Before you go, 2010

Just a quick note to finish off a wonderful and strange year. Here's to more of them! 2010 was remarkable indeed for many reasons, but that doesn't mean I should stop looking toward the future. Though I temporarily lost my ability to think very far ahead, it's back and I firmly believe life needs wild ass plans. So, I intend to pursue the next one on my list. I think I've come up with a name for my little photography biz, but I'll have to confirm it with the board of directors. Ha! Agonizing over a name will probably be the least of my problems, as I have yet to sort out taxes, licenses, and other kind of important legal type stuff. All in good time.

Other than WAP#2, I have in general, resolved to hang out with the people who matter more. A year away made me appreciate the important people in my life. And although more than ever are at a distance, and making time for them is difficult in any life, I'm going to try to be a better communicator. The world is not so big that those who are far away should be neglected. As for those who are close, it should never feel like they are distant.

Exhilaration is always on my list, and in 2010 it was not in short supply. Maybe fewer scary crowds, but hopefully no fewer new experiences will come my way.

I also want to be as endeared to my home town, area, state, and country as I am to England. Domestic travel, participating in local events, and just plain going out are high on my list. I'm pretty stoked that some of that will combine resolutions which is just plain efficient.

The Bible, alas, has been neglected for another year and the good flashlight just got new batteries.

Also, I very tritely joined a gym last month, hope to finally read all those books I should have in high school, will write more, and I will try to stop ignoring calls from Austin. But, let's keep it tangible.

Repeat Customers

Last week we arrived to a dark house with no sign of occupants. Dispatch decided to give us the code for the door after we started searching for a loose window or a weak door jam. The patient couldn't come to the door of course, mostly because she was behind two more doors and up steep stairs. Oh, and her lungs were full of fluid.
My partner and I carried her down the stairs and outside in time for more hands to arrive. She really had me worried for a second there. But, we got her on the good old CPAP and off we went to the hospital.
My next shift, I met her again, when I came up to our CCU to transfer her to another hospital for a heart cath. She was bright and had color and didn't remember me at all.
I said, "Well, you look much better than when I last saw you."
"Oh," she replied, putting her hand on her head, "well, I have my hair on today."
Although I meant she didn't look like she about to die, I loved how spry she was. We packed her up and she gave me a tour through the county as we headed to a fancy hospital who hopefully fixed her right up.

Later in the shift we went for a guy who had thrown up one time and his over excited wife had called us amidst his constant dissenting. He rightly refused to go and I agreed.
A few hours later, a call went out to the same address. In the exact same scenario, the patient resigned to going to the hospital, and off they went. I quietly celebrated that I didn't go the second time.

I did take the call the second time we were called to a very wee patient who was short of breath. The parents had refused transport in the afternoon, and called again at 3am. This time, I didn't let them refuse as one look at the patient made me pretty nervous. Very tiny airways, strange disease processes, retractions, mottling and a pulse ox in the gutter will do that to me.
We headed up to the local hospital for more hands, bright lights, and well...more hands. The patient was flown to a bigger hospital an hour later.

I love and hate to see patients twice.

New Post

I was reminded yesterday by my one regular reader that I hadn't updated in a while. She expressed her disinterest in my feeble change in title picture.
Well. I should update as I've had some good days at work. Busy, anyway. All of the good calls come late at night. Like the young person who walked out to the ambulance at midnight, declared they had a UTI and then before saying hello, asked if we could arrange to take them home after their ER visit. Um...no.
The other morning at 3, we went to see a 19 year old who had chest pain. That's all I have to say about that.
Or, the patient who texted their significant other at 1am to tell them they had overdosed, when in fact, they hadn't taken anything at all. That was totally worth going to.
Okay, okay. This post is not following with my new world view of every call is worthwhile and interesting no matter what hour we are called. Something happened in their lives to prompt them to call an ambulance. Some circumstance out of their control or forethought lead them to be my patient. And even if it is for a few minutes, they'll get as many warm blankets as I can find.
And this whining certainly doesn't adhere to my resolution to not be negative about work. It is a sweet job and I am thrilled that I have nothing but pointless things to complain about. Well, and little things like nursing homes not having patient histories or not applying AEDs when wildly appropriate.

Work

One year later I find myself again thrown into their weirdness of this job. We were called to a factory and half way to the patient, I looked down at my boots, wondering what I was stepping in. He had gotten his arm caught in a machine, and, although freed, one of his colleagues had agreed to show me the machine. Dodging puddles of ground meat and blood, he lead me to an industrial meat mixer which grabbed our patients fingers and twisted his arm until it broke. I felt bad for him as we took 10 minutes to carefully cut his many pairs of gloves he had on to protect him from the cold and meat to see just what we were dealing with. I used up all my Spanish and we had an easy ride to the hospital.
It was a wicked x-ray.

Transitions

From Essouria, we headed North up the coast stopping in Casablanca to see the worlds tallest miranet on the worlds's third largest mosque.  This was pretty cool, and is the only mosque non Islamics can visit, but we arrived too late in the day.  The next day we continued to an overnight in Moulay Bousalhem where we took a fishing boat out to search for wild flamingos in the lagoon by our campsite.  We did find some although, because the tide was going out we saw them from about half a mile away.  Still, I guess they were flamingos (I can't be sure).  It was great anyway, to be out on the water in this beautiful and tranquil area. 
From there we traveled to Cap Spartel, home of 'Hercules cave' a cave where Hercules allegedly hung out to rest after carving the Mediterranean sea.  There is a cool formation here that is almost the exact shape of the continent of Africa.  We also walked to the beach and enjoyed our last afternoon there.  In the evening we had a Moroccan barbecue and an enormous bonfire that probably endangered everything around us.  It was an awesome party and a great way to end the trip. 
Sadly, I had to get up really early to catch the ferry back to Spain.  I was very glad that one guy in our group decided to take the same one and escort me back.  The port was just as crazy on the way out, but I was still a little sad to leave such an amazing, colorful, and culture filled place. 
We arrived back to Tarifa in the rain and here I learned the advantages of traveling with an older person.  I would have trudged to the bus station, but he suggested a taxi and after about a second of consideration we agreed to split it.  It was a dreary day, but as I reached Algercias to catch the train, things were looking up.  It was a long ride to Grenada and I was very happy to find my hostel for the night.  Here is where I appreciated flush toilets, hot water, hassle free shopping, and internet.


I really enjoyed my day in Grenada, starting with a walking tour that pointed out some of the highlights and complicated history of the city.  I didn't get into the Alhambra, as you have to book in advance and it's pretty expensive, but saw it from the outside, and enjoyed shopping, eating local food, and visiting smaller sights just as much.  In the evening I took an overnight train to Barcelona.  Now, the plan I had to get home seemed good on paper, in practice though, it was not so smart.  I took the train to Barcelona which ended up being in a non-reclining seat which really bummed me out.  I arrived early in Barcelona and headed straight to Park Guell, an awesome place, but after a restless night and and walking there with my increasingly heavy backpack, I didn't find the tourists and annoying souvenir vendors charming at all. 
I was desperate for a place to leave my bag, so I headed to the museum of Catalonia, hoping to check the bag and enjoy the museum.  I finally arrived after walking ages and taking the metro, only to discover that it was a Monday, and every museum in the city was closed.  I was super bummed about this and ended up sitting in the park, as it was a beautiful day, and people watching and reading my book.  Not really a bad way to pass a day. 

That evening, I went to the train station to take my overnight to Paris.  I had waited all trip for this one, my first time in a proper sleeper car.  Unfortunately, French transport were on strike and my train was canceled.  Instead of a bottom bunk, romantically chugging through France, I found myself on a charter bus surrounded by kids and angry parents.  Mood not improved. 
It really wasn't as bad as it could have been with generous stops and a seat to myself.  I arrived in Paris and decided to walk along the Seine to take in the sights.  I stopped a few times on my way to the Grand Palaise where I wanted to see the temporaty Monet exhibit.  I arrived around 1:15, very ready to see it and check my bag, and the guard informed me that that day only the museum would be closing at 2:00.  Overcome with tiredness and disappointment, I didn't know what to do next.  I sat down and collected my thoughts.
I ended up walking across the way to the Petit Palace where at least I could change my clothes and check my stupid, hateful, painful backpack which at that point I hated and wanted to light on fire.  I was so tired by then that I went into on of their exhibits where they were showing a video, sat on the floor, and took a nap.  I felt a real hobo by then. 
In the evening I had dinner and then made my way to the train station to catch the Eurostar (which was running without delay, thank God) to get back to London.  The border agency gave me some crap about not carrying my flight ticket out of the UK constantly on my person, but allowed me in anyway.  Jerk.
When I arrived back in England, it felt as good as coming home, after a month of travel and uncertainty, it was so, so good to be back.

