Thursday, 30 January 2014

Process, or How this is Turning Into A London Blog

The reason why I was in New York for so long was because of a slight hold-up in the Visa process for the UK.  My next home is London.

It's a lovely place.  It's another one of those locales that you just don't move here for the weather, but, eh.  I can deal with my pasty pale destiny. I had traveled to London as a tourist several times in the past- it's a great place to visit and they have amazing museums.  I hadn't seen much outside of the city center, but now, I'm learning.  The great thing about living in Paris was to really get to know it, and see the corners of it that you don't get to see when you pop over for a week here and a long weekend there.  Spending a year, or six months, or a month in a place really opens your eyes to how people live and get on. 

London was decided on after much hemming and hawing.  One of the reasons the Visa was delayed was because we literally decided on it a month beforehand.  We visited in late November and a couple weeks later started the process, and we were legal to go in mid January.  I was totally understanding of any delay or hold up we might encounter as this was fairly last minute.  

We are lucky in this move to have a corporate sponsor, which makes the immigration process much easier.  You just kind of show up with a sheath of paperwork completed and various forms and documents, and the lawyers will hold your hand for the rest and make sure everything goes smoothly.  Still, it was delayed, and we couldn't book our flights until we got our passports back from the embassy, so we ended up spending quite a lot of money on last-minute flights.  

PS, did you know that there's a non red-eye flight Virgin Atlantic flies from Newark!??  We decided to give it a try.  It eats away an entire day, which is terrible for productivity as you take off at 7:50 am and land at 9 pm at Heathrow, and you've watched all of two and a half movies on the 5 hour flight.  The flight was empty, too- whole rows were used for flat napping.  I thought that despite the lost day, I didn't have as bad of jetlag as I normally do from the redeye, but I would inexplicably wake up at 4 am every morning for the first week.
The apartment search was pretty straightforward, but a top priority and with an ASAP move-in date.  Almost no one uses Craiglist here, and early attempts while in the USA to contact people looking to rent out their flats did nothing but generate a lot of Nigerian-style fishing schemes.  We got a hotel and I started filling out enquiries online, of which Zoopla seemed to be the most effective search engine to use.  

Not knowing too much about the surrounding neighborhoods, I bought an Oyster Card and started pounding pavement.  I'd pop out and have a look around at a random tube stop or a neighborhood I had heard about, and then I would walk into the nearest real estate offices next to the tube station.  This was fairly effective, as most agents would be willing to take you out then and there to see some available places, or at least schedule you to come back later that day.  Face-to-face interaction was generally taken more seriously than filling out forms online.

I saw 7-10 places a day in various neighborhoods.  I was told that Islington was "The Brooklyn of London",  and found very little for housing there, and it was priced accordingly.  While it's totally a neighborhood I think I'll go hang out in all the time, I just wasn't willing to spend so much on so little.  I mean, rents here are high- like Manhattan high, even outside the city.  I tried to set a budget higher than I had since people are more than happy to negotiate if they think you will be an easy-going tenant, and offering to pay more months upfront than required also seemed to help.

We settled on a neighborhood that we both liked in South London with a 10 minute tube ride into the city.  We found a lovely place, put an offer on it, and then continued our search since offers can be rejected.  Three harrowing days later, we got word that our offer was accepted, which was great since we had run the real estate companies dry as far as what they could show us in the neighborhood.  I mean, we ended up seeing the same place twice at one point.    

I saw a lot of places, and got to check out a whole bunch of neighborhoods and streets I normally would not have seen, but I got tired of the game pretty quickly.  I'm happy that the search for a flat lasted one week total.  I saw a few nice places, but a lot of rubbish as well.  People live like animals, and occasionally you  had to look past all the piles and grime and stacks of mess to see the potential or charm of the place.   

A few things about apartment hunting here: they prices quoted are usually the price per week.  Most places come with at least some basic furnishings, and you can usually negotiate with the land lords to get more/better things.  You have to pay something called "council tax", which, depending on your neighborhood, is about 100 GPB per month.  Once you put in an offer, you have to give the agent 1 weeks' rent to let them know you are serious.

How did this compare to apartment hunting in Paris?  The buildings are a bit newer in London, and with the exception of renovated Victorians, they had a bit less character.  The prices are higher.  I don't think we saw anything in Paris that someone was still occupying, but in London, most places still had tenants and all of their junk scattered about.  Every place we saw in London had a washer or washer-dryer wedged in the kitchen, no matter how tiny the kitchen was.  Also, you probably wouldn't ever have a chance to live next door to a gin factory in Paris:

I've been so busy with the search that I haven't had too much time to do much else.  I did find a great yoga studio in Soho, and a few really good places to get a bite.  Our offer on the choice apartment was accepted, but we won't be able to move in for another two weeks (!) so I'm feeling kind of unsettled as living out of a hotel gets old fast.  Still, I'm excited for a new adventure, as always, and I feel fortunate to be in one of the great cities of the world.  

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Link Fest! Also, NYC is Great.

The whole reason why I found myself in New York was to get my Visa taken care of with the embassy.  It couldn't have been done from France, so a trip back was in order.  Things being what they are, I faced a few delays and ended up being there for a bit longer than planned- a little over two week. 

Oh!  And we were right across the street from Central Park, and even though it was a frozen bitter place to be, I would grab my camera and bundle up and trudge along in my hiking boots.  A couple days later, the snow was gone.  It never sticks around for long here.

But, being New York, its filled with surprises, like crazy tourist who propose in the snow on a wee hill in on an afternoon so cold, I thought the red would never leave my cheeks.  

And ladies wearing hijabs sledding down a wee hill, having a blast.

Oh, you smug bastard, letting your skis take up closet space for these few days you could use them.

One of the first things I did when I got to New York and got wind of the upcoming polar vortex, I went out and bought the most amazing winter jacket I could find.  I had a craving for a Speiwak jacket, a classic still-made in NYC line of outerwear.  I became obsessed with finding a more feminine version that their adopted-by-hiphop puffy coats, and I did indeed find.  It's a long, hooded wool coat with toggles and it was so warm.  As long as I had some wool tights or wool pants on, and a scarf around my face, I was comfortable enough to spend a couple hours outside at a time.  Which was good because I had a lot to do.

Aside from the social aspect of my trip, I had a lot of paperwork and lawyers who needed a friendly visit, some shopping and repair work, some preparatory moving to a new country work,  and the whole issue of all our stuff in storage.  Rather haphazardly, we decided to move everything into a storage pod to save money while we were in the area.  Because there was no climate control on the pod, we had to empty out our rather stunning stash of wine and beer- we had four or five large crates that we pulled out from storage- and we became quite popular as we dolled this out on anyone who would drink it or take it.  I wept a bit inside when some of this went away, but it's better than coming back to ruined, exploded bottles that have leaked all over my clothes and furniture.  It's best we do away with these now, and sleep it off tomorrow.

Some lovely discoveries and visits to old haunts....

Century 21 is still the best place to shop for cheap in NYC.  There is good reason why it is always mobbed with Euro types, because even imported goods from the EU are somehow cheaper there when they are last seasons'.  You are going to have to go diving for your size, but with patience and luck, you can really make out like a bandit.  Some finds:  A Frye handbag for a hair over $100 that I had mulled over at the Frye store in Soho while it was over $400, my favorite French perfume for 70% cheaper than Sephora, the biggest durable suitcase we could find to assist with the upcoming move, designer blue jeans that fit like gloves for $35 a pop, and, my favorite, cashmere tights and Smartwool Socks that were heavily discounted.   I'm not a shopper by any means, but not being able to afford much in Paris (except for during Soldes!) meant we were getting kind of threadbare and had ignored some needs longer than we perhaps should have....especially after Bryan had taken a dive into a pool in Costa Rica which disintegrated his boxer shorts so that a few tatters remained attached to the waistband and that was about it.  

I pretty much lived on Ramen and Udon while I was there.  When it is cold out, it's the only thing I want and I don't seem to get tired of variations of it.  Ippudo being, by far, the best.  Momofuko still has the pretty amazing soups and they are still rocking the best pork belly buns on the planet, but Ippudo soups are life-changing in their complexity and delicacy.  Menchenko Tei is still my go-to for every day, and they have totally respectable soups.

