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1,000 Days

Way back on October 28th 2010, I landed at JFK with a couple of suitcases, a bass guitar, and a six-month placement job at my company’s New York office. Today – 1,000 days later – I’m wearing red white & blue, living in Brooklyn, waiting for my H1-B work visa to arrive, and actually caring whether the Yankees win or lose.

They say that everyone should live in New York at least once, and once you do live in New York you don’t have time to wonder who ‘they’ are because all you can think of is planning the next week of free shows, pop-up restaurants, and the slew of excuses to run outside and play in the sunshine on the beaches and parks. I no longer do grocery shopping, nor cook at home, wash my clothes, read the news, fill up my car, watch TV or any of the hundred other things I thought were a mandatory part of the daily schedule and yet I’m still so busy enjoying life that the majority of my time spent at home is spent getting my 6 or 7 hours of sleep in.

I say trash instead of rubbish now; I’ve drunk iced tea more than once (and almost enjoyed it); and though I still refuse to drop the prepositions in ‘a couple of’ or ‘I’ll write to you’, I no longer cringe when someone else does. I look left when I cross the street. Then, I look right too because, seriously, have you seen New York cyclists? I know the tune to This Land Is Your Land after a painful round of Cranium, and I own socks that look like cheeseburgers.

Cheeseburger socks

Whilst I could rattle off a list of rooftop bars, spend hours discussing brunch spots and write a well-informed essay on the relative merits of NYC’s ping-pong establishments, I have essentially no idea what’s happening in the outside world. I simply don’t care who’s pregnant, who just attacked who and what a politician just said. Is that wrong? Should I care? I try and do good things and make people happy whenever I see an opportunity in front of me, but I just can’t find it in my heart to truly care about events I can never influence, which will most likely never influence me.

Whatever’s changed, whatever’s the same, I’m happy right now, and that means every choice I made up to this point was the right one. And, most importantly of all, I’ve finally learned what happens when the little ‘Day x’ counter on the top left of my blog posts reaches four digits. But I’m too busy to fix it.

God Bless America.

Xx

shared by newyorkgeek on the 24 Jul 2013. Leave a comment

National Etymologies

A recent homework in my Portuguese class was the superlatively vague “tell us something at class next week” and so, I strove to challenge myself and explain a little about the Welsh language, in Portuguese. I was explaining why I much preferred to be called by the Welsh demonym ‘Cymry’ (from Brythonic ‘combrogi’ – fellow countryman – whence comes Cambria and related words), than the Anglicised ‘Welsh’ (from Germanic ‘Walh’: foreigner or stranger), when I realised I don’t actually know where the names of other countries come from.

I felt pretty dazed and shaken-up by this realisation, as I’m generally a big fan of trivia and especially of etymology, as evidenced by the number of books on the subject people have given me as gifts. Did you know that ‘humble pie’ is a folk etymology from the ‘umble pie’, a pie of the deer’s umbles (innards) eaten by the servants after a deer hunt; or that the game of ‘pool’ (and also typing pool, gene pool etc) comes from an old French gambling game involving shooting chickens (poulet).

So, I immediately called up my favourite American and learned that America – guys, this is my favourite new thing – America is named after a person. This man, Amerigo Vespucci of Italy, was an explorer in the same era as Columbus and thought by some cartographers to have discovered one of the ‘new’ landmasses, South America. Given that Europe comes from a Goddess, Europa (another of Zeus’ forced conquests, this time when he was in the form of a bull), and that Asia was named after the hot wife of Prometheus, the name Amerigo was put to its feminine Latin form of America. Spain, patron of Christopher Columbus, refused to recognise this name for two centuries (eventually settling for a small fraction of the landmass in ‘Colombia’), until my eternal nemesis Gerardus Mercator sealed the deal with his nauseating projection.

I then set to looking at more countries, and within Britain I wasn’t overly surprised by the results. England is the land of the Angles, the Angles being from Angeln/Anglia in Germany, a peninsula named for its ‘ang-’ or ‘bend’ (as in ankle or angle). The Ire (Eire) of Ireland is from the original Celtic name of the island, roots unknown. Scotland is the land of the Scoti/Scotia (Latin) – which is originally what the Romans called Ireland – and comes in a roundabout way from the Primitive Welsh ‘Goidel’, which may be ‘forest people’ and was a male forename.

