Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring / Food / Oof

And so begins another post in which I apologize for being remiss with my blogging duties. A variety of factors kept me away. And here's a few of them...

Spring is finally, finally here. I almost can't believe it; I leave the house with plenty of warm clothes, as if the temperature could suddenly plummet 20 degrees and shove me right back into winter. But the flowers are blooming, the clouds are puffy and white as opposed to cloying and grey, and the birds and bugs are out in droves. Oh, the bugs. This place is awfully buggy, really. And spidery. It's a small price, though, and I pay it gladly - the nice weather is completely worth it.

With spring came the end of the semester and a visit from family (Hi Mom! Hi Ken!). Both of those things were long awaited, and both lived up to my expectations. Well, actually, the end of the semester was sort of anticlimactic. Perhaps that's because it didn't really signal the end. I'll get into that later, though.

It was wonderful to have visitors. I realized that no one has visited us since we've been in England, which is a change from Berlin. We had several guests there - maybe it was a more dazzling destination? At any rate, it's fine - there's not so much to do in Norwich with visitors, I have to say. A couple days of roaming around, picking at things in the market and generally taking in the pastoral surroundings and medieval architecture and you're pretty much done, really. So we took our visitors away, to all kinds of places. First we went north, to a couple of seaside towns that are popular through East Anglia for their piers and amusements. Aside from the chill and heavy fog, they were lovely!


That's Sheringham. The shore was rocky and freezing, and yet there were lots of people who looked like they were dressed for the 4th of July in Monterey, seriously. Short skirts? Tank tops? I was shivering in my jacket, scarf and hat! I know, I know, it's all in what you're used to, but it was painful watching those people walk around. The harsh chill was really only by the water, though, and once we were a couple hundred meters from the water it warmed up considerably. It was your typical perfect seaside town, all in all.


We went next to Cromer. Cromer's pier is apparently very well known on the North Norfolk coast - have you heard of it? No? Well, it was adorable. There were kids fishing for crabs off the pier, and several different American country songs coming from I don't know where. And then, of course, the "gambling". It's not gambling, really, it's just arcade games, strange contraptions that push pennies around and eat your 2p coins at a rate just slow enough to keep you standing there for hours. The amusements are a big attraction, as are the Cromer crabs and various other seafood concoctions. Like this:

Seafood. For real.

A funny story about that seafood cup:
Me: Is that warm?
Brad (slightly grimacing): I don't know.
Me: What do you mean you don't know? You're eating it.
Brad: Wait - what did you ask?
Brad: Oh. I thought you said is that a worm. And no, it's not warm. (Continues to eat)
But hey, just because it's not my kind of thing doesn't mean it's not delicious, right? There were lots of people eating it. Well, maybe not this particular thing, but various types of (mostly cooked) seafood. I guess I don't like mostly raw unless it's wrapped up in rice and seaweed. Sorry.

But this brings me to my next topic: food. Oh, the food. For the most part, I think English food is a lot more edible than its stereotype, or at least a little more edible. A proper English breakfast isn't so bad, really, though I usually avoid the "large, flat mushroom" (and yes, that's exactly how it's often billed in the menu). There are, however, a few weird food practices here that I just can't get used to. Exhibit A:

Uncle Ben's = Oriental now?"Egg Fried Rice"

Okay, you might need to click on those pictures to see them larger in order to really appreciate what's going on here, but I'll explain a little. On the right: yes, that says Oriental. And yes, the Oriental section is primarily composed of Uncle Ben stir-fry packets. Oy. (The Mexican section of the same store is mostly some brand called Discovery: Discovery Fajita Kits! Discovery Taco Sets! It's better than the Mexican restaurants around here though -- chili con carne, anyone?) And on the left: that's egg friend rice, and if you only see off-white rice with peas in it, your eyes are not deceiving you; that's what it is. And it's 2£! What?! Who would pay that much for a little tub of soggy rice with a sprinkling of MSG on top?


Seriously, plain basmati rice.

Well, it's the same price, but it's more rice, so...I guess that's better? The pre-prepared food here is much more prevalent than it is the US, even, which is hard to believe. For some reason I thought there would be more cooking from scratch here, but I'm not sure why I thought that; the chain "Fresh and Easy", which is arriving in the US, is actually a British company (and here's a pretty interesting article about their genesis, by the way). On top of that, though, here's some evidence that cooking from scratch may not necessarily be better for you:

This is the sound of my arteries slamming shut

Lard and Beef Dripping. I'm not even sure what I would do with those things. Those cubes are rock-hard, too, which I find curious. I know that it's possible to find this stuff in the US, also, but it doesn't take up that much display space (and how nicely displayed they are, too!). The grocery stores here are endless entertainment for me, and that's saying a lot, because my threshold for grocery shopping is pretty low.

Last food thing: some classic British fare, just right for neatly slamming arteries shut:

Grease festival - battered burger, fish, chipsI couldn't bring myself to eat one

I just couldn't force myself to get one of those Mars bars, despite my curiosity. I did, however, eat a hefty portion of the fish and chips, though I avoided the battered burger (that hunk of deep-fry on the left). I just couldn't deal with that.

It's not all bad, though. OK, Norwich isn't top of the line for any type of Asian food, but we went back to London Chinatown, and this time we actually sat and ate dim sum, and lemme tell ya - it was awesome. It was almost euphoric.

Dim Sum

If I hadn't been so busy eating, I would've been crying or singing for the sheer glory of eating delicious, delicious dim sum! It filled a hole in my soul. This is not hyperbole.

But now, sadly, our visitors are gone, and that means back to real life for me. Real life = essay writing and translating, and I'm excited about both of those things. My excitement for taking a stroll in the nice weather is putting up a pretty heroic battle, though, so wish me luck. I've got one short term paper to write, in which I'll debate the merits of 3 different translations of Anna Akhmatova, and then I'll continue on to my "dissertation" (we'd call it a thesis in the States), which will be a translation of a play by Marina Tsvetaeva, followed by a lengthy and theoretical justification for my choices in the translation. I'm both eager and terrified. (This, if you can't tell, is the "Oof" in the title of this post. Because, really - oof).

So here I go. (Do I mean here I go into the sunshine, or here I go into the depths of Sexual/Textual Politics by Toril Moi? I haven't decided yet). Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon.

London Chinatown!