I will still get a little tearful in the spring as the time where I crave Ramen for every meal is over.

Oh, and then there were burgers.  Royale on Ave C used to be my neighborhood fave.  It still makes a totally respectable bar burger.  It's not the best burger, but it's a perfect burger, and they do really great onion rings as well.  On the fancy end of the spectrum, I had lunch with a friend at Delmonicos downtown and went for the burger and was not disappointed.  Plus, Delmonicos radiates this old-school New York charm that I find irresistible, with really professional waiters who are almost psychic to your needs.

There was a great exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum of the works of Jean Paul Gaultier.  Check it out if you can- it was an extensive collection and full of amazing costumes and couture of all mediums, with creepy projected faces on some of the mannequins.  

I don't smoke, but I loved this very French cigarette thigh-holster, with a dress cut for access.

It made me a tad homesick for Paris, if only because you can't find Camembert in the states and the Brie taste like crap.  Also, there was a Magritte exhibit at the MOMA that was pretty amazing and surreal.

While I didn't get to my old standby in Brooklyn, Tanoreen, I did make some new discoveries across the river.  Pizza at Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint that will make you cry, The General Green had good comfort food classics with a modern twist that was just fantastic to have a bottle of wine with friends mid-blizzard there.  A great cozy time was had, especially since not too many other people braved the weather that nice and we had the place to ourselves.  

I am not a brunch person at all, thinking it's overpriced and over-hyped, but I must admit, Sidecar in Brooklyn did it up right.  I generally prefer to do dim sum instead, but I didn't make it out to my fave, East Harbor Seafood Palace in Sunset Park this trip.  It's...transcendent.  I also visited an old haunt, Schezuan Gourmet, which brings the heat like no other.

I wanted to check out more theaters and shows while I was there, but ended up squeezing in only one- an interesting bit off Broadway dinner theater called Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.  It's based on War and Peace.  Go see it, it was fab!

I had several dreamy walks in Central Park.  It's the only thing that prevented me from needing a seatbelt extender on my next flight, I swear.

Oh, look, y'all are getting a Laduree!  Let the macaroon wars begin!  I did grab a baguette at the much-hyped  Eric Kaysier and was disappointed, but it was rather late in the day to be buying bread, so don't take my word for it.

I also got a chance to check out the dining scene in Hell's Kitchen.  I generally consider it too close to Times Square to harbor anything but celebrity-owned temples to mediocrity and Thai places with overly loud house music, but I found a friendly place to have cheese and wine, and another fine establishment that delivered emapanadas and arepas 24-7.  We also got pizza one night that had Gorgonzola, figs and honey on it that was pretty damn good.  I need to find out where we got that, as I ate it cold for breakfast the next morning after having dreams about it all night.

I had a Whole Foods right across the street, which was useful for all the wine and cheese parties that were going on.  Alas, it was a sobering reminder of why I moved away, as the customers there are rude and self-important like no others and would just as soon want to see you under the wheels of their shopping cart than alive and blocking their precious way.  Venturing in there was stressful, and I found myself unwilling to pay $7 for a wee bottle of artisinal tonic water when the 2 for $1 stuff at bodega down the street made gin just as tasty.

The Wayland became my new favorite cocktail bar.  I missed cocktails so, the ones in France were always watery and too sweet and I couldn't be bothered with them, and it didn't hurt Wayland had a delta blues duo wailing away the night I was there.

Some other finds:  I picked up some luggage organization pouches at Flight 001.  They have some quality products for travelers.  I also brought my old suitcase to get repaired at Lexington Luggage, and they were a class act and did a great job of saving something I would have otherwise thrown out.  

Other than that- I found a place that had bialys, which are still my preferred breakfast carb, and something no one outside of NYC knows about.  My dentist Dr. Urtula is still the best dentist in the world, and it's not just because there is a Doughnut Plant around the corner from his posh little practice.  I also spent too much time in Chelsea Market, where there is now a Num Pang, and then I spent too much time checking out rugs at the Moroccan importer there as well.

