year of the snake

brolly

It’s Sunday, 10:00am, 3 degrees with a persistent, grey drizzle splattering the winter-weary ground.  Dude, let’s go to Leicester Square and watch a parade!

The Chinese New Year parade is bound to be amazing, right?  This is freaking LONDON, and they have their own China Town, so I’m expecting Incredible Sights here.

Ha!  Look, a snake!  It’s the Year of the Snake, that’s awesome.

Snake parading down Charing Cross road

Snake parading down Charing Cross road

What’s this?  A bus with some nicely-dressed people in it.  Hm.  Ok.

people on bus

Oh, cool, martial artists!  No, wait.  Those are fencers.

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Um…

This is making less sense as the parade progresses.

Oddly reminiscent of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies...

Oddly reminiscent of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies…

I’m pretty sure none of this is Chinese related.

Dude, Morris dancers?  Are you kidding me, London?

See those badge-thingys on their backs?  They also had them on their nipples.  Dancing to an accordion.

See those badge-thingys on their backs? They also had them on their nipples. Dancing to an accordion.

We try for the ‘fireworks’ at Trafalgar Square.  Dodging umbrella jabs to the eye, weaving through the hoards of people, we’re rewarded with a couple minor spurts of fireworks and some British announcers making lame jokes about speaking Mandarin.  Some stuff probably happened on stage.  But at 5’2″, I can’t see any of it.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

We go for Dim Sum at the New World.   A dragon appears outside the door as we go to leave, accompanied by drummers wearing tee-shirts that read ‘Shaolin Fist’.  This is all second-hand knowledge.  All I see are backs and bums.

"I ordered that dim sum 15 minutes ago. You bring it here or it's a cabbage in the face!"

“I ordered that dim sum 15 minutes ago. You bring it here or it’s a cabbage in the face!”

“What’s happening out there?”

“The dragon is throwing cabbage at the people.”  A tall man informs me.

“Why would the dragon do that?”

“It’s lucky.  Cabbage is for luck.”  Tall Man shrugs.

Once, in Camberwell, someone threw a lemon at me.  It missed, fortunately.  “I don’t think I’d like to be pelted with cabbage.  That doesn’t sound lucky to me.”

Tall Man makes a non-committal noise.

The dragon moves on, we jostle through the crowd, under the red paper lanterns, brolly-fighting as we go.  We pass a store with cabbage hanging from the doorway.

Tall Man spoke true, I think.

I keep my eye out for dragons.

Inappropriate Shoes

January….that dark void of London winter.  I’ve taken to the usual hibernation habits — social withdraw, sleeping in to the last possible second on workdays, 14 cups of tea daily, marathon reading sessions of Tudor era mysteries in my pj’s.   I know it’s unhealthy, all these carbs and lounging, letting my brain rust.  So I let Sal talk me into adventuring to Canary Warf for the London Ice Sculpting Festival, to get the blood stirring again.

Five minutes out of the tube station and we’re nearly blown over by wind from the river.  Teeth chattering, we lean in, weaving through the crowds and snapping photos of some amazing ice sculptures.

Ten minutes in and I literally cannot feel my toes.  Sal’s forgotten his gloves.  Maybe we will freeze here, at the Ice Festival.

I look down at my Converse.  They are about a million years old and the tread is nearly gone.  What was I thinking?   I chide myself, miffed at my inappropriate footwear.  I live here!  I know  better!!

I look up to see a woman in a knee-length dress, high heels digging into the soggy mess of grass as she passes.  Nonchalantly, casually.

I look around- some people aren’t even wearing scarves, some with light jackets, chattering away happily, pointing at the ice art.  Totally oblivious to the bone-chilling cold, the breath-stealing wind.  Having a great time.

England!

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Ice princess on stilts!
*Photo courtesy of Sal

The entry from 'Merica

The entry from ‘Merica
*Photo courtesy of Sal

reflections on a British Pyro-manic Holiday

When I first came to this country, I naively thought Guy Fawkes Night was, like, a night.  I had a very unformed and vague impression that it had something to do with burning and rebellion, and anarchy.  This is entirely based on my watching V For Vendetta.

Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night) actually goes on for several nights.  Random fireworks are popping outside my window as I type.  They go on for days and days.  Then on 5th of November (Remember, remember) people will gather in parks and burn things.  We made the mistake of going to one of these gatherings last year.  I think it was in the Battersea area.  We spent 2 hours – I kid not – in the food queue for a hamburger, and missed the lighting of the bonfire.  We ate our crappy, overpriced hamburgers as people were leaving, the fire slowly dying with our spirits in the cold, pointless night.

Friday we attended a gorgeous fireworks display at Brockwell Park in Southeast London.  A British friend explained her people’s strange need to burn something in November to me as fireworks shook her apartment.

“It’s about that bloke who tried to burn down Parliament,” she said, “and we were so glad he got caught and was executed that we have bonfires and light fireworks every bloody night to celebrate.”

So break out your best effigy, grab a match or something explosive, and get ready to celebrate the execution of a 1600’s traitor!  Happy Guy Fawkes Night, everyone!

self aware

Once you set foot inside the densely-packed warehouse off of Brick Lane in Shoreditch, something in you snaps.  The self-awareness courses through your veins like a shot of fair-trade, Ethiopian espresso (with citrus notes.)   You’re at The London Coffee Festival, and it’s offiical.

You are a coffee snob.  (And dangerously close to hipster.)

That’s right, I went to The London Coffee Festival with a couple of like-minded friends.  We waited in the cold, splattering rain in a queue that wrapped around the warehouse for 20 minutes just to get in.  You can judge all you want, judgey McJudgerson, but it was freaking awesome.  Booth after booth of coffee samples, carefully prepared from shiny espresso machines.  Barrista contests!  Not one, not two, but THREE espresso martini bars.  Places to lounge and sip your excessively delicious sustainably-sourced fifth shot of espresso in bean bag chairs, the live acoustic guitar music mellowing out your electric caffeine high to a pleasant buzz.

My lactose-intolerant friend found a new soya product especially made to froth in her espresso machine.  I almost bought a reusable coffee cup designed to look like a disposable coffee cup.  Is this madness?  Or genius?  I don’t care!  I want it!  We stopped at a booth and waited for 10 minutes for this guy to magic us some coffee I couldn’t pronounce.  We wanted to see what ‘gamey’ coffee tasted like.  Give me 100g of that, that stuff I can’t pronounce!!  It does taste ‘gamey’!  I believe you!  I can taste the ‘hint of apple’, I swear!

Are we coffee snobs?  Yes.  But self aware snobs.  And that makes us better than other snobs.