Saturday, December 27, 2008

XVIII: Christmas is all around

Christmas just isn't the same without family. And until this point in my life, I've always been so used to the epic family parties and goofy traditions (like the annual talent show), that it was always easy to take it for granted.

But this year, being in London away from so many people that I love, I found myself thinking about family quite a lot - giving presents at midnight, karaoke with the cousins, eating lots of filipino food... even the little idiosyncrasies like how certain family members would always fall asleep on the couch or stay glued to the television. These things were never a big deal before - but now the memories have become so endearing, particularly because my participation in this year's family party was reduced to an online Skype appearance. Which reminds me... I should really thank my uncle for including my digital face in the Christmas pictures.

I think a huge part of the seasonal cheer over the last few weeks just seemed to be absent around me, despite all the Christmas decorations and holiday greetings everywhere. I've had a consistent stream of coursework to do and nothing really familiar or worthwhile to distract me. (Reality TV is not my idea of a worthwhile distraction... more like an act of desperation). So again, like Thanksgiving, I was really missing people. And if it weren't for Kim coming down to London for the week, I probably would've been in quite the rut.

It helps that there are two of us here going through the same thing. And so we made sure to make it as special as we could... even though we both sort of agreed that it didn't exactly feel like Christmas.

Anyway, we didn't do too much over the last week. We barely even left the house. But at least we went out to see the Christmas Market in Hyde Park.

And discovered a 2-story Tesco near Earl's Court where we bought most of the ingredients for our Christmas feast.

Then for Christmas Eve/Day... we cooked... and ate... and ate some more... and cooked some more... and watched a TON of movies in between.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day

This morning's breakfast:

There was actually much more food involved than what is pictured here... but I didn't do a very good job of being photographer this week.

Besides realizing that "Father of the Bride 2" was on TV today, the highlight of our week was probably when we exchanged gifts and discovered that we had gotten each other (at least) the first book of the Twilight series. Could we be any more nerdy? (BTW- this picture was taken after a very long day of cooking and eating).

All in all it's been an interesting ride. If nothing else, Kim and I discovered how extra-fabulous we are when we're in the kitchen together, or when we decide to make music videos of us lip syncing Christmas songs to send to everyone as a holiday greeting.

We've received a lot of life-changing news from people in the last few days, the best of which (in my opinion) involving Becky's Christmas Day engagement. And now that it's nearing the end of the year, I'm beginning to look back at 2008 with a sense of awe, for so much that has happened to us and the people we care about in the last 12 months. It's been intense... and the holidays have really reminded me to be grateful for all the amazing things that have taken place this year.

I think I might be ready to welcome 2009 with open arms... but I'll save my thoughts on this for another blog entry in a couple weeks.

I know this will be my last entry of the year.. because as I type Shawn and James are en-route to London to meet me and Kim. Tomorrow night, we'll all be heading to Edinburgh to bring in the New Year.

With that said, I'll end on one last thing:

I love you...

See you in 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008

XVII: Start Wearing Purple

I'm so glad I didn't break my nose this week. But I definitely bruised it.

I went to a Gogol Bordello show with Helen at the Roundhouse in Camden on Thursday night, and I now know EXACTLY what it feels like to be repeatedly elbowed in the ribs and slammed against a metal barricade while the feet of crowd surfers fly dangerously within inches of kicking me in the head. It was amazing... and exhausting. Long live gypsy punk!

The best part was at the very end... when Eugene (the lead singer) walked onto the floor and asked Helen if she wanted to join him backstage. I couldn't believe rockstars actually did that. As I wasn't directly invited, and given that she's probably the band's biggest fan next to the band members themselves, I didn't want to be the third wheel anyway, so I left it to her to go entertain him. I went home... battered and bruised, but super excited and happy for her. (And no, apparently nothing too dirty happened between them... just a couple snogs and the exchanging of personal e-mail addresses.) Cool, huh?

Oh Eugene, you Ukranian cad!

There's been a lot of punk rock in my life lately. Besides seeing Gogol, I also went to a small punk show on Monday night at the Underworld - an old, dingy venue right in the middle of Camden Town. The place reminded me of a much cooler Cobalt Cafe, but not quite as hip as The Whisky. Actually, it might come pretty close to Paladino's, except underground - literally (a basement bar). Some of the bands were better than others... JB Conspiracy was ska punk and just awesome - they've toured with Rancid, so yeah. But American band Guttermouth, who I had never heard of before that (shows what I know about punk) was a little too intense for my taste.

Either way, I had a good time. It was for a first date... with a Brit... who is pretty awesome. He is a 27-year-old college graduate who likes cupcakes and Thai food, owns his own flat in South London, is friends with Reel Big Fish and knows a bunch of people who can potentially hook us up with free concert tickets. He's a proper dark-haired gentleman, who wears Converse and hoodies. I'm kind of surprised he exists. But that's all I can really say about him for now.

On Tuesday night, CT was in town. He stopped by London on his way home to Simi for the holidays so we went out for a semi-touristy night on the town (I only say "semi" because he's been here before on multiple occassions). I met up with him around dinner time at The Generator Hostel, an accomodation arrangement which was by my recommendation of course.

And in case some of you are wondering - the Generator is exactly the same... except now you have to ring the doorbell or slide a keycard to get in. The bar and Turbine are as tacky as ever, made even more visually explosive by the metallic Christmas decorations. And yes brothers, they still have the meet & greet. It was very, very, VERY nostalgic - especially when I walked past Valencia's on the corner and Pizza Paradise across the street.

For dinner, we went to the Founders Arms... then we went hunting in Putney for a quirky pub that CT thought he'd been to when he was in London years ago. It turned out to be a different pub with the same name - The Jolly Gardener's. But he said it was actually better than the one he went to. Consequently, it's going on my list of "places o' fun," and if it weren't so far away I'd probably become a regular - especially because of the comfy chairs, super friendly bar staff and the oodles of board games available for anybody to use. They also have quiz night! It was good fun!

Besides all this stuff, I haven't really done too much else except impose house-arrest upon myself so I can finish my essays. As of tonight, I've finished my theory essay, 3/5 of my human image essay, none of my production and discourse essay, and half of my digital tech essay. It's not easy attempting to write more than 12,000 words in a week and a half. But hopefully I'll be done by Boxing Day (the 26th) and I can rest easy for the rest of my holiday. There goes Christmas...

It's a good thing Kim arrived in London today so I can take frequent breaks and have someone to be merry with this week. AND, I know she'll understand when I go into "serious study mode."

This way, I can actually take productive friend-bonding breaks instead of "stop and watch British reality TV" breaks... which by the way, is officially my favorite way to spend weekend afternoons. I've got the schedule for the best ones memorized:

2:30 - Dickinson's Real Deal (Channel 1)
Oddly enough, this is an antique show. I never cared about antiques until I started watching this show. Basically, random people come on here, try to sell their stuff to dealers, but if they don't like the offers, they take their stuff to auction. It just amazes me what people will spend their money on. On the last episode, this guy sold an old talc container with a picture of The Beatles printed on the front for 60 quid. 60 QUID! FOR AN EMPTY CAN!

12:30 - 101 Challenges
The hilarious Scottish brothers Lee and Leslie Vine take us on a journey across Asia where they try and complete a total of 101 kooky challenges submitted by viewers. Last episode, they participated in a Chinese Acrobatic circus, studied kung-fu wall climbing, and arranged a 101-person conga line down the Great Wall of China. They even stopped over in the Philippines to try some balut. It doesn't get better than that.

12:20 - Unsigned Act
It's like American Idol or The X Factor - except with bands.

1:25 - Relentless
By far the best reality TV show of all time. Participants of this show are put through miserable/embarrassing/highly awkward situations for a chance to win 3,000 pounds of cash. For 48 hours, they are followed by hidden cameras - forced to do crazy stunts in order to receive and answer quiz questions that could help them win the money. But it's not that simple... dun dun duuuun. The guy who was on today had to sing the lyrics of "I touch myself" in a crowded rugby stadium. He also had a question stamped onto his ass without him knowing it... and was forced to drop trou in front of complete strangers to get it answered.
Wow, I'm really not doing this any justice. Just look it up online and watch it for yourself. It's fantastic.

I can't believe I've spent so many words talking about reality TV. I'm so lame.

