The Builders Association

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Farsi Beat

Are you there internet? It’s me Deb.

Please anyone out there listening feel very free to use the comments section at the bottom of this page to help a sister out over here.

I’m not saying I was at all witty to begin with but what few wits I had, I am definitely now at the end them. The child is becoming too much to cope with and her quote unquote father is giving me no love from his big, important we-are-the-world job or whatever it is he’s doing.

In a desperate move to fix this, I turned toward my faithful solution, shopping, and headed out looking for retail miracles.

I ended up in Brixton Market, looking for Latin American products and after some hunting around these lovelies appeared:

Authentic fresh cactus sold by a Jamaican fellow. I cannot bring the child to her daddy in Mexico but it is possible to bring a little bit of Mexico to her. Between cactus and liberal applications of Mano Poderosa spray, perhaps I can make headway.

The stroll through Brixton Market was superb—as I paused to marvel at another impressive array of tropical vegetables and fruits, an extra-friendly chatterbox of a merchant struck up a conversation with me from across the aisle.

This is Farzan.

He told me he was from India, from Delhi and had been in London for 12 years, selling hair care products and cosmetics to his mostly African and Caribbean clientele.

Farzan had big plans for taking me to India with him, to Goa where he told me there were “lots of white people”. Flattered though I was, I told him I saw plenty of white people all the time and didn’t need to go all the way to Goa to see any more.

I asked Farzan if he spoke Hindi and he said “Of course and Urdu also and Farsi”. Why Farsi? Because actually Farzan was born in Afghanistan and moved as a child to India, a part of the story he left out. I asked “You are Sihk, right?” He told me that yes, all the “organic Sihks” come from Afghanistan.

This is Deb in the City saying, Khoda hafaz, namaste, wa-hey guru and goodbye from Brixton, Lambeth where more than 157 languages are spoken and many more are understood.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Please Sir, May I Have Some More?

Hello internet, Deb in the City here, live from uncharacteristically sunny London, England.

So I decided to try and do some real sight seeing and in the spirit of Oliver which was very influential for me, I trekked over to Kings Cross to the Foundling Museum.

Starting with Charles Dickens, a strong case can be made for Britain’s genius in converting the social tragedy of abandoned children into a lucrative export product in the entertainment industry. A movie, a musical, a movie-musical, numerous television adaptations and an animated series can all site "Oliver Twist" as their source.

Dickens apparently based much of his well-known book about London orphans on stories he heard from children at what was the Foundling Hospital,

In the basement, there is a wonderful exhibit of art work by young people who have been “looked after” in foster care.

This picture, done by a young lady named Amy Brittan carried a quote alongside:

“You can do anything you want with art, it can be rubbish to other people, but good to you”, not unlike this blog.

I managed to find the modest gift shop, because an American, it is my god-given right to buy something on any occasion and I picked up a couple of very nicely done orphan paper dolls.

Grateful for being born in the 20th century and not the 18th I wandered out once more on streets that have been here since before my country got mad at this one and jumped ship. I know it’s uncool, but I am amazed by all the history around here.

But London’s modernities are impressive too and I am very curious about civic signage that I’ve seen.

There is the ubiquitous:

And accompanying camera. Americans love to be on camera and we are bred to believe that we deserve to be on television and become famous, so to me closed circuit tv is still tv. Watch for me on the next installment of Farnborough’s Got Talent.

So, whenever I talk to my friends back in the States, they always say something annoying like “Did you see the Queen yet?”, as if Her Royal Majesty is on some kind of permanent display for tourists, which she probably would be back in the US.

But just the other day when I was lost in the cement back alley of the Southbank Center I ran into a small crowd of people waiting by a very non-descript entranceway. I looked to the curb and saw this beauty:

The royal flag and lack of license plates gave it away so I patiently waited, feeling a little bit like a fake since I’m not even a subject of the crown, or anything official like that. Everyone around me in the little royal scrum was telling me stories of their last royal sightings and all I could contribute was that I’d seen President Obama’s dog the last time I was in Washington.

My patience was rewarded and in a few minutes, there she was.

I found myself suddenly queenstruck and though I am not at all a monarchist, I totally spazzed out and the next picture I took

betrays my royalty panic. I have to say though, when the driver turned the key on that Bentley, dude it purred like a kitten. I don’t really understand queens and stuff but as a Yankee, I am glad that Missus Betty Windor has got a sweet ride.

This is Deb in the City, where I have been up to London to visit the queen, like the pussycat. Mrrow.

Monday, June 21, 2010

London Calling

Hiya internet. My name is still Deb and welcome back to my blog, Deb in the City.

Like most misguided people on the web, I feel I have something to say that someone else would definitely want to listen to and I have access to a high-speed connection. Plus, I just moved and instead of my usual gin-and-tonic stress management, I’m trying to cope creatively. That's called harm reduction.

As you can probably tell from my keyboard accent, I’m not from around here. And by here I don’t mean the digital everywhere of the internet but, I mean an actual place, London, England.