I spotted this large canvas by Alex Katz in the IBM lobby on the east side.  He's one of my favorites; he was born in Brooklyn but summered in Maine, and all his beach scenes are very quirky and comforting.

All of the above, and then some, was done in partnership with some rather fantastic people.    

Yeah, I miss New York.  It's quite indulgent.  Still, I'm done with it.  

On to the next adventure.  

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Nice Weather for Polar Bears

I didn't mean to end up in New York for some of the coldest weather in decades.

It just happened to work out like that.  More on the reasons for that later.

It was really nice to be back though.  I still get a bit of a culture shock the moment I step off the plane, and it lasts for a bit.  You walk in to a diner, they will serve you anything at all hours of the night (and they are nice about it!), and there is ketchup on every table.  THAT IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER.  It is if you've lived in Paris for a while anyway.  Ketchup!  You don't have to ask for it!  It's there, free for the taking, to drown whatever your want in, no judgments!  Also, when you walk into a store and someone rushes over to help you....THAT IS AMAZING AS WELL.  I spent the first week in New York nervously chatting with clerks and barkeeps, thrilled and wide-eyed about all things American.  Seriously!  What exactly did France do to me, anyway?

Aside from being greeted by crippling blasts of polar air, plenty of snow and ice, and a bit of griping from the locals, I was so cheery and happy to be back, I hardly noticed that I couldn't feel my...well, much of anything.  Not since childhood in Maine had I been in cold that bitter and nasty.

I really packed a lot in this trip.

I landed a temporary pad right in Columbus Circle.  At first, I was a little horrified, as this is a very tourist-and-mall-shop heavy area of Manhattan.  Then it dawned on me:  I barely had to walk more than three blocks in any direction, and all my errands were taken care of.  It was a brilliant place to center oneself.  And oh, man, takeout!  We had forgotten that if you don't feel like going out, there is always someone willing to bring food to you.

I actually had to try really hard to leave the neighborhood, as that very uptown-New York mentality set in where everything seemed so very far away suddenly.  Visiting friends in the East Village became a schlep, and what, you want me to come to Brooklyn, what?

Still, there was much fun to be had.  More than anything, it felt good to be with old friends again.  They braved the cold and snow and we ate and drank and acted like fools.  It was perfect.  No one I know is lame enough to consider going on a post-new year health food binge.  For that, I am grateful.

Monday, 27 January 2014

FO: Some Knitwear Catch Up

Baby, it's cold outside!  As we use our semi-frozen fingers to fumble with awkward buttons and zippers and walk through toxic clouds of other people's coughs, try to remember the joys of winter.  The sledding and the hot chocolates and what not.  If you don't have someone making you lots of knitwear right now, you need to start making more friends who are crafty.  There is nothing sadder to me than someone under-dressed in winter.  Almost everything I knit now gets gifted, as I am literally drowning in it.  I don't need another scarf, another pair of socks, another mitten, another hat.  I have.  So.  many.  Sweaters, I will still make and make and make for myself as I tend to get bored with my wardrobe easily.  Everything else, bah.  Go, I send you to the four corners of the earth to keep someone else warm.

I figured I would finally get around to blogging about some knits I've finished in the past, oh, five months or so.  Most of them were gifts and kind of secret, but the fits of gift-giving is well behind us now and I can safely reveal things in a public forum.  Also, as I was boxing up and packing and moving out of Paris, everything that hadn't been gifted got donated to the big charity bin down the road, which later I saw not-homeless people ingeniously fishing clothes out of using hooks and wedges.  Sigh.

First up:  the Xenocryst


This went to a warm-climate heritage friend in a cold land.  He appreciates.  It's got this really interesting textured wee cables, and a picot edging that I didn't find too emasculating.

Another ultra-cute owlet hat was crocheted for a new baby:


Good old Cascade 220 and all the scraps it makes.

This was one of my favorite sweaters to make:


It's the Armas.  It's a really brilliant, fun masculine design.  I really thought I could rock it as well, perhaps with a slightly more feminine color so I don't look like I'm a viking warrior out to pillage.



