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Something liberating happens when you cast off years of accumulated shoes, crystal wineglasses, and boring acquaintances. Traveling with nothing more than a backpack and a limited plan reduces life to its basic elements: where are you going to sleep tonight; what will you eat; what will you do when you get lonely? I can’t recommend enough packing your junk into storage and flying the coop … just to see.

On the spectrum of craving freedom versus stability I tend to stand closer to freedom, but anyone can benefit from pushing their comfort level: doing scary things delineates how limited we can become in our daily lives. We rely on the job we’ve had for years, the friends we made in graduate school, the same food from the same grocery store. For some people this is comforting. A friend of mine tries to find what he thinks is the best of everything, then sticks with it no matter what. I have this irrational fear that my neural pathways will harden and then I won’t be able to adjust to new circumstances unless I’m in the habit of adaptation. Or maybe I just get bored. Read More

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I’ve never had one discrete group of friends. Instead, I’ve preferred to rotate between athletes and intellectuals, programmers and party people, architects and, well, non-architects. My idea of a kindred spirit is someone who can make the rounds with me – conversing about art in German with Sprocketts; comparing hangovers with the local drunk; arguing architectural theory with colleagues; behaving like a hooligan on the soccer field. And I have re-invented myself constantly: from singer to fencer; from Wall-Streeter toArchitect to essayist; West-Coaster to East-Coaster to citizen of the world. I can morph from the girl coyote-ugly dancing on the table to the one in the corner disparaging Sartre in 4.6 seconds.

Feeling introspective one day, I performed an internet search for the term ‘social chameleon’ and was less then charmed when it returned copious negative chatter regarding people who are too adaptable. Granted, many of the discussion groups seemed to be populated with adolescents using words like “two-faced” and “flighty”. But in slightly more elevated circles I found the opinion that a social chameleon will reflect the mood of a group and suppress any opinions of his own; that this person has little endemic personality and that his only desire is to blend in. In a section entitled ‘How to recognise (a chameleon)’ — from the BBC h2g2 website, no less — I read the following description:

A social chameleon has a few weaknesses. These can be used to recognize them. The simplest way to identify one is to ask a question that has no prior context, and which requires an answer that would identify the chameleon as belonging to some society or other. For example asking ‘where are you from?’ when you first come in contact with a chameleon will typically result in an evasive answer. If you do get an answer then it is probably multifaceted. This is done in the hopes that the requestor will find at least one aspect of the answer satisfactory.

A little above that I found: “Chameleons have no problems with adopting contradictory rules for different situations – the need to blend in is paramount. If the situation has few participants, then there are few observations that can be made. Then the chameleon has to use a backup strategy – normally do nothing and observe.”

What the hell is going on here? I thought. I don’t recognize myself in these characterizations.

I recognize fictional situations: Woody Allen’s Zelig; Leonardo di Caprio’s character in Catch Me if You Can; and a vague memory of an Italo Calvino story that I can no longer find – all of which contain characters who lose themselves in their circumstances. But these are parables: a constant theme of literature is the difference between how people present themselves to others, how they imagine themselves, and how they really are. Does anyone actually know someone who changes himself so completely?

I fact I have met someone who fits the strict sobriquet of chameleon. In February of 2008 I went to a Yale Club party in Boston with a friend who is an alumna. She and I began talking with a couple of men, one of whom claimed to have done some interesting things — among them that he had sailed around the world; that he owned a company that manufactured satellites and sold to the Department of Defense; and that he taught physics at Harvard. When I went to leave he asked for my phone number and I hesitated – he was significantly older and I didn’t find him attractive, but on the other hand I enjoy getting to know remarkable people. As I swithered my friend whispered to me “You have to go out with him. He’s a Rockefeller!” I’m ashamed to admit that curiosity won. So I agreed to meet him later in the week to see an exhibit and have coffee.

The next day my friend and I were reviewing (a.k.a. gossiping about) the previous evening and agreed that there was something off about this Rockefeller. She tried to look him up in the Yale Alumni registry and he didn’t appear. When I googled him no Clark Rockefeller was listed as having done anything, let alone anything of note. What sticks in my mind about our appointment at the museum is that whenever I mentioned something I liked, he immediately joined me. I said I had grown up going to the opera; he said he owned thousand of operatic recordings. I speak a few languages; he had to demonstrate his proficiency. He told me that he had grown up in Manhattan, but when I questioned him about his accent sounding wrong he claimed he had lived in South Africa as a child. I asked about some Rockefeller cousins I’d known in high school and he brushed them off as a different side of the family.

