Archive for the 'Living in London' Category

03
Mar
11

Monies, Websites, and The Guv

Lately, I’ve been a little preoccupied with personal finance.  Perhaps it’s just being financially secure and independent for the first time in my life or maybe it’s just the obsessive way I enjoy counting and goals.

Either way, I’m loving it.

As a slightly obnoxious gift to you all, scroll to the bottom of the post for my favorite internet finds on my road to having put away nearly $2k (is it okay for me to call it “two large”?) in the last two months and saving for my trip to Costa Rica:

Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t always been frugal or at least money-conscious.  The other day, I was contemplating with Gina on how we’ve handled money over the years, and she said that she probably wasn’t the best person in the world when it came to managing it.

The National Rail Logo - perhaps not coincidentally some backwards dollars

But, I disagree.  I’ve seen Gina go to bat for money in ways that would exhaust the average consumer.  Like the time she lobbied against the National Rail in England for months because an apparent ghost in King’s Cross lost our return tickets from Yorkshire (a great story on its own).

The woman is relentless.

But my favorite story by far was a joint effort when we railed for a £10 refund from a mini cab service in Islington run by a man known only as “The Guv.”

The day I moved into the synagogue out of sharing Gina’s room in Angel, we took a mini cab (for my American friends, this is a certified taxi service in England that is not the traditional black taxi car, but rather people in regular vehicles with licenses in their windows) to transport my luggage to Hackney.

Apparently Lenny McClean

The cabbie dropped us off relatively far away from where we were supposed to be (even though he had a GPS), and we ended up dragging my stuff all the way up Stamford Hill and then up the several flights of stairs to my room at the top of the house on our own, essentially laying waste to the extra funds we spent to take the damn cab.

When we went back to the cab agency (which was in walking distance of Gina’s flat) to request a refund for being dropped in the wrong damn place, we were basically told no, and that we’d have to take it up with “The Guv.”

We asked where he might be and the cryptic little Middle Eastern dude behind the counter lifted a shaky index finger to point to a closed, wooden door behind the desk.  “He ain’t here.”

Well, “ain’t here” pretty much sums up the Guv, because Gina wasn’t about to take no for an answer, and because it was on the walk into town, we made a point to pop in every time we were on the way to the tube, the movies, Mucho Mas for guacamole, or Starbucks for a taste of americana.

That door was never open.  Not once.  In a year, it was never open.

Also, the answer never changed.  Have to ask the Guv.  He ain’t here right now.

I just think that in light of my newfound expertise in the art of cherishing every penny, I’d really like that £10 back, but since we got so recognizable to the staff that they’d actually start to hide when we passed by after a while, it might be time to write it off.

And now for the websites:

Mint.com

This is my favorite.  It’s a free (FREE!) budgeting tool that pulls in all of your banking info, helps you create budgets and goals, and sends you emails when you buy too much white cheddar popcorn and you are $5 from the end of your grocery budget for the month and it’s only the 10th.  Highly recommend.

ING Direct

This is my new bank.  I’ll be done breaking up with BoA in the very near future, I think, but as of right now, I’m using BoA for all bill pay, putting $250 into a spending fund for groceries, gas, and all the etc. every two weeks, and everything else goes into my super handy categorized savings accounts (Globe Trotting, Emergency Fund, and Money to Invest).

Lending Club

This is peer-to-peer lending with a general annual return of about 10% (better than the stock market right now).  I’ve put in $250 just to see how it works.  I will report back in a month or two on the results.

My favorite money blogs –

Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, and I Will Teach You to be Rich

Happy saving!

15
Oct
09

Memories From my Front Stoop

The Green Space Across the Street from my House

The Green Space Across the Street from my House

In London, I lived at number 113,  Clapton Common.

I did not live in Clapham Common, which South of the River, and continually where NatWest sent my bank statements.  No, no, it was Clapton, compliments of Stamford Hill, a division of Hackney.  It was a winding stretch of road, cleaved in two by a big green space with benches and a murky pond where some particularly ugly swans liked to congregate, and I lived in the big red house comme synagogue wedged between the house with the smoke stack chimneys and what may or may not have been a mental hospital.

