The Frapanese goes on vacation

There is a heatwave in London. At first, we laughed to hear that 85 degrees with mild humidity is considered a heatwave, having experienced “partly cloudly, 85 degrees, feels like 110” in the States. Well, it was funny until flatmate and I got lost (under the beating sun) looking for a Veterinary Centre not realising we had been given the wrong address. Long story short, it got gross real quick. So, yes. The poor baby got sick last night. Although the whole conundrum was a bit of a mess, I can now say the ladies and I are  experts of getting canine unfortunate events out of new, beige carpeting. Huzzah!

I am taking the time of waiting for the furry patient and his Mama to get out of the examination room to finally write out my novel about the past journey I made. (NOTE-the examination was brief and I didn’t finish my post. The dog is fine! He and I watched a romantic comedy movie this afternoon, which is why this post is being finished 8 hours after it was started)

PART ONE: BULGARIA

On top of packing and moving, I have been preparing to sing Despina in Così fan tutte this Summer. One afternoon, I decided that I would watch a movie to make the task of writing the word-for-word translation of the entire Così libretto in my score less tedious. I chose to watch “Eat Pray Love” on Netflix. Although I didn’t hear the most amazing reviews for the film, I figured that since it was about eating and travelling, two of my favourite things, and it had Julia Roberts, it couldn’t be that bad. In my haste in choosing a film, I forgot to take into account that the main character was inevitably going to annoy the bejeezus out of me. The story line follows a woman who receives a fortune from a medicine man in Bali to practically leave her current life and husband and travel around to find her “balance”. I should have known that any anecdote this character may have would come off as super preachy and super annoying…and it did. Needless to say, I didn’t pay much attention to the film, though it was going to haunt me for the next couple weeks.

Two days before I was to leave to Bulgaria to visit the boyfriend, I flipped out at a printer. This was probably a good indication that a vacation was greatly needed. I promised my friends and parents that I’d leave my Così score at home and enjoy my five days of freedom, but the idea of dropping everything and reclaim some sort of equilibrium in my life made me cringe, so I packed a copy of the libretto so that I could review it on the plane.

Sofia was surprising at first — any free and reachable space on a concrete building was covered in graffiti. There were loads of people around, yet the city was quiet. The downtown area had colourful Baroque styled palatial buildings, which were shadowed by Communist-influenced monuments that were being dismantled. The centre of the city housed several Orthodox Christian churches, a mosque, and a synagogue which were all sitting atop the massive excavation of an ancient city. The trams and buses seemed like they were the hand-me-down from Vienna—but they had their own charm. Little women in basements in crumbling buildings sold fresh bread and banitza. Women displayed traditional Bulgarian dresses and handcrafted lace, while men sold copies of Byzantinian icons and antiques.

I arrived in time for the 135th anniversary of the National Guard. The celebration culminated in a weekend of spectacles. The first, a glorified marching band-off playing a varied program of traditional Bulgarian dances, to 80s hits, and “Time to Say Goodbye”, accompanied by a laser show, dry ice, musket twirling National Guardsmen, and unexpected fireworks that scared everyone when they started. The second spectacle, was in the National Theatre, which itself was a gorgeous building. The show was more or less an endless talent show and karaoke showcase of random songs and routines. It was a peculiar mixture of “Toddlers in Tiaras” and the YouTube video sensation “Trololo man” (for those unaware of what any of that means, view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z4m4lnjxkY)

I am being rather harsh and unforgiving of the whole spectacle, though even my native Bulgarian boy was taken aback by everything that was going. In truth, despite its quirks, Sofia was an amazing city and I really wished I was there longer to explore more.

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PART TWO: GREECE

The boyfriend and his mom had to tell their friends that they were going to show me around the Bulgarian countryside over the weekend. Truth be told, they were taking me to Greece, but they couldn’t deal with the unavoidable “What?! She’s here in Bulgaria and you aren’t showing her the monasteries and Plovdiv?!” So, I was told to nod and smile when I was asked (in Bulgarian) if I was excited to experience the true Bulgarian culture. Apparently it was a good thing we left Bulgaria, as they were pummelled with thunderstorm after thunderstorm over the weekend….which made for good explanation when we came back with noticeable tans.

We packed the family’s small two-door Lancia and set off for Porto Koufo in Sithonia. I was briefed that the car had no air-conditioning and the drive would be about six and a half hours long. The back seats of the car didn’t have seat belts. When I looked at the boyfriend in stupefaction, he simple said, “What? They aren’t required here.” Yes, right…ok. Well, what about the fact that I don’t want to die. We first stopped at a set of shops and restaurants in the mountains before arriving at the Greek border to get some food and use the bathrooms. I was bursting, but the moment I saw that the toilet was in fact a ceramic square in the ground with a hose to wash it down after every use, I decided that to hold it was my unpleasant yet best option. We grabbed our grilled sausage sandwiches and continued to Greece. The Bulgarian scenery was gorgeous with huge, green mountains and vast golden plains. The villages we past were small and people travelled the roads in carts full of hay pulled by horses adorn in red and white yarn. The Greek roads were littered with stray dogs, dead and alive. The winding roads through the mountains were home to  wide olive groves and vineyards. Porto Koufo was a mile-long shore line in a mountainous crescent along the Aegean Sea. “The middle of nowhere Greece” as a local Restaurateur described it, the view was confusingly beautiful. We spent practically all hours of the day on the beach, as there was nothing to do in Porto Koufo but swim and eat. The water was calm and the most spectacularly clear. Some sediment in the sand when broken down by the water let out specks of gold which shone in the sun. The water was a bit cold at first, compared to the heat in the air. To deal with entering the water quick and easy, I dove only to  reach about a foot underwater and get pushed back up since the water was so salty. Although, I was really hoping to find an octopus, I found company in schools of small fish and sea urchins. I swam as far as I could, searching for little treasures on the sandy floor.

