I am about to lament a syndrome I’d hoped I could avoid lamenting when I created this thing. And that is the good-intentioned “I’m going to start a blog and update it frequently with vivid descriptions and pictures of my exciting life!” impulse that dwindles to fatigue and then inactivity. But at least it was good-intentioned, right? Good intentions always excuse failure or lack of productivity. As a spoiled millennial who has been handed a trophy for every effort, regardless of outcome, this is the doctrine that shapes my worldview. Gold stars for trying, let’s get avocado toast and order a round of kombucha-bubble-tea-green-juice-mimosas to celebrate.
Anyway, in the midst of all the not blogging I was doing, I managed to acquire a four month editorial internship at a political magazine in Washington D.C. After my wondrous summer in London came to a close (sob), I touched down in my hometown for a hot second, unpacked and re-packed my monstrosity of a suitcase (which is still missing a wheel and looks as haggard as ever after several trips across the Atlantic), and made the seven hour southbound journey through New York City, the refinery wasteland of the Jersey Turnpike, and the unremarkable highway of Delaware and Maryland to our nation’s capital.
On my first day of exploring, I went for an unimpressive run which featured me slogging through four miles of thick humidity, not yet acclimated to the shift in climate and aching for the invigorating cool of breezy summer mornings in London, and collapsing on my bedroom rug before cleaning up and venturing downtown to the National Mall, gazing up at the Washington Monument and thinking, with soulful ennui, “well, it’s not the Shard.” It was not a very American thing to think, and I really do have the utmost respect for President Washington (and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, who helped raise funds for the monument’s construction), but my loyalties are still skewed to our former colonizers and I’m in denial that I was only ever pretending to be an ex-pat. My tangential British identity has expired and my woe is vast and exaggerated. Eventual British citizenship is in my twenty year plan. It is the only thing in my twenty year plan. As a millennial, I expect to be handed everything and feel slighted by the universe that no one has offered me a British passport even though I’ve asked nicely and complained about not having one profusely.
I started my new position last week, which mean’s I’ve been a member of the fourth estate for two weeks now. 75% of my day is spent writing inflammatory social media posts about Republicans — we all have to start somewhere. I love being in the office when staff writers are arguing over pitches and angles, or when they’re conducting phone interviews or getting anxious about meeting impending deadlines. I am beholden to Politico’s Playbook, Whip Watch, and regular updates from the Washington Post, Vox, and the New York Times. I generally avoid news on the weekends and, aside from the occasional heated discussion about the theoretical geopolitics of a major combative engagement with a hostile North Korea, prefer to chat about new restaurants, albums I’m listening to repeatedly, books I’m reading, TV shows I’m binge watching, and, of course, the especially salient topic of post-graduate existential dread and uncertainty.
This is just to say that I’d like to use this space to do all those things as I become familiar with a new city and embrace the uncertain, transitional nature of young adulthood. I also really want to discuss the new Lady Gaga documentary on Netflix and write about the best dal I ever made (last night, about 8:30 p.m., comfortingly warm and spicy and much-needed despite the oppressive D.C. heat).
So, cheers to a new metro system, new zipcode, new work experience, and being a transient who can only afford to plan out her foreseeable future four months at a time. It feels good/terrifying. The first round of kombucha-bubble-tea-green-juice-mimosas are on me.
Which is not, as it might sound, a day dedicated and centered solely on celebration and appreciation of me. Though, according to my mother, “everyday should be Olivia day!” which is a statement that can only be attributed to the tender and gracious generosity of motherhood. No, this kind of day falls too comfortably into genus Jong Un, which is a classification I’d prefer to be disassociated with.
An Olivia day is a great day filled with quintessentially Olivia things. Today, those things were a glorious morning in southeast London, an afternoon at the Globe, and a religious ramen experience.
I woke up before 7 (I have miraculously become a morning person, which was previously a goal in my five year plan so, post-grad achievement wise, I am excelling) for a beautiful run through Southwark, Bermondsay, and the City. After cleaning up and making myself presentable, I wandered through SoHo and Covent Garden in their quieter hours. Tried on a couple pair of jeans without hyperventilating (gold stars all around) in the changing room, looked at a lot of shoes, and treated myself to a real cup of coffee before trekking back home to Southwark for a 14:00 showing of Twelfth Night at The Globe.
