Category Archives: reminiscing

Let’s Talk About AlunaGeorge’s “Body Music”

alunageorge

Today, the London duo that is AlunaGeorge (Aluna Francis and George Reid) dropped their much-anticipated album, Body Music. I credit this stellar playlist by DonRaphaelAli on 8tracks for turning me on to them. It’s slinky, sexy and got me through most of this winter and frigid spring. Dare you not to adore it, especially if James Blake, Ghost Poet and The Weeknd happen to live pretty high on your list. “Your Drums, Your Love” is the song that got me hooked:

I have trouble describing their work without over-describing it. Let’s just say that there’s something  gorgeous and vulnerable about what they’re doing. Maybe they play in a key that resonates with certain folks particularly and I’m lucky enough to be one of them. My impression of their work, and popular reaction to it, is that it’s delightfully delicious and digestible.

I read today in Lorrie Moore’s stunning short story, People Like That Are the Only People Here, that “The trip and the story of the trip are always two different things. The narrator is the one who has stayed him but then, afterward, pressers her mouth upon the traveler’s mouth, in order to make the mouth work, to make the mouth say, say, say. One cannot go to a place and speak of it, one cannot both see and say, not really. One can go, and upon returning make a lot of hand motions and indications with the arms.  The mouth itself, working at the speed of light, at the eye’s instructions, is necessarily struck still; so fast, so much to report, it hangs open and dump as a gutted bell. All that unsayable life! That’s where the narrator comes in. The narrator comes with her kisses and mimicry and tidying up. The narrator comes and makes a slow, fake song of the mouth’s eager devastation.” (Best American Short Stories: 1998, p.207 – 208)

Is your heart swollen yet?

I hate to admit that Moore may be onto something there; cultural writing and critique very often falls into the echo-chamber category. Very few cultural critics and ambassadors manage to bring original insight to the table, and seem to chatter only for themselves.

With bands like AlunaGeorge, which are currently in that buzzy phase, I hesitate to say much for exactly this reason. My advice: get the album and listen for yourself. While you’re at it, take a gander at the below tracks for some more beautiful work. Then get on to a bit of your own sonic explorations.

1. Cyril Hahn’s remix of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”

Just yes.

2. Open, by Rhye

My March and April were entirely about Rhye’s album Woman, and this song particularly. The entire album is intricate, sensual, fleeting and forever. The video takes away from the song in a major way, so I didn’t include it. It’s here, if you’re interested.

Here also is a longer set of Rhye songs, courtesy of the FADER:

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xx

kls

The power of open-mindedness

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From my professional blog, but I think it works both places.

Especially now, laissez les bon temps rouler!

the girl

reflecting pool

electroscope

It’s an appropriate, though arguably belated, time to reflect. Since I’m looking forward, I find myself also looking back, and I’m amazed at all that happened and that I accomplished this year.

Arguably the biggest thing that happened was that I went out of the country and traveled a little bit around Europe. While many people younger than I am have managed to travel the world, this was my first opportunity. I lived in London and took the train to Brighton and traipsed through over Cornwall, all in England. I saw Paris twice and Dijon once, and learned a few choice French phrases. Italy struck me in shades of gold, and I swooned in Venice and in Rome. And in effervescent Spain, I wandered in Seville, sunned in Barcelona, played in Toledo, melted in Madrid and danced in Alcala. It was an enchanting time.

This year, I also read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin and about 20 other books, ranging from The Omnivore’s Dilemma to Mrs. Dalloway to All Over But the Shouting. I watched movies I’ve been meaning to and wrote, though not as much as I’d hoped creatively and more than I wanted to academically.

I also moved into my first big-girl house and had many dinner parties that I’ll remember forever. Floating gold candles and rustic soup and pumpkin carving and wine and lots-lots-lots of Miguel.

It was a year for falling in love and in fatuation; I think I’ve managed it fifteen times at least. But I’m getting smarter about it, it seems, and that’s the main thing. My friendships have all been strengthened, too. With dear friends, new and old, this year has been a loved one.

In this year, I know that I’m going to California, and I may decide to stay. Or I might make the jump to NYC, the mecca of the young. If I can, I’ll wind up back in London, but that’s a long shot, my dears. I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from University, and I’m pretty proud of that. After graduation, I’m off to another phase of this life. I have no idea yet what it will hold, but I reckon no one really knows anyway.

I know what I want to be, but I don’t know any better how to get there. As I said when I was a child, I want to be a traveling artist.  And an explorer, an adventurer. I’m stepping out into the great wild, and taking it all one happy step at a time!

