O Lord God of hosts, restore us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.
Time warp to Tuesday evening! [Strange lights flash and flicker as the computer screen goes wavy before your very eyes.]
Tuesday evening I got back from Commonside to find my group members gone. I ate my dinner and checked again. Still gone. So I went out for a walk towards a building we all thought was Paddington Station, but which turned out to be Earls Court and Earls Court Two, a couple of entertainment venues that only look like a train station. Also on that walk I found the Brompton Cemetary, which was very neat. I intend to return there during a brighter time of day to get neat shadows and lighting on gravestones.
On Wednesday Commonside held an event called Around the World in 80 Minutes, which – like the 30-minute long Biola Hour – actually stretched from noon to past 5:00. The event took place in the rather squalid Pollards Hill Community Centre, which is a squat brick building with painted-brick interior walls. Homemade A4-sized flyers pepper the few bulletin boards, while vast tracts of ugly white brick stretch uninterrupted throughout the rest of the building. Not for Commonside’s event, though! Exhibiting almost miraculous Herculean efforts, in about two and a half hours the large hall had been transformed with various international clothes hanging from everywhere, cloths pinned to the heavy maroon stage curtain, a large handpainted map of the world (giving the Washington coastline very short shrift!), numerous drawings by one of the Commonside employees who majored in art in college, and fact sheets about various countries. All sorts of delicious international food, ranging from curry to balkava to samosas and all sorts of other foods I didn’t know the names of, weighed down four long tables.
Four additional tables were set up in corners and decorated with African, Chinese, and Indian implements as well as books about those countries. The fourth table received by far the most attention: the henna tattooing lady sat there and attended to a constant stream of eager people. In the middle of the hall a circle of chairs had been arranged around two Mancala boards. In another room a dreadlocked, homeless-looking white man taught kids African drumming with amazing skill, while in still another room a group of underappreciated Chinese opera dancers tried to teach small, unenthusiastic groups of people how to hold fans and spears. On the stage behind the curtains an Australian story teller set up his fake fire and told the story of Becky the Brave to a circle of wide-eyed children. Much to my chagrin I had not brought my tripod, so I really couldn’t take any decent pictures of that part of the event. I did, however, remember to bring more than 20 hangars, from the enormous stash that came with my closets at IES, which we employed to hang clothes from every avaliable spot.
A large crowd turned up, amazed me since I had seen very little advertising for it until Wednesday, when Suzanne put up a bunch of signs in the Community Centre. I spent most of the time walking around taking pictures, but none of them turned out the quality that I would have hoped. I think my skill at photographing people just isn’t anywhere near my skill at photographing objects…the best pictures I took were of food. Sad, especially because somebody from a newspaper called yesterday and asked for pictures, at which point everybody looked expectantly at me. Hopefully we can scrounge two or three okay ones out of the 200+ I took. During that time I also ate lots of delicious food, so when I got back to the IES building, dinner remained far out of the question.
That evening, due to unusual circumstances involving everybody but me attending Delorey’s for dinner the previous night (Tuesday), I agreed to join Chris, Jamie, and Ryan at a hookah bar. Not to smoke – I find the practice totally abhorrent, filthy, disgusting, revolting, mindbogglingly stupid, etc. – but because I really craved human company. That may sound funny after my having spent so many hours wending my way through crowds, but actually during the event I spoke to almost nobody. My camera and I bonded, but actual human interactions remained quite low. The hookah bar was on Edgware Road, a bit of a tube ride from our place, and actually a bit of a walk from the Edgeware Road station. At first when we arrived the place just seemed very sweet-smelling, but as time went on the smoke started giving me a headache and irritating my eyes. The guys split one hookah three ways, and ordered baklava (not as good as the stuff at Commonside’s event, and far more pricey). Jamie bravely ordered Lebanese coffee and even drank a sip of the bottom dredges at the end, while Ryan had a glass of lemonade which he thought tasted far too sour. The rest of us tried it and actually found it quite sweet and delicious, but then Ryan’s taste in lemonade runs to the Country Time variety rather than the fresh-squeezed variety. We stayed there talkind as they smoked for about an hour; the guys considerately blew the smoke away from me when they noticed it bothered me, which I appreciated. At one point Ryan mentioned he had been exposed to three carcinogens directly to his skin, to which we all immediately responded with various wisecracks about having just been smoking. Tobacco contains over 40 known carcinogens.
Thursday I went into Commonside later than usual, enjoying the emptier tubes and busses, because I planned on staying in Merton until late that evening. The Commonside employees had planned a dinner at an Italian restaurant to honor the volunteers, but the dinner didn’t start until 7:30. The workday actually achieved a good amount for me; I talked to the ladies about visual design, but I don’t think I did a very good job. I’ll try again in a week or so, but this time with better visual aids. Also at that time I talked to them about the direction of my project and what they wanted me to do for my remaining time. I’ve now got a list of things that should hold me for a week or so; it ranges from designing prototype posters to researching the history of Pollards Hill for my paper. Yesterday I also went and took pictures at an event Suzanne has been running called Re:Cycle, where they repair peoples’ bikes. When the kids there found out I was from America and taking pictures, they demanded I snap one of them…and then attempted to give me the finger on film. I kept telling them I would take as many pictures as they wanted but not of them doing that; they kept telling me that was how people say hello in Britain. Eventually I went back to the office, feeling rather disgusted.
