London is a roost for every bird- Benjamin Disraeli
I am leaving London next week, heading for a brief stint with family in New York and then off to Seoul, Korea for another year there. So for the umpteenth time I am whittling my life into a suitcase, taking stock of the year, sorting through media, and reflecting. It has been one of the best years of my life but not for reasons I could have articulated a year ago. It has seen the expected disillusionment (oxymoron?) with the PhD and finding the gritty determination to see it through regardless. It has started off with me expecting an engagement with community, only to realize this was a solitary experience. I was engaging with the city itself. I started out liking (but not loving) London, finding it compared favorably to other cities I had visited or lived in. Then in the most patient of courtships, I fell absolutely in love with it. I walked it daily, recorded it, wrote about it. I touched the stone of old churches, the cold railings of the Tube, listened to the endless bells on Sundays. My wife and I ate and walked and sat on benches and listened to the Thames. I suspect I had discovered a home in the process.
And here I am left trying to memorialize a city that has generated so much literature, so much prose and poetry, and here I am failing in my quest for originality. I can’t say it better than the others have. I can only extend the verse a bit. I can contextualize the endless love letter to London in my media, perhaps my compositions. I can try and put you there so you too can know how effortlessly I float through this city on weekends, exploring the alleys, the courtyards, the hidden gardens. So that is what I am presenting here. My favorite places, sights, sounds, and moving images.
I am interspersing all of that with quotes from authors with a much sharper sense of articulation. I am beginning with a quote that does not directly involve London, but perfectly summarizes how I feel at this stage of my life. I used to leave places despondently, seeing only separation and a severing. Now, I know I was transformed and that transformation will carry with it the marks of London. I am all the better for it.
The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us- Gilbert K. Chesterton
My London: Images
There are two places in the world where men can most effectively disappear — the city of London and the South Seas. -Herman Melville
I just want to present these as a snapshot without too much text. The labels are strictly for identification of the location. The emotional content is specific to my and your interpretation. But know they all were special to me.
My London: Sounds
The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts- Ralph Waldo Emerson
For me, there are few other sounds that transport me as much as the sound of London church bells. They all ring at different intervals with different pitch and rhythms. All help me imagine a London from a time long ago; sounds cut through our logic and perception so much more acutely that way. So I present a few of my favorite churches:
St. Paul’s Cathedral: I start here as it is the most awe inspiring recording. I recorded this from near Millennium Bridge a few blocks away.
St. Botolph without Aldgate: I include this one mostly because it is the church at the top of my street (Minories) and also because it has, for lack of a better phrase, a bizarre sound and rhythm. The church has quite a history with everyone from Daniel Defoe (parishioner) to Jack the Ripper (one of the murders was right behind it). It is also quite near my Tube stop (Aldgate) and so I would see it almost every day.
St. Magnus the Martyr: this one I passed almost every day on my walk along the Thames. It is just marking the time here (I think), but it is part of my understanding of London so I include it here. It also has a really cool piece of timber from the original Roman London Bridge in its courtyard.
My Moving Images
These are just a few of the videos I took or pieced together over the course of the year. I love the sound of motion and nothing represents that better than train stations or the Thames itself. Perpetual motion of the purposeful kind.
The River is Everywhere: this video was a splicing together of a few different videos I had recorded of the Thames mostly from Wapping and Shadwell. I love it there as it peaceful and purposeful. It is the most deliberate river I have experienced in that there is concerted activity; it isn’t a showpiece. It is also a balance between the river and the people. Lovely.
Liverpool Street Station: I have gone here once or twice even though I wasn’t taking a train anywhere. I just love the station and the kind of controlled, persistent movement of people watching from above.
Thames River near London Bridge: this is where I sit almost every day when the weather is nice. I walk along the Thames sometimes towards Embankment and sometimes towards Canary Wharf. When I walk towards Embankment I always site here on the way back, my favorite spot in all of London. I sit on the concrete and lean against the wall of the HM Revenue & Customs Building and watch the boats and the people and the world roll by. The video isn’t that good, but it provides the impression I wanted to get across. It is my sanctuary, almost a meditative place for me.
So there you have it. A multimodal love letter and goodbye to my London. I will always be looking for a way to get back, for more discovery, more deliberate movement. Until then.