Let’s Start This Thing.

September 19, 2007

“What’s the point of going to London? It’s the same as here.”

–Jeffery Buras, Esq.

That right there is a quote from my roommate from last year. It’s in reference to what I’m doing right now, studying abroad in London, England. It’s what a plan to write about here. I can’t promise much since, even though I’m a 21st Century Digital Boy, blogging has never been in my blood. I’ve tried it once before and eventually my interest just petered out (man, he’s doing a great job on his first post). But no matter. Once more into the brig, as The Bard used to say. And speaking of great men, I might as well explain the title- Tourism Is Sin. Pretty hardcore, right? It’s based off a quote by great director Werner Herzog- he said “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.” Heady words, especially for someone living abroad only for a short period of time. It’s tempting while here to either A) act like a tourist and just be the stereotypical American, going only to Big Ben and such or B) act like a bum and never go out at all. Herzog is encouraging more than just seeing something, he saying that you’ve got to experience it. But going back to the quote at the beginning, how am I supposed to immerse myself in a culture that, on the face of it, looks so similar to the one back home?

The similarities between England and the United States are impossible to miss. There’s the language obviously, which besides for some slang (“bollocks” and such) and some accents (it rarely gets to Billy Elliot level) is the same. Maybe it’s different outside the big city, but that’s what I know for now. And of course, even more important than language is all the shared culture we have. And by “shared” I mean “culture The States send in”. It’s ridiculous how much people here love all things American, especially movies. I’d say the UK has more of its own music scene, what with its million Pop Idol/X Factor shows and the National Mercury Prize, but as far as movies, there’s American and then there’s other. Sure, there’s a small scene, with Ken Loach at the forefront, but when it comes to what the critics recommend for the weekend, it’s the good ol’ USA taking up all five spots. It’s been interesting seeing how wide the reach of American celebrity is.

Of course, with all these similarities, it’d be easy to think London is American in nature, which it definitely isn’t. The most crucial divide I’ve noticed so far is in architecture.  Much like Chicago, London was once destroyed by a great fire, causing it to be rebuilt in a drastically different fashion. Except whereas Chicago’s happened early this century, London’s took place in 1666.  The result of that fire was the outlawing of thatched roofs in the city, which forced people to go to stone, which means that downtown is populated by many, many magnificent old buildings.Their birth dates span the decades (and centuries) , and add to that fact that this was never a planned city, and you got yourself some wildly different architecture.

Of course, you’re not here to read an architectural review and I’m in no place to give one, considering I know nothing about this subject (although my curiosity has been piqued). What I really want to talk about is the effect all this stone has on the city. Going through the downtown, it’s kind of odd- there are these magnificent structures housing Calvin Klein, Talbots, Burger King and the like.  The buildings have this amazing sense of permanence, while the stores inside them seem remarkably transient.  The whole thing reminds me of the Roman triumph, in which a slave would stand behind a conquering Roman commander during a parade and would whisper, among other things, “Memento mori”, which is Latin for “Remember you are mortal.” I feel the same way about these companies- even though they have conquered temporarily, they are mortal. These buildings will last far beyond them.  While man is mortal,  his creations seem eternal. Compare that to DC, where the illustrious buildings are merely decorative. By using buildings like that, it detracts from the power of the place, in my opinion. Rather than seperation, inclusion in society can give the majestic the greatest strength of all.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Take the Jerusalem Tavern, for instance. Damn place was founded in 1810! I haven’t gone yet, it’s one of my goals to do so.

Shit son. I feel like I’ve been rambling without a coherent point for a while now. Maybe this is why I make a poor blogger- posts should be consice and witty, not long winded speeches touching on Roman military tradition and X Factor. But whatever. This blog is to be done in the spirit of Werner Herzog- that is, to apologize to no one and do whatever I damn well please. I’m going to try my best to comment on British (and possibly American) society, and I’m sure I’ll post on my various travels around The Old Continent. Also, expect a couple drunken posts proclaiming “Freebird” as the best song ever. Oh man, I haven’t even talked about music! Wait till I get started on The Kinks. This is gonna get good…

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