There are three steps leading to my front door.  At any given time, there may be a silver prius parked there, belonging to a Lithuanian boy named Vidas who provided our internet on the boarding house side of the synagogue, and a motorbike whose owner was always a mystery to me (but possibly belonged to Vidas’ brother, Edris).

There are four recycling bins on the left side of the drive, but only one garbage bin.  There is a stack of wood that will never be cleared away from the right side of the drive in the six months that I’m in residence.

Leave my house and walk for twenty minutes.  To the North, you’d find Finsbury Park and Manor House Station, to the South, you’d find a lovely little park called Springfield and the road to Hackney Proper, to the West, Stoke Newington and Islington a bit further on, and to the East there was Seven Sisters, which was where I caught the tube to work every morning.

My Neighbors

My Neighbors

I miss my little synagogue.  I miss stepping out on Saturday morning and having to dodge a game of kick-the-can in serious progress by a group of pre-pubescent Hasidic boys, or stepping in that evening and being able to hear chanting and catch a glimpse of something secret and ancient going on behind the door that led to the religious side of my house.

Only two of the people in my life ever saw my little synagogue. No one else will ever get the grand tour, and though I’ll never forget the key codes to get in the two front doors, never forget what it’s like to scale the winding staircase, or exactly how it felt to be in my bedroom as the heat toasted up, or as I pushed open the little window above my bed, I’ll probably never see or set foot in my old dwelling again.

The best I can do is share with you a few memories of those three front steps that have been hanging around the corners of my mind here lately, while I’m desperately trying to wish myself back in time.

Lights in the Rain

It Was Raining When I Left Oxford Street

It Was Raining When I Left Oxford Street

Early on after being hired by Digby Morgan, I got into the habit of walking back from the tube station instead of catching a bus.  It was about 30 minutes from Seven Sisters to my flat, but a nice walk after a full day sitting at a desk.  So be it if I occasionally had to dodge broken glass following either Arsenal or Tottenham games or if I was routinely harassed by the evangelist church group next to the tube station.

I bought a new coat with my first paycheck, a long overdue purchase as the temperature continued to plummet into the first winter of my life.  It’s gray, knee length, and pulls at the waist with a lovely A-line skirt.  It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made, and I loved the feeling of walking home in it, my black boots clack-clacking on the rain soaked pavement.

On this particular evening, it had been drizzling when I left work to dive into the tube and was still mildly coming down when I got to Seven Sisters.  However, just as I got too far away from the bus stop to turn back, it turned into a torrential downpour, sharp and rapid and out of character for the steady light shower that is London weather.

Luckily, I kept a little black umbrella in my bag at all times, and was prepared to meet the onslaught for the remainder of my walk.

It was Friday night, and come rain or shine, the neighborhood was trickling out of their homes toward temple, shower caps affixed over the men’s traditional black hats.

It was a series of high holy days and a temporary extension had been built onto the left side of the house to accommodate the extra worshipers.  The orange glow throbbing from it as I approached the house comforted me.  All I wanted to do was dash upstairs, change into some pj’s and make myself a big mug of hot chocolate, Friday night expectations be damned.

However, as I neared the driveway, out of the front door came barreling the rotund, Hasidic figure of my landlord, Asher.  He was swaddled in black, and had his shower cap firmly in place.  He stopped just short of colliding with me, looking breathless and red.

“Hey, Ash,” I yelled over the water slapping down around our feet, making to step around him.  “Nasty night.”

“Can you help me?” he shouted, looking frantic.  “I cannot do it.  I cannot.”

He looked so incredibly desperate, staring at me under my little umbrella while the rain drenched him through.

“What can I do?” I asked.

Without a word, he turned on his heel and marched away from me, down to the basement door at the righthand corner of the house, where I knew his office lay.

As ominous as this could’ve been, I followed anyway, shirking my umbrella and descending into the dank cement under rooms.  I couldn’t see a damn thing.

“The women will bring their children in strollers.  They cannot leave them outside in this.  But, no one can see in here,” he started.

