do with the trash?

Outrage in 3...2...1

She puts it on my TABLE! With my defenses down, she casually slid the third party rubbish onto the ledge of my table. My poor, humble work space, a target area no larger than the size of the one that destroyed the Death Star and she bullseye-d it. Oddly enough, this isn't the first time this has happened to me while in London. A few weeks in to my stay, while sitting with friends at a pub, the same thing happened-- our table having become the place for other people's refuse. I want to give some lengthy discourse about how this behavior is political in its origins: Capitalist versus Socialist tendencies: The Coffeehouse, but I'm not sure if it would be true. The entire phenomenon is like Popeye's love for Olive Oyl -- simply inexplicable (although in truth this may not be an apt analogy as Popeye was a sailor and God knows those randy sailors will take whatever they can get).

Moral of the story:
Next time you are looking for coffee porn, bring protection.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Aplomb-ing problem.

In and around 800 BCE the first sewers appeared in Europe. Five hundred years later aqueducts followed, and by 43 CE plumbing had officially arrived in the British Isles. This means that plumbing in England predates the discovery of America by approximately 1400 years. Further still, it predates my arrival here in London by two millennia. Why then, is every toilet flush some medieval experience?

If you can't picture it, allow me.

After having finished using the facilities, I must first heartily push down on a lever, which more closely resembles in both its mass and design an academy award. The torque required to pull Oscar down is astonishing and bares little resemblance to the dainty taps its American cousins receive. Finally, however, after much struggle the lever genuflects and the deluge commences. What initially begins as a low rumble, slowly builds to a fervor: Pipes rattle, the toilet lid coyly flips, and gallons of rushing water pour forth mercilessly drowning Myrtle the Turd-le, who, in the face of the unrelenting tide, naturally acquiesces. WOOOSH! SLUSH! CRACK! The surging waves of water artfully blend together, a spectacle worthy of the Bellagio.

At last a familiar percolating gurgle tells me the deed is done. But what's this? Like Narcissus I peer over the porcelain lip and stare hypnotically into the shallow waters. Could it be? It couldn't possibly...
Much to my surprise and dismay Myrtle sits with a certain aplomb, a toy treasure chest resting at the bottom of my fish bowl-- taunting me. I crank the Bessemer processed lever several more exhausting times but the strained loo responds indifferently, she apparently doesn't do curtain calls.

Resigned to my fate, I begrudgingly tip my cap, close the lid, and sing "God Bless America" for the next half hour.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Q-Tips for Travel

"You can go with this or you can go with that..."-- Q-tip.

My preparation for moving to London largely consisted of packing one suitcase (the night before) and reading copious amounts of guide book literature. While some travel books were a bit dry, many of them were quite helpful and contained similar "Do this not that" lists, created to help one avoid expensive or disappointing tourist traps.

One month in, having accumulated a significant mass of experiences already, I thought I would put my own spin on the London "Do this not that" guide, one I will continue to update throughout the year.

1) Avoid the London Eye.
Given the tremendously long queues and the inflated price (17 pounds) it is a lot of aggravation for the somewhat boring views of the London skyline. Instead take a hike up to any of London's more pleasing summits. Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath offer spectacular views of the city at the right price-- free.

2) Skip the Notting Hill Carnival.
Don't let the Notting Hill name fool you, you definitely won't find Hugh Grant here (unless he is on one of his late night cruises for sexual chocolate). Billed as Europe's largest street fair, the Notting Hill Carnival is exceptionally loud and somewhat dirty, while the uninspired floats and dancing that mark the parade aren't quite up to the likes of Bourbon Street. The food vendors do get a thumbs up but you can only savor the curried goat for so long before it starts getting old. Try the Thames Festival instead. Efficiently organized, family friendly, with a terrific ambience, the Thames Festival is a fantastically laid back celebration. Dine on the Southwark bridge as boats parade by or just show up for the late night fireworks on the river.

