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.