London Callings


London Callings

‘If you are bored of London, you are bored of life’ Samuel Pepys

The world is a very different place than when Samuel Pepys, dedicated diarist of the 17th century was chronicling. It’s gotten wider, flatter, more interconnected, and in it’s own way more interchangeable. The breath and reach of technology permeates our daily lives in such a way that the only two times I haven’t had mobile service and facebook access has been in the Amazon and in the demilitarized zone between Algeria and Morocco.  Nothing shocks and everything bores, which drives discerning travels to avoid numbness and seek something that resonates.  Sure enough in between the mundane there are moments that bring you back to life. A lust for something genuine has recently meant that people are driven from urban centers as the purveyors of the globalized world to the far reaches of civilization, more often than not a lonely shack on a windswept crag or deep in a forest or a desert.

As a city lover I must defend the position that cities still have a lot to offer and should fight for their individualism. London has certainly not brought me back to life in any major way. It has not challenged me to reappraise my moral values or any aspect of myself the way it might have inspired Dicken’s over a century ago. The past we know is also a Foreign Country; many of the challenges met over a century ago in major urban centers such as London, New York, etc., are the challenges that draw the conscientious traveller today to the Third World. London has brought me no major epiphanies other than people really need to learn how to walk on sidewalks nor have I been particularly wow-ed by anything produced here in the last century.

Dore’s Vision of London in the Future from London Portfolio

But I see a city that challenges me intellectually in a different ways. What happen after the zenith? What are the social problems of the First World now? What is left of a city after globalization? To look for those elements which are authentic to the city and to tease out a culture that has not been washed away by conforming tides of Topshop, Pret-a-Manger and the Generic. Going back to our opening maxim, are we bored of life? If you’ve plowed through the major tourist attractions (and you should because they are amazing), what’s left of a major urban center?  These are questions I would like to address in this mini-series of thoughts on London.

Topshop lodged in a Victorian Warehouse. Credit to Kim Stewart, 2009.

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