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That night, we went to a local Taverna that came highly recommended. It was called Tzitzikas, and was run by two brothers, Nicholas and Sokrates (I am not joking). We had a feast of cucumber and tomato salad, fresh anchovies, octopus salad, locally caught grilled fish, all seasoned in the freshest olive oil, accompanied by Ouzo and Baklava. My mother told me that there is a saying in France that an indication of an excellent meal is when the members of a party pause their conversations to just savour the food. That night, we ate in silence.

The following day, the routine of diving, swimming, searching, eating carried on like clockwork. The morning when it was time to go, we went to the beach one last time. I swam out as far as I could, but at this point was too tired to dive under the surface. I ended up just turning on my back, and floating. I was far enough from the shore that the sounds of little kids being thrown into the water by their fathers were mute. I was left to my own thoughts, listening to the silence that was the Sea.

I thought about all the moments and emotions I experienced this year from tearfully saying goodbye to my parents at the airport, uncertain of what was ahead, to the exhilaration of receiving my Graduate Diploma in the mail, to yelling profanities at an IKEA bed. I then realised that this moment  was what I needed to sort through this year and gear up for the next. Damn it, Julia Roberts. Are you happy? I found my balance floating on gold specked, salty-ass water.

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Delayed Update

I really need to come up with some major consistent motivation to make sure I keep this thing updated. I have yet to figure out what that may be. This time around, it was my uncle who bluntly commented that I suck at keeping this blog. So - here’s to you Uncle Paul.

Since I last updated, I went back to school to start the third and last term of my one-year degree. I had in front me Opera Scenes, assessments, a couple projects, and a recital to complete. This was by no means my first recital, but the idea that this 40 minute performance was practically my entrance exam to the next program made it just a wee bit daunting.

Anyway, that is all in the past and I made it through perhaps one of the most intense academic years I’ve ever experience, and that is including the year I was trying to complete both my Bachelor and Master degrees simultaneously. NEWS FLASH - I am an over-achiever with a semi overly optimistic opinion of how much I can take on at one time. So it is fair to say I could have made the year a little easier on myself…but whatever.

The end of my first year in London culminated in frantically packing up my dorm room (when I say “packing” I mean literally throwing things into any portable receptacle readily available) and moving to my new flat with my lovely three flat mates: a violinist, a singer, and her guide dog.

The first couple days in the flat definitely came with their trials; for example, the amount of times I needed to call Southern Gas and Electric, a company that either has a maximum of five customer service operators or a lot of clueless newbies, like me, moving house. Needless to say,the discovery that the hold music was Bruno Mars’s first album was refreshing and amusing…that is until about 5 minutes into the first call. By the third call I had become infuriatingly familiar with “Just the way you are”, or whatever it is called, a song I already despised. On the upside, I have found the use for my faux British accent I learned in my Speech class, as the automatic operator for Southern Gas and Electric could not make out my apparently heavy Baltimorean accent.

So here it is: Two days of schlepping seven suitcases, one night of sharing a bed with my flat mate (and dog), five assemblings of IKEA furniture, one disassembling and resembling of said IKEA furniture, three Bruno Mars-filled phone calls, and A LOT of cursing later — the new flat is up and running!

LONDON CALLING

Two months ago, I started a post after really being behind, but made the mistake in first checking my e-mail which had a lovely note from the opera department giving me my opera scenes assignment and the notification that I had a week to learn the music. I  looked at the pile a mode of panic, I deleted my draft, and starting on my month of serial hot dating with Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Charpentier, Haydn,  Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss.

Needless to say, by the end of the March (which I renamed in my melodramatic phase: the month of DOOM), I hit a whole new level of hysteria; to the point  where I was always running late to school, chasing after a bus or running to the Tube, carrying countless loose sheets of music I didn’t have to time to put in my backpack, panting ridiculously, all while reciting some German poem to myself. God forbid if I checked one of the loose sheets and realized I missed a word. Nothing in the Universe could prevent my inner voice from just letting it rip, “Idiot! It’s meinEM Liebe not meinen Liebe!!!!” Needless to say, I was a little out of sorts. A friend even said I would be sitting with him on the Tube, acting relatively normal, and then just burst out laughing for no apparent reason. Friends, and Readers, just to save you from reading more mindless rambling, and to save me from further embarrassment, I will just simply say further that my first 8 months in London ended in me going completely bat-shit crazy.

I am now in an Amtrak train waiting to depart from New York Penn Station. I was thinking about the last time I was here, and realized it when I was coming home after my audition for the school I am currently attending. I was told in my audition that I was accepted, and I remembered watching “Love Actually” with my mom thinking “I could be there next year”. It all still seemed so distant then.