I found him suspicious; more so I found him to be a pompous pedant and after two meetings decided I didn’t need to get to know him further. I thought no more about him until my friend emailed in August to say there was now something on the internet to see about Clark Rockefeller. He had kidnapped his seven year old daughter and was on the run; after an international search, federal agents determined that he was originally a German national who had co-opted different aliases (all of them aristocratic-sounding) every few years around the US. His final identity was so persuasive that he had even managed to convince his wife of 13 years – though most people watching the story had trouble believing that a senior partner at McKinsey would be so gullible.

In fact what is fascinating about the story is that he did manage to convince so many people that he was who they wanted to believe he was. He must have behaved slightly differently with every person he knew in order to stoke their egos into accepting him. He is now sitting in prison, claiming through his lawyer that he doesn’t remember his childhood and that he thinks his real name is Rockefeller. And in an odd way I believe him. The sort of pathology required to put up such elaborate shams for such a long period of time is not one that most of us understand. Yes I was suspicious of him, but I would never have imagined that he had made up his entire life.

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The majority of people, however, are not quite so damaged. Most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum of what Mark Snyder, a professor at the University of Minnesota, coined ‘self-monitoring’ — which is exactly what it sounds like. High self-monitors regulate their behavior in order to make a good impression on anyone they come into contact with. They pay close attention to social cues and tend to analyze data before acting; they have different friends for different activities, often choosing experts in each; and they tend to act like different people in different situations. Low self-monitors, on the other hand, consider it more important to act in accordance with their principles no matter what the situation. They seem to have a stronger sense of self, but also have a harder time fitting in; they have a few close friends with whom they do all their activities. Politicians, actors, and successful business people tend to score higher on the scale of self-monitoring.

There are advantages to both ends of the spectrum. Low self-monitors report greater satisfaction with intimate relationships, whereas high self-monitors tend to enjoy more professional success and are perceived as more popular. On the flipside, extremely low self-monitors can fail to connect with the outside world because they refuse to change anything about themselves to fit in; extremely high self-monitors are con artists who cease to exist as people of substance – witness the Clark Rockefellers of the world. And in terms of romantic relationships:

The desire to alter one’s personality to appropriately fit a given situation or social climate prevents high self-monitors from presenting their true selves during intimate interactions with their romantic partners. High self-monitors are very likeable and successful people. However, it appears they’re just not deep. [Northwestern University professor of communication studies Michael E. Roloff, quoted here. ]

A few years ago I ran into R., an acquaintance from my first year of college who I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years. We chatted, exchanged email addresses, and promised to get together. That hasn’t happened yet, but along the way we became facebook friends, where I’ve observed his activities. He is obviously a ‘broker’– he’s connected to thousands of people on facebook, Linked-In, etc., and lets them know what he’s doing via twitter every day — and confessedly a high self-monitor. He is constantly in the process of improving himself: R. says he tape-records all his presentations, then listens to them carefully in order to weed out anything less than perfect. His work has taken him from leading party trips to Ibiza to marketing and sales jobs.

When I knew him at age 18, R. had a heavy Haitian accent, which at 35 he has almost managed to eliminate. “Talking is how I assert my power,” he claims, but also pays close attention to his clothes and haircut, calculating when to be slick and when to be ‘flabby’. In his twenties he calculatedly studied acting and dance in order to understand how his body telegraphs clues. He is known for his ability to get into the swankiest parties in New York and admits that he does so because it’s a test: he likes to see if he can adjust himself enough to fit in or even dominate. One reason he doesn’t care much for the city he currently lives in is that its social scene is not as sharply defined as that of New York – there’s not as much challenge involved in playing with image – though when pressed he admits that he might still be living in New York if that game didn’t ultimately bore him.

When asked about his relationships, R. says that he cycles in and out of groups, using social media to keep in touch. He describes his friends as ‘warm acquaintances’; he says that his philosophy is to not hold on too tightly, recognizing that flexibility breeds a certain amount of distance and that a part of him enjoys a bittersweetness when moving on. The only time in our conversation that he stumbled slightly was when I raised the idea of high self-monitors having less successful intimate relationships. He revealed that his affairs with women are often about power, about whether he has the ability to conquer a woman who may seem out of his league — although he also maintained that he has been in some way in love with every woman he’s ever been with.

