London Highlights

Because I need at least one picture that would be found in every guidebook

Because I need at least one picture that would be found in every guidebook

Goodbye London. I’m sitting on the Eurostar, a bullet train of sorts (though we’ve only just started moving and I cannot verify any such claim yet), headed to Paris via the English Channel. The men in the security gate here at Saint Pancras International detained me for 10 minutes and tried to take my hammer, which had showed up as a threatening silhouette on the X-Ray check. I pleaded with them, showing them BlinkNow’s website and an email I had received, and the men relented.

This blog, and most of the others, will seems to be pretty disorganized because they’re actually lacking in organization. This is fine- this isn’t a resumé builder. So please either forgive or skip over quick lists like the one below.

London:

Where everyone rolls their own cigarettes
Where there is a museum every three blocks
There is no open-container law (just fantastic)
Redefines the word “sprawling” (NY might be huge but it runs mostly North and South, whereas London is a heavy splat on the map)
The architecture changes dramatically from borough to borough
The average car weighs half that of the US
At 4:15 am on my third night, I was alone, dancing wildly at a nightclub with my jacket tied around my waist like a computer programmer on a hike

Shoreditch, in the East of London, is where street art climbs like vines up the walls of buildings. At one point I passed a man, Fernando, halfway through spraypainting a menacing Wolverine face on a plain black wall. The effect was amazing, and even more incredible to watch his technique- bending a plastic board to create sharp curves, angling the canister sometimes so much that it seemed all of the coloring was drifting out into the nearby intersection in brightly colored clouds (and settling… somewhere), occasionally finishing some shadowy effect with some grand and wild flourish like some street performer. He may as well have been performing, because I sat down to watch, and before I knew it there was a crowd of two dozen, and then half of us had wine or beers or cigarettes, all admiring this growing, angry face taking shape before us. I left before he was done, but not before memorizing the address (Pedley St and Brick Lane) so I can see the final result when I return to the city. I saw tons of other absolutely amazing artwork, and I’m going to make a separate, expandable blog post so I don’t crowd this one.

Upon arrival

Upon arrival

A crowd gathers

A crowd gathers

P1010013

Just before I left

I also went to a football match with a Tufts friend, Raffa, and his mates. Raffa’s been a lifelong Charlton AFC fan, and on this dreary, rainy day when the only thing keeping people warm were the pints in their bellies, the home team let up a goal after less than 2 minutes of play, and then 2 more over twenty minutes. The field was a wreck, and this beatdown had the home fans screaming bloody murder that something was amiss, while the away fans chanted and tauntingly waved their arms and flags from across the muddy pitch. Play went on and the home team scored, and hope was restored. That is, until the whole match was called off due to unplayable conditions, much to the delight of Raffa and his friends (the eventual rematch will start at a score of 0-0), though I was eager to see more football. I imagine that the away fans were even more disappointed than I, given their lead and five-hour journey.

Sparsely populated away stands across the pitch

Sparsely populated away stands across the pitch

The next day I went with Bennett, whose house I was staying at with his mother Cordelia, to Notting Hill to enjoy the outrageous spectacle of the Notting Hill Carnival, an annual celebration of Caribbean culture that now attracts over a million people. Supposedly the “family day,” even on this Sunday it was impossible not to smell the clouds of weed drifting through the crowds or the empty canisters of nitrous oxide on the ground. And yet these things were clearly not the focus- rather, it was the huge, flamboyantly designed and colored costumes of performers dancing behind pickup trucks filled palpitating with their own produced bass. For some reason, I didn’t manage to get a quality picture during the entire event, so I’d encourage everyone to just go ahead and GoogleImage “Notting Hill Carnival.”

I stole this picture from the "internet"

I stole this picture from the “internet”

Bennett and I were soon hopelessly, but not uncomfortably, disoriented- stand in a four-way intersection and every directions is a mess of smoke, crowds, music, and food stands. Cell phones ceased to work. When I tried to meet up with Raffa again, the endeavor soon became laughable. Want phone service? Walk for 10 minutes and leave the crowds. Want to find someone? Go back into the crowds and scan the thousands of faces streaming around you. We didn’t find Raffa.

I suppose I should really conclude something about London, but this really wouldn’t be fair because I was only in the city for four days. Despite such brevity, I feel as though I was still able to immerse myself in some of the more culturally prevalent phenomena- football, pubs, music, art, driving on the left, etc. And yet few times did I get the sense that London actually felt old, that it had a multi-millenial history. There were the obvious exceptions of the palaces and famous bridges, but I expected to be crowded and molested by the history of the place- decaying cobblestone streets or stone statues melting from acidic rain- but I rarely felt this. This wasn’t exactly disappointing, but it tells me that I need to return to London, because there was clearly so much that I missed.

As a friend predicted might be typical of Parisians, as soon as I spoke to mon cousin Joseph in French he immediately reverted to English. Despite the obvious convenience, I sometimes curse the fact that the whole world speaks my language. And yet, I plan to retort the first Frenchman insistence on speaking in my mother tongue with a faux apologetic “Desolé, je ne peux pas vous comprendre”

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