Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Giant Leap Back for Womankind

Today is February 29. It is a significant day for three reasons.

First, selfishly enough, it is important because it marks the last day of my month of abstinence. I'll reflect on that after my weekend which will involve drinking, I think, but I feel this month really has been different from previous years' efforts. Second, it's the birthday of various people whose birthdays only come every four years. Yay to you, Joss Ackland!

Third, more significantly, it's the traditional flip of tradition, given that someone years ago decided that today would be the day that women ask men to marry them. It's led to an astonishingly depressing set of conversations on FB about how only men should ask women and lots of expressions of horror at the thought of a woman asking a man. It's hard to start expressing my unhappiness at the tone and positions behind it. Needless to say, I disagree, but I also dislike the whole you-have-to-wait-for-someone because obviously you as a woman are desperate to get married. Ugh. Also: gay proposals. Men get asked; women do the asking. It's not sex-specific and it won't kill you or your relationship.

I keep thinking that my views are fairly common, that it's normal to decide together because you're both so in love and you're planning together to share your lives and all the legal obligations and benefits that come from that. Instead it's about him deciding, but enough people have written about that, and it's not just bad from that perspective. Recently I've been talking to people whose friends have planned increasingly ridiculously elaborate proposals. So now there's a shedload of pressure on him to come up with something special, something to tell the kids, something to post on bloody facebook. It's like weddings - the pressure to create something special, to basically be the star in your own movie or fairytale, seems ludicrous, expensive, and overwhelming. I wonder what it is that's making us feel we all need that, that the normal/everyday can't be special. Weddings are fun - I love them, absolutely - but there's so much pressure on them and given that divorce rates are so high, why not just concentrate on how wonderful is to hang out with the person you love, and to choose to spend the rest of your life with them - whether or not you legalise it?

Bah humbug. I probably just need a drink.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Freedom of Association

TOH and I ventured south to Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, this weekend. It was my first trip to the city. Sad to say, we didn't see much of it, despite my aims to:
  1. Recreate the beginning of Trading Places
  2. Find Paddy's Pub
  3. Play me some b-ball on the courts of West Philadelphia

Alas, it was not to be. The weather was cold and windy and rather unpleasant, and instead we cooped up indoors making pizzas and hanging out with our friends' cool kid. But we did manage to go to the Italian Market, which pleased me greatly (despite it basically being all shut down apart from one stall with a bin on fire and, fortunately, the cheese shop where we purchased mozzarella for the homemade pizzas).

We also went to the Art Museum. Assessment: mixed. There is decidedly too much English art on exhibition (Gainsborough, ugh), but there was a glorious Stubbs of a Hound coursing a Deer - rarely does an artist capture the sinew and weight and movement of an animal like he does - and a Turner I'd seen, I think, in the Turner Monet Whistler exhibition from a few years ago at Tate Britain, of the Houses of Parliament burning down. There was also a lovely Goya portrait of a toreador that I'd not seen before, with its typical glowing, expressive brown eyes and soft background and squiggly clothing details.

There were also lots of bits of churches ripped out and placed in the museum, something which I find a bit strange (see The Cloisters here in New York for a prime exhibit). The labels at the museum feature a lot of the passive voice - when the panels were removed, when the triptych was removed - which, felt a little unnerving as a British person rather familiar with the methods of stocking The British Museum (not that I don't love it there but you know... Residual ickiness with how we got the things doesn't stop wonder at the things or the loveliness of the building. Or something like that). There were glorious tiles and a Hindu shrine recreated, which were beautiful and calming. The art museum itself is gloriously situated, with that amazing panorama of the Philadelphia skyline (which I couldn't look at without hearing the theme tune to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - that association is fixed for me, I'm afraid) and the sweeping run toward the main city made so famous by Rocky. Of course, TOH recreated the run up the steps, but it was horrendously windy so sadly it was not quite the triumphant moment it should have been (i.e. the two of us doing it together in full photoed montage).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Promises Made, Promises Broken*

Yesterday, February 15, I did indeed break my something green every day resolution. It just completely slipped my mind. Because I had soup for lunch instead of a salad, I went home fully intending to eat a veggie burger and spinach, but, for some reason, the need for comfort food and self-indulgence took over. So instead I ate leftover paella (cooked from scratch by a rather lovely friend) with leftover aioli and gorgeous red cabbage braised in stock (another friend**). Oops. I really did just forget. It was only today that I remembered that I hadn't eaten anything green at all. Gah. So it's double duty today - salad for lunch, spinach for supper. Still, usually the problem with nothing green is that I eat nothing healthy at all. Whereas yesterday I had vegetable soup for lunch and a LOT of cabbage. So that's something.

