Monthly Archives: August 2011

“Strange” continued

Ok – so have mastered blackberry memory issues and am reporting live from the sitting room on Rabbit Run Road (which is just off Fox Chase.)

I’m in here to share what we have happening on the bookshelves.

Row after row of leather-bound, gold trimmed editions. We’ve five shelves of classics — Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Stories, Booker T Washington’s Up From Slavery, Steinbeck, Thoreau, ee Cummings.

In the next bookcase we’ve got the collections. Bound volumes of The Atlantic Monthly 1860-1866, Letters of the Great Artists, Plutarch’s Lives, Victor Hugo’s five tomes des Les Miserables, Dickens’ complete works, the ten volumes of Abraham Lincoln’s A History and four shelves of The Harvard Classics.

I pluck The Harvard Lectures (1914) off the highest shelf. The chapters cover drama, poetry, prose fiction, history, natural science, political history, education, religion, voyages and travel — an entire pre World War One liberal education.

About ten years ago I came across a newspaper column about the Feng Shui of packed out bookshelves. A Feng Shui consultant was advising the columnist that at least half his books had to go. Not only are bookcases social lies (and as someone who keeps her self-help in the closet, I’d have to agree), but too many books means no room for fresh thinking and new discoveries.

I think it’s true that we can’t rely on bookcases to tell us the truth about their owners. Here on Rabbit Run Road for example, I’d suggest that obsessive hoarding of Beagles and their Cottontail chase is far more revealing.

If we’re stuck here another day we’re planning to start counting the ceramic and copper miniatures of bunnies and hounds, the not so miniature sculptures, the gangs of paintings, the needleworked pillow covers, the bunny and hound cookie cutters, ash trays, and lamp switches …. But for now that’s just too big a task so I’m curling up for the 1914 lecture series to see what I can learn.

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Filed under Books etc., London, Random idea

“Be prepared for a strange place”

That’s all the text message said. Nothing else.

It was from my brother. He’d just arrived to the suburbs of Philadelphia to the house of his mother-in-law’s good friends who are generously putting us up during the evacuation of the Jersey Shore this weekend.

It would be the next morning (yesterday) before I’d arrive to see the place for myself. Initially I was pleasantly disappointed, it didn’t seem all that strange to me. At first.

It’s well worth mentioning where we are: Mainline, Penn State. The term refers to a collection of very wealthy towns. It means money. It means old money. It means WASP.

The house protecting us from Irene (now without water and electricity since last night) is packed with Quirkyness and is living proof that some things in the US really are properly historically old.

I’ve been attempting to report live on what the bookcases, Beagles and Cottontails can tell us about the Quirk factor happening here but I’m fighting a blackberry with memory problems so you’ll have to stay tuned.

Over and out for now.

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Spock & Scratch cards

Currently sitting on the Amtrak Acela Express — booming our way out of New York City before Hurricane Irene hits.

Across from me sit two very well dressed men in their 30’s. They were so polite when they asked if they could join me that I wondered if they’re Mormons. Then one laughed as they sat and said “Hey, if it’s not us – it could be someone a lot worse – this train is going to be packed out today.”As they settled themselves into the seats facing mine, I decide they’re probably a couple — they are impeccably dressed in beautiful Italian suits and they are just too good looking and charming. Ten minutes into the journey and I’ve gathered that they’re colleagues. But in what sort of business I don’t know.

They’ve got their MacBooks out and booted up; they’ve got an iPad streaming some video. They’re planning for a big phonecall that starts when they get off the train (and it’s a Saturday —  Bankers? in the leisure industry?) One sounds Southern, the other Mid-Western. The Southern one seems to be talking in code, “Talked to Louis — he hit blue last night.”

Midwestern: “Cool I just sent you an email about the scratch cards – they aren’t going to be any prizes.” I’m starting to work out what sort of business we might be talking about. But then I get lost again.

MidWestern speaks in a very sexy gravelly voice: “Hey so we’re going for “Chopra’ — very Eastern branding, 10 pounds in 10 days – getting this girl in, making it sexy.”

Southern: “Let’s look at her website — is it Jade? Is she a model or a spokeperson for this?” They ogle over the website, talk about her bio, which TV shows she’s been on.

