Thursday, March 27, 2008

Just another day in Bath

The other day I was awoken by a man on a PA system.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said through my window, "please note that the race will be delayed by one hour, one hour ladies and gentlemen."

It reminded me of living in downtown Ketchikan during cruise ship season. From my bedroom in the attic I could see the huge ships, docked and teeming, and hear the morning announcements:

"Please be back on board by one-thirty. If you'd like to take part in the gold-panning tour, please see Sourdough Sal over by the information center."

This was my summer wake up call.

But now I'm in Bath, and the nearest ocean is miles away. When I peeked out the window of my daylight-basement flat at the feet of the passers-by, I saw not the orthopedic walking shoes and matching track suits of aging tourists, but rather high-quality tennis shoes, spandex leggings and over-muscled calves.

The Bath Half - an annual half marathon that begins and ends on my street.

I should have signed up for it, being an experienced half-marathoner myself. But the conditions of the day were cold and wet and generally not very pleasant, so I'm happy that I decided to give it a miss.

The best part about the race (which I didn't actually watch) was the giant foam sandwich that was handing out flyers on my street corner.

I mean really, when is that going to happen again?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Don't disrespect the Banoffi, man.

For a while I thought that the British just really liked pudding.

I mean, I have nothing against it. My old roommate, Melody, can make just about the most delectable banana pudding you have ever consumed (I think it’s actually mostly cream cheese and condensed milk). But besides Mel’s banana-infused Turkish Delight, I have always listed the viscous dish way down the favorite dessert list. Like near black licorice and raisins.

Over here, though, everyone is talking about pudding. People were asking me if I would like pudding and what I would like for pudding and what’s my favorite pudding. They would gaze at me with blatant disbelief (well, blatant for a Brit) when I very honestly said that I don’t usually care for pudding.

A brighter bulb than I would have realized much sooner that pudding is a catch-all word for dessert. Much like Coke in the South, pudding can mean any number of after-dinner delicacies. “What’ll you have for pudding?” simply means “What do you want for dessert?”.

It’s nice in a way, because you don’t have to remember how many S’s are in pudding.

I’ve got the hang of it now, and I no longer pretend to be a person who doesn’t care for pudding.

Nowhere is the British attitude toward pudding more pronounced than that most fabled of cultural activities: The Church Potluck.

This past Sunday’s meal being my first church potluck, I tried to hang behind my friend Serena and watch her movements in my “Jessi’s trying to not humiliate herself" mode that has become a habit. The pudding table was laden with more than a dozen options and I wasn’t sure what kind of custard went on which sponge and how much people were taking and if the raspberries were for the cheesecake looking thing or the chocolate cake.

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry. No matter what you call it, dessert is dessert, and the only rule seemed to be “don’t leave anything out.”

But there was one dish that definitely outshone them all.

I could hear the excited buzz of conversation building as I approached the table in the slow-moving queue.

“Ooh, banoffi pie!”

“Someone made banoffi pie.”

“I hope there’s some of that banoffi pie left.”

My curiosity couldn’t help but be piqued. Banoffi pie sounds like something you concoct when you’re five years old and your mother has turned her back in the kitchen. She returns after running to the end of the driveway to get the mail and you’ve emptied the contents of the fridge into a pie pan.

“Look, Mom! I made some picklemustardnoodle pie with ketchup frosting!"

In fact, banoffi pie is a popular British dessert that involves a complex recipe.

The name comes from the two dominant ingredients...wait for it...bananas and toffee.

In the books, it looks like this:

At church, it looked like this:

But I’m sure that’s because of my poor scooping abilities and that unforgiving fellowship hall lighting.

It was good.

Maybe a little sweet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I missed it!

So, a couple of days ago, Lance Mackey slid into Nome for the second year in a row!

Last Thursday I wore my Iditarod shirt in support of Dee Dee Johnrow - the one I stole from Linda that says "Alaska, Where Men are Men and Women Win the Iditarod" - but she came in 15th. In fact, I don't think a girl has actually won the race in over a decade.

But I'm happy that Lance won it. He seems like a nice guy.

