London keeps happening , and this time Elger and I were joined by Elger's father and stepmother (and my in-laws). It was mostly rainy and cold, and busy and polluted, all of which make an open rooftop bus tour a daring choice, but there were lovely moments along the way. And then we went to Wales, which was also rainy and cold, but quieter and cleaner, and charming as always.
It was a year ago today that my grandmother, Patsy Crowell, passed away, as Facebook so blithely reminded me. To celebrate her memory, my mom made it possible for our extended family to spend nearly a week in a resort at Disney World this year. Even though the Christmas music definitely followed us there, being in a totally different place - and climate - made for a wonderful opportunity to appreciate having the chance to make new memories together (cheesy as it most certainly is). It is still possible to get sad and frustrated at the Happiest Place on Earth during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, mainly about not being able to spend enough time with each other between the Fast Passes and road works-stymied buses, but it was genuinely lovely to see my nieces and nephews and my grandparents being equally delighted by interacting with both costumed and acting characters.
Before heading to Orlando, Elger and I flew into Tampa for a couple of days to visit with my father's side of the family. His parents have lived in the same house in Largo since the 1970s, and the green shag carpet is just as soft as they day they moved in, and just as soft as it was when my brother and I would make regular summer visits during our childhood in the '90s. It was the second time that Elger and I had gotten to spend time with the White side of my family in the past couple of years, but prior to that, it had been at least a decade since I had seen most of my aunts, uncles and cousins living in Florida. I got to witness my aunts doing impressive genealogical research about their parent's family trees, and Elger was taught a thing or two about planes (which is quite the feat) by my grandfather, a Navy and Coast Guard veteran, and we enjoyed having such a familiar, soft spot to land during our first couple of days in Florida.
After going on something of a wild goose chase to pick up our rental car, we drove an hour and a half to the Pop Century Resort. It's technically a complex of five separate hotel buildings and a lobby/dining hall, filled with a mix of decade-specific pop cultural references, paraphernalia and photos depicting the more peaceful, stock photo-worthy moments of the second half of the 20th century. We were staying in the red and pink '80s building with purple railings depicting a game of Pac Man. Since jet lag saw to it that we were getting up far earlier than normal (but still not earlier than the most hard core guests who were in line for the buses to the parks hours before they opened), we got to enjoy the surreal, softening effects of cool, foggy mornings in the otherwise technicolor setting.
We ran into my other set of grandparents and my uncle at the front desk, and after literally running over to my brother and jumping on his back, as Elger and I were riding the elevators up to the third floor, where my family was filling six rooms, we drew closer to a familiar, friendly cacophony of voices. When the doors opened, there was my mom, wearing a strobing necklace of Christmas lights and matching illuminated plastic Mickey ears, grinning ear to ear (her real ones). We traded places in the elevator as she and seven other members of our crew headed out, and after a brief visit to Hollywood Studios, Elger and I paddled around in the computer screen-shaped pool next to a four story tall statue of Roger Rabbit and then called it a night (while the rest of our party stayed in the parks until well after midnight).
My very favorite series of books by far when I was a kid was "The Baby-Sitters Club". In one of the Super Special editions, the girls and their families take a Disney cruise. When I read about it as a child, my mind was blown by the idea of getting to have breakfast alongside the likes of Mickey Mouse. My nieces and nephews got to live the dream - as did my grandparents. Prince Charming charmed Gran and Grandonald, and Mickey scared the living daylights out of Gran. My carry on luggage was filled with little Christmas gifts for everyone, and I was happy to get to give my niece Kayley the BSC Disney Super Special - I was even happier when she excitedly said she already knew the books and dove right into reading as we walked to the monorail.
Even though Travis and I had been to Disney at least a couple of times as kids, I could only remember spending time in the Magic Kingdom. I'm not a big thrill seeker when it comes to roller coasters, but did manage to brave Space Mountain once more as an adult. I was kind of thrown off by how much bigger and different everything seemed: I had expected Main Street to be the same candy colors and child-sized facades that I remembered, but instead I found Starbucks, jewellery shops and the Spaceballs-esque quest for more money with bizarre Star Wars-themed swag (an At-At poodle skirt, anyone?). I thought Star Tours and Muppets 3D would rely on the exact same narratives and footage as they did in the '90s, but they were surprisingly relevant.
