Tea and Empathy

Every now and then, my Anglophilia kicks in with a vengeance.

In the past, it has served me well when it comes to some of my career choices, music, fashion and entertainment interests and a few friends who are always solid sources of good times.

Adversely, it has also served me two of my last three significant love interests…

Ummm… yeah… how ’bout this year’s Wimbledon tournament? Well done, Andy Murray!

Anyway, this week it was tickled blue with the news of the Royal baby being born. Although I did not personally deliver this child, his arrival was exciting because I can briefly obsess about a Kate other than Moss, and be confident that his parents won’t name him something stupid like “Knot” Windsor. (For the record, I’m having difficulty with his birth name, George, because it always reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the “abominable snowman”. Yes, I’m different.)  

Coming down from that high could only be done one way: by watching Idris Elba in “Pacific Rim”. While the crush I once had on him has gone the way of my days of wearing long hair, he’s still a great actor, and that movie restored the joy in sci-fi fantasy that “Iron Man 3” briefly snatched away (effectively nullifying my other crush, Don Cheadle — they’re dropping like flies).

What made this picture so great, you ask?

Besides it feeling like a sick mash-up of a live-action “Voltron vs. Godzilla and Friends”, the overall theme of the characters being “connected” mentally and emotionally is always a topic that resonates in my book.

“Drifting”, as they called it, was the concept of being in your partner’s thoughts and memories to enable a cohesive — and stronger — team. In other words, understanding and working with someone’s strengths and weaknesses can mean the difference between overcoming an enormous life-altering obstacle, or watching in horror as your brother gets snatched and eaten. (That last part is totally changeable to fit your own life story, by the way.)

It’s funny to me that I should come to watch a film that incites putting oneself in other’s minds when, just two days ago, a discussion with a guy friend about my writing “voice” prompted him to advise me to “be angrier” about my subjects. My first reaction was to laugh, as anyone who has irritated — or dated — me in this lifetime can attest that I have “hulk-like” abilities when it comes to temperament. That is, when I care to even feel any kind of way about something.  

These days, I feel the only thing worth fighting for is make-up sex. Watching the world get pissed off about everything from race to real-estate is more exhausting than empowering. Frankly, it’s all counter-productive. When people spend more time thinking about how they feel about something instead of actually finding a solution to the challenge, what, exactly, gets accomplished?

As much as I’d love to say I’ve conquered my anger, and have made great strides for the better in the last few years, there are of course moments that can’t be denied. It usually occurs when someone hurts women or children, or when someone close to me has shown me great inconsideration, betrayal or disrespect. When you have a history of childhood molestation and parental abandonment, it tends to come gift-wrapped with trust issues and an occasional desire to be a vigilante. Nowadays, I would prefer any baggage of mine to be by Samsonite or Tumi.

Of course, there’s never a easy transition. People often feel a lack of passion about their plight equates to dissidence. Perhaps choosing peace over war is a confusing concept, because historically “war” has always come before “peace” in sentences and titles of books and songs.

And that’s why it’s ironic that I’m drawn to British culture, given it’s history of wars and colonization… now known as the American way. It’s like watching “All About Eve” starring the Queen as Bette Davis’ character. (If you’ve never seen this movie, now’s the time.)

I’m not sure if I can attest this to my love of tea, or my sadomasochistic idolization of Naomi Campbell.

Just to play it safe, I’ll say it was a mix of things like Corinne Baily Rae, Laura M’vula, Adele, Burberry and all things Virgin.

Okay… and Idris. “Pacific Rim” was that good.

 

Southern Discomfort

Although it’s been said many times, many ways… this girl is a native “New Yawker”.

Born and raised in Queens. Did ten years in Brooklyn. Newly minted as a Harlemite as of one and a half-year ago. Aside from an extremely brief stint in Savannah during my infant/toddler years, I have never called another city or state home.

And yet… here I sit mentally cognizant of a faint and distinctive drawl that has managed to stick in the few days that I’ve just spent there while visiting my father.

The last time I checked, I wasn’t Kerry Washington in character for “Ray”, so this really isn’t going to work for me.

Fortunately, the twang is the only thing I picked up from my little visit to Georgia — although it could be said that the manners, affinity for fried things, and lack of urgency occasionally displayed could also be indicators that my ancestry definitely ain’t from the north.