In other news, I'm over halfway through the month of living abstemiously. This is the first year that I'm attempting no days off whatsoever. Of course, this is inconveniently the first leap year that's happened while I do the abstinence thing, so it's extra torturous. Except, of course, it's not that bad at all. I had to nix the idea of wine tasting in RI this weekend, but otherwise it's not really affecting my life too much. It's boring, but that's ok. Early nights and lots of reading works for me and, in particular, my bank balance

* This is the title of a Tiffany song. No, really. No judgment, kids - it was 1987 and we all loved her. I remember my Dad being HIGHLY unimpressed when I bought the album (tape cassette, obviously) in Our Price in Lewisham Shopping Centre. I am unwilling, even now, to concede he was right about how rubbish it was, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

** Saturday was the best dinner party ever, in that we had friends over and they provided all the food and drinks. All we had to do was a dip and provide the space, plus the washing up. I like dinner parties like that.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Far from (the) Heaven(s)

On Sunday I flew back after a jaunt to the UK. Jaunt is appropriate, as it really was an extraordinary use of money and natural resources, that I don't want to examine too closely, but was a glorious luxury to visit home for a weekend, be part of a spectacular birthday surprise for my stepmother, as well as spending some much needed time with my mum. It was grand.

The flight back was pretty stellar as far as flying goes - I'm afraid I've become rather jaded about the joys of flying. While at a wedding recently I was talking with some mums who had come away for what was the first time without their young kids, and they had been extremely excited about the prospect of eight hours on their own, to just watch tv, movies, read and, frankly, just be on their own, as them, without being a parent. Sometimes I understand that freedom to be away, but it's not been like that of late. There's always some work I could/should be doing; or sleep to be had; or a terrible selection of in-flight entertainment.

Sunday was great, however: I read The Knife of Never Letting Go in one fell swoop, devouring it and genuinely gasping at the end, wanting to scream in frustration that I didn't have the next book with me to plough through. I then watched Super 8 (The Goonies, basically, but that's not an insult, and I was genuinely dazzled by Elle Fanning, I thought she was great) and Drive (underwhelmed, but I do think a plane is not the best place to watch something that clearly was meant to be optimally seen and heard in a cinema). Nonetheless, it's a rare flight where there are two movies I want to see that I've not promised to watch with TOH, so that in and of itself was a joy.

The best part, however, was that midway through Drive, something caught my eye out of the window. We probably were coming just over Canada, somewhere, and settlements along the seaboard suddenly appeared through the clouds. I love seeing those at the best of times, but the busy, orange lights starkly contrasted with the vast blackness of the sky, which was illuminated by a gloriously bright moon and Winter Triangle. The Winter Triangle consists of Betelgeuse, the big red star in Orion's shoulder, Sirius (the Dogstar, part of Canis Major, and the brightest star as seen from Earth), and Procyon, in Canis Minor. Orion really is something special to me - the first constellation I learned to recognise, and a symbol of long, winter nights with clear skies and visible puffs of breath in the cold. It particular reminds me of one New Year's Eve (I think) that we spent on my uncle's barge in the middle of nowhere, with miles and miles of sky above us, clear and beautiful. Terrifying in its vastness and emptiness, but beautiful and comforting, too. There is a Summer Triangle, but it just doesn't have quite the same magic, for some reason. Being 30,000ft up made the Winter Triangle seem much closer, as if we were sharing the same space, equally separated and distant from the Earth's surface. It was disorienting but glorious, and all too fleeting. The clouds covered the settlements and we moved on, touching down all too soon.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Testing, Testing

I've probably remarked on it before, but the main tests of abstinence are not the big nights out; it's relatively easy to avoid going out for drinks if you're not drinking (surprise!). What are difficult are those nights after a long, cold, wet day when you could really do with a glass of red wine; or, like today, when I wandered around a cold, snowy London, and saw people huddled in gorgeous old pubs, and I experienced a serious yen for a whiskey mac, with its spice and warmth.*

But the biggest test in all four days was likely to be the biggest test of all this whole month: getting on a plane last night. TOH and I are now, for our sins and for a horrible carbon footprint, experienced overnight flyers, and one has to have a set routine to maximise sleep. One has to take it seriously and treat it like a military operation. The steps are simple:
  • Make sure carry on luggage contains a sleep mask, a neck pillow, noise-reducing headphones and a pre-arranged sleep inducing playlist.
  • Arrive at airport fairly early, early enough for a big, carbo-loaded dinner, such as burger and fries. Nothing light or energising - something heavy and greasy that will send me to sleep fairly promptly. Add a giant glass of red wine.
  • Once on plane put on that eye mask and use the neck pillow and just fall asleep. Seriously, I'm normally asleep by the end of take off.
  • Don't panic when waking up shortly thereafter. I usually wake up about 45-60 minutes into the flight. Don't be tempted by the food/movies available, as this is often the time the entertainment system kicks in. Make self comfy, get the blanket out, put on playlist/noise reducing headphones, go back to sleep.
And that's it. No big secrets, just try to fall asleep and don't get sidetracked by waiting for food or movies. This method doesn't guarantee a huge amount of sleep, but I usually get about 5 hours on a 6.5 hour flight, which is more than most people.

Except, of course, last night I didn't have any wine. I'm afraid I cheated somewhat, in that I took cold medicine that I specifically chose for its ability to cause drowsiness. And it worked. And, bonus, my sinuses feel not too bad today. But I really was worried that I would have to crack last night. Luckily, it worked and I got about 4.5 hours. Not perfect, but probably more than most people in economy.

God, this post is dull. I blame the tiredness and not drinking. Off to catch some more sleep.

* Whiskey and ginger wine, for those who don't know - an absolutely glorious winter warmer that was apparently, strangely enough, invented in the Raj - at least, it was if you believe wiki.