3) Don't pay to enter St. Paul's cathedral.
Instead, see Wren's baroque masterpiece for free by attending one of the daily Evensong services. The service lasts for one hour** and features sublime choir singing. Get there early and sit in the choir of the church under the same glittering mosaics that Di and Charles were married under.
The same Evensong services are held in Westminster Abbey (also free).
** Although if you linger in the back of the church you can leave whenever you like and not get stuck next to a flatulent Spanish couple. Guess that is why they call them Pews! insert rimshot)

4) Take it to GO.
Most cafes and lunch shops offer you the option of dining in or take away service. Take away is always significantly cheaper, being sometimes a pound less per item (Even Starbucks has this crazy policy. A chocolate chip cookie on a plate will cost you 2.10 whereas it is 1.60 in a bag). Take your food instead to one of the many perfectly manicured parks London has to offer.

5) Make it a Pub not a Bar.
Probably not a distinction you often times make, yet there is a significant difference between pub and bar culture. Pub food, atmosphere, and service are all very charming and decidedly more British in their sensibilities. Bars, however, are really just that-- bars, replete with swankily dressed hipsters cruising for fresh meat. How can you tell the difference? It's like porn, you'll know it when you see it.

6) Laptop over License.
Living in London but are missing the latest episodes of the "Bachelor Pad"? Ditch the pricey television license you're required to purchase to simply watch TV (sans cable!). Instead, download hotspot shield for your laptop. This free program masks your IP address allowing you to access American websites like Hulu and (Not that I would ever do such a thing...). Another option is Slingbox. Have a parent or friend at home with an extra TV? If you answered yes, slingbox might be for you. The downside is the one time $200 fee but on the upside, it allows you to access all of your co-conspirator's cable programs. If they have DVR you can even record programs and watch them the next day.

"I think I'll go with this 'cuz this is where it's at." -- Q-Tip

To be continued...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Product "Placement"

My plughole is clogged.

Sorry, this isn't some sort of seedy backseat Taxi Cab confession, it's an actual problem. The drain (plughole) in my kitchen sink is stopped up and given that I have no dishwasher this is quite the situation. I've never been what one might call handy, so it's off to the local grocer in search of the English equivalent to Drain-o.

Grocery shopping is always an interesting experience because it is one of the few times I remember I'm not in the United States. Sure, in essence all the products are the same: fruits, vegetables, cereal. The packaging, however, is what interests me. In England, "Mr. Clean" defers to "Mr. Muscle," "Cheerios" gives way to "Crunchy Nuts," and Arugula masquerades as its flashier alter-ego "Rocket." These subtle variations on the same theme are both funny and unsettling, kind of like the Care Bears and the Care Bear Cousins. For those of you who might not remember, the Care Bears were a happy lot of multi-colored bears who through some unusual birthmarks on their stomachs vanquished evil through the force of their combined kindness, punctuated by their famous line of "Care Bears stare!" Sounds ridiculous I know, but it was cute and kids liked it. After awhile, I guess the Care Bear stock began to drop and in stepped the Care Bear Cousins. I'm not really sure of the Cousins' origins, as all I can remember is that they weren't bears. The leap from bears to other furry mammals may not seem like too big of a stretch but I recall it being quite alarming. Instead of the Care Bears, whom I generally accepted were born into a race of do-gooding bruins (species Ursidae Cura), the Cousins seemed more like cheap knock-offs, more akin to the awkwardly spliced creations of Dr. Moreau's island. In short, British products = Care Bear Cousins. This isn't to say products made in the UK are inferior, just different (to me), in that bizarro world kind of way. I'm sure the British would be equally puzzled by a cleaning product whose spokesman is an overly muscled, seemingly cheery, eunuch. This cross-cultural-perception-thing being a two way street, has lead to the recent discovery of one American product sure to bewilder (if not insult) our British Brethren-- the fanny pack.

The fanny pack, friend of the uber-tourist, companion to the severely diabetic, and bane of fashion aficionados everywhere. Much like slap bracelets and hyper-color shirts the fanny pack had its hay day in the early 90's but has somehow managed to linger around. The actual term "fanny pack" is generic, referring to any number of waist bags on the market that can be worn with the pouch slung over your ass or "fanny." It is an annoying yet relatively innocuous product. So what could the English possibly have against them?

