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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Final Days In London

Some quick thoughts and impressions of my last few days in London:

Yesterday, I checked out Westminster Abbey and the British Museum. Westminster Abbey is a massive cathedral with beautiful architecture and stained-glass windows. Going there, I was most interested in seeing the famous burial sites of British royalty and other famous Brits. Shakespeare, I was told, was buried there.

Well, that's not quite true. Aside from past kings and queens and many other people of whom I had never heard, not many famous people are actually buried there. They're merely memorialized. Shakespeare, for instance, is buried in Stratford-on-Avon, which I sort of thought would be the case, although I was expecting to be mistaken. Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, and many others are also only memorialized there, but not buried. Charles Darwin is memorialized there, which is interesting, considering it's a church. Geoffrey Chaucer is probably the best-known non-king-or-other-British-leader actually buried there. So that was a little bit of a disappointment.

I should have spent more time admiring the architecture than I did looking for famous tombs, really. Had I known going in what I knew when I left, I would have done just that. The vaulted ceilings in some of the chapels are magnificent, and so are the stained-glass windows. I'd recommend focusing on that as you walk through the church instead of looking for Shakespeare's tomb. It would make the visit much more rewarding.

From Westminster Abbey, we went to the British Museum, which was absolutely massive. You could spend a week just looking at everything they have there. It's kind of like the Smithsonian of London. It became very clear that it was a collection acquired through centuries of world domination. At one point, you can stand at the end of a hallway and see rooms full of statues taken from ancient Egypt and Assyria. The Rosetta stone is there (it's much bigger than I thought it would be). All of the artifacts from foreign lands got me thinking about how maybe they should be displayed in their native countries.

Then I came across a room that displayed the entire frieze from the Parthenon. It was displayed very nicely, ringing a huge stone-walled room. But the Parthenon is still standing. It seemed really wrong to have the frieze in London, while the rest of the building is in Athens. Why not restore the frieze to the Parthenon? It was a little upsetting. So much of the museum's collection seems like it was obtained through glorified looting. It's a prime example of the old aphorism, "To the victors go the spoils."

I don't want to seem too down on the British Museum, though. It is still an amazing museum. The room with all the antique clocks is very impressive. There's also a big room about the history of money (sponsored by HSBC, of course). I had hoped to see the Magna Carta, but apparently it's no longer housed at the museum.

Today, I took the tube out to Wimbledon to see the All England Club. It's in a more suburban area of London, so I was glad to get a chance to see what that was like. As I walked to the Club, I was able to sneak a peek at the practice courts, where some players were hitting. Unfortunately, I didn't spot Maria Sharapova. The grounds themselves were closed off, so no tours were available (the week before Wimbledon is the worst time to visit - you can't see any matches, and they don't conduct tours). I checked out the Wimbledon museum, which had a very interesting display of tennis (lawn tennis, specifically) history. Then I went to the Centre Court Cafe, where I had the traditional strawberries and cream. Deee-licious. And really, really sweet - you're supposed to put sugar on it.

As I was walking back to the tube stop, I started hearing music coming from a nearby park. Curious, I went over to check it out. I stumbled across South Wimbledon Park, a huge neighborhood park filled with pickup soccer and volleyball games, frisbee players, sunbathers, and so on. Walking a little further, I found a large lake at the end of the park where people were canoeing. Then I found the source of the music - an athletic field, ringed by a track, with some stands. In the infield was some kind of field day/party. I'm not going to be able to fully explain it, but I'll try.

There were several teams, all decked out in matching t-shirts with team names that I think were supposed to be funny (one was "Charlotte's Secret"). These teams were competing in what I think were relay races, but instead of running around the track, they were climbing over and through various inflatable objects, kind of like those you might see at a kids' carnival. One, which the announcer called "the slippery slope," was a ramp that was covered with foam, and the contestants would run up one side and then bounce/slide down the other. Another was a pair inflatable tunnel-like things, through which the contestants crawled while carrying a four-foot long bowling pin. There was also plenty of drinking going on - the big hurdle normally used for steeplechase races was instead covered with empty beer bottles. It looked like a good time, even though I have no idea what it was. I didn't ask anyone, either - I prefer to not know and just enjoy the bizarre spectacle.

Well, now I'm off to pack up. Tomorrow we leave London for Paris via the Chunnel. The high in Paris tomorrow is 91 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course). It should be nice weather for our two-week stay there, although I'm hoping it doesn't stay that hot. I'm also hoping Paris won't be as expensive as London. Anyway, updates from France will be forthcoming.


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