29 January 2011

It suddenly clicked tonight what's missing from UK television...There are no tampon commercials here! Praise the Lord!

27 January 2011


I have come to the sincere conclusion that someone would need to really try hard if they wanted to develop a new accent.

I've had a couple of friends literally beg me to come home with a Scottish accent. I've never been one for accents. Seriously -- I aim for Spanish and somehow always get Italian. And to top it all off, I can only do an Italian accent if I'm imitating Luigi from Mario Kart. (I'm-ah Luigi, and I'm-ah gunna win!)

Now, despite my own feeble attempts at imitation, there are others here that permanently slip right into it. I have one question: HOW? You've presumably spent the last 23+ years speaking in your normal American accent, and yet you were able to ditch it in just a couple months? How is that even possible? Sure, I'll give you the different phrases, like how they say queue instead of line and 'zed' instead of 'z'. I will not, however, accept that you have a new accent and that you somehow caught it the moment you landed. Maybe if you were living here for years. But months? No way.

My rant against fake accents aside, I've had 2 general reactions to my own.

1.) For those not normally exposed to English, I have been told that my Midwestern accent is much easier to understand than others. I once read that many TV reporters take elocution lessons to perfect the Midwest accent. Apparently, it is the most neutral of the American accents and not as easily identified with a specific region. I kind of thought this was silly, until I was actually told by a girl from Germany that I was easier to understand than my friend from Scotland.

2.) For those with a preconceived notion of what the American accent actually is, my own is labelled as weird. From endless years of watching Hollywood movies and American television, most Americans are assumed to have one of the following accents: Southern, New York, Boston, or California Valley Girl/Surfer Dude. My own Chicago accent with a twinge of Wisconsin really throws people off. As one of my Scottish pals told me, my accent unsettles them more than my friend from Texas.

Strange how both scenarios have been encountered numerous times.

Now let the countdowns begin:
Kari: 7 Days
Munich: 15 Days
Brussels: 20 Days

26 January 2011

Academy Awards Nominations

I know this isn't in my usual field, but I just love the Academy Awards. I watch them every year, and it's always my goal to watch as many of the nominated films as possible. This year, my dedication will be truly tested with the time difference. I fully plan on staying up all night just so I can watch it live.

The King's Speech
This film is overflowing with phenomenal acting. The project was apparently brought to fruition by the always wonderful Geoffrey Rush. The great thing about the film is how understated it truly is. Colin Firth is utterly sensational and he fully deserves every award that comes his way. He has really hit his stride these last few years. I've always been a big fan, so I'm happy to see the original Mr. Darcy showing off his talent in a film that is not a romantic comedy also starring Amanda Bynes.

Black Swan
Uh, now I'm terrified of Natalie Portman. She was so good it was almost insane. (Black Swan joke! Get it.) I normally don't like thrillers because I don't like the ball that forms in my chest while watching. Things I am now wary of after watching the movie? Nail files, hang nails, paintings, and mirrors. The symbolism in the film really got my nerd-juice flowing. Darren Aronofsky put together a great film, and he's my personal pick for best director.

The Social Network
This film surprised me on all ends. Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic and his nod for best actor is well deserved. I first saw him in The Squid and the Whale and loved him even then, but it was truly solidified with the amazingness of Zombieland. He took a totally unlikeable character and made me empathize with him. I left the movie actually feeling bad for Mark Zuckerberg, which is a fairly impressive feat. This movie has been racking up the awards so far, but I'm not entirely convinced that it deserves to win best director or best picture. Sure, it was good, but it was not nearly as groundbreaking as other films like Black Swan or The King's Speech.

The Fighter
I've never felt that Christian Bale was a particularly amazing actor. His voice in Batman alone has always slightly turned me off. (Can someone please get the man a cough drop?) But man oh man, was he exceptional in The Fighter.You know those roles where the actor actually becomes the person? Christian Bale was so perfect as Dicky that I actually forgot it was him onscreen. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo also got best supporting nominations, but I have to say that Leo's transformation was much more complete.

The Town
If you want to be completely horrified by how unstable Jeremy Renner's character is, then watch this movie.

The Kids Are All Right
From what I've seen thus far, Annette Benning is Natalie Portman's best competition. The film is wonderfully heartbreaking and sweet, and I love that it explores what it means to be a family. I was glad to see that Mark Ruffalo also got recognized. He did a great job showing the vulnerability and all around fucked-up-ness of his character. I was a little surprised that Julianne Moore didn't get a nod, but I guess this is her karmic payback for her absolutely awful Boston accent on 30 Rock.