It's all in the packaging.

You see the term "fanny," a word often taught to American youngsters in lieu of other more vulgar expressions, does not mean "bum/buttocks" in the Queen's English; rather it refers to a woman's intimate parts, her mons veneris if you will. OK, fanny means vagina and "fanny pack"... well, use your imagination.

Oh the learning experience. Perhaps this is what Samuel Johnson meant when he penned, "By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show." And show the world can, from plughole to fanny in fact.

Next week's lesson: Prince Albert, monarch or unadvisable fashion statement?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lost and Found

For reasons unknown to me, I have been experiencing a tremendous amount of good fortune. Perhaps it is random chance, or karma [1], or even my somewhat close proximity to those "fortuitous" Irish [2], but lately my luck has been truly remarkable. In three weeks I have found a fully loaded wallet, an unclaimed five pound note, and not one but TWO Blackberry cellphones. In another 3 weeks I'll have enough money and equipment to start my own psychic hotline service ("Call me now!"). I assume serendipty doesn't want to seven-out just yet because today has yielded another lucky breakthrough.

I've been considering the possibility of living and working abroad for the past few years now and while London certainly lives up to the hype, it is not the ex-pat experience I dreamed about in years past. I suppose my thoughts always gravitated towards somewhere more..."ethnic." You know, a country where it is mandatory to smoke tiny cigarettes and walk around with a loaf of bread tucked under your arm. A place where working in the afternoon is optional and eating four hour long dinners is a way of life. Don't get me wrong, London boasts a very diverse population, like how the cast of all-Indian baristas [3] at my local Starbuck's pronounce my order, "One Grand-ay wa-nee-la latte." In the end though, the British are still more Jets than Sharks (see photos A&B below for further evidence). Living in England, however, has certainly stoked my interest in extending my ex-pat experience to encompass a year or two of continental European-living. To that end, I have started looking into the process of obtaining my Italian citizenship.

Obtaining dual citizenship in a foreign country can be a hassle if not next to impossible, but obtaining Italian citizenship can be a relatively simple process pending the right conditions.My citizenship plan of attack sounds like something you'd find on the menu of a good steakhouse -- jure sanguis-- and I'll have the baked potato with that passport. Jure Sanguis literally translates to "through the blood," and is offered to anyone who can prove that they have legitimate rights to citizenship through their Italian heritage. Unfortunately, there are several frustrating conditions that must be met in order to obtain citizenship, and given some of the obstacles in my way, I can only do what most people reserve for their therapist's office -- blame my father.

Usually when most people ask me if my parents are Italian I simply say, "Yes." It is just easier that way. Sort of like when you say "Fine" when people ask how you are doing. It's just easier than explaining how miserable you actually are (unless of course you are a TRULY happy person, which would mean that we probably aren't friends). The fact of the matter is that only my father was born in Italy. My mother was actually born in Rhode Island, with her mother being born in Italy and her father being born in the United States. Of course none of this really matters in life, as it doesn't change the fact that I am still from a VERY Italian family. It does, however, matter in the game of "become that citizen!" The problem is when my father came to this country in 1956 at the tender age of 16, he did what most immigrants did, he became an American citizen. This may have been all well and good for him (maybe he even got a tiny flag pin out of it) but it leaves me, well, kind of screwed. See, when my father became a citizen he, in effect, renounced his rights to Italian citizenship and mine too...

Oh wait, this is a blog about "luck" isn't it? So when am I going to wrap this up and tell you why I'm just so friggin' lucky?A: Now.