It's been hard being so far away during the Iditarod. It's not a race that is exactly on the tip of every British tongue.

For the uninitiated, the Iditarod is a major sled dog race that happens in Alaska every year. It takes just under two weeks for the best mushers (sled dog drivers) to make it from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. There are prizes and checkpoints along the way.

The Iditarod happens at the end of the winter festival Fur Rondy, an annual event in Anchorage that includes a carnival, ice sculptures, outhouse races, and a chance to pull out those wolf-head hats that grace the closet of many an Alaskan.

It was also the first year they had this...

...and I'm so doing it next year. Or at least watching it.

Tyler (my brother) was in charge of the TV ad campaign for Fur Rondy and he made some really great commercials with local sports, entertainment, and political celebrities. You should check them out and then you can say you knew him when. He's in the commercials, too. Well, his voice is.

If you have the time, I'd encourage you to click here to see some real Alaskan athletes. (I think number 52 looks a little like Ryan Gosling)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Warning to Diabetics: This post may be a little sweet

This was my first public reading of my own work. I knew almost everyone in the audience, and I only read for about three minutes, but it was still nerve wracking.

Writing is a gateway to vulnerability. You put something down on paper, revise it, revise it, and then send it into the void saying, "Well, this is the best I got." And if the people don't dig it, you just press on.

I have, however, an incredible group of friends who dig everything I write, if only out of loyalty. I could have read my class notes on Samuel Beckett and they would have cheered me on. I really appreciate the shelter that the good opinion of my fellow writers is providing while I work on developing my thick skin.

So, that made me think about my blog and the same kind of warm, sappy, fuzzy feelings surfaced. You guys are great. Thanks for reading the good posts and the boring posts. Thanks for sticking through the lean months.

Wow, am I really going to post something so sentimental?

At least it's short.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An eggplant by any other name...

Despite all my efforts, I still don't like eggplant.

But over here they're called aubergines, so I'm hoping that my luck's about to change.

The Bud

I found this picture of Natalie, and I think it's great.

In addition to being beautiful, she's pretty funny.

And she taught her cat to sit.

Luck of the Draw.

Variety Packs. A good way for the consumer to avoid a decision, and for the producer to off-load the gross flavors.

I don't know about you, but my variety pack MO has evolved over time.

When I was little, the variety pack was a shared resource. If I ever wanted Cheetos, Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal or the Chocolate Malt Carnation Instant Breakfast, I had to be thinking ahead, jockeying for position when Mom came home from Costco, and snapping up the good stuff at the first opportunity. Otherwise it was Peaches 'n Cream and Sun Chips.

This communal approach left the undesirables flopping around in their overlarge packaging for weeks, unconsumed. Finally, some martyr fell on the sword because we all knew Mom wasn't going to buy more until it was gone.

Now, I find myself (inexplicably) a grown up.

I have sole access and ultimate control over the variety pack. So my tactic has changed. I eat my least favorite flavor (i.e. the granola bar with raisins) first, knowing that its superior brothers and sisters will wait patiently in all their prepackaged and chemically preserved glory.

Most recently (let's just get down to brass tacks) that means I've had to muscle down three of these babies...

...before I can start on the Cheese and Onion.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My Pages are Due Tomorrow: A Poem

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

I'm a procrastinator

Did you know that you can get extra points on Tetris if you push down?

The Bath Sports and Leisure Centre has my number.

I’m joining a gym.

I know what many of you may be thinking.

“Jessi, didn’t you try this once before at the Women’s Nautilus Club. Wasn’t that you who signed up for a six-month membership and went once, count ‘em once? Is this the same Jessi Gates who doesn’t like to run, doesn’t like to sweat, and has the endurance of a feverish sloth?”

Yes, yes, and yes.

It’s all true and don’t think these thoughts haven’t flitted through my mind as I’ve been contemplating this membership.

But, at twenty-seven, I think that it is high time I experimented with this crazy fad I’ve heard about called “working out.” And I have the time right now. And as a student, it is pretty cheap to join the gym. Plus, they’re haranguing me.

