Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gingerbread Train Stations, and other Things Seattle People Like

Gare du Palais: it's to scale, AND it's made out of  food!
Each year, starting around Thanksgiving, the small-city sized Sheraton in Downtown Seattle hosts an annual display of elaborate, so-called “gingerbread houses.” Amazingly, people pour in from all over the Puget Sound Region to gawk at these little carbohydrate palaces. Crowds largely made up of families with young children line up in two separate, orderly lines for as long as 40 minutes to see the “gingerbread” “houses”—which, this year, have almost nothing to do with either houses or gingerbread.
Ironically, the whole thing is somehow-or-another supposed to benefit, of all things… juvenile diabetes. A very worthwhile cause, to be sure. But raising money through literal and figurative monuments to refined sugar seems like a giant “Fuck you!” to kids with diabetes.

“Look, Diabetic Kids!” The candy houses seem to be taunting. “It’s ‘art’ made out of all that stuff that could kill you!  It’s funny, because your pancreas doesn’t make any insulin! Get it?!”

This year's motto could be: "At least it’s not as ironic as using ‘art’ made out of food to raise money for starving people!" But it probably is not.
Sadly, this "Misfits" train station has nothing to do with the punk rock band of the same name.
(Now, that's a gingerbread house I'd wait in line to see...)
The display takes place in the middle of a vast hotel lobby, so it’s not really clear why people are willing to line up to gawk at the confections. You can just as easily see the gingerbread houses by pretending you’re just walking to the other end of the lobby. In fact, if you want to go to the bathroom, you actually have no choice but to walk past the sugary display. But Seattleites would rather pee in their pants than be perceived as People Who Are Not Following Rules.

In 2011, the theme of the display seems to be “Train Stations of the World.” (I know that because the entries are all train stations… from around the world.) Entries include supposedly-edible versions of New York’s Grand Central Station, King’s Cross Station in London, and the Gare du Palais in Quebec. This year, the gingerbread houses in the display are closer to architectural renderings than the kitschy cottages that the name evokes. Train stations? What's next, gingerbread cell phone towers? Gingerbread power plants? Sewers?
Gingerbread Public Works (doesn't have the same ring, does it?)
Personally, I like my gingerbread houses to look like something  from a fairy tale dating back to the Golden Age of Misogyny. You know, when candy cottages were always the home of a witch, or some other woman who is rude enough to be unattractive and/or elderly and/or a lesbian, and who is deemed evil because of her choice to live apart from society in a house made entirely out of gumdrops (and because of her choice to be unattractive, of course).

This year's gingerbread train stations resemble the fairytale cottages of yore about as much as a taxidermied horse resembles My Pretty Pony. That said, some of the edible “architectural features” are eerily accurate and lifelike, even if they are made entirely out of Skittles. Most of the decorations rely heavily upon small, colorful candies such as M&Ms, red licorice, and what I can only assume are edible electric lights.

What amazes me is the fact that local families pour out en masse to wait in line--with small children--to see this display. I don’t want to sound like a hater, but if I’m going to wait in line for 40+ minutes, there had better some free (or at least highly discounted) couture items at the end of that line. Or at least something very delicious that I can actually eat.

On the whole, the poor kids forced to bask in the wonder and joy of the “gingerbread” train stations looked like they needed a drink. The parents tried to make up for this by feigning more enthusiasm than the display could’ve possibly inspired in anyone, including people who recently gained the capacity to see after a lifetime of blindness.

“Oh, look, Cody! It’s Grand Central Station!” an exhausted-looking woman in front of a prominently labeled King’s Cross Station said to her young son.   

Cody shrugged. “It’s not like you can eat it or anything.”

My sentiments exactly. Poor Cody.  I wished somebody would give that kid some candy. But, except for the untouchable confections all around us, there was none to be seen.

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