Bob's travel journal
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Bob's travel journal
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
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
All a Democrat has to do to get elected in 2004, by all appearances: run in
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.