I went in last week to look at prices and plans with the membership guy, one of those intimidating Beautiful People who frequent these kind of establishments. He showed me around – it’s a really nice facility – and I filled out the little “interest” form and said I’d be back to sign up for real.

I didn’t go back.

Sunday, the membership department called me to ask if I was still interested in joining. “Yes,” I said, trying to noiselessly fold up the bag of chips I had been eating. I told them I’d come in Tuesday to seal the deal.

Wednesday morning, another call from the membership department. Although there were no accusations of being a flake, I know that my file says something like “SKIPPED APPOINTMENT” or “FLIGHT RISK.” I’m supposed to go in this afternoon, and if I bring my friend who’s a member, they’ll give us twenty quid cash back.

If they’re as persistent about my physical condition as they are about my membership, I’m going to be a Greek goddess soon.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mind your PMQs.

At first, I thought that BBC was playing a clip from a football match or a town meeting gone terribly wrong. The crowd’s voice on my radio was full of derision and scorn, and although the words were unintelligible, I could picture them saying something like, “Aw, c’mon ref! My grandma could call this game better than that!”

But after a few seconds of attentive listening, it became clear that this cacophony was not produced by a pack of sports fans or a riotous mob or a bunch of irate parents at a PTA meeting. It was the leaders of Great Britain in a little Wednesday afternoon tradition called the Prime Minister’s Question Time.

I know that the title sounds innocuous, but let me assure you that Gordon Brown is not seated in a rocking chair in the middle of the story circle, reading Where the Wild Things Are to the Members of Parliament. Nor is he pulling slips of paper out of a cardboard suggestion box labeled “How can Britain do better?”

Every Wednesday for a half hour, Britain's Prime Minister hoofs it down to the House of Parliament to face the questions of the MPs. There’s a lot of sitting and standing, a lot of booing and hoorahing, and more than the occasional snide comment. It’s great. But I think that they would get a lot more done if the crowd wasn’t always interrupting the proceedings with all the shouting.

My thoughts on the matter:
I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the leader of a country has to stand before his peers and support his policies on a weekly basis. I mean, I’m sure that Brown has a bunch of lackeys to gather evidence for him and write responses to questions, but ultimately, it is his face in front of that microphone and his voice defending the position that his party has elected to take. It puts me in mind of the presidential debates that have been going on in the States. But I’m also sure that it has its disadvantages…complicated explanations cannot be laid out in twenty seconds and often the questions that fly around Parliament are designed less to inquire and more to accuse.

But it’s fun to listen to, even as an ignorant outsider.

Also, by way of a heads up; do not go into politics if you have personal space issues. I cannot believe how they pack those MPs on the benches.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Carrying the Banner!

I don’t know what made me think of it. Perhaps it’s an unrecognized longing to return to childhood. Maybe it’s all this Christian Bale I see in the movies these days. But something has got me thinking about that fateful Tennessee summer day when my cousin and I decided to take a break from Bubble Bobble on her Nintendo and watch a movie.

A musical.


When I was little, musicals were as commonplace as mismatched socks around the Gates household. My mom had all the good ones (The King and I, My Fair Lady, Music Man, Sound of Music), and none of the bad ones (Carousel, Funny Face, Beaches). Repeated screenings at a formative age taught me a lot about Nazi-occupied Austria, the cockney accent, con artists, and the geo-political situation of Siam at the turn of the century. Very educational.

It also taught me to accept the fact that sometimes the main characters in a movie can just better express themselves with a song and perhaps a little dance. I call this “suspension of disbelief.” I do not accept my brother’s label of “delusional.”

So a movie about street toughs who sing and dance through hard times? Westside Story Lite? What's not for a girl to like?

Last year I attempted to introduce my high school small groups girls to the wonders of Newsies – a virtually untapped resource in their generation. I had them over for a movie night and watched the opening song with a fifth-grade grin on my face. The girls looked at one another and at me with their sweet, patient, patronizing, eyelinered eyes and an expression that said, “We are waaay too old for this.”

It’s a shame. You gotta get ‘em young, I think.

Yes, musicals are cheesy. Yes they’re historically inaccurate. They’re pretty long, too. But for me, nostalgia conquers all.

For those of you who are with me: