whim: an odd or capricious notion or desire; a sudden or freakish fancy

Monday, June 18, 2012

in defense of pigeons

Ahem. It has come to my attention that I am part of a small minority when I say I like pigeons; and, in fact, many people hate the creatures, to the extent that committing crimes against them has become acceptable. I myself have laughed at how easily the nervous creatures panic and take flight, and how a small stamp of the foot sends them into a frenzy, but for one to kick them as a cur would kick a dog, or rejoice to see a dead pigeon––my conscience compels me to intervene on behalf of these birds. I must say, it seems rather unfair to me the merciless vendetta that some people have against this poor species. That one should take pleasure in giving them pain is horrifying indeed. What have they done to merit such loathing? And why, in this blessed world so full of wickedness and crime, would one waste hatred on so unassuming a species? 

Pigeons are actually smart little birds––and, you know, there may be a thing or two one could learn from these good fowls. For one, I was interested to learn that pigeons, those feral creatures scattered about London and other cities, actually mate for life. There is always something tender I feel whenever I hear of another species in the animal kingdom that mates for life. Emperor penguins, for example: while the husbands sit freezing in the arctic winds, warming the egg containing penguin junior, they wait faithfully for mum to return home from the great hunt. Such loyal creatures! Pigeon fathers also share the nesting duties, taking turns warming and protecting the nest from harm, so maybe shared fatherly duties comes hand-in-hand with mating-for-life-ness. Mating for life is a characteristic that seems to have fallen out of fashion with humanity. As people go through spouses like milk (keep it till it sours, then throw it out!), we really should turn to the birds and learn from their faithfulness. I can't imagine a pair of pigeons filing for divorce; they don't seem to suffer from humanity's current marital disease: irreconcilable differences. No leaving Jennifer Anniston when Angelina Jolie is hotter––pigeons have infinitely better sense than Brad Pitt. They are clever, really, and resourceful, I might add. City pigeons know exactly where to swarm to––the heavily trafficked touristy spots where a person is likely to leave a crumb or two of crumpets and cake for the birds to snatch up. They gladly accept what humanity discards.

Now many distrust city pigeons because they are mistaken for disease-carrying pests. In all actuality, pigeons have very good immune systems and aren't liable to transmit bird flu or other such diseases because they themselves don't carry the diseases. There are one or two diseases that one may contract from handling pigeons, but mostly from their dropppings (which, let's face it, we don't exactly scrape off the pavement and use as ice-cream toppers). As far as disease-carrying goes, you're one hundred times MORE likely to contract a disease from human contact than you are from pigeon contact. Think about the thousands of diseases which we pass around in our shaking hands and hugging and kissing––we thoughtlessly and shamelessly spread our germs, while shrieking at the sight of a pigeon, who is in reality a safer companion than another human. You might as well walk around with a surgical mask and gloves, for all you're concerned, and that would be no way to live.

But if you persist in arguing against the birds, yes, I do concede that there are pigeon populations in some big cities, leading to property damage and pollution from their droppings. But you can hardly blame them for that––they're only in cities in such great numbers because of us! Yes, the truth of the matter is that city pigeons are just descendants from domesticated pigeons gone feral. If we hadn't domesticated pigeons, the little problems they cause would never have existed. But doesn't a decent population of cooing, twittering pigeons just make a city? Think of a large city––London, or New York––and imagine it without pigeons. Wouldn't the streets be too solemn, too dull without our feathered friends?

But back to what we can learn from pigeons. Pigeons have an undeniably incredible sense of direction. Pigeons could fly thousands of miles and always be able to fly home. Drop a pigeon in the middle of the pacific blindfolded and it would know exactly where to go to get back home. We can't explain it, but we accept it and certainly trust it, which is why pigeons we have used them throughout time as carriers. Our militaries have trusted pigeons with vital information across enemy lines, and they have consistently fulfilled their duties and saved human lives with their faithfulness. G.I. Joe, for example, was a carrier pigeon who saved thousands of soldiers during WWII. In October 1943, the British were making advances on Colvi Veccia, a German-held Italian town. The Brits ordered an aerial attack of the town but were soon afterwards able to break through German lines and take up positions in the city. With a half-hour until the aerial attack, the soldiers in the city hurriedly tied a message to G.I. Joe's leg, telling headquarters to call off the attack to prevent thousands of British troops in the city from being killed by their own bombers. G.I. Joe flew 20 miles in 20 minutes and they were able to cancel the attack just as the bombers were taxiing up the runways.  Cher Ami was another heroic pigeon, during WWI, and delivered another life-saving mission despite being shot out of the sky by German troops. The bird arrived having been shot through the breast, blinded, and with a leg hanging by a tendon, but he delivered his message.

So for their loyalty and faithfulness, I appeal to your humanity and ask you to reconsider your opinion of these our feathered friends, and next time you go to kick a pigeon, remember how many lives its ancestor saved, and spare the poor bird a bit of pain. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

tea and cake london

I saw this book at Waterstone's a couple of weeks ago and decided I HAD TO HAVE IT. It has a long list of tearooms, cafes, bakeries, and patisseries where one can enjoy the sweet of London. I was positively drooling over it in the bookstore, and the moment I brought it home Ari and I decided to have tea and cake Fridays here in London and go to as many of these little places as possible. So I'll share with you a few of our finds!

I have to preface this by saying that I'm obviously not a food photographer, so you'll just have to assume that the food looks about ten times as good as it does in the picture. Okay, this first photo is a slice of lemon loaf and a walnut brownie from the Hummingbird Bakery. The brownie was marvelously chocolatey, rich, and speckled with walnuts––that was my first pick, of course. The lemon loaf, though, was surprisingly delicious. I'm not usually one to go straight for lemon-flavored sweets (sometimes they can just be too sweet), but this lemon bread was delightful. They also had some beautifully-decorated cupcakes that looked fantastic. I'll have to remember that if there's a round two.

This slice of heaven was from Peggy Porschen. This is the Glorious Victoria layer cake, which is vanilla bean cake with a layer of vanilla bean buttercream and a layer of raspberry jam. It was really, really good, and wasn't too sweet, despite what it might sound like. This is a trend I've been noticing––so far, the desserts here in London have been less sweet than desserts in the States. I really like it. I think Americans get a little crazy with the sugar, but Brits seem to show a little more restraint in that regard. Oh, and Ari got the hot chocolate, which was exceptionally frothy. 

This past week we went to Lanka and got hot chocolate, a flapjack, and a white chocolate raspberry mousse cake. I'll load the pictures later, but let me just say that the hot chocolate was SUPERB. So far, the best hot chocolate I've had here has been from Lanka and Caffe Nero. The flapjack was a sort of glorified granola bar, and it was okay, but not my favorite. The whitechocolateraspberrymoussecake was absolutely to die for. Seriously, it was amazing.

I'm going to have to get creative on my food adjectives here, as you can tell.

That's all for now!

about the queen and other things

 Question: Who in the world would stand outside in the drizzling rain and freezing cold for hours on end to see the Queen of England float by on a big boat? First of all, me, that's who, along with thousands and THOUSANDS of British people braving the weather to celebrate their Queen. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee was quite the affair, so naturally a 1,000-boat flotilla was necessary. My friends and I arrived hours early, and still were barely able to see for the crowds of delighted drunk people waving the Union Jack as they awaited Her Majesty. Smiles and drinks were passed around freely as the crowd cheered, and momentarily everyone forgot how cold and rainy it was when the royal family passed by (emphasis on momentarily, though).

This is one of the only clear shots I got during the flotilla. I had to elbow a few nice old ladies out of the way and step on some toes, but all in the name of a good photo, right? (I think I must have gotten a drop of water or something on my camera lens, as you can tell from the dot in the middle of the picture. Or maybe it was just an overenthusiastic grey cloud.) Anyway, I have to say that I'm glad I went to the flotilla because I can check that off my list of "things to do once and never again." It was neat to see all the boats and neat to see how much the British really love Queen Elizabeth.

 This was the grand boat of the royal family, and if you squint really hard you can see the Queen (she's the cream-colored dot on top). (Oh, and don't mind the grey-haired ponytail man. He's in several of my pictures.) At this point in the flotilla, I had been standing for several hours in the cold, and I thought, "this is really what I came here to see? A cream-colored dot on top a red boat?" It was a bit of a disillusioning moment, but I'm sure it was due to the weather more than it was to the view.

But on to my favorite part of the Diamond Jubilee celebration: a tea party hosted by my ward's Relief Society. We drank cinnamon apple tea and ate delicious treats like scones, tarts, little cakes and sandwiches. We sang all five verses of God Save the Queen (I didn't know there were five. It's a long one!) The British sisters sang the national anthem, and two older ladies who remembered the coronation told us about the grand event. Actually, one old lady stood up and recited the history of the kings and queens of England (an abridged version––took about 15 minutes), ending with the coronation of Elizabeth II, where she went into great detail about the ceremony. It was quite impressive (her memory, that is).

To top it all off, we took a quiz about Her Royal Majesty, which I promptly failed. But I wrote down the answers, so for your pleasure, here's a list of facts you will never need to know about Queen Elizabeth:

  1. She acceded to the throne in February of 1952
  2. She was in Kenya when she heard about her father's death (the King)
  3. She was thirteen when she first met the Duke of Edinburgh (Phillip), who was later to be her husband
  4. She and Phillip have been married 64 years
  5. His nickname for her is "cabbage"
  6. The Queen's official birthday is in June, but her real birthday is in April
  7. Her first corgi's name was Susan
  8. Willow, Holly, and Monty are the names of the Queen's current corgis
  9. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister when she was coronated
  10. She wore Victoria's diamond necklace for her coronation
  11. She has nine thrones
  12. She's the fortieth monarch since William the Conquerer
  13. She wears black while visiting the Vatican
  14. She wears the Diamond Diadem to and from the State Opening of Parliament
  15. She has her ears pierced
  16. She wears blue more than any other color
  17. She has eight grandchildren
  18. She's 5'4"
  19. She has never worn jeans (crazy, right??)
  20. She doesn't carry any form of personal identification