I asked R. why he thinks he is the way he is, and he answered swiftly: “I always wanted to be loved.” He grew up competing with a twin brother who was perceived to be smarter and more talented and was always praised by their parents; around the age of thirteen he simply decided to change himself. “I was told I talked too much, so one day I decided I wouldn’t talk at all. I was amazed I could do it.” From then on he became addicted to the realization that he had power over the way he was perceived. “One day I would hang out with the outcasts. The next I would go have lunch with the popular people, then the next it would be with the girls. Then I would spend the entire day in the library.” While he experimented with personas it was always in opposition to his defining brother – who, by the way, has worked for the same marketing non-profit for many years, has a wife and three children, and retains a strong accent. As R. grows older he sees himself exercising even more control over his image. He says he is now obsessed with his career and that he compartmentalizes love into ‘different brain ages’ – i.e. it’s not so important to him any more.

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My internet search led me in a direction I had not expected: I found a page advertizing the services of an ‘elite courtesan’ who claimed that she was “a social chameleon, that [sic] can blend into any sort of gathering without looking like the ‘obvious’ companion”. When I contacted her to ask if we could talk I received an immediate answer: “I know who you are and I love your work.” I was a bit mystified (I’d love to be able to say I’m so famous that even prostitutes know who I am, but I fear it’s not the case) but gamely emailed back and forth with her a few times, trying to set up a time to talk on the phone. Unfortunately, after that night she never responded again. I thought about trying to find other courtesans to interview but lost heart…although along the way I noted how little attention said ‘high-class’ escorts seem to pay to the grammar and spelling on their websites, which made me briefly dream of a new career advising them how to appear as if they were momentarily on furlough from the Ivy League…

The questions I had thought to ask mine revolved around her claim of being a chameleon: I wanted to know how differently she acted with clients and with her real friends. Was there a difference between clients? Did they actually care whether she appeared at ease skiing in Gstaad and walking the beaches of Turks and Caicos, as she claimed? Had she always monitored her behavior, or was it a product of her line of business? And, not having met her and so not being able to judge for myself, how successful was she at it? Her photographs (none of which show her face) do advertise beauty and class more effectively than those of the other sites I looked at, but her emails were disjointed; it wouldn’t surprise me if her responses that night had been chemically enhanced.

Prostitution (along with politics and acting) seems to be the perfect profession for a natural chameleon: I can be anything you want me to, baby. (Or, I’ll certainly vote the way you want me to, Ms. Constituent.) Fantasy situations require compliance, not the element of chaos introduced by someone else’s strong personality. How, then, are we surprised when politicians are so often found to lead secret lives? Their innate pliability leads them to weakness. Someone like John Edwards, who appears to be able to connect with people from every walk of life, must find it difficult to refuse to connect.

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So where do I fit on this spectrum? Where do you? If you’re curious, take this test. Although I began my research thinking I was a chameleon, I’m now not surprised to find that I’m neither a high nor a low self-monitor: I scored 64 out of 100 (100 being high). There are certainly things I do that could be considered chameleonic (i.e. it would cause me physical pain to walk around Paris in sweatpants and white tennis shoes), but apparently that’s not uncommon.

Helene Deutsch, a psycho-analyst working in the 1930s, described an ‘as-if’ personality, whose fragile sense of themselves proscribed a need to win approval from others. This is emphatically not the way I operate. I’ll admit that I do enjoy being liked, but only if I care about the person’s opinion. There are a fair number of people I dislike on sight, and I am usually polite to them but make little effort to get them to like me. When I asked R. how he deals with people he doesn’t care about, his attitude was different: “I’m always acting.” Those people might be useful to him at some point.

I’m generally more concerned with finding out what is interesting about people; the way I do that is to subconsciously express the parts of my personality that are more similar to theirs to make them feel comfortable. I do not, however, feel that I ever abandon my core beliefs and principles or even my general persona.

Perhaps one reason I like to dress appropriately in Paris is to fit in, but more importantly when I’m there I’m reminded of how wonderful physical beauty can be  — whereas in California I tend not to dress well because no one seems to care. I think the reality is that I’m a bit lazy, so I use other people’s perceptions to remind me how I would ultimately prefer to behave. When I meet someone who fires all my neurons my use of language immediately grows more intelligent and creative, which is how I wish it would be all the time.

I found a description in M. Verkuyten’s ‘The Social Psychology of Ethnic Identity’ that seems more nuanced and therefore more appropriate for people like me:

‘The pastiche personality is a social chameleon, constantly borrowing bits and pieces from whatever sources are available and constructing them as useful or desirable in a given situation.’ However, this does not have to imply that people do not develop a particular structured sense of who they are. Variation in self-description and self-presentation does not necessarily imply an equally flexible self-concept. One can have a relatively stable sense of oneself and still describe oneself in flexible and context-sensitive ways. Self-understandings are invested with cognitive and emotional meanings, in which particularly the latter can be important.

I grew up in constantly-changing, highly-varied environments: a child of hermetic professors, I went to a pleasant nerd school in hippie-central California but spent vacations in Scotland with hilariously sarcastic and sociable family. I was sent to boarding school in Connecticut at 13 to learn about the wilds of Society, then to France for a year at 15, then to Manhattan for college… and so on. What happened was that at first, as a sensitive adolescent, I needed to fit in to survive.

But as I grew up things changed: I lost the need for widespread approval, but couldn’t take back the knowledge of how interesting and entertaining different situations could be. I like swanky martini bars and drinking a PBR in a dive. I can’t imagine limiting myself to either skiing in Gstaad or making vegan burgers in a hostel kitchen with a guy who lives in his van. Anecdotal evidence from friends who occupy a similar niche in the social world suggests that their psyches matured in the same way: they started out feeling a primal need to survive, but then grew to enjoy the variety.

By the way, a word about chameleons – the scaly little buggers, not their human counterparts: recent studies have shown that instead of changing color in order to camouflage themselves, chameleons do it to communicate, very often in order to stand out. So those of us in the middle of the self-monitoring spectrum may be the true chameleons after all.

As of today I am officially homeless. I’ve moved out of the flat in Marchmont  and am madly stuffing clothes (OK, mostly shoes) into my mom’s hall closet. December 23 I go to Frankfurt for Christmas with cousins; Dec 26 I fly to Portugal for a week; back to Scotland on January 3; then off to India on January 8. The Indian government actually gave me a year visa, so as long as I have money and energy I may keep going. Subject to revision, of course.

I hope to write regularly here, both to keep a record of the trip and to stop stuffing my friends’ inboxes with long letters that some may read and others may view as annoyance!

baby soph

I haven’t written in a while because I lost Sophie in early October. It’s been a rough two months. I’m still pretty sad when I think about it, but for the most part I have an upbeat attitude, and I don’t cry every day any more. I feel awkward explaining to non- dog people how much her death affected me: all I can say is that since I live alone, she was more than just a dog to me. I’ve read that this is a growing trend in the States. Man, I hate being trendy. Anyway, I will definitely find another dog as soon as I get back to Boston. If only I knew when that will be…

The big news of this month is that I got laid off. My project had stopped, there wasn’t another one for me to take over, and I’m too expensive to just draft. Don’t cry for me, though – when I heard, my first reaction was relief. I had planned to stick out the job until May because I didn’t want it to look bad on my resume, but I was pretty miserable. The potent combo of big-firm culture, poor management, and a less than supportive attitude toward female staff made me dread going to work. I made a lot of friends among the staff, but I wouldn’t extend that moniker to the directors. Friday was my last day, so I am now a lady of leisure.

So what to do next? There don’t seem to be any architecture jobs on offer in Edinburgh, and I doubt Boston is much better at the moment. Instead of scrabbling for non-existent bad jobs in cold climates, I’ve decided to do what I’ve secretly wanted to for years: disappear off the radar for a while somewhere very cheap. My plan is to go to India in January for some length of time (anywhere from 3-8 months depending on how I like it), then make my way to Thailand or Cambodia and get a job teaching English before the money runs out. I started the process for the Indian visa this morning, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they rejected my application based on the premise that I am actually dead after looking at the photo I enclosed. I am also trying to re-rent the room I’m living in, arrange to get all my inoculations, and get rid of as much stuff as possible before storing the rest in my mom’s hall cupboard. My goal is take a half-full suitcase with me to India and buy most of what I need there.