At this point, a soft grey blanket of rainclouds huddled close to the Shard, and I knew from days of anxiously checking the BBC and tracking the weather up to the hour, that the skies were scheduled to open up at exactly the start of the show. So I came thisclose to skipping the performance and taking a nap, but I am so glad I sucked it up, coughed up three pounds for a tacky plastic poncho, and stood for nearly three hours in the rain at a show that absolutely comes in my top five best I’ve seen in London.
Feste is a gorgeous, magical drag goddess. Malvolio is a spritely but ferociously smitten wisp of genius physicality. Sir Anthony a flamboyant would-be adonis if it wasn’t for his scrubby mustache, persistent lisp, and general lack of masculine
virulence. Mariah is deliciously coquettish. Duke Orsino’s “if music be the food of love, play on” becomes fresh and sultry as a pop song that I wish Harry Styles would consider covering (this is an official plea to his agent). And of course, the initially composed and statuesque Olivia – charmingly girlish in her smitten-ness. A luminous moon hangs heavy in the background, and we get the impression that the whole thing is a little enchanted (aren’t all of Shakespeare’s lovey comedies?) as soon as the stage lights go up. All of it glitters under two disco balls and a crystal chandelier, and Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” reverberates behind it all. Many of the lines have been rewritten into songs, giving it an indulgently guilty pleasure Abba vibe, and the costumes can be characterized as Scottish highlands chic with a 70’s disco glam flair.
When I left the theatre, the tips of my fingers were blue, but I was dizzy with delight and had to keep covering my mouth because smiling foolishly for no apparent reason is considered manic by the English.
The only remedy for frozen fingers and the sort of rain-cold that seeps into one’s skin despite the thin layer of poncho plastic separating one from the elements, is ramen. If the culinary focus of my first go around London was curry, than the focus of my second is most definitely ramen. And lucky for me, I’m only a couple miles from Brixton – home to, of course, the best jerk chicken joints in London, but also lots of reputable ramen.
If one were to ask for a ramen recommendation when visiting Brixton, she would be directed, firstly, to Koi Ramen’s permanent spot in Pop Brixton – the boxcar park/microcosm of gentrification in the area, crawling with city-slickers crammed into narrow spaces between craft cocktail carts and independent brewery pop-ups, polishing off tapas and tacos and chuckling knowingly to their mates in that British way that British people do. Koi Ramen is a solid joint, but I think the folks at the set-up in Pop Brixton at least have gotten a little bit too comfortable. On busy nights, they dish out the stuff in bulk. The stock is solid and the Tonkatsu broth is rich and heavenly. But I expected a little more tenderness from the pork belly and the egg was overcooked and not nearly salted enough.
The best ramen I’ve had to date is the one I ate today, just a mere hour and a half ago, at Okan Ramen – an unassuming noodle bar around the corner from Brixton village. Normally, I’d order the Tonkatsu – if there’s pork belly on the menu and you don’t order it, what the heck are you ordering instead? But I went with their signature dish (which, while not cooked in a pork based broth, does have sliced pork pelly) and knew, from the first spoonful of chicken broth, that this must be the place. Don’t worry, David Byrne, I found it.
A nice balance of sesame and soy, a sizable heap of bamboo sprouts, and tender pork that, had it been any softer, might have dissolved – though it maintained a richness that paired well with the silky broth. And the egg… I will dream about that egg. I wish I had 20 of that egg cooked exactly the same way on every dish I eat from now until my last meal and yes that includes dessert. Savoury and gooey, it coated the back of my tongue with its salted golden viscosity and I had opened my mouth to a sunrise. Or maybe a sunset, when the sun hesitates and blurs on the horizon and spills over the landscape like a thick yellow yolk. Regardless, it was spiritual, baby.
Also, it was really solo-diner friendly. There are lots of places I want to eat at in London, but a solo diner can’t just walk into Barrafina on a Saturday night and expect the staff to be super psyched about seating her. I went a bit earlier in the evening to avoid this awkwardness and was served punctually and respectably, which doesn’t always happen in the British service industry.
