my journey to be my best self

Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

black ≠ black: what a riot

In travel, Uncategorized on August 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

Watching the news I was astonished as I saw Tottenham, home to one of the largest and most significant populations of African-Caribbean people, in flames. The riot left the neighborhood in rubble.
After 11 weeks of “black” people telling me that the British are not as sensitive about race as Americans I want to ask: Is that your final answer?  It can’t be.  I came across these words in the newspaper: “Too many black men have been killed by the police.  Too many black men and women have been treated like criminals when they’re not.”   I knew this wasn’t specific to America.  Despite the history, the racial environment here is more like the landscape at home than anyone is willing to admit but they are not fooling me.  Why?  If they were more honest with themselves, and me, we would better understand the unrest.
First I thought it was because Mark Duggan was shot.  For years I thought the police department was only outfitted with handcuffs and batons. So how was he shot?  Because some cops carry guns — like the ones that were involved in the pre-planned operation to carry out Duggan’s arrest. 
The question was did Duggan shoot first.  Hard to say.  He was a “known gangster” but I was not surprised when the news reported that Duggan, though carrying a loaded gun, did not fire at the police before being shot 2 times and killed.
The real question I have been desperately seeking the answer to is why, in London, where no one admits that race matters, was there a riot after Duggan was killed?  Three nights later London is under lockdown.  The headlines in the newspaper and the commentary on television are dedicated to the riots (that have been compared to the riots in 1985) and we have been advised to stay home after dark because the riots are not limited to Tottenham.  They are now taking place in neighborhoods all over the city and as I look at an infographic in the paper I cannot map where the rioters are headed next so I am resigned to my flat hoping the rioters do not come to South Kensington.  Last night as I complained that I was a prisoner in my own home Whitney’s mom said, “Oh no – out of wine! Obviously you and Lola did not take that Brownie/Girl Scout oath to heart (a Girl Scout is always prepared). Daylight will soon be here.” Damn.
How many more nights will this last?  With cops powerless against the teenagers that have taken over the city leaving us in a police state unable to leave our homes after dark?  Today, the newspaper says the use of plastic bullets has been approved. Plastic bullets?  How do the police plan to fight teenagers throwing car bombs, firecrackers and missiles?  The cops at home know better.  They will fight violence with violence.  The police used tear gas and water hoses and dogs and nightsticks (and any other weapons at their disposal) on peaceful protesters during the Civil Rights Movement.  I am glad these riots aren’t taking place at home because the police certainly wouldn’t be asking for approval to use plastic bullets if the streets were taken over by rioters 4 nights in a row.
At this point I think I know all I need to know about “black” people in London.  And I am ready to go home to America, where everyone knows race matters.  At least were prepared.


black people ≠ black people: i do not call myself african american. i call myself black

In travel, Uncategorized on August 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I am afraid I have to go home without the answers that I hoped for when I started asking about black people inLondon.  But I think I know enough. 

Last week I had drinks at CanaryWharf with Ian, a “black” man I sat next to on the plane from Geneva back toLondon.  And eventually the conversation went to black people (of course, but this time I’m pretty sure I didn’t start the conversation).  Ian said he didn’t understand why black Americans did not use their resources and go back toAfrica. 

Africa? I asked.  Like Marcus Garvey?  Here we go. 

I told him he has the luxury of knowing where he’s came from (Sierra Leone).  He still has a homeland, history, culture, religion and a language rooted in that place.  And I said I envy that (might not be the appropriate word) but I wish I had a connection -because of institutionalized slavery our history and culture is within the context of the history of America.

His response was I can go to Africa and I’d be welcomed.  Fine.  He didn’t understand what I just said.

I explained that while I am concerned about things that are happening in other countries I am most sensitive to issues related to black people (not in quotes).  For example, there are more black men in prison than in college.  He asked me what the percentage was. Percentage? More. I just said more in prison than college.  He said because I didn’t have a statistic it was just my opinion. My opinion! How could that be my opinion?  He told me Americans are just hung up on race.

Next he told me to genetically trace my roots.  He (falsly) cited a statistic that 80% of African American men can trace their roots straight to Africa, meaning they are not mixed with other races (he was trying challenge that I consider myself to be African Slave – White Master).  When I asked why he thought I looked the way I do he told me I belong to a tribe of people that look like me that were brought to America as slaves.  Now this was getting ridiculous.  He’s lucky I don’t have an iPad because I would have Googled his false facts.  But of course I did when I got home. After reading the article about people tracing their roots and 80% finding that they have direct links to Africa I sent it back to him and pointed out that this research was about British African-Caribbeans. 