I’ll be travelling a bit before I go to India. Going to Frankfurt to visit cousins for Christmas, then Portugal with the South African boy for New Year (yes, he’s still around). I didn’t want to completely miss Christmas, but I’m feeling miserly about it, since that trip will cost as much as the plane ticket to Mumbai plus probably a few weeks of accommodation in India. I’m wracking my brain about how to make a little money here during December. I’d like to get a job in a coffee shop or the like just to get out of the house and not be tempted to spend cash on anything. Scotland is so expensive.

What about architecture? My hope is that most employers will understand a sabbatical – especially one taken in such dire economic circumstances. I’ve been thinking hard about what I’d like to do next. When the work is interesting and I have some measure of autonomy, I love my job. Even at _____ in October I worked on a project where I was basically given parts of a building to “do”, and the leaders appreciated everything I did. Too bad I was transferred to the Gazprom complex the next month… At ______ I was extremely happy for the two years I did construction administration because I was learning the whole time and made most of the decisions myself. If I could find another situation like that within a firm, it would be great, but what I get from my architect contacts is that most people in the business are frustrated with their jobs because they have little control. I don’t know if this is particularly an architect thing, or whether it’s a generational thing. Any thoughts? I never dreamt of opening my own firm – always thought it would be too much of a hassle, and I don’t have delusions of my name in lights – but I find these days that I think more and more about it for the simple pleasure of being my own boss. This is an ongoing debate in my head. I’m hoping that some real time off will give me clarity.

I’ll admit that I’m not sorry to be leaving Scotland. It’s been interesting, and I have no regrets about coming here (apart from thinking that Soph might still be alive, but life doesn’t work that way), but I also don’t feel the need to stay longer. It’s cold, people drink far too much, and there’s an odd sense of inferiority / fatalism inherent to Scottish culture. And I accomplished the goals of getting to know my family here better and of pushing my comfort zone in terms of striking out on my own. India is going to be a whole new kettle of fish when it comes to that one! I am afraid of being lonely and homesick on the road, but I’ll deal with that when I come to it.

Back from South Africa. Actually it’s been a week, but it’s taking me some time to re-acclimatize. I fear Scotland is getting the short end of the stick in my mind at the moment. Here’s how bad the weather’s been this ‘summer’: in March I underwent a six-hour, expensive as hell, Japanese hair-straightening treatment that is supposed to last nine months. The past month of rain has broken it; back to frizzies already.

Another thing that’s bugging me about Scotland: the drivers have no regard for pedestrians whatsoever. You think Boston drivers are rude? At least they pretend not to see you. Scottish drivers have no problem letting you know that they see you and they’d love to kill you. When I bring this up with my Scottish co-workers they give me that ‘you poor foolish foreigner, why on earth would pedestrians have rights?’ look. I might have expected this in Italy, but not Edinburgh, where everyone is supposed to be highly repressed and polite. It’s driving me insane.

But the worst thing is British toilets. Toilet designers here must labor under the terrible fear that most people would not willingly clean a toilet on a regular basis, and must therefore be forced to do so every day. So they have cunningly slanted the toilet bowl in such a way that every time you take a dump the poop clings to the porcelain side instead of going down the way it should. Every single morning one is forced to get out the scrubber before even a cup of coffee — or else not look one’s flatmates in the eyes the rest of the day. I have not brought this up with my co-workers, as I try to limit the amount of crazy American stuff I do and say per week. But I wonder if they would know what I was talking about anyway. I suppose it’s possible that American sphincters have evolved differently from their British forebears since the Revolution. Supporting evidence would be that my (Scottish) mother apparently has the same beef with American toilets that I do with British ones.

What with all of this, I’ve been in a bit of a lousy mood lately, so much so that I hit my boss on Thursday. Yup, smacked the global head of design across the face rather hard, then told him he was lucky I didn’t use my ring. The funny thing is that it seems to have improved our relationship. How come they don’t tell you this on all those career websites? He came over to my desk tonight and said my 3d model was looking good, then made some polite comments about what he’d like to change. The difference is so positive that I’m considering starting off our weekly project meeting with some bitch-slapping. Watch this space.

Anyway…  some random observations about South Africa:

It’s amazing how friendly people are. Considering myself a sophisticated urbanite I thought I looked down on such things, but I have to admit it’s kind of nice to walk into a shop and have a friendly conversation with the person behind the counter before doing business.

