It doesn’t take long to find favorite spots in a great city. The National was an easy favorite for the view of distant Charing Cross to the left and St Paul’s Cathedral (another favorite) to the right, with the Thames (pronounced Tims) in the foreground.
During my stay in London, the National was the home to many plays and symphonic performances. As much as I enjoyed those, I just as much enjoyed arriving early to view and listen to the people: from the bohemian to the nobility. All this while listening to a different jazz ensemble each visit.
We were taught British Culture by a delightful Professor Buckroyd. Much of his teaching was accomplished by walking tours around the city, looking at architecture, pointing out Roman ruins we might never have noticed otherwise, and seeing statues of heroes and villians. (One man’s hero is another man’s villian, after all)
We were taught Art by our own Prof. Barnes, and where many American students view hundreds of slides in a dark room, we viewed original works in practically ancient (by U.S. standards) buildings.’
Some of the deepest impressions made upon me in London were through the arts. We were privileged to have world-class theater, sculpture, music, painting and more all around us, at our fingertips, 24-7. More on that later.
Other individuals always make the most meaningful, lasting impacts though. It took many years for me to learn this, and the strangers of London helped. In addition to basic photos, descriptions and narratives of excursions, I’ll try to tell stories of conversations with strangers here – to keep it interesting.
On January 26, while the rest of the world was dealing with Mr. Hussein and Stormin’ Norman Shwarzkopf, I was layered for warmth and strolling to the Old Bailey, the historical central criminal court of England. I had known since fifth grade that I would be a criminal defense attorney, and I was determined to observe some proceedings in the very birthplace of many of the precedents that laid the foundation of American jurisprudence.
It was closed.
I did meet a nattily dressed middle aged gentleman with a briefcase at the entrance. He explained that he was an insurance salesman, and after explaining what he knew of the modern Old Bailey – reputation for being more thorough than other courts – he expressed his appreciation for what Bush #1 was doing in the Persian Gulf. He saw the U.S. involvement as something that had to be done, being accomplished by the only world power willing and able to get it done.
The very next day I met an Australian man while doing my laundry. We chatted as the clothes soak and spun, and I learned that Australian lawyers had less formal education than required in the U.S. – or so he said.
That Sunday, I found my next favorite spot: the courtyards of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
But it wasn’t the architecture, or the grass or manicured gardens that put this location on my list. It was the sound of the bells. Hear them for yourself:
There is something random, yet beautifully rhythmic and even peaceful about this to me. One of my favorite sounds. Right up there with a whippoorwill on a cool evening in the south, just as the last light fades, or that minute when the full orchestra stops the cacophony of the warm up to strike a single harmonious chord at the direction of the conductor.
St. Paul’s has withstood the test of time. The original St. Paul’s was constructed in 604. It was burned and rebuilt in time for Vikings to destroy it. The Normans rebuilt again in 1087 – this time out of stone – and it became a “laying in state” area for kings, as the U.S. Capitol Rotunda is for Presidents. In 1526 William Tyndale’s english translation of the Bible was burned here, and in 1606, Guy Fawke’s fellow conspirators were executed in the courtyard. (Mr. Fawkes was convicted, tortured, and executed for trying to blow up Parliament – there is a statue of him to this day – unless someone has grown offended and taken it down by now.) Anyway, in 1666, that building, five centuries old, burned. Christopher Wren was soon commissioned to rebuild, and in 1697 the first service was held in the present structure. It has now withstood both World Wars, hosted a sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr, and the very next year, the funeral of Winston Churchill.
After Charles and Diana were married there in 1981, wheelchair basketball was played in the middle of the floor under the dome in 2012. The world is changing. I guess we must change or be changed.