In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
Some shots of Camden Town fashion. I was informed by some younger friends that not all of what's sold or worn here is Goth; some of it is Emo and some heavy metal, death metal, and punk -- and they're all different, plus there are subcultures of each. I looked up the terms on the web and, well, even the Goths don't agree on what makes a Goth. Maybe you know and can tell me!
There were shops selling nothing but corsets and bustiers, leather shops, jewelry shops from "tribal" to "celtic" to "biker." Along Camden High Street, many of the stores have elaborateupper-storey facades like the two shown here, but there was so much going on on the street level that I didnt' even notice them until we'd been there for several days.
Whatever the fashion terminology, I had a great time looking at what people were wearing and what the shops were selling.
On a glorious fall day in London, we went for a long walk along the Regent's Canal with our dear friend R. and her faithful and heroic dog, Maizy (who leaped onto a patch of duckweed and had to be drippingly rescued) from Camden Lock, through Regent's Park and past the London zoo into a posh area (where I got locked into a cafe bathroom and had to text my companions for help) toward Paddington, and considerably beyond.
Travel, once upon a time, was extremely painful for me. I grew up in a small rural town and a settled family, non-travelers for the most part who rarely took vacations or went further than the next county away from home. Nearsighted and prone to motion-sickness, I found even medium-length car trips difficult by the age of four. Later I begged to stay home from school bus trips, and even in high school, though I always went on band trips for winter concerts or the marching competitions we participated in all summer, I'd often spend the day before in semi-panic. Because I was a smart and talented kid from a fairly well-off family, I grew up knowing other children would only be too happy to find a reason to laugh at me. This suffering, which I experienced as an interior anxiety, anguish and shame, battled with my increasing curiosity about the larger world. Gradually the latter won out: I went anyway when the opportunities beckoned. I took dramamine for the motion sickness, and aspirin for my severe menstrual cramps, and began to discover that I could survive, my anxiety mostly undetected by classmates, teachers, and boyfriends, because that was the worst of it: the fear that my capability and apparent calmness would be unmasked, and this darker, frightened self revealed.
Travel outside the family cocoon presented another problem. I was, fortunately or not, very empathetic and observant, aware both of the range of emotions and reactions in the people around me, and of subtle variations in the visual landscape. I quickly saw, for instance, how people in another place were dressed and how they behaved. If someone I was travelling with was loud or awkward, I saw it immediately, and noticed other people's reactions. I was hyper-aware of my own clothes, shoes, and hair, and -- because no one had ever suggested anything different -- I thought other people were equally aware. It would be many years before I realized that no one in a strange city gives a damn about your appearance; most of them will never see you again. And, conversely, that strangers are compassionate and helpful; awkward situations usually work out and teach us something in the process; that vulnerability is not to be feared.
The choice to attend a big university changed me a great deal. Afterwards I moved away to New England, where I knew no one, started a business, made friends. I found out that I loved to fly. During my short-lived first marriage, I went on an extended six-week trip to Europe. And then, in my late twenties, I met and married a man from a foreign family: citizens of the world who knew many languages and had lived and traveled widely. Gradually, with J., I learned to be more comfortable in urban environments, especially New York, and with more frequent travel. But it was London that changed me the most; during a series of trips in the 1980s and 90s I discovered the joy of being alone in a foreign city, the pleasure of anonymity, the pride of coping with new things, the passion for exploring and discovering things on my own. Without the gifts that London gave me, I would never have been able to move to Montreal.
Before this trip I hadn't been in London for eleven years. I was curious to see how it had changed, but what I didn't expect was the mirror it held up to me, reflecting how I had changed, too. Walking the old streets, entering familiar tube stations and later emerging up the long escalators, I watched myself, fifty-nine years old now instead of forty-eight, a woman altered by world events, of course, by deaths and dislocations, relinquishments and accomplishments too, but also simply by another decade of living, thinking, reading, and communicating with others.
I found myself much less rattled by anything; at first this seemed almost like indifference, but I realized it wasn't, it was just a sort of calmness that has come from seeing more and more of life. And with that greater calmness, a freedom to be myself: not caring too much about what others think, and not judging them, either; worrying less about what might happen and simply being present to whatever was in front of my senses at the moment. I was far less concerned with rushing to accomplish everything on some sort of "travelers's list", and much more content to go with the flow of the days and the people with whom we were in contact; an irony, perhaps, for someone who is becoming more and more aware of mortality, loss, and the shortness of time. And yet, that's exactly how it was, and is: a palpable relief, and the discovery of an even greater freedom.
1) A chestnut burr, Hyde Park
2) A juvenile coot on the edge of the Serpentine, Hyde Park.
3) Arch, Marlborough Gate, Kensington Gardens.
4) Aphrodite riding on a swan, red-figured kylix, c. 460 BC, British Museum.
1) ~2000 BC : Remains of seven individuals and grave objects, ancient Jericho. (British Museum)
2) 1300 BC: Bowl and cosmetic box, found strapped with linen over the genitals of an adult male in the cemetery at Tell Es-Sa'idiyeh (the biblical city known as Zarethan) in the central Jordan Valley; this and other Egyptian burial customs at the site are evidence of the Egyptian control of Canaan at the time. (British Museum)
3) ~700 BC : Relief panel from ancient Iran. (British Museum)
4) 594 BC : Babylonian cuneiform tablet recording a donation to a temple by Nebuchadnezzar's chief eunuch, who appears in the book of Jeremiah, and was present at the capture of Jerusalem in 587 BC. (British Museum)
5) AD 43-410 : Mosaics from Roman Britain, and a modern visitor. (British Museum)
6) St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millenium Bridge, seen from Tate Modern on the south bank.
AD 604 : original establishment of St Paul's Cathedral.
AD 1675-1710 : The present St. Paul's, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is the fifth cathedral to have stood on the site since 604, and was built after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It was the first cathedral to be built after the English Reformation, when Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope and put it under his own control.
AD 2000 : The Millennium Bridge. We were told that when the Thames is at low tide, people sometimes find bones and artifacts from various periods of London's history along the shoreline here.
AD 2000: Inscription from Tennyson in the floor of the Great Court at the British Museum, built in celebration of the Millennium.
The Nutshell, billed as "the world's smallest pub," in Bury St. Edmunds
The Rising Sun.
British pubs being the fixture that they are, I could have photographed hundreds. We had a pub lunch and some very good local beer in The Vine, in Kentish Town, which, like many now, has become a "gastro-pub" serving fancy - and even healthy - food instead of the steak-and-kidney pies and Cornish pasties of yore. The pubs labeled "Free House" are "free" because they aren't tied to any particular brewery; so that's where you can often get excellent local beers and ales. I know next-to-nothing about British beers, so I won't say any more about that; just that I very much liked every beer I drank there!
Hors d'oeuvres and Guiness, at The Vine
Two pubs were across from each other close to where we stayed. There's an enforced closing time of 11:00 pm, but it was still extremely noisy and crowded every single evening, and the shouting and arguing often went on well into the night. The drinking scene in London is pretty stunning. Because smoking is banned from pub interiors now, the spilling over of the crowds into the streets is even more extreme than I remember from before. Public drunkenness and rowdy behavior are common, including vomiting and pissing in the streets, especially among (but not limited to) the young, and don't seem to faze anyone except the naive visitor.
We were staying in a lovely B&B in a real neighborhood of North London, rather than the more sanitized tourist areas of posh, central London we had been in previously. That was partly out of choice, and partly because hotel prices were astronomical. And so we got a real view into everyday (and every night) life. There were huge crowds of young people around the tube station every night, but especially on weekends, and a strong police presence. Apparently this has been a favorite site for drug dealing, and the police were cracking down. I wasn't nervous about my own safety, but I was surprised by the roughness of both sides -- the kids, and the police -- and the chaotic atmosphere which, by Montreal standards, seemed to verge on being out of control. I wondered about the relationship of alcohol to the overall social culture, and how this has affected the youth, but the crowds at the pubs were always mixed in age as well as sex, and the people we'd hear and see outside our windows at night were often older.
Camden Town Station at night (click for larger view)
I'm fond of the pubs myself, and was glad they were still in place. London has changed quite a lot since we were there last, about eleven years ago. We found it less quintessentially British, and more global; noisier and more aggressively competitive in the mold of the largest American cities; full of international franchises but studded with exciting new architecture. The food was an international mix, and uniformly terrific; the transit system is huge and works with amazing efficiency. London has always been crowded and seemed even more so. We sensed a vibrant energy everywhere we went, although everyone spoke about the economic problems and great difficulty for young people to find work.
We're staying in Camden Town, home of the famous Camden Market, and have enjoyed hanging out there and browsing in the stalls and souk-like shops, and remembering what it was like back in the hippie days. There's a heavy Goth vibe now, but a little bit of everything, from Indian import shops to Turkish handwork to antiques to lots and lots of clothing retail. Bargaining is expected. And the street food is great, with every flavor from all over the world. For me, the most fun has been watching the people.
We arrived in London on the evening of the 21st. The next day we spent getting our bearings, since we're staying in a part of the city that is new to us. We took a bus to Hyde Park and went for a long walk (more pictures later), and then had dinner at a Turkish restaurant with my dear blogging friend Jean of Tasting Rhubarb.
The next day J. went to the Portrait Gallery and I went to the British Museum. The Great Court has been built since our last visit; It's quite impressive and the light in it is very beautiful. I was on a specific mission to study the Greek vases, so I walked quickly past the Rosetta Stone (now under glass), the Egyptian antiquities and the Assyrian galleries, and went straight to the Greek rooms.
The vases are so fantastic. This one shows the sacrifice of Polyxena, Cassandra's sister, after the fall of Troy.
I'm crazy about white-ground lekythoi, especially those of the so-called "Achilles Painter." This is a very famous one. Just look at the confidence of his lines, all drawn with a small brush!
But this is what really gets me about the British Museum. Here is a beautiful helmet (you can see some of the Elgin marbles reflected to the left,) but beside it was an unassuming calcite jar with some markings scratched into the surface. When I read the descriptive tag, this is what it said:
This jar is inscribed "Xerxes, Great King of Persia," in Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian, and Egyptian scripts. Xerxes, who ruled Persia from 485-465 BC, invaded Greece in 480 BC. He was defeated at the Battle of Salamis in 479 BC. One of his generals was Artemisia of Caria. The jar appears to have been a present from Xerxes to Artemisia, and passed through the Carian royal line. It was eventually deposited in the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the tomb of Mausolus and his sister (died around 350-351 BC). The vessel is a remarkable record of political and cultural contact between the Persian and Greek worlds.
I stared at it for a long time. This jar in front of me had actually belonged to Xerxes, who may have held it in his own hands before giving it to his general, around the time of the Persian Wars. That just blows my mind.