September 25-29: Parks: Part 2
More parks and palaces on Sunday. With Bobbi away at a conference in America, the flat was a bit empty, so I strapped on my walking shoes and set out to see some of London’s famous open spaces. The first day, I explored some of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park- today it was Holland Park (very near where we live) and then up through Hyde Park, past Speakers Corner (which deserves, and will get, it’s own post) and on up Constitution Hill, which divides Green Park from the Palace Gardens and then around the corner to Buckingham Palace.
I bought a book by A.N. Wilson entitled (aptly enough) London: A Short History, I’ll probably have more to say about this very enjoyable, highly readable, loveable but curmudgeonly look at an author’s much beloved city, but for now, I only wanted to note that, in many places, Wilson describes the parks as “lungs” which allowed the ever growing city to breath from time to time.
Holland Park is based around what was once the splendid estate, Holland House, but is now, thanks to Hitler’s Luftwaffe, nothing more than a few beautiful facades surrounded by fields and groves of trees, along with some very beautiful English gardens and even an unexpected taste of Japan.
I was particularly tickled by the stone hippopotamus sunning himself in a pool beside the remains of the house.
Murals painted on the walls in one of the gardens show what a Victorian Garden Party here might have looked like during the estate’s heyday.
Again, so very far north, we see foliage which would look more at home in Savannah or Charleston…it‘s presence lends a fantastic sense of exoticism to the scene.
Peacocks roam the grounds at Holland Park….
…as do squirrels who WILL eat right out of your hand.
Paths wind in and out among the trees here, making it a nice place for a jog or a stroll.
And in the early 1990s, the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce donated a Japanese Garden to the park to commemorate Anglo-Japanese Friendship.
After I left Holland Park, I continued my walk up through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. This time I walked along the other edge of the park and saw horseback riding, a terrific little cottage in the Tudor style (actually built by the Victorians in the 1800s) and, of course, the London Constabulatory , ensuring the public peace and welfare.
After a brief stop at “Speakers Corner”, I continued my walk along the edge of Hyde Park until I came to the Elizabeth gate, and crossed under Wellington’s Arch to begin my approach to Buckingham Place.
The giant columns which stand at the head of Constitution Hill, inscribed with the names of former Colonies are not, as I thought when I approached them, advertisements for a now vanished Empire, but are instead meant to express a debt of thanks on behalf of the British nation to the men and women from these countries who fought side by side with them against the Kaiser and then again, against Hitler.
The walk along the edge of the park is amazingly stately and beautiful. I couldn’t help thinking what must have gone through the head of Revolutionary Hero and first American Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, John Adams, as he, from provincial Boston, beheld similar sites for the first time.
Personally, I feel a strange mixture. First, there is a feeling of pride in my own country, with its simpler, less grandiose ways. The grand burden of Aristocracy really does not press down upon us in the same ever present way, and, provided I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve done, I can walk up to almost any person in America, rich or poor, and, feel like I have the right to be taken on my own terms.
These vistas seem designed to instill a sense of gracefully sleek, rich, immense power- currently at rest, like the lions at the foot of Nelson’s column but perfectly able to roar to terrible life in a moment.
The perception is not of evil power, or even raw power, or a power merely to intimidate…it has a majestic, benign feeling to it, like the statue of Old Queen Victoria which stands before the palace. The fact that she will care for you fairly, perhaps even kindly, however, does not change the fact that it is she who will be making the decisions.
In America, even at the foot of the U.S. Capitol, or at the feet of Thomas Jefferson’s serene statue, or even Lincoln’s grand one, you may be overwhelmed by size and spirit, but rarely are you intimidated. I’ve discovered, living abroad, that despite of the millions of ways in which we can be crass and shallow, and incredibly short-sighted, I enjoy the fact that I am an American- that is to say, the equal of anybody.
Ah, but at the same time….all of this is mine, too. Once or twice removed, perhaps, but I truly am a cousin (and not just in blood, but by more important ties…political freedom, language, the rule of law, literature and culture) and I feel a great pride in the accomplishments of the family.
When things are built here, they feel as if they’ve been built to last forever- not just the Palace and the houses, the Admiralty and the Tower- but the other things I mentioned as well…Shakespeare and Dickens, the King James Bible, and the tenants of Common Law which were enshrined, not invented, by the American Bill of Rights.
And because the grace, and the power IS benign, and feels so powerful…I ask myself the question I wonder if Adam’s ever asked (probably not- the wounds of war were too raw- but his grandchildren, also Ambassadors to St. James may have) rolls around my head….did we make the right decision, to remove ourselves from all of this…would we, had we remained slightly more civilized by retaining the connection, have made a better job of it in America? Would we, for example, have been spared the cowboy antics and crony capitalism of the Texas mafia that seems to have a death lock on our Democracy?
The answer may be contained in the Canada Gate which leads (along with the Australian and African Gates) to the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. As she is in other memorials in London, America is represented by a Bison.
A big, powerful, majestic animal to be sure…but in the end, a grass-eater…part of a herd, acted upon rather than an actor. And so, in the end, I have to say that for our our faults, occasional crimes even, I think I am grateful that I belong, after all, to the tribe of the eagle...we have done horrible things, but we have also done great things and when we are gone, the world might look more kindly on us in our repose than they do now in the face of our own power…and that, I suppose, is my final answer on the subject.
While I was reflecting on these matters, I wandered toward the national gallery...and there, much to my surprise...I saw an old friend, as if to confirm my conclusion.