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Fast forward 7 and a half months later: I was crying at Hammersmith Station waving to a smudged up window of a Westbound Piccadilly Line train carrying my mother to Heathrow Station. From that point, I was alone in London and everything became brutally real.

The next day, I found myself standing in a narrow hallway, leaning against the wall, hugging my notebooks, listening to the two people next to me holding some small talk. They turned to me and asked if I was waiting for the same language placement test. I nodded.  Soon two other people arrived. We exchanged introductions and asked each other where we were from and where we studied previously. We would fill in the blanks of each other’s back story as the day went on, walking from one placement test to another. After it was all over, we went to the Voice Faculty drinks and stood in our little huddle, as people greeted each other, hugging and kissing and telling about their summers. Some of us tried to reach out to a returning student, but ended up returning to our little cirlce of five. We walked to the Tube station together. I listened to them tell their anecdotes, in awe of their cool accents, and afraid to say anything that was too weird; little did I know, these five were just as crazy as I am. I spent the rest of Freshers’ Week attending some events, trying to hold as many conversations as possible. Looking back, it’s funny who I met in the first couple days, and who I was convinced was going to be my new BFFL; but as the term progressed, I found myself with a group of close friends; some of them I met at the very first event, and some I met randomly in the canteen, and then I  found myself thankful for every small decision, insignificant at the time, to go to that corner of the room, or sit at that table. The random thought process that allowed me to meet the people that didn’t get scared away from the aforementioned hysteria  (some even joined in on the hysteria party bandwagon) and even helped me through it.

Ok enough of this mooshy gooshy stuff. I am back in the States for the first time in 9 months. It wasn’t until reconnecting with the customs of my home that I noticed the things I had to get used to in my new city.

  • I have never been HAPPIER than to have a bathroom sink that had only one faucet that had both hot and cold water. I still have not learned to enjoy the two faucet situation in UK bathrooms. Not about it.
  • Yes, it is saving paper and  good for the environment, but if I have leave the bathroom one more time with half-dried hands from the crummy hand dryer in the bathroom, I will go mad. The empty paper towel dispensers have become the biggest teases ever.
  • The words “LOOK LEFT” or “LOOK RIGHT” painted at any London crosswalk or intersection have saved my life more times than I care to mention. When I went back home and tried to cross the street, it took me slightly longer to process which way to look.
  • When friends say “Let’s have a Pie Day get-together!!!” do not be alarmed by the blank stares in reaction to your exclamation, “I have  a great Apple pie recipe!” They were most definitely referring to the UK staple meal of Steak and Ale pie.
  • Music students: be aware that in rehearsal, a choral director will ask you to change a Crotchet to a dotted quaver with a quaver rest. When in doubt what the hell any of that means, just look at your neighbor’s music.
  • Also, before entering a rehearsal, look up whether it is a hemi-demi-semi quaver or a semi-hemi-demi quaver, or….screw it.
  • NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE loudly exclaim a sentence about your “pants” falling down while riding public transportation…unless you are actually referring to your underwear.
  • From now on, pronounce “schedule” like SHEDULE  and not SKEDULE. There are a surprising amount of people who have that as their pet peeve.
  • Triple check that any American idioms or sayings are not in fact rather rude or have incredibly sexual  meanings before you present them in conversation.
  • Don’t try to pronounce a Tube stop phonetically…you will be wrong
  • Clotted cream is a revelation
  • Biscuits are what Americans refer to as cookies  and, unlike most other UK dishes, are not served with gravy.
  • Earl Grey is my new lifeline.

Ok…so I am joking with this list, and hopefully nobody found this offensive!  All jokes aside, moving to London was perhaps one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am learning a lot and have made some of the most important friendships  during my 9 months here.

Well, this 30 minute break turned into a 2 hour long novel writing extravaganza. Now it’s time for a hot, hot date with Schumann. So…much….German.

I know I am SUPER late on posting an update. I promise I am working on it! 
Weather in London has been ATROCIOUS and super bi-polar with crazy 45mph winds, never-ending rain, and endless grey skies. So on a day, like today, when the sun is suddenly shining with blinding rays, and I unsuspectingly draw open my thick curtains, prepared to see gross weather again, this is my reaction….In short, London has turned me into a vampire

I know I am SUPER late on posting an update. I promise I am working on it! 

Weather in London has been ATROCIOUS and super bi-polar with crazy 45mph winds, never-ending rain, and endless grey skies. So on a day, like today, when the sun is suddenly shining with blinding rays, and I unsuspectingly draw open my thick curtains, prepared to see gross weather again, this is my reaction….

In short, London has turned me into a vampire

An open letter by a disgruntled neighbour

I was planning for my first blog post after my long hiatus to be one talking about my first term in London; however, there have been recent events that I decided to use this blog as a means to vent about.

Background info:
The apartment building I have been spending years of summer vacations in with my grandmother had always been a quiet one, familial one. It has always been a sort of serene escape for my family and I to recuperate after a long academic year. It is the last memory of Summer I have before I started my new “career” in London, and it is here that I planned on spending an easy end to 2013 after a long and intense first term.