With my father throwing up the red citizenship stop sign, I looked to my mother. Remember, Mama Mazzenga was born here and her Italian mother had, like my father, become an American citizen long before she was born, but what about Gramps? Well as mentioned, Grandpa was born in the US and died very young (when my mother was only 9) so I don't actually know a lot about my grandfather outside of the fact that I am the sole heir of his adorable dimples. So the question begs, was my Grandfather's father (my Great grandfather) an American citizen at the time of grandfather's birth? Tough question right? I mean this goes back a bit. This could take years of research, thousands of dollars, and require me to sleep with several high ranking government officials. It couldn't possibly be found on the internet, right?
Internet- 1
Millions of Years Before- Suck it

After having finally succumbed to the pressure of providing my credit card number (you need this for their free 14 day trial), I found Great grandad and family in a document from the 1930 census. It reads something like this:
Age: 40
Marital Status: Married
Place of Birth: Italy
Date of Immigration: 1907
Naturalization: AL

AL! AL! My pal AL! Italian government, start warming up that baked potato. For those of you who may not know "AL," allow me to introduce him. AL stands for alien. This means that in 1930, 18 years after my grandfather was born, my great grandfather was STILL an Italian citizen, which means my grandfather was entitled to that citizenship... which means my mother is also entitled... which means her children are also entitled.

The swell of excitement almost uncontainable, I rush to call the family and tell them, "Great grandpa was an alien! Now I can get citizenship au jus! I mean jure sanguis!"
There is, however, one issue remaining...
Which blackberry do I use?

[1] A few months ago I started saying "No thank you," to telemarketers before hanging up
[2] What the hell makes the Irish so lucky anyway? Horrible famine, years of civil war, one in ten people are estimated to be alcoholic, and Notre Dame football hasn't won a championship in 22 years.
[2] "cast/caste" pun intended.

Photo A: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair

Photo B: Former Jets' leader Riff

Sunday, August 29, 2010

No Worries, No Problem

It has been two weeks since taking the ex-pat plunge and I couldn't be happier. Perhaps because I speak the language (more or less) or because of my years spent watching Mr. Belvedere but I feel right at home among the English. That being said, there are, of course, the occasional cultural differences that tend to crop up. For example, I've observed that the English don't use the term, "You're welcome." Instead they prefer the more casual, "No worries," or even the more casual, "Sure." It can take one aback at first but when you stop and consider that all pleasantries are just that, pleasantries, and as such somewhat frivolous, there is something to be admired about this straightforwardness. Whatever there is to admire in their direct manner of verbal communication is, however, negated by the cryptic designs of their washing machines.

My washer, or as I like to call her "Candy" (that is actually the name of the model, Candy Aquamatic 1000T) is the most complicated machine known to man. I'd like to tell you that what she lacks in convenience she makes up in efficiency but that would be a "massive" (the Brits use this word like Rhode Islanders use "wicked") lie. Candy is the R2D2 of washing machines, the runt of the litter. Apparently her makers (ancient Druids) decided to forgo the traditional directions and emblems that one typically finds on machines of her make, in favor of more creative pictograms, many of which resemble the Lucky Charm's marshmallows.
Rainbows for your coloreds, hearts for delicates, and blue diamonds for the clothes that you wore in 1975 but are looking to phase out [1]. When I moved to London someone here gave me what I initially thought was peculiar advice, "Think of it as a third world country and you'll avoid disappointment." Staring at Candy, I now understand. In fact, now that I think of it, why is it that my shower goes cold after 10 minutes? Do the Brits not rinse, lather, repeat? And why is it that I can't even fit Hervè Villechaize's remains into my fridge? And why is Marmaduke still playing in movie theaters (theatres) here? Wouldn't the English have enough sense to 'just pass' on that one after having already seen the intellectual damage it has caused? And why is it that I can't have a normal staircase instead of the twisting, metallic, staircase of death that I currently have? Do the Brits wish to deter midnight snacking from aforemetioned Hervè Villechaize-sized fridges? Is that how they stay so slim? And why is that I have to pay 26 pounds a month in order to obtain a "license" to watch T.V. (with no cable)? I don't even need a license to make another human being, nevermind to watch the BBC. And why is it... Why is it... Why is that I'm complaining?[2] I get to live in an amazingly culturally rich country that has, for centuries, been the home of kings and queens, poets and scholars, and for a brief time, Jim Henson.
No hot water you say?
No worries.

