The 4th of July is one of my favorite American holidays to celebrate, but especially so in the United Kingdom. When friends wish me a Happy 4th (or even “Happy Independence Day!”) with sincerity, it’s a nice reminder that eventually some animosities can be overcome, if you have 241 years to cool off.
It’s one of about three days a year (the others being Thanksgiving and Christmas) where I try to momentarily forget the state of the world and celebrate the things I am lucky to have. I love both my countries, and that won’t change no matter who leads their governments. My love and patriotism may take on new shades (#resist!), but a country is not only its leaders but also its people. In many ways this year, the US has both made me horribly ashamed, angry, and proud. I can’t shed my American identity, and I don’t want to, even when it might be easier to do so (learning an English accent notwithstanding). There are a great many things about America that are still admirable, and I will celebrate those and all of the wonderful Americans I know and love who make my country a better place.
A key component of this is that I am celebrating here in London with some American friends, as well as many Brits and other nationalities who eagerly look forward to the celebration each summer. This is my third 4th of July party in London, always held on the weekend before or after the actual 4th, and always full of love and good times. Plus, it turns out everyone just wants to go to a party where they have “the red cups from the movies!” Well, my friends, I can provide this for you.
Happy Independence Day! May we all use it to remember that what unites us is far stronger than what divides us.
For the Easter holiday, I was invited to an old family friend’s home in the south of Spain, in a town where I spent my summers as a child and teenager visiting with my family. The surroundings were therefore familiar, but I did something on this trip I’d never done as an adult – properly explored Gibraltar, the English-held colony on the tip of the Iberian peninsula. Normally, we flew into “Gib” and drove across La Linea, the literal line separating the territory from Spain, or otherwise flew into Malaga, bypassing Gibraltar port entirely.
Gibraltarians have their own culture and unique Spanglish dialect, able and inclined to flit seamlessly between the two. It feels like a little island apart from Spain and yet so ingrained in the local life that I came away thinking of it as entirely separate even from the UK. I certainly didn’t feel I was in London after hiking to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar via the switchbacks of the Mediterranean Steps and looking out over the 360-degree view of Gibraltar’s harbor and beyond to Morocco and the rest of the African continent.
Aside from exploring Gib, we also spent some quality time on the long stretches of beach for which the Costa del Sol is famous.
With a larger group of family friends, I attended Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions in the nearby town of San Roque. Though we’d often referenced them, I hadn’t been to see the Semana Santa festivities since I was small, and hadn’t realized quite how much effort both in advance and on the day of goes into the celebration. Parishioners literally shouldered burdens to commemorate Jesus carrying the cross – in this case, those burdens were elaborately constructed floats that barely fit the tiny, hilly streets of San Roque. Carrying the floats is considered an honor and a penance for one’s own sins. It’s taken very seriously by the participants, who vary in age from about 6-7 years old (who don’t carry anything but candles) to teenagers and middle-aged men and women, separated by gender and arranged by height. Many of those who carried the floats appeared to be in significant pain or discomfort but didn’t utter a word of complaint.
After watching the parade for a while, we settled into some tapas at a nearby restaurant and did some catching up, sharing news and stories over croquettas, tortilla, olives, and Rioja. After snagging some churros from a stand in a nearby park, we called it a night. Those of us that live in London shuffled to Gib airport the next day, feeling reluctant to leave the sunshine and sea air behind. We stood on the airport’s balcony, leaning forward towards The Rock to feel the last rays of sun on our faces before we committed ourselves back to London’s rainy springtime skies. Hasta la proxima, España!