Wednesday, May 07, 2003

So I was lying around yesterday, going, “Oh, gee. No class tomorrow. How boring. What am I going to do with myself?”

Then I hit myself in the head and said, “Girl, you are half an hour from LONDON. Possibly the kewlest city in the world. Definitely the one with the most history, not counting Rome and Athens and okay, Jerusalem, and . . . never mind that. It’s famous, okay? Furthermore, you will only be in this favored position for another month, half of which will be taken up with insane exams and huge papers that you should have started already but you’re too lazy. WHAT ARE YOU WHINING ABOUT?”

So I decided to go to the Tower of London, which I haven’t seen yet. It was a lovely day, and I say that in both senses of the term. It was clear and blue-skied and sunny, without being broil-your-skin-off hot. (In fact, this whole spring has been extraordinarily dry for London. The natives must be getting antsy. “Rain!” they say. “We need rain! Grey skies! Mizzling! Cold wind off the Thames! This way we can mutter about the weather and make our mates jealous by going to Spain, where it is after all supposed to be sunny!”) For me personally, it was also a fun, non-stressful day.

First off, the Tower of London is a bit of a misnomer. I was expecting a tower . . . one. Sticking straight up out of the ground like, you know, a tower. I always wondered how they could fit all that stuff into one little tower. Well, now I know. The Tower of London was originally built by William I (yep, that William) as a living quarters, and he’s not going to live in one little tower. It was this way up until one of the Henries, Hank I, possibly. The reason it’s also a prison is because the medievals were damn efficient. “Hell!” they said. “It’s already got a big freakin’ wall and great defenses and some semblence of plumbing. Just dig another room and you got yourself a place for the criminals! Why build another great honkin’ building? What, are we made of money?”

Over the years, the single castle has evolved into a massive complex with seperate living quarters and incredibly expensive gift shops. People actually still live there today, although nobody’s imprisoned. Even when people were imprisoned, by the way, they were never in jail as we think of it. They had a full set of rooms with all the modern conveniences, like chamber pots and servents to throw the chamber pots at. Sometimes they were even allowed to go hunting. The only thing they didn’t have was permission to just stroll out the front gate and continue their lives as usual.

Naturally, I saw the Crown Jewels, which were . . . glittery. And . . . yeah, glittery. They don’t actually belong to the Queen herself, by the way. They belong to the Kingdom of England, which is an important distinction that I hope no royal forgets after a bad day at the races. It was beautiful jewelry, but there were some ceremonial things included that just made me blink. Things like the Sword of Offering (which sounds like something from a Dungeons and Dragons game) are fairly logical in their origin. The Orb is kind of mysterious, but it’s a pretty kingly (queenly) thing, so okay. But . . . the Ceremonial Spoon? What, in case the Queen suddenly has the urge to eat some Ceremonial Porridge? I’m still mystified as to the origin of this part of the coronation ceremony.

Interestingly, a lot of recent royals have had their own coronation crowns made for them, starting with George IV. Ah, yes, you can always count on good ol’ George IV to spend lots of money for absolutely no reason at all. However, I believe Queen E just used Queen V’s crown. Good for her.

As you can see in the photos here, I managed to get a few shots of the Tower Bridge, but it was so sunny that my camera had problems. But the Tower of London was really pretty neat, and worth the trip. Word of advice: if you can, do what I did, and go on a weekday morning. If you go on a Saturday afternoon, the lines will be insane.

Book for today: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. “Please, sir, can I have some more?” is the famous line from Dickens’ second major book. This is actually a very small episode that takes place quite early, but it’s an example of Dickens’ withering scorn for the treatment of paupers in Victorian England. If you’ve only seen “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and you never realized what a social satirist the man was, Oliver Twist features a scathing indictment of workhouses and smug middle-class morality. Don’t get me wrong, he shows us a picture of the criminal underworld that’s tabloid-sensational. But he also understands the forces that drive his characters. The only complaint I have about this book is that while it is called Oliver Twist, the little main character has very little to do with the determination of his own fate. He virtually disappears in the last quarter. Still, it’s Dickens, and it’s worth reading if you have time.

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