This story is going nowhere

 Many apologies to anyone who may be trying to make sense of the end of my trip. For reasons unknown I have been little inspired to finish writing it. Rather, I have had the best of intentions, but have been as easily distracted as if I were writing a coursework. Alas, I worry the magic of it all has been lost in sporatic storytelling. And even I can't remember if I've caught up to the getting home bit, it's become so long and sordid.

That aside, Essouria, Morocco is a very cool place. After leaving Marrakech, it was a relief to be camped out by the seaside within walking distance of a small port town full not of tourists, but real Moroccans. Wandering the streets here was actually calm and orderly and we were not constantly hounded to buy things. Except when some of us went to get freshly caught seafood and ran a literal gauntlet of vendors to pick the least annoying one to buy from.

Essouria is on the Moroccan Atlantic coast and is a working port town with a beautiful medina full of friendly people and shopkeepers. We also visited the port where you can buy fish straight out of the fishing boats. All varieties are displayed right on the slips, preserved with a constant sprinkling of seasalt. It is easy to find the port by following the horads of seagulls vying for an opportunity to relieve the fishermen of a fish or two. Locals are there haggling for fresh fish and carrying them home on bikes and donkeys.

We had the best meal at of the trip at a vegan/veggie resaraunt which initially worried me, given how I had avoided the water and fresh veggies, but it was awesome. It was good just to take the day to meander, finish shopping, eat crepes on the street, and relax. That's pretty much what we did the whole rest of the trip really.

The disadvantage of having a DSLR

As far as I can tell, there's only one. Well, other than dropping the lens cap out the window on the highway.
In 2006, I saw KT Tunstall in concert and didn't bring my camera, assuming that I wouldn't be able to keep it, and taking public transport, there would be nowhere to put it without having to trust the venue. It turned out we stood three feet from her, could have had a camera, and had none. Oh well.
So, the boyfriend took me to see her again last week and I brought the fancy-cam, determined to get at least one good photo. At the door they checked in my bag and told me I couldn't take it in.
them: "That's a professional camera, I can't let you take it in."
me: "But, I'm not a professional."
them: "Yeah, but since that's a professional camera, we can check it or you can put it in your car."
me: "WTH?!....fine" (after some irrited sights and feeble protesting)

I found myself again three feet from the stage and cameraless. Even in protest I didn't bother taking one with my phone. It just wasn't worth it. So...maybe in another four years I can try again.
A-Mazing concert anyway, I'm afraid poor C didn't enjoy it much, but I did. Fab versions of her old stuff and a great selection of "New shit" as she put it. 'Twas a rocking show.

A 'Lively' Place

I've described many towns and cities in my journal as 'lively.' It wasn't until I saw Marrakesh that I realized how  when concerning any other place, just how pointless the word was. Marrakesh is hands down, the strangest, busiest, and most chaotic city I've ever been in.  Describing it as lively would be the understatement of the century. 
We arrived in the evening, settled into our riad and headed out into the Djemaa el-Fna, the central market. At night, the market becomes (even more) alive and a series of food stalls pop up as well as OJ stands, date sellers, fortune tellers, street performers, snake charmers, and all manner of people. Oh, and pickpockets too.
We ate dinner right in this night market which was very exciting for me, as it is very difficult not to feel like a tourist in Morocco, but this experience felt very real.  We sat along a long row of tables, 24 of us squeezed into a table built for far fewer. It was a good dinner with plenty to eat, almost all of it recognizable. Toward the outside end of the table, there was a bit of a kerfuffle and I looked up to see one of the food stall workers who had a kid by the scruff of his neck and was giving him a serious pounding. At first I was horrified, but quickly learned that the cheeky kid had reached right in front of my friend and grabbed his camera. Unfortunately for him, he ran right into this guy who wasn't going to let him forget it. It was a briefly entertaining exchange then, but then mostly unnerving. As news spread down the table, every valuable was cinched more tightly around necks or stuffed into bras.
We wandered through the market after dinner, now more prepared for the chaos of it.  We hit some of the market stalls, amazingly decorated with goods.  I've never seen anything like it, and, like most of Morocco, is beyond my description.  But, each of these stalls were absolutely packed with stuff, leather products, clothes, blankets, rugs, jewelry, antiques.  I mean literally packed from floor to ceiling.  This pic will help.  
We had the next day free to explore.  I tagged along with an American couple who had an interesting idea, as we found the nearest swank hotel, pretended we stayed there and hired a local guide from them to take us safely around the city.
This was a great idea that gave us some insight into the city and kept people from bothering us so much as we wandered through the souks.  Our guide took us into Ben Youssef Madrasa, and old Islamic college which is full of fantastic carvings and mosaics.  We also went into the Marrakech museum, a former palace, being converted into a museum.  It is a beautiful venue and is full of antique Moroccan crafts, pottery and interesting photos of the old city.  When we finished with history, we delved back into the market, wandering through the different areas.  The souks are semi organized into districts according to what they sell- leather, lamps, food, spices.  It was a bit tedious to ask every shopkeeper if I could take a picture of their shop, but it helped that the people I was with bought a lot of stuff. 
We had lunch overlooking the square, the best way to observe the snake charmers and monkey handlers without having to pay for the privilege.  We spent the rest of the afternoon ogling at the the market stalls and learning to be shrewd bargainers.  The bargaining thing was really fun after a while, especially when observing a master.  The evening was surprisingly relaxing, hanging out with the group in our riad.  Everyone was tired after a day of constantly saying "No" in various levels of politeness.  The next day we headed out of the city and to the calm and beautiful coastline.

The weirdness of being home

It has been difficult to admit that after a year of planning and a year of execution that the wild-ass plan is sadly and officially over. Although I'm not there anymore, it will certainly remain a part of my everyday life and ongoing friendships.

I have had a definite reluctance to change my location on Facebook or the lappys clock back to EST. And, this past weekend I felt a near desperate desire to be back in England for the Harry Potter premier and all of the Coventry blitz anniversary happenings. Alas. At least I could catch the cathedral service on BBC radio.

I have a few residual quirks from being there. It's amazing the affect being on the other side of the road has on the psyche. I still inadvertently look the wrong way before crossing and have occasional flashes of panic as I pull out onto the 'correct' side of the road. I had happily forgotten all of the rage that driving sometimes fills me with, and failed to truly appreciate the tranquility of a complete reliance on human powered or public transportation this last year. Driving makes life expensive, but also makes it so much more accessible. It may be sad, but something I really missed was singing in the car, it is my therapy.
My vocabulary is still evolving and I have caught myself saying 'rubbish' or 'pavement.' I am just about sorted on my spelling, removing the extra 'u' from several words and embracing the 'z' again. Yeah, that's 'zee.'

I've just about caught up on all my favorite American eats, although I haven't been to Cracker Barrel yet, which is a real crime. Soon.

Being back at work sometimes has felt like I never left the friendly faces and familiar places. Time is a strange sensation as I have been slowly catching up with people there.
them: "Well, hey! I haven't seen you in a long time!"
me: "Yeah, um, it's been a little more than a year, I guess."
them: "Has it really been that long?!"

So, I'm hoping that life will begin to feel less surreal and I'll stop feeling like I either came from or have arrived in some kind of parallel universe. I take great comfort in that once I'm settled into my apartment and get the sads over not being in England, I can curl up with a Cadbury double-decker and a nice cuppa and begin to plan my next visit.

See? I'm even avoiding finishing this post as if it is the last time I can mention Coventry or England. Silly me. Even the blog knows my love affair with England is not over.

Sometimes, I believe them

I finished up my 're-orientation' at work this week.  It was altogether great to get back into it and catch up with work people.  We ran a couple of 'good' calls and I feel pretty confident about heading back out on my own next week, I just won't know where I'm going, but that's nothing new.  It's difficult to work where I don't live- street names and directions are never reinforced. 
Anyway, we met up with a far away crew for a guy with chest pains.  We got there, ready to believe that the call had been talked up by overexcited providers, but this patient really looked, if I can use the term, poorly.  He was, pale, drenched in sweat, had truly crushing chest pain and was struggling with the EMT to keep the oxygen on his face while declaring that he was going to die.  When certain patients say this, I believe them, as it is usually beyond theatrics, and I have heard too many stories of a patient saying they were going to die and then, well, they do. 
So, we started IVs, did 12 leads, transmitted, gave nitro, aspirin, called command, started nitro paste, administered morphine, alerted the cath lab, and hoped that he wasn't right.
God, it was fun. 

