Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Buckingham and Clarence

Today is our last day in London. It’s a little sad to move on. Our flat at 13 Manson Place is a bit of a dump, but for the past three weeks it has been home. I never thought I could live in a city this large, but I’ve fallen into a routine and I feel safe here. London has become comfortable. The city is crowded and noisy, but you learn to define your own world, creating an individual intimacy that makes the surroundings a bit less overwhelming. The South Kensington Tube Station, Tesco Express, the “teeter-totter tile” on the corner, and the flower shop I pass every day all provide a sense of normalcy and belonging. I would prefer to live in a smaller city, but if I needed to I could make London, New York or any other metropolis home.





Our stay in London ends with Buckingham Palace. As you can imagine words like grand or lavish can’t describe Buckingham. It is truly a palace. The rooms are large, ornate, and full of priceless pieces. The furniture is exquisite, the art work is stunning, and the scale is nothing less than palatial. The tour is different than anything we’ve experienced. The audio headsets guide you through the rooms at a careful pace. You are prompted to stay in a room for just enough, but not too much time. Music plays in the background and the ushers standing at predetermined intervals make sure you walk through at the appropriate pace. This creates an imposing atmosphere of reverence that adds to the awe of the experience, but also made me want to kick off my shoes and run down the hallways like I did when I was little at church. For as magnificent and ostentatious as Buckingham is, words like immoral also come to mind. I’ve felt this way in all the palaces we’ve been through, but there is something different about a palace that is lived in, and that charges admission. I believe in preserving historic places, and I also believe that you can’t judge the past by current standards of morality. But I can’t see any justification for Buckingham Palace. If I were British I’m not sure I would put up with this. As I walked through I just kept thinking about all the children in Africa you send to school for the cost of that console table, or the workers in India that you could train in place of a chandelier. I have no problem with spending money, even large amounts of money, on your surroundings. What I have a problem with is excess, especially in the face of want. Buckingham Palace is beautiful, but it is also upsetting. I feel this same way when I’m in Las Vegas. Things like this should not exist. Put this place to good use and make it a museum. Is this why the VAT is so high?!



After lunch we toured Clarence House, the home of Prince Charles and Camilla. To my relief it is much smaller and easier to relate to. I wouldn’t call it humble, but it isn’t overwhelming either. You just can’t live in a palace and remain sane. But once again there is a feeling of forced reverence and awe imposed on you, this time by the tour guide. You can walk through the ground floor rooms, but feel very privileged just to be allowed to gaze on this bookcase and don’t you dare breath. Sorry, I’m just not falling for it.


On the way back to the flat we walked through St James Park. This is stunning. It makes London look like something out of a fairy tale. I wish I had know about this park earlier; I would have come here often. It is much more beautiful than Hyde Park and has only been two tube stops away.

A bunch of us celebrated our last night in town by jumping on the Number 11 bus for a wild ride. It is the unofficial tour bus of London because it makes a large circle around the major sites. We sat on the top deck sharing scones and other goodies as we rode through the streets we’ve explored for the past few weeks. Our Oyster cards expire at midnight and it was one last chance to enjoy England’s public transportation. We didn’t hop on early enough however because we were ushered off the bus when service ended at 10:00 p.m. Fortunately we were let off in front of a Tube station and we made our way home to finish packing.


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