London at Christmastime

My love of the holiday season is no secret. I was fortunate to have happy Christmases in my childhood, full of family love and fun traditions. (I know that’s not true for everyone, so I feel especially grateful that this is my experience.) This year, I’m spending the holiday in England, and the lead-up here in London has been wonderful, as I’ve done lots of Christmas-y things.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland is one of those terrible/wonderful things, a giant carnival in Hyde Park. Liz and I went there a couple weekends ago, and we stayed for the perfect amount of time: long enough to see all the attractions, not long enough to get crushed by the crowds.

Fun fair

Fun fair

london christmas

We walked through the fun fair and the crafts market, past the ice rink and the inexplicable haunted house. We had brats and mulled wine, and we listened to a live band speed through a Stevie Wonder medley. All the rides had been done up seasonally, and there was one particularly creepy animatronic Santa who laughed maniacally at the passersby.

Clearly a repurposed animatronic 'come on the ride' caller, but he made for a really creepy Santa

Clearly a repurposed animatronic ‘come on the ride’ caller, but he made for a really creepy Santa

The market part of Winter Wonderland

The market part of Winter Wonderland

Mulled wine with Liz

Mulled wine with Liz

Winter Wonderland 'giant wheel' -- not sure why they don't call them Ferris wheels over here

Winter Wonderland ‘giant wheel’ — not sure why they don’t call them Ferris wheels over here

Oxford Street lights

Oxford Street lights

Lights and Windows on Oxford Street

After we had our mulled wine and share of crowds, we wandered down Oxford Street to admire the lights. Oxford Street is a major shopping district in London, and every year they string lights across the street, and across the side streets, so it’s delightfully lit up everywhere you look as you do your late-night shopping (or any shopping after 3:50, when the sun sets).

london christmas

One of the brightly lit side streets

One of the brightly lit side streets

london christmas

We admired the windows at Selfridges, dreamy and colorful, and had an unsuccessful hunt inside for egg nog (they had some unrefrigerated thing that I looked askance at).

Fancy indoors at Selfridges

Fancy indoors at Selfridges

Fancy outside at Selfridges

Fancy outside at Selfridges

Forty Hall by Candlelight

This past weekend, I went up to Forty Hall, a stately home on the very north end of London. My friend Dave directed a group of volunteers in a sort of tour/mobile theater event, so we walked from room to room in this wonderfully restored home and heard stories about the house in 1643, during the English Civil War. It was an interesting mix of tidbits about daily life at the house, and some of the ways the war affected households. We ate mince pies and drank hot spiced cider, and we each walked out with a sprig of rosemary–my favorite herb, and apparently a traditional favor in the 17th century during Christmastime. It’s meant to flower on Christmas Eve, thus the tradition.

Forty Hall

Forty Hall

Craft fair in the park

Craft fair in the park

Neighborhood Christmas market 

The neighborhood park had a Christmas market this Sunday, and although I didn’t buy anything, I enjoyed looking at all the crafts for sale, including those made by my talented friend Natti. More mulled wine and minced pie (notice a theme to celebrations here?) while a brass quartet played at the edges of the gathering and adorable children ran around. And then my favorite part, the carol singing. A small brass and woodwind band decked out in Santa hats got up in the bandstand and led us all in carols.

Mulled wine and mince pies ALL THE TIME PLEASE

Mulled wine and mince pies ALL THE TIME PLEASE

Nat's wonderful wares for sale

Nat’s wonderful wares for sale

Carols with a brass band

Carols with a brass band

The Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall

Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

Finally, on Sunday I went to the Royal Albert Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah. This is one of my favorite choral works. I’ve sung it in a choir in Michigan, seen it done in a gospel style in Chicago, and now seen it sung by hundreds of people in London. The Hall is a beautiful setting, and even though my seats were “semi-restricted viewing,” I saw most of the choir and orchestra, and anyway the main thing is to hear it. It was a glorious performance: the choir was great, the trumpet for ‘The Trumpet Will Sound’ was perfect, and three out of four soloists were wonderful (the bass sounded like he was gargling marbles, but I find that to often be a problem with basses). I walked back to the bus stop with the sounds of joy and celebration ringing in my ears. I wouldn’t mind ending more weekends like that.