Moving a bit further abroad, France is Francia, the country of the Franks, and ‘Frank’ probably stems from the same noun as ‘lance’ given that the Franks fought with a francisca, but may simply mean ‘free’. Spain is a trickier one to put together, but having read a few sources it seems to either come from ‘i-spn-ya’ (the land where metals are forged); from the Basque ‘Ezpanna’ (edge, border); or the coolest of the three, Greek/Latin ‘Hesperia’ (land of the setting sun). Whatever the case, Spain was not named lightly.

Italy bemusingly comes from Greek ‘Víteliú’ (land of young cattle) – I bet the mighty Spanish would mock them for that – and the German ‘Deutschland’ comes from Germanic ‘diutisc’ (of the people), which means that the Germans and Welsh have at least one beautiful thing in common. Canada, like so many North American place names comes from an indiginous American word, the St. Lawrence Iroquoian ‘kanata’ (village, settlement).

At this point I stopped because, there are just too many countries and too little time. But, fear not, I’ll keep looking, and next time you’re sitting down to a quiet drink in a bar hoping for a conversation about the music, or the game on the TVs, I’ll be ready to fill your head with more etymological facts.

Tell your friends.

Xx

shared by newyorkgeek on the 19 Jul 2013. Leave a comment

Good Things, Small Packages

Wales, my homeland, is a small country in the world. But, whilst I can look at some statistics, or even a map, and understand that as an abstract concept, it’s hard for me to truly make that statement feel true, given the myriad of wonderful things I know about it.

In New York, I regularly meet people who are only vaguely aware, from a comment heard in passing years back, that Wales is even a country, but I’m too excited by the opportunity to educate these poorly-informed travellers about the beauty of my home that I don’t stop much to think how strange it is that they have so little knowledge to begin with. It’s often South Americans that seem to have the least-strong idea about Wales, but even close to home the EU once managed to leave Wales off a map entirely.

EU leaves Wales off map

A couple of recent interactions, however, did help me to see the slightly bigger picture. The first was in which I gave a Brazilian friend the topic of Wales in a game of Just A Minute. That didn’t go well.

More recently, at work, I was looking for a shorthand for EuroZone countries in a dataset, and came across the country code ER. I assumed this to be the correct answer, but made a couple of quick calls to check things through before continuing. I spent the rest of the day being gently ridiculed for my lack of knowledge about the (no doubt beautiful) country of Eritrea and, with the stinging embarrassment of my ignorance inescapably present in my head, resolved to share on Facebook an Eritrea fact every day.

Now, this being New York City, the great melting pot, I soon discovered that I already have a half-Eritrean friend in the city (I’d always assumed she was Ethiopian) and that a number of my friends already knew about this fine place. I’ve never been one to underestimate the cultural diversity of New York. I work in a small team which contains people from every populous continent, and my social gatherings regularly include conversation in three or four different languages, but even so, I was still a little surprised: until I started researching Eritrea.

Eritrea ranks at 107 in the most-populated countries in the world, and at 153 in the rankings by area. Wales, on the other hand, is in position 137 for population and just pips Israel at 153 in the size stakes, coming in a clear 10 places above such giants as Fiji, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia. Wales is small.

More people speak Konkani, Xhosa, Tatar-Bashkir, Makuwa and a plethora of other languages about which I am entirely ignorant, than speak Welsh. Wales is known for its beautiful mountainous countryside, but there is a waterfall in Venezuela over which water free-falls a greater height than Wales’ tallest mountain. Really, Wales is small.

You’ll never convince me that Wales isn’t the most beautiful, important and wonderful country in the world. But since my experience with Eritrea, the next time someone asks me where Wales is located, or looks quizzically at me when I mention Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant, I’ll be able to empathise just a little bit more with their bewildered stare.

Xx

shared by newyorkgeek on the 12 Jun 2013. Leave a comment

Wot?

Another expat Brit recently turned me on to Wikipedia’s List of British words not widely used in the USA. Now, other than perhaps queueing, there’s very little more likely to thrill me on a rainy day than a good, solid list with plenty of references and trivia, and I’ve spent the last couple of days devouring the whole thing.