And by London I mean Farnborough. And by Farnborough, I mean here:

This is my home now and I like to think of it as a little slice of America, with enough garage space and pavement to give me a feeling of security, just 23 minutes by train to Waterloo.

So, I moved here to London with extensive knowledge about the place that I gathered from movie musicals like Mary Poppins, plus a television combination of Ab Fab and Helen Mirren on late night repeats of Prime Suspect. And I know, like every person who was a child in the English speaking world that London Bridge is falling down.

My first day out, with hesitation I walked across the famous span and it felt pretty solid. How long must children sing their song to get satisfaction? Keep up the optimistic singing kids, and maybe one day this reinforced concrete ode to civil engineering will obey.

After crossing and meandering for miles in the wanderers’ paradise of this massive city, I eventually found myself in an incredible shop called Original Products, the "foremost source of spiritual supplies, herbs and books". Standard holy cards and medals of saints sit side by side with blessing candles depicting more secular figures like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another shopper in the store was trying to buy an image of Jesus:

Which looked pretty standard to me but I heard her say “in my country, this is the one that works”. I struck up a conversation with her.

She told me her name is Elliqua and that she is from Togo. Sadly the particular Jesus she wanted was not for sale.

As a nanny, in charge of a willful 8 year old, I thought Elliqua might have some tips on a special nanny charm or spell or prayer that could help me with my situation. She suggested I try an easy solution with this product, "Mano Poderosa" or "helping hand":

a quick, handy aerosol version of what is a much more complicated series of rituals to invoke divine help that my busy nanny schedule does not allow the time for.

This is Deb in the City, on the move in the Big Smoke, London England.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Melancholy Danes

Internet, help me. Now there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. And it is not a murdered king and his melancholy son with the suicidal girlfriend.

OK, I had to go see Hamlet’s castle because all my friends back home keep asking me about it. So, there you go, that’s it. Pretty impressive, no? I have to say the gift shop was sort of disappointing because it was a little too tasteful. I did buy an Elsinore fridge magnet which wasn’t quite the Ophelia mouse pad I was hoping for but it’s better than nothing. They did have an Ophelia pretty princess outfit that came with it’s own little pink castle:

And Helsingor is a cozy little town, full of Swedes visiting from across the water, come to buy cheaper alcohol in Denmark. This is a little monument to Sweden I found at the waterfront.

Back on my bike in Copenhagen after my journey to Helsingor, I took a wrong turn on some gade or strade and ended up in front of this butcher shop:

Not to be silly, but I could not tell if butt was the name of the butcher or if the store specialized in a particular Danish rear-end specialty that I didn’t know about. I went inside the tiny, spotless shop and the cases were empty because it was the end of the day and everything was sold out.

This is Ibrahim Butt and he is the proud owner of the Butt Butcher. He is Pakistani and he opened the store about 6 months ago after being in Denmark 15 years. Ibrahim speaks Danish, English, Hindi and Urdu and as we talked of sausages, I heard a bird singing in the next room. I asked him what kind of bird it was and he said “a little brown one”. I asked, "is it your pet?" He smiled and said no. I asked "Is it your dinner?" And he laughed and said "no, it belongs to a friend and I am just taking care of the bird." "You’re babysitting the bird?" He smiled and said "yes, babysitting, people leave things sometimes for me to take care of." I knew exactly what he was talking about.

This is Deb in the City on the babysitting continuum saying farvel, goodbye, rama rama and salaam from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Modern Danish

Hi internet, I’m still here living the good life, Danish style. Fifty per cent taxes on income seem high to me but in THe United States, my thirty per cent income tax pays to bail out failing banks and brokerage houses. Hey I'll gladly pay fifty per cent to have free education, cradle-to-grave universal healthcare and incredible minimalist teak furniture!

So today I was roaming around town on my bicycle while the child was at school and the other thing I really love about Copenhagen is that I can go practically anyplace on my bicycle which gives even a trip to the Irma Supermarket a feeling of great adventure.

Anyhow I was stopped at light and saw a fruit stand and the strawberries were calling to me so I parked and picked up a box and as I was paying, I saw some things I did not recognize as edible:

The nice woman at the stand, Pia explained to me that these were fresh hazelnuts and that they were in season now along with the strawberries. I have never eaten a hazelnut fresh before so Pia gave me a lesson in how to get the nut out of the elaborate wrapping and then she clobbered the shell with a cobblestone and presented me with the delicious fresh nut inside. Pia also told me I should watch my bag because there are a lot of “pocketpicks”. It was so adorable, I did not have the heart to correct her English.

Then I got a little lost of course since I’m still having a hard time with the street signs which number one are so tiny and number two Danish has three bonus letters that we don't have in English. Lost though I was, I found this amazing store:

Store is not quite the right word because really it is more like a museum inside.

This is Connie and she and her husband run Herold's Varehus. She is the fourth family generation to operate the store and some of the stock in the place is actually from the original Herold that opened the place. Connie says that people from the national theatre and various museums come all the time to buy old toys and paper decorations and all the other amazing things she sells.

