Settling in

Moving in commenced on Friday! We were able to get keys, inventory the house, and receive all the boxes by 1 pm. Or 8 am EDT. Or 5 am PDT. Leah stayed and unpacked while David was able to go into the office for a half day.

We love our flat more and more as we settle in. Instead of Memorial weekend, we had a bank holiday here, so we got a lot done. We take breaks to eat on our tiny balcony and truly enjoy using our own plates. It has been challenging for Leah to rest because she/I just wants to be settled finally and is anxious to finish unpacking. David is busy trying to find us a free wardrobe for our closet-less bedroom.

After 7 different beds these last couple of months, it is wonderful to sleep in our own.

Some ‘before’ photos from Friday…

In progress…

And where we are today, Sunday…

So we celebrated with a walk.

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The walkway above the train tracks. Sunset isn’t until nearly 10 pm.
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A new tent! (We have a flat!)

We’ve signed a lease! On Friday, May 27th, exactly one month after arriving in London, we’ll take our suitcases and Zeke to Nether Street in Finchley, an area in North London. It’s helping me to think of all of these places we are living as tents. It reminds me that nothing is permanent. Being in flux is more or less a constant state, but I can still find ways to feel at “home.”

Our new flat on Nether Street. The property is split into four units. We're on top on the left!
Our new flat on Nether Street. The property is split into three units. We’re on top on the left with the red brick!

That’s N3 for all you zip code people. Zip codes or “post codes” in London are two parts. Our temporary apartment is at EC1V 2PW. The first part is the area you’re in, so we’re in a certain part of east central London. The second part refers to your specific address. So, your whole address is really just in the post code here, which I find beautifully organized. Hello, N3! I hope we can be friends.

It’s a two bedroom apartment, so I have a room for a studio while I figure out a job and start building my network anew. The entire house has really beautiful light. We love that the kitchen opens up into the living room (or “reception area” as they call it here). Many UK kitchens are small rooms with doors, closed off from the rest of the house. Our temporary apartment is like that, and it feels challenging for us especially since we like to cook together. Our new kitchen will be perfect for brewing beer!

While many UK places are furnished, ours is not. We’re kind of in the middle when it comes to furniture. We have a bed, a love seat for the living room, and an assortment of dressers. We’ll be on the hunt for a kitchen table and chairs, and I’ve got my eye on an Ikea couch that will pull out for friends! Yard sales (or whatever they call them), here we come.

We’re close to a lot of trails and open park areas, which will be perfect for Zeke and for running. It’s more suburban where we will be living and feels quiet, but I can still escape into the woods. Lover’s Walk goes to the trails, but also to the high street (what they call the main thorough way). We even have our choices of tube stations. We’re about a 5 minute walk from either the West Finchley or Finchley Central stations. David will have a 25 minute commute to work including the walk.

Our new place is at the top of our budget, which feels scary. We are getting a great place, and it’s one where we feel like we can use to welcome friends and grow ourselves. I keep imagining having people in our living room for get-togethers. I can see myself painting in the extra room, and the long hallways will give my work good wall homes. I’ll have no excuse to hermit away as the tube stations are so close. I’ll be able to run–the trail near us is 10 miles long, the perfect length for that 20 mile final, long run for marathon training. This seems like a good tent for now.

I’ll post photos of the inside later, once we’ve moved in!

Neighbors in tourist-ing

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NEW BEER POST: We visited Meantime Brewery on Thursday, and I had to update my list of amazing UK beers!

Hello on Day 23 in the UK!

Things are moving along here. It seems that we won’t be homeless! We are waiting on a variety of boring items (like credit checks and a lease) to resolve on an apartment we want to live in! Islington is great, but it will be nice to have a home for our own. Don’t worry — when it’s all signed and done, we’ll barrage you with photographs and change of address announcements.

We have a Saturday ritual now, which is really nice. The cleaning people come in the morning, so we need to take Zeke out. We walk over to King Square Gardens to play with him. After he’s thoroughly exhausted, we have breakfast at Jimmy an the Bee, where they make an amazing ham and cheese croissant and Americano, as well as a fresh, cold bowl of water for Zeke. This particular Saturday David forced me to walk another two blocks to see a few galleries. I have a natural resistance to interacting with new people, and being in a new place makes it harder. However, my reward was a really great exhibition, Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography at Parasol Unit. It was encouraging to me to find work that I really liked–literally around the corner.

We were delighted that our friend, Sean, arrived in London this weekend! He has been riding trains across the world with another friend, Andrew. He started in Singapore, wandered about Vietnam, Japan, China, and Mongolia, then hopped on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He spent time in Moscow, Paris, and a few other spots before landing here. Coincidence would have it that he is staying for a week on the same block as us here in Islington. Yay for neighbors! We all met when Sean and I started together as freshmen at Cornell in 2004. We even got to hang out with him after college because he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, it’s good he’s here to help us explore our new city, especially since he’s so good at exploring new places by now.

On Sunday we did a walking tour of London. We saw Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Covent Garden, and a few other spots. It was good to get a bit of the lay of the land. We even saw a marching band of British officers with their bowlers and brollies (or, uh, umbrellas)!

And yesterday (Tuesday) I needed to do some research at the Natural History Museum. I’m learning a lot about plesiosaurs and also the Loch Ness monster as an extension of my lifelong love. I did a fifth grade science project about the Loch Ness monster, convinced that as a ten year old I could determine whether or not she is real. This has emerged once again into a painting exploration. We get to project all our imaginings onto the bones of the plesiosaur, the fossilized reptile that could be Nessie. I’m not sure what will result, but the large hallway at the Natural History Museum is an portal to a crazy world for me.