This was a true statement.

“Can you turn the lights on?  I cannot, the sun has gone down.”

I felt so deflated with relief I almost laughed.  I assured him that I would and began to grope around for the switch.  He sounded pained, “… it’s to the left.  I can’t show you.”

I took off my gloves and continued to feel around the bare wall, praying I didn’t encounter a bug or anything similar until finally, the room was flooded with a wave of fluorescent illumination.

We stood there in relief for a few minutes, Asher breathing a huge sigh as his soaked side curls hung limply by his ears.  I assured him it was no problem and then slowly made my way back upstairs.  I was glad to have been of assistance, but as I mulled it over while sipping my hot chocolate, I wondered if I hadn’t committed some sort of religious cheat.

The storm didn’t last more than an hour.

White Capped Morning


Looking Left From my Front Door on a Frosty Morning

Looking Left From my Front Door on a Frosty Morning

On Another Friday, about a month later, I was tying my coat around my waist with my usual early morning grog, telling myself that all I needed to do was get through the day.

James and I had been dating for about two weeks and we were planning a weekend getaway to Oxford directly following work.  I had a bag all packed and placed in the center of my bed, ready for a snatch and go after work.  I pulled a hat down over my ears, as the weather had gotten noticeably frigid of late, and dashed down the stairs, running late as usual.

However, I ground to a full stop on the top stair of the house, nearly taking a giant spill and killing myself.  Spread out before me in a translucent white haze, was the first snow I’d seen in my life.

The Green Across the Street, No Longer so Green

The Green Across the Street, No Longer so Green

It welled up in me like a big, warm balloon, the impression of it.  It was barely a frost, but it was the first white morning of my life.  I stood paralyzed for a few minutes before deciding to drop  my things, tear up the stairs, and dig my camera out of my weekend bag.  I snapped a few blurry photos of the scene before finally heading out in a haze to work.

I’d hold it inside of me forever, the appearance of that feeble layer of winter clinging to the grass in the park and the roofs of the cars on the street.  I savored the smell of the bakery as I passed by, overwhelmed with the ambiance of the moment and underwhelmed with the fact that I was going to be late (again).

In the coming months, when I stood shoulder deep in the Alpine Snow in the mountains of France, I’d think that nothing had matched the thrill of that first sighting.

By the time I got to Oxford Street, all the snow had melted.

01
Oct
09

The Interview Blues are Better in London

The Crypt at St. Pancras

The Crypt at St. Pancras

There’s this vivid memory in the back of my mind that’s been playing over and over for the past few weeks – I’m sitting on stone steps inside the crypt at St. Pancras eating a Valentino sandwich from Pret a Manger while art nouveau light fixtures sizzle and glow behind me.  I’m completely despondent.  My life is in shambles. 

I’m wearing a high necked black muslin blouse, indigo dyed skinny jeans, and knee high black leather boots.  You’d never know that I was a month behind on rent, terrified of my only source of income, and had just had the worst job interview of my life.  The light fixtures in the background seemed sympathetic with their mosquito-zapper sounds and half hearted flickers.  The sandwich was going to forgo politeness and hold onto its perky flavor.
I’d gotten on the wrong bus when I left Oxford Circus, which is how I ended up in King’s Cross, and for some reason had decided to wander into a crypt.  The fact that the crypt was full of light instead of dead people was an unexpected surprise.  I wonder now where the hell the dead people were.  There was a stack of crumbled tombstones in a blocked off walkway in the catacombs. 
I’d gone in to interview at Digby Morgan with the highest of hopes, but the interview was way more intense than I’d bargained for, and my personality seemed to have fallen flat on its face with every single interviewer I’d met with (from a rota of four).  I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with myself or how I was meant to survive.  But, I was absolutely certain that I’d tanked that interview.
 
To top it off, the art fixtures were just awful.  I felt bad for the displaced dead people for the sake of something that wasn’t even good.  I finished my sandwich, collapsed onto a 436 (which is the right bus), and crawled back to my little room above a synagogue to fall asleep, knowing that Maggie’s was on the other end of consciousness, just revving up for new doses of danger and insanity.
 