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laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

that time we got lost in a hospital

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Late January, 2012.

In the waning Saturday afternoon, Tony asked me if I wanted to go for a walk with him towards the river and back.  Along the way, we’d stop by his new office, where he’d be starting work next week, and take some pictures of this old city new to us. We ended up in St. Thomas’ Hospital on the opposite side of the Thames, lost and laughing.

Standing in front of the double glass doors, looking up a flight of steps at the building that stood between us and the Thames, illusions of general sensibility came tumbling down. Who tries to navigate a city they don’t know without a map or even phones that work? Us, that’s who. To our right was a truck loading dock and to our left, the street we’d wandered down in a neighborhood we weren’t dying to delve back into. Not sure how we’d gotten where we were, we weren’t really sure how to get out.

By the time we’d gotten near enough to see the water, thirty minutes earlier, my sense of direction had evaporated completely. In search of the elusive office, we walked over a bridge I never found again, past a cafe I did try to find again and couldn’t, and backtracked to find it down I street I hadn’t initially seen. Not that either of us really cared. Turns out we’re great at getting turned around and keeping humors up.

We watched people come in and out of what seemed to be the back doors of  St. Thomas’. We watched no one walk up or down the street we’d just come from. The decision was made for us.

“We can’t go over it, and we can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it,” I said.

“Act cool,” he said.

We started up the steps like we knew just what we were doing, which was just exactly nothing. When we got to the top of the stairs, we came into the central hallway, smelling faintly sterile and humming. I’d never been in a hospital quite so casually, and I know both of our skins were crawling with awkward anxiety.

I felt like I’d forgotten how to walk, not sure if our footsteps were too light or too quick or obviously nervous. When you don’t belong somewhere, it feels like everyone around you is waiting for your tell. My knees started doing that weird thing where they kind of pop too much, like Shaggy Doo or something.

We walked through a stairwell, through a cafeteria, past a fantastically huge and deteriorated statue of Queen Victoria the first, through a weird holding room, all the while looking out the windows on our left at the river and city across it. When we finally did reach a set of doors, practically running through them, into a garden. Sweet relief.

“Found you a chair, Tony.”

We found ruins in the garden too, and almost cried from laughter.

I still have no idea who that man in the statue is or why he’s there, or why there’s an abandoned apartment overhead, or why there’s no way out of that wing of the hospital, but I do know that it’s pretty there and that the vibes are spooky and that I’m glad we found it and even gladder that I never had to go back.

I think we ended up hopping three sets of fences, wandering along grassy knolls not intended for visitors towards the only pathway out we could see: a walkway that we weren’t sure was even part of the hospital running parallel to the river and crowded with businesspeople. By the time we got out, we were grinning like the escapees we were.

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In the coming storm and falling sun, Tony and I did end up with a few good pictures, some which turned out almost luminescent:

and:

and this sky:

and similarly, this, where the gold crown is sliding right off the top of that lightpost:

I don’t have a moral, except that London is full of the strangest things.

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as always, laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

remembering london in the afterglow

Picadilly Circus, 1960s
Picadilly Circus, 1960s

For four months, I lived in London. I even had a glass of wine with the queen – or a friend wearing a mask of the HRH. But as time passes ever so fast, I slowly lose the detailed memories of that time; the benefit of hindsight is that those big days and big nights feel even bigger and even brighter. Guided by mental and physical snapshots, I’m feeling my way back, one month later.

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I flew across the Atlantic for the first time on Friday, January 13th and I’m superstitious. On my first full day in London, I took a bus tour of the city which was utilitarian, enlightening, and exhausting. Riding over Tower Bridge, I caught this shot with the London Eye, Parliament, and Big Ben.

I’m a wide-eyed kind of traveller; it always feels surreal, like I’m living in a dream-world and that any minute it’s going to fall away. When I took this picture, it was all so invigorating and a little bit nauseating; excitement and adrenaline burnished with fear. Imagine feeling for three days like you’re living at the peak point of a roller coaster.

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First walk through Hyde Park, and we come upon this, beautiful and bizarre. Like the usual bird-feeding park-lurker, she had magpie tendencies. Just look at the collection she’s wearing; Chanel bag, red lipstick to match her red coat, costume jewelry earrings and scarf. But her attitude and entourage suggested someone much less lonely, someone much more content. I wasn’t sure what her story was then, but I’d still like to know.

