Today has been considerably slower-paced than all our adventures hitherto – a necessity, to be certain. For while you can sleep when you’re dead, sometimes it is vital for the living to keep buggering along.
This morning we went to a Communion service held in Westminster Abbey. The abbey was, as ever, breathtaking, but the service was, unfortunately, rather cut-and-dry. Maybe i’m too much of a liberal-arts-feminist-yuppie with too many Gandhi quotes and Buddhist prayers around my room, but i was kind of disappointed at the unwelcoming-ness of the service. Alas, maybe we just caught them on a bad day (or the priest was a little weary of the touristy type (probably all-too-ture)). At any rate, we were in Westminster with barely more than twenty other people, which was in and of itself a transcendent experience – most especially when compared to the bustle and crushing crowds of yesterday.
We drudged through a sprinkling of rain after the service, only to come across this GEM of a protest tent:
Seriously, and you though i’d exasperated all my Whovian references already. There wouldn’t be so many real-life prompts for such encounters were i in America! Reasons why the UK is superior in the realm of science fiction, #1.
Anyways, after another hurried breakfast of coffee and pain au chocolat (we do need to get on that cuppa tea, thing, don’t we?) we headed down to the pier to catch a riverboat. The ship, meant to arrive at 9:45, did not appear until nearly 11 – much to our chagrin. Still, determined to make the most of the day, we clambered aboard for a short while before stopping off at the Tower of London.
It was my father’s desire to go to the Tower, and while i as a history nerd was more than happy to come along (he had obligingly been to both the Doctor Who Experience and King’s Cross, both of which held little personal interest for him) there is something deeply disturbing about the Tower. It was the center for torture, imprisonment, and private execution for nearly 600 years – and that’s not a future you easily shake. And yet it now stands as a major tourist attraction, a place of keen interest. I get it – the Tower was crucial politically to England for so long (and still is, really), but should we truly glorify a place where Anne Boelyn was murdered? And thousands imprisoned?
While on the tour, our Yeoman guide spoke of how Rudolph Hess, a second-in-command under Adolf Hitler, was one of the more famous prisoners held in the Tower of London in the twentieth century. This particular Yeoman had personally stood guard over Hess for nearly three years, and added his own, rather verbose, two cents to the theory that Hess died, after a lifetime in prison, an unchanged and unrelenting Nazi. And while i make no parallel or claim to the horrors enacted by the Nazi regime to that of the British monarchy, i thought it intriguing that this man could slander the Nazis with such venom, while joking about “The Bloody Tower” and making cracks about children witnessing the public executions held on the Tower Green. They’re incomparable, i know, but both are bloody and controversial histories. Yet one is now more of a museum, an homage to conquest and control, and the other the epitome of disgrace, horror, and ultimate form of insult.
This discomfort i had during the tour persisted as we clambered The White Tower, where all manor of armaments and suits of armour once posessed by kings are housed. Is it really something to marvel at? Or are they on display merely to historically instruct? Yet, is “mere education” ever an unslanted, unbiased event – can we look at a battle outfit behind glass, professionally lit and surrounded by throngs of people plugged into their audio tours, and not in some way perceive these to be objects meant to be revered?
Whatever the reason we decide to value such antiquated artifacts, the Tower was by no means a disgrace or waste of time. London is not a perfect place – nowhere is. We’re steeped in the burdens handed down by our ancestors, ourselves imparting equal woes to future generations (whether we like to confess it or not). In much the same way, Westminster Abbey still serves as an arm of the head of the church, a highly politicized figure and person of immense material power: The Queen. She may no longer be the head of government, but her face on every third postcard, coin, and stamp seems to scream she still matters to the country, and matters quite a bit. Yet should a body of faith ever be so intwined with material power? I would contend no, yet the history of the Church is one steeped in such entanglements, self-justified imperial causes allowed by the body of the people governed because of concepts like ‘divine right.’
Nevertheless, we left the Tower with heads fill of thoughts – and our stomachs dictating most of them. After a lunch of sandwiches, we ascended to the top of The Tower Bridge to behold yet another marvelous view of a now sunshine-y city spread beneath us. It’s strange, but i think the fact that so many of the ways in which i’ve literally been looking upon the city i’ve dreamed of since i was six are direct parallels to how it existed in my mind until now. Always from above, in my dreams; flying like Peter Pan or on a broomstick like Harry Potter. Calling and drawing me in, yet somehow unattainable and leaving me estanged in a city where my anonymity became my downfall. I’ve seen London now form bus tops, in the London Eye, at the peak of the Tower Bridge. Looking down, looking far and wide and wanting so much to be here, but knowing the time for now is brief. Thirty minutes ’round the eye, miss. Only a few at the top.
But those minutes at the crest of the wheel, from the front row of the red double-decker, they’re to be treasured all the more deeply because of their fleeting essence. Because time is wibbly-wobbly and nothing ever lasts or happens the way we think and hope it might.
And that is just fine by me.
current jam: ‘babylon’ mountain man
best thing in my life right now: all that is around me.