Blue Valentine
This film is beautifully heartbreaking. I personally feel that Ryan Gosling deserved to be nominated for best actor and he may be the biggest snub for me. He played off of Michelle Williams perfectly, who embodied the role of irrevocably sad wife. I loved the style of the film and was a bit disappointed that it didn't get any recognition in the best director category. The juxtaposition of the gritty, blue-tinted last weekend in the seedy motel and the wonderfully light and hopeful courtship was beautifully haunting.

Toy Story 3
I'm totally rooting for Toy Story 3 to win not only best animated feature, but also best picture. I realize it's a long shot, but this film really resonated with me. I somewhat unfortunately first saw the film right after graduation, and I ended up crying my eyes out for the last 5 minutes.

Most people that you talk to have entirely contrasting ideas about how the film actually ended. This ain't no Dallas episode, folks. There's no real way of knowing if it was all just a dream. I could totally see this being this season's Crash -- meaning, no acting wins, no directing nod, and yet it is somehow a contender for best picture.

Movies still on my list to see:
True Grit
127 Hours
Winter's Bone
Rabbit Hole
Animal Kingdom

17 January 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

One of the things that I miss most since I've been here is football -- and no, I don't mean soccer. I mean football, the great American sport of pigskin wrestling. The rules are barely understood here, and it is certainly not followed. I have a lot of wonderful memories of football Sundays in my house. My mom would always cook something wonderfully sinful, like hot wings or this cheesy crab dip that I love. The family would always gather in their pajamas to watch the Bears, and there was usually a roaring fire in the fireplace. Yesterday was of course a big game for the Bears, so it was especially bittersweet that I couldn't be at home to watch them win.

I don't think it's a secret that I love all things related to celebrities. Right after I check my email and facebook, I immediately check people.com and perez. I'm not at all ashamed of my guiltless pleasure. It's a wonderful escape and form of entertainment. Anyways, this is why I absolutely adore awards shows. When it gets to the season, I love the announcements of nominations, the endless interviews that follow, and then the elegant culmination. I watch each awards show from beginning to end, waiting for that one memorable speech from the night or gorgeous dress that stood out from all the rest. One other thing that I love about the Golden Globes? If I'm home, I tend to watch with my mom. We sit and watch the show, commenting on the evening as it passes. Last night, I couldn't even watch the show live. I'll save the all-nighter for the Oscars.

On a much less trifling note, we had a bit of a fright in the Giertych home this week. It always sucks to be away from home, but this past week especially sucked when I got a call from my older brother Jon informing me that my younger brother, Mark, was in the hospital with appendicitis. His appendix was removed by the end of the day. As my parents were waiting at the hospital, I was waiting by my phone for an update. With the time difference and difficulty to make international calls outside home, this was that much more difficult.

In other news, classes began last week. Already I am swamped with work, so it seems that I will be spending all of my non-class time either in the library or in a cafe reading. Just for today I had to read two novels. Needless to say, I spent 95% of the weekend reading. A lot of work, but I love it all the same.

As a quick note to end this short post, I leave you with this:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

09 January 2011

St. Andrews, Highlands, and BP Frozen Pizza

I was supremely lucky to have Elizabeth and Alexis as guests for Hogmanay. I always love showing off Edinburgh to new people, mostly so I can finally express why I love living here so much. It's hard to put into words my love for the city, and a lot of times it just has to be felt.

After getting trapped in Paris, I finally arrived in Edinburgh around 6:00 on the 29th. I met the girls downtown, where we then made our way to my flat. After some relaxation, we headed out for a bite to eat and some drinks in my neighborhood. It was an early night, however, as we were all exhausted from our travels.

The next day we set out to see the city. After a quick bite to eat at Doctor's, my personal favorite, we headed to Greyfriar's to see Bobby and explore the kirkyard. We couldn't resist a stop at the Elephant House -- which I knew that Elizabeth would love. Once of the first things we bonded over was our mutual love of all things Harry Potter. We all sat, sipped our coffees and munched on our treats as we surveyed the glory that is the Elephant House. In addition to being famous for being the place where J.K. Rowling wrote the first HP book, it also happens to be a very cute cafe. It must have taken years to collect all of the elephant paraphernalia that plasters the walls.