At 4:00 verybody left to prepare for the dinner at 7:30. As for myself, Selena droppe d me off at one end of Wimbledon, a row of shops called the Wimbledon Village. I spent the next three and a half hours slowly making my way towards the restaurant, taking pictures of whatever struck my fancy. About 5:00 I bought a way overpriced blueberry muffin for lunch but found it amazingly unsatisfying – greasy and not very blueberry-y. Still, I sat on a wall, watched cars go by, and stretched the muffin for all it was worth. However, I did find the Wimbledon Library and spent about half an hour with my laptop plugged in at the special laptop table. I don’t think this library put much stock in technology, because the laptop table was tucked way back in the room with the microfilm viewers and 1939 – 1954 The Times indexes. Outside of the library, on the wall, was a neat little sculpture that used a simple long, narrow, square steel box with shelves, and small pieces of rectangular brick angled variously, in it to emulate bookshelves. I will post a picture some time.
As I w
alked along I popped into several bookstores, an art store, a furniture store, and most of all an outdoors equipment store called Black’s. There I purchased their cheapest Swiss Army knife: it only has a blade, a corkscrew, and a bottle opener on it. I guess the guys can use it to open beer and wine bottles. Really one with just a blade and scissors would have suited me better, but they didn’t have any like that. As I bought it the clerk said, “Cheers!” This made me wonder again about the context for that comment. Oh, also, this whole walk and dinner I had my backpacking backpack – what they call a rucksack – on, so I looked very touristy and foreign thanks to that coupled with my camera around my neck. Taking the pictures I accidentally learned an incredibly cool thing about my camera: you can change where it focuses. I can literally move the focus box around, and so focus on an item in the far left corner if I want to. This is a really neat trick I’m confident I’ll employ frequently in the future.
At 6:50 I arrived at the restaurant, and spend the next 40 minutes loitering thereabouts. Finally at 7:35, when nobody had shown up but the workers inside had started lookingat me oddly, I went in and they showed me to the reserved table. Then everybody appeared in a rush and dinner started. I had a three course meal: garlic pizza bread, which literally was the size of a pizza but with a very thin crust and only the tiniest layer of sauce – and of course, lots of garlic. Very tasty, but I had to share it around. For my main course I had ravioli stuffed with some type of mushroom in an interesting yellowish mushroomy sauce. I don’t like mushrooms, so I’m not sure why I ordered that meal, but I’m glad I did: it was delicious. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish because of the garlic bread starter. Also I conscientiously drank numerous cups of water so as to feel full and not over-stuff myself on food. After I had to ask three times for a refill they just gave me a pitcher of water, which I emptied once, possibly twice, although that got shared around the table. Everybody else drank quite a bit and the group became rather racous and hilarious after a while, although Suzanne – sitting opposite me – and I talked about rather quiet serious things.
During the dinner I asked about the context for “cheers,” and they explained that it meant thank-you. Not goodbye, as I kind of thought based on context; in fact, the cashiers who said “cheers” as I left with my purchases were being very nice and polite. So Cheers = Thank You, more or less, excluding the obvious usage during toasts. …Although I doubt you would say “cheers for the birthday cake.”
Some of the time I did feel rather left out. First, when they all walked in dressed nicely and all made up, I felt like sinking through the floor. I wore jeans and a T-shirt, the same ones I had worn all day and spent the last three hours walking around in. Extremely under-dressed and feeling very colonial, I noticed when they ate everybody held their forks left-handed…except for boorish me, who ate right-handed. Then they talked about what schools they’d gone to, paying for hairdressers (I would never pay for my hair to be washed and dried!), what TV shows they liked, and such things that I couldn’t really participate in. But I’m getting quite used to sitting and listening to others; it’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me, but that I’m confident will serve me well in the future. At this dinner I also met the Chair/head honcho, Adrian, who is also Suzanne’s partner (she’s not 30, he’s almost 50…interesting). I didn’t really talk to him, though, because he was on the very farthest end of the table from me. The night wore on; Selena, Adrian, and Becky went out to smoke at one point and things drastically quieted down. We ordered dessert. I got orange sorbet in a frozen orange peel, which tasted unlike what I expected but topped the meal off nicely with its lightness. Finally at 10:00 I excused myself, thinking of my long journey home.
I got to the tube station at 10:10, after stopping to pee (the only negative side effect of drinking about a gallon of water), and thankfully got on the District line train to Barking. That meant I didn’t have to change trains partway through, a boon because of the infrequency of train arrivals late at night. Twenty-six minutes later I got off at Sloane Square and foolishly didn’t wait for a bus. So it took me half again as long – about 10, maybe 15 minutes – to trudge back to the IES building. Amazingly I hit the sack at 11:00.
Now I have spent an hour and a half typing this, so I hope somebody will take the time to read what’s been going on in my life the last few days. Also the shower and breakfast call; and my day must start some time. Might as well be now!