Friday, December 12, 2008

XVI: Viva la Vida

It's been a while since my last blog entry. In the last two weeks, I've done the following:

- spent way too much money with my American friends at Chili's in Canary Wharf, spurred on by a bout of homesickness, after which we all decided it was worth it if only for the skillet queso and molten chocolate cake.
- tried my hand at making arroz caldo for the first time (which was easy and delicious btw).
- finished 3 presentations, including one home-made wikipedia and one home-made video that my professor has since called "impressive" and "ingenious." I am a bad ass, I know.
- gotten drunk after class with friends and aformentioned professor. (He is gay, fabulous and has a striking resemblance to Hugh Jackman!)
- had an average of 4 cups of tea per day to keep me going...
- developed an addiction to Nero white mochas
- learned how to properly fingerpick "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" on guitar... this is what I did whenever my brain started to hurt.
- kept craving cheeseburgers, which I have since learned to eat with salsa - it's the most fantastic thing ever.
- applied for an internship at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London (I haven't heard back from them yet)
- hung out with Aleem - I know, crazy, right? I didn't even know he was coming until the morning he arrived.
- went to Edinburgh to visit Kim
- saw Coldplay in concert
- almost got stranded in Glasgow (of which I know I will go into excruciating detail later in this entry)

As you can see, I've been busy. Which explains why it's taken me so damn long to update my blog. Oops. But at least I'm doing it now... and I have some photographic proof to back up some of my adventures.

I got an e-mail from Ashley on Saturday morning telling me that Aleem was on his way to London. My first reaction was, "is this a joke?" Not in a bad way, but more like "why the hell didn't he tell me beforehand?" So I called his hotel and left a message for him to call me. It was kind of exciting, It was like the movies - calling the front desk of the Hilton Metropole to leave a mysterious message for a friend who I feel like I haven't seen in ages.

At 5:30ish, I received a call on my mobile from a number I don't recognize. I picked it up and heard in the most familiar voice, "hey Dar!" It gave me goosebumps to know that such an important piece of my California-ness was actually in the same city and time zone as me. He was still going to have dinner with his parents and I had to finish my video presentation.

So we didn't meet up until 9:30 or 10ish, when I came knocking on his hotelroom door on the 11th floor. When he opened it, I started to hear Nico's "These Days" playing in my head - it was like the past and the present were mushed together all of a sudden. It was great.

Given that we only had one night to hang out, I gave him a choice. "Dessert and coffee in a touristy spot" or "Alcoholic beverages with a fantastic view, but off the beaten path." He chose the latter, and I took him to the Founder's Arms near Blackfriars, where we drank Pimm's and lemonade, and caught up as much as we could.

But because the tube stops running just after midnight, we had to head back a bit earlier than we wanted to. We parted ways around 12:30, but only after an emergency stop at Oxford Circus to find a toilet (because SOMEONE - not me - didn't anticipate the lack of potty rooms in the tube stations). Hahaha, sorry Aleem. Welcome to London!

The next day, I flew up to Edinburgh. I must've been absolutely insane to take a vacation during finals weeks, but I couldn't resist. Kim bribed me with Coldplay tickets - how could I say no?

I found out that airport security here is ridiculously strict. They stopped me at random and searched my bag... and used some weird device to scan my phone, camera and iPod for explosives. WTF?

The good news is, I'm not a terrorist. And I found this awesome juice stand inside Stansted Airport that reminded me of home:

No, there's no lovejuice in California... at least none that's made out of real fruit. (I hope some of you will remember this inside joke.)

I arrived in Edinburgh at 3:30 - where Kim came to greet me by way of Lothian bus transfer. It turns out that she really DOES live in a fantastic city.

They have a really big castle.

They have some spooktastically old cemeteries. (That big headstone belongs to William BONAR, born in 1773).

And the ugliest "traditional meets modern" Parliament building in the whole wide world. I hear that this is quite the scandal among the locals.

We spent most of the time just walking around the city. I think we may have easily walked about 10 miles over the course of 4 days... In the frigid cold, this is not a pleasant task. Two pairs of socks, legwarmers and leather boots and I STILL couldn't feel my toes. (James and Shawn - consider this a cautionary warning and I recommend that you bring all the thermals you own.)

But look! In a few weeks... we'll be walking down this street with torches in our hands (hopefully in a state of mulled wine inebriation) getting ready to burn down the city... I mean... an effigy... of some sort...

On Tuesday night, Kim and I (along with three of her other friends) took a train to Glasgow to see the Coldplay show. They were as awesome as expected. Though I suspect that Chris Martin was on some type of happy high during the concert.

