July 4-8, 2005

After nearly a week in Ireland, London offered a nice change of pace. I recognize that most people seek to slow their pace of life on a vacation, but Iīm perfectly happy living at high speed. Life is far too short to go everywhere and do everything that Iīd like to, so Iīve made a conscious personal decision to live at a pace that allows me to avoid regrets about wasted time.

In contrast with Ireland, where small plaster storefronts are painted with bright, saturated colors, the buildings in London are monumental architectural works, tall and decorative, hewn out of monolithic blocks of drab grey stone. Mixed in among these traditional faįades are extravagant modern buildings such as City Hall and the Swiss Re Tower. Classic landmarks include Parliament, Big Ben, and the Tower Bridge. The latter should not be confused with London Bridge, a monument to the mundane and uninspired that replaced the old London Bridge in 1831.

All of the museums that I toured were spectacular. The central courtyard of the British Museum is worth seeing, even if you have no interest in any of the historic relics housed inside. The enormous courtyard surrounds a cylindrical library, and is covered by a titanic glass dome formed of triangular struts that cast dramatic shadows on the rare moments when the London sun peeks through the overcast sky.

Housed inside the British Museum are the priceless anthropological and archaeological artifacts that have been plundered from around the British Empire for centuries. Remarkably, nearly all of the sculptures and friezes from the Parthenon are on display. While it is understandably controversial to display precious international treasures that were forcibly taken from their original homes, it can also be argued that many of those treasures would have almost certainly been defaced or destroyed by unstable political regimes had they been left behind.

The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square is filled with works from some of the worldīs most renowned classical artists - Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, da Vinci... Although I was already familiar with many of the works on display, it was still a remarkable experience to see the original paintings in an environment where I can get close enough to see individual brush strokes and the texture of the canvas, as if the artist is still at work and briefly left the room to allow his paints to dry.

Tate Modern offers a more controversial aesthetic. On display are brilliant pieces by many of the worldīs most celebrated modern artists, including Dali, Mondrian, and Warhol. Many of these works are beautiful and successfully achieve their objective of challenging deeply held beliefs about our understanding of the world. However, some of the artwork defies comprehension. As I walked through the corridors, I would find myself asking, is that part of the ventilation system? No, itīs art. What about that glass of water on a shelf? Well, according to the artist, itīs an oak tree. And that tall door over there without a doorknob? That would be a utility closet.

Unfortunately, on July 7, my visit to London was jolted by a coordinated terrorist attack on several trains and buses near the city center. All of the subway lines were immediately stopped, and the city was brought to a standstill. Itīs the first time that my birthday plans have ever been successfully thwarted by terrorists. From my position, it was interesting to contrast how the UK and the US responded to the event.

Blair condemned the attacks by focusing on the positive changes that the UK was trying to achieve through the G8 Summit. "It is particularly barbaric that this has happened on a day when people are meeting to try to help the problems of poverty in Africa, and the long term problems of climate change and the environment." He expressed that that terror canīt thwart "our determination to defend our values and our way of life."

In contrast, Bush focused on retaliation and emphasized ideological differences. "The war on terror goes on... We will find [the terrorists], we will bring them to justice, and at the same time, we will spread an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate."

People responded to Blairīs speech by continuing with their daily lives and refusing to let their schedules be disrupted. By the following morning, all of the bus lines and most of the subway lines were operational and commuters resumed their morning routines. In contrast, Bush succeeded only in stoking the flames of hatred and prejudice while encouraging fear and violence.

In the end, my stay in London was far too short with the terror attacks only a minor bump in an otherwise overwhelmingly positive experience. One of my friends from Ireland invited me to run with the bulls in Pamplona, so I am now in Madrid and will be in Pamplona by this evening. But London is definitely on my list of places that I must return to again.

Tower Bridge Tower Bridge
London City Hall, reflected in an adjacent sculpture London City Hall, reflected in an adjacent sculpture
Tate Modern Tate Modern
Rob Jagnow with London icons London icons
The London Eye The London Eye
Exhibit outside the British National Museum Exhibit outside the British National Museum
Interior of the British National Museum Interior of the British National Museum

© Copyright 2005-2006 by Rob Jagnow.