Thursday, March 7, 2013

no Pall Mall pups permitted in St. James Square

or, TGI Dickens

oh okay. so that's fine

One of my favorite things about London is that they have distinctive blue and red plaques hidden throughout the city.
And by hidden, I mean they are in plain view.
You just have to look for them.

They announce things like: "J.M.W. TURNER lived here" or "VOLTAIRE stayed in a house on this site" or "CHARLES DICKENS worked here." Right over a TGI Fridays.

That is the incredible thing about London--you are constantly being reminded that you are walking the same streets as great men and women who have gone before you.
And when you eat at a chintzy TGI Fridays, you can imagine Charles Dickens as a young boy working there.
Bussing tables, serving strait-laced Victorian gentlemen loaded potatoes, cursing a stingy old Scrooge for leaving a miserly tip. 

There is a very real sense of the past being present here.
As you walk through the streets of this bastard city, a Tudor kingdom built on a Norman city built on an Anglo-Saxon town built on a Roman outpost, you realize that this city has no idea what it is.
It is filled with Benglacity, the Jewish quarter, the little pocket of Polish immigrants.
The "City" of London is made up of the "City" of Westminster and London and Camdentown and Southwark and Lambeth.
The men and women passing me on the street speak Chinese, French, and German.
This place is a metropolitan melting pot of confusion.
But its in that very melting pot non-identity that this city finds its identity.
As it marks the paths and homes of its famous past inhabitants and giants of greatness, London charts its heartbeat, charts its winding, serendipitous journey through the ages.
Londonness is an elusive quality--no one's quite sure what it means. It means so many different things to the myriad divers inhabitants of the city.
To understand London, you can't buy a guidebook, or study a map.
This town (and its tube system) defies augury.
To get to know London, you have to know a Londoner.
And throughout this city, there are little signs introducing you to the most famous of all its children.

It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. You can draw up a tremendous list of reasons why it should be insupportable. The fogs, the smoke, the dirt, the darkness, the wet, the distances, the ugliness, the brutal size of the place, the horrible numerosity of society, the manner in which this senseless bigness is fatal to amenity, to convenience, to conversation, to good manners – all this and much more you may expatiate upon. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent. 
--Henry James

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