For instance, I bought Mr. and Mrs. Viking paper dolls which Connie told me were from Norway but then she reminded me that Norway used to be part of Denmark, back in the day. I guess the United States used to be part of England back in the day and a lot of countries went through that British Empire phase. The British even left some souvenirs behind here in Copenhagen

This cannonball is stuck right in the wall of a building from 1736 where it landed in the Sankt Gertrud Strade when it was shot by the British Fleet when they shelled Copenhagen in 1807. I found it hard to believe that there was no museum built around this little piece of history or a whole theme park like it would have back in the States.

Speaking of history, we did manage to elect the first African-American president in the US so it was kind of hard to leave the just when things are starting to get good. But I have been able to ease my pain with special Danish treats that nobody back home is having:

This is a Superflyer, a true Danish treat. I know it would sound perfectly obvious to any Danish person but the idea of ice cream with two salty licorice sticks inside and covered with frozen licorice is just not a flavor combo that’s crossed the Atlantic. Sadly for my fellow Americans.

This is Deb in the City saying so long from Denmark where herring is for breakfast, hazelnuts are eaten raw and licorice goes on ice cream and they’re all delicious.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I heart KBH

Hello there internet. Welcome to Deb in the City. I am Deb and I am going to show you my city here on my blog. OK, I know it is a vlog because it’s video but the word vlog sounds like it’s going to be a hot spiced wine drink and not something to do with the internet.

Deb in the City is my new coping mechanism since I’ve had a little stress lately because I just moved and I can’t say I saw this one coming but I now live in Copenhagen. And I mean Copenhagen, Denmark not Copenhagen the tiny town in northern New York State. Denmark is way more fabulous.

I get to live in this amazing house:

OK, it’s not in Copenhagen exactly but it’s in Hellerup, near the beach. It has 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms and a Jacuzzi in each one. This domicile is small compared to the house in the United States where I moved from

This is one design area that we do better in the USA: ugly and extravagant. The Danish idea of luxury is so much more modest and everyone is very, very patient with me even when they don’t quite understand when I want to be excessive. But it’s comforting for Americans to overdo things.

So, I moved here without knowing too much about Denmark, besides what I gleaned from Hamlet and that Hamlet was really upset and thought that there was something rotten here. I know that was a long time ago but really, I have not seen one rotten thing since I’ve been here.

Oh, I knew about Danish ham that we were given as a very, very special treat when I was a kid. "It’s from Europe", my mother used to say with great respect in her voice.

And of course like every American, I knew about the pastry named for an entire people, the breakfast Danish. My first day here I marched myself into this bakery:

which is called the layer cake house in English (how fantastic is that?) and I asked the nice woman at the counter for a Danish and she did not understand so I pointed to this:

and she said "oh, you want a Vienna bread!" But in Vienna, they call them "Kopenhagener Geb├Ąck", according to herre google. Or is it fru google? Is Google a lady or a man?

As a nanny, it’s pretty important for me to understand the landscape and vocabulary of pastry and cake and cookies when I’m dealing with an eight year old. Because when nothing else will solve a crisis, sweets can put any disagreement to rest. Sugar is the great tranquilizer.

This is Deb in the City, saying goodbye from Copenhagen, Denmark the number one place where European businesspeople want to be stationed, the number one most livable city in the world, and the world’s best design city.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Global Village

Internet, my constant companion, help me please. Deb in the City is at the end of her nanny rope and not even these,

which are the Greek version of Timbits that I bought on the Danforth can soothe my frazzled constitution.

The Child has gone to a new level of internal combustion and her deadbeat dad is giving me no love in the parental guidance department. But, she is just a little girl and I am supposedly the responsible, mature adult. In an effort to bury the hatchet and smoke a peace pipe (which are probably both politically questionable euphemisms) I went out to find something to try and make her happy.

And I ended up over in Kensington Market at this amazing store, La Perola. They sell all necessary staples of life from Latin America and pretty quickly I found what I was looking for.

Fresh cactus paddles, 2.49 a pound. As gringa nanny I am unequipped to deal with the thorny issue, haha, but lucky for me safety cactus comes in a jar. I can’t take the kid to Mexico to see her dad but I can bring a little of Mexico to her. I hope it works.

Walking through Kensington is like waiting for someone at the international arrivals terminal at Pearson Airport. The stores sell products from many meridians of the globe and it’s possible to go from Portugal to Somalia to Jamaica in less than a city block.

Patty King called to the blood sugar spike I was negotiating after the last of the Greekbits and I went inside looking for a nice savory vegetable patty or maybe some doubles.

At the counter, I ordered a patty with cocoa bread from this lady

Her name is Ann and she’s been at the Patty King for about six months. She immigrated from Viet Nam to Canada a few years ago and she works with an efficient crew of Viet Namese ladies who own and operate the bakery, making traditional Caribbean foods. Ann says she missed Viet Nam when she first got here but now she doesn’t want to go back. Now, this is home.

This is Deb in the City, saying yassou, adios, goodbye and tam biet from Toronto, where home might have been someplace else but is here now.