London

"When one is tired of London, one is tired of life."
Samuel Johnson


August 15, 1991

      Travel incredibly bad, unutterably bad, I miss my flight (non-stop to London from LAX) and they book me through Seattle to London. Almost lose passport at booking counter and nearly suffer a panic attack. Flight delayed because of mechanical problems - into London after long flight with two loser films. Remember: did not sleep night before (well, one hour) because of packing. By the time I arrive at Heathrow Airport I am so tired I don't know or care where all this strange looking money is going. Do not really believe I am in foreign country. Almost get killed by these crazy English drives going down the wrong side of the street. Quaint yet big city. Surprisingly and unapologetically international.

August 17, 1991

      London is beautiful and classy in an understated and elegant manner. The amount of older, beautiful buildings is large and obviously accumulated over time. Very easy to get lost - one of those places where it is difficult to distinguish north, south, direction of travel. Streets change names at whim and there are very few parallel streets. BIGBEN! Underground great and efficient but expensive. Buckingham Palace guards cool, wearing 18th century "Redcoats" but carrying modern assault rifles. Inauspicious policemen unarmed creates a gentle and benign presence on the streets. Then I stumbled upon some army post and was looked over thoroughly by a combat soldier with a rifle. They looked very alert and very capable; that look that something could happen. Interesting juxtaposition - unarmed cops and soldiers in public.

      Blacks and muslims here seem more authentic, or at least closer to the source. Blacks seem more "African" - wear African clothes and jewelry, etc. where African-Americans do not seem very African to me in retrospect. They look American. The Muslim women are very strict in covering up their bodies.

      British women are cute in a very homely way. Cute, with pretty faces and bodies with a little extra on them. Surprisingly restrained, many skirts even when they are in pubs. There is an element of restraint and chaste virtue, but I wonder how long this would last under the stress of romantic pretension (Good girls don't?).

      Population very well behaved and polite but then there are punkers in your face. It seems the whole point of these punkers is simply to shock, not to do their own "thing" like in the states.

      Little crime (or so it seems) but your bags are constantly searched upon entering public buildings because of terrorism and bombings.

      Very different from the U.S.A. In the States, all these old buildings would have been torn down and now there would be a brand new state of the art building in its place. British always keeping old frame (bricks everywhere) and putting new technology inside.

      Many tourists, American and Japanese, but many are from the continent. London closes early - pubs close down at 11:00 P.M!

      I went to a pub last night and ordered a scary looking dark beer. Depressingly, Saturday night D.J. in pub played all American 50's music that the English seemed to thoroughly enjoy. It struck me as kind of pathetic really, as I did not fly half way around the world to hear transplanted American music. Another example, I am writing this in a Burger King! There is a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a 7-11 (open 24 hrs.) near here. It is indeed strange to be served by a person in a Burger King outfit with an English accent. The rampaging and dynamic American pop culture.

      I enjoyed the Imperial Was Museum. It made me try to envision London during the Blitz and WWII and it must have been quite a sight. It seems there were moments of real greatness in Great Britain during WWII. Another interesting juxtaposition: peaceful, law-abiding British with such a well established martial tradition. It seems only violence of the disorganized type that they dislike. They prefer honor, glory, victory of nation- state war. Yet there exists a lot of white trash and the phenomenon of "hooliganism."

      Like in the United States, there seems a pragmatic sense of pluralism and moderation in the national spirit. As Burke summed up in a very English interpretation of the failure of the French Revolution as it devoured itself and eventually (inevitably?) produced Robespierre: "Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without... men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." I think it is this pragmatic moderation that led Great Britain and the United States to reject totalitarianism in this century, remaining in essence countries of liberal outlook in a time of illiberalism.

      Although I have never before been to London, by virtue of education and culture I feel like I have always been here. In my thoughts and thinking, I have never been far away from the England of the Magna Carta and Shakespeare, Hobbes, Gibbon, Locke, Johnson, Disraeli, Churchill. Maybe this is what the French mean when they carp incessantly about "Anglo-Saxon culture" and its domination of other cultures. But then who cares what the French think anymore?

