A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 15 December 2013

London: (1) A Sombre Morning

I arrived home yesterday after three days in London. I took not a bus, nor a taxi, nor a tube train, but walked everywhere — much the best way to see the city. At first I was like a kid in a sweet shop. But after a couple of days the attraction palled. I found the overstimulation exhausting, and the petrol fumes got into my eyes and throat. The visit was intense and enjoyable, but I fled back to the provinces with relief.

As I walked from King's Cross Station on Wednesday afternoon and made my way to the Thistle Hotel near Marble Arch, I couldn't resist popping into the British Library on Euston Road. There's a copy here of every publication produced in the UK: that's a staggering 150 million items, with three million new items added each year. I spent an absorbing hour or two in the John Ritblat Gallery (free admission), and marvelled at the incredibly rare early manuscripts and printed books on display: the Lindisfarne Gospels, Shakespeare's first Folio, the Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, some Beatles' manuscripts, and many other gorgeous works, including some extraordinarily beautiful illustrated natural history books.

The next morning I walked the short distance from my hotel through Mayfair to Grosvenor Square, site of the US Embassy. In the photo you can clearly see the gilded-aluminium eagle over the main entrance. Opposite the embassy the blue tent houses an Iranian protest against the recurrent Iraqi attacks on Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, home to Iranian dissidents, exiles and refugees. 

On the other side of the square stands the Canadian High Commission, and also the 9/11 Memorial Garden, officially opened on 11 September 2003. There's an oak pergola flanking a pavilion upon which is inscribed: 'Grief is the price we pay for love'. Three bronze plaques carry the names of the 67 British citizens who died in the Twin Towers. Below them is a fragment of a girder from the World Trade Centre preserved in resin. 

In front of this Grecian-style lodge is a memorial stone bearing these words from American poet Henry Van Dyke: 'Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love time is eternity'.


Ruth said...

Wonderful to walk like that. And I, too, get exhausted with overstimulation after a day or two in the city. The library must be incredible, and how nice to hole up there away from the street.

I take it from the aged appearance of the lodge and pergola that they were already standing before the garden memorial was installed? The fallen leaves are poignant.

Sabine said...

Thank you, very nice!
In my London days I was often too poor to afford the bus/tube fare and in any case, it was so much more interesting to walk and many of the fruit sellers on the street corners along the way often had left overs to give away. Reading your post made me remember a lot.

Nick said...

Ah, fond memories; I remember spending time in front of that particular US embassy in the 1960s - not that it did much discernable good. As for the rest of what you've showed, it's a long time now since I worked in that city, so it's good to see it again - from a suitable distance, of course.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks all three of you for sharing these thoughts and memories. Actually, Ruth, I know it doesn't look like it, but the lodge was created from scratch!

Goat said...

Beautiful pictures and words, SW. I know what you mean about walking through big cities, loving every moment at first -- and then the urge to flee to somewhere saner.

Also great to know the Beatles share shelf space with some of the other greats. I hope they've saved a spot for the Gallagher Brothers.

I thought that poet's name -- Van Dyke -- rang a bell, so imagine my delight on googling to find my own post turn up. He was a friend of the builders of a garden I visited in Upstate New York. I think it's from the same poem:

"Hours Fly, Flowers Die, New Days, New Ways, Pass By, Love Stays."


The Weaver of Grass said...

I love that memorial stone in your last photograph Robert and the quote round it.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Goat. Re. Van Dyke: what goes around, comes around!

I was quite moved by that stone too, Pat.