London, Old and New

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London is the ultimate international city; everyone is drawn there, and everyone is welcome. (Well, everyone with a credit card.) Perhaps more than any other metropolis, London lays bare the schizophrenic effort required to balance the history and future of a place and a people. Walking through London is an exercise in choosing culture or couture, past or present. Every neighborhood is a young city trying to push aside the shell of the old.

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Do we really think Churchill would want to be immortalized next to a delicate tree in full bloom? I think he might’ve preferred his name on a cask of Scotch, with cigar smoke obscuring any other perspective of history.

Lord Nelson keeps a vigilant eye on the coast; never mind that you can ride a train from France, no matter the weather in the channel. He doesn’t seem to notice the even more archaic creature sneaking up behind him, distracted as he is by the Eye of London.

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Give the brits credit for trying to integrate the past with the future. Where else can you find a phone booth like this- with Wi-Fi?

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Some buildings look to the past, but many more just gleam into the future, without any granite or gargoyles, and no apologies.

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In places, the old and new are blended, with a beautiful harmony:IMG_5448

 

There is a tragic abundance of war memorials; seems such a pity that some are for wars against France, others to liberate France, and still others yet for places nobody cares about any more.

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The only “peace memorials” were statues of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi. I liked that they were not up on grand pedestals, and were humbly life-size; I think they would’ve wanted it that way. Or maybe we are just making their humility as grandiose as Admiral Nelson’s military brilliance or Queen Victoria’s nobility,

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because that’s what we want them to be. That’s how we want to remember them.

I shouldn’t be too critical,  I like being able to buy a hot dog and an ice cream at Westminster Abbey…

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… but it does seem to detract just a little from the holiness of the place.

Once you escape the watering holes where the tourist herds gather under the watchful eye of various lions, there is a genuine vibrance in London. I found the entrance to this place of worship much more welcoming than any of the cathedrals in my guidebook:

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I also found it ironic that one of my favorite Banksy street paintings has been defaced:

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Every memory and its memorial fades eventually. London taught me that.

 

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