The day after I arrive, I am walking down the stairs and the downstairs neighbour, a short, lanky, pale, English man in his fifties, dressed like he is trying to be 25, walked out of his apartment with a much younger guy behind him. He stopped me to say “Hello” and asked me my name. Not amused, I answered him. He then responded,” Well, I am CAPTAIN SIR (I decided not to include his name…for now). I live upstairs. I am leaving tomorrow…so you should come tonight.” I stared at him with my best bitch face, and said nothing in return. Firstly, douche. Secondly, are you kidding me?!

I don’t hate anyone, and if I do, it is because they have done something personal to me that I can’t bring myself to forgive, which is a very rare occasion. There was something about this guy though, that activated every aggravated nerve in my being.

Since that very unfortunately moment, it has become apparent that there are several people living in the apartment downstairs (most likely seasonal renters), and they have since had two parties within 4 days. I have thus written an open letter that I decided to post here to let off some steam and prevent me from immaturely scratching some profanities on the door to the apartment.

Dear “Captain Sir” and company,

I want to introduce myself to you. I am a student who is spending a well-deserved break after working hard at school to celebrate the Holidays with my grandmother who is rather unwell.  There is nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to spend precious time with my grandmother, especially being so far away from her for months at a time.

Anyway, enough about my sob stories—I have a feeling that you are new to the building. I would love this opportunity to tell you some things about the building to make your stay as pleasant as possible.

1. This is a very old building. I know…no elevators = NIGHTMARE.  Here is a tip: When you and your friends come back drunk after a night of partying at 1:30am, I know the pitch darkness of the foyer is really surprising and really unsettling. I know it must give you want to scream, panic, and try to climb the echoey stone steps in the dark while you give all of your companions a play-by-play of your progress. Why don’t you try perhaps taking a couple deep breaths, and looking to your left. There is a small GLOWING circle that will turn on the lights when you press it.  

2.  I noticed that your door is one of those old school ones that doesn’t have a door knob on the outside to release the latch. I have one of those doors at my dorm. I know there are moments where I cannot be bothered to use an extra flick of the wrist to turn the key an extra rotation to release the latch, and all I want to do is slam the door as hard as possible, as you are doing now. Though, I realized something: when I am leaving or coming back, I have to use my key to lock/unlock my door. So since the key is already in the lock, I might as well expel that little bit of extra energy.

3. I am not a smoker, but I have family members and close friends who are. I understand that the need to smoke sometimes is so strong that you just have to get to the nearest area outside of your apartment to quench that nicotine thirst. I also understand that it is a little chilly outside to stand on one of your four balconies. Again, since the apartment is old and lacks in smoke detectors, I am assuming that the reason why you are not smoking in your apartment is because you don’t want to mess with the aromatherapy candles you have set up or whatnot. But let me impose my opinion on you: stepping into the hallway to smoke your cigarette isn’t going to help either. If I can smell your cigarette smoke one whole floor up, I am pretty sure the moment you open the door to your apartment, the vacuum effect is going to let in all of that lovely fragrance to mix with your lavender-vanilla serenity goodness. I would suggest a jacket, and an open window in the future.

I hope you find these tips helpful!

Thank you so much for your kind invitation to join your party on Thursday night. I, unfortunately, was not able to come. From what I could tell, it seemed like a very good time. The loud, piercing really, cackles, if you will, of one of your guests really added to my regret not being there. I particularly found it a really nice touch that you decided to change up the musical entertainment from your well-equipped bass-pumping sound system reeling out the latest club tunes with some live music by a cover-playing Bob Dylan wannabe accompanied by  acoustic guitar and harmonica. I particularly found the “Hallelujah” cover particularly touching. I really wish I could have joined in with the scream-a-long fest that you and your guests participated in. Oh, and the Elvis covers were impeccable. I can only imagine from the incessant pounding on the walls, and clacking of your lady guests’ shoes to the beat, along with the whoops and cheers meant that your night was well received. I mean, hell, it lasted in 4am! That, my friend, is a marvellous accomplishment. No wonder you wanted to do at all again last night!

For real though, you seem like a rather intelligent guy who knows his way around the world— You are a Captain and knighted after all! So, let me be upfront: Do this again, and there will be nothing in the galaxy that will prevent me from ripping your bleached blond hair out and throwing hot oil in your face.

Look, I don’t want to rain on your parade. I love to go out and have a blow off steam at a party or a club, and I am sure I have annoyed people beyond measure with my good times. But, I grew up this past year. There is something about grad school that just makes you wake up and reprioritize things.

Anyway, I really hope you have a splendid and restful Holiday! I know once I get past the sleep deprivation and the slight heart attacks from the sudden loud slams of the door, I plan on enjoying these couple weeks off before heading back to school.

Happy Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year!