Southern: “What’s so good is that she’s gone away from that — she’s gone so extreme.”

MidWestern: “Dude, get her on the phone and see if she’ll partner with us.”

And they’re back talking scratch cards. So it’s some sort of gaming business – that’s all I can tell you. In fact – as I typed those words Midwestern says “This is going to be such a great game. Look she lives in Texas – she’ll be awake, call her now. Let’s do ten solids, no returns. And we’ll do the iPad prize”  (By the time I finish this post and read it over, I’ve learnt that their gaming schemes are tied to weight loss programs…but it just seems so wrong to butt in and come straight out and ask them what sort of deal they’re talking about.)

I’m en route to Philadelphia where I’ll be waiting and watching Irene with the rest of us that had planned to be on the Jersey shore this weekend (now evacuated.)

After I posted about Feelings yesterday I was walking down Lexington Ave and popped into Shakespeare & Co looking for a book that they didn’t have.

Instead I came across this card. I bought it for my brother for obvious reasons if you followed the Question of Sport posts last weekend. But I also bought it because what better pin-up for Do-we-really-have-to-have-feelings than Spock? And yesterday’s post was all about feelings.

As I was buying the card I noticed a book at the check-out and I bought that too. The book’s called Who Am I (And If So, How Many). I bought it because I let myself buy as many books as I want whenever I am in USA. I like the feel of the books here and the covers are better than what we have in the UK. I bought it because that’s my sort of title and there was a banner across the book that said “translated into 23 languages with more than one million copies sold.” How come I’d never seen this book before.

After I left with my card and my book I stopped for a coffee (I am on vacation.) I had a flick and then scanned the table of contents and what do I find but a chapter called Mr. Spock in Love: What are feelings? Spooky. Neat. I just love a weird coincidence.

Here’s a quote from that chapter

Feelings are quite simple to explain on a chemical level, but figuring out how they come about, and how they appear and disappear, is no easy matter. Many neuroscientists must entertain fantasies of how much easier things would be if we were more Vulcan – the way Dr. McCoy does on the Enterprise

Never mind many neuroscientists, who wouldn’t find things easier without feelings? Well, on one level — on the other, who really wants to be a Vulcan? The only reason I’d really like to be Spock right now is that I know I’d have no hesitation to interrupt the game boys across from me and inquire into their exact line of business.


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I’m OK, You’re OK

Did you know that “OK” isn’t acutally a feeling? I didn’t.

I mean I didn’t realize that “OK” was an inappropriate response to:

 “So, how do you feel?”

But come to think of it, isn’t that a fairly invasive question? Well, it can be. It’s also a thoughtful one. Just depends who’s asking and why.

Often I reply that I’m OK or Fine or Good rather than admit to something less neutral (even “Good, thank you”  is an empty reply in polite society), because I’m not actually aware of what I’m feeling. Or whether I’m feeling anything at all. 

Are feelings at large at all times?

Maybe some people live in emotional technicolour. For the most part, I do not. I spend much more of my time picking up on other people’s feelings, like the situation I just walked away from at the Dunkin Donuts around the corner from my brother’s apartment here in New York.

We’ve got Hurricane Irene beating a path this way and with less than 48 hours to go, they’re already down to only 3 types of munchkins and no Boston Cremes. I thought the guy in front of me was going to lose his marbles with the poor man behind the counter doing his best. The situation was definitely going red.


Anyway, I’m not really convinced feelings are a good idea, but since I know that  ignoring them can lead to long term bad news (like clinical depression or donut addiction), I sometimes refer to this handy wheel if I have no idea what’s going on with myself.

I was thinking of campaigning the Feeling Wheel people (who are you? where are you?) to include OK/Fine somewhere on this chart. Maybe it could be like a 4th outer circle?

Please get  back to me if you are in fact one of those in charge of allowing new entries into the wheel.

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Filed under Not in London, Self-help

Me vs You

Well, I’d call Friday and Saturday’s “blog-off” (as coined by Charlotte, everything’s a competition!), a result.

