Amusing things on stage and screen

So far this week, I have seen two strange things- one on stage, and the other on film.

First off, we double dated with our awesome friends A* and B* to see Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in their revival of the 1975 play “No Man’s Land” last night. This was a very strange play. And by strange, I mean that none of us are entirely certain what happened. Here is the synopsis:

“One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.”

The playwright, Harold Pinter (a 1960s British Pulitzer Prize winner), even admitted in 2002 that “No Man’s Land” is a “haunting weird play” that he himself “can never fully understand- who can?” Now if that ain’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

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Frankly, none of us could agree on the plot, the point of the play, the characters’ roles, what actually transpired, or even if we liked it. I didn’t hate it, though I wouldn’t recommend it. I feel about this play the way I felt about this restaurant in Buenos Aires translated as I Will Kill You Ramirez. Every dish was named something bizarre (my salmon dish was I Fell Upon You Reeking Of Glory), and dirty finger puppet shows were performed during the meal. I wasn’t entirely comfortable, it was weird, and at the end I wasn’t sure what I’d just experienced, and I certainly didn’t want to do it twice.

Another glorious night in London’s West End…but with Gandalf and Captain Jean-Luc Picard! With Magneto and Professor X! Wheee!

The second bit of weirdness was the below video, shot at Expedia last week to publicize our second year as Glassdoor.com’s #1 place to work in the UK. I was asked to speak in the video, and the entire company was asked to submit vacation photos to be projected onto the green-screen signs we’re holding.

Somehow, just about all of the photos ended up being photos of me, or photos I took. It’s a fucking Where’s Waldo of my vacations. So to help you navigate, here is a list, alongside the video time of where they appear:

  1. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt (0:27)
  2. Me in Valletta, Malta (0:30)
  3. Me at Victoria Falls in Zambia (0:49)
  4. Me in Hue, Vietnam (0:51)
  5. Me at Yaxha in Guatemala (1:19)
  6. Luang Prabang in Laos

Strange days.

A weekend of Christmas lights and magic

This is the first weekend we’ve been home and able to just relax in about a month. And it’s Christmastime, so there is tons to do in London on the weekend.

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I spent an hour in a Victorian drawing room with this guy

On Friday night we attended The Magic Hour, which is an intimate, up-close magic show. The audience is no more than about twenty-five people, all gathered in a Victorian drawing room near Regent’s Street (a very swanky street near the West End). And you may ask, why a magic show? And that’s a damn good question, which leads me to this insight: After twenty years of marriage, there are still things one can learn anew about one’s spouse. For instance, I had no idea Matt likes magic. And not just any magic; he doesn’t like “spectacle magic” (yes, he has a word for it), which entails big tricks like disappearing the Statue of Liberty or elevating or sawing people in half. He also doesn’t like “stupid human trick magic” (again, he had a name for this) which usually takes the form of David Blaine suspended for ten days in a glass box that we all fervently hope will come crashing down sooner rather than later. What Matt does like, however, is “up close, sleight-of-hand” magic. And one thing about London I will never tire of: No matter what you want, or how specific your request, you will find it here.*

*Note: You will find everything except for Ultra Swim Anti-Chlorine Shampoo. For the love of god, will some EU company import this please? We swimmers are dying over here.

So anyway, after a bit of research on London’s magic scene (and I swear to god that is a Thing), I found The Magic Hour, which seemed to fit all of Matt’s requirements. So we spent Friday evening in the very Victorian drawing room of the Carlton Terrace House, watching a rather enthusiastic British gentleman perform sleight-of-hand and mind reading tricks. It was entertaining in a cheesy way, though I’m not certain I would do this again. We shall file this under “New and Interesting Things One Does To Please One’s Spouse.” (Also in this file: Attending Star Wars films, enduring XBox Rock Band parties, and shipping an orange kitten overseas in a dog crate.)

On Saturday, I wanted me a bit of Christmas magic, so we spent the evening walking around London viewing the annual Christmas light displays. We met up with a friend from Seattle, L* and her husband J*, and hit Covent Garden, The Seven Dials, Trafalgar Square to see the annual Christmas tree gifted from Norway, and London’s biggest shopping district, consisting of Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, and Regents Street. These are Europe’s busiest shopping streets, and I usually avoid them like the plague due to the massive crush of stupid-tourists. But add in all the Christmas light and festivity, all I can say is that some tourists need killing, and no jury would convict me. Ho ho I’m shoving you into traffic.

But the lights were pretty!!

