Archive for May, 2008

Oxford Close Up

In Oxford today, I took some nice close-up pictures of architectural detail and reliefs. Check them out…

reader at balliol college
Reader at Balliol College

couple with a skull at Christ Church Cathedral
Couple with a skull at Christ Church Cathedral — they look, probably appropriately, distressed

angel playing lute
Angel playing lute at Christ Church Cathedral

donkey at university church
How did Donkey from Shrek make it onto University Church?

peace sign at university church
Giving the peace sign at University Church

Pan gracing a doorway
Golden Pan gracing a doorway

See the rest of my Oxford photos on Flickr.

An Afternoon in Oxford

Today I finally made it to Oxford for the day! I took the X90 bus, and got there in about an hour and forty minutes. I met up with friends (well, connections — I’d never met them before) and wandered around the city with them for a bit, then went out on my own to explore the many colleges, churches and gardens Oxford has to offer.

Christ Church college gardens
Christ Church College and gardens

I started with the obvious choice — Christ Church College, the biggest and most renowned of Oxford’s colleges. I got to go into the dining hall, a room full of historic portraits, excessively long tables and a giant pump bottle of Heinz ketchup. Yes, it’s still in use for students today, who all eat their meals in the hall — on Christ Church-imprinted plates, no less!I also checked out the large quad and the cathedral. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many churches crowded into a small town like at Oxford. Each college seems to have at least its own chapel, and there seem to be spires everywhere you look in the city.

The colleges also all seem to have their own beautifully manicured gardens, which are off-limits to visitors, and I could spy students picnicking, tanning and drinking beer beyond the gates in many of the colleges.

punts in oxford
Punts in Oxford

After Christ Church, I wandered into a few other colleges, then walked down to the river, where I watched people going punting. I would have loved to go, but I wasn’t going to try to manage a boat on my own or hire someone to push me along in my romantic ride for one. I considered just trying to make friends by asking strangers to hop in their boat, but I never got up my nerve. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Evan is out of town this weekend, so I was exploring on my own.)

After checking out the river, I walked down a long alleyway by Magdalen College and ended up walking under a replica of Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, which curiously just crosses over a street. This brought me to the concert hall and library. I could hear a concert going on, but it was well underway and the doors were shut.

oxford bridge of sighs
Bridge of Sighs

From there, I walked to the Radcliffe Camera and University Church, where I climbed the tower to get a view of the city.

radcliffe camera

View of the Radcliffe Camera from University Church tower

I walked around a bit more, back through the center of town, and went to check out “Oxford Castle,” which is apparently a center full of chain restaurants — quite disappointing.

The best parts of the day were definitely seeing all the gardens and Christ Church College, and climbing up the tower at University Church. Just walking around town was also really nice, since there are lots of beautiful buildings with ornate details and the weather was perfect. Some close-up shots are on their way!

You can check out all my photos on Flickr.

Weekly Reading and a New Watercolor

hyde park serpentine watercolor

Today, after going to Tuttle and having a lovely Friday morning talking to friends and making new ones, I headed to Hyde park with my watercolors, intent on painting something in the afternoon sunshine. What you see above was my one and only creation — a view of the end of the serpentine, facing the Hilton Hotel (which you can see rising over the trees). I was never particularly talented with watercolors, but I still like to try. And sitting on a bench in the middle of the park, I just didn’t really have the patience for mixing colors or measured brushstrokes. I’m also pretty horribly out of practice, though it was fun to be outside, doing something.

In the park, I notice that things were completely different from two weeks ago when Evan and I went and took photos. The tulips in those striking gardens were almost completely gone and their flowerbeds looked frazzled. The supposedly dead tree that people were climbing — seriously, it had NO leaves or even buds — was lush and verdant, forming an intriguing bower. And the beautiful flowering tree, with full, pink blooms, had no flowers to speak of. My how things change…

Writingwise, this week has been busy. It was my last week at Sugarscape.com. In my 6 weeks there, working three or four days a week, I managed to write 69 stories, not counting competition copy (the numbers on my page are a bit off since it includes individual photos for galleries). It was sad to leave Alex and Becs, who were lots of fun to work with, and they bought me a lovely bouquet and a travel journal for my summer trip.

I also wrote a post for Londonist, “Shocking: Amy Winehouse Arrested, Let Out on Bail,” and a post for Workology, “Want to reduce your WTD? Get a VA!” I would love for all you freelancers and small business owners who read this blog to come join me at Workology, or at least comment on my blog posts — as of today, you don’t need invites anymore to join the new social network for independent workers.

And if you haven’t read the blog post about Best Supper Ever (I know, it’s just below on the page right now), go take a gander — Battlecat gave an awesome interview.

New Music: ortoPilot and Other Links

As part of my job at Sugarscape, I’ve been finding a YouTube video to post everyday — usually someone doing a cover of a popular song, though sometimes people dancing or performing original songs or parodies. This week, I stumbled across a new singer songwriter, Matt Hutchison, whose sound I really liked, so I though I’d share his video here, too. His band is called ortoPilot, and they’re from Manchester. I wish I could play guitar like him!