On my walk to the tube, I discovered Sean–who was also on his way to the Natural History Museum! It was nice to have a comrade excited to learn, though Sean didn’t need to spend an hour and a half with the plesiosaurs like I did. There is so much to learn here, and what was really beautiful to me at the museum yesterday was that learning leads to imagining. Learning isn’t all facts and dry numbers; it’s about where it can take you. Maybe it means traveling the world, visiting dinosaur bones, or starting a new life in a new place.

First week of (art)work

Zeke in his crate, a little painting on paper about 6" x 9"
Zeke in his crate for the plane, a little painting on paper about 6″ x 9″

We’ve been here for two weeks! It feels like we have always lived in this strange apartment-hotel for our entire lives. Today and yesterday we were international flat-hunters, though we’ll share more on that later when the stars align.

What are you doing in …life?

A lot of people are wondering what I, Leah, am doing over here on this island. That is fair. I am doing what I did before: my art practice. It’s more complicated to explain quickly (especially to a real estate agent), which is why I’m sometimes less keen to speak up.

So, my art practice looks this way: researching new ideas, experimenting with paint and what I’m learning, prepping surfaces to paint, making paintings, and editing all of that. After all that, I’m applying for exhibitions and a residency here and there, while trying to participate in the art scene. That’s what happens for me full time.

Then I have some sort of employment to help out with the finances. In San Francisco, I really loved working as a consultant for artists and authors. I also was able to do some teaching gigs in the midst of all that.

Here I don’t have that network, so I am beginning from scratch. Small talk and networking takes a lot of my energy and requires a lot of mental preparation, so I am trying to grow in that. London will be good for me to stretch that way. My hope is to be teaching more here in London at a university level.

I am returning to the States to teach for 4 weeks in the summer. It’s a program I really love teaching, and I’ll still net some dollars while imposing on all of my favorites for their couches.

Regent's Canal, where I went on my first London run
Regent’s Canal, where I went on my first London run

What then have you been doing in London?

When David went back to work, so did I. I’ve been making small paintings on paper with my tiniest of palettes. I brought a small toolbox with the basics for oil painting: a few tubes of paint, brushes, a small glass palette, and a few other odds and ends. I prepared the paper ahead of time in San Francisco, so that I could just start painting again when I was ready.

I’ve been mulling over the vulnerability of travel/migrating/relocation. Your body is extra sensitive. I read an article about how we don’t sleep well when we travel because our bodies know we could maybe be in more danger. I packed a tiny first aid kit for our travels. I have so many things to keep me safe from germs: wipes, hand sanitizer, and vitamins. And I’m not even a germ person–I don’t care about germs, but I know how sick I can get from everything I’m exposed to.

You’re more emotionally vulnerable as well. We really are doing okay! Very much so! And that is amazing. Even so, things will trigger homesickness or remind us how insane all of this is. I’m on a (Mexican food) hunger strike because you can’t beat SF. I haven’t changed my default “home” address in Google Maps. I felt pangs of sadness when I saw photos of the queen’s bubble umbrella because my friend also has one. It’s all raw, but also ridiculous.

I love the rain!
I love the rain!

Tate Modern has an amazing Mona Hatoum exhibition up right now. I trekked down on Thursday to see it, and it was extremely moving for me. So much of her work is about the (sometimes literal) shreds of yourself that you leave behind in your displacements or migrations. This felt especially solvent as I think about everyone and everything back in the States, as I attempt to rebuild my professional and personal lives.

So, I’m running again trying to rebuild there. We’ve visited a church. We went for pints with David’s colleagues. I’m venturing out to see art exhibitions. I’ve made some tiny paintings. All of these things are really small in the grand scheme, but take so much of you when everything is new. I find myself being tired a lot, but also like it’s not the end of the world.

It’s like my life is a small check list: Make some friends. Make some art. Stay healthy spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. I can do this.

First week of work

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind week. Tuesday was my first day of work at Rocksteady, so it was a shorter week. Here are a few general impressions so far.

Everyone seems very nice. I’ve felt welcomed, my opinion has often been asked, I’ve been given responsibility over various initiatives. I still feel like I have a lot to learn about the code, about the structure of the company and how to move things forward, but generally it seems like the structure rewards personal initiative, and that’s how I like it.

The office is beautiful, and has a fancy espresso machine that I’m slowly learning how to use, as well as other free drinks and snacks. Around lunch, someone yells, “Salad man!” or “Soup man!” as someone comes through and sells those things for folks that want to buy lunch to eat in. There’s also a regular group that has a pattern of which day they go where for lunch. And there’s a group that stays around and plays video games over lunch. Seems familiar…

A few random things from the week:

Work folks and I went to “Wahaca” (butchered spelling of Oaxaca), a mexican burrito place that’s very popular here. Leah is protesting all mexican food here, especially places that claim things like “real California burritos”. I think they were just okay, not terrible, but not great or anything really like Californian ones, though you can tell they’re trying.

There’s a lot of folks who go out for beers on Friday after work, so we did that with some folks and Leah came too and that was nice. Barely starting, but starting to get to know people.

We got a bank account! Seems silly to celebrate that, but it was difficult! We got turned down by 2 or 3 places for not having the paperwork they required to prove UK residency, but managed to get an HSBC account with the help of Rocksteady. Our contactless debit and credit cards come in the mail soon, so hopefully soon I can stop carrying around cash and the millions of tiny 1 and 2 pence (and 1 and 2 pound) coins that inevitably result from that.

Our phones are all up and working! You can call our US phone numbers and it will magically travel through the internet to reach us via data, and it uses so little data to be a non issue. Texting works, too. So give us a call!

I’m sure Leah will update you all on her impressions of her first week, too, but that’s all from me for now. Here’s a picture of the view I had from the lobby waiting to enter work for my first day:

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