Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Guide Of London: 20 Things you definitely have to do in the Capital of Europe.

1. Walk along the Thames Path in a nice Saturday afternoon. Start your day with brunch in one of the many restaurants you can find along the south side of the Thames Path. Get started around Tower Bridge and walk west heading towards the London Eye. Along the path you’ll find a wide variety of restaurants, pubs, churches, museums, and historical sites worth seeing.

2. The Shakespeare’s Globe. You definitely cannot miss this. Throughout the year the Globe offers guided tours where they will charm you with the site’s historical background, recounts of the social scenery of the time Shakespeare was running the original Globe, they’ll show techniques used by actors to perform in front of a live audience standing just a foot from them, and if you are lucky enough you’ll get to try on one of the replica costumes from the 16th century. If you are visiting London in the summer time though, you must (and I emphasize the MUST) purchase tickets to one of the plays running at the Globe. If you don’t have much money don’t worry! The cheapest tickets are, to my point of view, the best. For around 10 pounds you’ll be standing so close to the actors that you’ll feel them breath – and I mean this literally because there’s nothing to distance the audience from the stage. The experience overall is outstanding: you’ll get to see the actors interpret Will’s plays just as they did in the 16th century in a stage that is the exact replica of the original site that used to be located in a place just a few feet away from the modern Globe; What can be better than that?

3. Visit the Tate Museum. This museum is located just next door to the Globe, and it guards hundreds of pieces of modern art. The super cool thing about it? Well, there are many super cool things about the Tate! One of them is that its permanent exhibition is free, and another one is that you’ll get to see pieces from Andy Warhol to Frieda Kahlo all in the same place! And don’t forget to observe and admire the building where the Tate is located. Originally it used to be an electric plant so the building is a massive and seemingly dull structure but if you really pay attention to it, you’ll admire it as a great representative of contemporary architecture.

Ok. Once you’re done with the Globe and the Tate you’ll be too tired to do much else, but please give yourself the opportunity to exploit and explore as much as you can in London. This city has so many things to offer that a whole year in it won’t be enough as to get to know it from head to toe, much less if you’re there just on vacation, so let’s keep going and follow my next advice:

4. The Millennium Bridge. You’re out of the Tate Museum, you’re carrying the replicas of Modigliani’s work that you bought as a souvenir, and now it’s time for you to walk across the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s cathedral, in the city of Westminster. The Millennium Bridge was built as one of the pieces of architecture to open in celebration of the new Millennium, thus its name, and it’s the only bridge exclusively for pedestrians you’ll find in the area. The bridge is a work of art on its own; before you cross it make sure to take a few pictures of it because it’s really that beautiful (I myself took a few shots of the bridge with the Tate Museum right behind it and a beautiful sunset light illuminating both of them – brilliant!), and while you are crossing it also pay attention to the buildings in the surrounding area. By the way, the opening of the Millennium Bridge on the millennium year was nothing but a fiasco. The engineers who built it didn’t calculate the strength of the lateral motion of the bridge when it has hundreds of people walking across it so in order to protect the public from falling down the bridge due to this movement authorities closed the bridge on the same day it was opened to the public for the first time. One year and 5 million pounds later the bridge was re-opened and is now serving to tourists and locals to walk across the Thames.

5. St. Paul’s Cathedral. Right, so you are on the other side of the river and the first thing you see right in front of you is St. Paul’s Cathedral’s cupola – walk towards the cupola and visit this beautiful cathedral, the only one to survive almost intact to the bombings during World War I and II.

6. Strada Restaurant. You’re done with the cathedral and you are terribly hungry, what to do? Easy! Just walk across the street to a restaurant called Strada where they serve fabulous Italian food at very convenient prices. If you don’t know what to order you can do what I do, just pick something randomly and enjoy – if you’re in Strada, 9.9 out of 10 dishes you order you are definitely going to like, but if you want to play it safe, then go for the Risotto Frutti di Mare and order a bottle of the house wine. Don’t forget to make a toast on my name, sit back and submerge yourself on the delights of this trendy Italian restaurant in the heart of London.