Maybe it was the profuse sweating, the random proclamations of "that guy on the guitar is my best friend," the frequent tendencies to hug his bandmates, or the moments of forgetfulness where he depended on the audience to finish the lyrics for him and the subsequent giggles, that gave him away. Or how he would fall to the floor in ecstasy during rock-out songs like "Viva la Vida". Or how his eyes would bug out of his head every time he would play an epic piano song. Can you picture it? "Open up your eeeeeeeeyes...." Then again, he didn't name the last album X&Y for nothing. It was way too obvious for anyone not to notice. But the audience just ate it up.

Here comes the fun part... The last train back to Edinburgh was scheduled to leave from Glasgow Central Station at 11:28 p.m. By the time the concert ended and we finally made it outside the venue, it was 11:09 p.m. But that's only because we waited inside for two of Kim's friends who had seats far away from us. Turns out, they decided to leave early to ensure they'd make the train. We didn't get this text message... because Vodaphone service sucks.

Probably around 11:12 (I can't remember for sure because of our sudden panic), we got word that they had already gone and we found ourselves running in the crowd through an obnoxiously long tunnel headed for the overground station... where a local train would take us to the central station two stops away. Miraculously, we made it to Central Station with about 5 minutes to spare. We were home free... so we thought.

We were just coming up the escalator towards the platforms, when suddenly, Kim's phone regains service again and we find out that the other two are at Queens Street station - because the stupid transportation people decided to move the departure point to there. We had no idea where Queens Street was.

So again, we were running... We stopped to ask some cops where the station was, and they pointed us in some confusing direction... (right here, then left, then right, then left at the borders, or something like that...) Running... running uphill... text message that we have just a couple minutes left... panicking... running... can't breath... shit, where the fuck's the station?

We got to where the cop told us to go, but we couldn't find the station. So we stopped again and asked some girl if she knew where it was. She ever-so-slowly tried to give us two different routes, and at the same time, we inched further and further away from her as if it would make any difference. Then we went up the hill, through an alley and there it was - Queens Street Station. Hallelujah. By this point, my asthma had kicked in from the cold and all the running...

We finally made it inside, tried to go through the turnstile, but the man standing there told us we were on the wrong side. So we were running again... It was all a haze, but somehow we were able to jump onto the train, right before the doors quickly shut behind us. I couldn't breathe. Hooray for inhalers.

But we actually made it. I guess to compensate for moving the departure point to Queens Street, they added a couple minutes to the schedule. Who knows what kind of shenanigans we would've gotten ourselves into had we missed it. And to think... I thought that kind of thing only happened in movies. But at least I'll always remember my first trip to Glasgow.

Viva la Vida!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MOW: Jeremy Messersmith

I've decided to add a new feature to my blog. Inspired by the many music friend-requests I get on Myspace on a regular basis, I thought it would be interesting, and quite fun to start doing a "Music of the Week" review-type thingy here. Plus, it'll help me practice my critiquing skills.

I haven't imposed any rules on this yet, except for that all the bands/singers/songwriters that I'll talk about will be bands that I've never heard of prior to the add requests I get, or if I just come across an act via word of mouth or whatever. The point is, it'll always be about my first-ish impressions... And I'll probably never talk about a band that I don't like, at least in some minute sort of way.

So, to start this off...

Music of the Week: Jeremy Messersmith
From: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Label: Princess Records
Genre: Indie

Compared to other requests I've gotten in the past, this was definitely an easy add to make. As soon as "Franklin Avenue" started playing through my computer speakers, I was immediately drawn in by Jeremy's voice, which contained a very calming quality, reminiscent of a cross between Elliott Smith and Sean Lennon. Craftwise, the song was exactly the kind I tend to fall for: steady acoustic strumming, lyrics that only rhyme sometimes, snare-heavy drumming, and the perfect addition of a tambourine.

So because that was the first song to come on, which I think was a fantastic placement decision by the artist, I was interested enough to listen to the rest of the songs on his page. And then, I was impressed enough to check emusic to see if I could download the new album legally. And I could... so here are my track-by-track responses (in real time as I listen...

Album: The Silver City
Release date: Sept. 9, 2008

1. The Silver City 0:38
Clearly, this is just an album introduction. It's a sound track of someone at the "Franklin Avenue Station." Maybe he's in a train station? He's either about to go somewhere or just about to leave. Ooooh... what happens next?