(Elizabeth and me in the Elephant House)

From there we wound our way up to the Royal Mile, where we poked around in all of the tourist shops. There's just something about being able to find a cashmere scarf next to a singing Nessie stuffed animal that makes those shops so fun. Our brains were all a bit foggy still from our travels the day before, but we luckily remembered that that night was the torchlight procession. We made our way down to St. Giles Cathedral where we collected our torches. After poking around some more shops in that area, we went outside to join the mob of people already gathered with their torches.

You've all read about Hogmanay already, so I'll move on to New Year's Day.

We all woke up nice and late on January 1st, fully aware that we probably weren't going to be leaving my apartment at all that day. Let's put it this way: after my shower, I just put on fresh pajamas. We had yet to go grocery shopping, so we planned on just ordering in. Only problem was, most places didn't open until 4:00 at the earliest. Alexis braved the cold to set out to the Tesco down the street to buy some frozen pizzas, only to discover that it was closed. Next stop? The BP gas station up the street. For lunch we had a feast of BP frozen pizzas and soda. Pretty swanky, huh?

Deciding that we were being too lazy, we decided to at least go out for dinner. Where did we end up? TGI Fridays. A little taste of Americana was right up our alley that night, and we thoroughly enjoyed the statue of Jordan in the corner. Afterward we headed to the movie theater where we caught Due Date. After lounging around all day, we needed a little humor to energize us since we were heading to St. Andrews the next day.

St. Andrews

If you ever find yourself in Scotland, St. Andrews is a must. It's an absolutely adorable
town that is so much more than the famous golf course that it holds. It is right on the North Sea, so the air is salty and sweet. The Old Course was our first stop. We wandered around a bit, explored the club house, and wound our way to the famous bridge. Now, I'm no golfer, but even I can appreciate the beauty of the course. It's right on the water, the greens are hilly and lush, and it is surrounded by old, stone buildings.

From there we made our way to the Cathedral, which is one of my favorite places I've been to ever. It's completely in ruins and its massive grounds have been converted into a graveyard. It may sound morbid, but I find graveyards hauntingly beautiful. I love the legacy that a tombstone can hold. For many, it remains the one reminder that they once lived. We can be so wrapped up in our own lives that we sometimes forget that there are those that came before us. For the average person, their grave marker is their own personal history book.

Enough philosophizing...

(St. Andrews Cathedral)

After walking around the cathedral, we walked with deliberation to the castle. It's a strange sensation to have to plan your day around how much daylight you have remaining, and at that point we only had about an hour left...it was 3:00, by the way. Stupid early sunsets! Although the castle was closed because of the holiday weekend, one can still manage to see most of it from the outside. The castle in St. Andrews is almost completely destroyed, and only 2 major walls remains. If anything, it's even more beautiful from far away because of the waves that crash into its base.

(St. Andrews Castle)


In order to see picturesque Scotland, you must travel into the Highlands. Only here will you see the lush, rolling hills and mountains topped with snow.

Our first stop was Stirling Castle, where William Wallace AKA Braveheart is of the utmost importance. For many, it was believed that whoever controlled Stirling controlled the Highlands. As a result, Stirling became the site of many a battle during the wars for independence. It was really brought into prominence while the Stuarts reined, who built up the palace and living quarters.

Our next stop was a quick visit with Hamish, the very famous Highland cow, or "coo" as he is known in Scotland. Why is Hamish so much more famous than his counterparts? He is especially old for a Highland cow at 17 years. Our next stop was Loch Lomond, where we had lunch at a pub. It true Scotland style, it was raining at this point so we didn't admire the views for too long. From there we were off to Glengoyne Distillery. We went on a very lovely tour of the distillery, which culminated in taste testings of 2 different whiskeys, a 10 and a 17-year old.

(View of the snow-topped Highlands)

(Inside the Glengoyne Distillery)

(Video of Hamish)

08 January 2011


New Years has always been one of my favorite nights. I love the fact that it's celebrated all across the world throughout the night. The moment it hits midnight, everyone is sublimely happy. This year, it was particularly special -- I got to celebrate in Edinburgh. I made the choice to cut my break a little short so that I could be back in time for Hogmanay. Note: my parents, the wise sages that they are, gave me a video camera for Christmas, so this post will be filled with videos that I took. Get excited.