I’ve never seen so many people walking places, even in the middle of nowhere. They do it because they can’t afford to take a taxi, let alone own a car, but what’s interesting is that it’s full circle from where first-world nations are trying to go: industrializing nations are getting cars as fast as they can while we try to warn them of the danger. I can understand the attitude of places like China and India when we shake our fingers at them; we’ve had these things for decades, and I can’t blame them for wanting them even though we know how bad for the environment they are.

The gap between rich and poor is astonishing. There are shanty towns made of metal panels with no electricity or running water right up against neighborhoods of nice-looking houses. The government is doing what they can to provide low-cost housing, but they are still far behind the curve. The unemployment rate is something like 40 percent.

People speak a lot of languages. English and Afrikaans to start, then Zulu and Xhosa and a host of others. But Afrikaners and English-speaking people don’t seem to mix socially that much, and that’s not even starting to talk about non-whites. I’m not sure what to say about the racial situation, as I think having been there only 10 days I’m not sure I understand it yet, so I won’t comment. What’s interesting, though, is that everyone I talked to, no matter what their background, seemed to revere Mandela. When he dies there will be real mourning in South Africa.

The landscape is incredibly varied and beautiful. Not sure what I was expecting, but it reminded me a lot of California – the sea, the hills, the cliffs, the deserts. Jo’burg is basically LA in the third world with razor wire around every residence. Lots of security guards in the nicer neighborhoods. Capetown’s setting is astonishing, the architecture is great, and it’s more laid-back than Jo’burg – and you can walk a number of the streets at night without feeling too unsafe.

Safari is super cool. But don’t expect to do any exercise: they wake you up at 5:30 for a game drive, then you get breakfast when you get back around 10. You go sleep for a few hours, then have lunch at 3, then go on another game drive, after which you have drinks and dinner before falling into bed. The animals don’t give a shit about you – they’re used to the land rovers and in fact think that you are another animal that is just bigger and noisier than them but doesn’t really bother them – so you can get extremely close to lions and leopards with no bother.

I definitely recommend the train from Johannesurg to Capetown. They treat you like royalty (once again you get fed a LOT) and you see all sort of things you never would in a car or on a plane. Our train was full of Afrikaners in their sixties, most of whom had done the trip multiple times already, and who felt the need to drink wine for 25 hours straight. No joke. They were very curious about us, and we got some catcalls when we showed up in the dining car dressed up for dinner. In fact, we met a lot of curious people; South Africans do not seem to be shy about asking personal questions.

So I got here in early May. I had a week before I started work, and in that time I looked for a flat and tried not to murder my mother. I saw a few 1-bedrooms but ultimately decided to share a place so that I would have company early on and a lot of extra money for traveling. I ended up in Marchmont, an area of the city that is known as a bit of a student ghetto and yet is really nice. It’s about a block from a huge park called the Meadows, in which Sophie can run off the leash to her heart’s content. I officially have three flatmates, but the third has gone to Sweden for the summer, so there are only two others: Lyndsey and Miri. Miri is a music professor from New Zealand who did her PhD at Yale and only came over last fall. Lyndsey is Scottish and was a doctor but quit to write poetry; she’s home a lot, and she adores Sophie and hangs out with her all day. The three of us do hang around the kitchen table and drink a glass of wine and dish about our lives every few days, so it’s exactly what I had in mind.

I work about a half-hour walk from home, in a steep river valley that runs through the middle of Edinburgh but feels like the middle of nowhere. My younger co-workers are much more sociable than at my last job: Friday nights it’s assumed that everyone is going to the pub until closing time (I go home and get Sophie and bring her); I’ve been playing squash with a few of them as well, which I never knew is the most amazing stress reliever – just hitting that little ball as hard as you possibly can… I definitely do need stress relief, as the job itself is full of pressure. I got sort of thrown into the fire: I’m the project architect for our own new global headquarters. It’s definitely a big promotion for me, and if it goes well it may make my career, but it’s a crazy political situation: I have every director in the UK breathing down my neck. I’m working directly with the global head of design, who scared the crap out of me the first month (I’m talking crying in the bathroom after meetings here – me, not him…), but who now seems to have gained some respect for me and who I can now joke with. The project is supposed to be an example to the rest of the firm of modern yet contextual design, sustainability, professional practice, and the first one at ______ UK done in Revit (a completely different kind of software from what I’ve used for the past 10 years). No pressure. No pressure at all.

