Deep thoughts

As I waited for the 55 Wednesday night, an Out of Service 55 passed by and it made me wonder: do Out of Service buses always travel back to the depot along their usual route so as not to confuse people on the street by having a rogue number 19 (for example) heading up Shoreditch High Street?

Stumbled upon in London

First in an occasional series.

Magma Books, Clerkenwell

What it is: Gorgeous and cool design store – mostly books, but also design-y gifts and cards. Started by a gutsy couple just as online bookselling was taking off. Small, but everything in it is just right if you’re interested in this sort of thing. Places like Magma Books remind me why well-curated small shops survive in a world of high street chains and online megastores.

Coveted: Graphic 10 – Taking a Line for a Walk, Drawing from Life: The Journal As Art, Who Tall Are You?

How encountered: It’s a few minutes’ walk east on Clerkenwell Road from my office.

Little Hanoi, Shoreditch

What it is: A cluster of cheap and delicious Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road.

How encountered: Out with work friends.

Finding accommodation in London

[Originally posted on the Fletcher INTERNet]

Just to record some London accommodation ideas in case they might be of use to someone else sometime. It’s great reading everyone’s blog entries!

I’m house-sitting/-renting about a mile east of Karl Marx’s grave in north London. Lucked into this arrangement through sending an e-mail to csr-chicks, a Yahoo! group for women, and men, working in fields related to corporate social responsibility. (There’s also a much less active csrblokes.)

There must be similar listservs for other fields, and the advantage of finding accommodation this way is a sort of immediate trust that comes from shared circles. You also meet interesting people: the woman who owns the house I’m staying in is setting up a research project in Cornwall on global post-mining economic regeneration. The sustainable development issues surrounding the mining industry – where companies come in, mine for ten or thirty years, and get out, leaving the earth depleted and the community unemployed – are fascinating and something I’d like to learn more about.

Two useful accommodation websites, both free to use, are:

  • gumtree.com. Lots and lots of short-term sublets in all price ranges and locations, probably because of the site’s origins as a way for Australian/NZ/South African working holiday-makers and backpackers to share info. Here I learned about “dossing.” A dosser is someone who just wants a roof over his or her head at minimum cost and pays £20-50 a week for couch or floor space in a big shared house ($36-90 at the current stomach-clutching exchange rate of £1 = $1.82).
  • moveflat.com. Biggest section is London but they cover all other major UK cities along with Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, Milan, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Melbourne, Sydney… Mostly longer-term flat and houseshares, but has a section on sublets. Nice interface and search filter with criteria such as “Washing machine” and “Hate football.”

Gumtree.com had lots of ads from folks who were going away on vacation for a week or two or three and were looking to make a little extra cash by subletting their room or flat. This could be an unusual, homey, low-cost accommodation option for anyone visiting London, officially now the world’s second most expensive city (thanks for the link Stephanie… sigh). £100 to stay in Notting Hill for a week, anyone?

And there’s always one of the London university student halls of residence. These generally offer central locations, shared bathrooms and kitchens, and other amenities such as broadband internet access or music practice rooms.

As far as I know the University of London halls – University College, LSE, Imperial, King’s, etc. – charge by the night, so work out too expensive if you’re staying for longer than a week. Good, relatively central options for internship-length stays are the London Metropolitan University halls:

  • Cass and Claredale Halls of Residence, Bethnal Green, east London. Good location, nice rooms at least from the photos, and at just £66-84 a week, I probably would have stayed here if the house-sit hadn’t come along.
  • Other London Metropolitan halls, Holloway and Tufnell Park, north London

Love Realistically

[Originally posted on LJ and then in the Fletcher Ledger]

This fall as we rode the 9 uptown from the NY Fed site visit to the Microfinance panel, Roberto looked out onto the subway platform at a Dharma & Greg poster and said wistfully of Jenna Elfman, “She is my impossible love.”

That got me thinking about my impossible love: actor Colin Firth. The passionate intelligence. The reserve that gives way to slow-burning charisma and a boyish smile to die for. The agonized dive into the ancestral pond in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice… Enough, I’ll spare the Fletcher community and say simply that last November I hightailed it down to Harvard Square with Huria and Das to see Colin’s latest film, Love Actually.

Unfortunately he’s not in it as much as I would have liked, because it’s an ensemble piece starring a whole passel of Anglo-American A-listers including Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, and one Hugh Grant as a wholly unbelievable Prime Minister who falls for his tea lady (Martine McCutcheon of EastEnders). There are also some great cameos by Rowan “Mr. Bean” Atkinson, Denise Richards and – especially – Billy Bob Thornton, who raised a laugh from the entire theater upon his first perfect appearance.

Naturally, Love Actually is about love, with ten or so loosely intertwined vignettes. The advances of a sexy receptionist come between a middle-aged husband and wife. A couple fall in love while working as stand-ins in a hardcore porn film. A grieving widower encourages his young stepson to go after his unattainable classmate. And so forth. All are in some way driven by the irresistible tension of unspoken feeling.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two modern-day screenwriters whose names bring their particular filmic worldview instantly to mind. One is Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation and Being John Malkovich). The other is the director of Love Actually, Richard Curtis, whose past films Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and (as producer) Bridget Jones’s Diary are known for their lightly poignant (or manipulative, detractors say) romances and a Platonically clean and candy-colored view of London. It’s the British analogue to the Manhattan of a Meg Ryan movie: all red phone booths, hidden gardens, quirky markets and cosy caramelized onion dinner parties. I love it unashamedly, and my expectations were high.

Well – I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. The film’s very funny, and Huria and I got to enjoy five (5) very attractive male actors. But the sheer number of mini-plots means that most of the storylines don’t have room to develop, and so you’re not quite sure why you should care that these people finally did or didn’t get together. When Harry Met Sally or Pride and Prejudice work so well because it just takes so bloody long for the protagonists to get it on, during which time you come to believe that they really have fallen in love, warts ‘n’ all. My beloved Colin does his best as a heartbroken English novelist who falls in love with a young Portuguese woman before they are ever able to understand each other’s language, but it’s hard to root for them when they’re competing for attention with sixteen other lovers.

In the end the most moving stories were those that stuck firmly in the realm of the believable. It really is the probable, not the impossible, love that satisfies. Just ask Roberto, who married his real-life sweetheart over winter break.