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Carnaby Street, and its odd Christmas/Gay Pride theme

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Regents Street’s angels

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The Seven Dials

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The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, which has been (IMHO, fairly) compared to a cucumber

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Random fancy London streets

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L* and Matt and Covent Garden’s Christmas tree

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Covent Garden’s shopping hall

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Covent Garden streets

We also tried to visit London’s new Lego store, which is the largest Lego store in the world. However, they chose to put this new store in the most tourist-crowded, insane part of London- next door to the M&Ms Store, if that tells you anything- so we chose to bypass the hourlong queue and the possible fatalities we’d cause, and take photos from the outside instead.


We then went to a Seven Dials French bistro for dinner, and drank a lot of wine. Those Christmas tourists are stressful, my friend.

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Yay it’s Christmastime in London!!

And tonight, the Magic theme continues with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”! Wheee!! Happy Christmas, Muggles!!!

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I’m a little tired

It’s been a fairly crazy month for traveling. I’m not complaining; I love to travel. I may be one of the few people on earth who actually enjoys going to the airport (if you subtract the ridiculous Kabuki theater known as “security,” and gate lice). I’ve come to associate King’s Cross with not just Harry Potter, but with exciting adventures- this is the station from which we take the Eurostar to Paris, and the trains to the airport. But.

In the last month, I’ve flown London to Budapest and back, London to Iceland to Seattle and back, and now London to Latvia and back. In twenty-seven days, I’ve spent eighteen nights in a hotel room or friend’s guest room.  I’ve flown over 14,000 miles, through ten time zones. To put this into context, that’s over half the circumference of the earth, and nearly half of the earth’s time zones.

No wonder I’m f**king tired. It’s gotten so that doing my laundry at my own flat is a small victory. I ordered wine at 10am in Latvia over the weekend because I thought it was late afternoon (in my defense, Latvia’s light quality in November looks the same). I saw an old friend, who now lives in San Francisco, while having dinner in Seattle- and it took both of us a second to figure out where we were. I have come to disregard airports’ and airlines’ basic rules regarding cell phone usage, carry-on luggage, and queuing because quite frankly my system is more efficient and less intrusive (or so I tell myself).  I have gotten damn proficient at saying “sorr-ee no eeeen-glish” with a slack-jawed, blank-eyed expression to ward off touts, overly zealous airport employees, scammers, and panhandlers.

I think this is both one of the funniest and most accurate airport scenes ever filmed.

Maybe this is not good.

But hey, I get twenty-four days in this time zone before I fly off again.

And, you’re welcome for the introduction of “gate lice” into your vocabulary. You always knew they had a name, right?

 

Mewsgiving 2016

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Hazel, anxiously awaiting Thanksgiving dinner

We had originally planned to celebrate Thanksgiving quietly, with a small roast chicken, a bottle of wine, and a trip to the movies to see “Bad Santa 2” (YOU MUST SEE THIS FILM).  Our travel schedule this week has been a bit overwhelming; we returned from Seattle Monday afternoon, and Friday afternoon we’re packing back up and heading to Riga, Latvia for the weekend for the opening of their Christmas markets (fun trivia note: Riga invented the Christmas tree!). So we’re still a bit jet lagged, and a lot tired, so we’d assumed we’d not want to plan a Thanksgiving dinner party.

But our good friend L*, who attended his first American Thanksgiving with us last year, emailed me a few weeks ago to say hello, and we realized that dammit, Thanksgiving shall be observed, birds shall be eaten, and wine shall be mulled. So we invited L* (though his lovely girlfriend was unavailable to reprise her attendance this year), and two other friends from work who happen to be possibly the cutest Expedia couple ever.

Matt again roasted two large chickens (because our tiny mews oven can’t fit a big turkey, and ENGLAND DOESN’T HAVE HUGE STEROIDAL TURKEYS), made stuffing, his amazing American gravy, puree blanc (a puree of potatoes, parsnips, and celeriac root), and a pumpkin bourbon cheesecake (oh yes). Our friends brought bread and cheese, and roasted vegetables. I mulled wine, because I can pour from a bottle and turn on a crock pot.

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Mmmm Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake prepare to please us

Given how miserable work has been this week (long story, and I’m not printing it here, but boy is it entertaining if you like insanity), I truly needed some Bad Santa inappropriateness and lots of good friends around. And alcohol. Luckily I got them all.

So Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Now it’s off to Latvia!

Finding home

We’ve been home in Bellevue for the last ten days, and it’s been a bittersweet experience. It’s akin to feeling as if we’d flown home for a funeral; I realized that I, along with many others, are mourning the idea of what I believed America to be. And to me, that’s significantly different than mourning the actual loss. When one’s basic unprovable truths are actually proven false, it shreds you to your core. Whether it’s a belief in a god, or a mother’s love…or that America is truly a fair place, and a beacon of hope and democracy around the world…if those beliefs are suddenly gone, what do you do?