It’s fascinating how, in a matter of a few days (and sometimes within moments) of being in Savannah, I’m always reminded of how different life and people can be when it comes to a little bit of geography.

It always amazes and terrifies me to be in a city that presumably has more hospitals, hospices, and pharmacies that boldly advertise diabetic treatment than a swath of the country. That I can also find a massive number of fast-food and chain restaurants, with a majority of the population packed into every one of them at any given hour, indicates more than just a passing indulgence or PMS-induced craving for anything that smacks of a cholesterol or cardiovascular nightmare.

Maybe it appears more so when you’re from a densely populated place occupied by a few million people — many of whom run, eat raw or organic things, and contemplate selling their kids for a space at Soul Cycle.

It’s also interesting, and helpful, to know that if I want “exotic” fare such as Indian, Mexican, Sushi or Thai food, the wait to get into those places are nonexistent since the natives steer clear of anything foreign — ironic (or prophetic, depending on perspective) — since Savannah is a military town.

Yes, I’m a city girl. I like my newscasters glamorous and equipped with the ability to read teleprompters with the ease and grace of someone who has either perfect vision or respectable corrective surgery. I’m resigned to believe that not all eyewitnesses bare resemblance to Sweet Brown. I prefer attempted suitors to not have baggy, low slung pants or call me “ma’am”. I didn’t realize there were still people in the world using paper checks to pay for things — better yet defrauding store clerks with them. That the latter was done by a very large black man dressed up as a woman is all the more horrifying and down right hilarious! (C’mon… a fake check and a fake chick?? I mean… really??)

But a part of me loves the smell of rain, and walking barefoot in it. Loves looking up at a night sky full of stars. Gets joy out of cracking crabs with my bare hands and doing it “just so”, so the meat comes out of the leg perfectly intact. Eats pecans until I catch a “bad one”. Walks the cobble stones of River Street with full knowledge that centuries ago my relatives congregated there to both buy — and be sold as — slaves.

Alas, these are Summer pleasures… so it was waayyy too cold for that!

As convenient as it may be to see an Oscar nominated movie like “Silver Linings Playbook” in a theater of about ten people (none of which were of my ethnicity) on a Friday night, there’s an overall feeling of loneliness that can quickly wash over you. In New York, it’s a self-imposed isolation that comes with the refusal of finding an outlet among the thousands available at the flick of a Time Out magazine page. In Georgia, it’s a bit more palpable.

Sometimes I make the mistake of believing I’m adaptable to any environment because I can pick up a dialect or digest a meal in various parts of the world without much fanfare… only to discover I’m a “fish out of water” in my country of birth.

That’s the funny thing about the American South. As “inclusive” as the country claims and dictates itself to be, there will always be a part of it that subtly reminds the rest of us that it was never their idea or desire to embrace the transition. And as archaic as some of the ideals may be, there’s almost a certain beauty and admirable quality in their defiance to maintain certain traditions.

…Except when it comes to elections and anything legislative. Then, they’re just irritating. Thankfully, the food is significantly more palatable and digestible than the politics, although it can initially be deceiving since everything seems like a good idea when southern hospitality is involved. For all I know, Paula Deen could be a fascist, but her hoecakes are so amazing that I may inadvertently vote for a Bush in the next election.

Still, none of this has good long-term effects on the heart.

In the meantime, perhaps there’s a future for me in voice-over work.

Ironically, I do not have a New York accent.

Suddenly, I have an urge to go juice something and watch a “Law & Order” marathon.

London Calling

For the life of me, I can’t tell you when my Anglophilia kicked in.

I suspect it may have started sometime in the mid-to-late nineties, around the time I’d gone to London during a college course, and when there was an onslaught of British films (most of them with Hugh Grant) that started making their way across the pond. 

Movies like “The Full Monty”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” appealed to me; here were movies where the main characters were imperfect and played up their imperfections with sometimes hilarious results.  While Hollywood churned out boring, regurgitated remakes and mindless expensive explosion-based movies with plastic actors, England was actually making entertaining and original low-budget flicks with actors so genuinely talented that they became hot commodities in the states (see Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and my dream husband Idris Elba).  

