Brexit

img_9139Ah, Brexit. Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. That thing no one, including those who voted for or promoted it, ever thought would actually happen.

I talk a little bit about Brexit, and the effect it had on my determination to vote via absentee ballot in the United States’ upcoming (and now very fraught) presidential election, in my latest piece for Refinery29.

As belated as this post is, I think I can see the Brexit blow-up clearer now that I’ve had time to process it. To be perfectly honest, it was like being punched in the face – and then in the brain. People were angry, and they voted to Leave the European Union because that was their only way to engender real change for themselves.

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The problem is, no one had (or has) a plan. Not Prime Minister David Cameron, who resigned immediately after the vote, not Nigel Farage, who campaigned on false promises to give the NHS millions of pounds among other things and then promptly quit once Brexit happened, not anyone in UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), and not Leave supporter and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who also bowed out of the running for a new Prime Minister. If that sentence was painful to read, imagine how it was to live it.

The UK news cycle almost had no idea what to do with itself. Resignations and buck-passing mounted with each passing day, as dire forecasts were made on the future of the UK in a global market, let alone a European one. It all felt, and still feels, very grim. Then Theresa May became the new PM by dint of being the last one standing, and she’s promised to go through with Brexit. Her political history is alarmingly racist, classist, and anti-immigration, but you’d never know it from her most recent speeches, wherein she vows to fight for the common people. Then there’s the unrelated fact that I simply don’t know how I feel about someone who spells Teresa with an unpronounced “h”.

I’m truly not a very political person, because I have yet to see a politician who pursues that career to actually help people, rather than fuel their own megalomania, desire for power and fame, or other psychological issues. (The current US election rigamarole is a fantastic real-life example.) This means my expectations are incredibly low for the usefulness of modern politics, and the systems that do exist are often broken beyond repair.

But Brexit isn’t a very political situation at its core. To me, it is simple: Brexit is about people. People who have been marginalized in the UK and used their vote to show their anger for the system, and people who have been marginalized or persecuted elsewhere and seek to start over in the UK.

The crux of the issue is that although these two camps seem to be dichotomous, they share some similar feelings and desires. But they have been pitted against each other in a wave of racist anti-immigration campaigning and fear mongering. We’re being played against each other, and the only way to win is to push for more understanding, more compassion, more love, more sharing of cultures. We may live in post-Brexit Britain, but we live here together and must make it work.

9/11, Fifteen Years On

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on my home city, New York. I woke up to a gloriously sunny day in London, after a dreary and rainy Saturday. It almost seemed like a sign from the universe, a nod of acknowledgement to that Tuesday 15 years ago, which I remember vividly. That this many years have passed is hard to fathom. So much has happened in that space, for humanity in general and for each one of us, and yet many of us feel bound to New York and this tragedy, no matter how time flies.

I marvel at the resilience of New York, of New Yorkers and Americans, and of those affected by the many losses that day and beyond. In September 2001, I had just turned 15 years old. The world seemed complicated, yes, but I felt safe. After 9/11, I asked myself the questions I did not want to ask, excruciating questions about whether humans were good or evil and what made them so, whether either kind could make any impact on the other, and if our many vast differences meant we would always be diametrically opposed to those who did not think like us.

To this day, I have not fully answered these questions for myself. I am desperate to believe in the good of humanity, and yet we are so often presented with the myriad ways people all over the world put their efforts into silencing, hurting, and killing others. The unity that many Americans experienced immediately after the attacks seems like it has disappeared, in the intervening years, into a yawning gap of anger and fear.

In remembering the 9/11 attacks yesterday, I looked at the beauty around me: the bright blue sky and shining sun, the happy groups of people roaming London’s streets, and the natural and manmade places of serenity. This was a potent reminder that even though horrible things happen, life can be and is often stunningly and breathtakingly beautiful. For this anniversary of 9/11, I focused on that – and was grateful for all I have.

 

Hello? It’s Adele, In Concert. Twice.

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Everyone has a list, whether in ink on paper or etched in their minds, of the top living artists they want to see live in concert. My own list has been altered only slightly since music mostly went digital, but a notable addition is that one-name wonder, the British songstress Adele.

After waiting years for her new album, I, along with much of the UK and their internet bandwidth, tried to get tickets for her European arena tour. Two hours of refreshing my browser every 20 seconds later, I had the only tickets I could afford — in the nosebleeds of the O2 arena.

As time slowly crawled toward March, I was full of anticipation and excitement, but also a little bit of dread that she might not be as awe-inspiring as I had hoped. After all, she is only human.

My fears were for naught, and I was wrong about Adele being human: her voice is otherworldly live. She was nearly flawless and the concert, which had no opening act and no intermission or significant break, was two hours of bliss. In between most songs, Adele chatted with the crowd, telling us about her pre-concert life (“they don’t let me out anymore, because I can’t party and mess up my voice. The band parties though, I’ve seen ’em!”). She successfully transformed an enormous arena into an intimate concert space.

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The stage was simple, elegant, and the perfect accompaniment to Adele’s voice. Less simple, but awe-inducing in its own right, was a separate, smaller stage in the middle of the arena on which Adele sang several of the last songs of the night, including “Set Fire to the Rain”. During that song, rain poured in a perfect square outline around her, a la The Rain Room  and during others, Adele’s live black-and-white image was projected outwards on all four sides (unfortunately, these were harder to photograph). Hat tip to Tait Towers, who did the set construction and design.

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As if one beautiful concert wasn’t enough, I heard from an old family friend the day of my first concert and he invited me to the next night’s performance, as he had an extra ticket. How could I say no? It’s not a concert that gets old. This is the sort of opportunity so few people (except, I imagine, performers’ families, the uber-wealthy, and celebrities) are offered, and it was fascinating to see how the show changed — and didn’t — from night to night. The set list stayed the same, and Adele’s banter with the crowd touched on the same subjects, but it all felt organic, and was of course altered by the different fans she brought up onstage and whose handmade signs she sought out in the crowd. My favorite part? Adele cheerfully telling her security team to let some enthusiastic teenage fans closer to the stage because “it’s my f***ing concert, now let them in please!”

 

Rise and Glitter

Does sober dancing with strangers on a Saturday morning sound like your worst nightmare? It used to sound like mine, too. At least, it did until I bit the bullet and listened to the voice in my head that told me to step outside my comfort zone — nay, sashay outside my comfort zone.

I had seen ads for morning dance raves for a while, but never investigated until I saw London-specific events. Two of my oldest childhood girlfriends happened to be in London when the first event I attended was to take place, so I sent the link around to them via email, asking if anyone else was interested. They, and their friends who were visiting, responded enthusiastically, and suddenly we had a girl squad prepared to take on “Morning Gloryville”.

 

We decked ourselves out in typical workout gear and roused ourselves before 6AM for the 6:30AM – 10:30AM weekday dance party. It felt wholly backward and unnatural to be on the bus going towards East London at 7AM (because obviously we all hit “snooze” a few times). I held my coffee cup in a sustenance-seeking death grip as the sun winked cheerfully at me, as if to say, “See what you’re missing by not rising with me every day?” I did not deign to answer. Upon arriving, a manically happy woman set upon me and gave me a hug. I laughed out of shock and then out of friendliness, breaking my fatigued stalemate with the morning. She asked if she could put some glitter on my face, and of course I said yes. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

Eventually my friends trickled in and we swept in en masse to head right to the front and board the stage with the DJ, emcee/motivational speaker, and professional dancers dressed as unicorns. Being there with two of my oldest (and loudest, and fiercest, and life-loving) friends made the transition from being self-conscious to not a care in the world that much easier. We looked ridiculous, and happy, and free. Glitter got everywhere. I was reminded of the middle-school dance parties we used to go to where people were so concerned about how others would view them that they’d only dance in a tight circle of their closest friends. Here, I sometimes lost track of my friends or the other girls, and would up dancing next to some strangers. I didn’t skedaddle away or look around wildly for my friends; this place really exuded a welcoming and fun atmosphere so I didn’t feel the need to constantly stay in a tiny circle of the people I came with. Throughout the morning, some of us went to the yoga circle outside, the guitar circle on an upstairs deck, the free massage section, the coffee and cacao bar, or just sat outside in the sunshine and fresh air.

Thankfully, Morning Gloryville has perfected its Saturday morning offerings in West London more to my taste: the dancing starts at 9:30AM and goes until 1:30PM, after which I’m exhausted from dancing and being glittery for four hours and I have a lovely and quiet night in. This perfectly sets me up for a productive but lazy Sunday full of all the Sunday things — reading, cleaning, laundry, tea, walking or jogging, and seeing friends.

Lovely, Lazy London Weekends

There is nothing like a London weekend when the weather behaves (and even when it’s a bit temperamental)! In this case, it was a bit of an extended weekend as my friend Mandy was visiting London, and staying with me, for several days.

It’s true that no matter where you live, it is incredibly easy to stay in your own neighborhood all weekend — especially in the winter — but this time, joining the throngs of tourists at the Tate Modern, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the South Bank was a welcome change. To Mandy’s credit, she also wholeheartedly approved our rainy Saturday “plans” of sleeping in, sitting around in pajamas, ordering pizza, and watching First Dates, a so-bad-but-so-good TV show. Though supremely lazy, our Saturday made us feel like we didn’t live 3,500 miles away — that we could be back in Brooklyn having a relaxed day. There was no pressure of having to always be “doing” something because she was on vacation in London.

The Tate, Mate

There is an incredible amount to do and see in London, which is why it’s taken me a shameful amount of time to visit the Tate Modern. I’m not the biggest fan of modern art as a general rule, but I am open to being pleasantly surprised, which I was, by specific pieces at the Tate. Unfortunately for the diehards who continue to tell me that perhaps I, or anyone, could’ve painted what Mark Rothko did, but because we didn’t and he did that makes him “great” and “genius”, I do not yield so easily to fallacious arguments. Modern art, of all things, gets people really up in arms to defend or dismiss it, and I’m more of the camp that believes if you think something is art, it’s art. I shall live and let live on this one.

K-Town, You Mega Babe

…reads the marquee above Ladies and Gents, an eclectic cocktail bar housed in a former public toilet, hence the name. Ladies and Gents is right, ladies and gents! Kentish Town is, in my wholly biased opinion, a great little slice of North London. It’s classed as “Zone 2” on the transportation zone system and therefore close enough to Central London to be convenient for work and meeting up with people before they truck back to their respective Zones for the night, but far enough away that most of the sounds I hear are birds, cats fighting, and foxes. When there is a siren, it stands out, a welcome difference from the din of living at Bedford Ave and North 7th Street in Williamsburg.

Sunday Roasts

The Sunday Roast is a time-honored tradition in England, much like the American tradition of weekend brunch and mimosas. Roasts typically consist of a meat-and-gravy element (beef, lamb, chicken), some veggies (carrots, brussels sprouts, etc.), roast potatoes, and a Yorkshire Pudding, which is essentially a popover and whose popularity I cannot fathom. The best Sunday Roasts are the homemade ones (I think that’s true of almost any food), and my friends Chris and Ian made a wonderful chicken roast with vegetables in honor of Mandy’s visit. Poor Ian was outnumbered by Americans, 3 to 1!