The things I thought I would recognize were unfamiliar, but the newest park - Animal Kingdom - was oddly very familiar. It's effectively a zoo/mini safari (complete with artificial baobabs and air conditioned rocks for the lions) with rides and three zones: Africa, Asia and Pandora. All of them are equally fake, but the attention to detail in the buildings near the Mt. Everest ride surprised me: exposed rebar on concrete roofs, threadbare prayer flags draped from unassuming (fake) shrines, and intricately carved dark wood detailing was reminiscent of Kathmandu and Bandipur. Plus mouse-shaped ice cream and fewer street vendors (only slightly).
On our last night at Disney, most of us headed to Epcot to attempt to drink around the world. Despite getting there with about an hour to go and getting separated multiple times, we managed to swing through fake Canada, fake England, fake France and fake Morocco (number of successfully consumed drinks varying among the participants) before the slightly more grown up version of "It's A Small World" (which I sadly did not manage to ride) played out on the lake.
On our second to last day at Disney, Elger realized that one of his former colleagues from the Language Center, Nicole, was also coincidentally in the Orlando area. Her parents are residents of a 43,000 acre gated community in Kissimmee, which is a self-contained town, complete with a golf course, several cafes, pickle ball courts (smaller scale tennis) and herds of personalized golf carts. After excellent ruebens at the club house, Nicole and her boyfriend gave us a tour of the grounds, which was basically an alligator scouting mission, and then we headed east to Cape Canaveral.
Although NASA is not sending manned missions into space currently, it was so good to see how much action is still going on at the 144,000 acres of Kennedy Space Center (including a whole lot of water, and a couple of alligators). Even in December, there were long lines for the (equally informative and trivia-filled) bus tours through the launch pads and other facilities. The tour guide emphasized that the various private companies now retrofitting NASA's launch pads and building new structures to accommodate heavier rockets are all collaborating rather than competing with one another. It's no space race, and it's comforting that there are still so many people focused on bringing mankind deeper into space, but seeing the retired Atlantis shuttle in a museum setting still brought tears to my eyes.
The day after Kennedy Space Center, we checked out some slightly older modes of aerial transportation at Fantasy of Flight. Only ten percent of Kermit Weeks' more than 200 planes are on display in the garage beside an airstrip where biplanes buzz into the sky (230 dollars buys you half an hour), but it was still cool to see some of the collection (financed by Weeks' uncle's oil assets). Children's books about planes written by Weeks are for sale in the gift shop, but guests willing to shell out 500 dollars can get a private tour of the larger hangar/museum housing more of the planes on the other side of the runway. There are plans to eventually add roller coasters to the sprawling grounds, but it would be a shame for Flight of Fantasy to become just another Orlando area theme park with rides rather than a living museum.
After driving about an hour southeast, including shuddering along an unpaved road through an orange grove, we pulled up our last stop before heading back to the airport for our flight home on Christmas Eve: Cherry Pocket. A seafood shack, covered in dollar bills, license plates and neon Budweiser signs, located on a pocket of water on Lake Pierce, lined with crumbling piers and billowing Spanish moss. The staff was much less on edge than the brave servers at Disney World, which probably says more about the likelihood that visitors to the Happiest Place on Earth behave in the parks with a greater degree of entitlement than the clientele that make their way to the "world famous" dive.
So yes, Florida is alligators and theme parks and oranges and sunshine. It was a good time.
I'm still writing about student housing issues in Groningen, because there are still major student housing issues in Groningen.
This past Friday, I got my first byline for an article in the Dagblad van het Noorden for a story on this topic. Even though it was only meant to be opened on a temporary basis, there are still dozens of students living in a former asylum seekers centre in Groningen because they have yet to find a room elsewhere in the city. So few students have been able to find a place so far that the owner of the property is considering keeping the property open for the foreseeable future. Part of the problem is that housemates seeking a new tenant often explicitly state that only Dutch speakers need apply. Even though such criteria is considered common practice, it actually goes against Dutch anti-discrimination laws.
Even though I've been working as a writer and photographer for Dutch media for years now, having my first byline for a Dutch story in the city paper feels different in a good way. I've translated the story into English (under the photo of how the story looked in print - and being able to hold your story in your own hands will never stop feeling more special and real).
International students search for rooms to no avail
“Dutch speaking students preferred”. “No internationals”. “Dutch only”. Finding a room on the private market in Groningen is no small feat for international students.
Zain Ulabideen (24) from Pakistan is enrolled in the chemistry master’s program at the RUG. He has been living in the emergency housing for international students on Van Swietenlaan since September. Like the majority of international students in Groningen, he will be in Groningen for the entirety of his degree program. In his case, that means he will be living in the city for at least the next two years. He has been searching for a more permanent place for months, but that remains a challenge.
On Kamernet, a popular website for students looking for rooms, 87 rooms were listed for rent in Groningen as of last week. Nearly half of the rooms are effectively off limits right off the bat to foreign students: 20 of the listings indicate that their ideal tenant is a Dutch speaker. Three listings explicitly say “no internationals” or “Dutch only”. There were 21 rooms that were located within houses associated with fraternities, which pretty much rules out any international tenants being considered: according to the National Chamber of Fraternities, non-Dutch members make up less than one percent of membership of all Dutch student associations.
Rental property landlords also want to keep their current tenants happy. One local landlord, Eildert van Wieren, is responsible for renting out more than 200 rooms in the city along with his colleagues at Noorderveste Property Management. Van Wieren says, “We seek to make sure that things are running smoothly within the houses and with their neighbors. I get messages from tenants on a regular basis telling me that they would prefer to have a Dutch housemate because they don’t want there to be any communication issues.” Landlords feel compelled to honor those preferences.
According to Niek Peters of the Groningen Discrimination Hotline, rental listings requesting Dutch speakers or ruling out foreign students fall into a questionable gray area. “People aren’t technically being turned away because they were excluded and discouraged from inquiring in the first place.” Peters says that it is dubious for landlords to accept the preferences of their current tenants when considering new renters. “The landlord is the person who is ultimately responsible for renting out the room. Equal treatment legislation forbids anyone offering goods and services from making any distinctions on the basis of nationality or origin.
Despite its problematic legal status, making demands about would-be housemates is very widespread, which means that students like Ulabideen are still having little luck on the private market. He thinks he will eventually be able to find something via Facebook, but until then, he is hoping to be able to stay in the emergency housing.
The municipality and the owner of the Van Swietenlaan property, Eric Kooistra, are in discussions about potentially keeping the building open for a longer period. How much longer the emergency housing may remain open is not yet known. The current agreement among the municipality, the University of Groningen and the Hanze University will end on November 12. Robert de Veen, manager of the property, says, “It’s definitely a relief to the students to know that they don’t have to find a room before the end of the month.” The emergency housing reopened in September because dozens of international students had been unable to find a room in the city. A room at Van Swietenlaan 23 costs 16 euros per night. When the property opened, the assumption was that the students would be able to find a room fairly quickly, but there are still 80 students living in the building.
A bus (or two) lies between us and the Groningen airport, and a little over an hour and lovely aerial views (including the patchwork farms of Flevoland and an Amsterdam fly by) lie between Groningen and Southend airport, and another hour and some train and Underground stops lie between Southend and the heart of London. When I heard that my very favourite podcast - Another Round - would be doing a live show in London during the Shout Out Live festival, Elger and I decided to go and use that excellent occasion to make a little trip of it. Hamlet and the RAF museum also happened, which made both our geeky hearts beat faster. Two of our favourite people on the planet and their daughter, who is quickly becoming a favourite person too, recently moved from Canada to England, so we spent a couple of days on the outskirts of Nottingham to help warm their new home with some shared beers. It rained a lot, and I took some pictures.
Marja Lust is a police officer in Amsterdam now, but she used to be a time traveler. There’s a seven hour time difference between Amsterdam and Minneapolis, where she lived in the early ‘90s, but she always felt like she was traveling even further into the past as she flew west across the Atlantic.
A volleyball scholarship at St. Cloud State University brought Marja to America – she had been playing the sport with her twin sister, Ellie, since they were kids. While Ellie played in the Dutch premier league in the late ‘80s, Marja was a member of the university’s team, the Huskies. During her stay in Minnesota, Marja started dating a police woman in a nearby city. One afternoon, they went for a drive together. Marja, in the passenger seat, stretched out her long arms, casually draping one behind her girlfriend’s headrest.
Her girlfriend turned to her and said, “Mar, please don’t.”
Marja asked, “What?”
Her girlfriend said, “I don’t know who will see us driving through town.”
“She would always say, ‘I’m already that bitch in blue, I don’t want to be that dyke bitch in blue,’” Marja said.
That drive was already 20 years ago, just a couple of years longer ago than the event which inspired the foundation of Roze in Blauw Amsterdam, the Dutch LGBTQI police force of which Marja and her twin sister Ellie are prominent members.
Back in 1998, of the 13,000 men and women competing in the Amsterdam Gay Games, more than 200 did so under false names: in their own countries, they feared for their lives because of their sexual orientation and couldn’t afford to be associated with the event.
The Amsterdam police corps, including Ellie Lust, had a lot of respect for the risk that the athletes took by coming to their city. They wanted to make sure that they felt safe and welcomed by the police in Amsterdam. The result: the Pink in Blue network, a task force dedicated to investigating and preventing crime against gay and lesbian people. Pink has been a color synonymous with the gay right’s movement since the Second World War: Nazis labeled lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender prisoners in the concentration camps with a pink triangle badge on their striped uniforms.
The slogan of the Gay Games that year was “Proud to be your friend”, a motto which Pink in Blue adopted as their own and still uses today. Through Pink in Blue, Marja and Ellie are public figures, and they aren’t dyke bitches in blue: they’re unabashed lesbians in blue. Marja is an investigator and Ellie is a spokesperson for the Amsterdam police, and they both protect and serve LGBT men and women through the task force.
Amsterdam is often called the Gay Capitol of the World, thanks to the Netherlands becoming the first country to legalize gay marriage in 2001. The canal-ringed city is consistently on top ten lists for gay-friendly destinations, but four years after passing that legislation, the assault of Chris Crain, an American journalist, and his boyfriend in 2005 violently revealed that intolerance definitely existed in the city. “It became clear that Amsterdam was not as safe for LGBT people as they thought,” Ellie said.
“Around that time, Amsterdam recognized that the outside world should really be reflected in the police force,” Ellie said. “It was truly a white, straight, male police force when I started [in 1987]. Even now though, some men have the audacity to say, ‘So, when will we get a white men’s network?’ - that is bullshit.”
If Ellie calls bullshit, people listen. Nowadays, she is pretty much a national celebrity: she was a break out star in the Dutch reality show ‘Who is the Mole?”, is a regular contributor to the Dutch equivalent of “America’s Most Wanted” and has a dedicated fan base. All the same, she admitted to feeling like she really had to prove herself when she first became a cop. If she was the best at everything she did, she figured no one would mind that she was a lesbian. “I was overcompensating. You try so hard to position yourself as a good person, a good police agent and a good athlete in the hope that that makes the fact that you’re a lesbian less bad.”
As they were growing up, she and Marja both held themselves to unrealistic standards, in addition to being endlessly compared with one another. Even though they tried to distance themselves from one another as teens, they both realized when they were about 19 that neither of them had ever brought a guy home. After that revelation, Marja said they rediscovered each other as friends rather than as sisters. “I actually think that I was born as a twin because I needed Ellie in that sense. We were able to be supportive and identified with each other so much - our first ‘coming out moment’ was with each other.”
When they eventually came out to their family, Ellie thought their dad was not-so-secretly happy to hear he would always be the only man in his daughter’s lives, but neither of the sisters felt that their mother really understood. “If one of her friends were to ask her about whether either of us was dating anyone, she would quickly reply, ‘Oh, no, the girls are so busy with volleyball,’” Ellie said.
“I think she wanted to protect us from sadness and the complications that the outside world would bring. You’re always going to come across people who aren’t okay with it, and she didn’t want her children to have to deal with that kind of conflict. It came from a place of love.”
As cops, they get to fight back against the conflicts and complications that LGBT people face. Anti-gay crimes began to be registered in Amsterdam in 2007, when 234 incidents were reported - 79 involved physical violence. Nowadays, there are actually more incidents being reported: in 2013, there were 620. Marja attributes that to LGBT people becoming more aware that Pink in Blue exists and recognizing that the harassment they encounter is actually criminal behavior.
“Most people who come to us wouldn’t dare to approach the police otherwise. That’s nothing against our straight colleagues, but it’s just how these particular victims feel,” Marja said. “LGBT victims can speak more easily and openly with someone who is like them. There’s just so much less to explain.”
Ellie said, “I definitely think through the work we do for Pink in Blue that we are heroes for others. People think we’re fantastic. They look up to us with tears in their eyes, saying, ‘You’re our police.’”
The sisters grew up watching ‘70s cop shows together in the living room of their home in Oostzand, a suburb of Amsterdam. “I loved ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ ‘Cagney and Lacey,’ and ‘Hill Street Blues,’” Ellie said. “If there is such a thing as a calling, I’ve always felt that I wanted to be a police officer.” Having been bullied as kids added to Ellie’s convictions: “We were identical twins – we are identical twins – with red hair, freckles and glasses. Marja had braces too, so she was even uglier,” Ellie deadpanned. “Other kids picked on us, but that instilled in me a very strong sense of justice.”
Marja agreed. “I think Ellie was born to become a spokesperson. She is really in her element within the police - I don’t know any better police spokesperson than her.” Marja’s own interest in becoming a cop was a little less noble, at least at first. “For me, I just thought cops were tough, walking around in that uniform. You always got to be where the action was.”
While their career choices and their looks are almost identical, now that they’re adults and no longer forced to wear matching outfits, it’s a little easier to tell who’s who. Marja’s hair is a variation of the natural red that they were born with, and her timbre is soft. Ellie’s hair is platinum blond and her tone is likewise just a little louder than that of her sister, but they have the same disciplined physical bearing and their shared resting facial expression exudes an unmistakably bad ass vibe.
Their most important similarity is an unerring vision of a more equal future for LGBT men and women. For the twins, Amsterdam is not enough, though. The Netherlands is not enough. “I am very grateful that I was born in a country like the Netherlands and still more so in a city like Amsterdam, where we have the freedoms that we do,” Marja said.
Ellie and her colleagues are trying to spread their best practices far afield with other police agents around the world, hoping to get them to reach out to their own LGBT communities. “Sometimes it’s just ridiculously difficult, though,” Ellie said. “Last year, I was in Albania and I found myself thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’
She knows, though. “We want it in every country. It would be so wonderful if, through the slogan ‘Proud to be your Friend’, all LGBT people in Europe could recognize the police who are their allies,” Ellie said. Marja tempered those ambitions with a dose of realism. “Our real goal is that, eventually, we can bring about a light bulb moment for someone.”
“One spirit at a time,” Ellie agreed.
“Yeah, change one mind at a time. Sometimes, we just can’t think or hope for anything more than that,” Marja concluded.
On the streets, Pink in Blue provides security at Dutch gay pride events, but often, Marja and Ellie end up directly participating: the police have a boat in the Amsterdam canal parade in August and always take part in the smaller Pink Saturday pride event each June. On Remembrance Day, every May 4, a few blocks away from the crowds of thousands and the laying of wreaths in the Dam square in Amsterdam, a parallel and more intimate ceremony is held: marching two kilometers in solemn formation, crossing the iconic brick bridges and progressing along the canals, a cadre of nearly 100 LGBT police officers walks onto the Homomonument in the shadow of the Westerkerk to remember the gay, lesbian and transgender people who were casualties of war.
While veteran and civilian losses from all wars are remembered on this day, the Second World War looms largest. The location of the LGBT ceremony makes it impossible to forget the persecution by the Nazis: the three pink granite triangles forming the monument are embedded into the cobblestones between the Prinsengracht and the Keizergracht, the canals flanking the Anne Frank House. Marja and Ellie, along with their colleagues, stand at attention while drag queens and politicians walk down to the triangle beside the Keizergracht to place their flowers, doubled in the polished reflection.
The twins were both on duty during a protest against a state visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin in Amsterdam back in 2013. Neither of them could shoulder more than a few feet through the friendly throng of thousands without being pulled into a tight embrace by yet another protestor festooned in rainbows.
The visit happened in the lead up to the passage of Russia’s now infamous anti-gay propaganda laws, and the protest in Amsterdam was the largest pro-gay demonstration Putin had been confronted with anywhere in the world to date. The final event of Putin’s visit was a state dinner held at the fortress-like Maritime Museum.
Across the harbor on the East Dock, photos of an Andy Warhol vision of the macho Russian president in campy blue eye shadow were held aloft in a sea of colorful flags and cardboard hearts with dildos glued on to them -- all in direct view of the museum, where Putin and the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were attempting to dine in peace. “They had to move the state dinner somewhere else inside the museum because the protest was so distracting. That was awesome,” Ellie said proudly.
Their volleyball instincts kicked in when a cluster of balloons drifted up to where they were standing side by side above the crowd: they took turns spiking it back down while keeping an eye out for demonstrators trying to scale the wall for a better view of the event, cracking each other up in between with a level of inside jokes that only identical twins can achieve.
We made a bunch of our favourite people travel a not insignificant portion of the world - in one case, flying for the very first time - to watch us get dressed up and hang out on a beach for about 20 minutes (also known as a wedding). Good thing every sunrise, sunset and moonrise was a thing of joyful tears-inducing (okay, maybe that was just me) beauty, and every meal was better than the last, and the t-shirt store and Brew Thru were within such close grasp.
(Seriously though: I still can barely believe that so many people love us enough to come from so far to be with us. That's a whole lot of love.)
Schiermonnikoog and Texel, and the boats and birds and lighthouses and people and photos that love them.
This is where l write some gently reflective text about how lucky I am to do this work in an uncertain media landscape, and how it does my soul good to take more photos in addition to writing (assigning, proofreading and translating) oodles of words. All of that is true, and I am crazy grateful for getting to do what I love. But I'm just eager to let my favourite words and images from the past year speak for themselves right now.
Here are a couple of articles whose words I am very proud of:
Academic discrimination: Professorship at the RUG is much whiter and male-dominated than Dutch society at large. Can – and should – the university do better?
Children's Ombudsman: RUG professor Margrite Kalverboer was named Children’s Ombudsman of the Netherlands this spring. In her new role, she will continue to work on behalf of children in general and young asylum seekers in particular.
Below are photos and articles that I am equally proud of.
One year with SSH: SSH has been responsible for providing housing for internationals for over a year. The company successfully opened two new properties in that time – Frascati and Hoendiep – but their plans to improve the heavily criticised housing situation for internationals have faced several challenges in the past 12 months, and many residents have yet to see any difference.
Friending Jessica: Jessica Winters, the outgoing head of the RUG’s marketing department, has been the brains and heart behind how the university presents itself to the outside world for eight years. ‘I love this university, all the good things and bad things.’
Academic Friesland: The RUG/Campus Fryslân is taking shape, and the ties with the Frisian knowledge institutes Dairy Campus, Wetsus, Tresoar, and the Fryske Akademy are being strengthened. But what those institutes actually do and what they can offer students is not clear to everyone. (text by Renee Moezelaar)
'So much science': David Reitze, executive director of LIGO, became famous as the ‘we did it’ guy from the press conference heard around the world announcing the detection of gravitational waves in February. The event has been deemed Noble prize-worthy. But Reitze says that with a team of a thousand researchers, ‘a Nobel prize for this would be great, but who do you give it to?’
RUG under construction: From Zernike to the Ebbinge quarter, university-related construction projects are becoming a reality. The Energy Academy Europe is joining the Linneausborg, Bernoulliborg and Zernikeborg at the Zernike campus, and the Proton Therapy Centre and The Student Hotel are changing the skyline at UMCG and the Ciboga terrain. The UK visited the construction sites over the past few months to get a sneak peek at the up-and-coming buildings.
Bells for Bowie: Following the iconic musician's death, Groningen's carillon player Auke de Boer used the bells in the Academy Tower to honour David Bowie’s music.
Groningen: gay friendly?: Ganymedes, the student association for gay, bi- and transsexual students, made its debut at the Amsterdam Gay Pride canal parade in 2015. But what is it like to be LGBT and a student in Groningen?
A transgender student's story: She has always known that she was female, even though she was born male. But it wasn’t until Meena*, a 28-year-old student at the RUG, arrived in the Netherlands in 2008 that she found the words to describe who she was. ‘I finally looked through the looking glass.’
Although the students interviewed for these stories, which were published last year, insisted that Groningen had always felt safe to them, the city was also the site of a shockingly violent attack against a lesbian couple outside one of the few gay bars in April. The city responded by organising a march for Love and Respect, which was attended by hundreds of citizens. Many of the same people walked a similar route in recent weeks to remember the LGBT men and women killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting.
It has also been a year of violence that has shaken European cities awake - in a year of ongoing violence across the world - and Groningen honoured the victims of the attacks in Paris and Brussels by illuminating local landmarks.
This colourful gallery is from the Night of Art & Science 2016. There were concerts, a planetarium, mind melding with other species, and drag queens.
And here are some photos that were taken throughout the year at moments that were visual enough to stand on their own.
The picture above is of the king of the Netherlands, Willem Alexander, getting super pumped up about plugging in two cables that do nothing.
Bonus: my favourite shots from the @ukrant instagram feed (that were taken by me. What an exercise in ego all of this is, huh?)
Every few years, my birthday falls on the fourth Thursday in November for Thanksgiving. As a kid, that meant that school was always closed in the days around my birthday, which was cool for getting to sleep in, but a bit of a bummer in terms of trying to ever celebrate my birthday with my classmates. My family always made sure my birthday never got subsumed by the bigger holiday, and I didn't have to blow out a candle on a slice of pumpkin pie, but I do strongly associate foods in casserole dishes and meats that take hours in the oven to prepare with getting older. Since I've been living in the Netherlands, that has meant an undeniable urge to buy cranberries, search through my email for recipes from my mother and, yes, eat something containing pumpkin as the year winds down.
Because 2015 was one of those years that my birthday and Thanksgiving would overlap, I recognized that as a recipe for homesickness, so I decided to act on my thankfulness that one of my good friends from UNC and one of the most hilarious humans ever, Catherine, is living in Madrid with her husband, Ben. They're both working there as teachers, and living in the capital city of Spain has made them a popular destination for friends and family all summer, so Elger and I held off until this past week to pay them a visit in their sunny home. We didn't have any Thanksgiving-associated dishes - in fact, we ate a whole mess of curries on Thursday, followed by Venezuelan food the next night - but being with my favorite person in the presence of one of my all time favorite people who is married to one of my new favorite people was wonderful, beautiful, delicious, cathartic and just really great. Thank you, Ben and Catherine, for your hospitality and the very welcome distraction!
We ate a lot and ate it much later than the holy Dutch dinner time of 6 p.m., and it was amazing - I had olives so fresh and so green (green) that I actually genuinely loved them. I am not an olive person. Obviously, now that I've turned 31, I am finally worldly enough to appreciate olives. Reina Sofia's collection of 20th century art, Guernica most overwhelmingly of all, helped me to better understand what the country has been through and how it coped. My Spanish came back in fits and spurts, but there were spikes after getting some mighty powerful coffee into me. It was great, and we will be back as soon as possible - it's nice to have found the place in Europe where the sun lives.
My family is intense: intensely funny, intensely loving, intensely thoughtful and intensely loud. Despite the majority of my life thus far having been spent in the same household, being in their presence nowadays is the exception rather than the rule, and reuniting typically feels like setting off aerial fireworks in the living room. To give an illustrative example of the trip, I wound up playing Cards Against Humanity at three different times, and I never once won.
My Dutch life is awfully quiet by comparison (although my friends here are known to play politically incorrect cards games fairly regularly), which is mostly a really nice thing, but I love my family for that intensity, and I recognize so many ways in which I am a product of that environment in myself and my siblings. It's weird and it's heavy to be so far away, and it is both in spite of and because of the strong emotions that going home evokes that I will always do just that, but I do remain hopeful as always that the folks I love the most will return the favor and fly over here so that they can see what life is like here in this parallel universe of my own making, too. Having a camera in hand made sure that I was able to stop and focus for at least a few hundredths of a second at a time in the whirlwind of it all.
After a bit more than a week in North Carolina, Elger and I headed up to Toronto, Canada to spend the tail end of our North American trip with two of our closest friends, Inge and Helen. We were basically tourists, being drawn to Niagara Falls (and all the Vegas-like trappings that surround it) and chasing views of the CN Tower all over the sprawling city. The Pan Am Games were being held there during our visit, so sails and public transport were all getting in on the action.