This is me admitting defeat: in one hour, there is one month and three days until my birthday, and according to my countdown, there are thirteen posts left to do to make my goal from last year. That simply isn’t going to happen. Better luck next time, Leah.
One year ago last night (as in, the first Sunday after the end of the holidays) last year, at around this exact minute (9:44 PM), I was sobbing over a half-eaten bag of Starburst to Lindsay via FaceTime, telling her how much I miss home and several other things that are slightly too embarrassing to recount publicly. I was a homesick, SAD- and post-holidays-blues-stricken, hormonal mess. It wasn’t pretty.
I’m generally a happy person, and for me blogging has always been the place to be funny, witty, and possibly a bit offensive. I’ve avoided talking about breakups, fights, and other gloomy times because airing dirty laundry on the internet is kind of weird. And, to be more precise, I’ve gone through much of life being blissfully unaware of the realness of the depression that creeps up alongside winter days and pulls you down into a hole of takeaway Indian food, chocolate, and Modern Family episodes. But as it turns out, it’s a real, and it’s draining.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few weeks grappling with homesickness. Like my spectacular New Years Day hangover, it comes in waves, and I’m never sure when it’s going to hit. I’m fine much of the time, but Sunday evenings in East London leave me longing to be on the couch my parent’s house (don’t tell them I admitted that) eating Thai food while Rita tries to get my attention, and walking through London in January makes me crave the beautiful architecture of the Upper West Side and the sunset over the Hudson reflecting off of the admittedly ugly Trump Towers. I miss my friends and my parents, and it’s somehow harder now that I’m not a student anymore, that I can’t just hop home for three weeks to catch up with everyone and to spend lazy afternoons in Sheep’s Meadow.
I’ve had the (mis)fortune of catching the tail end of whatever Fresher’s Flu was floating around Wolfson Court this weekend and am hanging out in bed on this fine, grey morning in London. I’ve gotten through half of the December issue of Vogue (which even included a whole three pages with words) and have put my sad, dried-out teapot back in action with a round of chai and a second round of fresh lavender infusion. It’s almost like a day at the Whitechapel Spa, complete with the soothing buzz of the Overground twenty meters away and the smell of frying onions and curry from every single apartment in my block.
I realized that I haven’t actually spent a full day alone since early September. I’ve miraculously managed to become a working girl, and The Austrian and I have successfully maintained a weekend relationship ever since I left Cambridge and he returned from the Holy Land of Sachertorte. I work five days per week, and then either head straight to the train station on Friday and return Sunday night, or meet up at the train station at around dinnertime on Fridays. The arrangement has worked pretty well so far, but I’ve definitely forgotten what it’s like to have more than one hour at a time for myself. I thought I would have solved world peace by now (12:30 PM), but so far all I’ve managed is a healthy dose of Facebook scanning and a thorough debate with myself about whether or not I really need to put on pants today.
American pants. Not British pants. Relax.
Pictures, top to bottom: Attempting the Nobel Prize in blogging from bed; The Austrian and me from last weekend after discovering our new favorite pub in London (I’m not telling…); and an evening of British coworkers learning how to handle winter in what should have been the location for the cheesiest Love Actually scene.
Today marks one year since I arrived in the UK, after spending a week in Ireland at the end of last September, and then moving onto the ubiquitous bubble that is Cambridge. I have to admit that it’s a bit strange that it’s been over a year since I left the glass box full of lawyers and summer happy hours on the Hudson, but who can argue with eating dinner in Harry Potter gowns and punting in with bottles of champagne?
I mean, it wasn’t all glamorous. There was also lousy canteen food, British weather, and buildings full of engineers. But according to an email I got at lunchtime today, I’ve officially survived and will be wearing a hood and gown and kneeling in front of the Praelector while holding his fingers and getting my picture taken in just a few weeks time.
It’s amazing though, how quickly a year flies by. This is the first year in several that I was in the same place (more or less) the whole time, and the juxtaposition of what I was doing exactly one year ago is that much stronger. As I write this, the night before I’ll publish it (sometimes I don’t procrastinate, but this is definitely rare), one year ago I was packing up my suitcase at the house of the brother of a family friend in the suburbs of Dublin, getting ready for a horrifically early flight into London the next morning. It feels like a lifetime, yet at the same time I can remember the details as though it happened yesterday. I still remember arriving at Wolfson Court, managing to get lost, and being very disappointed at the idea of spending a year in a single bed (that never changed). I remember having to buy my bedding in town, and then haul it back through St. John’s, again getting lost because Cambridge is actually not really so intuitive and Wolfie is a deceptively long walk from town when carrying a full bed in two bags. I remember meeting the girls who would become my best friends at Cambridge, and being introduced to a guy with a particularly intense gaze who, I would then find out, was my next door neighbor and happened to have a penchant for the whole “girl next door” thing. I got lost on my way to my first lecture at my faculty, and asked a girl with dyed red hair, and so that friendship was born. I went to a Gatsby party (of course), and I flew to D.C. for the most exhausting weekend of my life, and some pretty awful Halloween costumes. There were two crazy Italians and a tunneling Austrian and a friendship born out of a Christmas market excursion and a fully cooked Italian feast. For whatever reason, I got into my head that I would actually enjoy waking up at 5 AM to go row, and so two amazons and a midget came to life. I spent a month at home, a week in Vienna, and a week discovering that SPF 20 might not be quite enough to prevent an abundance of mid-life skin damage on the Sardinian coastline. I studied, talked about genocide, watched people wonder if I was slightly insane, and I job hunted.
And now here I am, almost a year later, sitting on my bed in East London. It’s not so much that a year has passed and that I’m celebrating its anniversary, rather that so much was packed into that year that it makes my head spin. I haven’t stayed in one country for this long since the end of 2011, and while I can’t say that I feel completely at home yet here, it’s come a long way. I’ve never been good at making decisions about where to live, and I’m not sure what my expiration date in England will be, but I can definitely say that it’s been the best year of my life so far. Thank you to everyone who has made this new experience in a new country so wonderful.
There’s something to be said for having grown up in Manhattan. And the South Bronx, parts of Brooklyn, and a tiny bit of Queens (I think). People from the West Village are exempt from this. I’m not being snobby, it’s nothing about tourists flocking to the Greatest Place on Earth, and no comments about Bridge & Tunnel people. There’s no denying that NYC is a great place to grow up: endless things to do, new restaurants all over the place, Central Park, enough museums to last a lifetime, and even zoning officials who are kind enough to keep us from getting sunburnt. The food is good, the drinks are good, the sunset is spectacular, and I’m sure the sunrise is nice too but that’s on the East Side, so who knows. Anyways, NYC is great. But growing up there provides one huge disservice that, in some ways, lasts a lifetime.
Finding your way around Manhattan is like doing second grade arithmetic.
Seriously, Manhattan must be the easiest city to navigate in the world. The entire island is built out of blocks. Literally out of perfectly sized, proportionate, numbered blocks.* Sure, learning the names of the avenues (apart from all the way east) takes some time, but at least they’re almost entirely parallel (I realize that Broadway is an exception to this, but still). But generally, navigating Manhattan requires approximately as much effort as getting a cat to run into a wall using a laser pointer.
And so, having spend the past five years bouncing between five cities in lovely, classical, old Europe, I’ve discovered that spending seventeen years wandering around Manhattan left me severely ill-prepared for navigating cities that were built around things like cathedrals and rivers large plazas and every other characteristic of European cities (unlike Manhattan, which is built around … something, I’m sure, but no one knows what). Because as it turns out, cities with a historic center point don’t have straight roads.
It’s not that they’re designed specifically to confuse tourists, though I often can’t help but wonder if that’s the case. It’s more that the streets appear to be going straight for the most part, but they actually curve a bit. Not a lot, but enough that, well, you’re not going straight. Intersections don’t happen at ninety degree angles, and making a left because you’re headed north and you need to go west can just as easily take you backwards.
That’s the other part of the problem: reasoning your way somewhere will get you to where you need to go eventually, but it certainly won’t be quick. In Manhattan, unless you can walk through buildings, the quickest route is based almost entirely upon which light is green when you arrive at the corner. Here, the quickest route requires a trip to Google Maps to check which roads actually make up the shortest distance. At home, in theory, the straightest line can be the quickest way (again, provided that the traffic lights are on your side). Across the pond, the straightest line is usually the slowest way – the quickest way requires turns left, right, up, down, and I think I’m going to invest in a hoverboard. And of course, some of those roads will be one-way, which is challenging to those of us on a bike (because Europe and hipsters and baguettes and stuff).
Moral of the story: I apologize to all friends who’ve had to wait for me at cafes or bars because I got lost on the way. I know I’ve been living on this side of the pond for years, but this is the last thing that I just can’t seem to get used to.
*The West Village is entirely exempt from this post.
I’m not sure who I’m trying to kid here. I’m not really leaving Cambridge. The Austrian is moving a whole 20 meters across the courtyard to the other side of the building, so I’ll being spending every other weekend of the coming year having a different perspective of the same place.
I’ve managed to find a room in an apartment in London that is cheaper that my room in Cambridge … which can be explained by its tiny kitchen and lack of any common room whatsoever. But it’s a corner room that has a double bed and gets lots of light, so I can’t really complain. It’s also about 7 minutes walking from Brick Lane, which means that there’s no shortage of hipsters, cats, and hipsters with beards the size of cats. Also good coffee and not a single store that sells brand new clothing, because pre-gentrification is a state of fashion.
The move itself was tough. Not because I have too much stuff; a good round of car tetris and some Russian willpower got everything down to London (except for my bike) in one trip in a relatively small car. That part was pretty seamless. But the ten and a half months I spent in B2 is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since the Spring of 2011, when I was still in the trailer park in The Middle of Nowhere, CT. B2, as much as I hated that it was a ground floor room with a single bed, became mine. It came with built-in friends/sisters, a boyfriend next door, and a canteen down the hallway. Living there forced me to socialize and forced me to get to know people. It had a common room, and it was about two minutes from a city full of other students, for better or for worse. And as I was leaving Cambridge on Tuesday, it hit me that it’s entirely likely that I’ll never again live in that setting – surrounded by academics. Not completely, at least. For the rest of my life, I’ll have to put effort into making friends; they won’t just be handed to be in the form of an apartment building full of people in their mid-twenties. And the chances of having my mornings brightened up everyday by someone waving through my window are pretty low.
But now that I’m actually here, in this bright room with a double bed halfway between Little North Africa and Brick Lane, it’s not that bad. I have a goal, which is nice, so I’m not just floating around doing nothing (someone hire me please?). I can roll over more than once when I sleep before I hit anything. There’s no towns vs. gowns dichotomy here, which is nice. And, realistically, I get to have my own life, finally. There’s no cleaning service in this apartment, but that also means that there’s no one yelling at 8 AM every Monday/Wednesday/Friday. All in all, it’s pretty good.
It helps that I left Cambridge at a low. As in, I left Cambridge in August, when the city is more populated by ghosts of academia past than actual people. The students all go home, the city is empty, and it’s actually rather depressing. So it was a good time to get away from there, to come and find a new place to explore. The change in scenery has made me more productive (please, please hire me?), the coffee is better, and finallyfinallyfinally I’m in a real city full of real people. I mean, I’ve been talking about this for ages. A year ago, I was convinced I would be back in NYC the minute I finished up in Cambridge. Now I’m in London, same idea, but free healthcare and shittier beer.
Anyways, I guess it could be a lot worse. I know I have to move on from the student life at some point, so I suppose that this is part of that journey. At least I’ll be happy and caffeinated. Also, the cat cafe is ten minutes away, so if anyone wants to send me a belated birthday present of all of the Allegra in the world, that’d be very much appreciated.