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Another video to check out is Jared and Matt’s Last Guy on Earth — it’s a short clip about aliens running an earth-based reality dating show where they’ve killed off all the men on the planet except for one guy, but, well… he’s not exactly interested in playing the game. They’re going for most views in the month of may, so check it out.

I also finally posted some photos to my Flickr account. You can check out the rest of the Kew Gardens set from last weekend here.

Best Supper Ever: Battlecat Speaks!

BSELast year, I got a curious friend request from something called “Best Supper Ever” on MySpace. I initially thought it might be spam, but when I clicked on the link to investigate further, I was bombarded with, well, awesomeness. I also knew some of the group’s founding members, so that helped met start following their silly supper antics, too.

Since its early days, Best Supper Ever has had a mission — to rate and review LA restaurants in search of, well, the best supper ever. The group of 20something diners then post their reviews in an easy-to-digest, visually delightful little module, with clever commentary from nicknamed reviewers, a wallet-pain chart that makes me grin every time I see it, and photos that make me want to start a supper club of my own (or at least get invited along to a BSE feast).

The brainchild of Marissa Mukavetz, AKA Battlecat, she rounded up her rag-tag group of friends, put her degree in photography and graphic design to work, and started a side project which is gaining new fans by the day.

Since I’ve always wanted to hang with the cool kids, I asked Battlecat to do an interview so I could learn more about the mechanics of the BSE, how it got its look and how I could go out to dinner, too. I also learned that Battlecat likes talking about herself in the third person.

BSE in Paris
Me showing some BSE love at the Louvre

France: Where did you get the idea to start BSE?
Battlecat: Three woebegone friends were on a long hike in the ferocious Malibu wilderness. They were hungry… cold… and detrimentally bored with the same ol’ night-life scene in Los Angeles. So they came up with a mission to change the world as they knew it. At least as far as eating out goes.

How often do you go out for dinner?
Battlecat: BSE meals are every other week. The default day is Thursday, but if you’re hosting the dinner that week and you want to stay home and watch Lost, you can move the dinner to Wednesday or something.

How do you choose where to go for dinner?
Battlecat: Well, we go down the list of the 12 founding members of the BSE, and each gets to choose a restaurant. The very first BSE was technically La La’s Argentinian Grill on Melrose in West Hollywood. I think that was chosen ’cause it was walking-distance to the person’s house who picked it. Ha.

BSE Teamsters
The founding BSE teamsters

Who gets invited to dinner? Can anyone join the club?
Battlecat: The founding teamsters who are supposed to be the only ones who choose the restaurants, but we’re pretty lax about that rule and have electoral votes for outside people to host dinners, too. We also have weekly columns on various subjects that really anyone who wants to write can, like “Margarita Tuesdays” and the “Math Column.”

When you become a BSE teamster on our website, you are treated as one of our own — we send you comments, we reply to every single email we get, and we just slam you with adoration and reverence beyond your wildest nightmares. For example, if you regularly email the BSE and we run into you on the street, be forewarned that you’ll probably get screamed at in a fury of love, tackled, and go home in a new shirt made of BSE stickers.

How did you choose your nicknames?
Battlecat: Each founding member chose their names on their own. So I’m not really sure how Nipples or Garbage came about, but I know I thought Battlecat (He-Man’s devoted companion/mode of transportation) was a perfect match for me. Especially since I’m usually the designated driver. And I wear a suit of armor regularly.

What has been your favorite dinner so far?
Battlecat: OOoo… tough question. But I’d have to say Medieval Times was hands down the most fun I’ve had in the past 5 years of my life. Something about screaming and no napkins got me going. I’m all about the atmosphere.

BSE at Medieval Times
BSE goes to Medieval Times

Have there been any dinner disasters?
Battlecat: Oh man, there was a very early-on BSE that was at Havana’s, a Cuban restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The Citysearch review said that it had live music and dancers and looked like a rowdy good time. This is obviously why you should never use Citysearch: When we got there, we were one of the two parties in the whole place and it was in a shopping plaza. There was one server/bartender/hostess/cook taking care of us who served us the driest chicken on the planet — which took about an hour and a half to get. Then, the only other patron in the building had a STROKE! (I kid you not.) Following that, ambulances came, there were fireman, yada yada yada. It was hilariously awful.

Do waiters and other restaurant staff hate you?
Battlecat: One would think. But we are an inordinately cheerful group — I think our unceasing good moods spread through the restaurant when we’re there. BSE evenings frequently end in a sing-a-long with the staff. We have video if you need verification on that statement.

How many people are visiting your MySpace page?
Battlecat: We’re what you consider a “secret” club, so we’re very elite momentarily. Haha — we get around 1,000 hits a day, but we get new friend requests daily, and our numbers increase daily, too.