By George, a Gorge

When we arrived at Todra Gorge, the sun had already set, but even so, a quick look around helped us realize we were in a unique place. When we looked up, the sky was again filled with stars, although the stars appeared to be blocked out except for a narrow strip above us. It was strange to realize that we were not staying at Todra Gorge, we were staying in it.
Our hotel was situated against one wall of the gorge and we slept on the roof which was wacky but fun. Laying on my back in my sleeping bag I looked up and followed the dark canyon wall as it rose a hundred feet in front of me. It was truly strange, but waking up to see where we were in the daylight was magic. The canyon's narrow passage passed in front of the hotel and stretched out on either side of us. Most simply, we were in a gorge and as the sun rose, it threw light on the dry, red walls of the canyon and was one of the most amazing places I've seen.
I was the only one of our group to take a trek through the gorge with a local Nomad guide. I thought for sure it would be canceled, but to my surprise, I went alone and hiked to the top of the gorge. It was a moderate hike and I felt truly out of shape when we reached the top and my guide, rather than taking even a sip of water, lit a cigarette and waited for me to take in the view.
"I am Nomad." he explained simply to my disbelief. He had walked these mountains his entire life, taking one more tourist up was as mundane as crossing the street to him. Luckily, I could use picture taking as an excuse to stop on the way up. It was truly beautiful. Unluckily, the pictures from that day now lay in picture purgatory on a hopelessly broken SD card. Oh well. (Please google 'todra gorge' so my meek explanations can make some sense)
We continued our hike to a visit with a Nomadic family. They made me thyme tea and talked for a while in their native Berber language. Their young son posed for me and smiled widely every time the camera pointed his way. He had seen tourists before. They let me snoop around their encampment and they showed me the caves they slept and cooked in. It was fascinating and exciting to see a people who still live in the traditional way. Well, mostly. When I asked where they got their food and meat, my guide simply said "They walk to the market in town." as if the answer were as plain as day. Simply walking into town seemed too obvious to me.
When we finished our tea, we headed back down into the gorge and eventually (after almost slipping down the loose rocks a few times) caught up with some of our group who had prepared all of us a lovely homemade lunch. Tagene again, but it was the best by far.
After lunch, in a lapse of rational thought I bought a small carpet from our host which, now that I didn't accidentally leave it on a train, I am very excited to have. But seriously, if anyone steps on it, I may kill them.
In the afternoon, we walked back to our hotel, led through the communal gardens in the middle of the gorge. The landscape makes a brilliant change from dry and hot to a literal oasis along the shores of the river in the canyon. This area is masterfully irrigated and full of greenery as well as pomegranate, almond, date, and olive trees. It was a pretty cool walk.
It became a lazy afternoon as we mostly rested and then watched a few of our group go rock climbing in the evening. This was fun, but made me nervous as the guy in charge set the anchor points, high up the wall without a rope. It was amazing to watch but made me want to call the local ambulance just in case. "Somebody bring the donkey!" Just kidding. Or, not.

The Desert

Alright, I'm going to try again to finish writing about Morocco.  From Fez we traveled all day to the edge of the Sahara desert.  After a long drive that literally drove off of the roadway into seemingly nothing, we  clamored onto camels and headed into the soft, red sand dunes.  In about an hour, as we watched the sun set, we arrived at the Berber camp where we had dinner and spent the night.  We had, predictably, a tagene that was great, had an adventure not finding the toilet, and were entertained by some of the Berbers who played traditional drums around the camp fire.
The sand there has the most inviting texture and temperature.  Instead of cold and wet, the deeper I dug into it, the warmer and dryer it felt.  Burying my feet in it was like having a heater around them, and the sand felt soft and smooth and I was completely content sitting it it, doing nothing else.  I leaned back against it, spreading my arms out like a snow angel; my entire view was filled with stars-180 degrees of the universe was laid out before me.  It was fascinating and infinite and one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.
My lack of astrological knowledge is lamentable, especially in that situation.  Although, we did figure out which were planets, that 'that thing' was the milky way, and for the first time, I saw all of Orion, and not just his belt.
Three of us dragged the little mattresses we were given up a dune and slept there under the stars.  I woke up a few times in the night and it was impossible not to catch a glimpse of our surroundings and not feel amazed.  I could have laid there for days. In the morning, I got up for the sunrise, which was lovely although with every dune I climbed, there was another one between me and the sun.  It was still a beautiful morning and absolutely the most fantastic place I've woken up to.  Seeing it in daylight was barely more than my camera could handle, it is too easy to get overexcited there and click yourself into a frenzy.

We didn't stay long in the morning as the sun brought heat and flies.  We took our camels back out to 'civilization' and had a lovely breakfast on the edge of the desert.  We then headed to a beautiful kasbah converted into a hotel where we hung out, swam in their pool, enjoyed their full service bathrooms, showered, tanned, smoked hookahs, and had a relaxing lunch.
It was unusual for me to enjoy such an afternoon on vacation, but after three weeks of 'go, go go' it was really nice simply to relax and do nothing.  So, maybe there is a new travel lesson for me- it is okay to do nothing....just not for too long.

Back in the Saddle

I hopped into the drivers seat of our new truck and as I pulled away I had several questions.
"Where are the lights on this thing?"
"Oh, okay...Where is the siren"   "Thanks.  Ooh! I like this!"
"Um...Did we call responding?"   "Awesome."
"Oh, One more thing.  Where are we going? Because all I care about right now is finding the button for the rumbler."

It is with joy I have returned to work and I was given two weeks before the next schedule to hang out and acclimate.  My first day was like Christmas, other than the new truck, we opened a satellite station, and got some new toys (including two very new lifepak 15s! I know, squirrell!).  We've run some good calls in the last week, and it's really felt like I never left.  The new schedule comes out next week and I'll be back officially. 

But I have simply been thrilled by driving fast, clearing intersections, and blaring the siren to the point of absurdity. 

Like the Hat

Fes was our first foray into a large Moroccan city and it didn't disappoint.  We stopped first at a pottery where we saw them throwing Tagines (the dish of the national dish) and more importantly (or dear to my heart) they were making the most beautiful mosaic tables I'd seen.  The work was so labor intensive and amazing I could have stayed all day watching them make them.
After a couple of other stops at an overlook and the royal palace, we headed into the Medina (or old part of town) where an enormous variety of goods, meats, and materials can be purchased.  Fes was founded in 789 and still boasts the oldest functioning university, located right in the city center.  We were led through the souks (market stalls) in the medina as there are thousands of roads in this area that are largely unmarked and very narrow. It was a feast for the eyes, ears, and nose to wander through the medina here.  We saw many, many merchants selling textiles, leather, meat, food, fresh fruit and veg, live chickens, and probably anything else one could think of.  We had to listen for oncoming 'traffic' in the forms of donkeys and mules.  We were told that having a donkey in this area was as valuable as a truck, as they are used to to transport purchased goods to the main part of the city.  As we neared it, the smell of the leather tannery wafted through the narrow streets.  When we arrived, we retreated to an upstairs viewing area after we each received a fresh sprig of mint to guard against the smell. 
The sight before us were many tanning and dying pits used to treat the leather.  All around these, hung out of windows, or laid on rooftops, hides dried in the afternoon sun.  It was easily the most strange site I have beheld, and I was eager to join the brave souls on our trip to get a look at the area on street level.  Not wanting to know what was beneath our feet, we headed down to the pits, equal parts admiring and ogling at the many workers standing waist deep in the muck and the dye, and the skins.  It was nothing short of amazing.

When we had our fill (which didn't take long) we headed back through the souks clinging to the smells of fresh bread and spices enticing us away from the insanity of the tannery.  The whole area is difficult to describe.  It was labyrinthine, confusing, and busy to the point of chaos.
Everything I saw was equal parts fascinating, disgusting, and entertaining.  I could have spent days wandering the streets there, but I fear that is what would have happened if I had become separated from the group.