I suppose we’re going to find out.

With the specter of all this hanging over like the Sword of Damocles, we went about the week seeing family and friends, some of whom we’ve not seen since we emigrated in February 2015.

So with that, I now present, in photos, The Joneses Reunion Tour of Seattle 2016.

We met Matt’s two new nieces; and reconnected with his and my family over dinners and lunches;

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A visit to Seattle ain’t complete without a trip to wine country. And yes, we’re all related.

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I love this kid.

We had five amazing workout sessions with Fire Fitness, our cheerful exercise cult;

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My used-to-be-regular Saturday morning ritual

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Short people for the win!

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Our two amazing, irreplaceable, unforgettable workout buddies Miss K* and Dr. D*

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I attended Seattle Ignite with Angie, to see if they could drop the mic like London (they could);

We spent lots of time over coffee, booze, and food with beloved friends;

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Cocktails on the rooftop with our Fire Fitness family

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Tons of American food with people we love

I worked shitty London hours, usually beginning at 5am, and in some cases, ending at 6pm. I met with the Women at Expedia Board as their newest board member, and represented the organization at a new employee mixer;

I ate way too much and drank far too much (did you know that Thai Ginger has Seattle Cider on tap??);

We had Friendsgiving;

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Matt makes his legendary AMERICAN F**KING TURKEY, B*TCHES

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Dr. D* can’t wait for the meat (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID)

We attended a friend’s 40th birthday bash;

…and made great use of the mini-Polaroid camera at the party;

I SAW MY GIRLZ;

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Angie-Pangie, The Mighty PQ, Me, Melba Toastie, and Princess Fee-Yo-Nuh

I (over)indulged in spicy food, Seattle traffic-waiting, Mexican street food, Seahawks-watching, Woodinville wine drinking, Thai food eating, obsessive stair-running, ginormous-grocery store shopping, Thanksgiving pie-baking and -feasting, mountain-admiring, giant-Washington-apple-eating, and discount shopping (god bless Nordstrom Rack).

I bought Peeps, motherf*ckers.

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PEEPS PREPARE TO PLEASE ME

All the American boxes, as they say in London, were ticked.

So today it’s back to London, and back to what’s become my normal life. I will miss my family and friends like crazy, but they all know there’s an air bed in a renovated stable waiting for their warm American selves. So until next time, homeland. Happy Thanksgiving, and Joneses out.

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I CAN HAZ ‘MURICA

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Homecoming

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My first view of home in a year

I can’t begin to explain how this week has felt, as an American living abroad for the last eighteen months, as an immigrant in the UK who has experienced Brexit, and as an American coming home after a year away…on the morning after the election. I’m not sure there are many people on this planet who can understand beyond Matt.

It’s weird sometimes…you wake up in the middle of the night with an unexplained feeling of dread. I’ve heard parents do this, and run into their children’s bedrooms. For me, I clearly remember waking up (late, I was unemployed at the time) in the morning of September 11, 2001, with a strange feeling of Something Is Not Right. I don’t know; maybe something about the relaxed state of sleep allows primal warning signs to creep past our evolved brains.

But so it was early Wednesday morning.

I woke up at 4am London time, with a feeling of absolute doom. And again, I can’t begin to explain what it feels like to look at a tiny screen in the dark, and realize that something absolutely catastrophic has happened to something you love, all while you slept thousands of miles away. It’s a strange mixture of helplessness, panic, and detachment.

I’m not going to lie; going back to the USA Wednesday morning was possibly the last thing I wanted to do. Had we not been traveling, I, like may of my American expat colleagues, probably would have just stayed home. I mean seriously….I just went through the national trauma of Brexit. I’ve seen what it does to a country. There are no words for how little I want to relive that, again, just five months later.

Living in Europe the last eighteen months has given me a different perspective than what I see here at home. I live in London, whose buildings and history were nearly bombed out of existence during the Blitz; the remnants of the world wars are literally everywhere in the city, either with memorials or plaques or statues. Seeing these living memories of fascist invasion makes me reject the conciliatory, hopeful belief that our president-elect “might not” be as awful as he appeared on the campaign trail. I absolutely reject the notion that “just because” racists, nationalists, women-haters, skinheads, KKK members, violent gun nuts, and neo-Nazis support him, he has good points. (Hitler did love dogs, after all.)

So no, I do not go gently into that good night when fascism comes to my country, because I live in a country that barely escaped it.

