Monday, March 16, 2015

On stuffed mice, Southwold, and road trips in France

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. - Rilke 

OMGYOUGUYS. So much has happened these past few weeks:

1. I made the world's most terrifying taxidermy mouse. He is my mangy little treasure and clearly the stuff that nightmares are made of:

I love him so much.
Also, I'm supposed to cut the wires now that he's stiffened, but I can't bring myself to do it. I suspect they're the only thing keeping him upright. (He's so jazz.)

2. A weekend in France indicated that spring arrives there sooner than here. We CYCLED. In the SUN. And we didn't die or need a jacket or ANYthing:

If you follow the lane to where it winds around to the right, you'll come to our back garden!* 

3. We also spent a weekend in Southwold! I'd like to say it's because I can't get enough of coastal England, but really it was because I bought an armchair on eBay and didn't notice until it was too late that it was listed as 'collection only.' 

'But think about how much money I saved!' she justifies, as she reserves a room in a seafront b&b. 

Luckily, Southwold has everything an English seaside town should: 

A pier with a retro arcade in which all the machines have been handmade by the town inventor:

Beach huts:

Village confectionary that advertises via vintage bicycle:

Seafood sold out of harbour-front shack:

Again with vintage bicycle. It's like this town was designed by Instagram.

And Lighthouse:

So really, I don't know HOW one could say I messed up here. 

France update! We officially did the Mega Move: we hired a van here in the UK, packed it full of random furniture and miscellany, and drove it the ten hours down to Bergerac. And I think it is safe to say WE WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN. For one, our sat-nav apparently likes the scenic route, and the van barely fit through tiny village after tiny village. We suspected that nearby there was a highway - there had to have been! - but our garmin refused to guide us there, and our Michelin road map was unfortunately crammed somewhere in a box in the back of the van. Two, an old man in a truck totally took off the van's side mirror when he barreled past us (while we were pulled over, mind), before promptly disappearing into the wind like so many old men going renegade in the French countryside. All we could see was his wild, white, bush-like hair retreating into the distance, his own mirror clattering along. 

It also turns out life in France is a lot like camping. Like how you have to bathe with a garden hose because your builder has gutted your bathroom in the process of installing a new shower. You would think a hose-shower in the cold dawn of early spring would be romantic, except you're also doing it while standing barefoot on what feels like frozen concrete, overlooking the back lane that the neighbors also enjoy. The same neighbors who - after months of being nowhere to be seen - started to appear en masse over the course of the week. (I refuse to believe there is a connection. Also, they are WAY friendlier than stories would have you believe.) Luckily, I've been practicing Not Showering for years, so I handled seven days of filth like a pro.

Also, I think Alan tried to kill me in the act of gardening. There was a thorny little tree climbing up the side of the house (and more importantly, scratching heck out of the top of the rental van) and finally, in a fit of agitation, I decided it needed to come down. We had intended to trim this tree 'eventually, down the road' - but after two days of it attacking us every time we approached, I had enough. I grabbed the hedge-trimming shears, and with a strength known only to enraged hulks, WENT TO TOWN ON IT. It didn't stand a chance. Branches are flying everywhere. And as I was nearly done, Alan grabs the tree and gives it the final yank that will pull it from the wall. And DIRECTLY ONTO MY HEAD. MY HEAD YOU GUYS. A THORNY TREE ON MY HEAD. And as my face and bare arms are being scratched to pieces by this barren twiggy tree completely enveloping my person, I'm pretty sure Alan just stood there, possibly smoking a cigarette. He claimed later that he reacted immediately, but I think we can all agree I was encompassed for about an hour. By the time I emerged, it looked like I had been attacked by a pack of wild cats.

Thank God I could at least clean my scratches under a bone-chilling hose shower.

But it's coming together. Trials and tribulations aside, with each visit down, it starts to look less like a skip and more like a dusty, dirty, box-filled home. We haven't been able to unpack anything yet - our contractor has dust-clothes and plastic draped over every surface - but soon. Soon our stuff will be laid out to collect dust the good-old fashioned way.

I can't wait.

Big hugs and lots of love,

*I didn't say we cycled FAR. I'm still ME.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On cycling, taxidermy, and very little else

There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction. - Salvadore Dali

OMGYOUGUYS. I am having the best day ever and it's only eleven a.m. Get this: I just got a BIKE. And I RODE it.  For five whole minutes, on the streets of London. I never felt so alive. The wind in my face, the sweat under my coat (from terror rather than exertion, it must be said), the ground so far beneath me that I felt like I was flying: it was incredible. I thought I'd die of fright and thrill. I'll obviously never do it again - my heart just couldn't take it, and I don't have the fearlessness in me that cycling in London requires - but I'll be happy when we take it down to France-house and I can use it to get to and from the nearby lake. I'm going to put flowers in the basket on mother effing PRINCIPLE. And also baguettes, even though I can't stand them (I am pretty sure they are only good as baseball bats). It will be so romantic. I will ding my little bell merrily all the way there. Forget towels and lotion, that's for people with no imagination. And if anybody gives me that judgy French look when I pull up, I'm just going to haughtily untie the ribbon of my charming straw hat, slowly reach for the baguette, and then whack them across the face with it. LIVING THE DREAM!