And now, I’m going to finish American Pastoral to fulfill my book a week quota, and then pass out to a dream of salted egg yolks and merry romantic mishaps under full moons.
The more I head north of the river, the more I wonder what the heck I’m doing on a stuffy Central Line train, air vents lazily exhaling hot recycled tunnel air and failing to facilitate, despite their label, much-needed “ventilation,” while the vessel shudders on tracks beneath the same tired sites on the red ribbon of train line.
This isn’t entirely true. It’s just that it’s been a particularly sweaty week to get intimate with my fellow passengers on the city’s network of underground traveling saunas, and I’ve always kind of loathed the Central Line to begin with. I feel claustrophobic, dehydrated, and anxiety wracked just imagining the sheer density of bodies that reaches peak suffocation around Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, and I know I’m not alone in my aversion.
Also I have a vivid memory of nearly getting stuck in the closing doors of a Central Line train and, instead of recovering gracefully and nonchalantly as you might expect from someone who once took ballet for three months in elementary school, I just kind of fell forward, belongings scattering, onto my hands and knees, properly scuffed and so painfully American. Disheveled? Rushed? Audacious, even, brashly betting my own flawed human agility against the measured timing and resolute omission of the sliding doors? These are not qualities of the British temperament. At least not on public transportation.
Traumatic experience on Central Line aside, I do love a long stroll through Hyde Park, would gladly spend a day (and the night, if they’d let me) losing all sense of direction among the artifacts in the Victoria and Albert Museum, occasionally splurge for brunch among the pastel paintbox houses and blooming storefronts of Primrose Hill, savor the view of the skyline from Hampstead Heath, and am allured by, but can’t quite emulate (I own too many clothes from Banana Republic), the grungy chic vibe of Dalston and Hoxton. This summer, however, I’m calling Southwark a home, which means spending a lot of time south of the river where the vibe is noticeably different. No major circuses, no stark white rows of posh Mayfair townhouses. Artsy lofts and studios in ashy brick buildings juxtapose with sleek curves and edges of glass and steel. Londoners huddle in cozy wine bars and pubs tucked in narrow corners between or under bridges, and the Shard peeks over it all. It’s also home to the iconic mascot for post-industrial revitalization – the looming smokestack of Tate Modern – as well as the Eye, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, and Shakespeare’s Globe.
Summer mornings on the Jubilee Walkway, which runs along the Thames, are worth waking up to beat the crowds for. The South Bank also makes for a great run – lots of inspiring sights to distract from the burgeoning pressure of lactic acid accumulating in your lower extremities. I’d start down near Tower Bridge. In fact, a whole day on the South Bank might look something like this.
Spend mid-morning salivating among the stands of and in the tunnels along Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey – perhaps a late breakfast or early lunch, there’s a word for this I think. Bring friends and divide and conquer. Traders shift regularly, but some staples include tender dumplings from the Gyoza Guys, the sugar-dusted progeny of a decadent affair between a waffle and a doughnut deep fried, frosted, and dished by Dhan Waffle, and the “osmosis” of Mediterranean and North African cuisine made with love at Devi’s. There are also a number of smaller cafes and a couple wine bars for drowsy Sunday mornings when the only remedy is the hair of the dog.
I recommend taking the scenic route past City Hall and Tower Bridge on your way to the Tate Modern. I love this area of town for hanging out, reading a book, and people watching. This time of year, there’s a stage for live music and kids activities, as well as ping-pong tables, seating under artfully strewn tea lights for a hipster rooftop party ambiance, and some pop-up drinking and dining options. It’s like a casual lawn party only in the seat of London’s government, which by the transitive property means it’s Sadiq Khan’s London Lawn Party and this is really cool #TeamKhan.
Like modern art? Despise modern art? Pretend to understand modern art in front of your friends from Brooklyn but are actually too ill-equipped to form an honest opinion on the whole concept due to your lack of exposure? The Tate Modern is a great place for a crash course in Kandinsky or a dose of Dali. Right now, I’m into Louise Bourgeois, featured in one of the Artists Rooms, for her haunting, corporeal large-scale sculpture. Go to what draws you in, investigate what repulses you, and take in the industrial vibe of the place itself. Swing back after dark on the last Friday of the month for late nights at the Tate, which feature DJ’s and special lectures and always offer cocktails. Kind of like Night at the Museum, only I’m thankful the sculptures in the Bourgeois room don’t have sentience.
