Friday, September 28, 2007

London Journey: Part Five

September 23, 2007 Russell Square

Today, Bobbi’s school offered a tour of the city for foreign students. Our tour guide, Chris, did a terrific job showing us the ins and outs of the area surrounding the school. (All of the environs of the University of London- of which Bobbi’s school is a part- are actually owned by the Duke Of Bedford…still. Everyone, shopkeepers, solicitors, residents rent their property from him. Russell Square, the park Bobbi and I have used as a meeting place, is owned and named after the Duke as well…his family name is Russell.

Bedford square, above, is also named for, and is the property of, Mr. Russell, Duke of Bedford.

Of course, Bobbi fell instantly in love with the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene the moment she laid eyes on it. Not the least reason for this was the fact that the school adorned it's balconies with gold plated parasites...truly, Bobbi has come home!

I, on the other hand was unexpectedly overwhelmed with a sense of history when I noticed the inscription on the school's cornerstone.

We had a great time, and we even got a chance to introduce ourselves to some of Bobbi's fellow students. They were from Canada, South Africa, India, Asia, as well as the UK and the States. As we set out from the school, the tour guide issued a few words of wisdom: “London Drivers”, pronounced Chris, “are not known for their patience nor their kindness…so please be very careful when crossing the streets.”

I firmly believe this to be absolutely true, and it truly seems that Taxi drivers speed up if they see you step into the street. A couple of nights ago, we watched a Jamaican kid almost get clipped by a car on our street. He treated the retreating driver to some funny, filthy Caribbean curses.

Chris took us on a tour of London that included all the sites we expected to see…at long last, I knew that I was in LONDON and not just on some really long carefully preserved side-street in Philadelphia. We traveled though Trafalgar Square, and saw Nelson’s column, the old Admiralty Building and the Horse Guards Parade ground.

To me, as a student of history, this was breathtaking. In front of the Admiralty Building stood a statue of James Cook, the famous explorer of Hawaii, Australia, and the South Pacific. Lt. William Bligh was assigned command of the H.M.S. Bounty in this building. The effort to put down the American Rebellion at sea and the heroic struggle against Napoleon’s struggle for world domination were coordinated here. Winston Churchill, as first Lord of the Admiralty directed the war at sea against the Germans in two separate wars from here.

When we reached the Horse Guards Parade, tour-guide Chris issued us with a stern warning. “Now,” said Chris, “there will be guards on duty. Do me a favor. Don’t talk to ‘em, try to make ‘em smile, throw things at ‘em. I know what it’s like. You see, quite some time back, I was one of those guards, standing there with an 11 pound bearskin hat on my head. So just don’t do it. It’s not funny, it’s not big, and we’ve seen it all before, right?”

Another amazing moment was when we rounded a corner, and there, quite unexpectedly, was Westminster and the Giant Clock tower that houses Big Ben. Some people might think it’s hokey…but I’ve always completely understood that scene in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where Jimmy Stewart is awestruck when he sees the capital dome for the first time. When you’ve read about something your entire life, to finally see it, real, tangible, and right in front of you is a breathtaking experience. When the object is as full of symbolism as the buildings which house the Mother of Parliaments and the wellspring from which began all that you hold dear about your own country, then it is truly electric.

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