Monday, March 22, 2010

I, hypocrite

In precisely seven days, I will commit the most hypocritical act of my lifetime. Only my short stint as a member of a Pentecostal youth cult, or as a groupie with my CK model boy toy and his reality TV friends one hot New York summer, can begin to compare. And if the outcomes of those little episodes are any indication of how this latest hypocrisy will go, it won’t be long before I’m exposed as a complete fraud looking for a good story.

I’m applying to become a London tour guide.

She-who-rates-London-with-drain-sludge could be leading gaggles of enthusiastic Germans, Japanese and American high school students through its filthy streets by summer.

While I’m not exactly sure what sort of questions I’ll be asked in the interview, as long as I’m not asked if I 'heart' London, I figure I can muster up some answers. If they like me, I’ll be invited along to the training and trial stage of the process. I’m assuming my lack of knowledge beyond Jack the Ripper, plague and fire, and how-to-queue-without-getting-clucked-at will be answered with a basic training guide I can surely memorize for the benefit of my passengers.

Should I make it through and actually be hired as a guide with this renowned company, it will be my mission to help people enjoy their time in London as much as possible during the weekend they’ve booked here. A weekend, after all, isn’t long enough to worry that the BNP might win more seats for racists in the upcoming election; that London gangs are now using dogs as well as knives as weapons; that journalistic integrity is traded for sports, tits and celebrity affairs; that sexism thrives on a level not seen in urban North America since the era of Mad Men; that it can be difficult to find coffee before 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning anywhere but McDonald’s; or that alcoholism is so standard that, as a bartender, I’ve regularly served crane operators two pints before noon. The credit crunch happened, by the way, while the old boys sucked back Guinness at City pubs. I’m privy to all this, because bartending was the only job my degree in Public Relations could get me at the time.

No, I’ll just show people the gritty and glorious bits of London’s history. As a guide, it would be my duty to squeeze every last drop of goodness out of London and lovingly deliver it to my passengers to take back home with them.

Not for love of the city, but maybe for spite.

This is a sign in Alexandra Park, near Muswell Hill. It's a more affluent area and experiences different dangers than places like, say, Brixton.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sweeter than others

Still half asleep, I’d never have made it to the fridge if not for being so hungry I’d dreamt of barbecuing the cat. I’ve been working long hours, and more specifically, all the hours that stores selling food are open, so groceries have been left up to my boyfriend and otherwise spectacular life partner.

While our friend Sam describes him as having ‘the palate of a five-year-old’ what with his penchant for fizzy drinks, sweets and American fast food for more than the novelty of it, he’s been making some remarkable Jamie Oliver-esque developments in the kitchen.

As often as I’ve eaten his signature honey chicken salad and his egg and salami scramble, I never tire of the cacophony of flavours in these would-be simple dishes – flavours and textures only a novice or mad genius would dare combine. Maybe not the fried cucumber with eggs, but everything else.

When I first met him, there was little more in his fridge to eat than shrivelled cocktail sausages and Sainsbury salad bar assortments with far too much sweet corn and beetroot for my Canadian-ness. It was the gummy candy and chocolate raisins he kept at the bedside that sustained me. He was too busy having fun, he explained, to worry about food. Food and fun, I continue to argue, are not mutually exclusive. Sweets are always fun, he’ll compromise, except when you eat too many at once. Though my mother’s voice screams in my head, I don’t let her out of my mouth. Sweets aren’t food. I know, Mom. I know. Or are they?

This morning, I was especially looking forward to making myself some buttery morning eggs. And considering how long we’ve been living together now, and how well I know him, it wasn’t unreasonable for me to think my boyfriend would have stocked up the ingredients. I remembered seeing some a few days back, a six-pack of free-range organic British-bred eggs, or freedom food, or happy healthy democratic holistic eggs, or whatever they call them here.

And when I opened the fridge door, I scanned the shelves with my blurry morning vision and indeed found a six-pack of eggs. And just then I realised how little I’ve been around since I started this new job and these long hours, and just how much my boyfriend’s been left to his own devices, and how sweet he really is. For these eggs, all six, were of the Cadbury cream variety.

He knows they’re my favourite.

This is a perfect relationship, and another dish we agree on: Bananas and milk chocolate on the barbecue. If you come over to our place this spring in London, we'll make some for you.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wish you were here

This morning in London, I leaned back in my patio chair, facing the sun with my eyes closed, rolled my pyjama pants up to my knees and let myself pretend I was in Montreal in springtime.

The sound of traffic drove me closer, because the last home I had in Montreal was on Avenue du Parc, a main thoroughfare just barely north of the city’s answer for Central Park, and by the same designer – Parc Mont-Royal. Its fields and wood served as a local reserve for raccoons, birds, itinerant campers and, on Sundays, barefoot drumming neo-hippies, pseudo-Rastafari, real drug dealers, and medieval troops prepared to reenact battle with an improvised armory of cardboard, plastic and foam, held together with duct tape. The battles, set in a muddy clearing, never fail to draw a crowd. It’s like watching a live scene from Life of Brian, or witnessing the manifestation of a major fault in our collective genetic make up.

Of course we’d only wander there after a breakfast of bitter coffee and a version of eggs Benedict concocted by someone who’s apparently never eaten it before, who happens to be the ornery owner, chef and sole waiter of the oddly busy cafe. Refills are free, but we’d go behind the counter into the small kitchen to get them ourselves. Otherwise, we’d be accused of being inconsiderate for not noticing he’s busy, and as lazy for not taking the initiative to pour a simple cup of coffee. That, he’d say, is the problem with people these days. I don’t remember the name of the place, because we called it Oo-veet, or the rough pronunciation of a neon OUVERT sign with a few of the letters burnt out.

Then, because the coffee would be unsatisfactory, we’d wander down the same road into the hub and heart of Mile End, to CafĂ© Olimpico. Veterans call it Open Da Night, again thanks to a trend in the neighbourhood, of not replacing bulbs in illuminated signage. It was meant to be informative, Open Day and Night. There, we’d trade a raunchy joke with the staff and order a latte, the undisputed best in the city. We’d find a spot in the sun, somewhere between a few members of Arcade Fire and tens of up-and-comers, and that wouldn’t make it different from any other day. If we’d be lucky, our friend Domenico Ciccarelli would stop by, and we’d get to say his name.

By then it might be time for a dog walk, through the wet streets of the Plateau and muddy trails of Mont-Royal or Parc Lafontaine, soggy from the melting snow. We’d buy some Belle Guelle pilsner at a corner store – ‘dep’ by local vernacular – and sit on the plastic bag it came in, somewhere on the grass in the sun. We’d stay until we got too cold to be comfortable, and reluctantly leave to fire up my hibachi on our friend’s balcony, where her boyfriend would talk about his bands, Drunken Dru and Metallian, and maybe play guitar. The barbecued meat would be over or undercooked, and entirely delicious. The process would drive us all to drool, only slightly more, the dog.

Walking home, we’d pass people still out, heading to a friend’s DJ night or chatting in the streets, stretching out the day well into da night. And best of all, the ‘we’ would be my best friends and all their beautiful quirks. As quirky and full of life and coffee as the city we lived in.

Here we are at some weird arty promo thing in a park, not looking our best, which is something we were very good at.