There’s a handful of words in the list I hardly even recognise, such as “French letter” for a condom, or “jam sandwich” for a police car – although if it was speeding along I would be much more likely to use blues & twos than the USA’s awkward ‘lights & sirens’ or ‘code’. What is more surprising, however, is the sheer volume of words that I use on at least a weekly basis which have made it into this list and which I’ve recently ascertained a good portion of my American friends have no definition for. Perhaps this, rather than my Cardiff-English accent, explains the blank looks and non-sequitirs I get in response from them from time to time.

I’ve educated some closer friends on knackered and jumper (in the US, a sleeveless dress), and whilst other entries such as launderette and [five dollar] note sound a bit off, they’re close enough to be understood, but there are still a few which I had no idea are utterly baffling to folks over here. I found it amazing that strop is nearly unknown and that I would be completely incoherent were I to say that someone mincing around was a bit camp. Let’s examine a few more though:

If, feeling a bit peckish I put some petrol in my motor and popped off for a pukka hot pasty, no-one would think me a plonker, but things might go a bit pear-shaped if I asked for some Spotted Dick – they might think I was a bit of a ponce (not to be confused with a nonce). If I then suggested some toad in the hole, they’d probably think I was just another pisshead out on the razz and chuck me out into the street arse over tit.

The roads, though, can be a curious affair. If, just past the motorway, the flyover, or the dual carriageway you were to be waiting on the pavement under the Belisha beacons at a Zebra crossing, then Americans would think you were talking codswallop when you mentioned cats-eyes, sleeping policemen or suggested that, because of the roundabout, perhaps it would have been better to take the subway to cross the tarmac instead.

The bedroom could be an infinitely embarrassing source of confusion too, given the British predilection for social-awkwardness and the number of sexually-themed words appearing in our fine list. On the plus side (questions of chivalry aside), a Page 3 quality bird probably wouldn’t have the nous be upset if you called her a slag or a bint but, she might think you a bit twee if you asked her for a snog or tried to get her kit off. My mother reads this, so I won’t avail myself of the rest of the sexual entries, but I will just let my American friends know that blower, cack-handed and suck it and see wouldn’t have made it into this paragraph, whereas copping off and topping are indeed precursors to rogering some totty.

Honestly, I find it amazing I’ve ever managed to have a conversation over here.

Xx

shared by newyorkgeek on the 29 Apr 2013. Leave a comment

DIY

After more than a month or so, I finally finished building our living room table. I’m, naturally, very proud of it, and obviously, ridiculously over-protective of what should be a very utilitarian object. I’ve discovered a love for place-mats that never existed in my heart before, and I’m even considering a tablecloth before hosting a house-warming party. The slide to middle age and a keen interest in home furnishings is, it would seem, inexorable.

At a glance, building a table seems like fairly easy work. One gets some wood from Home Depot, attaches some legs, and finds some intelligent way of connecting the two. Turns out though, there’s a few more steps than that involved. First up, the wood has to be sanded, roughly at first, and finely to finish, because no-one wants bits of splintered wood brushing against their arms or mixed into their food as they sit at the table. This, apparently, is an action best performed in the snow.

Table Sanding

In addition to lacking resilience to the million dangers faced by a piece of household furniture that now cause me panic attacks when I think of them, a hunk of untreated wood also lacks some aesthetic appeal, and so the next stage is to give it some kind of lacquer. Polyurethane, originally used to coat airplanes in World War II and later the main feature of all-plastic cars that had some brief success in the 60s, is a man-made polymer. It’s robust, abrasion-resistant and lends a rich veneer to any wood it is applied on. Polyurethane suffers badly if overly exposed to UV light, or fire, and therefore is best ‘stored in a vacuum, in darkness, at a low and unvarying temperature‘. Well, quite.

Each coat (four atop, three below) took around 12 hours to dry and had a fantastically pungent smell that has happily dissipated.

Table Poly

This complete, the next job was to find some legs to suit the wood. I wanted a tall table, something at a comfortable height when standing, but which we could also eat off from some high barstools. Table legs over 30-something inches are pretty hard to come by, and stable ones which would support the weight of a table and its users harder again. My first pass was some adjustable desk legs from IKEA but, as you can see below, with some spare wood precariously balanced on a couple to find an ideal height, they were rather ugly and simply wouldn’t do:

Table IKEA Legs

So, I scoured the Internet. I failed to find any legs I wanted to buy, but I did come across a shop on Etsy by a craftsman selling custom-built tables with the old Eames-style hairpin legs on them. He fabricated the legs himself so, I asked, could I get some made at the scintillating height of 36″, and could I have them painted just the same shade of orange as my beloved bookcase? Well, he did a few experiments and determined that the legs were likely to be safe, and four weeks later I got a parcel from California within which were my beautiful new legs.

With everything now ready to be finished, I put some girls to work assembling the sweet, adjustable, rotating red barstools I’d gotten for a fraction of their usual cost from the wonderful Overstock.com, and commenced finalising the table.

Stools

The body of the table is plywood, which is made of layers (plies) of wood veneer glued together with the grain of adjacent plies at right angles, giving it a high degree of strength and durability. The notion of plywood has been around since Ancient Mesopotamia, but modern plywood was invented by Alfred Nobel’s father in the 19th century. Despite its many benefits, plywood suffers from having fairly ugly edges, where are the separate plies can be easily seen. Fortunately, I discovered a roll of wood veneer which could be wrapped right around the table edges, and with some careful staining, be indistinguishable from the main body of wood.

Table Trimming

This had to be fairly painstakingly glued on to the table body, and once stained, had to be trimmed with a straight razor and a trimming knife to remove any remaining impurities and odd edges, but it was worth the work for the final result.

Table Knife

Careful readers will note the legs already attached in the above picture. It was a lot easier to trim those final edges with the table nicely raised off the ground. It took some time, and some fastidious measurements with the legs both off, and in-situ (supported by some canned goods and fruits) before attaching the legs…

Table Apple

…and revelling in the final product.

Table Finished

Table In Situ

I’ve kept the straight razors from trimming the edges handy for the first person to spill a drink on my new table.

Xx

shared by newyorkgeek on the 3 Apr 2013. Comments (2)

The Big Cheesy

New York loves food. Every week I hear about some event with an unlikely combination of ingredients, and I’m on so many mailing lists by now that I think I could eat and drink my way to a heart attack just on samplers and tastings alone without spending a penny.

Now, New York may love food, and I do too, but the true way to my heart lies in coagulated caesin derivatives — cheese. This past Saturday was then, quite a treat, as a cheesemonger friend (the best kind of friend) kindly got me free entry to The Big Cheesy. Any food event in New York is going to be popular, but anything featuring cheese or bacon – and everything features bacon – is going to sell out quickly, and tickets for this event were snapped up within minutes of going online.

7 cheese shops – well, 6 cheese shops and a misguided entry from a sandwich place – were competing to offer NYC’s best grilled cheese sandwich, and the responsibility of judging their artisinal entries fell to myself and my fellow attendees. Some, including my overall favourite, Lucy’s Whey were confident enough to base their entries simply on a quality cheese with minimal trimmings, but others saw fit to go a bit further.

Nutella grilled cheese

Above, we have an entry from Say Cheese in which the only cheese was Mascarpone, complemented with a Nutella & chocolate sauce served piping hot from a pipette on a brioche roll. Obviously, this was delicious. After everyone had filled up on cheese and cast their votes, there was still a line to get more of these. But it’s really not a grilled cheese sandwich, and so, couldn’t get my vote.

Other entrants also tried to tempt we judges away from considering the quality of the cheese with more bacon, shallot jam, bacon-crusted brioche, shots of tomato soup and other such novelties, but in the end my favourites were those who kept it simple. Some bread, a couple of light condiments, and beautiful, sticky, gooey cheeses that I feel I can still taste today.

Big Cheesy

I should have felt bad for the chefs who for two days spent 7 hours in that cheesey, smokey room cooking more than 600 sandwiches in a day, but it was hard to do anything but smile when so many people were clamouring to feed me these treats.

Finally, as mentioned, one entry came not from a cheese shop, but from ‘wichcraft, which has sandwich booths in some large tourist areas of New York. Votes were cast by throwing ping-pong balls into a container on one’s favourite stand. Here, at the end of the show, I might have felt a little bad, as they stood in the corner (bottom left), ignored, with a mere two votes, but when it comes to cheese, my heart is not soft.

Big Cheesy

The moral of this story then; don’t enter a cheese competition if you’re a sandwich chain. I think we can all learn something from that.

Xx

shared by newyorkgeek on the 25 Mar 2013. Leave a comment