Imagine how shocked I was when I woke up to the sound of my ancient, scotch-taped-together phone ringing.  Trying to ring … it sounded kind of like a Disney bluebird being held underwater by force.  It was Michelle.  She said she was impressed by my interview!  They wanted to have me back!  What the eff!
 
Obviously the story goes that I got the job.  The second interview presented me being very serious and not trying to make any jokes at all, desperate to be offered the position, then being dragged back into the main office to meet people I was going to immediately forget and told to show up on Monday, bright and early.
 
Imagine that.  I wouldn’t have to be deported for bankruptcy afterall!  And even better, my new job would be all about how to write a good resume, how to do well in an interview, and how to find the good jobs.  Little did I know AIG would collapse in the next three days, and Lehman Brothers would follow it before I started my shiny new job just in time to meet the influx of the recently unemployed.
 
So, here I am, in Tampa, crashing with my family because my savings went into that lovely lung infection I caught in Holland.  I’m struggling to find work, even though I almost got a kick ass job doing training media for Citigroup at $40k.  Lost out to a guy because he speaks Portuguese and the main client is Brazil.  Guess I can’t beat myself up about that too much.
 
My main motivation is to make enough money to get the hell back out of here, preferably back to London and interning at some amazing news network or magazine.  Being realistic is no fun.
 
The Building I worked in

The Building I worked in

But maybe I’m not desperate enough.  Maybe the need for work isn’t so urgent that I might starve or be homeless without it, and therefore, I cannot get it.   I’m not sure, but my desperation is slowly climbing due to just the stagnant nature of my day to day life, harassing recruiters (especially now that I know exactly how their game is played), and applying to jobs like mad.

 
There are always a few leads that seem promising, but I’m starting to lose my gusto, especially since, unlike with London, I have no motivation to really live my life here in Florida. 
 
Anyway, I should comfort myself with a look back at my first day at work in London.  I should remember punching in the password to get the door to open at Roxburghe House and taking the tiny, mirror panelled elevator up to the fifth floor, saying hi to Jenna at reception and being taken back to my new desk. 
 
I should remember how things fall into the places where they’re supposed to if you try hard enough.  But all I can remember tonight is how much I want to be back in my little room in London, going to sleep early because I have to head to Oxford Street in the morning.
23
Jul
09

London Nostalgia – The Era at Maggie’s

Sometimes I’m struck hard with missing London.  Not the city itself necessarily, though it is, for me, one of the rare pure loves I think we get in our lives, but of the time that’s gone now.  The six months I spent there that I’ll never get to replicate or return to.

This doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying myself where I am presently.  I’ve had a really great week so far, filled with days lounging by giant pool in the French Alpine Summer with a new friend, sipping champagne at a hotel opening at dusk whilst chattering about Cary Grant movies with new acquaintances, and attempting to find an active night life in this little series of villages that has transformed entirely with the arrival of warm weather.

But nothing compares to my months in London.

During those lazy autumn weeks, with a little job that was going nowhere and not paying very well besides, I was rather enjoying life despite the difficulties.

I worked three or four nights a week in Stoke Newington, and had taken easily to the job since there wasn’t much to it at all.  Every night offered some sort of unpleasant drama, but there were also so many good things that came from that experience, whether it was discussing Eastern European film with a Bulgarian barmaid named Lydia (who spent her days as a professional clown) over Greek take out in the wee hours, or joking around with the bands and slam poets and artisans of any variety who took over the bar in the basement any given weekend, there were real moments of enjoyment amidst that job.

Gina and Me in Hampstead Heath on a Wednesday

Gina and Me in Hampstead Heath on a Wednesday

Sure, running across the street wearing a tank top in the early winter wind, late at night, to purchase lemons and redbull from the vendor on the corner wasn’t ideal, nor was lugging up buckets of ice, pouring the same drinks for the same people over and over, and dealing with Maggie’s eternal belligerence, but nothing is all bad, and I’ve never regretted having that job.