Far from Home

From the moment I stepped off of the ferry in Morocco, I felt conspicuous, confused, lost, and nervous for the first time in my travels.  I had to walk about a half a mile to my meeting point and I spent most of the time getting there refusing help from a great number of local 'tour guides' who could offer me...well, anything I wanted really.  Especially a hotel room, a personal tour, or the location of the nearest cash point.  One guy followed me to the nearest ATM, pointed it out to me and said "Don't you want to get some money out?"  Haha, really, does that work on people?  Another guy literally ran after me to ask if I needed somewhere to stay.  There are only so many times I can politely refuse things.  But Morocco has a way of testing that type of patience and I was just getting my first taste of it.  Happily, I found the meeting point, clamored into an 80's Mercedes taxi, and, clutching my backpack and hoped fervently that it would take me to the right place.
It did, and my adventure had begun.
There were 24 on the trip and we rode in our trusty steed, an enormous overland Merc, that would essentially be our home for the next fortnight.  It held our food, our tents, our belongings, and would take us many miles throughout the country.
Our first stop was in Chefchaouen (chef-showen (kind of)) a city of about 35k founded in 1471.  It was open to tourists only in 1956 after Moroccan independence.  It is a charming place with brightly blue colored buildings throughout the old town and our tour somehow felt obtrusive as we wound through less touristy back streets admiring the bright blue buildings, and amused by local children who delighted in our presence.
It was a great, relaxed day here complete with dinner in the city center that evening.
We set up our first camp and much to my surprise/delight were were camping in a proper camp site which was an experience in itself.  Throughout the trip we reveled in finding actual toilets, getting the key to the one hot shower, and sleeping on the 'nice' cots.
The next day we went to Volubilis, a Roman outpost dating from the 3rd century BC.  It is fairly well preserved and has most of the modern amenities typical of Roman life.  A brothel, for example.  More importantly, it has some spectacular and very well preserved mosaics which are worth the trip.


In the afternoon we arrived in Fes and I had my evening of 'unwellness' which unfortunately robbed me of a five course dinner.  Oh well.

So,

I should probably start blogging again. Sorry It's been a while with narry a mention of Morocco details, what I'm up to now, or general belly-aching about how things are weird and different and my complete loss of the ability to make long term life decisions.

What I have done is get rehired at work, woot! I start back on Monday and I am looking forward to being a semi productive member of society again. Secretly, I'm a little nervous and not totally looking forward to feeling like a stupid noob again. But I doubt it will last past the first shakey-handed IV start. Like riding a bike...I hope.
Oh, and speaking of that, I took the bike out on ten miles of our old route and it was awesome! I was reminded just how crap my crap bike was. The kayaks got a work out today too, which was amazing. It took me a few minutes to remember how I got it on my roof, but after that it was all good. The weather has been unusually cooperative, and I am hoping to squeeze as many autumnal outdoor sports activities in the next couple of weeks as possible.
But enough about that- back to Morocco.

A little bit of both

It is difficult to describe the feelings of joy, excitement, sadness, and utter weirdness I have felt over the last week. I finally arrived back in London after a tiring couple of days traveling and living like a hobo.  I felt such comfort and contentedness when I arrived, and I headed to my friends house, reunited with my suitcases, and overjoyed to stretch out on a proper bed.
The next day, I absorbed my Morocco souvenirs into my suitcases, barely keeping them under the allotted 23kgs. 10 lbs of chocolate seriously doesn't help. And all of it is to give away.  Most of it. Some of it.  A few pieces.
I spent part of the afternoon checking up on my favorites in the National Gallery.  Then I met my cousin which was super weird as we usually only meet once a year at Christmas.  But it was really awesome to catch up and exchange our love of all things British.  It felt as though it had been far longer than a month since I left Coventry as I met a couple of cov peeps and  headed out for dinner to catch up on our four weeks apart.  (How will we feel when years have passed?!)

I was, of course, very sad to leave England, but I felt ready to get back to the 'real world' and definitely missed people here and work (I know, it's sad).  On Thursday I basically wanted to cry the entire day from parting with the tube to parting with my friend who is irreplaceable and more kind to me than I deserve.  I didn't have long to wait which was probably a good thing, and made the last calls with my UK phone.  I'll keep it, maybe it will come in handy in years to come.  If I need a flashlight.

It was a very tolerable flight with plenty to eat and thankfully good company.  I wanted to sob with excitement for the last hour, and happily, the lady next to me was so nice and chatty, the time flew by.  When we landed I tried to remain calm and not make any national security incidents, but I seriously wanted to run through the airport like a maniac.  The absolute joy of seeing both of my bags emerge from the depths to the luggage carousel was nearly unparalleled as I prayed not to be secondarily searched (as this would have taken hours with over 100lbs of luggage).  I happily presented my landing card and suddenly found myself searching through the sea of people at the arrivals gate.  It was an immensely happy reunion with balloons, signs, gifts, and tears.  Who cares about luggage?

It is a few days later and the surreal but nice feeling has not worn off.  The strangeness piled up as I felt culture shocked in my own country.  "Do you see how big that truck is?  I mean seriously?!"
I ate at Chick-Fil-A, shopped at Target and skipped through Walmart wanting to shout "You're so American!" at everyone (in the most endearing way possible).  Also, I'm glad to have hulu back and caught up on 30 Rock right away.  And Pandora is my new DJ.  Seriously, the UK needs these things!

I was reunited with my truck and happily reminded myself how to drive and get around my city (which hasn't changed much).  With much trepidation I pulled into traffic, and am beginning to look the right (actually left) way first.  Singing in the car was something I truly missed. 

With a fair amount of dread I entered where all of my things are stored and pawed through for a while to find my kayak paddle.  Priorities, man.  Hopefully this weekend I'll get some time on the water and enjoy this glorious fall weather.  I found my work clothes too, and truly had to search for my stethoscope, but I am ready and all but rehired and learned today I won't have to suffer through orientation again, woot!

So, "happy to be back" barely describes the feeling.  I am excited and overwhelmed and stoked to find somewhere to live and get back to work and feel like a functioning member of society again.  My friend asked me if I had 'gotten it out of my system.'  For now...

When I fly, I like to ask my seatmate if they are going home or leaving home. For this trip, my answer was a little bit of both.

The little things

I am back in Spain, fresh(ish) from a fortnight in Morocco, a little more tan, a little more blonde, and a lot wiser on all things Moroccan.  More details will undoubtedly be spilled here in coming weeks, once I am more organized. But for now I can tell you how much Morocco made me appreciate little things.  Little things like modern plumbing, toilet paper, soap, and quite simply, toilets.  Any combination of these (or all) were conspicuous in thier non existance throughout our stay, which sometimes made that rather mundane aspect of life amusing and adventurous. 

Additionally, I never fully appreciated going into a shop, being left alone, browsing in peace, and having clear prices.  Like bathroom essentials, all of these shopping elements were conspicuous in thier non existance.  I have never been so popular in my life, being constantly bothered to buy things in Morocco.  "Just have a look", "to look is free", "no price is fixed", "what's your best price", "I'll give you good price" and the like.  Over and over again.  It is impossible to walk down the street let alone browse, and it is impolite not to haggle.  By the end of our day in Marrakech, I was weary of asking people to take a picture of their amazing shops, and quite enjoyed watching people bargain, as it truly is a game there.  Now that I'm back in Europe, I am still in a bargaining mood. Fixed prices are so boring.  And expensive.

Anyway, it is great to be in a place with proper beds, hot showers, and toilets, blessed toilets!  More updates to come, but for now, I am ready to stretch out on my luxuious bottom bunk and take a calm day to enjoy Grenada.  

Setecientos

"Welcome to the 700th post! (and the 100th this year) We are reporting to you live from the southernmost point of Europe, and, although the blog has been neglected, Ellies sun tan has not!" 
Okay, so I'm pretty much still pale and pasty, but, oh the sun.  How glorious.  I am currently in Tarifa, Spain, one of the most beautiful and charming places I've ever been. Can we say house hunters international?  I am utilizing the hostel internet, and can look off of the terrace in front of me....and see Africa.  I'll be up close by tomorrow evening for which I am stoked!   The beach is amazing and goes on for miles with crystal clear blue water and a rash of kite surfers.  Tarifa is where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet which among other things, makes it windy.  There are literally hundreds of wind turbines in the hills behind the city, which is clearly awesome.  I can't imagine that Tarifa emits any carbon. 
It's been a fab couple of weeks, firstly in France, trying 10+ types of cheeses, and other generally awesome foods.  When a meal consists of tiny frying pans of cheese, heated by a strange tabletop appliance, then poured over potatoes and ham, I dont know what else one could possible need.  We also visited a champagne maker in Reims which was very interesting.  I didn't know making champagne was such a complicated and dangerous process.  I mean, after the very first unreinforced bottles of champagne exploded, I admire those determined to make it work. Good decision.
On my last day there my friend took me to fontainebleau, where world class bouldering can be had.  It's basically an area where over time, huge boulders were carved out of the earth, which many people enjoy climbing.  I am about as far as one can get from an expert in bouldering, but I conquered a few of the easy ones which consisted of walking with style. But what a cool place.  Some of these boulders were crazy big and the climbers crazy good.
From France I took an overnight train to Barcelona which was an interesting experience. I was in a crappy reclining seat, which was not too bad, until the person in front of me reclined as well.  Then they were basically in my lap.  Despite that, it was still as fun and romantic and interesting as I expected.  Sleep was patchy and when I arrived I felt as though I was jet-lagged without having flown.  Luckily, an afternoon siesta is more or less required in Spain.
Barcelona is big and touristy and full of energy throughout the day and night.  Gaudi is pretty awesome and can be seen on practically every corner.  I visited la Segrada Familia, his magnum opus of sorts.  It is wacky and cool and hopefully will be finished in my lifetime.  I am curious to see the finished product.  
I met up with a woman from Vermont who was dangerously open to suggestion so she came with me to Madrid, even braving the overnight bus which trust me, is not nearly as fun as the train.  And by not nearly a much fun, I mean almost no fun.  But it gets you places without having to pay for accommodation.  Madrid has a great feel and has what became two days worth of fantastic art museums.  The Prado, Thyssean, and Renia Sofia, are all wonderful in their own ways, with art spanning pretty much every era since painting was conceived. 
Anyway, those are the basics of the last two weeks.  I just wanted to give the blog a little love before what I imagine will be a fortnight of silence until I am back from Morocco.  Thanks for reading (even if not all 700 posts), I hope to update more soon!

España

A short update to match the last.  I am here in Barcelona after a long and strange day.  Longer update to follow for sure.  Highlights are: churches! strange meats! champagne making! world class bouldering! overnight trains! waiting! taking the metro! and, more strange meats!  Can you hardly wait to read all about it!?  But first, a siesta. Here are some upsideown question marks to tie you over.  ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿

France

The first leg of the wild ass plan within a wild ass plan is here in France.  I am on an EU keyboard which is discouraging me to write with its out of order keys.  But just a short entry to say I am here and having a wonderful time visiting charming cities and eating new foods including horse, fois gras, blood sasuage, and a few other meats I don`t want to think about.  Plenty of wine, sweets, and pastries too!
Paris tomorrow and on to Barcelona Friday night.  Oh, here is a selection of useful keys on this lappy.
é è ç à ^ £ ¤ µ ù § °  qs zell qs ,isplqced a,w,x, q, and m.  Weirdos. Here`s a € for good measure.

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 9

Roundup!

What's with having to press a button to get out of a building. I’m pretty sure this is just to make foreigners (or just me) look stupid.

Charitably funded air ambulances are simply a brilliant idea. The thought of not having to pay taxes toward them, and that insurance companies would not be billed $10,000 every time I flew someone at work is simply heart-warming.  Support your local air ambulance!

I love that everyone here has the same ring tone. It is particularly amusing on the train when the Nokia do-do-do-do starts and everyone looks around while patting their pockets or digging through their purses. Hilarious. Even better is the confident person who immediately says 'it can't be me' and does nothing. It always turns out that it's their phone that is ringing. And it always turns out that that person is me.

Things would be a lot easier for foreigners if they didn't use A4 size paper here. It's off by just enough that I cannot easily frame anything I've acquired here. Not even my diploma.

There is a national obsession with health and safety. And I thought the US were bad. Once I was at the grocery store and put my basket down along the edge of the aisle so that I could more easily go into one of my shopping trances where I obsessively compare prices, sizes, and flavors. An employee came up to me.
“Is that you're basket?”
“Oh, yeah, don't put it all back.” (lonely chuckle)
“That's fine, but do you think you could pick it up?”
“Um, sure, but why?”
“Well, someone could trip over it.”
Trip over it? Someone would really have to go out of their way to do that but whatev.
“Um, okay.” I made for the basket, then slowly backed away when she left.

Oh, and three words:  talking caution sign.  Really? I am sorry that our litigious society has creeped over the pond. 

Why does everything in my city center close at 5? It's like a ghost town by 5:30, just tumble-weeds, litter, and the occasional group of drunk teens. It seems to me that they could make a lot more money by staying open in the evening. Before 5, you wouldn't believe that there is an economic crisis going on. It is bustling here every day of the week, but I guess everyone turns into a pumpkin every evening.

Could we follow the UK example and open more open markets at home? Every city I've visited here has a market. Every day. And they don't just sell fresh fruit and veg, freshly cut meats, fish, and locally farmed eggs. They sell clothes, and textiles, party supplies, and all manner of weird stuff. No one even goes to the weekly farmers market at home and why? Access to fresh and cheap fruit and veg has been great here.

Can the US start calling the ground floor the ground floor too?  It just makes more sense.  

Oh, and how could I forget: England needs more pop tarts. And while I'm thinking of it, they could do with some Toaster Strudles too.  Thanks.

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 8

I really want to get maybe, 1000 of my closest friends together and put them in a queue to nowhere through an English city center. I just want to see if people will join a random line with no discernible beginning or destination. Every few minutes, the person at the 'front' could move up a few steps, and all will follow, but really they are waiting for nothing. I hypothesise that this would work. People would join the queue, then feel too silly after a few minutes to ask just what they were queuing for. How long could that go on? UK sociologists: a challenge.
But the British queuing thing is true, and most Brits will admit to it. It makes things very orderly, which I enjoy. It is mostly clearly seen at the cash machine where everyone is very respectful of PIN protection. I have only seen queue confusion at the market where the politeness will make anyone crazy with unending 'You go' 'No, you go.' 'Really, you were here first.' 'Are you sure?' etc.
Queuing at the pub is yet another art lost on me. This is another place where the queue isn't totally clear and I have a knack for not getting noticed. It seems that at the pub is the only time that Britons are oblivious to each other in a queue. It becomes more of a mass and people just want their beers. “Oh no, don't mind me. I just enjoy standing here, looking expectantly at the taps and dying of thirst. You go ahead. It looks like your need is greater.” In true British fashion, I am reluctant to be pushy and merely sigh loudly and clear my throat when someone threatens to get in front of me.
Getting in lines seems like a very quirky cultural characteristic. Why do they form queues, how did it become a thing? Maybe it's something to do with all those bleak years of rationing. Thank God there's plenty of chocolate to go around these days.

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 7

Few things reveal cultural differences and distinctions more than alcoholic beverages and their consumption. There is nothing more British than a pint of real ale. Real ale is a phenomenon to me, each with a different taste, color, and origin. There are so many, most pubs have a couple standard options and a rotation of several others.  When I go to the pub, I just pick one at random and hope for the best. This tact hasn't let me down!
I guess I can clarify that a 'real ale' or cask ale uses traditional ingredients, is fermented in the same container it is dispensed from, and no CO2 is added. This mostly means that each brew tastes distinctive and it doesn't come out of a regular tap, but has to be manually pumped from the cask. They are brewed all over the country (and world) and each brewery has its own flavors and secret recipes. Basically, a lager, is a lager, is a lager, as I was wisely told, and a cask ale is always different and usually always good. There are actual national regulations and specifications for real ale that are too complicated for me to describe/understand. But CAMRA would be happy to give you the details.

Going to the pub here is very cultural and it is said that more business is conducted after hours in the pub than at any other time. There are also unspoken rules about round buying which I clearly don't understand. When I went with classmates, someone would buy, and I would feebly pat my pockets as they forbade me to pay. I could never quite figure out the pattern and I know that I owe several people a round (or two).
If it's a pub that serves food, something that I really enjoy is that you order at the bar, pay, they bring out the food, you eat it and leave. There's no tipping, awkward serving, or bill paying confusion. It's like brushing your teeth before showering. Somehow it feels like you've saved time and energy.

Real ale isn't the only thing to drink in pubs. Regular taps usually exist, and something that I really like is a shandy, which is half beer, half lemonade. Before you vomit, know that lemonade in this country does not involve lemons at all, but is more like lemon flavored soda. Trust me, a shandy is a nice, refreshing drink, perfect for the designated drivers. Pimms and lemonade is also a nice drink. Summer this year lasted about a week, and in that week, I am sure lots of it was consumed. If it is over 30 degrees C, all self respecting Britons are melting in the heat and sipping some Pimms to recover.
I guess it's a bit universal that people drink, and no surprise that some people drink too much. But here, it's really a thing. I mean, the London Ambulance Service had to adopt the use of an actual drunk bus for special occasions (Fridays).  I think that's kind of telling, but perhaps I should refrain from comment considering I can't remember the last time I was even in remote need of a booze bus.
But I think the singing deserves mention. I've never lived in such a close proximity to a city center as I do now. This yields, virtually every night, groups of drunk people parading by, singing loudly, shouting, or getting into fights. Why is this? What is it about the drink that drains British youth of all reservation, making them sing loudly and proudly while wandering down the middle of the street?
Either way: pubs? We Americans need them. But real ale? We need that more. Oh, and Guinness on tap, wood panelling, and bi-monthly traditional music do not a pub make

Cov Love

Like all transitional phases of life, the last few days here in Cov have been strange and great and sad at the same time.  The next few days will be handing in my thesis, packing all my stuff into suitcases, stocking up on my favorite candy and tea, eating at the best restaurants in town, and hanging with friends that I will soon have to leave for some time.