The conversation grew louder and Ian interupted and said: everyone in here probably thinks were having a break up.  Well if we were dating we would be!

What I learned from this exchange:  I need to date a black man (not in quotes) or a white man that wouldn’t even begin to argue that he knows about being black inAmerica.

Note: I do not call myself African American.  I call myself black or African Slave – White Master.

pardon me. can you repeat that?

In travel, Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 10:45 am

As I navigate through London I am making learning how to speak English. You would think when you come to London there would no language barrier but that’s just not the case. I find myself asking people to repeat themselves or even spell out the word they are trying to say because I just can’t understand. Accent aside, there are words for things you never knew had could be described as something else.

But I am used to asking where the toilet is (which seems a bit crass).

I now ask for chips when I mean fries and crisps when I mean chips. I was only baffled when both fries and chips were on a menu. And when I asked for clarity the waiter told me, “You’re American. They’re like McDonald’s.”

They dont have oatmeal here.  I looked, trying to wean myself off crossiants, and all I could find is porridge. It actually tastes the same but it makes me think of Golidlocks and the 3 bears.

I explain that I want take away when I want my order to go. And I put all of my items in the trolley at the store (don’t they have trolleys in San Francisco?) and pay for it at the till.

You can hire anything here: a car, a chair, even a towel.  You can’t rent.  You can’t even rent an apartment.  You have to let a flat.

I am used to the announcement to mind the gap between the train and the platform and know it means watch your step. But what sounds silly to me every time I hear it is “alight here.

Some other things I just can’t get used to:

1. I don’t understand the word “nought.” Apparently it’s another word for zero. Why can’t just use zero? I don’t think I’m going to start saying nought point five.

2. And “full stop” instead of period. Maybe I should incorporate that into my vocabulary. Not for grammar. I won’t say comma, full stop, exclamation point but maybe I could say, “I’m not going to dinner with him, full stop.” Ok. No. That doesn’t work either.

3. So I understand saying half six when you mean 6:30. It’s pretty close to half past six. I guess.

4. Here I have to put my appointments in my diary rather than my calendar.  And all this time I thought a diary was a book filled with pages with boys initials inside a heart with mine kept under lock and key. Silly me.

5. Why say nice when you mean good.  Can you really ever call a peice of steak nice?

6. I will never understand when people say “It’s alright” or “It’s ok” after I say thank you. If I say thank you say you’re welcome! If you’re going to just keep saying it’s ok why do I keep saying thank you? Well, because that would be rude.

A few other things I just get a kick out of:

  1. Bloody
  2. To take a piss means you’re pulling someone’s leg.  Not to be confused with:
  3. Pissed, which means drunk, not angry.  And careful not to get caught drink driving.  I have said it over and over in my head to see who’s right – drink driving vs. drunk driving and drink driving sounds a bit off every time.

And how could I forget:

A man overheard me talking on the train and said he thinks it’s funny American papers say burglarize when they could just say burgle.  Say burgle a few times. It will make you laugh.  Promise.

You can read BBC’s Americanisms: 

50 things that make them cringe in our vocabulary.  I couldn’t come up with 50 but I could if I asked 50 people like BBC did.


black people ≠ black people

In travel, Uncategorized on July 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm

London has managed to maintain a lot of its charm while boasting its status as England’s largest city.  It is almost impossible to compare this metropolis to New York but as many similarities I find there are as many, if not more, differences. But the most startling is the black people. Whenever I see a black person I’m baffled by how much they look like me but how little they identify with me.

I’ve subjected my friend Whitney (who I also call White Cloud) to my frustrations as I try to figure out the deal with black people abroad. It comes up most often in London because it is my home base, but I have wondered in Geneva and Berlin, “how did they get here?”

How did they? Not as part of the transatlantic slave trade. So did they come by choice? They know where they came from. So they can go back, even if they don’t want to. But where can I go? Back to Africa with Marcus Garvey. That would be about my only option.

I’m so fascinated by black people abroad. I talk to them about their experience as black people in whatever city I am in whenever I have a chance. It didn’t take long for me to ask Francis about being black in England and he quickly replied, “were just like black people in America, we listen to hip hop.” Well there you have it.

When I was talking to my new coworkers over tea I said I’m flirting with the idea of staying in London but I really want to get a sense of the relationship between black and white people and, more importantly, how white people percieve black people before I change my status from visitor to resident.  And they looked at me with blank faces.  I tried to explain America’s unique history and how it impacts perceptions of race and they looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language and then one answered, “Here we don’t even think about race.  We all get on fine.”