[1] Blue diamond marshmallows were replaced in the late 90's in favor of the more 21st century-looking Leprechaun hats.
[2] And why is it that I'm sounding more and more like a Sagat song from 1994? Man... FUNK DAT!

Monday, August 23, 2010

British Birthday

Today I turned 30 and apparently my body has gotten the memo. My head seems to sport an unusual amount of gray, my back throbs appropriately according to the weather, and my morning runs have been less than spectacular... but I still have my eyes. And today those baby browns saw some London treasures with a different perspective.

The day began with a morning run around Primrose Hill. For those of you who are looking to see the London skyline but don't want to pay the budget breaking 17 pounds for the London Eye, check out the panorama atop Primrose Hill. It'll make you feel just like Maria from the Sound of Music.

After a quick shower, we packed a lunch consisting of Borough Market prosciutto, pesto, and bread and headed to the Maida Vale tube station, pitstopping at the adjacent 'Bucks for some coffee fuel. It is a quick, yet sweaty, 15 minute ride to Trafalgar square where we pause to picnic, Jess sharing a bit of trivia about Nelson's column which, "May or not be true."

With lunch disposed of, we enter the museum and are pleasantly surprised and pleased by the lax security at the National Gallery. No queuing, no bag checks, no problem.

It being my birthday, I make the executive decision to head straight for Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait, a painting I've been waiting for years to see. You can never, of course, head "straight" for anything in a museum such as the National Gallery. There are too many treasures along the way to not stop and smell the roses. Titian's Allegory of Prudence, also a personal favorite, seems an appropriate image for the day. The handsome painting depicts three heads: an aging Titian, his middle-aged son Orazio, and young cousin Marco Vecellio, representing the Three Ages of Man. The Latin inscription atop reads, "From the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future action." Is there a "Your turning 30" birthday message in there? If so I choose to ignore it.

We spill through a few more rooms, dozens of I-died-in-my-30's paintings of Christ litter the wall... Eventually, we trade out the golden Gothic works for some more somber, darker, Baroque ones. We check out the Rembrandt Self- Potraits, the first of which depicts a younger Rembrandt seen at the height of his career, cloaked in the vestments of success and brimming with youthful confidence. One can hear the cheery beats of Men at Work playing in the background, "Ain't nothing gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down..."

The second self-portrait, painted almost thirty years later, is much more of a psychological portrait of the Old Master, his face now wearing the heavy mask of age. The crisp brushstrokes of his earlier years now more emotional, more painterly. His stare more reflective more... more... depressing.

(In case you were wondering, we did finally make it to Van Eyck's iconic work. It is so intricately painted I want to take it home to study it in more depth later. Apparently you aren't allowed to says the not-so pleasant lady in the blue sports coat who patrols the room).

Last but not least we decide to check out a fascinating special exhibition: Fake's, Mistakes, and Discoveries. The bulk of the show deals with paintings that had, at one point in time, been attributed to the work of an Old Master, only to be proven/discovered later that they are forgeries or genuine contemporary imitations. So here we sit, in a room full of paintings that used to hang in the gallery's permanent collection-- formerly the best of the best. Originally estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars how far their stars have fallen. "Rembrandt's," "Botticelli's," "Holbein's," no longer. There they hang, an art historical freak show, gawked at by the passersby who hold them in derision...

Why is that lady staring at me? Quit staring! Nothing to see here lady, move along.
My God, even these basement dwellers know about my birthday. Cut the shit National Gallery. What are you my mom? I don't need any more of your melancholic life lessons.

With the dusk setting in we decide to drink (normally I'd say, "Go for a drink" but tonight that might be an understatement), so we head over to the OXO bar and restaurant. Perched on the 8th floor veranda overlooking the Thames, St. Paul's dome seemingly so close you could reach out and touch it, we dine on grilled octopus, chorizo, and dumplings, while reflecting on life over libations. Ahh... where does the time go? I think about my friends and family at home, it is five hours earlier for most of them. To be five hours younger again. I can still remember 5 hours ago, the sun was still up and a much younger me was excited to start celebrating a birthday...

