Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An English Interlude Part II: Notes from 52,000 Feet

Under my ass as I write this is 50 something thousand feet of frigid air and then the Atlantic.  Or Newfoundland.  Or something.  I am surrounded by what appear to be old, Brit, 1st time tourists, judging by their inability to operate the touch screen TVs and handle turbulence
I am swaddled in a blanket
Don’t fly Air Canada if you can help it.  The seats make your clothes reek when you get off the plane.  Which seems like its older than you are.  The food is passable, but sparse, they give you pretzels, and professionalism isn’t that high on the priority list of their cabin staff. On the way over a stewardess spilled coffee behind my head and was like “shit!”  And looked like she had a face full of SourPatch kids.  Seriously.  
 ~update:  I did have a wonderful experience with an Air Canada baggage agent in Toronto- she was very helpful and seemed to enjoy doing it. 
This blog post may sound somewhat whiny do to jet lag and only sleeping 2 hours last night.
Saturday was a lot of fun.  D and I took the train to a town outside of London to meet up with my friend Karim and his wife.  Then he drove us to Salisbury.  He has a Mercedes.  It is fun on English roads. 
I wanted to take D to the Salisbury cathedral because it is my favorite one that I have seen so far.  For a modern person who is use to seeing amazing things, it is awesome.  Driving up into town, the spire shoots up into the sun and spikes the eye even against the backdrop of a somewhat modern town.    I cant imagine what it was like for a 14th century peasant to see it for the first time.  The architecture of cathedrals is built to mimic and reflect a vision on heaven.  To invoke a certain feeling of the divine.  To impress on all who see it what someone thought God should feel like.   Salisbury definitely does that, even some 800 years later.  I spent the whole time wandering around goggling in some quasi-state of awe.  Then D brought up the point of what if all the money and resources that had been poured into that cathedral by a wealthy church institution and rich noblemen had been instead spent on improving the lot of the peasantry around it?  Granted, this is imposing modern values on a pre-modern society, since concepts like universal education didn’t really exist then, but cathedral-sized pile of money could have fed a lot of people.  Again paraphrasing my smart girlfriend, what a cathedral is meant to be and reflect is awesome, what it actually represents is disgusting. 
Then we went to Stonehenge.  Karim’s take on Stonehenge is that it is a heap of stones you can see just as well with a telephoto lens and avoid the entrance feels and tourists.  He has a point.  Stonehenge the second time lost its charm, in and of itself.  What is really cool for me about it isn’t the standing stones themselves, but rather the entire site.  If you walk around Stonehenge and look out from it, you can see rows of burial mounds dotting the countryside.  Stonehenge isn’t just the pile of rocks, it is the whole area.  People have been coming there for thousands of years to bury their dead and to worship because they feel some sort of mystical connection to the area 
D and I spent the last couple of days in London doing touristy stuff.  Aside from our trip to the countryside we wandered around the Tower of London.  Having recently watched the Tudors, I was more interested in re-visiting the Tower than otherwise I might have been.  It is really cool.  And sobering when you think about how many people died there as victims of the  corrupting nature of absolute power.  The Crown Jewels are about 200 yards, or less, from the place where people were executed for somehow offending the same monarchy that those Jewels glorify. 
We walked across Tower Bridge.  Which I learned was not actually “London” bridge.  It was massive and cool. 
Yesterday, we wandered around the British Museum and saw the vast galleries of trophies of Britain’s imperial heyday masquerading as archeological wonders.  Does the fact that artwork hacked from the walls of an Egyptian tomb is preserved for eternity in a climate-controlled glass box somehow justify the other fact that only wealthy or privileged Egyptians will ever be able to see it?  Did the old lady whose mummified corpse I saw really want her nude body to be gawked at by hundreds of thousands of people?  Mightn’t Sudanese benefit more from their ancient statues than we do?  Just wondering. 
On the other hand, looking at  stuff dug up in Britain itself is pretty cool . . .
. . . until my feet started hurting, and I got tired of tripping over and dodging tourists and just wanted a pub with a cold beer where I could sit and watch the world go by.  Because the world goes by in London. 
One gets an interesting sensation on red-eye flights when your biological clock tells you its 1 am and you’re really tired but your actual clock tells you its 4 am and you’re even more tired.  You lose your sense of time and space, probably compounded by the fact that you are in a tin can being shot through the air at 500 miles an hour.  I made myself a note on my phone – “staring at my jet-lagged self in the dim light of in a lavatory rocking with the bobbing of a tin can booming through ice at 500 mph wondering at how marvelous life can be”

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