And in even more exciting news, I've got a taxidermy course today! I am going to learn how to stuff and mount a mouse. I cannot wait. I'm going to give him a little stop sign and use him to warn off the living mice that are no doubt lurking in our ancient Victorian walls and plotting to take over our kitchen.

What a day of firsts!

And because it's been too long since I've posted a completely irrelevant photo of Lake Garda, here you are:

Big hugs and lots of love,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

On ebay, Cafayate, and life on Mars

It's not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren't doing it. - Terry Pratchett

OMGYOUGUYS. Have you heard of this website called ebay? It's like the newest thing ever. I'm currently trying to get us cheap furniture for France-House and for the first time I am entering the ebay-fray rather than just poking around like a voyeur and WHY IS IT SO EXCITING? Every time I enter a max bid, my heart races like I've just gone off a high dive. I FEEL ALIIIIIIVE! The first time - and to be fair the only time, I'm not good at this - I won something, the rush was so great I laughed. Out loud. Alone. In my kitchen. It just bubbled up, totally uncontrollable. I immediately and self-consciously tried to look normal.

Totally worked.

In other news, the Salta pictures are coming along! Check these out:

Doesn't it make you sick?

These were taken in the Quebrada de Cafayate, which is the crazy-scenic drive between Salta and Cafayate. It was 3 hours of 'PULL OVER! PULL OVER!' again and again and again. Alan loved it. He also liked how I invariably had the wrong lens on my camera and spent the first five minutes at the side of the road cursing and dropping filters. I am pretty much a pro. All the trouble was worth it, though*: the terrain was absolutely wild. The red rocks, the red sand, the Andes, some other rocks, etc. - it was like we had landed on Mars. Except with cowboys and cacti. And oxygen.

I think.

And then when you finally get through all that exhausting mother-effing beauty, you land in the CUTEST VILLAGE IN ALL THE LAND: Cafayate.
Also, home of the best steak I've ever had in my entire life. Shula Cata parrillada is a must-do, youguys. There's no sign on the front so it's easy to miss, but you'll know it by the flourescent lighting, plastic tables, and smell of sweet delicious meat utopia wafting out the open frontage. It is located in the residential part of town, a bit off the beaten track. The locals filling the space will look at you, because you stick out like a sore thumb. Either that, or because you've got blood dripping down your chin. I was too busy shoveling in 'todos los carnes' - my highly-specific order - to notice.

Cafayate is HEAVEN. It's sweetly nestled in the mountains, surrounded by dirt roads that lead to lovely wineries, and it has a teeny tiny leafy square and a dozen options for street-food and empanadas and ice cream. I just don't know how a place can get better than this. As a real piece of travel-writing called it, it's 'Down-at-the-Healdsburg.'

Super roughing it.

Just wait until next time I post - it's going to be all the pics from the drive back UP to Salta. They're just like these ones, except in reverse. So, you know. Exciting. Red. Dusty. Full of aliens.

Big hugs and lots of love,

*To me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On San Telmo and culture and stuff

"You can be sincere and still be stupid." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

OMGYOUGUYS. I have had internet for, like, an entire 24 hours so far. I don't want to get too excited - last time it revived, it was for a short half-day - but IT IS REALLY HARD. I AM SO EXCITED. I am way behind on my huffpoeing buzzfeeding redditing jezebelling. WHAT HAS HAPPENED THIS MONTH?! Point me to the memes!

Speaking of being behind: THIS BLOG. My (internal, unspoken) goal of two posts a week was hopelessly derailed. Blogblogblogblogblogblogblog.

I've had coffee today for the first time this week and I feel high as a kite.

BUENOS AIRES! I swear this is my last post about that magnificent city before dragging youguys into guacho country.

Want to hear a fun fact about BA? THERE ARE BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE. Really. EVERYWHERE. Like, entire STREETS of them. ANOTHER fun fact: Amazon dot com isn’t in Argentina.

I’ll leave you to interpret that as you will.