*It should be noted that this day wasn't nearly as depressing as I make it out to be. It was actually fun ;)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Boo Boo

Before having settled in London, I was under the mistaken impression that London was as neon, cluttered, sticky, and fast paced a city as its American cousins. After all, it is a large, international city, a veritable haven for globe-trotting tourists. Toss in the 8 million non-English speaking residents, and London is truly a cultural melting pot (Of course, as if on cue, a very, very, very large breasted Eastern European woman has sat down next to me and is exchanging information with a local in what appears to be some very shady dealing... did I mention she has large breasts?) Unlike New York, however, while having its fair share of urban sprawl, London is hardly a concrete jungle. The northwest neighborhoods that rest on the periphery of the downtown area, or what locals refer to as "The City," can be something of a suburban oasis.

What has impressed me most thus far, are the beautifully manicured parks, the likes of which do not exist in the United States (at least not in any urban centers). Yawning stretches of grass, meticulously cared for rose gardens, and flowing fountains, are but a few Regents park's hallmarks, located a mere 5 minute walk from my house. With so much green space I wonder if I am actually in the same city where people pay over 20 pounds to pinch the ass of a wax replica of Brad Pitt.

After a full day of enjoying the resplendent architecture and relaxed culture of my "quaint" neighborhood, I sit down to enjoy some traditional pub fare. The wood-hewn interior of the Salt House Pub is warm and inviting, a prime piece of people watching real estate. The menu, which includes the traditional pub staples of burgers and fish and chips, also boasts an assortment of unconventional selections. Chicken liver patè, grilled chorizo, and seasoned scallops are all well-portioned and offered at reasonable rates. I leave with a full stomach and better yet, a reasonably filled wallet.

The evening stroll home is perfectly pleasant, the unpredictable English weather having cooled (Tip: is useless for predicting the weather here. You are better off reading the entrails of a slaughtered lamb). Making the final turn towards home, I am greeted by the silhouette of a well dressed local (not all that unusual, as the English have made me feel like I've spent my entire life dressing like John the Baptist). Immediately, however, I am struck by how familiar this face is. Could it be... the thin mustache and goatee, the full lips, the I-spent-hours-on-my-just-got-out-of-bed-super-chic-hair... It is! I'm looking directly into the face of Henry VIII, or at least Showtime's "more glitz -less girth" version of him. Jonathan Rhys Meyers of Tudor's fame is walking down my alley, his dog Boo Boo in tow.
"May I pet him?" I ask.
"Sure," he quips. I wonder if he thinks I'm going to tear out a lock of his hair (curiously enough I'm wondering the same thing).
"What kind of dog is he?" I say in my best "I-have-no-idea-you-are-a-celebrity-and-I'm-just-making-casual-conversation" voice.
"He is a chihuahua, pug mix," Meyers proudly chirps.
This clichè of a celebrity dog is easily the most unattractive animal I have ever seen but I smile anyway. After telling me several times that the very skittish Boo Boo is typically more friendly, I thank him and allow him to resume his evening stroll. Several short quick steps later he turns the corner and disappears. Once again I stand alone in the narrow alley, marinating in my surreal encounter with celebrity.
The next morning I wake up and decide to stroll down to the nearest Starbuck's coffee (there are more Starbuck's in London than I've ever seen anywhere else) for some writing. In the light of day my alley looks very different, more... ordinary. I look down and see a small petrified turd resting on the pavement. Boo Boo's? I like to think so.
What a charming city.

Monday, August 9, 2010

American Import

Remember that dangling chad from a few blog posts ago, that Bueller in absentia? Well for those with weak stomachs, worry no more, a flat has been secured. Actually a house, to be more specific, near the famous Abbey Road studios and crosswalk. The latter of which will most assuredly be the subject matter of a digitally captured moment wherein I imitate, with my three closest friends, the iconic Beatle's album cover-- my own piece of rock n' roll kitsch. That being said, while there are few Brits as recognizable to Americans as the shaggy haired quartet... how many young Americans actually think of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as BEING British? It is no secret that Americans have a tendency to misappropriate cultural phenomena or perhaps more accurately, to conveniently forget their origins. And given that there is an entire generation of Beatle's "fans" who have yet to experience the simple joys of driving a car or completing tax forms, the question of cultural ownership remains.

