Category Archives: photography

Snowmageddon 2012

It snowed last night in England. The sort of snow that I actually quite like, because it takes place at temperatures not too far from freezing, and is thus fun to build snow-people with. And the temperatures not too far from freezing means that while it’s happening, a girl can go outside and enjoy the experience of catching snowflakes on the tongue, a la the Peanuts characters in the Christmas cartoon special. No big deal, right?

Wrong. This is England, so snow is treated as the Snowpocalypse. As of yesterday afternoon, before it was actually snowing, 1/3 of today’s flights at Heathrow airport were cancelled. Warnings were issued. Grocery stores took on that air of menace whereas people were cleaning the shelves.

I am familiar with this phenomenon, because I have also experienced snow in Virginia and in Washington DC, where it is as infrequent and as difficult to manage as in England. There is a lack of infrastructure for dealing with such things that causes any flakes that fall to turn into a major incident. And this amuses me, as a girl from Minnesota where we are far more accustomed to such things.

I have these flashbacks to Minnesota days, in which a prediction of snow came with a great deal of organizing. For one, a “Snow Emergency” was likely to be declared, which meant concerns over which side of the city street on which to park for days after the event. None of which was helped by the requirement that my car be not in my apartment’s car park over an eight hour stretch in order for that to be cleared. The logistical challenge of parking one’s car in three different places after a snow-storm was always taxing. But it reminded me that at least in Minnesota we did something about the snow. As far as I can tell, in England it is just something to talk about.

It stopped snowing overnight, and as such by this evening was a thing of the past. Except for the fact that it all, at this point, is sitting largely where it fell. No effort has been made to clear the car park at my flat, nor has anyone even bothered to shovel the walkways leading into my flat. I can see now that walking to work tomorrow will be a slippery and dangerous challenge.

And here we have the great irony of snow in England. Much talked about, but little acted on. The BBC website this morning was full of stories of people trapped in cars on the major freeways at a dead standstill for hours, and even overnight. But we all knew it was coming, the forecasts were quite clear. Why was anyone out in a car on a motorway, knowing full well that it was coming? And having happened, exactly as predicted, why has no one made any effort to remove the snow? Shovels are not exactly expensive. Ice in the coming days will only be a hazard because no one bothered to move the snow that did fall.

And really, it was not that much. A few inches here, and in temperatures, as noted above, not too far from freezing. As far as I can tell, England collectively loves the drama of the “chaos” caused by a few inches of semi-frozen precipitation. Twitter was, this morning, full of photos of back yards with a light dusting and snow-people having been constructed in public places. But in the grand scheme of things, it was only a hugely dramatic event because people wanted it to be that way. In England, people love to talk about the weather. And the joke is that normally the weather is quite unremarkable. Apparently when it is ever-so-slightly remarkable, the taste for hyperbole overwhelms even the most sensible of persons.

My evidence: the result of “heavy snow” in my neighborhood. It apparently paralyzed all but the mouths and typing fingers of the locals.

Back from the US in time for the wedding hoopla…

(Fun fact: spell-check just corrected my errant typing of “hooplah” to the clearly far more sensible “hoopla”…)

Ah April, I hardly knew ye. I have now returned from my four weeks in the US, which was divided just over half work and just under half fun. That said, some of the work was actually pretty fun, so I can’t really complain about it. It was a total whirlwind, in part because I travelled all over the country, visiting South (Miami) and North (Boston), East (New York City) and West (Las Vegas). Not to mention points in-between, including three fabulous days at the Grand Canyon.

Somehow no one in our nuclear family (parents, sister and me) had ever seen the Grand Canyon, whereas we had all been to the Great Wall of China and we’ve all spent time in major European capitals–for a group of reasonably well-travelled people, we have missed huge sections of our own country. So the highlight of the trip for me was the hilarious “family vacation” done approximately eighteen years since the last time we had a family vacation (in my last year at home and in high school). We rented an SUV and drove out to the canyon from Vegas, taking in a few amazing foodie stops (Nobu before the Canyon and Mesa Grill after the canyon and before leaving Las Vegas). We played CDs of old road-trip music from the era of the last family vacation, including ABBA and our home-made “Monster Ballads” mix made up of classic slow songs from hair metal bands. We all commented on why it was that we could remember the lyrics to all of this music from several decades ago, but struggle to remember things that we really need to remember these days.

Now I should point out that my family, growing up, was not what you would call “outdoorsy” and so a visit to a National Park to do some hiking was a bit of a departure for us. I admit to being part of the driving force for this, as I have spent more and more time doing such things in the last decade. We are all keen walkers and so “hiking” was not really that much of a departure, although the 10% average grade on the vertical ascents up the canyon walls were pretty intense. Overall in two big hikes we did 9 miles and just over 3000 ft down and back up again. It was awesome. If anything, it made me want to turn around and go back and do more canyon hiking ASAP.

After the trip, I bought and devoured the Ken Burns National Parks documentary set. If ever there was a reason to feel proud to be an American, that is definitely a good one.

As usual, I took a few hundred photos and am struggling to sort through them for the best ones, but I didn’t mind this one at all:

And now, gearing up for 48 hours of mass royal wedding hysteria. I did not come back to the UK on purpose to be “on time” for the wedding, it just happened that my US trip’s logical conclusion fell early this week. Returning “home” to a few days of work and a long weekend with two bank holidays also seemed like a good idea in terms of beating jet-lag. But as for the wedding itself… So much great commentary has been written that I hardly know where to begin. I suspect that should be the subject of another post…

Signs, Signs Everywhere a Sign

In what is becoming an obsession with differences between British and American English, I have a few more entries into my previous thread on strange grammar on British signs.

“Access plot holders only”

This is the sign on the gate to the garden plots that I walk past on my way to work. I’d say “Access FOR plot holders only” or maybe “Access TO plot holders only” but the way it’s written makes me think I can reach the plot holders if I go through the gate.

In a surprising deviation from the theme of “missing words on signs” was this one:

“Polite notice: this gate in use 24 hours”

I loved this. British politeness leads to extra words on sign in order to be sure that the expression of territoriality was still “polite”.

Of course, I am (after more than 4 years in England as of last weekend!) required to participate in equal opportunity “taking the piss” and offer this little gem from my last trip to America:

Sort of “unnecessarily obvious” innit?

You learn something new…

I’m from Minnesota. I may have mentioned that before. We Minnesotans tend to be fiercely proud about our state. But I learned something new about Minnesota last week and I’m still a bit in shock about it. It turns out that any Civil War buff who knows their stuff will know that it was Minnesotans who turned the tide at the Battle of Gettysburg, which (along with the Battle of Vicksburg) is seen as changing the direction and eventual result of the Civil War.

Why did we not learn about this in school? It sounds sort of important.

I came upon this startling information in Gettysburg, where I did a battlefield tour when I was in town for a local arts festival on my way to a work thing in State College, PA. I learned so many interesting things, like about the craze for cyclorama paintings in the late 18th century. Again, who knew?

Minnesota only became a state in 1858. (Trivia note: The University of Minnesota, founded in 1851, actually pre-dates the state!) Several of the maps around the official battlefield museum did not have Minnesota on them and thus did not identify them as being unionist. But our little group of soldiers made a huge difference, and at significant sacrifice. The monumental inscription tells the story best:

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

It had never occurred to me to do Civil War battlefield tours before, and Gettysburg was not on my “to do” list in terms of trips and tourist things, but I am so glad I got to see it and to learn about this. The longer I’ve lived in the UK, the more interesting I’ve found American history! And in this case, “Minnesota’s Own” really did make a big difference.

‘Sploring England

I had a good friend in town, and said friend decided to rent a car over the weekend. This allowed me to tour southern England in a way that I have not otherwise had the chance to do. I went back to the Brighton/Hove area:

Toured the Seven Sisters, which stand in for the White Cliffs of Dover in many movies:

There were sheep there.

And in Arundel, there is a castle.

Scenes from China, part 2

The scene: China as a shiny disco nightclub.

Typical night-time scenes from China (Shanghai around East Nanjing Road, Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping district, Nanjing near the Confucius Temple):

Since Saturday

Saturday was one of the most fun days I’ve had in a while, I went up to Norwich for the first time ever, to meet up with another expat blogger. I would describe the entire experience for you, but Rachel has already done such a great job on her blog, so go have a read and enjoy the fab photos and hilarious video at the end. It was an epic day for me, sunshine, wandering around, an American voice, and I learned something important in our geeky “we have so much in common” technical discussion. So that was awesome. This crazy meet up with people you know from blogland thing is fun, especially when you already sort of know something about each other when the day begins. Looking forward to the next time I get to do expat blogger things, probably in May with a foursome meet-up of relatively local bloggers who I now know (!) and only waiting until then since I’m traveling insanely in the meantime. Yes, here we go with the establishment of an expat blogger club in England… join in if you’re around the East of England!

Monday was huge for me, as my passport came back along with my Chinese visitor’s visa. So I’m set to go at the start of next month. And it’s starting to seem real, and I’m starting to get pretty excited. Last year’s big adventure was Australia, this year it’s China. New country to experience, new landscapes to photograph. And I get to do it all while hanging out with my sister in her last few months of living as an expat in China (for now…) so all good. Pictures will appear, watch this space in April.

Monday night I got myself potentially into just a little bit of trouble. Black tie dinner. You know, these things are commonplace on a Monday night, right? (See how long I’ve been living here… I was at work until 5:30 for a 6 pm start with a change of clothes clearly needed…) Mostly enjoyable. Was seated (almost said “was sat” which would mean I had turned a corner into British strange grammar….) next to a Brit who had spent a year in the US recently, and it was fascinating. I maintain completely that the view of Brits here who have lived abroad is totally different from the view of those who have not. And it does not have to be abroad in America. Anywhere seems to work as long as it’s for long enough and people sufficiently get into the overseas culture. But I digress. It was the point in the meal (after it, really) when people stand up and raise a toast to the Queen. And I stand up politely, may or may not pick up my glass, but definitely do not utter the words “To The Queen!” and do not drink. And I catch the eye (accidentally) during this little ritual of a local who I sort of feel does not take too kindly to my status here as an invader. Oops. We’ll see if that comes back to bite me. But seriously, other Americans–we overthrew the monarchy of this particular country in a revolutionary war that defines us, would you toast it at an event out of social pressure? And I live here and love it here but does that have to mean that I also love the monarchy and all it stands for?

Today was a long and busy day, and I’m struck by the fact that I’m less than 100 hours from leaving the country on a speaking tour of the US before China, so I really should be more organized. My busiest work time of the year is January to mid-March, and so I’m taking off right at the point at which a sensible person would be spending about three days sorting out my messy flat and back-logged laundry and another three dealing with the piles of paperwork in my office. But no, I’m off to the US to lecture and visit interesting places that I’ve never been before, like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (I lived on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan for five years but it was in the era when I did not just hop in a car or on a plane and venture out for adventures… totally different times.) I’m about to equal my record for as far north in North America as I have ever been, so that should be fun. But the paperwork piles in my office, and laundry piles in my flat, mean that I should not be travelling. I can only hope that after this epic month of US-home for 2 days-China I will be able to recover and reorganize. But, (she says, trying to justify her actions) you have to live life while you have the chance, and surely taking these opportunities is living life to the fullest? (Or the most insane, take your pick.) Regardless, I shall be off soon and reporting from foreign lands and sending back messages except perhaps from China where the “Great Firewall” impedes communications to the point that I may not be able to reach this blog from afar. Interesting times.