7. Westminster Abbey. Let me see… Now, go back to the tube and do the following: take Jubilee, the district or the circle lines to Westminster station and from there visit Westminster Abbey. If you’re into the Davinci Code wave then you’ll know what to do; if you are not, then just go into the Abbey and admire its structure. To add some fun to it, you can play to find tombs of all the famous death people buried there! Just to mention a few: Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer (I was so excited when I saw this one!), Samuel Johnson (you ignorant people who don’t know who he is, Johnson is the father of the Modern English Dictionary, and one of the finest critics of English Literature), Rudyard Kipling, and Isaac Newton – Not to mention Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary, King Henry VIII, and a whole bunch of other members of the British royalty who have made of Westminster Abbey their permanent residence until the end of times.

8. The Parliament and the Big Ben. After this visit walk towards the Parliament and go see the Big Ben. If you want you can take the tour of the Parliament, but that takes forever.

9. Westminster Bridge. Cross the Westminster Bridge and make it a point to take a bunch of pictures. You’ll get a fabulous view of the Big Ben and the London eye from this place.

10. The London Eye. Now that you’re so close to it, walk towards the London eye. If you are smart you’ll purchase tickets to take a ride ahead of time, if you are not that smart you’ll wait in line for a couple of hours (specially in the summer time or in sunny days with a clear sky) for your tickets. Again, make a point to take hundreds of pictures and pay attention to the location of all the places you’ve visited until now. The ride in the London eye gives you a first hand opportunity to orientate yourself and every site you’ve visited until now – and if you are ‘orientationally’ challenged, like me, this will be of much help to get to know the city better.

11. Tower Bridge. Wow, so much to do, so little time left… Ok. Now, go down to the tube and take the Jubilee, District, or Circle line towards London Bridge. If you take the right exit you’ll get out facing north of the station, in this case just keep walking east and look around you—you’ll see several tunnels to the right of the streets, in one of them my beloved Chris Martin filmed one of the latest Coldplay videos, I think it was ‘Talk’. Anyway, don’t stop there and keep walking towards the tower bridge, once you’re almost there you’ll see the City Hall building, a very strange shaped building but worth seeing (you can take a ride to the top of the building and have a very nice view of London from up there if you want, if not, just keep walking), and right in front of it is the Tower Bridge, well known by everybody who’s ever seen a picture of London. Cross the bridge, take pictures, enjoy, and if you want you can go to the museum they have inside the towers.

12. The Tower of London. Once you’re done with the Tower Bridge walk to the left of the bridge in the north side of the river and go to the Tower of London. This squarely looking place keeps the amazing crown jewels which you’ll get to see if you go inside it, and historically it’s a place where many kings and queens once lived and where a few of them were decapitated also. Very nice!

13. Fleet Street and The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub. Now that you are in this area, take the tube towards Fleet Street nowadays home of many prosperous businesses, but originally known as a shady part of London. Still, if you walk east facing St. Paul’s cathedral, to the left of the Fleet Street you’ll find a street called Wine Office Court; go in there and passing a little dark tunnel you’ll find one of my favorite pubs in London, The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This fabulous place is one of the oldest pubs in the city (data as to pubs in this site date as far back as 1538; in 1666 it was destroyed by the great fire and later re-established in 1667) and it’s the same place where Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and Mark Twain spent many nights having few drinks and a nice chat with the mates. Don’t be intimidated by the dark environment and small stairs inside the pub as it is all part of its charm. Just walk down the stairs towards the ‘dungeon’, as I call it, and there you can order food and eat in the same table where the famous writers I mentioned before used to eat! Superb!

14. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s House. Keep walking to the end of this alley, make a left, keep walking, you’ll find a little plaza there, keep walking straight, make a right, keep walking and you’ll get to Gough Square where you’ll see a little bronze sculpture of a cat. This is Dr. Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, which, according to its owner, was no less than “a fine cat indeed”. Facing east from the sculpture you’ll find Dr. Johnson’s own house! Nowadays his house is a museum dedicated to this fabulous man and his work.

15. Notting Hill and Portobello Market. Now to a totally different area. From downtown London, take the central line west towards Notting Hill. Try to visit it on a Saturday when it is really upbeat and populated (which I personally love, but if you’re not into crowds then any other day will do). At Portobello market you’ll find thousands of antiques for sale (be careful! Some of those antiques have been recently ‘antiqued’ to fool the inexperienced eye), and there are also many stores with super chic clothes – some rich, famous and beautiful actors and actresses live in the area, so keep your eyes open and maybe you can spot my beloved Jude Law shopping around there.