The cables were just so organic and fun to make.  I did fix the collar since I took these pictures though.  I modified it from the original and it didn't quite lay the way I wanted it to as a shawl collar, so it is now a crewneck.

The yarn is Queensland Kathmandu Aran, a tweedy blend of Merino, silk and cashmere.  It's very soft, but a rustically spun 2-ply that I was picking bits of hay stems out of the whole sweater.


This was an easy garter stitch project called the Pinch Hat from Knitscene.  You make a tapered rectangle, then seam it together and pull your stitches tight to pucker the fabric.  I ended up putting a line of tiny rose-bud buttons down the seam, and I gave this to a friend whom it suited perfectly.


The yarn is Madeline Tosh Merino Chunky, a lovely squishy yarn to fall in love with, so I kept on going with it:


A bandana cowl from Purl Soho, which is really simple and it made for a great gift.  I really fell in love with cowls this year, especially since I did so much backpacking.  Having a pack, a coat, and a cross-body bag meant that if I was wearing a scarf, I was usually tangled in something and it made for awkward moments of choking myself while getting on and off trains and planes and ferrys and trying to sit down for a bit to eat.  Cowls are useful in these situations.  Using short rows, you make a big bib like triangle, which fits as a stopgap down the front of most coats.

Here's another chunky cowl that I would make again:


The Burberry-inspired cowl. It's got these big, lovely cables that make it very warm.  Mine is a bit small as I only had the one skein, but this would work nicely a bit bigger, or really huge as an infinity scarf, which I am seeing everywhere now.

Another manly sweater using Kathmandu Aran:


This one was for my grandfather, whom I had never made a sweater for (!?).  It's the Shawl collared sweater by Martin Storey, and it's easy as 3.14.  It's from a book Rowan published that I've had for years, but I was always hesitant to make anything from it again since Rowan puts a whopping 8 inches of ease in their men's sweaters, which just seems like too much to me.  This worked out- I made the smallest size, and I knit it in the round so I took away 8 stitches total from the body to make up for the fact that I didn't need a seam allowance.

Yet another hat, for a friend:


The Quantoid.  It's very warm, double-thick with an interesting rib pattern that you strand.  Cascade 220 FOREVER!


I crocheted this lovely scarf last summer:


The Boteh.  It's lovely, lacy leafy and the best shade or red, "Tart" in Tosh Merino light.  I need to get better pictures of it eventually.  Oh, and PS, I can crochet now.  It took me ages to get around to learning, and then I'd forget as soon as I taught myself, but I found this project and decided to teach myself to make it because I thought it was pretty, and that was the way to go.  It's easy, and if you find something you like, between you tube videos and ravelry, you can probably figure most things out.

A pair of rather awesome socks:


The aptly-named Porthos socks.  It's a fairly mindless rib pattern and it makes for a good guy-sock.  Or a bad-guy sock, if you must.  The yarn is tres vibrant- Sanguine Gryphon bugga in "Cuban Cockroach".

A twinned pair of Merino Chunky hats for a his-and-her gift:



Above is the "Giftie Slouchie Beanie" for her, and the "Chunkieanie" for him.  They are both the same color purple, but the more masculine of the two is much more saturated with dye and appears to be purple-black at times (it photographed a bit lighter than it is in real life).  I thought that was a nice touch.

A pair of Pyroclastic Socks from


I kind of screwed up the lace pattern, but it ended up working for me, so they look different from the originals.  I loved the unusual arch and gusset shaping, although it took me a while to figure out what exactly was going on in the pattern once the heel was turned.  These went to a friend with perpetual cold feet and a drafty old Parisian apartment.  The yarn is Plucky Knitter superwash fingering merino.

A pattern I chose to show off some really amazing yarn:


The Garden Grove hat in the Verdant Gryphon Codex in the "Beowolf"  colorway.  The yarn is silk and BFL wool, and it has a lovely sheen to it that just shows color so nicely.  I kept this hat.  I loved it so.

I actually have a few more things lying around needing to be photographed, and right now I'm putting a sweater in time-out after I realized that I made two left fronts to the cardigan.  Sigh.  But I'm busy doing all sorts of other good stuff that I will get around to telling you about very soon.   Cheers!