A. It now appears I am officially invited to the 2012 Olypmics (even if I am not worthy)
B. I think I’ve worked out what’s going on with Me vs Sports Fans

Once, when I was depressed about the direction of my life, I remember watching a bus go by with a movie advert plastered along the side of it and thinking to myself, “well, things could be worse, I could be an actress; then my life would be really pointless.”

And the poster featured Kristen Scott Thomas – who I ADORE, so that’s how black and white and tragic my thinking was at that time.

I mention this now — with respect to a question of sport, because the trouble I’ve had taking the sporting industry seriously is a bit like thinking actresses have no purpose.

There are things in life I’ve considered “real” and things I’ve considered “not real.” On the real end I would’ve listed work, health (and death), family, friends. On the not real end I would’ve listed fiction, TV shows (even reality ones), theatre, the movies, sporting events. I would’ve parked politics somewhere in between. Fairly unreal but with real consequences.

Not sure if that list confuses or explains the particular version of The
Matrix I created and lived within. This real/not real categorization is not reflective of conscious decisions I made. I’m just aware that for some reason I’d long assumed that work was real and sport was not. Therefore spending a disproportionate amount of time watching and reading about sport has struck me as reality avoidance.

But just as I recovered my senses with respect to the pointlessness of being Kristin Scott Thomas (who, if I wasn’t myself, I would very much like to be), I think I’m coming around a corner on the sports fan thing.

Just as I understand that fiction and the movies — that stories — maybe appear to be an optional, random, not-so-real feature of life but in fact are impossible to live without (they create meaning for us, break down stereotypes, help us reflect, teach us to think differently, have the power to inspire world peace and failing all that, entertain), I think I’ve taken away from Charlotte the importance of being a fan. Fanhood offers:

  • a sense of community and affiliation
  • a channel for our competitive natures that’s a whole lot less destructive than war
  • meaning and ritual
  • escape and entertainment

And all these things are real and essential to life. (Maybe even more so than work?) It’s just that it’s not in my nature to access these sorts of things by following a football team. But I’m pretty glad that a whole bunch of other people do.

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Charlotte replies to a question of sport

As a fervent sports fan who deals with sports on average every 10 seconds per day, I am going to try and sway Nathalie from a non-carer to a carer. This is going to be VERY DIFFICULT but I will at least give it a shot, and if all fails, perhaps I’ll convinced other non-believers that watching sports can be so damn exciting. If there’s no light switch, no falling of coins, perhaps my words may reveal what’s going on in the mind of a sports freak.

Why do I pull out the sports section of a newspaper first? The answer is I MUST know results, who beat who, and by how much, what happened during the race/match/game. My passion comes from having been thrown into tennis, football, running, ballet and more as a young girl in Belgium. Playing a sport competitively as a child made me understand that sports is all about learning a skill and performing that skill to the best of my ability and consistently.

Steffi Graff’s forehand cross-court winner during the Wimbledon final looked significantly easier on TV than when I (tried to) replicate the same shot on a sun-burnt grass court at my tiny local tennis club. The grass was greener in Wimbledon, both figuratively and literally speaking. Watching the great elegance with which Steffi made her opponent squirm — the way she used her physical strength, agility, mental toughness and perfected technical shots all the while being surrounded by the prestige and history of Wimbledon, that’s what had me glued to my TV screen as an 8 year old. That’s the first memory I have of how my slightly abnormal following of tennis began.

Why do 50 English men squeeze their fat Carling-filled bellies in a cheap 20 seater-bus to endure an 8 hour long hellish ride to an obscure town in the North of England to watch their Southern football team get absolutely nowhere with a lifeless 0-0 against a team at the bottom of the table? I believe it is the love and affiliation you build up over the months and years with a team … by watching your 11 men (or women!) perfect their bodies and skill to become the ultimate footballer, to reach the top of their ability week in week out and work together in unison with their teammates. All this to strive for that common goal of beating the twats (I mean the opposition) and to wiggle their way up the table ahead of all the other twats. And although a 0-0 draw may seem duller than a dishwasher, I can guarantee that those 50 beer-bellied men would still have felt an enormous satisfaction from seeing their team try to kick a ball in the back of their opponent’s net for the duration of 90 minutes.

The passion and love for a sport, never mind a team, once ignited can never really die.