Who takes the photos and how do they get that awesome glowy effect?
Battlecat: Ha ha… well, Battlecat is the in-house BSE photographer. I actually have a degree in photography and graphic design from Kent State in Ohio (holla!), so that comes in handy when building the reviews. As for the “glowy” effect — I WILL NEVER REVEAL MY METHODS! But if you own a 2004 Cannon Elf SD110, you probably know my secrets far too well.

Who does the graphic design work on the site?
Battlecat: Battlecat, Battlecat, Battlecat! Who would’ve thought that what you learned in school could be FUN!? Not me.

BSE Pain Chart
The BSE pain chart

Why is BSE on MySpace as opposed to a blog or other type of site?
Battlecat: Myspace is super-easy to use. And I’m into that… because I’m lazy. And it’s just way easier to get readers cause it’s such an intense network. It’s nice that it’s interactive, too — people can post comments or pictures and everyone can see them. And we can post comments to people, too. WE WORK FOR THE PEOPLE! WE ARE THE PEOPLE! HASTA LA VISTA BOREDOM!

Do you think you could ever make any money off this idea?
Battlecat: Well, the original idea was to create an outlet for our friends to actually do something to entertain each other, as opposed to sitting on bar stools and starring at each other — not particularly to be lucrative. But if we could get our act together and start a real website outside of Myspace, we could probably make some advertising money. I really don’t know.

The BSE TV show has also been mulled around a bit. We’ll see. It’s hard because each of us in the BSE are just real people with 9-to-5 jobs, so there isn’t much extra time to work with. That’s also the charm of us, too. In the end, the concept of the BSE is pretty much golden, and it’s more fun than I’ve ever had in regards to a nightlife scene. So I’m pretty sure I’ll be a millionaire in about 2 months.

What’s the long-term plan for BSE? World domination?
Battlecat: Well, we’re in search of the BEST SUPPER EVER! Duh. I don’t know what we’ll do when we find it. I guess be on the search for a “better” supper.

Thanks, Garbage, for setting up this interview. Everyone else, don’t forget to go visit the BSE!

Springtime in Hyde Park!

hyde park tulips

Winter finally decided to loosen its clutches on the city of London, and we’ve had some lovely weather. The first really gorgeous day, Evan and I took an excursion down the road to Hyde Park. While we’ve been to the park plenty in the winter, and we knew it was a nice park, it was pretty chilly and barren save for the grass.

Two weekends ago, though, it has a fantastic facelift — there were tulips, cherry blossoms and daisies in bloom, the lake was full of row boats and pedalos (what the Brits call pedal boats/paddle boats — you know, the plastic kind you power like a bicycle), and there were plenty of children, pets and friends soaking up the sunshine. Even better, we left our jackets at home and were even able to go without our sweatshirts for much of the day.

hyde park serpentine rowboat

Evan and I went out on the Serpentine on a rowboat, which was very relaxing (I did some rowing, too). The only thing missing was a picnic and some sunscreen — I unfortunately managed to get a pretty decent sunburn.We also took a tour of the Serpentine Gallery, which had a very intriguing exhibit of Viennese artist Maria Lassnig‘s work. Though the gallery was very small, it was perfect for a 15-minute detour in the park, and Lassnig’s works were very intriguing — the first paining that greeted us was a self-portrait titled “You or Me,” where we were confronted by the naked octogenarian artist pointing guns both a the viewer and at her own head (you can see some more images of her work here).

And here’s a great photo of a duck Evan took while we were at the park…

duck at hyde park

For more photos of the day at the park, visit Evan’s site.

Saturday at Kew Gardens: Photowalk

Saturday, I went on a lovely trip to Kew Gardens with Annie, Mex, Nikki and Julian (the links go to their photos). Unfortunately, Evan had to work.

For the bank holiday weekend, there is a Woodland Fair going on at Kew, and there were horse-drawn carriage rides, craftsmen, Morris dancers and a falconry show. I didn’t get to see all of the different gardens in the park, or go in the palm house, though, so hopefully I’ll get back there soon.

touching an owl

We got to touch an owl — its feathers were soft.

woodworker

There were woodworkers turning wood by foot power — those long sticks attached to a strong wrapped around the piece of wood, and turned it back and forth.

may flowers

There were also cute crafts like these wood May flowers.

bee being born

We saw bees emerging from their pupal cases — this one was had only popped his head out. I also bought some pollen collected from the bees’ legs, and there were many different types of honey to buy.

Morris Dancers

There were morris dancers putting on a show — they danced around with bells on their shoes and legs and smacking their sticks together.

crazy people dancing

In one of the stranger moments of the day, these two wandering musicians were encircled by some very enthusiastic people who danced circles around them. If only I’d videotaped it…

yurt and accordion player

There were also lots of yurts — here’s a wooden tiger overlooking the accordion player in front of the puppet show yurt.

Check out the rest of my photos on Flickr.