Hundreds of singers for Handel's Messiah

Hundreds of singers for Handel’s Messiah

Beautiful interior of Royal Albert Hall

Beautiful interior of Royal Albert Hall

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays!

#BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe: Resources for a Post-Ferguson America

Watching the murderers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner walk away unpunished in any way has been infuriating and heartbreaking. These two cases (and there are more cases coming to light every day, such as that of Tamir Rice) highlight the extreme racism and injustice at the root of American law and culture. Following people on Twitter and reading blog posts and articles linked from Facebook has helped me learn more and direct my energies and monies to movements that are responding on the ground (since I’m in London and can’t be there in person to march).

From blacklivesmatter.com

I’ve compiled some pieces here for Learning and Taking Action. This is mostly for my fellow white people, since a lot of this is explanatory in a way that people of color don’t need to hear because they’re living it. There are a range of pieces, from beginner to advanced stage anti-racism, so don’t be scared if you’re new to listening and talking about race in an informed way. Certainly I’m not any kind of expert, but a lot of the writers here are, so please take a look. I can especially recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, Jay Smooth, Janet Mock, and Latoya Peterson as people to follow, read, and learn from.

Let’s not look away. Let’s look this straight in the face and tell it where to go.

Please go to the comments to share any other links you’ve found helpful.

From blacklivesmatter.tumblr.com

LEARN

If you’re only going to read one link from this post, read this one by the excellent Luvvie. It’s smart and comprehensive but succinct, and she uses funny GIFs.

White and not really understanding why people are so upset about Ferguson and Eric Garner? It’s probably because you’re mostly talking to other white people–that’s the norm in the US, as this article explains. Time to broaden what you read and who you talk to.

Here’s an even more accessible article on how acknowledging white privilege and working against racism doesn’t mean you have to hate white people, just the terrible racist system that white people put into place and now perpetuate.

The devastating new rules for being black in the United States. My friends have a baby not yet two months old, and knowing he’ll learn these rules makes me furious.

Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw, is not accepting the apology of her husband’s killer. She’s furious, she’s grieving, and she’s not letting Pantaleo make himself feel better by getting her to forgive him.

Bevin’s great collection of resources and reflections over at Queer Fat Femme highlighted this article, which reveals that #BlackLivesMatter is a specific movement founded by queer black women. It’s good to be aware of the origins of this widely-used hashtag.

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to be one of the foremost writers on a lot of things, but especially race. Here he talks about Obama’s reaction to Ferguson, and what the system is set up to do and not do.

One piece of laminated plastic means this Vassar College professor experiences humiliating, dangerous situations rather than life-threatening situations –and he’s never allowed to forget it.

Don’t repeat the ignorant ‘but what about black-on-black crime?’ question. Coates has you covered.

The last words of some black and brown people murdered in the United States, in artwork.

We like to think that the non-indictments in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown case (and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin) are evidence of flaws in the American justice system, but this straightforward piece argues that they’re just links in the chain of a justice system doing what it’s designed to do–oppress people of color for the benefit of white people in this country.

From blacklivesmatter.blogspot.co.uk

ACT

Steps to take as a white person if the Ferguson case is just shaking you awake to the trenchant racism alive and well in the United States. Self-educate and get involved! (I especially like the intro, in which the author Janee Woods wonders why so few reactions to the case appeared on her Facebook wall–something I wondered about when looking at my wall, too.)

You want facts to convince you of the unfairness of what happened? You want convincing that protests are worthwhile? Check out this post on how to talk about Ferguson and the aftermath.

Support people taking anti-racist action in the aftermath of Ferguson by making a gift to various organizations. ‘Tis the season, right?

Do you interact with kids as a teacher, parent, guardian, relative, friend? Here’s a great resource on how to talk with them about what’s been going on.

