Friday, October 10, 2014

Introduction: An American in London.....Well That's the Plan Anyway

Before the invasion of Normandy, during World War Two, England was over run with well over one hundred thousand American service men. Not having suffered through the war in the same manner as the UK, the American soldiers were paid far more than their British counterparts of similar rank, they received better rations and it was observed that they were a little too eager with the ladies (to be fair it seems that this enthusiasm was reciprocated). This lead to a common quip during the friendly occupation of Britain that the problem with the Americans is that they are overpaid, overfed, over-sexed and over here.

Well it so happens that I am an American who, if things go according to plan, should be arriving in the UK sometime in December and some of my favorite things to discuss just happen to be food (and cocktails!), sex and travel. So it could be argued that I too am overfed, over-sexed and hopefully soon over there. Now overpaid I am not (at least for what appears on this blog), this blog is just my little gift to the world and thus that part of the saying was dropped from the title.

Now just about a year and a half ago I was living in Nepal, running my own restaurant, and generally enjoying a pretty decent life. My old blog, Mr. Smith Goes to Kathmandu, in fact ends with a headline Mr. Smith is Home in Kathmandu. Well clearly I'm not now, so what happened? Well a lot. In fact so much that I should probably write extensively about it some time, but the short version is that a marriage that had been spiraling the drain finally came to an end and this was followed by a possibly over exuberant lifestyle that included a goat named Mr. Gibbles, dancing midgets, pinup girls and models, more "secret" affairs than I care to count, North Korean Karaoke bars, and eventually a falling out with business partners who essentially hold to that old tried and true Asian business model of let the foreigner build the business and then steal it from them. Not that I'm bitter, (I'm not really) as thanks to me you can still get home made salsa in Kathmandu, and they import Patron tequila now too- and that kind of makes it all worth it. You're Welcome!

The upshot of all of this is that your humble narrator found himself back on the shores of his homeland, the grand ol' US of A. The problem with this is that although I was raised here, this is not the place for me. It's too regimented, too organized, and it gets up too damn early in the morning. So the obvious question that would come to a reader's mind, is that this is all good and well, but why then would you choose to go to the UK, or London in particular?  Surely it's a regimented, overly organized place that almost gets up as early as America. And you would be correct in this assertion. 

See the thing is that somewhere between picking up Mr. Gibbles and a final trek around the Annapurna mountains I met a girl from England named Hermione. She was, like me, a mostly sensible person who enjoys more than a little absurdity in life. In fact we see eye to eye on most topics, with the notable exception of Italian food and kettles- both of which I feel will be blog entries at some point. After we both left Kathmandu we were faced with this awkward dilemma of being on the opposite sides of a fairly large body of water. The solution it seemed would have to be for one of us to cross it if we were going to see each other. 

Now despite our countries supposedly having a  special relationship, staying for extended periods in either by either one of us isn't nearly as easy a feat as it should be. In fact it occurred to us at first that it's actually easier for us to live together in some third country which neither of us are from but has less strict visa regulations. It's a strange twisted world. But the short of it is that she has a great opportunity with the UK civil service, so London it is- well at least in the short term as I travel as a tourist and become acquainted with the country. I've been to London a few times in the past, but never more than a week here or there.

So that clears up why I'll be in London, and hopefully get in some trips to other places while I'm there, so what about the rest? Well there's food. I love food, good food. Plenty of people do though so why listen to me? Well I've had the benefit of being raised in Portland Maine which has one of the best food scenes in the country, and arguably the best for a city of its size. I was lucky to have worked in restaurants most of the time I was in school and had the chance to work with people far more talented than me at places like the Back Bay Grill. The Grill was also the place where I first learned to mix drinks, and since those early days when I barely drank myself and knew next to nothing about alcohol, I've grown to really love a well designed cocktail. In fact whenever I travel to a new city, while I get excited about the food I also make sure to look up what the place has for high end cocktail bars and check out what they're doing. Combining both these loves I ran a bar and restaurant in Kathmandu for a few years that focused on cocktails and simple American fare made with good ingredients, or at least the best I could get in Nepal. While most people get home from work and are happy to watch TV or relax, I love to cook and occasionally try out a new cocktail- so I expect these to be some of the more common entries, along with the occasional recipe.

Another topic to likely come up at times is sex. Not details of my latest exploits, but more in the general way that it impacts life and culture. I generally find this is a topic often handled poorly when written from a man's point of view as it is either written by some douche-bag trying to impress the internet, it's overly feminized, or it's written by a guy who I imagine says the word "bro" as every third word in a sentence. I'm going to attempt to do it a little more justice. It's something that impacts our lives significantly, right down to our genetics and approach to living, and our lack of honest discussion often leads to a lot of ignorance on the topic. Besides cultural perceptions and differences in approach are entertaining be they between countries as seemingly similar as the UK and America or as blatantly different as those between the West and any country in South Asia, like Nepal. In fact this was a topic I generally had to stay away from while living there simply due to the cultural sensitivities of the place.

Aside from being in London, my expectation is there will be some additional moving around. I didn't grow up in a family that traveled, but after I went to Europe for the first time in my early twenties I've been on the move ever since. I've traveled to over thirty five different countries and plan to make sure that number keeps increasing. I love hiking in the Mountains and have done many of the worlds best treks, including climbing Kilimanjaro, over a dozen trips around the Nepal Himalaya and trips into the mountains of New Zealand, Peru, France, Switzerland, and even some here in my home country. I love Greco-Roman history and this makes places like Greece, Turkey, Italy and even places such as the central Asian states that were once part of Alexander's empire high on my travel list.

Which brings me to the last topic I should probably bring up that generally ties most of my thoughts together which is an interest in Greco-Roman Stoic and Pyrrhic philosophy as well as philosophical Buddhism. Not the new-age garbage most people associate some of these things with but real logic and practice. Now some might consider the marriage of a blog about what many would consider consumptive luxuries a strange place to find philosophical ramblings from what are considered austere practices, but in fact learning to properly enjoy the things in life is a large part of what I'd like to discuss. I hope I can make it clear over time why I don't believe them to be at odds with a serious mind that learns to appreciate but not mistake things for what they are not and grow an unhealthy attachment to certain sensations or ideas.

So this is it- the premise if you will of this blog. The one time Salsa Master of Kathmandu lands on the shores of Britain and records the deeds and misdeeds that follow. I will write my way through fits of giggles while I try and type phrases like "fancy dress" or record my befuddlement at the customs and habits of those people who most Americans assume are just like them only speak with a funny accent. Let me assure you, dear reader, that the British are not just like us, they are quite different and the interaction between us can be quite humorous. Now toss in a little good food, some observations about sex and travel and we have ourselves something that I hope is worth talking about. 

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