I had my last service at the cathedral on Sunday which was very nice and peaceful.  Later, a couple of friends and I finally went to Cadbury World to check out how Britain's favorite chocolate is made.  This is completely worth it, if you can get tons of discounts on entry like we did.  It's pretty camp and silly, but has a fair balance of stuff for kids and adults. After the history of chocolate and Cadbury's, at a very brief point we actually saw some factory action where the bars were being put into wrappers.  What I found interesting is that they are very insistent about not taking photos in that area.  What am I going to do, sell their 'secrets' to Hershey's?  I'm pretty sure that Hershey's has the 'putting the chocolate in wrappers' thing pretty down by now.
They also have a very wacky ride that was more like 'it's a small world' than anything having to do with making chocolate.  Samples were aplenty which really sets it apart from the Hershey factory. I mean, what do you get there these days?  A kiss? At one point we got to pick our favorite candy and then they poured melted chocolate on it.  Amazing.  That alone was worth admission.
There was a disappointing and distinct lack of bargains in their store.  I am sure that more mistakes are made than they are letting on, and I would happily have bought them all.  Although, you can get some different products there, which I guess is nice for the connoisseur. 

Yesterday I spent a few hours formatting and organising my thesis.  I am sure there is an easier way to make a table of contents than by hand, but whatever.  I nervously printed it out and then payed the exorbitant amount of money to have it bound into a fancy book.  Seriously, it's extortion.  But they don't give you much choice.
Tomorrow I will pick it up, give it a once over, and hand it in.  That is pretty exciting, although finishing the whole thing felt very anti-climactic.  It wasn't like I went to a fancy hotel and the vandalised the room to declare that I was finished.  I sort of said what I wanted, checked the word count, added a little more, and once I had enough, stopped.  I ended with about 14,500. 

I also printed out my tickets and itinerary which was all very comforting. As long as I can get everything I need in my backpack, I will feel very confident starting this chapter of the wild ass plan. 

I will take extra moments this week to wander through the city center, extra time to enjoy the company I have, and extra consideration to keeping in touch in the future.  Having friends in different states is one thing, having friends in different continents is quite another.

Carnival On

I started last weekend by hitting the Brick Lane Sunday market in London. This was pretty cool, but I felt not hipster enough. Most of the market was overpriced new clothes, but more so, overpriced vintage clothes. Outside of that there was some awesome street food to be had, which frankly interests me way more than clothes of any era. I had an awesome Japanese 'rice thingy' and a Thai pumpkin curry which I plan to attempt to replicate when I get home. The Sunday market spreads to the street where tiny yard sales take place right on the pavement set in 'Banglatown' where there are about a million curry houses as well as cool foreign grocery stores and sweet shops. I stopped in to the Brick Lane Beigel Bake because when the queue for a place doubles back and out the door, it is almost always worth standing in. Here you can watch them bake the bagels and then buy one for 20p. A true London bargain.
In the evening, I took in a free organ concert at Westminster Abbey. It's great just to get into that place for free and when it was over, I was not the only one with the wise idea to loiter, everyone was wandering around, taking it in, and driving the ushers mad.

The next day I headed to Notting Hill carnival. This was the most insane event I have witnessed. At this two day street carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture and music, over a million people come out to watch the parade, dance in the street, and drink lots and lots of Red Stripe. I stepped off the tube at 10am and the smell of the open grills cooking up jerk chicken, fried plantains, and sweet corn on the cob was already in the air.
I wrongly assumed that I could find a good place to camp out for a couple of hours and watch the parade. You know, sit on the curb, watch a marching band go by and be on my way. How wrong I was! If you camp out to watch the entire Notting Hill carnival parade, you will be very tired and hungry! It started around 11 and was still going on when I left around 4. Over 60 entrants participated this year. I started watching near the judging area, which was nice as all of the bands stopped to perform and dance and do whatever they were doing.
The crowds gathered, the bands about burst my ear drums, and the costumes were amazing, but after about 2 hours I realized that it could go on forever and I hadn't had any jerk chicken yet. So I gave up my viewing spot and joined the swell, wandering down the (I'm sure once peaceful) streets of Notting Hill, now lined with delicious food stalls and on every corner a block party. Huge speakers were set up blasting calypso, soca, or samba music. In some places the base felt as though it was vibrating the street and with my every step it resonated through my whole body from foot to head. You could say it was loud. But it was really a nice atmosphere. People were, admittedly, getting drunker by the second, but mostly happily dancing in the street, eating Caribbean foods, and being generally good natured.
I saw about a thousand cops and only one incident where a fight must have broken out and the next thing I knew two cops were dragging this unconscious guy through the crowd and literally laid him down in front of me. Ah, drunk people, how I miss you!
The rest of the day I wandered through the streets seeing what I could see. The smoke from the open grills filled the air, random whistles and horns broke through the thumping music, and people were dancing like crazy. I had never seen so much public drinking, blatant pot smoking, and trash in the street in my life. And I've never seen so many people. It was a little scary how many people were there, but I had been properly warned and carried only my camera and a change purse in a zipped pocket.
Meanwhile, the parade was still winding its way through town. After it left the judging area, it just sort of became a mobile party, providing entertainment to the crowd, making little progress, dancing through thousands of people.

That's some people!
Once I'd had enough of the crowd and the loudness I headed out, though my exit strategy was kind of flawed. Actually, I guess it worked out as well as it could have, but I underestimated the size of the crowd and of Notting Hill. It took a long time to walk back to my hostel to get my stuff, but it was easier than fighting public transport. I was more than happy to get on the train home and enjoy its quiet and calm.

This Feeling

I don’t know this feeling
but like others, it comes and goes.
It fills me with anticipation,
and sadness at the same time.

I don’t know this feeling
but like others, it sneaks up on me.
It causes me to take time out,
not to be alone.

I don’t know this feeling
but like others, it keeps me going.
It reminds me what the reasons were,
and what the future holds.

I don’t know this feeling
but like others, I’m in denial.
I think I know what it is,
but I’ve never been homesick before.

Maybe it's (not) a British Thing Pt. 6

When I think of British stereotypes, I think of boring food, rainy days, and bad teeth. Stereotypes are sometimes (usually) based in fact and as an American, I know that the rest of the world thinks that we have excessively large cars, yards, hamburgers, and pretty much everything else is too big too (which is all true). So, I am not surprised when people make jokes about my SUV, our cowboy hats, crappy beer, and the fact that I have the nerve to complain about gas prices. I openly admit to these less than charming characteristics of Americans, and more openly, make fun of them mercilessly.

But back to making fun of my adopted country. All Britons will admit that the food is boring, but that doesn't mean it's not good. And yeah, it rains a lot here. In fact, it's raining now. But, it makes the grass green. So, take that.

I have recently discovered that most Britons I know don't know that they are mocked in other countries for having bad teeth. I don't know where it started, maybe something to do with their highly sweet candy bars, toothbrushes that are made of twigs, wooden dentures, and toothpaste that doubles as grout. No, I have no idea.

I don't know anyone here that is missing any essential teeth. Though I haven't met everyone. But, my most recent testament to British oral health began last night when I was eating peanuts and felt a strange pain in my mouth. When I checked it out in the mirror, I discovered that I had broken a tooth. This has never happened to me, so logically, I panicked. Sometimes in my life, stresses accumulate and then one catalyst event throws me into barely controlled (temporary) insanity.
Once I rinsed my mouth, examined the piece of tooth, did a panic dance, and shouted expletives for a few minutes, I called a friend of mine who could advise me on dentists. Everything I knew were all the things I didn't know. Where to find a dentist, do they exist here, how (dear Lord) much it might cost, could it be done in the next two weeks, do they do white fillings!? I knew it didn't make any sense to panic, but that didn't stop me. My fears were somewhat assuaged from his advice and by then I had all but decided that I could go without eating for the next six weeks. In recounting the story to my neighbor, I noticed that she didn't get it when I said “And, now I have to go to the dentist in a country with notoriously bad oral health! Ha Ha...It's funny right?”

I was already a big fan of the NHS here (if for no other reason than yellow ambulances), but I did know that dentistry wasn't covered in the national healthcare scheme. But it kind of is. I know now that a general visit costs about £20, a filling (or more) costs about £50 and anything more 'major' costs about £120. It turns out that x-rays, cleaning, fixing a broken tooth, and filling another one falls into the £50 category. That's a bargain! Seriously.

