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28 November 2013

Thanksgiving: A Conversation ● by Jess

A conversation I had yesterday with some British friends who had questions about Thanksgiving.

Brit 1: So, why do you celebrate Thanksgiving anyway?
Me: Well, we are celebrating when, after the Pilgrims first came to America, they made it to their first harvest. There was a big feast with the Native Americans.
Brit 1: Did that actually happen?
Me: Uh, I think so...
Brit 1 (winking): So, they celebrated, then kicked them off their land and killed them with disease?
Me: That may be a bit on the cynical side, but.... yes, I guess so.
Brit 2: How do you celebrate it? It's bigger Christmas right? Like with lots of presents?
Me: No, no presents, just lots of eating.
Brit 1: Wow! Do you just eat all day long?
Me: Well, for most families, they watch the parades-- either in their town or on TV. Then the guys watch football-- American football-- and the ladies start cooking dinner. Then we all sit down and eat together.
Brit 1: The ladies just have to cook all day? Gosh, I wouldn't last five minutes in your Thanksgiving-- Well, except for the eating part.
Brit 2: OK, let me see if I've got this... You celebrate Thanksgiving to memorialize an event of questionable origin by perpetuating gender stereotypes and proceed to stuff an already statistically obese group of people.
Me: Hmmm, ok... we're missing the point here. Thanksgiving is about spending time with your family and taking time to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives. Its a great holiday!
Brit 2: Hmmmm.... Did you know we actually have a day of nation thankfulness here in England?
Me: Oh, really?
Brit 2: Yes. It's July the 4th.

I laughed, but I think a little bit of me died inside ;) Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving London!!

27 November 2013

Beggars ● by Jess

When you get into any urban environment, begging seems to be ubiquitous. On the main street near our home, they are a permanent part of the cityscape. It's mostly women. Headscarves obscure their faces as they kneel contritely, bodies bowed. They look down, until that moment when your path crosses their line of sight. Then they look up, and you find yourself falling fast into their watery eyes, their gaze telling their tale of woe so much better than words can. You feel your hand unwillingly slip into your pocket and you suddenly feel lighter, freed from both your greed and your hard-earned cash. You then walk away a little befuddled, beginning the internal debate about how much she really "needed" it, but ultimately forget the experience until the next time around. At least, this is usually how it happens for me. 

Jon's golden heart manifests itself every time we pass one; he is always giving. I usually stand by awkwardly, battling between my desire for him to ignore them and the cold wave of guilt for wishing it. However, last week when it happened again,  I noticed something. Several meters away was a man smoking, observing Jon's exchange with almost too much interest. As he let out a slow stream of smoke, he leaned back in satisfaction, then grimaced when he noticed me watching him. His gaze shot away, then locked back in again on the woman, the way a paranoid babysitter does when she's afraid the kid she's watching might do something stupid. 

He gave me the willies and I tugged on Jon to get moving. We left, but I was never able to shake the feeling of unease. For the next few days I started watching closely. It seemed that for nearly every woman, there was a man, somewhere nearby-- either in a newsstand or puffing on a cigarette -- just watching. 

It's enough to freak a girl out! Who are these guys?! 

Yesterday, I was musing over my observations with one of the teens in our church congregation. She, rather nonchalantly replied, "Oh yeah, its like a slave trade. I just watched a documentary about it in school. A lot of eastern europeans-- mostly Romanians and Bulgarians-- come over now that they are in the EU. They can't really work until they have a year of residency so they become professional beggars. There is like this whole slave ring where these men will just drop off women and children and expect them to beg all day. Then they drive back and pick them all up and take them home. Some of them bank roll up to 100k a year."


This is not the kind thing you want hear, especially when you pay a small fortune to live in a decent area of London. What is terrifying is that PEOPLE KNOW IT! There are men pimping out women and children as beggars in front of my grocery store. What makes me sick is that our income-- OUR POCKET CHANGE-- has subsidized this depravity. 

And what can I do about? Nothing. The police know. I've seen them giving solicitation tickets to the women. What more can they really do? I can ignore the beggars and feel sick. I can give to them and feel worse. Our council (Westminster) even sent us pamphlet imploring people to not give to the beggars. Still, they are out there every single day.

I now find my heart speeding up whenever I see one of these ladies bowed down in the freezing cold with her warden hovering nearby. I just want to punch those men in the face and snatch the babies away and say, "NO! This child deserves more than this." I even dreamt last night that I did this very thing, and dangit, it felt so good.

Now I'm sitting at this computer, baby-less, and overwhelmed with a sense of futility. There is really almost nothing I can do to fix it. 

All I can really do is just shut my eyes and walk a little faster when I pass by.


23 November 2013

Winter Wonderland ● by Jess

So, just a few blocks from our house-- in Hyde Park-- there is this magical amazing place that blows the socks off of every amusement park I've ever been to. It is only there in the winter (it's called Winter Wonderland) and it is EPIC. 

Jon and I spent the day here eating bratworst and steak sandwiches and wishing we had our own little nugget to take on the kiddy rides (really we just wanted an excuse to go on them). There were SO MANY rides and some I've never seen before. There was one where they spin you in an upright barrel, then drop the floor out from beneath you. Centripetal force keeps you plastered to the side, until it stops, you puke and then shell out £8 to go again. Basically, the best thing ever. 

The sheer size of the event was boggling (these photos do not at all convey its immensity-- I got lazy with picture taking after the first 20 minutes). It took us all day to walk through it... and the very best part of it was that admission was totally free! PRAISE!

Although there were many amazing events, rides and spaces-- this one was one of my favorites. It was a cafe/bar that had a carousel built inside of it. Instead of horses, there were standing cafe tables, and the whole thing actually went round and round. Around the carousel were lots of different food booths with different cuisines. Very cool. 

16 November 2013

Southbank Christmas Market ● by Jess

I had heard of the European Christmas markets before I moved here-- I even imagined them as quaint little bavarian stalls all lined up like gift-bearing elves for the holidays. Let me tell you friends, I have now experienced my first and it did not disappoint!

Today Jon and I spent our afternoon at the Southbank Christmas Market. It just opened yesterday and it was marvelous. There were german food stalls and beautiful hand-blown glass and gingerbread and possibly the best Santa known to man. The street food was excellent-- we munched on salt beef, potatoes, candied pecans and hot chocolate (strange mix when put together in a sentence, but it tasted Christmas-y!). It was all so festive; London is definitely doing Christmas right. 

10 November 2013

Harrods ● by Jess

There is this legendary place called Harrods. Its just south of Hyde Park and it has been calling Jon and I for awhile. From what I can tell it sort of like a British mix of Macy's and Bergdorfs and it is all sorts of fun inside.
Since there is no Thanksgiving here, we get to start celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween. I LOVE this! I love everything about Christmas-- the songs, the food, the commercialization-- EVERYTHING! Fortunately, Harrods didn't disappoint :)
It didn't take us too long to find the toy section. They even had a Harry Potter section (!) with all the authentic documents on display. Also, Jon found a puppy.
Jon made several new friends, both animate and otherwise. I also learned he has a gift for the darker side of storytelling.
This is just one of several awkward Jon + Santa photos we've taken over the years. Unfortunately, it's the closest thing we got to the big man himself, as the real Father Christmas won't be available to take Christmas requests for a few more days. (Don't you worry, we'll be back)
Lunch at Honest Burger. Delicious, but slightly overrated... 
The exciting news of the day is that I met Ewan Mcgregor-- in the flesh! I was shooting a bat mitzvah along with photography friend that needed a second shooter. Apparently, the little girl, who was hosting the event, is good friends with his daughter, so he flew his whole family out from LA. This photo is via my phone shooting the back of my camera (my friend has all the files currently-- I'll try to update this soon with the real deal). 

Anyway, it was an EPIC party! Lots of dancing, food, music and fun. Getting to meet someone famous (albeit not much more than "hello and goodbye") was definitely the crowning jewel :)