It wasn’t until several years later that I would start working with companies based in London.  My first semi-gig was working as a promotional representative for a chocolate company (aka sample pusher).  Then, shortly after 9/11, I began working for the first of two luxury fragrance and gift brands.  Penhaligon’s was a traditional classic brand that held all the entrapments of classic English brands.  The packaging dated back to the days of apothecaries and non-adhesive materials. They were bent on history and name-dropped everyone from Winston Churchill to Prince Charles.  They carried “royal warrants”, which in the states would be the equivalent to being on Oprah’s favorite things list — except it’s the royal family version.  Both myself and the customers were drawn into the mystique of it all.  At Jo Malone, it was a little more cut and dry: you either got it, or you didn’t, and a $345 candle was perfectly sensible for those who did.  Both were so unapologetic in their philosophies that I couldn’t help but love them and feel right at home working for them.

Further evidence of my Brit appreciation as the years progressed manifested itself in my taste in music (Estelle, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Adele), growing appreciation for football — otherwise known as soccer to the un-initiated (to be fair, have you seen their bodies??), and the uncanny fact that my longest relationship has been with an English-born man. 

So I guess my recent trip to London to visit some friends could be considered my going to Mecca.  Thankfully I refrained from having a Whitney Houston moment and shouting “My land!” as I departed the plane.  Maybe it was because I was so distracted by how awesome Virgin Atlantic was for giving me hours of entertainment, travel swag, and free booze to numb the pain of the loud Hasidic family that took up the two rows in front.  Or maybe it was the jet-lag.  I’m leaning toward the booze.

Funnily enough, it almost did feel like a homecoming.  Although I’d only been there once over fifteen years before with a group of psychotic college girls, it all felt very familiar and took me no time to navigate my way around on the Tube and develop the same feeling I have as a New Yorker; meaning that as great as I think the city is and as many wonderful things that it has to offer, at the end of the day you need a lot of money to really make it there.  That, and it’s just an overcrowded city with really cool buildings and people… much like home.

Maybe the reason I’ve become so comfortable with the Anglo world is because it doesn’t really differ from the American one, which makes sense, since this country is just the rebellious offspring of England.  We’re both obsessed with each other and spend lots of time and money aspiring to have the same things.  We idolize celebrities and obsess over the monarchy because they represent an opulent and — until recently — unobtainable lifestyle (team Kate Middleton in the house!).  Most importantly, we are both still very much stuck in the past with our political views, and for some reason seem to cling on to the whole “empirical” way of thinking that tends to get us kicked out of other countries.  (The Native Americans clearly didn’t get that memo.) 

What really fascinates me about London is the large number of interracial families, and their acceptance of all cultures.  Where New York is considered a melting pot, you literally have every nation fused into various neighborhoods, listening to all types of music, eating all types of foods.  Like here, certain areas are populated by a specific demographic, but the city of London is basically a Coke commercial playing 24/7.  

In a nutshell, my trip opened my eyes to the fact that as much as we boast about our individuality and American “freedoms”, we really aren’t.  From their news, to their entertainment (some of it awful), the Brits have us beat when it comes to expression, and to some degree give you a straight-with-no-chaser approach to life that I’ve come to respect.  Perfect examples of this are Amy Winehouse and her staunch refusal to go to rehab (even though she needed to), and Ricky Gervais, who got so much heat for his Golden Globe hosting gig where he basically told everyone in the room precisely what they were all thinking, but too polite — or facially frozen — to say out loud.  We tend to be more stifled and almost repressive in everything we do to the point where bad behavior becomes sensational news over major world events that should hold far more weight as newsworthy subjects for a country considered to be a “superpower”.

And if we really are so uniquely American, why do we remake movies originally done in Japan, France and England (“The Ring”, “La Femme Nikita”, “Death At A Funeral”), television shows (“The Office”, “Wipeout”), and even magazines (OK)?  As much as people bitch about outsourcing, the major question is “what, if anything, do we really have to call our own when it comes to products, offerings or trademarks?”  For the record, Donald Trump doesn’t count.  (Seriously, anyone can have him.)  Personally, I have enough of an identity crisis as an African-American trying to navigate through the corporate world to have to think about simply being American contributing to the cause.

Thanks London, and jet-lag.  These are the thoughts that run through the head of a woman who’s had too much tea, chocolate, and not enough rest.  You can keep Harrod’s, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace if I can get my sleep pattern back. 

Oh yeah, I’m keeping my Virgin swag, and my commemorative Royal Wedding edition of Hello magazine… At the end of the day, I’m still an Anglomaniac.