I was never a flag-waving, apple-pie-eating, God-Bless-America patriot. I have never bought into that silly “American Exceptionalism” bullshit, as it feels to me like an indulgent parent telling a dim child that she is “extra special.” And living abroad, I have seen America from afar, and it is this: America is admired and emulated by nearly every nation, despite those nations’ statements of how dumb or classless we may be. Other nations look to us to lead, to be the innovators, to bring the sun-will-come-out-tomorrow optimism. And I’ve become damn proud of that. But they also see us as a young, adolescent country with no real knowledge or experience of history, or foreign invasion (when an enemy marches in and occupies your home, this changes a nation). So while America is the world’s superpower, forgive the rest of the world for looking a bit askew at essentially the global teenager running the place. And now, the teenager has just handed American Berlusconi the keys.

So what now?

I do not accept “healing” and “harmony.” We as Americans just elected the antithesis of this, on a coalition of hatred. Harmony is not in the our future. Instead, read up on Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and how he damaged Italy nearly irreparably over the last fifteen years; pay attention to how France, Hungary, and Denmark are barreling full-force into their own Nazi revivals; get involved with local politics, the ACLU, or your favorite charity (if you don’t have one, find one). Rejoin that Berner Revolution I heard so much about this spring.  Show up at rallies and make your resistance visible. And for fuck’s sake, get off social media and get out- Twittering and posting to Facebook are not activism, they are political masturbation.  Do not allow your children and grandchildren to end up like the Austrian and German friends I have, who to this day bear the shame and guilt of their grandparents’ decisions.  Fascism is the proverbial boiled frog, and we need to scream from the rooftops that our American frog is boiling.

And, if you love Leslie Knope as much as I do, read this.

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An atheist’s prayer on election night

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Dear jeebus,

Please give me the strength to

  1. Get through today without projectile vomiting, or
  2. Requiring too much alcoholic soothing; and
  3. Prevent myself from strangling Brits who insist that the events of today require jokes, or god help us, their sage advice (TWO WORDS: BREXIT, MOTHERF*CKERS);
  4. Find my inner zen to forgive my fellow countrypeeps who have chosen to hate one woman more than love our country;
  5. Keep myself from hitting “refresh” on FiveThirtyEight.com until my fingers bleed;
  6. Allow myself to re-engage in American politics without the fetid stench of fascism and the smoldering remnants of our Constitution;
  7. Once again eat Skittles and Tic-Tacs without feeling morally compromised;
  8. Prevent myself from stabbing ignorant dumbf*cks who insist both candidates are “equally bad,” which is like being on an airplane, and when the flight attendant asks “Can I interest you in the chicken, or would you prefer a platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?” you ask how the chicken is cooked.

Also, please make Cinnamon Hitler go away.

Hallelujah and amen, sistah.nasty

Happy Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night/British 4th of July!!!

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It’s that November night again…our 2nd Guy Fawkes Night in London. I explained the history of this day last year, so forgive me if I don’t repeat my (brilliant) coverage of it again. However! More context has been added, as we visited York this summer, and had Sunday Roast at the ACTUAL FORMER HOME of Guy Fawkes himself. There’s nothing like the smell of roast chicken and treason in the morning, if you know what I’m sayin’.

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Matt, all bundled for Guy Fawkes Night

So unlike last year, when it was a balmy 60F, tonight was blisteringly cold. As in, I’m-not-sure-we-want-to-stand-around-outside-and-stare-at-the-sky cold.  (Apparently, while I was in Budapest, London decided to barrel full force into winter in my absence.) It’s flirting with freezing temps here, so for tonight’s Guy Fawkes fireworks, we BUNDLED. I was wearing long underwear underneath warmup tights, and a turtleneck underneath a sweatshirt…plus a warm coat with my trusty Harry Potter scarf and gloves, and an ear warmer on my head. And yet, I still lost the feeling in some of my fingers and toes. While I like the theoretical idea of winter- mulled wine, Christmas carols, snowflakes- I can do without the frigid reality.

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Enjoying mulled wine, fireworks, and numb fingers on Bonfire Night

But cold temperatures be damned- fireworks must be viewed. So we strolled/scurried/jogged-to-keep-warm for the two and a half miles up the towpath to Victoria Park. This year’s 2016 Guy Fawkes Fireworks were themed for the Great London Fire (which had its big anniversary this year). I’m not gonna lie, even in 30F temperatures, the fireworks were fantastic. The display led off to the music of the Clash’s “London Calling”…and then an entire metal diorama of London was set on fire to simulate the Great Fire of 1666.

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VIVA GUY FAWKES

We of course packed the requisite mulled wine and brandy, and did our best to stay warm in the midst of hundreds of people standing outside in a public park on a cold winter’s night.