2. Welcome to Suburbia 3:03
Very cute, welcoming song. I guess this answers my questions to the first track. He sings sweetly... and this kind of reminds me of home.
"Lay down your burden/rest your weary eyes/no room for sorrow/leave all your weariness behind."
Okay, this is a little cheesy now, and I don't think the horns section toward the end of the song was really necessary. Definitely not the most powerful track on the album, but yeah, it's cute, to say the least.

3. Dead End Job 3:57
I'm starting to sense a theme here. Instrumentally and with the harmonized "da das", the beginning sounds like a Shins song. Sounds like he's going home to a girl... and maybe blaming her for having to work a dead end job? But he doesn't sound too sad about it.
The diary lyrics aren't bad, although he comes nowhere near to Ben Gibbard. Ahhh... the horns work well in this song, I think. Ooh, there's drama unfolding lyrically, quintessential boy loves girl, but girl loves another boy. This song is indielicious.

4. Franklin Avenue 3:25
Yeah, I still really like this song the second time around. My initial thoughts of Elliott Smith and Sean Lennon still hold, and it's got some very nice string segments. So far, this song is a little faster than the last two - but I enjoy the pace. I also have a thing for location-specific songs... emotions and places... so great. Good placement within the album.

5. The Commuter 3:22
Gotta love the acoustic guitar and piano combination. There's just enough piano to add to the song without overpowering it. Oooh... again, another Shins-influence is coming out here, with that echo guitar-effect.
"Spend my evenings lying on this couch/counting all the cracks in this old house." I love that.. the lyrics are giving me a great mental picture, and offer a nice metaphor for a broken heart. Groovy-sad.

6. Miracles 3:42
This is different. There's something electronic going on here... simplistic sounding synthesizer effect. I read on his myspace page that he's got a casio. This must be it...
"Do you believe in miracles? Because this is all we get... breathing you out/breathing you in." The words are a little too cliche for my taste. And instrumentally, it kind of reminds me of a song you'd hear in the background of a cruising video game, like Wave Race or Snowboard Kids. But without thinking about it too much, I can definitely like this song. Surficially nice..

7. Love You To Pieces 3:55
Slow, crunching guitar intro makes me think this is gonna' be the heartbreak ballad of the album. Let's see if I'm right...
Oooh, nice use of the word "capture." He's reminiscing about better times... the quintessential stuff that sad songs are made of. I'm enjoying the melody so far, I like it when men sing in vibrato (if it's done right). "I wanna' love you 'til you burst..." that's heavy. Slightly creepy, but I like it.

8. Breaking Down 3:49
Back to the acoustic guitar, with the typical indie-folk strumming style.
This song has a really sweet, intimate story. It's always the imperfect things that make for good metaphors about love... a car that keeps breaking down in this case. It's got a country-ish mood to it, but not in a bad way. Folky fun... This is making me think of Iron & Wine, but not as heavy.

9. Skyway 2:11
There's something very nostalgic about this song. Maybe it's the short violin segments over the acoustic guitar, or the lyrics about meeting "under the skyway." Ahh, nice piano solo. Cute again... a little too much rhyming, and maybe the melody gets a little predictable, but the song is short enough that it's not annoying.

10. Virginia 3:28
Yay, here comes the casio again. The melody is kind of like a Belle & Sebastian song, but again, I really enjoy location-specific songs.
"But for now I spend my mornings making clouds in my coffee cup/wishing that I was there to wake you up." That's so cute, I could puke. This song should be on the Elizabethtown soundtrack. There's a very good indie instrumental breakdown... I like the simplicity of this song a lot. It's probably going to move up into regular rotation in my iPod. Definitely one of the better ones on the album...

11. Light Rail 3:22
I love it already.. how could you go wrong with the right "woh-oh." Ooooh... fantastic bass line. This is a perfect song to end the album on. It's upbeat, with a driving bass line, lots of snare and a ringy guitar sound. I'm thinking of "Obla-di-Obla-da," but not as cartoony. I take it back, maybe this is the song that's gonna' make regular rotation.
Oh yeah, there's the piano that I love.... Oh man, listen to this song.
Aha! And it ends at the Franklin Avenue station... fantastic closing...

Okay, it's over. So to keep the integrity of this review, I'm not going to go back and read it before I save it. Besides, I'm not really expecting anyone to read it. This was a cutesy-fun album and I'm glad I used some of my emusic downloads to get it. All-in-all, a good semi-purchase.