Since 1776 when a young, upstart nation, severed its political umbilical chord from the motherland, how many ideas/celebrities/events have we unapologetically lifted from our English brethren?
Here is what I've come up with so far:
1) Cadbury Easter Eggs- Now you know why you could never place that Bunny's accent.
2) The Office- Before there was Michael Scott there was David Brent. Which makes you wonder, why the name change? Would the name David not work for American audiences?
3) Robin Hood- Disney, animated Fox love, and Kevin Costner- slap a Made in the USA sticker on it.
4) James Bond- Ironically only 2 out of the 6 actors to play James Bond were English. We're just waiting for the James Bond: Blowing Shit Up version starring Vin Diesel to officially call him our own.
5) Bulldogs- English, American, French, it doesn't matter. Unless it is wearing a bowler hat, it is American. We also have the rights to cute underbites in general.
6) A Christmas Carol- Once the Muppets got involved, we owned it. Sorry mid-19th century England but you still have coal, factories, and cholera to call your own.

Please feel free to add...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Speak English Good

"Where is the bathroom?"
"The elevator goes up."
"I play soccer."

For the better part of 29 years I have operated under the faulty assumption that I speak English fluently. It is precisely this false sense of security that will be tested upon my arrival in London, where I will no doubt be introduced to a host of new and confusing English words. But just like several of my mid-90's novelty T-shirts, I possess "No Fear," having spent several weeks preparing for my assimilation into British culture. Here are some terms that may be helpful when preparing for your next trip across the pond:

Chaps (n. pl)- A group of young men who may or may not be wearing assless leather pants.

Hob (n)- The stovetop of choice in Tolkien's Shire.

David Beckham (v)- to look good in one’s underwear.

Gazunked (v) - F#%!D!

Platform 9 and 3/4 (prop. n.)- where Prince Harry disappears to after he is photographed wearing a Nazi Halloween costume.

*Queue (v)- When John Delancey waits in line.

Windscreen (n)- the noise one makes with their mouth when trying to disguise a fart.

Jumper (n)- a suicidal sweater.

Barmy (prop. n.)- a purple dinosaur who is OUT OF HIS MIND!

Biggie (n)- An iconic rapper’s poo.

**Tickety-boo (n)- when life is going well for Julie Andrews.


*See also- Star Trek nerd

** In the United States, however, saying Tickety-boo is a sure fire way of alerting someone that something is seriously, seriously, wrong

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let the Learning Begin

In less than one month, I will pack up my most necessary belongings (read: Star Trek DVD's), fly across the Atlantic bidding adieu to Uncle Sam, and land on the Queen's soil ready to begin my year long adventure in England. Thanks to my uber-organized better half, preparations have been rather seamless. Tickets- check. Visa- check. Travel books- check. Flat- ... Flat? Bueller? Well, that is almost a check. Life is good, and with Europe's artistic and cultural history (as well as its laissez faire attitude towards bikini tops) at my fingertips-- it can only get better.

I do, however, find myself in a bit of a dilemma. While I've been chomping at the bit to begin exclusively using the word "brilliant" as the lone superlative in my vocabulary, it has recently occurred to me that being an American outside of the United States is something of a responsibility. One Mary Poppins reference too many and I've condemned my fellow countrymen to a lifetime of bad international PR. I'd be no worse than the sweaty, Hawaiian- shirt-wearing tourist, who stands in the Sistine Chapel talking about Adam's "twig and berries."

No. For the sake of 234 years of liberty, I will not be "that guy." I will learn to curb my inner chimney sweeper. I will learn to appreciate Premier League "Football." I will learn how to be an ambassador of good will, as if appointed by Obama himself! Even in situations wherein I am treated rudely, I will learn to smile, and reserve the term "Limey Bastard" only for when I am caught off-guard by a particularly tart Sprite. I will...

Learn a lot I'm sure.