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.

 

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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!

That’s Your Kew, Spring!

I recently decided to devote a day to visiting Kew Gardens, which has long had a home on my To-Visit list but which I always thought of as too far away to be a spur-of-the-moment activity.  This was dumb, as getting anywhere in London is usually 45 minutes, and that’s exactly how long it took me to get to Kew Gardens on the Overground. I really showed myself, huh!

Even though it was mid-February, the weather was stunningly beautiful, sunny, and just cold enough to be invigorating but not enough to be a hindrance to walking around outside.

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My friend Megan joined me, and we began by touring the frighteningly high Treetop Walkway (whose creator had the bad judgment to make the entire thing, stairs and all, out of see-through and occasionally wobbly steel mesh), but the view was mostly of still-dormant trees and bushes. In summer, I am sure it is wonderful and I’ll have to steel myself (ha, ha) to return to the Treetop Walkway again. Note that the picture is from when I was safely back on solid ground.

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Then we headed to the Palm House, which is understandably kept at tropical temperatures. Megan’s glasses were not prepared for the immediate switch:

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The Palm House felt and smelled like tropical adventure, and made me yearn for my time spent travelling in South America and Megan for her time in Africa, both of which had their own sections in the greenhouse.

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Upon leaving the Palm House, we encountered a well-kept garden (shown below), a pond, and a posh old house because… England.

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Then came the main attraction: the special Orchids exhibit in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which was only running for a month and was designed with the influence of Brazil’s Carnival celebrations. I love orchids, though have never understood how not to kill them when they are in my care, and this exhibit was a marvel of color, variation, and green-thumb skills.

I even bought myself a white and magenta dappled orchid at the gift shop, inspired into thinking I could manage not to kill it. Time will tell, but so far it’s still kicking!

The Urban Fox

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This particular fox has a magnificent identifier: a tail that is 80% hairless. Clearly the result of some accident, but unnerving that you can see the bone of his/her tail. 

When I moved to London, I didn’t know that I’d be trading a daily plethora of subway rats for the rarest sightings of tiny, and frankly pretty adorable, dormice who shiver as the train comes and then skitter away. Nowhere in sight are the NYC native rats (The Rats? Their dominance suggests they deserve proper nouns) that steal whole bagels or dropped slices of pizza while glaring at you and shaking off the haters. Respect to those Rats, but I don’t miss them.

Londoners treat The Urban Fox like New Yorkers treat The Rats, as something they grudgingly respect for their survival abilities but find to be a pest. In all my ex-pat shiny newness, I still get excited and a little bit scared when I see them. Will they bite me? Do something fox-y and crazy? TALK TO ME? (Please talk to me.)

For some reason, I have an overwhelming desire to converse with these foxes. I think this stems from reading (and rereading) Roald Dahl for the majority of my childhood and adolescence, and specifically Fantastic Mr. Fox. They just seem chill, like they’d be down to chat. After all, they are just roaming the streets back and forth with seemingly no purpose. Certainly they know that garbage day is Wednesday, so their big night is Tuesday after midnight, when rubbish bags galore await a good tearing open on the sidewalk. Any other day I spot them, they are not focused in hot pursuit of food or trash, but simply ambling about the neighborhood. The Foxes I’ve seen in my neighborhood are very clever, as foxes are often depicted to be: they know how to wait for traffic to cross the road, and do it every single time. They are territorial, so I see the same 3 foxes who patrol my street – and hear them having insane fights late at night that sound like sorority girls fighting each other with their nails.

Two nights ago, both I and a pedestrian coming the opposite way stopped in order to allow a fox to pass between us on the sidewalk, as he considered whether he wanted to enter that property (photo shown above). He approached, paused, and thought about it while we waited (perhaps cursing the broker who denied his offer, to sell to another?). Then he retreated back to the other side of the street, robbing me of the chance to ask him if he also hated Wes Anderson’s rendition of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

*For more on The Rats, read “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan. It’s amazing and horrible and will haunt your dreams, but you’ll know so much more about rats.