I can’t suggest a day south of the river and not urge a long, leisurely, perusal through Borough Market. Navigate by free samples – especially on slower days – of British cheeses, charcuterie, artisan breads, candied nuts, and the occasional spoonful of curry. Again, bring a crew or several stomachs in order to taste the breadth of cuisine offered under the trestles. My favorite stand is a satellite kitchen from the folks at Gujarati Rasoi (here’s my initial review, a deep cut from the archives, written while still in a warm haze of slow-burning Gujarati spices), though the curry spice mingles enticingly with the berbere of the nearby Ethiopian stand. But please, give this street food mecca the time it deserves. And get dessert.
If you can’t deny the food coma, Southwark Cathedral is a welcome sanctuary to the crowds and heat of Borough Market in the summer. Its hushed interior and spiraling ceilings can only complement your alimentary trance, and the gardens behind it offer the subduing white noise hum of the nearby crowd with the tranquility of the holy space.
Other gems of the South Bank include festivities at the Royal Festival Hall or the guy that sells books under Waterloo Bridge near the National Theatre, where you should book tickets for whatever’s on ahead of time or drop by to inquire about last-minute sales the day of. If you didn’t get tickets to a show (see: my current woe that both parts of Angels in America has sold out Hamilton style), there’s lots of outdoor seating and a bar at the NT. A drink or two with a good book or a close friend during the dusky hours of a Friday evening on the South Bank is definitely my cup of G&T.
You could take a spin on the Eye and should, of course, ogle at the Palace of Westminster and tip your hat the Big Ben across the river, but be back in Bermondsey for dinner. If the tapas gods are smiling favorably down upon you, you’ll squeeze between fellow diners for a smidgeon of counterspace at José, where Iberian ham will melt in your mouth and you will shamelessly order small plates of pisto, prawns, and patatas bravas and wash it down with whatever sherry piques your palate. Maybe go early? I don’t know, this place is always packed, but for good reason.
Don’t think about your waistline.
Any self-respecting anglophile will revel in the presence of the Globe Theatre, and catching a late afternoon, after dinner, or midnight show here is an essential experience for fans of Shakespeare. There are 700 five-pound tickets available for every show, and the price is absolutely right if you’re willing to stand with the plebs on the ground level for the duration of the performance, which is where you can catch me on Saturday, July 22 for the 7:30 showing of Twelfth Night. It will totally be worth it.
Any night in London can be punctuated with proper pub carousal, and my best advice is to wander a bit until you cross one that vibes with your mood. Walking up the bar and ordering a pint is still kind of a satisfying novelty for me. Camden Hells, if they have it. Or anything that dulls the mild ache of miles of South Bank under your feet.
You can take a rest day when you’re not in the greatest city in the world.
When Theresa May called a general election in April, she did so under the impression that Tory voters would come out in enthusiastic droves to bolster her party support in the House and strengthen support for Brexit negotiations. The first month after her announcement saw her party leading Labour, the main opposition, by 20 points, the dismal gap a trench far wider than the distance between benches in the House of Commons.
Today, the numbers have reversed. According to a YouGov poll published by the Independent, May’s popularity has dropped 44 points since she announced the snap election. Corbyn’s rating, previously at a historic low, has increased 42 points.
Corbyn is, despite his occasional disheveled appearance during PMQ’s and media criticism of his choice in suit color, hip and unassuming. He’s an unexpected leader, but one whose left of the left politics provide a stark alternative to austerity policies that continues to squeeze the middle class. Things aren’t changing, it’s kind of unclear how May intends to proceed on Brexit negotiations (not that Britain is particularly thrilled about these negotiations in general), she successfully alienated senior, and typically
reliably Conservative voting constituents, with a social care reform proposition that would halt the current automatic state pension increase of 2.5% per year, and she declined to appear in a live television debate against her opponents, indicating a distasteful cockiness or a lack of faith in her own strength and sturdiness. Corbyn is the hipster cool foil to May’s stiff, stuffy, and suspect gentility. And, for once, it was the Labour backbenchers laughing at their opposition when Parliament reconvened on Tuesday afternoon, and Corbyn delivered a promise that if May failed to form a coalition, the “strong and stable” Labour party would step in and deliver.