(View of the Edinburgh skyline on 12/30 from Calton Hill)

Hogmanay is not a random name for a NYE -- it is actually a Scots word meaning "last day of the year." From December 30th to January 1st, Edinburgh does it up right. The ferris wheel from the Christmas markets is left up and running, but there are many more goodies added. From The Mound to Princes Street, there is a full-on carnival going on. At night the city was lit up with twinkling, colorful lights -- complete with swirling searchlights and blaring music coming from each ride.

The Hogmanay festival takes place over the couple days surrounding New Year's Eve. There are events each day, and you can pick and choose which you want to attend. The kickoff event is the Torchlight Procession on December 30th, with the main event being the Street Party on New Year's Eve.

Torchlight Procession 12/30

At 6:30 on the dot began the Torchlight Procession. Everyone collected a torch, which was basically a huge candle and gathered on the Royal Mile outside St. Giles Cathedral. At final count, it was estimated that 25,000 people were in attendance -- so you can only imagine how crowded the street was. When the torches were being lit, we suddenly realized how potentially dangerous the event could be. With my hair down, I was very aware that if someone stepped just a little too close, my head could go up in flames. Add to that the worry that I could end the evening with a huge scorch mark on my coat, and I was a slightly twitchy attendee.

(Getting ready to begin! Very excited.)

(The Scottish love their fireworks, which were the starting gun for the event.)

(Video of us finding our way down the Mound in the middle of a sea of torches.)

Starting at St. Giles, we slowly wound our way down the Mound, past the old bank and National Gallery, where we turned right onto Princes Street. From there we
slowly walked to the base of Calton Hill, which was perhaps the slowest climb ever with how many people were there. Once at the top, Elizabeth, Alexis, and I walked as far as we could so that we could see the ceremony that they had planned. Although we certainly weren't one of the first in line for the procession, we somehow got prime seats at the very front.

Once everyone was settled on top of Calton Hill, it was time to begin. First was the traditional bonfire. For this Hogmanay, a group of Shetland Vikings led the Torchlight Procession, so it was only fitting that they set a Viking ship on fire. This particular portion of the event was a little...strange...to say the least. We all couldn't help but find it completely surreal and hilarious to see a Viking ship up in flames while music is blaring.

Following the bonfire was a performance by some bagpipers, which I always love. (I swear, I'm going to come home with a set of bagpipes that I cannot even remotely play. They make a nice centerpiece for a table, right?) The evening was capped off with more fireworks. We were so close to the fireworks that ash was falling into our eyes, which just made the whole evening that more ridiculous.

Street Party 12/31

The Street Party was, without a doubt, one of the coolest ways that I have ever spent NYE. It was exactly how it sounds -- a massive outdoor street party. The entire city center was blocked off. The area between the Royal Mile and Princes Street was dedicated to the
celebration, and you needed a ticket to get in. Elizabeth, Alexis, and I arrived at about
10:00, so the party was already in full swing. Since it was outdoors, we put all of our getting ready effort into our necks-up. We all bought cute hats to wear and spent a good 30 minutes meticulously applying our make up. The result? A few young ladies that know how to rock their puffy jackets and cushy boots.

Perhaps my favorite part of the evening was all of the new friends that we made in the streets of Edinburgh. Everyone was in such a festive mood, so the friendliness of Scotland was amped up another 10 notches. At different points we met people from Glasgow, Inverness, Spain, California, and even a young gentleman from Fox Lake, IL.

After stocking up on drinks from the beer tent and watching a reject from X-Factor perform, we wandered down to Princes Street, where it was packed(!) with people. We wanted to be in the thick of it all when midnight hit, and we certainly were. At midnight we got another fireworks show, but off the castle this time.

It was such a great experience, and I will definitely try to come back to Edinburgh for NYE in the future. It was wonderful having Elizabeth and Alexis visiting. I got to show each of them the city for the first time, which was all the more special because of the Hogmanay set-up. Plus, as I told Elizabeth, it wouldn't be the same to have a New Year's without her. We've known each other for 10 years now, and we have spent the last 5 (or 6?) New Year's together -- so it was nice to keep my tradition with Elizabeth and begin a new one with Alexis.

05 January 2011

If you check this fanatically (let's be real...all 2 of you do), then check back on Saturday! I will post then about Hogmanay, the Highlands, and St. Andrews.