16. Piccadilly Circus, Regent’s Street, and Oxford Street. From here you can take the Piccadilly line to visit Piccadilly Circus – walk around there for a while, go window shopping through Regent’s street (stores there are so ridiculously expensive that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do more than just ‘window shop’) and then get to Oxford Street which is another place where you’ll find hundreds of stores at more affordable prices—although I never shopped there because the things they sell are not only cheap but also look cheap which I don’t like—anyway, it’s worth seeing.

17. St. Christopher’s Place. If you’re tired of oxford street take the central line towards Bond Street Station. Take the exit towards oxford street, walk across the street heading to H&M and pay attention to a little alley next to this store, this is St. Christopher’s place. Keep walking and you’ll find a little plaza with lots of restaurants. There’s a café where they sell super good sandwiches, there’s also a pizza express, a Greek food restaurant and an Italian food restaurant. Keep walking and you’ll find several jewelry stores and towards the end of the street, right in front of a store called Whistles, there’s a building perfectly concealed as a private condominium, that is actually a hotel and that’s where N and I lived for a month when we just arrived to London.

18. Kensington High Street and Holland Park. Ok. With only three more things to mention in the list we have to be pragmatic. If you like to go shopping then quick! Go underground and take the district line towards Kensington High Street and go bananas in this fabulous area where you can find beautiful clothes at expensive prices ;) Keep walking and you’ll find Holland Park. Please dedicate as much time as you can to this place because it’s beautiful – try and find a map of the park and look for the Japanese area of the park where you really feel as if you were in Kyoto.

19. Harrods. You gotta go to Harrods! That store you cannot miss, and buy something to eat there—everything they have is delicious although expensive.

20. Trafalgar Square and its surroundings. Last but not least… Go online and buy tickets to the theater. You can’t live London without going to see a play, so once you’ve got your tickets go with a few hours to spend in Trafalgar Square and the National Museum, then walk north towards Covent Garden, browse at the stores (they have crazy things in that area), and then go to the theater; any play will do.

21. British Museum. Ok. 21… I know! But this is a bonus and I must mention this because once in London you must go to the British Museum. It’s free so don’t worry if the theatre tickets and the High Street shopping left you broke! Enjoy the British, its architecture, the works of art it keeps. Make a point of seeing the Rosetta stone and go to the library – two things you can’t miss.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The 'I Believe' Series.

The National Public Radio has an ongoing project, the 'I believe' series, in which they call people to contribute in writing short essays (around 500 words) where they tell about what they believe in. The project looks for positive essays where people focus on the subjects they actually believe in, not in those they do not believe, and that tell the story of what was that led people to believe in a determinate matter.

"I believe there is no God", "I believe in Creativity", "I believe in imagination", are just a few of the many I believes that people have sent to NPR, but here's one that I found today and that I particularly like, "I believe there is more to life than my life", by Jamaica Ritcher.

In a way, this short, simple, straight to the point, emotional and yet very rational essay, gives voice to what I believe: that although there's no life after life, death is nevertheless not an end to what we are; death is just one of a series of changes in which we all have taken part for millions of years, a step that's far from the last but the first one to build new paths, and new life—even if it’s not life as we now know it. So here it is, for your enjoyment, Jamaica Ritcher's 'I Believe'.

My daughter Maia is 2 and has just asked about our cat. Our cat is dead. Maia knows this. What she's wondering is where he's gone and what has happened to him now that he no longer meows beneath her kitchen chair, impatient for the drips off her spoon.

This is the moment I realize I need to know what I believe.

My parents were straightforward in admitting they didn't know what happens when we die. As a child, I probably lost a solid year of sleep pondering that enormous mystery. Bone-still under the covers I lay awake picturing my future of eternal nothingness and wracked by the tragedy of no more Me. The subject still haunts me. I'd like Maia's attitude to be slightly healthier. This is what I bring to composing an answer to her question about the cat.

