I am not sure what it says about the times we live in that even my ten year old associates the idea of a wall built to keep people out with our current presidential regime. However, I doubt anything built by the government contractors salivating to get their modern-day Boss Tweed style contracts for the Mexican wall will last the two thousand years that the Roman built London wall has.
THAT is a WALL. We visited the Museum of London today to explore the history of the people who built it, along with the other fifteen centuries of people who have lived and changed London. It amazed me, the people who have come and gone and lived their lives here, each adding to and altering the city in their own ways. This has been a process that seems to have accelerated in the last century, with mass communications and the amalgamation of the megalopolis, but the consistent ebb and flow of people in London, the shifts in trends and in the city government that alters how those people move and live in the city, it has changed and yet been consistent for all those millenia. Roman London was likely a polyglot city, on a similar grid to modern London. How many parallels do we have with our own history in these oldest of cities?
I’ve been here before, of course, in this city that reminds me so much of my own home. Like all colonials coming back to the heart of Empire, it is culturally familiar to be here. London is easy for me to exist in. I could easily live here, even as an expat marked by my West Coast accent, because I understand the English culture, thanks to growing up in the British quadrant of a former colony. I also now understand what it means to live in a massive global city, everything from moving in a crowded space to mastering a complicated subway system. London feels like it could well be a home for me.
This is, however the first time I have brought my son, who is both very intrigued by London, and yet slightly dismissive of it in a way that only a citizen of another equally great city can be.
Ben has the extreme privilege of being able to compare London to New York, being able to compare the borough of Camden to his own of Brooklyn, our neighborhood of Hampstead and Belsize Park to Park Slope and Prospect Heights. He can see the parallels between the great multicultural mosaics that both cities are, now, in the twenty-first century. He can ride the Tube and admire that it is cleaner and more reliable than the NYC subway, but also note that New York has more people out and about on the streets at any given time. Ben is a city child – all he knows is New York City – and so he is able to adapt to a city like London quickly and figure out how it works using parallels with his own home. It’s a knowledge base and context I lacked when I first visited Europe, and a mental process that is interesting to watch. Ben doesn’t have to adapt to being in a city in the first place; he just has to adapt to the specific place and culture of the city he’s in.
I had meant to write more about what we are actually doing while here, and even went so far as to take my Chromebook to the local laundrette to write while washing our filthy and stinky camp clothing, but got sidetracked into discussions on Brexit and Trump while there. I blame the one glass of wine I had with dinner, as normally I wouldn’t decide polite arguing (it was quite respectful!) is more important than my own personal priority of writing. I do not feel I gained from getting into a debate in a laundrette in London, because I do not need to learn more about opposing viewpoints: I know the opposing viewpoints and why the Left is still losing the critical thought arguments. In this case though, I didn’t want to be rude and just shut down the conversation, which I feel is a uniquely female social obligation to be nice. Which is a whole other blog post. But due to that lost time, there will be no lengthy travelogue detailing our movements around London. Yet. It’s inevitable, of course, to post about our adventures here, but not tonight.
Instead, I leave you with the photo of my son on Hampstead Heath tonight, after he remarked “Mom, this looks so much like Prospect Park! It looks like the Long Meadow,” and then went back to playing whatever stupid game he had on the Kindle and ignoring the scenery:
You can take the city kid to another city, but you can’t make him give up Smashy Road.