It’s been practically a month since I last wrote something. I suppose the delay of writing another blog entry was due to the fact that I wasn’t completely convinced about writing something on my everyday experiences in London; not because I am trying to be secretive or anything, but because I don’t think anyone would really find my life that interesting. But in my lack of imagination and creativity, I can’t seem to come up with anything else. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: My life in London!…well, in installments. Since I am having trouble finding topics to write about, I figured I shouldn’t pile all my London observations in one entry.
Scrolling down through my blog for inspiration on what to write about, I reread my “Observations in the South of France” and thought about the differences in my reaction to the posh crowd in the South of France compared to my reaction to those in London. The main difference being, I was often annoyed by the wealthy Eastern Europeans, while I basically want to live in a posh Londoner’s closet.
It doesn’t help that my trek to college passes through Kensington High Street, where all the stylish people in the world roam the streets. I never ever considered myself a shopper. A day out shopping usually consisted of me stepping into a store, roaming around, and being so exhausted by the time I arrive in the dressing room, that I spent five minutes sitting down, collecting the energy to actually try on the clothes. I have been here ONE MONTH and I have already succumbed to a pair of Oxford style shoes. I contemplated buying bright red pants (or as I have to call them here: trousers), but stepped away thinking that my closet (and my wallet) just would not be able to handle the color shock. This sudden and uncontrollable urge to shop has gotten to the point where I had to pry myself away from a gorgeous, GORGEOUS dress from Miss Selfridges. Unfortunately, my quasi-hipster American style and budget-restricted bank account aren’t quite cutting it here.
One of the classes I have to take at college is “Speech”. When I first read the name of the class on my schedule, I wasn’t really sure what to expect; I assumed it was a form of dialogue coaching of some sorts. Little did I know that within minutes of the class, I was to be informed by my pristine professor that not only is my American style unsuitable, but so is my American accent. I can only thank the high heavens that I had an inkling of an idea to say that I was from “Baltimore” and not “Bawlmer”. I feel like my professor would have gotten up from her chair, on which she sat upon in a very proper manner à la Princess Diaries, and would have then proceeded to defenestrate me. No, no. She instead made her point quite clear that my accent was to be meddled with and improved when she reassigned me to the class with my international classmates for whom English is not their first language.  She says I need to fix a couple vowels that are not quite full-bodied as the British counterparts. I have yet to figure out whether I am to speak in my normal accent, but make the select vowels very British, or if I am to mimic a British accent, and speak like the Queen all together. To give you glimpse: I am to fix my dark “a” vowel by reciting tongue twisters such as “I rather lather father, than father lather me. For when father lathers anyone, he rather lathers free.” Firstly: I sound the most ridiculous. Secondly: ew. 

I am fully aware that this first installment could have implanted the image of me pasted against a store window, wailing in a confused, slightly off trans-atlantic accent. I will now inform you that image would not be too far from the truth. 
Just kidding…

It’s been practically a month since I last wrote something. I suppose the delay of writing another blog entry was due to the fact that I wasn’t completely convinced about writing something on my everyday experiences in London; not because I am trying to be secretive or anything, but because I don’t think anyone would really find my life that interesting. But in my lack of imagination and creativity, I can’t seem to come up with anything else. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: My life in London!…well, in installments. Since I am having trouble finding topics to write about, I figured I shouldn’t pile all my London observations in one entry.

Scrolling down through my blog for inspiration on what to write about, I reread my “Observations in the South of France” and thought about the differences in my reaction to the posh crowd in the South of France compared to my reaction to those in London. The main difference being, I was often annoyed by the wealthy Eastern Europeans, while I basically want to live in a posh Londoner’s closet.

It doesn’t help that my trek to college passes through Kensington High Street, where all the stylish people in the world roam the streets. I never ever considered myself a shopper. A day out shopping usually consisted of me stepping into a store, roaming around, and being so exhausted by the time I arrive in the dressing room, that I spent five minutes sitting down, collecting the energy to actually try on the clothes. I have been here ONE MONTH and I have already succumbed to a pair of Oxford style shoes. I contemplated buying bright red pants (or as I have to call them here: trousers), but stepped away thinking that my closet (and my wallet) just would not be able to handle the color shock. This sudden and uncontrollable urge to shop has gotten to the point where I had to pry myself away from a gorgeous, GORGEOUS dress from Miss Selfridges. Unfortunately, my quasi-hipster American style and budget-restricted bank account aren’t quite cutting it here.

One of the classes I have to take at college is “Speech”. When I first read the name of the class on my schedule, I wasn’t really sure what to expect; I assumed it was a form of dialogue coaching of some sorts. Little did I know that within minutes of the class, I was to be informed by my pristine professor that not only is my American style unsuitable, but so is my American accent. I can only thank the high heavens that I had an inkling of an idea to say that I was from “Baltimore” and not “Bawlmer”. I feel like my professor would have gotten up from her chair, on which she sat upon in a very proper manner à la Princess Diaries, and would have then proceeded to defenestrate me. No, no. She instead made her point quite clear that my accent was to be meddled with and improved when she reassigned me to the class with my international classmates for whom English is not their first language.  She says I need to fix a couple vowels that are not quite full-bodied as the British counterparts. I have yet to figure out whether I am to speak in my normal accent, but make the select vowels very British, or if I am to mimic a British accent, and speak like the Queen all together. To give you glimpse: I am to fix my dark “a” vowel by reciting tongue twisters such as “I rather lather father, than father lather me. For when father lathers anyone, he rather lathers free.” Firstly: I sound the most ridiculous. Secondly: ew.

I am fully aware that this first installment could have implanted the image of me pasted against a store window, wailing in a confused, slightly off trans-atlantic accent. I will now inform you that image would not be too far from the truth.

