Thursday, January 23, 2014

London as fabric

Walking around the streets of London is a time "warp" in more than the Star Trek meaning (is that the source?): it is as if the streets are warp and weft of a colorful fabric, maybe a batik, that wonderful Indonesian cloth where the threads are laid down, painted or dyed, and then rewoven (I think).

Townhouses (early 19th century?) on Harley Street
What I mean about the fabric is that just as the streets weave in and out of each other, blending, mysteriously changing name and direction, so does the history that each one indicates. Here where we live, north of Oxford Street, it's the late nineteenth-century, the time of the radical writers Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes, and of University College London with its non-denominational, radically practical and empirical education.

But go a bit south (we just walked this, home from dinner), and we're in the eighteenth-century: Leicester Square and Covent Garden, the operas, the late night stage parties, toffs in sedan-chairs and actresses in ... well...

Go east to the city, and the world of Christopher Wren and the seventeenth-century is what you find: St. Paul's, and all the other churches with their intricate spires.

Go west to Westminster, and you're in the middle ages: an abbey, after all! and that wonderful pseudo-medieval Parliament building with its impossibly cranky offices, a place you can hardly imagine any work getting done.

But back to the weaving: although these sound like separate sections as I describe them, but in all of them, a bit of each of them can be found. It's in the texture: an ancient watering fountain by a Georgian house; the home of a radical philosopher by a church with an Anglo-Saxon foundation.

The London eye, the Houses of Parliament, and a northern sunset.

And of course, all around are the often desperately grandiose buildings of the late twentieth-century, sometimes like blots of ketchup on this delicately patterned batik! At least the London Eye is graceful!