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Friday April 26, 2002, 19:39

The loudest car alarm on the smallest car. Ever. That is what I just heard sitting in my new home. Something that can be considered home, at least for the time being, as I settle into something resembling life in a new country. A new continent. A new city. All those things. Technically a vacation; "tourist" according to immigration.

Something just fell. In this room, unfamiliar, I can't tell where it fell from or where it fell to, but it did just fall, and it felt as though something in the flat1 fell, but I don't know what it is. I assume that, because I do not hear the rushing of water or smell the leaking of gas, that whatever it was that fell could not have been so important that it would impact my everyday existence in any way.

I hear the sounds of beer glasses in the street as the day has ended and folks are gathering on the sidewalk to enjoy the seasonably cold yet unseasonably blue-skied early evening. I, on the other hand, am still in the flat, having spent much of the day attempting to procure a mobile phone that will allow me to feel a little less tethered to this one spot and attempting, again online, to find a new battery for my camera. Regrettably, it would appear that my old workhorse of an SLR eats batteries quite rapidly. I chalk this all up to an "adjustment period." If I find myself in daily solitude a couple of weeks from now I am going to invite everyone I know to come over here and forcibly take me to the nearest pub. Well, if I knew anyone.

Which isn't to say that I didn't go out and enjoy the cold rain that was falling earlier today. I braved the seasonably (and is there really a season here that does not involve rain?) wet weather to get some film developed and discover that, in fact, said batteries mentioned earlier cost the same in the store as they do online. Oh. And lunch. Lunch at a fabulous eating establishment that offers veggie burgers fast food style2, which is to say not particularly good, but fast, and with appropriate surliness. I was quite pleased. What I was not pleased about, particularly, was the fact that I only got one packet of ketchup with my meal.

I do not frequent the fast food establishments in the US, but on special occasions, I have been known to enter one and order something like a chicken sandwich. The last such occasion was the death of Dave Thomas, founder and father of the "Wendy's" chain of burger restaurants. When I ordered my meal, complete with french fries, I was presented with as much ketchup as I could possibly fit on my tray for, at the condiments bar, I found an entire vat of ketchup, just ripe for the squirting. For take-out (for this was in the US, and not in this country where one might instead be inclined to describe that particular action as "take away"), a fistful of ketchup packets was deposited into my bag for me to enjoy.

Today? One. One solitary packet sitting alone on my (albeit classy) wooden tray. I went back and asked for more ketchup, after having torn through it in the course of three french fries (not too greasy, I might add). I was handed... one more packet. I was shocked! I crawled back to my table and dispensed the ketchup onto my napkin and continued to eat my fries. Again I was left with a container of potato goodness and no more tomato topping. I went back to the counter. I smiled. I apologized for my insolence. And I asked for some more "packetSSSSS" of ketchup. She stared at me as if I was mad. "MORE?!" her eyes seemed to cry. She forced a smile and reached under the counter, brought her hand back up and gave me

Two packets of ketchup.

I decided not to push my luck any further and finished my meal in rationed silence.



1. I was having a particularly hard time of it, describing this new home as a "flat," both to friends and to myself, but over time I have been able to train myself to speak as the natives speak, so to speak. In inquiring about networking supplies, a "router" became a (phonetic) "rooter" (except, of course, in the one instance where I inquired about the availability of a "rooter" and was given a look that indicated something approximating "idiot" to which I responded "a router, perhaps?" at which point I realized that it was not the case that I was not being clear, but merely the case that the person with whom I was speaking knew nothing about what he was selling. This made me feel better, but left me without the appropriate hardware to make my dial-up life that much more enjoyable.

2. A restaurant called "RedVeg" complete with communist red and yellow trimmings.

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