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UK vacationing

Got to London a week ago, and am in York tonight. Tomorrow I’m off to Manchester and then Wales for a few days before flying to Berlin on May 30… Having a great time, of course. The weather has been simply unbelievable. Brilliant, warm sunny weather, day after day, though a fierce storm is promised for this weekend.

Visiting London as a pure tourist for the first time (my 4th visit), with my parents for the first few days, joined on Tuesday by Francesca. At the outset of a six week journey that will encompass many countries, moods, activities, and people, it takes a bit to relax into the rhythm. It’s also a bit jarring to spend 24 hours a day with my parents after not having done so for many years. But we’re all finding our way (regrettably my mom is hobbled by a bad hip so she’s not as mobile as any of us expected her to be–but we’re working around it)…

London is a huge, sprawling place, so my experience was necessarily quite limited. I probably only heard English spoken by about half the people I overheard speaking (a great deal of Polish and Russian, among dozens of other languages). The whole place is either under construction or newly rebuilt, or so it seemed to my inexperienced eye. Here’s a photo from the Millennium Bridge towards “The City” which is decked out in cranes; the view was similar in every direction.

London is a very horizontal city, not so tall, and riding up in the over-rated Eye (a giant ferris wheel-like device that never stops turning at a very slow half hour pace) gave a view of construction in every direction. Here I am in it with Francesca a few hours after she got off the plane:

The visit to London started out with a trip to the Borough Market, a wonderful artisan market full of local cheeses, pastries, breads, chocolates, meats, mmmmm, so many good things!

Scoring some amazing cheese and bread here reinforced my sense of the commonality of the so-called ‘new food politics’. There’s a general turn to the artisan, to quality, to homemade, to slow… we found it here in York too where the cafe at the Castle Howard where we went today was ready to feed people who wanted vegetarian, vegan, gluten- or wheat-free, every kind of allergy was listed…

While in London a new documentary about the Clash’s lead singer Joe Strummer opened up. I didn’t see it, but having seen “Punk’s Not Dead” at the recent Film Fest in SF and remembering the gritty misery that produced punk back in 1970s England as well as the U.S., it was striking how prosperous and un-gritty London felt these past few days. Granted, the skies were clear and sunny, but the old urban angst and alienation was in short supply. I dropped in on x-Chris at the Camberwell squat at 190 Warham, which was a serious reclamation effort. We did make it to the 56a Infoshop and even that seemed ensconced in a pleasant housing project full of sweet people. (Granted, both squat and infoshop are in incredibly cramped tiny spaces–in that respect it reminded me of the space crunch in SF over the past decade.) Also dropped in on the folks at Mute Magazine for a short howdy (in which I managed to talk the entire time and probably made an ass of myself), who were also in a very popular neighborhood, grittier than elsewhere but still weirdly bucolic in these days. Perhaps a cold, wet visit would have led to some different sensations, but I really felt the passage of time and the oddness of London’s current flourishing… apparently benefiting from the high value of the British pound and the endless influx of tourists and the monied from around the world…

Funny street signs are part of coming here too… the Brits just say things differently than I’ve ever heard…

We did a lot of tourist things, like riding the Big Bus, going on the Eye, riding a boat on the Thames, visiting Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, taking in Othello at the rebuilt Globe Theatre (open to the air: as Shakespeare unfolds in this quasi-authentic original open-air theater we were cursed by the passage of jets and helicopters, making the actors inaudible from time to time; still it was a wonderful experience), going to the Tate Modern, etc. Here are a bunch more photos until my next post:

The speakers at Speakers’ Corner weren’t impressive: a Federalist Society adherent promoting global cooperation and an African-American transplant arguing for Robert Mugabe!

Big Ben with the Eye in the background.

London’s City Hall from the Thames.

Me on the tourist bus. Loved those upper decks! The next photo is just a shot from the front of the upper deck of a regular bus, showing a normally congested street scene. This is after the imposition of 8 pounds a day congestion charging…

Francesca has a very good eye I think. This and the next one are her photos…

My parents and Francesca crossing the Millennium Bridge towards the Tate Museum… next shot is from inside the Tate looking at the Bridge, in an angle where you can see something of the bridge’s artistic merit.

At the Tate we saw a lot of very interesting art. Funny to spend a few hours seeing modern art before strolling 100 yards next door to the 16th century replica of the Globe Theater to see Shakespeare. Here is a photo (that I wasn’t supposed to take) of a painting by a Congolese painter (whose name I regrettably failed to write down), satirizing himself as an art dealer… the rest of the paintings in this room were just magical in their intensity, humor, politics and bold humanity…

Francesca and I both went crazy too in a room dedicated to layouts and covers of “USSR in Construction”, a Stalinist periodical that featured some really remarkable photography, collage and magazine design. No pics unfortunately… it was published from 1929-1940 or so.

Here’s a view inside the Globe:

When we drove north from London to York yesterday, we passed quite a few nuclear installations such as this one:

I was a bit surprised at how completely the local advertising industry (which kept impressing both me and Francesca with their designs and generally edgier qualities than what we’re used to) has glommed onto carbon footprints and the like as marketing tools. Dovetails with the articles I linked to in my last blog post on climate change. Anyway, we came to York, a charming small city in the north and kept our great weather for a couple of days of wonderful tourism… here’s some shots of us in various places in York, then at Castle Howard where we had fun today, also saw a great exhibit of William Morris designs and wallpapers that were commissioned for that castle… the grounds were amazing too, one of the best formal English gardens in the country, and a “wood” that is also largely a garden-like construction, home to over 800 different types of rhododendrons…

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One Response to “UK vacationing”

  1. 1

    Your remarks on English cheese reminded me of this article:

    “In defense of English Cooking” by George Orwell