August 18, 1991

      I just heard over breakfast this today that Mr. Gorbachev has been deposed by coup d'etat. Simply incredible information, and I pity the people in the Soviet Union. I wonder how they will take it. Bitterly, I suppose, for after getting a taste of freedom they will not go easily back to the old ways. Bitterness in China and now bitterness in the Soviet Union - is communism eating itself? It could very well make this trip very interesting, la "Winds of War." However, the Soviet authorities will surely be so insecure at home that forays into East Europe are unthinkable.

      Anyway, I visited Trafalgar Square and the British Museum yesterday. I think the Museum was mostly lost to me - all the pots and vases looked somewhat the same, but I liked the manuscripts, Bach's "Book II" of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and many of Dicken's works. Went to Soho for a "Death Bang Party" band performance and Trafalgar Squareit was pretty much what I expected in Soho. The band was at times partially naked, with artificial phallic appendages, songs like "Fuck Me!," and a man in a diaper taking a simulated dump throughout the whole performance. Mostly young crowd with some punker-style weirdos, but mostly normal. A lot of cute chicks, but very few gnarly ones. Soho very interesting in that legitimate shops and Chinese enclaves intermixed with no one seeming to care or worse for wear. Had a beer in a pub and sat outside drinking it with some 40+ or - years old creature (alcoholic, I am sure) crying her eyes out and talking to herself and some punker with a mohawk rambling at me while drinking all the beer left by others and harassing walkers by. Next, an equally alcoholic elderly lady emerged from the bar screaming and crying loudly and sat down next to me, shouting at me in English that I could not understand. Soho is pretty kooky, but not as bad as Hollywood Blvd. and seemingly safer.

      I can hardly believe the news about Gorbachev. It saddens me personally and I fear for the post-Cold War (fragile) era. I hope we have not lost all of our defense capabilities.

August 18, 1991

      Last day in London.

      Ambivalent about English: admire courteousness and respect for others but cannot escape a sense of dourness, maybe coldness?

      British drink a lot, but all pubs are closed by 11:00 P.M. It is simply that the pubs open at 10 or 11 in the morning and that there are people in them all day long. The British give new meaning to the notion of "Happy Hour," and the pubs can be absolutely filled to the brim after work with businessmen in groups straight from their offices. I walked down Fleet Street after work and there were about a million people streaming out of the pubs.

      There are businessmen everywhere, all wearing very conservative (pinstripe) cut suits, maybe hat or umbrella. And on weekends they may still wear suit pants with a casual shirt!

      There are gnarly white trash here, with the tatoos and short hair like those in the States. They scare me.

      British tend to smell a little bad and a crowded underground ride can be a trial. It is strange to ride the underground with well dressed businessmen and to be oppressed by body odor. It is not particularly strong, simply like the person had not showered for a day or two and is beginning to get a little oily, etc.

      British seem quietly intellectual, and they are seen reading everywhere.

      Enormous amount of people use public transportation. It is somewhat expensive but quick, efficient and safe. It is a strange phenomenon to a Los Angeles person, and I like what I see.

      It is amazing, but many, many people in London speak some language other than English. Results of empire: India, Africa, Mid-East, Hong Kong.

      City of London - business and financial. City of Chelsea - posh and quietly respectable old money. Soho - avante garde, porno, Chinese. Westminster - State and Church. Mayfair - embassies and foreign liaisons.

      I saw a wonderful and free lunch time Brahms and Schubert concert in St. Martin In-the-Field Church.

      Hyde Park Speaker's Corner was less freedom of speech and more political extremists popping off and people looking on at this as a form of entertainment. Too many evangelists. It is scary to see some of the Islamic and African extremist groups here - great potential for violence. There was one especially inflammatory speaker who was a Saddam Hussein fan. The British were too polite to argue with him on his own terms. Finally, a brash American from the Mid-West started yelling at him.