Just kidding…

Izumi
My amazing best friend now works in the Marketing and Communications department at the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Upon realizing that I have a blog in which I (barely) write in, she asked me if I wanted to participate in her “blog carnival” revolving around the question: Who do you prevent cancer for?  I really hope I did this the right way…
I didn’t really plan on being horrendous at updating my blog once I got to London. The idea was for me to write more in it to let my family and friends know how life is going across the Pond, but I am kind of glad in some way that this entry is my first after starting this scary new experience.  So here it goes:  I prevent cancer for my Aunt Izumi.
Right before leaving for Europe, I celebrated my birthday. It was a sort of strange one as it was half spent packing my life into an embarrassing number of suitcases. I also noticed, though, that there was a bittersweet mood with the people around me. I was so shocked and disappointed with myself when I realized that I had spent practically the entire day not  aware of the fact that it was also the 20th anniversary of my Aunt’s death.
My Aunt Izumi was my father’s older and only sister. He used to call her “big Lucy” after the Peanuts character. He told me he dubbed her with that title since she never let him get away with anything mischievous. I only know her from the hilarious stories I’ve been told by my father and my Uncle, the picture I have of her holding me when I was a baby, and the letter she wrote to me before she passed away.
She was brilliant, tough-skinned, incredibly hard-working, and the most generous, kind-hearted person. She lived to help others, yet never let anyone else walk all over her.  She drove a hard bargain, and stuck to her beliefs.
As I was growing up, it was often said that I looked like Izumi. Looking back, I think I always felt some subconscious pressure to be like her, too. She constantly made everyone proud around her, and I felt like I needed to do the same. That didn’t particularly seep in as she was an incredibly disciplined student, and I spent more time dressing up in my mother’s skirts and parading around the house singing Opera than doing my homework.
She and my father both followed in the long line of scientists within the family (another link in the chain I broke). My father is a brilliant scientist in his own right, but still refers to Izumi as this unstoppable force that made her an incomparable researcher whom he never ceased to admire.
She was a firecracker. My Uncle fell in love with her, and of course, my Aunt made it hard for him to pursue her. She was incredibly frugal—even to the point of spending the minimum amount of money for a car. This mentality led to her owning a piece of crap car, with which she taught my mother how to drive. She was confident that this scrap-metal set of wheels was good enough, and urged my mother not to stress at the new experience. This low stress level wasn’t particularly achieved when the stick shift detach from the mechanism in the middle of a gear change. Completely unfazed, Izumi took the stick shift from my mother’s hands, plunged it back into mechanism and told my mom to proceed into the intersection.
The story which, I believe, sums up her character is when she and my Uncle moved to Germany. She struck up a deal with the movers that they would get 100 Marks to move a piano to their third floor apartment. The stairwell to the apartment was apparently so narrow and steep that when the movers arrived to the landing, they said they wanted 200 Marks extra for the added trouble. Izumi looked at the two men, and simply said “—take it back, then.” The thought of having to lug the piano back down the stairs exhausted the movers to the point that they changed their minds, placed the piano into the livingroom, took their 100 Marks and left.
When my lovely friend wrote to me about doing this blog post, it’s sad to say that I had to think about who I wanted to write about. No one wants to have options to the question: who of the people you know has battled with cancer? I even had a rather emotional, life-altering experience seven years ago when I lost another loved family member to Breast Cancer. So, why did I decide to write about a woman I barely even knew?
When I was a senior in high school, I was struggling with the decision of completely committing my life to music. Most of my friends from the music pre-college I went to on Saturdays either decided that there wasn’t enough money in music, or said  their parents were forcing them to have a back-up degree in case the “music thing” didn’t work out.  When I was struggling with this idea, my dad sat me down and (in a very Mulan-esque way) told me the story of a Samurai warrior who was preparing his men for battle. But in order to fully reach the goal he needed them to achieve, he said that there could not be any plan-B. If there was any other option lingering in the minds of his men, they wouldn’t fully commit to the goal. He said that this was the mindset Izumi followed. She knew what she wanted or needed to achieve, and without any hesitation went for it.
I was always brought up to work hard, but also to try to be as kind and helpful to others as possible. But one thing I had yet to learn was not everyone will do the same for me. I stepped into several situations where I was taken advantage of and hurt. When I found it hard to let these people, these friends, go, my parents sat me down and tried to consoled me. They said, “You are just like Izumi. She was always there to help others. But she never let anyone manipulate her to think she was any less important. She would have told you that your own happiness is too precious to be sacrificed for someone else.”
The day I left home, I was surprisingly calm. I got the airport, had a pint and a plate of fries with my parents while they reassured me everything was going to be fine. The moment we got to the security check point, I looked at my parents and burst into tears. With all the drama and stress that happened in the recent months, I never took the time to realize that I was absolutely terrified. It hit me like a wave. They held me and sent me on my way. While I was waiting in line and trying not to look suspiciously hysterical, I remembered the belated birthday card I had received from my Uncle earlier that afternoon. He wrote, “You are following the family tradition of finishing your undergraduate studies and then moving far away from home.  Your parents did it, your Aunt Izumi did it, and now it is your turn.”
It would probably be pretty stupid to use a “Harry Potter”/”Star Wars” comparison here…yeah, it would be really cliché, but I am not creatively inclined to describe it in any other fashion. I’m not going to say that Izumi’s spirit has appeared to me and reached out for my hand to guide me through an obstacle. That would be a little too spiritual for my taste. But, I do believe even though I have never been able to sit and have that “girl talk” or receive her wisdom in person, Izumi will be a part of every instance in my life. It has been two decades since she passed away, but her soul has latched onto the hearts of every single person who has been touched by her radiance. I know that the people who loved her the most, be it her brother, her husband, her friends, or her colleagues, will always make sure that the soul and spirit of Izumi will always be fresh through the stories they tell, and by living their lives, making decisions that have been inspired by her.
I have just finished my second week of school and I am absolutely exhausted. There have been many times when I have looked at the projects I have added to my already busy schedule, and wondered why am I doing this? I could be in my room NETFLIXING!  But then again…I know I got my incurable over-achieverness (that is definitely not a word) from Izumi, and there is nothing I can do about it.
While writing this blog, I realized I don’t even know what Izumi sounded like. I can only imagine her voice that told off the piano movers, or that whispered things to me when she held me in her arms. Izumi will always remain a wondrous mystery to me. She may have been taken away from us far too early, but she is far, far, far away from every being forgotten.
O.K. Cliché ending is over. I am relieved that my two week struggle to write this blog entry is done. So here, I raise my glass of effervescent Vitamin-C (…don’t make fun. It’s almost cold season, people and my college hall is a germ breeding ground) to IZUMI!

