It is with disheveled demeanour, aching neck, and sore eyes that I beg your forgiveness for my absence from the blogosphere. It has been a long month since my last post and I have sorely missed my dear Dionysus. Exam season is upon us in the UK, and my fellow would be anthropologists of food and I have been scaling mountains of notes, suffocating under piles of books, and generally undergoing comprehensive mental anguish. Thankfully the worst is over and this week I sit one last exam.
I will spend this summer writing my dissertation and searching for gainful employment (Hi, my name is Rachel. I’m intelligent, hard-working, and fully qualified to expound on the incommensurability of sausages.) It is bewildering to look back over this year. Threadbare cliché it may be, but it seems like yesterday I dragged my bags, sweating and cursing through Heathrow airport, onto the Piccadilly line and arrived in my adopted city.
I have not yet mastered the art of transitions; my departures and arrivals are profoundly ungraceful. Like the Cathlamet ferry (affectionately known to locals as the ‘crash-and-ram-it’) as it navigates into the Clinton dock on Whidbey Island, I find myself lurching unceremoniously from side to side as I aim for an all too narrow corridor and the promise of solid ground.
For a few weeks I swung between highs and lows: I remember skulking away after my first day of class in the anthropology of food, every ounce of my body convinced I was an imbecile amongst brilliant minds. Why did they let me in? And there was the underground – the heaving mass of humanity jostling for space, cold and sullen-eyed in the bowls of the city. But there were also those nights, ambling home, my blood warmed with cider and the beginnings of friendship – nights on which I could not imagine a better place to be.
Gradually, I steadied to a rhythm as the air drew thin and cold. The lows leveled and the highs broadened. By the time February rolled around with her determination to cast a shadow over the most buoyant spirit, I was immune, cheerfully teetering to Scottish Ceilidh dances and swing balls, sporting bright red lipstick and slinky dresses. I found myself happily surrounded by friends as devoted to food as I, a gaggle of lovely ladies always game to discover the best places for crispy duck in Chinatown or brave sub-zero temperatures and 10 am whiskies at an outdoor market in Bath.
In recent months, however, I have been vacillating over the future – to stay or not to stay? London with its endearing street names, pop-up cocktail bars, and smug self-assurance that if you are tired of her charms you might as well roll over and die? London who seduces you and then, smirking slyly, bleeds you of your money? In wistful moments I found myself listening to Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams, and thinking of the crash-and-ram-it tugging me slowly, ingloriously home.
It was a beer that broke me. I was at the Queen’s Head, having a quiet drink with my classmates. Catherine, a friend of mine who is doing her dissertation on London breweries, recommended I try a beer from The Kernel Brewery. “You’ll love it,” she said. “They’ve got really good American style beers.” Never one to turn down advice from the official Beer Intellectual I bought a bottle of The Kernel’s IPA.
Absorbed in conversation, I took a distracted swig. The very English pub on that very English street blurred and my mind reeled, tipped backwards. Blue barbecue smoke outside our sinking, water-logged cottage in Eastlake, the one I shared with Aleah and Reilly; a booming cacophony of hungry diners at the Elysian on Capitol Hill; the curve of beer barrel tables and a silken stout round back of the old firehouse in Langley. . .
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your greatest philosophy,” said Nietzsche. With this in mind I tore up my lists of pros and cons, London versus Seattle in the battle of virtues. Mercifully, my decision was made. I fly home in June.