After a weighty pause I tell my daughter that Martin (the cat) is out in the field. I tell her that when animals, including people, die, they are usually put into the ground and that their bodies become the grasses, flowers and trees. I pass my hand over Maia's blonde curls, gently touch a rosy cheek and check her reaction. She appears untroubled. She seems thrilled by the thought of one day becoming a flower.

I am stunned. In this exchange, I actually realize what I believe, as if so many fragments from my life -- camping trips and nature walks, pangs of sympathy, awe toward the crashing sea and towering skyscraper, love, science class, motherhood -- have suddenly converged into one unified conviction: not that I'm destined for plant fertilizer, but that there is more to life than my life. I am not the lonely human, plunked down on earth to aimlessly wander. I am a part of that earth and not going anywhere -- just like the spider up in the corner, the dust on the sill and the cat I buried in the backyard. I watch Maia mull things over while she munches her Cheerios. I feel an unfamiliar calm. I feel connected. I am humbled and, what's more, happy. Life, death: both are all around me, within my every breath.

Later, I reach for my daughter's hand and we muddy our shoes with a springtime walk. Together, we see new leaves glowing against the sun, green hillsides shimmering with the breeze, the bright purple bursts of lupine. And it's okay if there is nothing beyond this, because there is this: life, everlasting, in the bloom of every flower.

Posted in, on April 24, 2006.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Chihuly's Sun, at Night

Chihuly's Sun, at Night
Originally uploaded by magusita.
For Photo Friday, GOLDEN.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


I opened a group called Quito in Flickr a few months ago. It’s just now that I’ve taken some time to browse at all the pictures people have posted and I have bitter sweet feelings about it. On one side, I love to see that placed lovingly portrayed by people who live or have spent some time in Quito, but on the other side it pains me that I no longer recognize around 90% of the places where those pictures were taken. It sucks living in a place for 18 years, then move out, then look at pictures and see it all so changed and distant that makes me wonder whether or not I ever really lived there.
Meanwhile, all the rest, all the family, all the friends, all the childhood memories and teenage adventures are completely framed by Quito. But it almost feels as if the city was like an artificial stage that I built only in my mind and that, like dreams, faded in an instant of light; almost the same thing that happens with my time in London.

I love moving around, living in new places, getting to know people, having all these experiences that otherwise I wouldn’t have, but I hate not having any roots anywhere. It’s almost as if none of the places I’ve lived in have that little something that states that once I was there.

Damn lightness of being.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On Work, Lolita, and something more (I guess)

Did I happen to mention that I am working? (duh!, of course I did!)
Not that I’m complaining or anything, but I don’t have much time for anything but work lately, and the few hours I have away from the office I spend working out and watching TV; the last thing I want to do when I get home is turning on my laptop and spend yet another hour answering e-mails or typing, thus the lack of updates in this place.

Anyway, I am happy to say that I am enjoying my job very much. The environment is very open and friendly, people are nice, the job itself is interesting, and I am busy all the time which makes the days go by so fast that I can’t believe it’s Saturday already!.

I have been reading “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov in the last couple of weeks and I am perplexed by this book’s narrative, as well as by the disturbing topic it deals with (pedophilia). “Lolita”, for those of you who haven’t read it, is Humbert Humbert’s autobiography led by a ‘love story’ (I use the quotation marks because what is ‘love’ in this story can be lengthy discussed) between this man and a thirteen years old girl, Lolita.

Thirteen years old! Come on! Well, the book is such a fabulous piece of literature that for more than its first half you keep reading and reading Humbert’s explanation of why he is attracted to nymphets (or sexually aware and desirable young girls) that it becomes something so natural in its context that, at moments, it hardly seems wrong. However, eventually in the book you start realizing the deep and negative impact this kind of relationship has on Lolita, and although the reader can notice plenty of dysfunctional moments throughout the book it is not until the last second half that something lights on Humbert’s mind and he starts realizing the harm he caused to this girl, although he never repents on it –so blinded is he by his passion and sexual desire for his Lo.

So! Now that I’m done with “Lolita” (I even watched Stanley Kubrick’s film version of it last night!), I’m getting started with “The Great Gatsby” sometime this weekend … I’ll let you know how that one goes. Right now I’m listening to The Boards of Canada, super cool electronic music, perfect for Saturday morning.