Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How wild is London?

This is the first in a series of installments that I plan to write about my recent experiences in London. These will alternate on my two blogs, as I was there to discover both parks and the wealth of arts that London has to offer. In the end I envision a synthesis of these interests for one of the most important things I learned in London, an enormous city that is both ancient and modern, is that separating things into discrete categories is difficult and in the end a distortion of the total experience.

Installment 1: Arrival

The aluminum tube with wings that delivered my wife and me across the Atlantic Ocean lands without incident at Heathrow Airport somewhere on the outskirts of London. After a brief train ride aboveground through a dreary-looking urban landscape, reminiscent of BBC productions of Masterpiece Mystery, we are deposited in Paddington Station. We descend to London’s famous underground for a ride on the Tube. An hour and a half and two transfers later, we ascend two long escalators. We have traversed most of London and crossed under the river Thames, although there is no way of knowing this. Completely disoriented, we huddle in the shelter of the Cutty Sark Station in Greenwich, greeted with gusting flurries of snow.

Our ten-day adventure in London begins with this auspicious sign. Others might have viewed it with apprehension. Snow in April, while not unheard of, is definitely not what we expected. We would soon learn that Londoners too were particularly happy to be rid of March, which had broken records for cold temperatures. So far April was proving to be similarly disappointing. But for me the blustery weather signals the presence of the unexpected, which author David Gessner identifies as one of the primary characteristics of the wild.

Gessner proclaims, “…wildness can happen anywhere. You can’t put a fence around it. It can happen in the jungle or on a city river.” Perhaps even on a city street, although I wouldn’t want to pound the idea into meaninglessness. This snow isn’t what I came to London to experience by any means. I would have been far happier with warm sunshine. But the unseasonable snow is nature’s way of asserting itself—inserting itself into even one of the largest cities on the planet. And its unpredictability quotient has increased in recent years, to the point where only the few and the rigidly ideological deny the effects of climate change.

Still dragging my rolling luggage behind me, I tighten my scarf, zip up my coat, and walk into the swirl of snow. Welcome to London.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The towers of London's docklands dissolve in the misty background. 

To read installment number 2, about London's National Gallery of Art, click here

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