Heat and hate stir
In a cauldron
Below the earth.
Hell has risen
And swallowed the world.
This is London
In the summer.
Heat and hate stir
In a cauldron
Below the earth.
Hell has risen
And swallowed the world.
This is London
In the summer.
God loves us so much that He is willing to perform miracles for us. These miracles happen constantly in our lives, and it’s only because of our ignorance that we so often fail to see them. It’s a beautiful revelation when you suddenly find it in a seemingly everyday situation. I had such a ‘lightbulb moment’ today.
I come from a huge family, with 5 sisters, 5 uncles, 3 aunts, 21 cousins and an infinite number of second and third-degree cousins and other distant relatives, not to mention the accompanying partners and children. My grandparents have a spacious house in the countryside, and at least once a year this huge family gathers together to celebrate various family holidays, such as birthdays or Christmas. Sometimes there are over a hundred guests present. You can imagine how much food it requires to feed so many hungry people. But I cannot remember a single occasion when we suffered from a lack of food. And this is where I suspect God’s miracle. I never saw my grandmother coming home struggling under the weight of loaded shopping bags. I often peeked inside the cupboards and fridges, and while there were various items inside, they were never chock-full. Sometimes my grandmother asked us to pop out to the supermarket round the corner to buy something she ran out of, such as a packet of pasta. One packet! Yet, at lunchtime, the long tables were laden with steaming, fragrant dishes. Everybody ate to the point of being stuffed, thanks to multiple servings from the bottomless pots, and for many days to come we would try to finish off the leftovers. Even when we had to return home, there was still more than enough surplus food left to fill dozens of containers with.
Where does all this food come from? Jesus once fed thousands with a mere loaf of bread – could he be doing the same for our family? After all, the prayer my grandparents say before each meal invites Jesus to be their guests. I believe that He accepts the invitation each time and joins us at our meals, ensuring that the little food that is provided will multiply to feed the crowds. Either that, or maybe my grandmother does her shopping in secret, when everybody is away or asleep, and then she hides the food in an underground cave. But with my childish, joyful optimism, I’d like to believe that there is indeed a miracle taking place at every family meal. But our tables can only abound in food because we are eager to pass on Jesus’ love to each other.
I devoted many sleepless nights to working on it, but now I am proud to present my newest painting, the first part of my series of portraits featuring artists I admire. This one is of Marcus Goldson (check out his website here), a painter with a unique style and my former art teacher whose advice proved invaluable in developing my artistic skills.
[Speaking of updates: I've uploaded a few more Benedick comics as well.]
My desire to see New York in bad weather came true sooner than I expected, as I made my way to the airport amidst a light drizzle. Luckily, it was soft and pleasant, far from the stingy downpour that London often experiences. Later, when I was aboard the plane heading to Los Angeles, I realised that I love flying. I don’t even know why, but I enjoy every moment of it, from the early check-in and the rigorous security screening to the moment of take-off and the actual journey. True, the seats of the economy class are so uncomfortable that every time I try to sleep I wake up more exhausted than before. But even the slight discomfort is dwarfed by the excitement of discovering a new place.
For two days, I had the chance to discover Los Angeles. And I must admit that it left me with varying impressions. It is a vast city with many districts that couldn’t be more different from one another. Of course I couldn’t visit all regions, but even the ones I did see gave me a glimpse of the contradictions that lie at the heart of the city. This is not an official guide to Los Angeles, but rather a collection of my personal impressions and feelings.
I stayed at a hotel in the heart of Beverly Hills, and I instantly fell in love with the area. It is peaceful, elegant and posh. The majority of the population lives in large, Mediterranean villas, and even the smaller buildings and the blocks of flats bear a touch of exoticism. The shopping district consisting of Rodeo Drive, Beverly Drive and Wilshire Boulevard feature all the luxury brands you can imagine, but lack the maddening crowds of typical shopping streets. Beverly Boulevard also includes my favourite restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory. I’m warning you, their cheesecakes are addictive! And I’d recommend the white chocolate latte of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf café as well. I had a chat with the receptionist at the hotel, and she confirmed my feelings. Life in Beverly Hills is indeed peaceful and comfortable, even if it is slightly expensive.
Hollywood lacks the elegance of Beverly Hills. Its main roads are lined by Mediterranean bars, fast-food restaurants and cleaning agencies. And most of all, mini retail parks. They are complexes that contain 5-6 different shops. Every few blocks, you encounter such units, and they are quite similar to each other. They usually contain a fast-food chain (on a side note, Subway is the most common restaurant there), an Asian restaurant, a supermarket and a place that cashes cheques. The area is also ethnically diverse, as indicated by the abundance of international eateries. I even found a Jewish supermarket, where all the customers except me were Russian. Hollywood Boulevard is also full of contrasts. Here, fancier restaurants stand next to dodgy underwear shops and souvenir stores. The area that contains the famous landmarks is only a tiny fraction of the whole boulevard, but the density of passengers there is tenfold.
Downtown Los Angeles was a disappointment after the distinct character of the abovementioned areas. It is a typical big city area, with nondescript skyscrapers. It is striking only in its poverty. Most shops are in fact dubious jeweller’s stores, usually offering to buy gold. There is a high number of homeless people on the streets, many of whom appear as though broken by the vain attempt to get famous. A quick walk around the city centre was more than enough for me, and, seeking a way to escape, I quickly boarded a bus to another area.
Santa Monica is a charming seaside area. You can find the typical beach-front places here, cheap eats on the colourful pier, and more elegant restaurants slightly further away. It is quite popular, as indicated by the high number of cars in the parking lot, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. The nearness of the sea and the pleasant warmth of the sun make it a very peaceful yet fun place to spend your time in.
Unfortunately, I could only visit a tiny proportion of the vast area that makes up Los Angeles. That’s why I hope I will get the chance to return and explore its many other districts in the future.
I started Day 3 by returning to Battery Park. Although it is much smaller than Central Park, the closeness of the riverside attracts me to it. I took the Staten Island ferry, as it is free and there is no queue for it. I got to take a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. Whilst seeing the iconic statue with my own eyes was great, I was not as impressed as I expected. It is much smaller and less imposing than I imagined, and it’s interesting that one of the main sights of New York is located far from the mainland.
When I travel, I prefer to discover my destination as a whole, and gain an impression of how the residents live in a particular city. Therefore, after my encounter with Lady Liberty, I decided to leave the path beaten by millions of tourists and explore the various neighbourhoods. The quirky, artistic Greenwich Village was warm and welcoming with its low-key attitude and abundance of cozy restaurants. I can understand why so many students choose to live in the area. However, it was Upper East Side that truly impressed me. I got a glimpse of how the ‘Other Half’ lives. Combining my visit with another short stroll through Central Park, I witnessed families walking home to their townhouses from an afternoon at the park, and this seemed quite an attractive lifestyle for me. What can be better than a leisurely walk across the park with your children/dogs/partner after you return from your high-pressure job? Maybe it was because I visited during the weekend, but everybody seemed so relaxed and carefree in New York. This is especially true in the Upper East Side, and the townhouses that line the streets of the neighbourhood are among the loveliest I’ve ever seen. They might seem all the more attractive to me due to the fact that they are located in the heart of the city, rather than in the suburbs. I can’t deny that I’m a city girl at heart.
But when it comes to travelling, I prefer to save money on public transport, and try to walk everywhere I can. However, owing to the size of Manhattan and the fact that attractions were scattered all across the island, I soon gave up and took the metro. I immediately noticed how old-fashioned the stations and carriages were compared to the London tube. Is London really more innovative in this respect? Or is it possible that the New York metro works fine as it is, so there’s no point in changing it? I agree, but I must admit that there is not enough information of the network provided. The stations of a certain line, for example, are not listed, and it is tricky to find the train that goes in the right direction. It seems to me that to use the network, one has to have an insider knowledge of it. But tourists can’t be expected to have this knowledge…
Throughout my visit, I kept returning to the question: “Could I live in New York?” I think that I could. It wasn’t love at first sight between us, but I do find the city fascinating, its people unique and its lifestyle attractive. However, I could only imagine living there if I was well-off and could afford a place near Upper East Side. Groceries are ridiculously expensive. 3 dollars for a 1.5-litre bottle of water is far too much. And I wouldn’t feel safe in areas further out, such as Chinatown or the Bronx. Only with a good salary could I fully enjoy life in New York. I’m putting the matter into God’s hands. If He wants me to live here, He will lead me here. I don’t need to stress about this question. Even if this is not His will, then it was still a fantastic experience to spend a few days here. I leave a piece of my heart here, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to spending a few days in L.A. and discovering another face of the USA.
On the second day of my stay in New York I continued exploring the sights of this exciting city. It took me a while to decide what to wear in the morning, and this led me to revise my packing strategies. The problem with packing in the last minute is that you end up throwing random articles of clothing into your suitcase, hoping that there are at least 2 matching items there. I didn’t find half a pair of shoes and half a pair of earrings, and I couldn’t decide whether I left them at home or lost them. I really hope that it’s the former case, even though it would be evidence for my extreme messiness.
But I didn’t let that ruin my day, so I stepped outside, eager to make the most of the day. It is definitely summer here, the air is boiling hot, and the hot coffee I picked up on the way felt like a mistake after a while. After the gloomy days of London, it was refreshing to see people in shorts and summer dresses. I think that the weather makes everyone more relaxed. Although I would love to see how people behave in winter. I need to come back sometime…
My first destination was Battery Park to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. I walked down Broadway to get there, and even though the downtown section is less than glamorous, I did pass some important landmarks, including the 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street and Trinity Church. When I reached Battery Park, I thought about boarding a ferry there, but the endless queue stopped me. Instead, I headed to Union Square. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a temporary market there, selling vegetables and home-made produce among the hustle and bustle of the city.
From Union Square I walked upwards on Park Avenue, taking in the sights of the skyscrapers. Every building seems to have a different architectural style, but they mix harmoniously with each other. Modern glass towers exist side-by side with antique stone carvings, contributing to New York’s unique appearance. In this respect it is similar to London, but here it is on a much larger scale, just like everything else. On a side note, I was once again reassured of God’s love following me on my way. For example, when I needed a toilet, he directed me to a museum, and when I was suffering from a headache, he led me to a pharmacy at the foot of the Empire State Building.
Walking through Times Square was a slightly scary experience. While I found that the streets of New York were not so crowded, the crowds multiplied as we approached the square. I had to navigate my way through not only tourists, but ticket vendors and people dressed as superheroes. If I had to compare it to London, I would say that it is 10 times Leicester Square, with 5 times the crowds at Oxford Street.
Luckily, Central Park is not far from there. It is a refreshing sanctuary of peace amongst the skyscrapers, where the noise of traffic grows distant, but not too distant for those who, like me, enjoy the fast pace of urban life. Nevertheless, after trying to cram as many sights into the day, it was great to step back a little, relax and think about the things I’ve seen, and my life in general.
When it was getting late, I headed home. Needless to say, I got lost on the way. Unfortunately, I find the American method of marking streets slightly confusing, as avenues running all across Manhattan and streets stretching in both directions don’t offer any guidelines about my whereabouts. But God leded me in the right direction, and I was also helped by a kind lady also in need of guidance, with whom we huddled over my map to locate ourselves. But we both reached our destinations safely, and that was the end of an eventful day.
My trip to New York had a slightly rocky start, but God revealed His love again, and everything worked out well. First of all, due to my laziness and inability to organise everything properly, I came frighteningly close to missing my flight. By the time I got through security, the words “Gates closing” were flashing in red on the noticeboard for my flight. I began running, and praying silently, as I tried to manoeuvre through the crowd of passengers with immense suitcases. I reached the gate in the last second. I was welcomed by a well-deserved look of scorn on the attendant’s face. He told me that they were just about to take my luggage off the plane, as I failed to board. That was a narrow escape… But I bet not many people can claim that they were greeted by their name when they boarded the flight. The journey itself continued in a less eventful but more comfortable manner. It was my first long-haul flight, and I was a bit nervous beforehand, but, surprisingly, I took to it like a duck to water. I did not expect to receive not one, but two complimentary meals, but they were well-appreciated. The only negative I could mention was that I spent half of the time ‘fighting’ with those tiny earphones that kept falling out of their place. Am I the only one who struggles with them?
New York welcomed me with bright sunshine and a pleasant 22 degrees that feel like summer after London’s chilly 15 degrees. I boarded my train to the city centre, eager to finally see all the famous places I’ve only seen on tv. But then another difficulty confronted me. Although I made sure that I had enough money on my current account, for some strange reason and unbeknownst to me, a transaction didn’t go through and all my money reverted back to my savings account. This meant that I was stranded in the middle of New York without any means to even get to my hotel, let alone feed myself for a week. I was on the verge of crying. Thanks to the kindness of a ticket vendor, I could ride the metro to my hotel for free (that’s another Random Act of Kindness, by the way), but I still didn’t know how I could buy food for myself. I was close to panicking, and desperately played out all the possibilities in my head. I had the contact details of the Hungarian Embassy in case of emergency, and I also planned to call my bank as soon as it opened in England. But deep down, I was filled with an overwhelming faith in God. After all, He directed me to New York; He won’t abandon me there. I clung to this belief so strongly that all my fears were wiped away, and I could be calm and composed again. Rather than hunting for lunch in vain, I went straight to my hotel room, logged on to wifi and checked my account. The source of the problem became obvious to me immediately, and it took a mere moment to rectify it. I felt ashamed at myself for giving in to panic when I should know already that God’s love never fails, and He never leaves my side. If I don’t see Him, it is entirely due to my ignorance, and not to Him not being there.
With this knowledge, I decided not to waste any more of the precious day, and set out on a walk in the neighbourhood. My hotel is located in Chinatown, and the area’s sheer scale mesmerises me. It is almost like a city in itself, especially compared to the Chinatown of London. But most Chinese seem peaceful and relaxed. Even the market vendors sit quietly as passers-by scrutinise their products. Although I feel slightly awkward as the focus of everybody’s gaze when I enter a shop filled entirely with Asians, they are by no means threatening or hostile. But the city itself is crazy and restless. Drivers toot their horns all the time and swear at each other constantly. It’s great that the waterfront by Brooklyn Bridge offers a spot of tranquility and a sanctuary from the high energy of the city. But I love this high energy, as it energises and excites me. Tomorrow I’m planning to explore the most famous sights of the city. I’m looking forward to it!