So once again, the thanks of a grateful nation are upon a British domestic terrorist whose long-ago act now makes it respectable to drink heavily and blow things up on an otherwise dull November night.

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Budapest biz trip, done!

So now both the Women of Silicon Roundabout Convention is done, and as of yesterday, my weeklong business trip to Szeged and Budapest, Hungary is done! It was quite a productive, and dare I say fun, week- three of us from my team traveled down to our EPAM offices to present a new design solution to the dev and QA teams there. Color me very pleased that instead of a roomful of sausagefest, as it has been every time previously, the team now has several women. Progress, people!

Szeged is a two-hour drive from Budapest, so on Thursday afternoon we drove back to Budapest where two of us spent the night, and the other person chose to get right on an airplane (that is nuts, by the way…after a full day at the office, willingly traveling two hours by car, sitting for two hours in an airport, another two and a half hours on a plane, then ninety more minutes to London by train…a girl needs a break in a nice Budapest hotel, I’m just sayin’). Given that just two of us were checking into the hotel, the concierge assumed we were together, and upgraded us to a triple corner suite. Well, I should say he upgraded ME, because my colleague got stuck with a standard room. I was OK with this, as the gender pay gap would make us even, if you upgraded me five hundred more times. </cynical sarcasm>

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Why yes, the corner suite upgrade will be just fine, thank you

We had an amazing dinner at my favorite Budapest bistro, Kispiac Bisztro, where I celebrated a successful trip with a plateful of foie gras, pumpkin soup, Hungarian wine, and a decadent chocolate souffle. Again, the waiter assumed we were together, and brought two forks for the souffle. I kindly but firmly informed my colleague that aside from the professional line we’d cross if we were to share a dessert, I’d also stab him with my fork if he encroached on my souffle.

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Mmmm foie gras with berries and brioche, prepare to please me….

Before flying back to London, I spent Friday lunch with my amazing fellow Seattle expat friends D* and E* and their adorable daughter B*, who have lived in Budapest for several years. A trip to Budapest is always worth it if I can squeeze in time to visit them.

On Wednesday Matt and I are heading back to the airport, and flying to Seattle for ten fun-filled (but holy shit the schedule may kill me) days of seeing my amazing friends and (expanding) family, including our two new nieces. I hope to see many of you in person very soon…..

Tea, accidental art galleries, and stupid sculptors on a Sunday

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Note: I stole this photo from the Wellcome Collection’s website, because why not. And I forgot to take my own photo before eating all those cakes.

Today, we had afternoon tea at the Wellcome Collection, followed by a visit to their exhibit on London’s mental asylums. Why? Well, because why not. We were already there, we were too filled with tea and cakes to walk home, and the museum is free.  Little did we know that we’d learn some cool London trivia…as in, “Bedlam” was and is real, and was once located in our neighborhood. The term “bedlam” evokes horror films, and originated from London’s St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Mental Hospital…which in the Middle Ages was not a place you’d like to visit, nor be committed to. The hospital moved three times, and its second location is a building I’ve walked by endless times. I have often made dark eye-injury-related jokes about living so near this place. Weird.

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I managed to end up living by London’s most prestigious eye hospital, that was once the location of Bedlam in the 17th century.  Oh, the jokes just write themselves.

Bedlam (and I’m guessing they don’t like to be called that, much like how Phillip Morris Inc. insists their new name is “Altria Group”) is now located in some random outer London suburb I couldn’t care less about. Suburbs. Ick.  Anyway.

We then tried to visit the graveyard that housed Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son (because again, why not) but accidentally ended up at an art gallery located in a 19th century crypt. I blame London for locating “New St. Pancras Church” so perilously close to “Old St. Pancras Church.” But on the bright side, I finally got to see the St. Pancras caryatids up close, after eighteen months of walking or busing by them. Caryatids are columns sculpted in the shape of women (trivial side note: If they’re sculpted to look like men, they’re called “atlantids.” Trivia for the day, You’re Welcome.)  Despite their unique and historical value, I’ve snickered at them because they look like thick men…because the sculptor, John Charles Felix Rossi, didn’t bother to take the height of the ceiling into account when he sculpted the caryatids. So imagine everyone’s surprise when he shows up with his shiny new columns, and they were far too tall to fit. To compensate, he hacked their midriffs to stuff them in, and as a result, they’re a tad thick around the middle. Measure twice, cut once, people.

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The thick, mannish caryatids of the New St. Pancras Church

….and that is how we spent our autumnal Sunday in London today.

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Leaf-peeping or Matt-peeping?