Yes, the time has come for a Harry Potter reference (for those of you who don’t know where this blog title comes from, see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). How could you come to London and not think about Harry and the gang shipping off from King’s Cross Station (a real place) for Hogwarts? Especially when there is a shrine constructed for such commemoration! This one’s mostly for Mom and the girls. We had to visit Platform 9 ¾ because we knew you would want to do it if you were here with us. Notice the half-disappeared trolley. Very cool.
The past two days have been very fulfilling and enlightening. I have continued my quest for understanding the food culture here in London and have come to some broad generalizations that are probably understated and incorrect. Londoners are eating-on-the-go people, from what I’ve observed. Aside from the local Italian restaurants, which are always jam-packed for reasons that I can’t begin to work out, most of the eateries are only moderately busy in the evenings between the hours of 5 and 8pm. What I have seen, at all hours of the day, are people eating while they walk, cramming food in their mouths while sitting on a bench or a flight of stone steps, or lounging in a park with a take-away bag and a six-pack. John and I have begun to conform, aside from the enormous Indian feast that we indulged in last night. Wow! Good stuff. Maybe Londoners prefer picnics and take-out because restaurants are so outrageously expensive. To save money, we have also skipped the pubs the past couple of evenings in favor of purchasing beer and wine at liquor stores. We enjoyed some hilarious British television with some of our hostel mates last night. We’ve really been living it up, seeing all the sights during the day.
Two days ago, we trekked down to The City, or Old London. We crossed the Thames twice, once on a footbridge constructed to commemorate the millennium (along with the giant ferris wheel called the London Eye), and again on the Tower Bridge. We wandered some beautiful cobblestone streets and back alleys through quaint shopping districts that led out into grand views of the river and the famous monuments that line it. The whole walk felt very London-y, like the vision in the mind’s eye of what this city should look and feel like had come to life. The weather was fantastic and we had a wonderful day.
Two highlights, aside from the walk itself, which was the best: St. Paul’s Cathedral & The Tate Modern. St. Paul’s is stunning. The building features the fourth largest dome in Europe, and the interior is decorated with an array of ornate mosaics that glint and sparkle as the sunlight filters in. It is massive and completely overwhelming. So beautiful. The pinnacle of our visit, literally, was the climb up 530 steps to the very top of the dome. We’ve had plenty of training for this, since we have to climb approximately 794,000 flights of stairs to get to our room in our hostel. I felt like I had been cross-training for this climb since we got here and lugged our luggage up to the deceivingly-named “third” floor. Enough bitching, back to the church. We made it all the way to the top where we emerged to a 360 view of London’s skyline. I can’t pretend to romanticize this…the buildings are pretty ugly. We can’t be too hard on the poor Brits since they got bombed to you-know-what during WWII. Regardless, the climb up was exhilarating, and it was fun to point out all the major sites from above. We enjoyed a lovely lunch on the church steps (we finally found some veggies…thank God!), and, feeling brand new, we ventured on to the Tate Modern.
I won’t bore you with a play-by-play, art historical analysis of all the wonderful works and their context. Modern and contemporary art are my favorite eras, so I was in heaven. My mom would have been appalled by the bathroom situation, though…stinky, no TP, line out the door. But, once I got to pee, I was ready to enjoy the art. The Surrealist galleries entitled “Poetry and Dream” were definitely our favorite part of the museum. We saw works that run the gamut of Surrealism including primitive line drawings featuring toilet/sex/dark humor (these were John’s favorite). Bizarre “wedding gifts” from Marcel Duchamp to his wife. Some lovely Dalis, de Chiricos, Massons, etc… Some really great installations by Joseph Beuys. There was also a room filled with Surrealist portraits, which were so cool. Lucian Freud, Diego Rivera, Christian Schad…all sorts of people that I have studied over the years and grown to love. It was so great, traveling from room to room and talking with John about some of the stuff we learned back at DePauw in our art history courses. This is what our vacation is all about.
Today was a big day as well. I decided to wear some white sandals that quickly destroyed my feet. But, luckily, we found a nice Pakistani shoe store where I got a cheap pair of tennies. That made the day go much smoother. John is sure it was all a ploy just so I could get new shoes. Maybe… We started our day at platform 9 ¾, visited William Blake’s grave (see John’s appendix to this blog), and wandered around Picadilly, Soho, and the West End. This part of the city is also very London-y. We visited Chinatown, but we’ve decided to go back since it wasn’t time to eat when we were there, and we really want to check out some of the restaurants. Basically, we did a lot of walking around, just exploring the city. Once I had my new shoes, it was fabulous. We made a visit to the National Gallery where we upped our Caravaggio count by two paintings…score! We saw lots of other great art there, but started to get too hungry to care at a certain point, so we stepped outside into Trafalgar Square (which came first Trafalgar or Raglafart?) where a Thai festival was taking place. We got ourselves a few samplings from the food stalls, then listened to a Thai woman bastardize the song “Summertime” on the big stage. This had nothing to do with her being Thai, and everything to do with her being a scary imitator of a very bad lounge singer. Fun times!
We ended our day with a stroll to Buckingham Palace, with a small detour in a nearby park where we sat in some lawn chairs and talked about our trip so far. Now, we’re back at the hostel, enjoying some treats from a nearby Whole Foods. Love you all! I hope all is well at home. Stand-by for other news from John.
Update from Kochancz:
London has been an easy start to our 2+ month vacation, mainly because they all speak English and it is very easy for Americans to navigate and negotiate. As the colonial spawn to our “neo-European” culture, it is interesting to come here and see the sights and make the rounds. I think 5 days here is plenty, mainly because the British pound is devastating for travelers on a budget. It is definitely a city where one could settle down and spend weeks or months. Maybe when their economy finally collapses relative to the rest of Europe and America, we can all come back and not feel like we are bleeding ourselves dry! (My tongue is pressed to the farthest side of my cheek here, of course.) We’ve seen mainly what we set out to see here, and I’ll be glad to get on to the rest of Europe!
Today was especially important for me, because of my visit to the grave of the great poet and visionary William Blake. Thus ends my pilgrimage to sit amongst the bones of my four favorite Romantic poets, Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Blake. As I rode the Tube, far beneath Blake’s remains, to the quiet neighborhood of Islington where he is buried, I thought of the “mind-forged manacles” (Blake’s term) which are still a major force in terms of people and power today. Many of the observations Blake made on London back at the turn of the 19th century are still quite apt in our modern world. I’m sure he would be just as sick with London today as he was with his own contemporary city. We need mystics and visionaries now more than ever, and it is always rewarding to look back at Blake and see that someone got it on such a deep, spiritual level. I’m always amazed how little we study Blake in English classes. I had never even heard of him until my senior year of college when I chanced to take a class on the British Romantics. His message is perhaps too confusing for us to decipher without great care and historical context. It helps to have someone to guide us through it (props to Wayne Glausser), but it stands as a testament to early British literature as a precursor to all the great stuff that we have today. We would all do well to understand his art, to delve into his visions, even though they might be convoluted at times, and we might not always be pleased at what we find there. Here is a little poem that has always stuck with me since I first read it, and I want to share it on this blog.
The Clod and the Pebble
"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair."
So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite."