Bob's travel journal

Bob's travel journal

Please send feedback on these entries to Bob , not to Tom.

11/30/03

This is London

I'm taking an around-the-world trip, the result of my 40th birthday. Some guys buy a red ferrari and take a trophy wife. I buy airfare. As a result, I'll be posting occasional notes on stuff I see along the way. I pretend no expertise, incidentally. These are just the observations of an average guy attempting to keep his eyes open.

So... London. Not actually an intended destination; the long story turns out that I had to pop in here for a bit to pick up the remainder of my tickets. Stuff I've jotted down during cab rides and such, in no particular order:

One of my first stops was Trafalgar Square, scene of the massive protests against George Bush's recent visit. Remnants of the protests are still present, including dozens of small stickers and graffiti calling Bush a criminal and a murderer, among other things. I was curious how far Trafalgar actually is from the Banqueting Hall, the building where Bush spoke in front of that big silly "United Kingdom" backdrop, so the yokels back home flipping channels would know where he was. It's half a mile or so. So when you stand at the Banqueting Hall and look up Whitehall, the people in Trafalgar look like ants. Which must be how the protesters looked to Bush.

Tourist moment: a church nearby, St. Martin's In The Fields, has a cafe in its crypt. This is every bit as cool as it sounds.

Money is interesting here, and not just in the ooh-neat-shapes kind of way. First, the dollar has apparently been quietly plummeting, something I hadn't realized until exchanging it for other currency.

Also: in England, Charles Darwin is on the ten-pound note.

Stop and think about that, fellow Americans. Try to imagine the freak-out that would result in the U.S. if anyone suggesting putting Charles Darwin on our currency. The shrieking and posturing of our religious right would be without end.

I once read Noam Chomsky refer to the U.S. as one of the most fundamentalist societies on Earth. Hmm. As usual, I think he has a point.

(As an aside: Darwin has apparently replaced Charles Dickens on the ten. Edward Elgar is on the twenty-pound note, replacing Michael Faraday. The American equivalent on our $20 might be... gee... Aaron Copeland, replacing Richard Feynman. A bit hard to imagine. Draw your own conclusions.)

Speaking of Chomsky, two bookstores on Charing Cross have large displays of his new book in the windows. I stopped and went in (a place called Blackwell's), only to be immediately confronted by large displays of Chomsky, Michael Moore, and Al Franken. No sign whatsoever -- nil, friends -- of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter or any of those goddamned right-wing bullshit guides to conservative smugness, usually entitled "Excellence Through Raw Power: Enhancing Your Americanness" or whatever.

I'm not claiming my perusal is a representative sample (and opinion polls here indicate it's not likely). But I've made a point of peeking, and so far, four bookstores and counting. So count London, at least, as a red state.

All a Democrat has to do to get elected in 2004, by all appearances: run in England.

True story, I swear: a guy was pulling his wife out, saying (I quote), "c'mon, honey, I can't take anymore of this liberal bullshit." His accent: distinctly American midwest. The idea that he would consider Chomsky a liberal tells you how well-informed a fellow he must be.

Speaking of bookstores: the travel and foreign-language sections here are consistently huge -- unlike anything I'm familiar with back home. I guess that makes sense when your country spent a considerable bit of its history trying to dominate the Earth.

Near Whitehall, there's a statue devoted to "The Gurkha Soldier." Not any specific soldier, mind you. Just dead Gurkhas in general, with a long list of the campaigns they died so faithfully in, most of which I've never heard of, and I'm Jeopardy Boy, remember. Dozens of wars, fought over hundreds of years -- and every single one on the list an exercise in domination over distant lands over control of their people and resources.

Gee. Hmm. Well. Hard to imagine how 100,000 people here might have shown up to shout at Bush last week.

This town is littered with detritus of megadeath. Over by the Tower of London (whose tour I skipped, since there seems to be little there other than implements of torture and shiny baubles, neither of which I find worthy of admiration), I stopped the cab to look at a memorial not in any guidebook I've seen: a city block-sized memorial to members of the British Merchant Marine who died in WWI.

How many? 24,000. Eight World Trade Centers' worth.

And it's not even in the freakin' guidebooks.

Time marches on. Memories fade. So do we. So will we all.

Although some of us will strive and build and kill as many people as necessary in an effort to deny this basic fact of our existence. Others will call this greatness, and build great shrines. And still die anyway.

This seems to be the great lesson of London.

That, and cabs are incredibly fucking expensive.