Wednesday, May 20, 2015

London Calling: A Horizon of Historical Humanity

As a native New Englander, in some ways London reminds me of home. Boston is one of America's oldest cities, and in that respect, shares some things in common with European cities. The most striking, in my opinion, is the complete and utter haphazardness which characterizes the way in which the streets are strewn about. My dad used to joke that the streets in Boston were laid where the cows walked. I don't think that's too far from the truth in Boston or in London.

The other shared characteristic is the constant motion and change afoot. People and traffic are moving, buildings are going up while others are torn down. The natural rhythms of nature are replaced by the constant hum of human activity. It is at once exhilarating and exhausting. When I wake up in London, I hear humanity. When I wake up in Bozeman, I hear red wing blackbirds.

On the coach ride to our hotel, two things were remarked upon by my students. The first was the traffic. It took us an hour and twenty minutes to go 17 miles, from Heathrow to our hotel!

The second? The lack of "space"--an observation about how tightly fitted everything is. I noted it, but it didn't bother me. I'm sure it bothered some of my students who grew up in the "Big Sky". When I first moved West back in the mid-90s for a spell, I lived in Wyoming. A person I got to know told me about her first trip East, to visit Washington, DC. I asked if she had enjoyed it. "No," she replied. "I felt so claustrophobic because I couldn't see the horizon and the sky was so small."

This morning, I got up early and took an hour or so walk. I waved at David Cameron's home at Number 10. I saw Winston Churchill, Charles the First, and Lord Nelson. I passed the National Portrait Gallery with an exhibit on Wellington, and strode by Whitehall and Cabinet House. I ended at Westminster Square, across from the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament before I turned back for breakfast. I passed a millennium of human history in75 minutes.

My horizon is filled with buildings and monuments to past glories here in London. But, I still miss my Bridgers and the wide open beauty of the Big Sky.

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