Although, there are certainly critics who have pointed out the obvious: a loss is, indeed, a loss, and in Corbyn’s case, his third consecutive loss in his bid for parliamentary majority and prime minister, though the circumstances under which the last two elections were called are rather unprecedented given their relationship to the once-unimaginable and now all-too-real impending Brexit. Besides, a gain of 30 seats compared to a Conservative loss of 13 is an impressive surge, particularly in light of Corbyn’s morbid and steadily declining approval ratings just months before his consistent, on-message campaign helped reverse the failing figures.
Now, the real question is whether or not May will resign. And it’s really not a question of if, but of when. How can a leader who assumed, so assuredly, that her party would strengthen and dominate remain in office when the exact opposite manifested after voters went to the polls? It certainly demonstrates a lack of confidence in her leadership abilities and perhaps a shift in loyalties. According to the YouGov poll, Conservative voters’ 85% confidence rating has dropped to 57%.
Corbyn is confident his fourth go at the U.K.’s top political leadership position is glimmering on the line where the Thames joins the horizon and has recently stated that his party is on “permanent campaign footing in anticipation of the failure of Theresa May’s attempt to establish a stable administration.” He’s also made a few new shadow cabinet appointments, including formal rival Owen Smith to shadow Northern Ireland secretary. Smith contested Corbyn in the election immediately following the referendum, when party infighting almost brought an end to Corbyn’s leadership run. The divide was (and, after this initial honeymoon period of post-election goodwill among party members subsides, will probably still be) ugly. Nevertheless, Smith has commended Corbyn on a campaign well run, and we choose to forget the days when he vehemently criticized his inability to unite his party. Ah the civility of forgiveness of rivalries pass… could you imagine if Trump actually appointed Chris Christie to a cabinet position instead of stringing him along and telling (read: forcing) him to order the meatloaf?
Though a third general election in only about a year is a prescription for election ennui, Labour is riding a wave that just might crash, with all the fervor of an anti-austerity rally set to the tune of “Do You Hear the People Sing,” on the steps of 10 Downing. Hopefully, young voters enamored with their own civic duty and electoral influence after the results of the most recent election, will return empowered to the polls once again. Perhaps even New Labour Blair-ites will shift a little farther to the left at the prospect of
a Labour majority. I wonder what kind of campaign the Conservative candidates will run in order to mobilize voters that either haven’t been turning up for lack of faith, or that have turned up only to be dismayed (pun intended) by broken promises: maybe something like “We Know We Shot Ourselves in the Feet by Prematurely or Misguidedly Calling the Last Two Elections, but this One is Different We Promise?”
In general, I think it’s safe to say that the days of full confidence in polling numbers are, well, numbered. I predict many more late election nights, the one’s that drag on into the early morning as we watch the figures pile up and wonder what reverse universe we’re inhabiting while glaring at a screen and willing the results to shift in our favor. Gone are the days of trusting the predictive information we’ve been fed and flicking off the TV before 11 p.m. to turn in for a sound sleep, assured that we’ll awake to the status quo.
There is one thing American voters, specifically those in the 18-24 demographic, should take note of from their peers across the pond – one’s vote can drastically influence elections. Choosing to refrain from utilizing the most direct and basic form of political participation because one feels disenchanted by the establishment or as a protest mechanism is not a productive means of effecting change. Rock the vote, millennials. Tip the vote over.
In less than a year, Nigel Farage and UKIP, the man and party that incited the heightened nationalism that precipitated Brexit, has been disbanded and I have hope that the umbra of hard right wing leadership that seemed to be sweeping the West may be dissipating. As evidence, I cite first the election of Macron, and now a series of British elections that may berth a Labour government and the most unlikely and unprecedented ascent to power in British history.