If you already consider yourself an active ally, take a look at this piece that challenges us to be accomplices rather than allies.

Don’t contribute to #CrimingWhileWhite–keep the focus on #AliveWhileBlack.

Visit Ferguson Action and Ferguson Response for actions you can join in on.

AND SOME HOPE

Look, redirect your money for militarizing police forces to these trainings instead, and eliminate police killings of citizens in under a decade! It truly is a culture we can change, not a given we must resign ourselves to.

Don’t Shoot rally at Howard University (From http://www.cbc.ca)

Snapshots of Berlin

I first visited Berlin in 2001, as part of my first-ever solo trip, and it felt quite different to be there in 2013. I was older and wiser, yes, but also I was staying with my sister-in-law and having a rest before moving on to points less well-known, rather than taking in lots of tourist sights. Of course, I passed the Brandenburg Gate, and I visited the controversial Holocaust Memorial, but mostly I went to parks and ate kebabs and hung out with people.

Brandenburg Tor

Brandenburg Tor

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Holocaust memorial–full title ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’–is far from being well-received. Peter Eisenmann won the design competition with his plan to make a memorial that has no symbolism attached to it at all, so that each viewer can interpret it as they choose. (I find this ridiculous–just by creating something, you’ve attached your own interpretation to it, with your own ideas of what it might symbolize or mean, and anyway an audience is always going to interpret a work of art however they choose, no matter how representative or abstract you make it.) Anyway, he built these giant concrete slabs on a purposely uneven surface, so that visitors would feel disoriented and confused (how is that not symbolism? okay I’ll stop). The setup reminds many, including me, of a large cemetery.

Claustrophobic even in the open air

Claustrophobic even in the open air

But the many problems with this design and construction include: the whole drive to make a Holocaust memorial was started by a non-Jewish person, and the Jewish community in Germany has generally said they don’t want this memorial; there are no markers around the memorial to tell people what it is, so you can pass by without processing it at all; the information center is below ground and doesn’t have much in the way of education, so it’s stuck in the past instead of doing anything to encourage people to prevent future such tragedies; singling out the Jewish victims doesn’t honor the LGBT, Roma, communist, religious, and other murdered groups; even the name mentions the victims but not the perpetrators, leading some to call this a ‘memorial to German guilt’ and not a way to honor the dead.

Bundestag (the preferred word to Reichstag, apparently), seat of the German government

Bundestag (the preferred word to Reichstag, apparently), seat of the German government

Currywurst--vaguely curry spices with hot dog-type sausage

Currywurst–vaguely curry spices with hot dog-type sausage

My friend Becky was moving back to the States after a stint of expat life in Berlin, so we met up just before she left. We got currywurst and fries at a kebab shop, and then she showed me Dachkammer bar, which is an East Berlin bar kept in same style it was in the DDR. This meant it looked like someone’s living room, overstuffed with chairs and couches, ashtrays because you can still smoke in the upstairs rooms, and bad art on the walls.

Dach??

Dachkammer

This guy got really excited about the Pride parade and just scaled a lamppost

This guy got really excited about the Pride parade and just scaled a lamppost

My sister-in-law Lizzie and I went to Tempelhof, which you can read about here, and we also went to a few Pride Parade events, including the more political and less party parade. I plan to write a piece comparing some of the Pride events I saw in different European cities, but let me say that it’s no surprise the Berlin event was full of camaraderie and a strong desire for more change.

Freakin' cute baby, that's what was in the stroller

Freakin’ cute baby, that’s what was in the stroller

Pieces of the Berlin Wall

Pieces of the Berlin Wall

I went to a couple Couchsurfing events, the best of which was a spaeti crawl. Spaeti are the convenience stores found on every street corner. Public drinking is still allowed in Berlin, so what we did was just go into the store, buy a beer for about a euro, then go out and drink it on the sidewalk and socialize with the other travelers. We went to maybe four spaeti, and then the group split up as some people went clubbing and some of us went to a tiny dance place in a video store. It was a good end to a short visit.

My kind of clubbing

My kind of clubbing