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
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
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, á 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 it
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
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.