I could write a marathon on this and never even scratch the surface of this sport-watching mystery. It’s the affiliation, it’s the competition, it’s the mastery and perfection. But above all it’s something beyond words. So on that note — brace yourself, housemate, I invite you to accept a ticket to watch the volleyball semi-final in Earl’s court at the Olympics with me. I defy you to do that and then turn to me and ask, “Charlotte, why are we here?”

* * *

Note from Nat – shortly after I received Charlotte’s reply, I got an urgent facebook message:

nat i forgot a part about when a fellow country person plays and feeling the pride of when a fellow belgian plays and wins. And the pain of when they loose. DAMN IT!

As Charlotte said, her explanations may only scratch the surface of what drives her sporting passion — with anything so primal, the energy runs so deep it’s hard to answer WHY.

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A question of sport

My attitude towards sports is something I’ve been meaning to confess. I needed the right confessor, and now I’ve found her — my housemate, Charlotte.

So here’s the thing: I don’t get sports.

I don’t understand why people care so much about it.

I realize this is an odd complaint, but now that we’ve got the Olympics coming to town I need to say something.

I do understand playing sport (exercise + fun + friends.) I don’t understand watching it or reading about it. Or rather, I understand only a teeny bit. So the sounds of a tennis rally, the whack and pop of the ball hitting a racket will always make me think of my grandfather. Summertimes in Ireland, sitting in the TV room on that grey-black 1970’s sofa furniture where the cushions rested on very thick bands of rubber that creaked loudly if we did not sit stoney still, Papa watched Wimbledon and from time to time, passed us the brown bag of wine gums if we were good.

And yes, under the right circumstances, I can get excited about the World Cup: in 1994 when I was in Italy by myself I did of course head to the nearest Irish pub (and isn’t there always one) just in time to support Ireland vs Mexico.

But that’s about the extent of my appreciation for the watching sports thing.

Except — wait, ice skating — I can watch that any time and get transfixed. In fact I had a weird thing going on with me and ice skating. When I used to be an insomniac I’d listen to music to fall asleep and no matter the tempo or style (from Vivaldi to The Eagles), I’d imagine I was skating to it — pulling off moves that made the audience gasp. I could play that video in my head for hours. And many sleepless nights, did.

Ok – but that’s really it.

I don’t otherwise understand the enormity of the sporting industry. I don’t get how so very many people devote large chunks of their entire lives to being fans and doing fan-like things. I don’t understand the TV coverage, the emotional urgency of it all. I really want to. But I do not.

I moved to London in 1996. I came because my brother had been transferred by his bank for a stint overseas. When I got here I did all the right things – I read Nick Hornby, went to see Colin Firth in Fever Pitch and did in fact go watch Arsenal play a few times. My brother shared his beautiful South Ken pad with me and while I was happy to live with him, I was not happy about the football (American). My brother invested in SURROUND SOUND and there was absolutely nowhere in that flat to which I could retire peacefully without either American football or Star Trek  booming out from the large flat screen. Which, when we were home, was ALL of the time. And while I hate to deny my brother some light R&R, the sound of sports commentators small-talking and seriously debating followed by speeded up mounting alarm punctuated by shrieks of mild hysteria, well, it’s now my least favourite household noise.

So enter Charlotte. My housemate. She loves me just enough to tolerate this heresy of which I write.

Sport is Charlotte’s life. Not that there isn’t a whole lot more to her – but I’ve really never been friends with someone so sports-infused 24/7.  She rides her bike to work everyday, does extreme races on the weekends, heads down the park to play rugby after work — while a tad excessive, all this I can get. She also works for the International Tennis Federation,  is constantly rescuing the sports section from the pile of newspaper ready for the cat litter and frequently makes reference to people and places and events that mean nothing to me — until I realize from her arched brow and gentle head nod, that yes she is once again attempting to talk to me about the sort of sporting hero that she finds it unfathomable that I HAVE NOT HEARD OF.

Several times, Charlotte got up at a time of morning that I call night in an attempt to win the Olympic ticket lottery.

She gets the whole thing I do not get.

And so tomorrow I hand over my blog to Charlotte who shall attempt to explain to me why sport is so great.

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