Izumi

My amazing best friend now works in the Marketing and Communications department at the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Upon realizing that I have a blog in which I (barely) write in, she asked me if I wanted to participate in her “blog carnival” revolving around the question: Who do you prevent cancer for?  I really hope I did this the right way…

I didn’t really plan on being horrendous at updating my blog once I got to London. The idea was for me to write more in it to let my family and friends know how life is going across the Pond, but I am kind of glad in some way that this entry is my first after starting this scary new experience.  So here it goes:  I prevent cancer for my Aunt Izumi.

Right before leaving for Europe, I celebrated my birthday. It was a sort of strange one as it was half spent packing my life into an embarrassing number of suitcases. I also noticed, though, that there was a bittersweet mood with the people around me. I was so shocked and disappointed with myself when I realized that I had spent practically the entire day not  aware of the fact that it was also the 20th anniversary of my Aunt’s death.

My Aunt Izumi was my father’s older and only sister. He used to call her “big Lucy” after the Peanuts character. He told me he dubbed her with that title since she never let him get away with anything mischievous. I only know her from the hilarious stories I’ve been told by my father and my Uncle, the picture I have of her holding me when I was a baby, and the letter she wrote to me before she passed away.

She was brilliant, tough-skinned, incredibly hard-working, and the most generous, kind-hearted person. She lived to help others, yet never let anyone else walk all over her.  She drove a hard bargain, and stuck to her beliefs.

As I was growing up, it was often said that I looked like Izumi. Looking back, I think I always felt some subconscious pressure to be like her, too. She constantly made everyone proud around her, and I felt like I needed to do the same. That didn’t particularly seep in as she was an incredibly disciplined student, and I spent more time dressing up in my mother’s skirts and parading around the house singing Opera than doing my homework.

She and my father both followed in the long line of scientists within the family (another link in the chain I broke). My father is a brilliant scientist in his own right, but still refers to Izumi as this unstoppable force that made her an incomparable researcher whom he never ceased to admire.

She was a firecracker. My Uncle fell in love with her, and of course, my Aunt made it hard for him to pursue her. She was incredibly frugal—even to the point of spending the minimum amount of money for a car. This mentality led to her owning a piece of crap car, with which she taught my mother how to drive. She was confident that this scrap-metal set of wheels was good enough, and urged my mother not to stress at the new experience. This low stress level wasn’t particularly achieved when the stick shift detach from the mechanism in the middle of a gear change. Completely unfazed, Izumi took the stick shift from my mother’s hands, plunged it back into mechanism and told my mom to proceed into the intersection.

The story which, I believe, sums up her character is when she and my Uncle moved to Germany. She struck up a deal with the movers that they would get 100 Marks to move a piano to their third floor apartment. The stairwell to the apartment was apparently so narrow and steep that when the movers arrived to the landing, they said they wanted 200 Marks extra for the added trouble. Izumi looked at the two men, and simply said “—take it back, then.” The thought of having to lug the piano back down the stairs exhausted the movers to the point that they changed their minds, placed the piano into the livingroom, took their 100 Marks and left.

When my lovely friend wrote to me about doing this blog post, it’s sad to say that I had to think about who I wanted to write about. No one wants to have options to the question: who of the people you know has battled with cancer? I even had a rather emotional, life-altering experience seven years ago when I lost another loved family member to Breast Cancer. So, why did I decide to write about a woman I barely even knew?

When I was a senior in high school, I was struggling with the decision of completely committing my life to music. Most of my friends from the music pre-college I went to on Saturdays either decided that there wasn’t enough money in music, or said  their parents were forcing them to have a back-up degree in case the “music thing” didn’t work out.  When I was struggling with this idea, my dad sat me down and (in a very Mulan-esque way) told me the story of a Samurai warrior who was preparing his men for battle. But in order to fully reach the goal he needed them to achieve, he said that there could not be any plan-B. If there was any other option lingering in the minds of his men, they wouldn’t fully commit to the goal. He said that this was the mindset Izumi followed. She knew what she wanted or needed to achieve, and without any hesitation went for it.

