Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cod, twisted streets and meeting Barack Obama

In a fourth-floor classroom downtown London with three cameras on my lap, I listened to my professor, Ian, explain the basics of photography. After explaining when to use a fast shutter speed and when to adjust the aperture, Ian helpfully added that our favorite photos might come from breaking all the rules. Then he set us loose to capture the very best of London on film. My first class in London proved fascinating and horrifying, all in the same three hours.

Lunch was a bit more comforting. Mauro greeted two friends and I by name as we entered his cafe to order sandwiches. We stumbled upon the shop last week and quickly fell in love with its strong Italian coffee and amiable staff. Mauro brought croissants with Nutella to our table for us to try before we could even sit down.

After another three-hour class (about the British media's coverage of Obama's first 100 days in office), my flatmates and I decided it was time to stock the pantry -- no more peanut-butter-and-cracker dinners. Frozen chicken was nowhere to be found in the grocery store, so I opted for frozen cod fillets. I added one more goal to my list for the semester: learn how to cook fish. I'll keep you posted.

Despite mapping my route the night before, my Tuesday morning run did not go as planned. After finishing my loop around Russell Square (the first quarter mile of the journey), Montague Place was nowhere to be found. I ended up on the University of London campus. A few lucky turns later, I found my way back to familiar territory. So, I turned down South Hampton Row and ran to the end and back. I passed the BBC studios and the Waldorf Hotel. All in all, I decided my first attempt to hit the streets of London in jogging shoes proved a successful mishap.

Tuesday marked a monumental day in America with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and I was happy to find a bit of the pomp and celebration right here in London. In between classes, I paid my respects to the new President by posing with him at Madame Tussaud's, London's world-famous wax museum. Americans entered free with a U.S. passport. Later, I watched the BBC live broadcast of Obama's inauguration with more than 100 of my fellow students. With all the clapping and cheering, I could have been standing on the Mall in D.C. (ok, maybe not -- but there was a lot of energy in that room for being thousands of miles from Lincoln's Bible).

I knew the British liked Obama, but I was very curious to see just how much. One of my professors, a native Londoner, said it was "about time" America headed in a new direction. And, I heard an employee at the wax museum discussing Obama with another group of American students waiting ahead of me for tickets. He thanked them for helping get Obama elected. They really like Obama.

After a quick dinner at home, my flatmate and I decided to end the day by satisfying our sweet teeth. We pulled on our boots and walked down the street to the Tesco Express. We stood in front of the rows of chocolate bars for a full ten minutes befor choosing the most enticing. I learned that Cadbury chocolate eggs are always in season here. I chose the milk chocolate and hazelnut bar: scrumptious.

Our class book list directed my flatmate and I to Blackwells, a bookstore on Charring Cross Road to pick up our final required reading text. So, we dedicated all of Wednesday afternoon to finding the shop -- a good move, considering we found at least a dozen other bookstores in the neighborhood that we felt compelled to stop in. From a towering university bookstore, to a cramped second-hand bookstore, this little part of London will enchant any bookie, young or old.

Finally, a quick update on the cod. Baked in the oven with onions, peppers, ground black pepper and a touch of salt pleased my stomach. But next time, I think I'll ditch the foil and use a baking dish. Sooner or later, I'll get the hang of it.

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