I am liking the city a lot – except for the weather. June and July mostly sucked – 62 degrees and often cloudy or rainy. The past week or so has all of a sudden felt like real summer, though it’s still not exactly hot. But the people are friendly, and the physical setting is magnificent: apart from great architecture and urbanism, Edinburgh has a plethora of parks, big and small. It’s the greenest city I’ve ever been in.

I don’t have any idea how long I’m going to stay. With my UK passport I have no pressing time-frame, just a feeling that I might not end up here. As long as the project I’m working on goes forward I’ll stay with this firm and see it through. After that, who knows. What’s been great already is that it’s proven to me that I am mobile, that I can go wherever I want without fear of being too lonely. Of course the fact that they speak English here and that I have family not far away helps…

What else? My friend Olga and I went to Vienna for a week to see the European Cup soccer at the end of June and had a fabulous time. The crowd atmosphere was incredible; we saw a lot of soccer; we toured a few palaces; and we searched for the ultimate apfelstrudel. She went on to Moscow for two weeks when I went back to Edinburgh. It was so great to visit with a good friend (hint, hint, hint…)

It’s festival time in Edinburgh. I’d been before, but I’d never seen the incredible shift from somewhat sleepy city to crazed tourist town in a matter of days. For those of you who don’t know what it is, I believe it’s the biggest arts and culture festival in the world, and it goes 24-7 for an entire month. There’s music, theatre, comedy, dance, and any combination of all of those. The venues range from traditional concert halls to cabarets to trailers set up in courtyards to a giant upside-down purple inflatable cow to a public swimming pool. I think the performers get points for choosing the most interesting place to hold their shows. There are shows to be seen here all year round, but the festival puts you in the mood: all of a sudden I think nothing of getting tickets to something that starts at midnight on a Tuesday because it’s the festival!! Yesterday I went to two shows –- a 1-woman play drawn from her own story of how she grew up in Uzbekistan and was a drug-runner at 14 and became the British Ambassador’s mistress, and then two guys doing funny dances in electric blue spandex leotards. There’s a 75-year old stripper performing in the bar across the street for free most nights… haven’t gotten in to see her yet, but oh I will. I’m taking my mother to see the Lady Boys of Bangkok next week, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

I’m trying to O.D. on the festival now, as I’ll be missing 10 days of it — I fly to South Africa next Friday night to visit a guy I met in Vienna. It’s a typical Crazy-Mirren move — we only knew each other for two days in Vienna, and although we’ve been emailing, texting, skyping, and talking on the phone every day since then, I don’t really know him and it’s completely nuts to go travel with him for 10 days. I suppose I always strive to make my life be about adventure, but since that is my actual stated goal of this year, I had to take it up a notch!

Something sort of odd happened this week. I don’t know if any of you was paying attention to the news stories about this guy Clark Rockefeller who kidnapped his 7-year old daughter? http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article4432553.ece

I knew him in Boston. Olga and I met him at a Yale club party and when he pressed me to go to an exhibit with him, she made me go out with him (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). He was an interesting, although bizarre, enough character that I hung out with him one more time before deciding he was too irritatingly pompous to ever see again. I told him to stop calling me, and after calling and emailing me for two weeks, he finally did. The funny thing, though, was that I was suspicious of him from the get-go. I thought most of his stories sounded fishy: I asked him if he knew the Rockefeller cousins I knew at Loomis and he dissembled; I said his accent didn’t sound like he grew up in New York and he had some story that I didn’t believe (in fact, his accent sounded extremely phony to me, and I think I know what old New England money sounds like); Olga tried to look him up in the Yale alumni directory and he wasn’t there; he told me that he had never married his daughter’s mother and that she had disappeared shortly after the baby was born, then re-appeared lately and sued for custody and all his money – unlikely story…; and he dropped names like his pockets were too full of them. Anyway, it’s very interesting to note that my intuition was bang-on. What I don’t understand is how he managed to convince all sorts of other people, especially ones who should have known better: one of his best friends in Boston is this guy Patrick, who did go to Yale and who does move in all the same social circles, but who I think is a terrible snob and who must have convinced himself that Clark was OK. I’m sure it also helped that Clark paid for everything wherever he went. Understandably, I’m a bit obsessed with the story and can’t wait to see if the FBI find out who he really is!