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Snow in London, covering Russell Square. The first of this year’s late-winter snows dusted the city in the early morning. A little girl and her grandparents were building a snowman in the wake of this statue. I can’t remember what that morning sounded like, but I do remember that it was exhilarating.

I was out early that morning, although work had been called off, to get pancake batter and hot chocolate with my wonderful roommate N. We’d decided to surprise our other roommates, but when we got to Tesco, quickly realized we weren’t the only ones with plans for a sweet morning. The store was out of everything, but the day still ended up being a hazy monochrome, perfectly lazy.

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An afternoon alone ought to be spent in Hampstead Heath. It’s quiet there and easy to imagine yourself as anyone. The town is quaint and comfortable, and it’s still on the Heath. To my right were swans and other waterbirds that make Lake #5 popular, and behind me the knotted hills so typical of England.

Sitting on that hilltop bench, I could hear the birds’ wing feathers rustle as they flew by me, and hear cuts of conversation as people walked the path behind. I felt for a while like Joni Mitchell sounds and it felt alright.

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This is the London Eye in March, in the very late afternoon. An hour earlier on the same Saturday, I’d reunited with a dear friend at Holborn Station. Though we went to school together in the States, he’s British and lives in England. We met in middle school as carpool partners, and spent our morning car rides arguing about Al Gore and American Idol. We still talk about essentially the same things- pop culture and politics. A decade-long friendship is something to be proud of, something unbelievable, and something to celebrate.

As that afternoon drifted away, we walked the width of London, across the bridge to Southbank. For a brief time, we wound up under the Eye. The line was almost entirely 16-18 year olds, dressed up and little drunk, riding the Eye as part of their Prom celebrations. G. and I looked at each other, struck that we were in the London, together, and struck by the remarkable convergence of ideas and memories. Here were kids younger than us – though it didn’t and doesn’t seem possible that we’ve gotten quite this old – pregaming their Prom on the London Eye. They were oblivious to us and to the US-style prom that G. and I had experienced together. They were oblivious to the import of the Eye, treating is as casually as only the owner of something valuable can. They were oblivious to how old they made us feel, and how alien they seemed. The process of observing them seemed simultaneously big and small. This moment was strong/fragile and this image embodies some of that duality for me.

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It’s true that I’ve forgotten now more than I can ever hope to remember, but the memories that I’ve got are more than enough.

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laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

there and back again

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Rolling verdant hills pulsed against rocky coastline. I’m intrigued by interesting boundary lines/compatibilities, and Cornwall is a collection of visible paradoxes. I loved it as I love all raw edges.

The urban pastoral ideal.

Cornwall is a region of the UK which includes the farthest-most penninsula of the island-country. There, the weather changes faster than the dialect. Locals say with relish that in Cornwall you get all seasons in a day, “r”s rolling like the oncoming storm. When the sun does shine there, the light glows with a purity, a clarity, an effervescence that I’ve only experienced one other time- in Venice. And if you like your landscapes rural and rugged, your air frothy and salt-tinged, and your people friendly and generous, I can’t think of a better place to go. Getting there is a bit of work, but then, isn’t the journey to anything great? And it doesn’t hurt that the landscape bears a striking resemblance to the Shire.

You can’t quite make out the badger holes, but they’re there.

While in Cornwall, I visited St. Austell, St. Ives, Land’s End, the Minack Theater near Porthcurno, Land’s End, and the Eden Project near Boldelva. I recommend them all, but so enamored was I of the light and the look of that land, I have a suspicion that I would’ve loved anywhere in the region.

We’re being closely watched.

I stayed with friends at an organic farm near St. Austell, where bellowing cows and newborn calves followed us up and down the hillsides. It was perfection, a delicious reprieve from London that I didn’t know I needed but nevertheless loved. That night we spent in the only local pub was one of my favorites. We played trivial pursuit, charmed the bartender into letting us stay late, and talked of small-scale revolution. The walk there, down a mile of winding country roads in the sunset, caught and kept our affections for the place. But the walk back, fueled by wine and some unlikely tequila shots courtesy of Mr. H.N., was even better. When we returned to the farm, we rested on the sundial, in the middle of the night, talking forever about nothingness.

St. Ives from the hilltop.

By the next morning, we were eating pancakes and soon venturing down toward the coast at St. Ives. Go there. Now if you can. Old men sit with old men outside tiny tea shops on the coastline, watching the boats come in and eating scones. A Tate museum anchors itself to the cliffs around the bend. Rowdy, crowds fill the picnic benches outside the pub, and an old dog watches. The pace here is almost continental, but the feel is distinctly its own; to me, there seems to be an unpredictable edge to “Englishness,” and I felt it here. Maybe invigorated is a better word.