Some nights, after many hours spent around a smoky table in the basement, sharing pita and stories from our various walks of life after-hours, I’d walk home (the five pounds Maggie had given me for a taxi secured safely in my pocket) with a smile on my face, and a bounce in my step, taking in the early dawn sweeping over Hackney and appreciating the sensation of having experienced something that maybe qualifies as once-in-a-lifetime.

During the days, I got to lazily explore North London.  Gina was equally unemployed and scraping by with a web writing job she had back in the states.  I can’t say either of us were trying desperately hard to find honest, grown-up, full time work as long as we could spend afternoons trying different bistros in Angel or taking trips to local parks or booking tickets to plays at Shakespeare’s Globe.

It was perfect and simple, but all the same, the dangerous atmosphere at Maggie’s was starting to get to me, especially after an incident in which her ex-husband came into the pub and back handed her into a wall of glass liquor bottles.  Not only that, but my funds were running dangerously low, and my monthly rent payment was coming up fast.

I was spending halfhearted afternoons at the BUNAC office, sending my CV any and everywhere to no avail, and scouring the office job postings on the wall.  My panic was increasing with every passing day, especially as Maggie was no longer able to give me little nightly bonuses due to the fact that she’d gotten drunk and fallen down a flight of concrete steps in my second week on the job, thus breaking her collarbone and three ribs.

She’d left the pub in the command of her friend Paul, which was fine most nights, but the money wasn’t coming in quite as well as it should’ve been.

One day, I got lucky.  As I was sitting at the table in the BUNAC office, taking note of all the recruitment agencies on the wall, one of the receptionists went up to the “Today’s Jobs” board to put up a new ad.

I flew over there immediately and took stock of the position.  £9/hr (not great, but better than most of the jobs on that wall) to work as an administrator for an HR company in the West End.  Call Michelle.

So I did.  I called Michelle and left her a message, then immediately forwarded along my CV, then trudged home, hoping that I hadn’t had yet another fruitless afternoon in Farringdon.

Michelle called me the same afternoon, and I scheduled in an interview in two days.  Ecstatic at the prospect of interviewing for an actual job, I called Gina, and we agreed to meet up in Angel and see a movie to celebrate, since she too had received an invitation to a job interview in Central London.

We saw The Duchess and had a customary Wagamama dinner.  Funny how in retrospect, we celebrated a possible end to our poverty by spending money we desperately needed to keep in reserve.

25
Apr
09

Job Hunting in Stoke Newington

The sub-borough separating Gina’s flat in super trendy Angel from mine, in the heart of Hasidic culture, was a bohemian division called Stoke Newington.  

For me, it was the closest area for pubs, bookstores, a big family park, farmer’s markets, local arts, and a larger (better) supermarket chain than my local Somerfields.
For residents of Angel, it was a place best avoided, as it embodied all the dirtier sides of modern London, with its large, blue-collar Irish population, its infamy in the cocaine trade, and the innumerable cigarette-fogged basements where slam poets, folk bands, political focus groups, and everything in between met with no accounting for the style, privilege, and overall propriety of Islington’s artistic standards.
Since I was desperate for any sort of part time work, I knew Stamford Hill wasn’t an option.  My little division of Hackney was almost entirely residential, claiming only one supermarket, a Dominos, and a few privately owned bakeries and kosher butcher shops.  There were a few other attempts at industry, including the creepiest toy store I’ve ever seen, full of whirring and bobbling ancient toy mechanisms grinning at you vacantly from their perches in front of the dusty shop windows, and a wedding dress boutique with options so comically horrible that it was one of the first stops I’d make when someone came to visit my side of town.
Stoke Newington was the obvious option for me, and (perhaps shockingly) the least scary of the sub-divisions in the other three directions – Finsbury Park, Hackney Wick, and Seven Sisters.  I’d spent little time exploring the area, having seen it most from bus windows coming to and from Gina’s, but there were lots of shops and pubs that were probably a good starting ground for my CV distributing spree.
I decided I shouldn’t even spend the 90p on a bus ride, and just walk the 30 minutes or so between my flat and the main hub of Stoke Newington.
I tried to dress relatively professionally, which perhaps wasn’t the most strategic move for walking around London, and set out for Stokie’s main road, which wasn’t the high street, but rather the Church Street which led from the famous Abney Park Cemetery to the big Tudor steeple at Clissold Crescent attached to a renovated church called St. Mary’s.
On the way, I dropped off my CV at a pub called The Bird Cage (not what you’re picturing), one called The Three Crowns, which I later found out was a creepy incestuous pub operation that stiffed “outside hires,” and a small organic market.  
I’d always intended to drop off my CV at Maggie’s.  The little pub had caught my eye every time I took the bus home from Gina’s, mostly because it looked more like an American bar than a British pub, and it occasionally seemed to sport bouncers or people charging admission for the blaring music rattling the glass doors (I’d later find out, these were just squatters having a two hour cigarette break at the table Maggie put outside).
In the afternoon, Maggie’s didn’t have the same glow-y bar effect it sported at night, but I noticed a petite blonde woman sweeping the doorstep out front, and decided to try my luck.
“Excuse me,” I said.  “Are they hiring?”
She looked up, leaned back on her broom and squinted at me.  When she spoke, it was in a pleasant County Cork accent.  “Yep. You have experience?” 
“A bit,” I answered truthfully, holding out my last CV.  I wasn’t sure if serving cocktails at Universal Studios was really relevant to pulling pints at a pub in London.  I’d done one other trial night at a different pub, so I at least sort of understood the concept of pouring a Guinness at this point.
“Okay,” she said, taking the CV but not looking at it, “come back at 10 for a trial.”  She gave a long appraising look to my white button down and knee-length black skirt.  “Er … wear whatever ye like,” she said.  “It’s casual.”
She immediately went back to sweeping without looking up again. 
I took the hint, and immediately headed home to fish out my most casual jeans and a tee shirt for that night.  I hadn’t asked if the trial was paid, how much she paid anyway, what hours were available, or any of the usual employment rigamarole.  I never ended up getting a straight answer about any of that anyway, but I’m not sure I would have at the forefront, even if I’d asked.
The truth was, I’d later learn that Maggie probably never looked at my CV and she likely didn’t care how much experience I had.  She needed a weekend barmaid who’d be nice to look at for the gig crowds and she knew that my American accent made me a conversation piece.  I wish I’d known that my first night.  It would’ve helped a lot with my nervousness.
So, bundled in my thin white overcoat, which was progressively becoming insufficient for the dropping temperatures, I splurged for the bus to Stoke Newington that night.  I even headed out a bit early, hoping to make a good impression.  
To your generic office drone type, my next few weeks at Maggie’s would likely look like a pointless smudge on my career record, a waste of valuable time sliding Kronenburgs across the bar to dead-end laborers and being paid a pittance, but, oh the things I learned over the next month.
A waste of time, it might have been, but looking back on the experience objectively, I do not regret it.
22
Apr
09

When I got to London – Pt. 2

I remember waking up one afternoon to the gray haze of an autumn drizzle glowing in through my tiny window.  I remember twisting onto my back, tangled in my new red sheets to stare at the distorted reflections of dripping water on my ceiling, and thinking about how I’d adjusted so far to my new home.