I called the office up at complete random, and got an appointment for the same day which I know will never, ever happen to me again. I assumed I'd have to wait for a week, then need a second appointment that would occur after I had already left the country. If anything could have delighted me about going to the dentist, knowing that it could all be sorted in one day was it.

Happily, the office was within walking distance and I just looked out for something with a sign that probably said something weird like 'Dental Surgery' or 'Torture Chamber.' I found it. For the record, it looked and smelled just like dentist offices (as we normals call them) at home.

I truly abhor seeing the dentist (which is probably what lead to my tooth breaking) and I find I had more anxiety about it than flying. Wearing my tinted safety goggles for 'health and safety,' with needles coming at me, whirring drills, and numb face, I literally thought to myself “Find your happy place!” Which was useful as it took me a few minutes to decide on one. The whole thing took about an hour and was pretty much exactly like any visit at home. I didn't get a sticker though. Which I really needed.

So, I'd like to bust the stereotype. I've met more Americans with visibly bad teeth than I have in the UK. England has dentists, and they do a good job. Although, no one in the office introduced themselves to me or seemed to notice that I was so freaked out. But that's okay. I think they were just proving another British stereotype.

Cookies

Inexperience worries
that the dough isn't right.
Flour covered hands roll with
makeshift pin and juice glass cutter.

A watchful eye of foreign ovens
ensures nothing is on fire.
Plain icing needs sprinkles,
arranged on each masterpiece.

Scrutinizing the mess,
but pleased with their uniformity.
Tears caught me by surprise,
flown all the way home with one bite.

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 5

Tomato-Tomahto. Let's not call the whole thing off. I guess I can't do this series without a word on words. I didn't really want to get into the lexicography of US v. UK terms. Mostly because it quickly gets confusing and some of it I knew before I arrived. Also, I find most of it quite charming. For example, why don't we call it a car boot? And nothing sounds better than “a mini cooper with white bonnet stripes.” But some words are just too fancy. I mean, courgette? Aubergine? Seriously.

Almost every conversation I have with a Brit ends up with talk of our vocab minutiae and the whole thing is just one of life’s mysteries. No one can explain why a sweater is a jumper, a trash can is a bin, or a backpack is a rucksack. Am I going to wear a bathing suit or a...a swimming costume? I can't even say that without giggling. There are a million more, none of which have any explanation; and the American Revolution would be stretching it. Some of it, though, leads to amusing situations.

In my first foray into the world of 'the gym.' I had to go to an orientation to make sure that I wouldn't inadvertently hurt myself, I guess. I think it really is to add another level of annoyance to the whole process. And for people like me, a deterrent. I mean, my showing up to the gym is a miracle in itself, why push it with an embarrassing orientation process?
Anyway, I had come from class, so I had to change when I got there. I checked in with the girl at the desk.
“Hi, I'm here for orientation.”
“Cool, you can just wait over there.”
“Oh, okay, but I have to go change my pants first.” (rushes to locker room)

About three minutes later I was in the midst of changing when I realized what I had said, and at no one in particular I shouted “Trousers! I need to change my trousers, dammit!” Because of course, here, pants are underwear and it's not something you'd announce to the world if they needed changing.
I returned sheepishly to wait, hoping that she had caught my accent and forgiven my bringlish faux pas.

This was certainly not my last experience into the intercontinental wordplay confusion.

I went to a dinner at the cathedral and it was really lovely. As is customary everywhere, a palate cleansing sweet item was set out, and the people I was sitting with offered me 'pudding.'
Always eager for any kind of sweet palate cleansing food, I headed to the front table which was actually full of pies and cookies. Not that pies and cookies are in any way a disappointment, but not what I was expecting. I returned with a slice of apple and my inquiry.

“I hate to tell you guys, but this is not pudding.” My joke was met with quizzical looks. “I mean, this isn't what I call pudding. This is- this is pie.” (crickets chirping)
“Ohh! Of course, pudding is just what we call what you'd call uh...dessert. What do you call pudding?”
“Wait, um. I mean, pudding is um, a diary product that is, like, uh, impossible to describe, actually. It's uh, cold, and creamy, and sweet, and usually chocolate.”
Thankfully a sweet wise person saved me.
“You mean custard.”
Another understanding “Ohh!” went through the table.
“Custard- yes! That's what it is. Well, I'm glad we cleared that up. I think.”

It was then explained to me that pudding was dessert and 'dessert' was more of a posh term that nobody says. Little did I know at the time that custard still isn't exactly pudding, and many people prefer to pour it hot over pies or cakes instead of letting it cool in the fridge. Weirdos.

Although, this practice, as well as that of 'pouring cream' is pretty awesome and almost no pudding would be complete without it.

So, be careful when you're here. Though I don't think there are any actually damaging Bringlish faux pas. Only other amusing misunderstandings having to do with looking for the birds that fly as opposed to the birds that....don't. But I don't think many Brits even say that any more.

Oh, and 'inverted commas?' Seriously? Full stop.

More Tea

The laptop is warm on my knees
I take another break for tea.
The research continues,
words reluctantly multiply.
I'm probably overcomplicating it
and distraction abounds.
I hear something outside, or
the relentless allure of the internet.
When a sudden idea peeks around the corner
and I'm back to the point.
That five minutes of work
certainly deserves a reward.
More tea.

In case you were wondering

Academically, things are going fine. I met with my supervisor last week who is awesomely and annoyingly hands off. I am very glad not to have a supervisor who wants to meet every week and check up on my progress every five minutes. I'm also glad to have one who cares, but is happy to leave me alone. But, I kind of need a little more discipline as I am in actuality, a terrible student who is easily distracted. Hence, I have been more interested in writing blog posts and booking trains than finishing my case studies. He seemed happy with my progress, and was unhurt that I have already conducted a couple of interviews and nearly finished my lit review without him.

So, I am about half finished now and if I actually bother to read stuff and 'critically analyze' it, I can easily be finished before the due date.

As for my wild-ass plan within a wild-ass plan, I have booked my flight home (woot!) Eurostar tickets, a few overnight trains (yeah, it would be faster and cheaper to fly, but that's not as the point) and two nights at a hostel in Tarifa, Spain. Excited! I've paid for my organized trip, and got my ebay new-to-me tiny sleeping bag which will happily fit in my laughably small backpack.

The bike and I have been enjoying the weather, although it has developed an amusing tick where the handlebars no longer control the steering, sending me plowing into trees and bushes. I tried to tighten them, but it didn't exactly work. Medical tape will be my next solution. It's already ghetto.

If you want to stay sane, never listen to the Wicked soundtrack. It will never leave your brain!

I had a pretty low key birthday, as it will get progressively low key until it ends in a '0' again. (which is alarmingly soon, actually). We went to the gym (what is wrong with me?!) had a delish buffet lunch and saw Inception which was actually really cool, and not that confusing. Oh, and flowers magically appeared in my room again. I'm so happy when that happens!

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 4

Breakfast can be a great time in the UK. I have raved about the 'full English' before and have now experienced its many variations including but not limited to blood pudding, fried toast, potato scone, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, baked beans, but always including the staples of fried egg, rasher of bacon, and sausages. How to go wrong? Add a little porridge with sugar and cream: dream breakfast.

On the colder side of breakfast, the UK have extremely boring cereals. Granted, Weetabix, Alpen, and Crunchy Nut, aren't bad, but simply can't compare to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Corn Pops, and the mother of all breakfast cereals: Lucky Charms. It is an urban myth that Lucky Charms was banned here due to its lack of nutrition and contribution to poor oral health. Though it is true that it can only be found in speciality shops at a ludicrously inflated price.

Speaking of cereal, can anyone justify UHT milk? I swear I'd never seen this 'ultra high temperature' treated milk before I got here. It sits benignly in the baking aisle, its high temp pasteurization eliminates the need for refrigeration, extending its shelf life to over six months, while driving down the cost; what's not to love? Um, room temperature milk, for one. When compared to the Euro market, the UK hardly consume any of this milk at all, but I read an interesting article on how this milk can save the world by reducing the size of refrigerated sections in grocery stores thus saving energy. Okay, good luck with that.

Speaking of room temperature products, what's up with the eggs here? Maybe I am overly cautious about egg preservation, but I kind of thought that refrigerating them was requisite.

Something I love about food here is that you know exactly where it comes from. Every egg has a code on it that lets you know if it's free range or cage, its country, and the code of the farm that sold it. You can even put this code into a website and track how far your egg came to get to your plate! I bought a head of lettuce and it said the exact farm it came from too. Meat is proudly British, and dairy products are from domestic farms, all of which is actually reassuring and makes this country feel a bit more like a community, in a way.

