London in the Gloaming

July 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

A few stories more from London, told mostly in pictures…

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The Sutton Hoo helmet, from an Anglo-Saxon grave. Circa 600 AD.

I went back to the British Museum for the first time in over thirteen years. I was there for a big Vikings exhibit, and they had a new wing open devoted to the Anglo-Saxon era. Between that and the other sections on British history, I kept thinking, “Why haven’t I been in this area until now?” I guess¬†when you go to the British Museum for the first time, you tend to stick with the Rosetta Stone and the Greek Parthenon sculptures.

I also tried to get into the reading room, but they don’t have it open anymore for just anyone to visit, and… (wait for it) …theyTOOK OUT¬†ALL THE BOOKS. I guess they’re at the British Library now. Disappointing, because the room was pretty spectacular. Here’s what it looked like in its glory days:

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Something I always try to visit, when in London, is the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. If my memory is correct, it’s the very first thing we visited when I first came here in 2001. The pictures I have are from a cheap 35mm camera, and the light is terrible, thanks to a lovely overcast March day. This one came out a bit better, I think.

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J.M. Barrie commissioned the statue, and had it erected in the middle of the night, so that it would seem as if it appeared “by magic.” He was disappointed, though, that the sculptor hadn’t caught enough of Peter’s devilish nature.

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This just seems like it shouldn’t exist, right? I guess he’s pretty decent in it, based on the reviews, but Martin Freeman will always be Tim Canterbury to me. Or maybe Bilbo, if they’d let him actually be the main character in his films.

The last set of photos are from the walk home from the Globe. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but it was officially Midsummer, the longest day of the year. These photos were taken sometime¬†after 9 PM, twilight¬†slowly settling in across the Thames.

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All I kept thinking about, while crossing the river¬†and walking towards St. Paul’s, was how perfect the night felt.¬†I got on the Circle line¬†at Blackfriars and meant to head back to my hotel near Paddington Station, but quickly got off at Westminster. I just wasn’t done with the night, and walked along Westminster Bridge for a bit, sharing the moment of the summer solstice with fellow tourists. Italian men and Japanese teenagers¬†and women in hijabs posed in front of Big Ben (technically, the Elizabeth Tower), took pictures of the London Eye, and everyone seemed happy to be where they were. And all the problems of the world were forgotten, at least for a moment or two.

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What’s that Jane Austen line? “Nobody is healthy in London, no one can be.” That was the early 19th century, but even today your snot turns black after a while, or least I’ve been told. I have a strange relationship with the city…sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by the crowds and the smells and the prices, and I can’t wait to leave for somewhere quieter and greener. “Melancholy London,” William Butler Yeats called it. And sometimes….man. London can just bowl you over with everything it has, all that history, all those iconic places and stories and characters, and all that…majesty, for lack of a better word.

Here’s hoping my second visit to London this summer, and my…sixth overall, I think?, goes as well as it did last month. Things are finally starting to wrap up over here, and I’ll be home two weeks from today. This weekend I’m off to the Galway Arts Fest, and then one more time on the ferry and the train and the Tube, one more time with the pack on my back and the wander and the wonder.

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