Living with me in the synagogue were an assortment of other 20-somethings from around Europe, including a Polish girl named Aga whose room was across the hall from mine.
Aga had been living there for about six years and had spent the whole time working in customer service for Eurostar.  Though she seemed to like me, she had an astounding temper, and would frequently scream things in Polish and slam doors if something displeased her.  She mostly seemed to take issue with the Eastern European couple on our floor, which I resolved was better than her taking issue with me.
As far as the job hunt went, I’d been shortlisted for an editorial position at an independent film company, but was never even called in for an interview.  I’d also registered at a media recruitment agency on Poland Street, which also never amounted to anything.  So, needless to say, I was feeling pretty dejected.
A few halfhearted trips to the BUNAC offices to look through the job postings, or to send out my CV to internet listings were equally fruitless, and perhaps the truth was that I was enjoying the unemployed life a bit too much to really throw myself into it.
Gina and I met frequently to take days to places like Hampstead Heath, where we’d lay in the grass, secluded in the little glades that dot the massive reserve, and watch the clouds go by; or to sit at a fountain in Hyde Park with cheese and crackers and sink into our respective reading material.
London was golden and red with autumn, and the call of the little park across from my flat, or taking a day to explore the South Bank or trek to the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe to do research, were just too seductive.  That is, until my funds started running incredibly short.
What I resolved that afternoon, staring at my ceiling after a mid-Wednesday nap, was that I needed to find anything to supplement my income while I was still searching for media work.  
I pulled myself out of bed and into a pair of waterproof boots, threw open my umbrella, and headed out to take the tube to Farringdon, where I would print out a handful of CV’s and march up and down the high street until I found gainful employment.
What I stumbled onto the next day would dramatically affect my London experience, and put me into some of the most terrifying and exceptional situations I’ve ever been in.  
Obviously, I had no idea what would follow when I approached a little Irish woman sweeping a pub doorstep in Stoke Newington the next day.  
Her name was Maggie.
15
Apr
09

When I got to London – Pt. 1

The last I left this blog, I was about to board a second plane into the unknown with about £1000 and two suitcases.  
I spent my last night in Florida in a hotel room on International Drive with  my mom, whom I’d been arguing with non-stop since missing the initial flight, and her girlfriend, Diane.
Unable to sleep that night, I left the hotel room to walk around the cheesy, resort-style pool, an area decorated with a bunch of over-groomed palm trees, strategically lit water, and ping pong tables.  I sat on a plastic beach chair, staring out at the water with a mixture of blind fear and excited apprehension.  I knew I was making the right decision, terrifying as it may have been.
My mother and I managed to make nice before I went through the international terminal at the Orlando airport the next afternoon, and parted happily at the gate. Somehow, I managed to walk with composure through the boarding gate and onto the plane, right to the emergency row, where I’d spend the next eight hours chatting with my neighbor, a fun Canadian girl off to visit family, and being repeatedly bumped into by drunken first-classers wanting the toilet.
Gina met me at the airport, looking as sunny and fresh as I looked haggard and exhausted.  We boarded the Heathrow tube and took it to a subdivision of Islington called Angel, where she’d recently moved in with a seemingly-normal couple comprising of a Cuban man and a German woman with a decidedly bohemian disposition.  Refusing to let me nap, Gina immediately started emailing potential landlords, and pushing me to put on something warmer so we could go get dinner.
I know now that we were at the Spaghetti House in Covent Garden, but at the time, everything was just a blur of total exhaustion.  I had some pasta dish I probably couldn’t afford then allowed Gina to literally steer me down the street, back onto the tube, and then mercifully, into bed.  
The next morning, after figuring out how to activate my timewarp of a cell phone, we started to look at apartments.  What we saw ranged from the terrifying (half a room with a washing machine inside shared with four Eastern European guys), to simply uncomfortable (bedsit with an elderly gay man in a renovated council flat in Whitechapel, who had only a bathtub with no shower, and required his flatmates to also be his friends).  

I’m not sure when it registered that we’d hit gold upon finding my home-to-be.  It definitely wasn’t an instant thing as we tentatively walked through the largest Hasidic community in Europe, even passing by a yellow house with a massive Menorah affixed to the front wall, or when we met my future landlord, a portly Hasidic man named Asher, who shook my hand, even though I was later to realize it was a taboo for him to touch the flesh of a female he wasn’t related to.

The house was a duplex, half of which was used as a synagogue, particularly for Sabbath worship (which is Saturday in Jewish culture).  My room was located at the top of the narrow boarding-house division, up a flight of very stereotypical crooked stairs, with red ermine carpeting that may have been there for the past hundred years.
On the top floor, we had a small kitchen with a tiny wooden table, suited for one or two people, and two bathrooms.  My room came with a desk, a television, chest of drawers, and a twin sized bed with no bedding.  My window faced only the roof of the adjacent house, and there was a working sink tucked behind the door with a small medicine cabinet.  It was perfect.
I agreed to move in the following day.



June 2017
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