London welcomed me in the usual grey skies terms and overwhelming fashion I was expecting. You get in and then out of the tube and you’re immediately part of this crowd of slow tourists and stressed out businessmen, a general mass of working class bodies, plus the fashion oriented creatures, and the immigrants, and the hipsters, and the homeless, and whatnot; the soundtrack being this babylon of an endless series of accents and languages, and cars and sirens and trains and honks and construction works and live instruments and advertisment and friendly voices who tell you to mind the gap, watch your possessions or that, actually, you have just arrived to your destination. This is the epithome of the Western fast-faster-the fastest type of pace (European style) but then there’s also this contrasting feeling of steadiness and solemny exuding from every monument, every corner, every stone. So much History concentrated in just one city.
I started my exploration from the Thames, and I felt overlooked by History EVERYWHERE. Layers and layers of History juxtaposing each other, different eras standing in fine conviviality with each other, all staming from both banks of the river, as though time was, indeed as they tell us, nothing but a concept. From the Elizabethan edifice of the Shakespeare Globe Theater, to the late 1990’s London Eye, from the barrocan St. Paul’s Cathedral to the contemporary high-tech City Hall of London, from the late 19th century Tower Bridge to the 300 metres high glass sky-scraper The Shard, just to name a few. It is very difficult to know exactly where to start when you look around, or where to turn to, at first. Also, some iconic monuments and buildings, say Westminster for instance, they feel too much for your senses to process. It is daunting to look at the succession of arquitectural shapes along the river. Shakespeare, and the queen (all the queens), and Sherlock Holmes, and the kings (all of them), and James Bond, and Lord Byron, and Oliver Twist, and Jane Austen, and Batman, and Amy Whinehouse, and Harry Potter, and even David Beckham (when he’s asleep), they’re all there, by the Thames, (I’m sure), in great amusement, at times inspiring us, pitying humanity in general, or laughting at the whole thing.
As I walked along the South bank of the Thames, I got more and more struck by the amount of cultural offer in the city. I know this is London but, people, it is way too much for human beings to be confronted with. First I arrived to this place called Southbank Center, where, inside, a children’s orchestra was rehearsing live (the dream). Then I learned the place hosts three different orchestras more (!). Walking further along the Thames, there it was in all its glory: The National Theater. By then my legs were already shaking, because I have these moments of self-flagellation, and I imagined what it would be like if I lived here permanently. FOMO x 100! For the ones unacquainted with these millenial concepts: FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. I imagined myself trying to write a weekly cultural agenda of London and just the thought of it seemed ludicrous. And then, – and I swear I was unprepared for this – I found myself at the Tate Modern.
At the Tate f*ck*ng Modern, which almost immediately came to occupy the second position in my private podium for favorite museums in this world (the first still has to be the Pompidou in Paris). As you walk into the Tate, (one of the most important galleries in the world for International Modern and Contemporary Art), you literally enter another universe, with Bruce Nauman’s audio installation “Raw Materials” resonating to the edifice and setting the tone for the experience, which includes a huge number of iconic works from, say, Dali, Picasso, Mondrian, Abramovic, Ai Weiwei, Beuys, and so on, and so on. Oh, and have I said this is a free entrance museum?!, – and this applies to all the other renowned museums in London (yes, even the National Gallery, and the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum, and the likes). I knew this piece of information beforehand but you sort of do not really believe it until you’re actually there, especially when you come from Amsterdam, where you even might have to pay for as basic a human necessity as going to the toilet.
Later on this afternoon, I stumbled upon the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and since I happen to have a degree in Theater, just standing in front of the building felt like a sort of long-awaited spiritual experience (I know, it is a touristy site but, at the same time, it’s Shakespeare, for God’s sake). From here, since I had been on my knees for quite a while, stuff like the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge felt like peanuts. The day finished with a well-deserved beer at a place called Strongroom (ha!, metaphors!) in Soreditch, and the last piece of information you might like to know is that they offer a pretty great selection of beer. I had just a lager, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of it. I just learned via their website I had an Austrian Stiegl-Goldbräu – it tasted as delicious as it sounds.
Then, on my way home, I stumbled upon these two art pieces: a flowery wall, and a painting of two lovers randomly depicted amidst the chaos of construction works. Urban romanticism 2.0. Plus, this vintage car (don’t ask me its brand), which belongs itself to the realm of art works awaiting for a second of your attention in the city which Lord Byron described in these terms:
A mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping,
Dirty and dusty, but wide as eye
Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping
In sight, then long amidst the forestry
Of masts, a wilderness of steeples peeping
On tip-toe through their sea-coal canopy;
A huge, dun, cupola, like a foolscap crown
On a fool’s head – and there is London Town!
Next chapter of the London series will be on a epiphany I had, the day after these events, as I was walking from Camden Town to an unknown destination, along the Regent’s Canal. The perks of travelling alone and experiencing a carroussel of emotions that go from feeling pretty miserable to sudden enlightenment (in a matter of hours) and everything in-between.