This particular good news became very relevant when my Kindle broke on Day 4. My treasured, ancient, six-year-old-full-keyboarded Kindle just decided to give up the ghost. At the beginning of a three week holiday in a foreign country. I thought we were better friends than that, but there we are. As a result, I found myself spending an entire morning scurrying into various bookstores, frantically looking for anything – anything! – written in the English language. I finally found luck at a small bookstore/cafĂ©/bar in Palermo called Crack Up. Here is a map for you:

You're welcome.

Also, they had FOOD. And COFFEE. And TORRONTES. If you're into that. (Not me, Grampa!) How sweet is this place? Someone! Open one in London-town. Except with English books. It will be a hit.

Now for THE LUNCH. After our blinding success getting books at Crack Up, we made our way to Freud y Fahler NC for lunch, where apparently the menu was designed by Kyle. I appreciated the illustrations of each dish, because how else would we know what we were ordering?

This totally clears it up.

Uncanny likeness, right? Well-drawn, friends! Also, you can tell we were eating nerdy-early, US/UK-style, since we were the first people there. This happened every night at dinner-time, too, when we showed up at 9 p.m. (when the restaurants opened) and ate in the emptiness until people started arriving around 10:30. Who ARE these people, and when do they sleep?! Even the kids! Families! 10:30 p.m. dinner time! MIND.BLOWN. Love and admiration here. I mean, I thought I was old-hand at these sort of cultural differences, having done the Europe-late-long-dinner-thing, but this was a whole new ballgame.

THE TANGO. Okay, so everyone says You Have to See the Tango when you're in Buenos Aires. Now, as far as I can tell, there are two ways to do this: go to the San Telmo square and watch the couples spin around for the tourists, or go to a tango club. We opted for the latter, BUT (see above note being about nerdy-early) things don't kick off until midnight or later. We got to Cathedral of Tango at ten (feeling VERY wild, I don't mind saying), and it was rocking out like this:
Out of control! 

We had a great table right up front (because practically first ones there), but knowing we'd have to wait at least three hours for the club to turn into Super Tango was just a recipe for napping under the table. It probably didn't help that this was also a Tuesday night, and who on earth tangos on a Tuesday night? Go there on a Thursday or Friday, youguys. Or head to San Telmo if going out at midnight isn't your jam. I will say this, though: we got to see some terrific dancers and an exciting part of Argentina culture in a venue that was cutting-edge. Also - and most importantly - eat more fugazzetta pizza.

THE RIVER. Can I tell you what I love about cities with rivers in them? Pedestrian-only, modern-design bridges, and old-as boats. London's got this, too. It's just too much. Does Chicago have this? I should know since I've been there a kazillion three times. But I spent most of my time with the bean, because #goodtouring.

Sidebar: bottom left is the pink governor's casa where Eva Peron did her Eva Peron thing. Cropped out: loads of scaffolding and construction works, which are apparently as permanent a fixture as the building itself. SEXY! Bottom right: if you want to know what this building is, why don't YOU be the tourist. (And then tell me what it is.)

THE PROTEST. Youguys. Apparently outside the governor's casa there is always a protest happening. Isn't that awesome? MAKE NOISE, HUMANS! This one is about Someone lying to Someone if that banner is any indication:
I felt like a photo-journalist capturing Change in a war-torn country. Except safe. And not endangered. And ignorant of the issues. I can see why people do this. What a high!

LUNCH! Okay, so originally we tried to go to Hierbabuena or La Casera for lunch, but the power was out on the entire street. Because That's Just What Happens Sometimes and Maybe It's Planned But We're Not Sure Quit Asking Questions Go Away.

That said: they could still sell bread and produce from their side market! WIN!

So rustic and millennial and organic and perfect I wanted to punch myself in the face. Also, buy everything and put a cross-process filter on it.

Having given up on the perfect lunch, we decided to take our chances at Any Random Place in San Telmo, because obviously it has a square lined with cafes boasting identical menus in three translations so clearly it'd be impossible to go wrong*. We crossed the street, prepared to walk the five blocks over to the square in the stifling mid-day heat, and BOOM. We spot this place. Bacan! Youguys. I know I'm easily woo'd by open shelving, chalkboard, and black-and-white tiling, but this place was good stuff. If you ever find yourself shut out of Hierbabuena or Casera, go here: 

 I'm pretty sure this is also where the mob hangs out.

SAN TELMO. We wandered around there after lunch. Because old and historical and stuff.


Um. Culture. Colonial. Jazz. 

Doppelganger. Awesome bar. Totally for everyone. Culture. Unpretentiously Hip. Jazz.

Dinner at Aramburu. Two of about twelve courses. Designer food. Eating art. Jazz.

And we've done it! Buenos Aires is a WRAP.

