Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Straddling the Meridian in the Mean Time

The London Underground, or the “Tube” as it's known, is not a 70s psychedelic Brit band, which is too bad really, because if it was, I’d love their music. Twice now I’ve snaked through the subway caverns at Tottenham Court Road station, working my way up/down all around, who’s to say, to the central line, and onwards to Shepherd’s Bush or Holland Park, take your pick. Today it was the bush for a stop into the food store. The tube was busy at 5pm, not surprisingly, but there’s something about being pressed up against people in a busy subway car that I quite enjoy. When else can you cozy up to a perfect stranger in such a manner, that doesn’t involve intoxication and bad house music?

This brings me back to the sounds of the London Underground. Around this corner yesterday, past the long line of ads for “Queen: the Musical” and “The Lives of Others,” a man was playing a violin so gloriously and feverishly, it almost brought tears to my eyes. The pure sense of joy it evoked in me was remarkable, since I’m not usually such a fan of classical music.

Today, around this corner, I anticipated seeing the same violinist, but London is not that predictable. The melodic sound of classical guitar struck my ears as I rounded the corner with 15 of my closest London friends. While it didn’t quite have the same effect as the violin the day before, it was a truly magnificent piece of guitar work nonetheless. I was left thinking, as I turned the next corner, that this tube station has some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever heard. Is this because the London Underground is such a good gig? I mean, it’s not like many people stop and listen, but some did, and they were entranced by the music. With thousands of people going by every day, maybe it truly is a great gig, or maybe there are just so many absurdly talented musicians in this bloody city that finding a gig anywhere else is near impossible. Either way, I am tickled to have made acquaintances with such a musical gem. I’m sharing the secret hoping that you might also share it with those who find themselves in the British capital.

Luckily, I did manage to peel myself away from the Underground. In the am I hopped a ferry with my two friends from back home and we headed southeast down the Thames to Greenwich. For those British English amateurs, that’s “Grenich,” home of the centre of the world, Longitude “0.” How on earth Greenwich became the marker between East & West is a bit of a mystery, I mean clearly there’s an explanation, but I can’t help but feel the imperial thrust behind such a move. According to this logic, France is in the Eastern Hemisphere, as is the rest of continental Europe. Go figure. This gives Edward Said’s famous concept of Orientalism a whole new meaning.

There we were on the ferry, trudging up, and then down the Thames, basking in the glorious London sunshine. Yes, I lucked out again, it was over 20 degrees and bright as a sharpened knife. My friend, the fairest of the 3 of us, took on a bit of colour today, and I joked that when she gets back home, nobody will believe she was in London. Maybe my flight really landed in Bermuda?

There we docked at Greenwich, 70 minutes after our departure. It was nice to be out of London, but the city never really ended. I’ll take their word for it though, we were in another town. The Royal Observatory at the top of the hill marked the line we hoped to straddle. We made our way up, following one finely-toned gentleman who ran up, as if bursting out of starting blocks, dragging a tire with his ankles and wrists weighed down. We had enough trouble making it up the hill without any tricks, thank you very much.

After a few detours and an ill-fated attempt to avoid paying an entrance fee, we later found out it was free due to un-confirmed reports of machine failure, we made it to the meridian line, along with a gaggle of French school kids. As you can imagine it was uneventful.

Me: “Oh, there’s the line.”
She: “Yes, there it is.”
Me: “I’m going to take some photos.”
She: “Me too.”
Me: “Will you take one of me?”
She: “Sure. How does your camera work?”
Me: (gesturing towards the top of my camera) “Press that grey button, and hold it down half-way.”
She: “Yes, that’s easy. Can you straddle it please?”
Me: “Yes.”

You get the picture. This went on for a bit. As is the case in such tourist schemes, the best part of the journey to Greenwich wasn’t the silver line at all, but the spectacular views of the city from up high, and the array of green space surrounding the Observatory. Thus, after the perfunctory photo-ops, we headed back down the hill and plopped ourselves down onto a proper slice of grass, all the while basking in the sun. The ferry ride home was much more entertaining than our inbound trip, thanks in large measure to our tour guide, who, instead of giving us the history of the royal buildings and such, proceeded to give us the history of Thames workers, reflecting his own love of working on the waterway. It was kind of like taking a return flight and watching one movie on the way in and another on the way out. Think Pride & Prejudice versus Roger & Me. Hardly a toss-up.

The crowning point of my day, however, has been sitting down in my back garden and eating some dinner. Peaceful and ponderous, this city has fuelled my fire for life. I’m no longer planning to visit Paris, for reasons that are too complicated to get into, but instead of regret, I feel happy to be spending more time here. It’s a precious feeling. I wonder what’s on the Beeb tonight?

é + content


James Bond said...

Thanks to geography courses, I once knew the history of the Prime Meridian...but alas, I now forget. Thank goodness for wikipedia:
"Unlike the parallels of latitude, which are defined by the rotational axis of the Earth (the poles being 90° and the Equator, 0°), the prime meridian is arbitrary, and multiple meridians have been used through history as the prime meridians of various mapmaking systems (including four different Greenwich meridians). The Greenwich Meridian established by Sir George Airy in 1851 was agreed upon as the international standard in October 1884. At the behest of U.S. President Chester A. Arthur, 41 delegates from 25 nations met in Washington, D.C., USA, for the International Meridian Conference. France abstained when the vote was taken, and French maps continued to use the Paris Meridian for several decades."
I also had a fun metro ride today. A young man had the most amazing look of joy and happiness that I couldn't help but smile for the whole ride. I considered striking up a conversation with him but I didn't...maybe I should have. I am left wondering if he is just perpetually happy-looking/happy or if he was just having a good day. Amy was also on the metro today but she was left with a sour feeling. After exiting, she got rammed into. It was quite strange because the guy could have easily walked around her but instead just rammed her while she was standing still. Maybe he was anxious for a stranger-to-stranger metro hug and couldn't wait until he got in the train. Or maybe he was blind...yet another metro mystery better left unsolved.

accidental altruist said...

lovin' the photos. had to scan your text as I'm in an internet cafe between appointments. looking forward to more!