When one is away from the familiar, the yearning for it becomes very strong. By now, I am quite acclimated to my environment and rarely crave the things that I can only get at home. It is only because it's not here that I want it, and I know that as soon as I get home I will be needing a Cadbury double-decker like nobody's business.
Speaking of Cadbury: great stuff. We need more of it, but it comprises only a tiny percentage of the snacking selection in this country, which truly rivals ours. And that's not a dig, but an observation that I am more than guilty of taking advantage of.
I recognize that UK chocolate is a wonder of modern cocoa processing, but still long for some Reece Cups. Though Jonathan Ross dismissed Hershey's, comparing it to licking a stick of butter, nothing is worse than some of the fake chocolate I've had here. (I'm looking at you, Advent calendar) So, like tea, I stick to the good stuff. Given the British attitude toward American Chocolate, you can imagine the sheer terror that ripped through the country when Kraft bought Cadbury's earlier this year.

To finish, here are some suggestions for some intercontinental sharing.
The UK need:
slurpees, jet-puffed marshmallows, grape jelly, pancakes, Taco Bell, fudge stripe cookies, Hershey products, self serve soda fountains, pretzels, ranch dressing, and Chick-fil-a.
Things the US need:
revels, more Cadbury products, tea, real ales, Galaxy chocolate, pasties (with a long 'a'), digestive biscuits, lemonade (- lemons), British cheeses (all of them), heintz baked beans, Tunnocks teacakes, and of course, orange Kit-Kats.

They can keep mushy peas marmite, hp sauce, and salad cream.

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 3

If you're in the UK and find yourself wondering; cookies are biscuits, biscuits are scones (kind of), chips are crisps, fries are chips, and crackers are also biscuits (or explosives).

To go along with most of those things, let me emphasize the importance of tea. Sure, we in the US have southern sweet tea that is so sweet you could pour it over pancakes, but it doesn't fulfill the cultural necessities of a good cuppa.
It's not necessarily the taste that keeps people coming back, although it is good. Firstly, it's the process of making it. Sharing with a friend, extending the conversation while waiting for the kettle to boil, and the tea to cool. Not to mention the exciting, jet taking off sound the kettle makes when 220 volts boil the water in seconds. Then there's the methodical nature of the brew: how long the bag stays in, how much milk to add, sugar? no sugar? milk first or last? biscuits? to dip, or not to dip? All of these things define the self-proclaimed tea purists. And I've become one! Like abandoning lager, I've actually found myself foregoing a cup of substandard brew.

Tea is also a comfort. A cup of tea is what to do in a crisis, the civilized cigarette break, how to relax, and how to wake up. Any time of day or year, with a warm mug between your hands, all is right with the world. And although I didn't buy the 1600 bags from Costco, I have consumed over 400 cups here in my room alone. I am carefully considering how I pack just to see how many teabags I can get back. I know that I will willingly pay way more than their worth to have PG Tips at home. The guy at the British import store, charging $5 for a 49p box of tea; cheeky bastard.

Maybe it's a British Thing Pt. 2

Back when horses were the best form of transport, carrying a sword was not seen as dangerous and eccentric, and most normal people were right handed, people started to chose a side. To drive on.
I can say with no historical fact or reference, and based mostly on the 5th grader who edited wikipedia, that the UK started to drive on the left because they wanted to be friendly and shake right hands, or wanted to be able to draw their swords without any interference when riding past each other. Reasons for driving on the right are even more fraught with inaccuracy and range from Napoleon's left handedness, to reduce fights among marching armies, and just plain to get back at the UK as one last act of defiance. I prefer the Napoleon idea, especially has France later owned a large chunk of the US and Canada, and maybe it just filtered through all of North America. Who knows?! But back to the point. I mean, to the point in the first place.
They drive on the left here, which takes some getting used to. After many hours of walking, driving, riding in cars, crossing the street, and riding the bike, I'm pretty well acclimated to this UK quirk. It's cool. But I know I'm going to be very confused when I go back to driving. Fortunately, at my work it's kind of okay to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Other than the 'other' side of the road, there are some good things about the UK driving system. Firstly, they have almost no stop signs. This is that utopian society that I have long dreamt of, where no one really needs to ever come to a complete stop. They don't need the 'left turn on red after stop' rule because there aren't any stop signs! Brilliant.

Far less brilliant and fraught with danger and uncertainty are roundabouts. Mini roundabouts might as well not even exist- does anyone bother driving around them? And then, the roundabouts get bigger. 4, 5, 11 exits; it's ridiculous! And with almost as many lanes, does anyone actually know what's going on, or is everyone just feeling their way around, hoping to find the right exit without dying. There is so much indicating and yielding and fist shaking, it's just too much. I love the ones that have clearly gotten out of control, so much that they had to put traffic signals at each exit. Just look at this picture of Swindon's 'magic roundabout.' I rest my case.

The UK is also full of narrow, winding roads, lined by a stone wall hidden by a hedge with passing places only one every three miles. These roads would be great fun if there was a guarantee of no oncoming traffic, and no campervans. Sadly, there is oncoming traffic and always at the wrong time. Just widen the roads for God's sake. Less people would die, and there would be far less pee stains on rental car seats.

At home if I see livestock on the road, I make an effort to contact the farmer so that he can save his loose cow from almost imminent death. But here, the public is welcomed onto pastures for an up-close tour of the country. It's like a UK safari. If you stop and dangle some hay out of the window, there will be sheep crawling all over your Land Rover. People should capitalise on this stuff.

Oh, and kudos to everyone here because they all drive manual. (If you're curious, everything in cars here is the same as American cars, just on the other side. The gearbox is the same layout, the pedals in the same order, even the key goes in on the right.) Automatic cars are alien to them and I even talked to an ambulanceman who turned his nose up at automatic ambulances. Seriously, I could do with less things to think about when driving an ambulance and I don't even want to imagine the kind of ride I'd get if our ambulances were manual.

So, UK driving is okay with me. I can't complain too much- they don't have 4-way stops here, cannot proceed through a red light because they're turning, or any of the other weirdness of the US. Who am I to say they're wrong?

Gym Class

Oh, how gullible I've become. Fuelled by having friends willing to go to the gym with me, I agreed to take a class with them. Yeah, the kind where techno music is blaring while an overly-energetic leader shouts things at people. And of course, loads of public embarrassment. Oh, and don't forget the mirror lined walls so we can all see how awesome we are.
The class we chose to experience first was called 'body combat' which to me was equally intriguing and amusing. Right off the bat, the annoying remixes were playing and the guy in charge was shouting something indecipherable and it seemed like everyone there knew what was going on except for me.

I was shamefully brought back to 9th grade show choir and my pathetic attempts to not participate. If I had not been 14 when I joined that choir, I might have been good. But instead I was a brainless idiot who thought, wrongly again, that I was being civilly disobedient in just not giving a crap. Really, I was just lazy. Believe me, I was not too cool for that choir and boy was I bad. I was notoriously and constantly one beat behind everyone else and rightly moved to the back so the rest of the choir could hide me and pretend I didn't exist. A very appropriate move. I have long been convinced that I am uncoordinated, but the truth is, if I had given it even 10% of the effort it deserved, I probably would have done okay. As it was, I'm not sure I even committed any of it to memory and just followed whatever the person in front of me was doing. Stupid. Alas, 14 year-olds!

But back to the point. This class was like singing along to a song without knowing the words. Instead of deteriorating into unintelligible nonsense words, vaguely resembling the melody, I kind of did whatever came to me, which in this case was feebly punching the air and bouncing randomly on my feet.
The instructors enthusiasm was like nothing I'd ever seen. He was like a movie character; I didn't think people like him really existed. It was like he had chugged 15 Red Bulls right before the class and the results were hilarious. When I wasn't laughing at my own struggles, I was laughing at his silliness.
“Feel the power!” “Without core, you don't know the score!” “4 more times, he-yaa!”
“This is a battle!” “Everybody: KEEE YAAH!”
And maybe all that stuff is helpful, but I am still too apathetic to go along with it. I'd be equally inspired if he just said “Let's get through this so we can eat dinner.” or “Muddle through and I'll give you a high five either way.”

Certainly observing the other class members made me feel slightly less silly. Although they were all following him perfectly, they were also super into it and the girls were suspiciously under dressed and enthusiastic. In hindsight, I'm not sure they were there entirely to punch and kick the air and after quite a girly discussion on the subject, I can say with more authority that most girls only bother to show up to fuel their fantasies of this high-kicking instructor.

My friend who had participated in this silliness before assured me 'Don't worry, next week you'll understand what he's saying.'
Oh, great.
That is assuming I'll be able to walk again by then.