I was always brought up to work hard, but also to try to be as kind and helpful to others as possible. But one thing I had yet to learn was not everyone will do the same for me. I stepped into several situations where I was taken advantage of and hurt. When I found it hard to let these people, these friends, go, my parents sat me down and tried to consoled me. They said, “You are just like Izumi. She was always there to help others. But she never let anyone manipulate her to think she was any less important. She would have told you that your own happiness is too precious to be sacrificed for someone else.”

The day I left home, I was surprisingly calm. I got the airport, had a pint and a plate of fries with my parents while they reassured me everything was going to be fine. The moment we got to the security check point, I looked at my parents and burst into tears. With all the drama and stress that happened in the recent months, I never took the time to realize that I was absolutely terrified. It hit me like a wave. They held me and sent me on my way. While I was waiting in line and trying not to look suspiciously hysterical, I remembered the belated birthday card I had received from my Uncle earlier that afternoon. He wrote, “You are following the family tradition of finishing your undergraduate studies and then moving far away from home.  Your parents did it, your Aunt Izumi did it, and now it is your turn.”

It would probably be pretty stupid to use a “Harry Potter”/”Star Wars” comparison here…yeah, it would be really cliché, but I am not creatively inclined to describe it in any other fashion. I’m not going to say that Izumi’s spirit has appeared to me and reached out for my hand to guide me through an obstacle. That would be a little too spiritual for my taste. But, I do believe even though I have never been able to sit and have that “girl talk” or receive her wisdom in person, Izumi will be a part of every instance in my life. It has been two decades since she passed away, but her soul has latched onto the hearts of every single person who has been touched by her radiance. I know that the people who loved her the most, be it her brother, her husband, her friends, or her colleagues, will always make sure that the soul and spirit of Izumi will always be fresh through the stories they tell, and by living their lives, making decisions that have been inspired by her.

I have just finished my second week of school and I am absolutely exhausted. There have been many times when I have looked at the projects I have added to my already busy schedule, and wondered why am I doing this? I could be in my room NETFLIXING!  But then again…I know I got my incurable over-achieverness (that is definitely not a word) from Izumi, and there is nothing I can do about it.

While writing this blog, I realized I don’t even know what Izumi sounded like. I can only imagine her voice that told off the piano movers, or that whispered things to me when she held me in her arms. Izumi will always remain a wondrous mystery to me. She may have been taken away from us far too early, but she is far, far, far away from every being forgotten.

O.K. Cliché ending is over. I am relieved that my two week struggle to write this blog entry is done. So here, I raise my glass of effervescent Vitamin-C (…don’t make fun. It’s almost cold season, people and my college hall is a germ breeding ground) to IZUMI!

Observations in the South of France

Hellooooo—

As I stated earlier this week, I am in France visiting my family. Although the weather has been amazing and the views absolutely gorgeous, I can’t ignore the concerns of my grandmother’s health, which is primarily the reason why I am here.

Since I don’t want to go into any personal, nitty-gritty details, I decided to write a blog entry on the characters and observations to bring some levity to the situation.

So here it goes: Observations in the South of France

1.       Botox is easily accessible—and arguably abused in quantity and quality.

2.       80s hair is apparently not a faux-pas, but rather a go-to ‘do for women (and men) of wealth.

3.       The amount of money a man has will directly reflect how drastic the high-end logos are printed on his shirt, the degree of neon coloring for his pants, and the amount of hair gel in his hair.

4.       The fashion often seen on the female cast of “The Jersey Shore” is apparently a guide to the rich Northern and Eastern Europeans who step off their massive Yachts…may I, rather cruelly, note that these clothes, modeled by questionable twenty-something year olds, are being worn by people dealing with an equally questionable mid-life crisis.

5.       Bus drivers are ridiculously good looking. (Side note: when I suggested to my mother that there could be a French version of the charity auctions and calendars done by firefighters in America, and that it would be a franchise, she calmly turned to me and said “…or more like a French-ise”…my mother, ladies and gentlemen…)

6.       When your kitchen lacks a measuring cup, an empty wine bottle from the previous night will suffice.

7.       French Pigeons are spawns of Satan.

8.       Moroccan weddings make awesome sidewalk parties

9.       French in the South love to dance…no matter where, no matter what.

10.   A French, older woman may look cute and harmless, but they are the sassiest…and not in a cute way. This, of course, does not apply to my grandmother.

11.   You can never have too much cheese…or bread.

And there you have it.

There is something a little “poetic” I suppose about these last couple days. As I walk around, I see the places I lived so many of my fondest memories. A lot of the memories are still alive, but they are hiding behind the frustration and heartbreak that comes with watching life run its course; people growing older, memories fading.

While walking around the town that I spent thirteen summers in, I realized that when you let go of the weight that comes with these changes, you re-experience the beauty and charm that made those memories in the first place. It’s not the same, but I guess if everything in life stayed completely the same, there wouldn’t be any excitement.

I know I said this was going to be a light blog entry…that was obviously false hope. I suppose it just hit me that what I am experiencing here is the bittersweet reality of growing up.