SIDEBAR: just now the doorbell rang and it was an Amazon** delivery guy and I totally didn't remember ordering anything on Amazon so right away I'm excited and then I opened it and it was a book I had ordered centuries ago that was out of stock and apparently it came back in stock because there I was holding it and anyway, it has made my day because it feels like a gift, like when you find money in the pocket of something you haven't worn in forever. DAY WON!

We're off to France tomorrow to start knocking down walls and seeing what's under them! We're also hoping to get some wifi hooked up, but that could be a drama for another day. P.S. Anybody who speaks French fluently is invited down with us anytime. ANY.TIME.***

Big hugs and lots of love,

**Don't judge me! I shopped at a bookstore in Argentina!
***No, seriously. PLEASE COME WITH US. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On le internet, Buenos Aires, and eyebola

Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. - Annie Dillard

OMGYOUGUYS. We have no wifi. We have had no wifi since we got back from Argentina. It is TORTUROUS. I can't blog. I can't Facebook-stalk you. I can't check my email without racking up a huge data charge on my mobile phone bill. I don't even know who I am anymore.

Between that and eyebola*, it is like I have retreated into the Dark Ages. HOW DOES ANYONE LIVE LIKE THIS?! I reject this version of the world! They say t'internet will be back 'in our area' by the weekend, but I'm skeptical. It's already been three weeks. VIRGIN MEDIA YOU ARE UNRELIABLE SACKS OF GRAMPA-DISAPPROVED-LANGUAGE.

So now I'm at the pub next door, where they have wifi and a sense of common decency. Also, beer coffee. Obviously not a long-term solution, but hey! It's Tuesday afternoon, let's call this a thing.

Now back to the holiday, when life was sweet, easy, and uninfected. Buenos Aires, part deux!

First, let's talk about BA hipsters. Did you guys know that no matter How Unique Like a Snowflake a hipster is, THEY ARE THE SAME EVERYWHERE? Just LOOK at them. This Argentina Campari party could be any Street Feast at Dalston Yard. Except with sun. And skin. And Campari. So, way sexier.

And because one can't possibly attend a bottomless-aperitivo garden party without proper entertainment: Vik took the stage. I kid you not. Apparently being an artist and business-owner isn't enough - she also SINGS.
This is the point at which I grabbed a bunch of hot dogs and a bottle of Cynar and headed for the bushes.

Then that night, we had an asado (that's Argentina-speak for BBQ) on the roof terrace. Look at Pablo, grilling all that meat. Steak! Ribs! Blood sausages! Regular sausages! MEEEAAAAAAT!

Tabasco: bringing cultures together since 1962.

The next day we went to Malba - the Modern Art museum - and the Japanese gardens. Now youguys. I confess that coming from San Francisco, I could be a *little* bit biased, but THIS JAPANESE GARDEN WAS TERRIFIC.  It is beautiful. It is charming. It has Japanese stuff in it. It is also the size of a postage stamp. This is the entire thing:

There is a pond with a path around the perimeter. There are a couple of bridges over the pond. There's a restaurant at one end, a gift shop at the other. In total - and nailing all the bridges and walkways if you're feeling whimsical - you can walk around the entire thing in less than ten minutes. TEN MINUTES. This is WONDERFUL STUFF. Nothing makes my spine retreat into my neck quite like the feeling of an unfinished-thing and this garden DOES NOT GIVE ME THAT FEELING. I left here a whopping fifteen minutes later feeling 100 percent satisfied with a job well done.

Even this left me feeling good, and it's clearly fake.

And at the MALBA's Antonio Berni exhibit, they've got what has to be History's First Photo Bomb: 
A painting bomb? Totally has to count. Hilarious stuff, Berni!

And then, because the previous evening's asado was clearly not enough meat, lunch at The Burger Joint
Burgers: bringing cultures together since 1962.

It was an epic two days. And next time I find myself with wifi, I will tell you even MORE. That's right. WAY MORE. We've got San Telmo. Salta. Iguazu. YOUGUYS WE HAVEN'T EVEN SCRAPED THE TIP OF THE ARGENTINIAN ICEBERG. You're lucky we didn't go to Patagonia or we'd be here all year.

In the meantime, wish me luck with this wifi dra-ma - I miss you and I miss this space!

Big hugs and lots of love,

*OMGYOUGUYS. Alan gave me pink eye. PINK EYE. My right eye is swollen shut and grotesque and I haven't left the house without sunglasses in the past week - in rainy London, even indoors, even at night - which means I totally look like That Girl. Over New Years in Scotland, Alan's niece Lauren dubbed it 'eyebola' because it was brought over from travels abroad and it spreads like wildfire. So at least it sounds cool. Slash terrifying.