Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Telescopes and Henry V

At about eight o'clock, Cambridge awakens to the sound of bells from churches which ring from across over thirty colleges. You can hardly escape it--and if you can, the glare of sunshine in your bedroom takes care of the rest of your chances of sleep. People begin to appear along the lonely streets, sweepers shuffling along the edges of the road. A lone runner passes, iPod plugged in. People begin to gather round the cafes, where the smell of caffeine and cocoa beans float in between the snatches of pasties at the marketplace. They don't say much, just move around each other, sluggish and quiet. A wind passes, sending morning chills through them. Footsteps, and a young man sniffs as he walks by. If people do talk, they gather in couples to do it, prearranged paths. So when I say "we woke up early to go to London," I mean that the city actively conspired to bring us to consciousness. The bus ride would take about two hours.

The best way to do it is in chronological order, but know that there is so much I just can't cover.

The bus dropped us off at the British Museum, a name which I have been told is simply code for "stuff the British stole." And certainly, for being a "British" museum, there were few to no British artifacts. We saw some from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand--Buddhas, statues to gods and spirits, guardians to temples that stared accusingly at me, teeth bared. We saw Egyptian mummies and their coffins, decorated and adorned. While this was fascinating, it was a temporary sensation. We had other things to do. My companions and I left quickly, headed for 221B Baker Street. 

A fire spirit

A painting of Venice by a Japanese artist - I love the style put in a European location

Tokyo burning in a great fire, with a spirit watching from above.

I took many pictures of the interior of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The 1800s are fascinating. And who knows, I may need the information later, if I decide to give into the historical fiction push I've been feeling recently. The technology emerging at this era very quickly changed how we view the world, ourselves, and of course, the "not-ourselves," the Other. 

221B is a bit of a townhouse, all stacked up on itself with small rooms but many floors. Everything creaks and alerts you to the presence of the others milling about. Despite the fact that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are completely fictional characters, you do get the sense that someone could have lived in this flat. Watson had a room very much filled with the tools of his trade, and Sherlock's was... well, it was Sherlock's. Varied interests, messes everywhere. In the different rooms, they had allusions to different cases. I couldn't tell you which is my favorite, but a few of the top five or so were put together with artifacts, wax figures, and in one case, the head of a dog mounted on the wall.

Sherlock's book on beekeeping

The living space for the 221B boys

The victim of the Redheaded League, copying words from the dictionary in his finest handwriting.

We walked to Hyde Park, and Speaker's Corner. On Sundays, you can come and speak about whatever you want. Certain speakers had crowds of spectators and participants, and others none at all. There weren't any that particularly interested me, but that wasn't the point. The point was to stand in a crowd, and feel the blood rushing through their veins, to hear the intake of their breath. To be alive in a crowd of the living.

We sat at the edge of a river in the middle of the park, watching the geese and the swans. We shared knowledge and asked questions.The sun beat down on us gently, so we could watch the paddle boats on the water, and hear children feeding the birds, dogs occasionally chasing after them into the river.  I realized that the friends I've made on this program are people I want to keep, knowing full well it will be difficult as soon as we aren't in the same time zone. 

Next came the Science Museum. There was so much to see. On the first floor, steam-powered engines. Gift shop. Cafe. We saw an exhibit on what the internet sounds like. Words popped up on a series of small screens arranged in a square. The room was dark, and there were five speakers in front of and behind us, so every sound came from a certain angle. It had different movements, like a symphony. A program searched for "I like ____." It displayed the search results on the screen, and a computer program spoke the words out loud. It was beautiful and fascinating. The words were from live feeds, Facebook and such. 

Later, we saw the history of timepieces. There were such interesting ways of keeping track of our day. It began with sundials, progressing to hourglasses, and eventually compasses and pocketwatches, which were so expensive and difficult to produce that only the very well-to-do kept one in their vest pocket. But later on, I saw more modern Grandfather Clocks, wristwatches, and even a microwave. 

Time and the stars as interconnected.

Wall of telescopes

Display of hourglasses.

Ivory compass.

We saw energy, made gas, witnessed a hologram that would have made Houdini proud. There was a brief history of medicine. In the gift shop, I saw the name of a man we've read in my In Sickness and In Health class, Bynam. 

We left. Took the tube to the Globe. I thought of Kevin, a young man I met on my first day in London, who walked me past the Tate Modern and the Globe. Henry V was on that night. We stood for the whole show, and did so without lights or sound equipment. Period costumes and bodies reciting memorized falsities on a stage. They sang for us, more than once. I was surprised by complex harmonies and "Hey Ho, Nobody Home." The "once more into the breach dear friends" piece made me cry. Jamie Parker (who played the King) was as talented as he was lovely to look at. He brought the stage to a dead quiet when he spoke of St. Crispin. The play was funny, too. It made me think of a wars fought by the common man for the petty wishes of the mighty. It made me think of linguistic barriers, of leeks worn on hats, of gloves and challenges. Band of brothers. It was a great play, with a lot of music.

I love a city at night. lights come from all over. Offices, street lamps, houses, flats, businesses. And in London it is better than most. The Eye stares out over the tumultuous Thames, and lights reflect on the cold waves. Big Ben is a beacon over the city, a reminder that you are here, in this great and glorious city, won't let you forget for even an hour the history and grandeur of the ground you stand on.

Lights change from red to green. Headlights guide the way through darkened streets. The city refuses to relinquish its sovereignty over the sun--no, it isn't time to sleep yet! Eventually it will give in. Not like home, where neon doesn't surrender to the night until it flickers out in death, exhausted.

There are areas of darkness, too. Equally as beautiful as the lights. Walls of stone that refuse to be replaced by another pub. There is black, defined by shadows. it is a place you can explore, but only if you're prepared to meet the unknown head-on. Only if you can hold your head high against the muffled voices, the crunch of gravel a few steps too close. 

They love the shadows, the light that screams rebellion against the stars. The spice of success, art, royalty so rich it poisons. The rotting smell of murder and scandals, of tourists losing themselves in the mazes set up just for them.

Bikes, colleges, another Tesco. Lights all over. Churches, warehouses--the darkness between them, separating in a way the daylight never could. This is a world that believes it is fine, perfect, rubbish. Both proud and self-loathing. It is a city that hardly notices your presence, no matter who you are.

Memories of  good, strong harmonies, rounds and roars of the city give me chills. Or maybe that's just London, whispering her tempting offers in my ear, while I am helpless to avoid the call of the wind over the Thames, the spicy aroma of possibility, the inviting feel of London in my lungs.

No comments:

Post a Comment