Get on fine? Get on fine.  Stop it.  I went back to my desk with my tea and thought there are really only 2 explanations for her response:

  1. She doesn’t have relationships with black people or, if she does, the relationships she does have are not developed enough to allow for conversations about race.
  2. She just doesn’t care.  She’s not bothering black people and black people aren’t bothering her.  They don’t live where she lives or work where she works so she doesn’t have to think about race.

Well that conversation left me even more confused.  Black people don’t want to talk about black people, white people don’t want to talk about black people.  Damn.  I need Michael Moore to come out here because he’s so obnoxious (more obnoxious than me at least) and has no problem asking the tough questions.

I’m just so frustrated and I finally get to Boots (drug store) to pick up 3 oz. bottles for Whitney before we leave for Barcelona and the woman at the till (the register) asked if I was going back to America.  I told her I am headed to Barcelona and before you know it I told her I am absolutely desperate to know about black people here and she said, “I will tell you everything!”  Well, I wish I had more time but the queue (the line) was getting longer and longer but this is what I got from the conversation:

Black people came from countries in Africa and the Caribbean in the 1950s to help repair the city after the second world war.

  • Black people live in migrant communities (and if I really want to get to know black people in London I need to go to their neighborhoods).
  • And black people don’t get on with white people as well as everyone else would like to have me believe.

Even the other black man in the store tried to convince me everyone lived harmoniously.

What is England’s dirty little secret?  There has to be more than the (little) bit I know that explains black people’s place in society in England. They didn’t have the same institution of slavery or the great migration or the civil rights movement.  We all know what it was like in America.  But what was happening here?

I have so many questions.  I am determined to know more when I leave this place than when I came.  I can’t go home not knowing how my black brothers and sisters are faring on the other side of the pond.

cartoons for peace

In travel, Uncategorized on June 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

There was an exhibit by the lake in Geneva that featured cartoons for peace.  I am fascinated by how black people are seen around the globe so these were particularly interesting.


football fans

In travel, Uncategorized on June 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

While we anxiously awaited entrance into Wembly to see the England vs. Switzerland game the fans in front of us believed it to be their civic duty to get the rest of the fans in queue excited for the game.

I was certainly excited.  And apparently a riot broke out shortly after we entered the stadium.  But I am pretty sure  if we were at home a fight would have broken out far sooner.

not all teas are created equal

In travel, Uncategorized on June 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Harrods is absolutely incredible.  As a little girl I was always fascinated by lights and in the evening Harrods is lit up like a Christmas tree, attracting the little girl in me.  I marveled the enormity of it and when I thought of how to make this gloomy day a bit brighter I  immediately thought of Harrods and having afternoon tea there.

Afternoon tea is a ritual that I take quite seriously.  After the best experience at Fortnum & Mason I felt a bit guilty about having tea elsewhere but then acquiesced.  Afterall, how will I know what tea I like if I do not try them all?

After making our way through the maze of department at Harrods, Whitney and I found ourselves on the fourth floor at the Georgian.  While I am sure it was once spectacular it is now just stodgy.  We were seated at a round table for 4 and I couldn’t help but notice the chairs were mauve.  Yes, mauve.  When I was little the halls on the first floor of our house were mauve.  As were the sofa and love seat in the family room.  And the chairs in the dining room.  Damn, looking back, we had a lot of mauve.  But that was in the 80s and it has all been replaced and I suggest that Harrods takes a cue from my mother who is always changing to keep her space fresh.  To go along with the decor was a piano that was playing itself at the reception area.  When I looked over and noticed the keys playing themselves I saw a digital screen with the words “The Godfather” scrolling across.  Wonderful.

When I saw a server walk by with miniature cakes and tarts I thought to myself, “We should have went to Fortnum & Mason.”  Ok, not to myself. I said it out loud and I meant it.  When our server finally graced us with our presence I thought, “Damn, I miss Enrique.”  Our server (who Whitney refused to take a photo of) quickly offered us the Harrods Afternoon Tea.  I should have questioned why she was so quick to offer it but I accepted it and waited patiently for my tea.  Now, if youv’e been to Fortnum & Mason you would be appalled when you saw the tea pot they brought to our table.  It came along with milk (which was so cold it was impossible to keep the tea warm) and sugar cubes.  As I sat drinking my lukewarm tea I thought about the table setting at Fortnum & Mason.  What’s missing?  The tea strainer.  Wait. Where is it?  I kept sipping but then realized why there were no strainers.  “I think this is tea bag tea!” I belted out.  When Whitney peeked into the pot she confirmed my suspicion.  Her face had indignation written all over it.   And I wondered were we served Lipton at Harrods?

I couldn’t even begin to eat the “freshly cut sandwiches” from the descriptions I realized why they say English has bad food.  None it it sounded appealing.  Well, there is always the “home-baked English scones” with clotted cream and the rose petal jelly sounded divine.  But really it was just tolerable and the only thing I could stomach.  After months on Weight Watchers I decided to spare myself from unnecessary points, to not eat for the sake of eating.  As I told Whitney, this is not Eat, Pray, Love.  If it looked delicious I would have gladly partaken in the ritual.  That’s what tea is after all. A ritual that should be preserved but Harrods managed to make a mockery of it.  And for that, shame on you Harrods.

As we sat there no longer even trying to enjoy the meal I started counting the ways Harrods failed us.  And I desperately wanted to tell someone.  I saw a very official man across the room and when I got his attention he sauntered over and said something like, “I know I am handsome but you could have asked your server for help.”  What server? We haven’t seen her since she offered us tea bag tea!  “Look in this pot” I demaded as I motioned him towards the tea pot.  “What do you see? Tea bags!”  Whitney, who was embarrassed at my outburst said, “we are just curious why Harrods would chose to serve tea bags rather than loose tea” and he answered by explaining that they had been suggesting that Harrods do away with the tea bags for quite some time but the battle has not yet been won.

Knowing that I (because Whitney hid her disgust well) was disappointd he offered us some champagne.  When he walked away Whitney said, “almost everything could be solved with a complimentary glass of champagne.  But not this.”

How dare they call this proper tea?  But what is proper tea?  I think its worth investigating.  Because what we were served this afternoon certainly was not proper.

See you on Friday, Enrique.  We shouldn’t have strayed.  As I told Whitney, this is what happens when you cheat.

day trip: cambridge

In travel, Uncategorized on May 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

So far my experience in London is very difference than my last stay.  I think it is because I realize I didn’t take advantage of all of the opportunities to explore a new place.

Today we went to Cambridge and along with exploring the college town we went punting.  When Whitney asked if I wanted to go punting she had to then explain what punting is: boating in a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow.  We were smart enough to hire a punter.  Otherwise we would likely have been in the river.


I have to say punting was one of the best ways to tour the city as Jack told us about each of the colleges and the bridges as we reached them.  At 16, Jack was quite knowledgeable about Cambridge and all of the colleges in town.  This was a relief because when we were heading out Jack was distracted by the swans and didn’t want to leave the dock as the swans were bringing their babies closer.  He would have preferred to feed them Tom’s bread all afternoon.

Instead of traveling down the river and back we decided to hop off and finish our tour by foot.  First we had what Whitney called our best meal out.  As we walked around we found the candy store and Whitney was literally a kid in a candy store.

We would have shopped more but it began to rain.  Surprise, surprise.  But before we got home we marveled at some of the architecture.

We had to run in in the rain to the train but were back in London.  Whitney planned today’s outing.  Well done, Whit!


i love afternoon tea

In travel, Uncategorized on May 28, 2011 at 10:28 am

There are some things that British just get right.  And tea is one of them.  Tea is a ritual that I remember wanting to bring back to the states after my last visit and if I lived any closer to Fortnum & Mason I would have been treating myself to tea every afternoon (between 3 and 6).

I absolutely love tea.  How can I incorporate it into my daily routine? This is the fat girl in me because I cannot have tea with cream and sugar every day.  Actually that would be the least of worries.  It would be the finger sandwiches and the scones with clotted cream that would do me in.  That and the cupcakes.  But when in Rome…

I will be back again (several times) before I head home.  Be jealous.  Very jealous.

Don’t I look happy?

i miss new york

In travel, Uncategorized on May 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm

As much as I have enjoyed the quiet of Boston and the opportunity to reevaluate my life and what is important, I miss New York.  Of all the things I miss, I miss my friends the most.  I miss sitting and talking with my girlfriends over (many glasses of) wine. The laughter is the confirmation I need that my thoughts are valid.  You do not get that in solitary confinement.

As I pack my bags, yet again, and plan my travel to London I am suddenly reminded that I will not be in New York this summer and even though there are so many things to look forward to there are things I will certainly miss.  Included on that list:

  • yoga in Bryant Park
  • picnics in Central Park
  • film festival in Bryant Park

  • concerts in the Prospect and Central Parks

  • drinks at rooftop bars

  • dinner at restaurants with outdoor seating
  • dinner on the grill

  • lobster rolls at Brooklyn Flea

  • corn at Cafe Habana and Habana Outpost
  • weekend trips to the beach

And of course the extra boost of energy that I have knowing summer won’t last forever.