During low tide, the water drops so far that the entire floor of the inlet is exposed and boats rest on the sandy ground. Standing down on that beach is a fantastic feeling. Three hours later, and you’d be submerged. Here the dogs play with abandon, and here, I touched the Atlantic again for the first time in months.

While in St. Ives, I’d recommend visiting a pub- any will do, according to your preference- and find the little bakeshop that sits on the corner on the second block from the ocean. It has little carrot cake muffins and pixie Cornish pasties to die for. And you’ve got to try the ice cream made with Cornish cream at Mermaid & Zennor by the water.

Tiny mollusks, attached to the concrete walls of the harbor, click and spit, but you’ve got to get close for it to be audible. Bess, being from the ocean, knew to listen for it. For a while, four of us stood there, noses almost touching the wall, facing away from the ostensible focal point. As we looked down the wall, more and more people started getting close, turning ears toward the chatter.

Crater.

Far out, that iconic lighthouse stands as an impossibly small, white sentry.

Those are all the true blues.

Though I’m a vegetarian, I do make exceptions for critical moments, unique opportunities, new experiences. Fish and chips in St. Ives was an absolute must. We went to a little shop on a secondary street called The Dolphin. I can’t speak to the relative good of them, since I’ve only had fish and chips very few times, but we enjoyed them. We also enjoyed this Boilers cornish ale with them.

St. Ives, land of plenty.

After lunch, we’d decided to split up. I think we were all pretty anxious to get a bit of free time, a bit of alone time, to explore. I wound my way up the hill to the highest, furthest outpost. It had once been a Royal Navy site but is now just a picnicking place. Leaning against the stone wall, watching the waves below, I was feeling a bit too much like an introspective movie loner. When I heard a familiar voice hollering out my name, I was happily surprised to see Bess further down the same wall. Turns out, we’d split, both gotten dessert and then walked up to this farthest outcropping.

“What’re your plans next?” she asked.

“I don’t know, maybe go look at that church and then go to a pub.”

“Glad to hear we’re on the same page. Why’d we split up again?”

St. Nicholas’ Chapel, St. Ives.

The little church drawn on the peak of that hillside on the beer label looks even more remarkably perched in person. Walking up to it feels almost surreal. The wind rips around the hills, crying through the crevasses, pulling froth from the crests of waves and twisting hair into knots. It’s a beautiful, immense place.

The chapel is just a small, stone room with a hearth and a pleasant man sitting at a writing desk. Presumably, he was a volunteer for the Chapel to help visitors or pilgrims.

Time immemorial.

Dandelions and daffodils.

As Bess and I were making our way down the hillside, we heard a brief peal of laughter. Looking up, we saw two local teenagers flying a kite from the cliff top. They hollered something at us but I’m not sure what it was.

Let’s go fly a kite.

We were visiting Cornwall over Easter break, which just happened to be the same weekend as the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. In honor of the event, we had plans to see a play about the Titanic at the legendary Minack Theater. But we had a few hours before that happened, and decided to make a detour to Land’s End.

Land’s End is the farthest westward point of England. It’s a small length of coastline with a cheap strip mall and a strange miniature village. But it embodies that rugged aesthetic.

Land’s End.

Lastly, the prettiest view of the ocean was at Minack Theater. The Theater was built in the early half of the 1900s by a local woman. She constructed it by hand, in an effort to provide a place for students and the community to experience art. She also created an arena to view the scenery.

On the precarious road up to the theater.

A similar view, from the theater itself.

Though it was one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

The last stop in Cornwall, before we made the five hour train ride back to London, was the Eden Project. The Eden Project is a giant biosphere nestled in a valley. There’s a tropical jungle and a mediterranean grove inside the domes, and a rustic cafe between them. If you like the pictures, you’d like visiting the Eden Project. But I’m not sure it’s for everyone.

Gone to the birds.

Tulips.

The terrace.

The ride home was long, and felt too slow. We rode by the stony towers of Bath, and through the suburbs of London back to St. Pancras station. Walking home, back through Russell Square with my dear friends and planning our upcoming days, I was infected with the spirit of the place left behind. Still am.

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Laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

in retrospect

So last week was, in summary,

nuts.

Have fun with that link. Everything is wild.

laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl