New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Monday, February 19, 2007

Valentine 2007

Jenn and I had a lovely Valentine's Day this year, and we spent it much the same way as we did last year, except that now we have one more reason to celebrate. Little Zachary was kind enough to stay generally calm and relaxed, allowing us to do the same as we lingered over our feast. As is the tradition, we enjoyed fine cheese and charcuterie from the Bedford Cheese Shop and a few other places in the neighborhood, but this time I decided to kick it up a notch with the addition of a dozen raw oysters served on the half shell. They paired wonderfully with the bottle of Moët & Chandon my parents had given us a couple of months earlier.

After enjoying the oysters, Champagne, cheese, and charcuterie, Zachary got a little fussy, so we put him to bed and then watched An Inconvenient Truth. It's a disturbing but engaging documentary, which I recommend to everybody. Global warming is real. Denying it, or saying there's a "debate" is like saying there's a debate about gravity. We, meaning the human race on this earth, need to dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions, and fast, if we are to avert disaster. This is not partisan politics, this is a wake-up call. We have entered a period of consequences.


Blogger Jennifer said...

It was lovely, honey. So many reasons to celebrate.
I think we should make the oysters & Moet part of the annual tradition.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Maia Sissons said...


I am writing to tell you about a journey I'm about to take with my family to find the real centre of Europe. I'm a journalist based in London, and my husband is a news photographer.

Our website is at We will be blogging there from next Tuesday, 27th February.

We would love to be part of gridskipper as we make our journey, and I'd like to know how we can do this.

Please find below an outline of our plans.

I hope that we can have a discussion about this.

All the best,

Maia Sissons

Journey to the Centre of Europe

2007 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and the birth of the European Union. But what exactly is Europe? Is it a political, or a geographical entity? Its boundaries have been in constant flux ever since Princess Europa arrived in Crete from what is now Southern Lebanon, and the idea of Europe was formed.

On 27th February, we will embark on a trip in a Land Rover Defender with our family, to try to find the real centre of Europe. We will start in Brussels, where we will meet people who consider their city to be at the very “heart” of the EU, as well as people responsible for mapping Europe. We will visit Kleinmaischeid in Germany, which held the honour of being the centre of the EU until 1st January 2007, when the accession of Romania and Bulgaria moved the centre to a wheat field just east of Frankfurt. Here we will interview people in the town of Meerholz, whose previous claim to fame as the birthplace of Barbarossa did not attract great attention, and find out how they feel about being right in the middle of things.

We will then go on to find some of the places that have held a claim to be the centre of the European continent, and ask why there should be any confusion. We will investigate the history of Europe’s boundaries. For example, Catherine the Great is reported to have employed a surveyor to “move” the boundaries of Europe further east to the Urals in order to give Russia greater European credentials. We will also look at the methods, some of them quite bizarre, which have been used to find the centre of a fairly disparate landmass.

We will go on to Torun, a medieval city in Poland, which was the birthplace of Copernicus, and has a historic claim as the centre of geographical Europe. From there, we will travel through the Mazurian Lakes, and into the wilds of north-eastern Poland. This is an area that few people visit now, although it has been home to Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslim Tartars. It was here that the idea for this trip first came about 22 years ago when Justin was working as a photojournalist shooting a story about life behind the Iron Curtain. He got lost in the snow in what felt like the middle of nowhere, and while he was waiting for a friend to pick him up he noticed a small iron post, with a plaque on it declaring, “You are now in the Centre of Europe”.

From Poland, we will go to the island of Saaremaa off Estonia. Once the stronghold of Eastern Viking pirates, it is now considered to be the centre of Europe if all of its islands are taken into consideration.

We will then spend a couple of days in Riga, in Latvia, staying with Maia's cousin Antra, a TV presenter, and discussing how accession to the EU has affected her life.

Finally, we will visit Bernotai, a village 20km north of Vilnius in Lithuania, where the Europas Parkas now marks the official centre of the European continent.

Weaving together travel, history, geography and a sprinkling of science these journeys will be crafted using words and pictures into a cohesive and compelling story. This will encompass not only the destinations themselves, which are generally in rather beautiful and interesting areas, but also the journey: the places we stay in, the food we eat, and the people we meet. Maps and navigation will be central to our quest, and we will spend a lot of time simply trying to find our destinations. We hope to find a Europe that now stretches further than ever as a political and cultural idea, whose people are free to celebrate their differences just as they increasingly work towards shared goals and enjoy a common, European heritage.

Who we are...

Justin Leighton is a photographer with over twenty years’ editorial and corporate experience. He has documented many of the most dramatic moments in Europe’s history during that time, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the spread of democracy into Eastern Europe, war in the Balkans, and conflict and resolution in Northern Ireland.

Maia Sissons is a freelance journalist working in London. Previous to having children, she managed projects advising governments around the world on economic and institutional issues, including a DFID-sponsored project advising the Russian Trade Ministry on its accession to the WTO.

Mabel Leighton is nearly four years’ old. She loves parties, ponies, dancing and meeting people. She is very keen to learn some new languages. Her favourite colours are pink, red and blue.

Mathilda Leighton is two and a half. She likes puppies, butterflies and chefs. She is looking forward to eating her way across Europe. Her favourite colour is black.

Ilze Kadegis is Maia’s mum. She is a Latgvian born in a refugee camp in Germany, and arrived with her family in England in 1947, when she was a year old. Their first house was a cottage in a field in the Midlands with no running water or electricity. Ilze retired from her job as a Special Needs Advisory Teacher last month, and is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren. Part of our journey will trace the route that her parents took from Latvia to the UK.

7:45 PM  

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