Medieval Time/London Time



Victoria and Albert Museum, Medieval Collection

Except for, perhaps, the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, one rarely thinks of London as a place that reflects its medieval roots, the way that Paris, for example, does in the Marais area, or, of course, with Notre Dame.  This forgetting of London’s medieval past is not surprising, given that so much of the older neighborhoods of London were destroyed during the  Great Fire of London of 1666, and, more recently, by the bombings during World War II.  As a result, a good deal of medieval London was either totally recreated in the 17th century (as the Gothic St. Paul Cathedral was replaced by Christopher Wren’s neo-classical building) or reconstructed in large part during the 20th century (Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament).

London’s property is, of course, too valuable to simply skirt around; instead, people either simply rebuilt, or built over, London’s past. This layering of and over the past is one reason that this Hales Group did not wander as much as most of the previous ones have, for we were interested in ways in which one city can encaspsulate so heterogeneous, layered time and space.  For me, this experience recalled the readings that I paired for our group: Micael Vaughn’s article,  “The Three Advents of the Secunda Pastorum” and Neil Gaiman’s novel, Neverwhere. Vaughan’s article considers how the fourteenth century play, the Secunda Pastorum (also known as The Second Shepherd’s Play), reflects three different notions of time that medieval citizens inhabited simultaneously.  As Vaughan notes, this play about the nativity of Jesus begins with historical time–with a recognizably fourteenth century shepherd  grumbling about how “these weders (this weather) are cold” and how his “fingers are chappyd”, even as another shepherd complains about how they are “poore” and how they are subjected to nagging wives, .  At the same time, the play exists in typological time, as, soon thereafter, these fourteenth shepherds become the shepherds who experience Jesus’s birth–reminding us of the Christian calendar, in which Jesus is born again every Christmas.  Finally, there is apocalpytic time–a reminder of the end of days to come and the Last Judgement, emblematized ironically by the mischievous shepherd Max, who steals a lamb, then, in a parody of Jesus’s birth, pretends that the lamb is his newborn babe; he is then brought to a parodic Last Judgement, as he is tossed in a blanket: the anxieties of doomsday are turned into reconciliation and forgiveness of a fellow shepherd.

Where Vaughn considered how heterogeneous concepts of time inhabit the same belief system, Gaiman is more interested in archaeological time–in the way that London’s past continues to exist, literally, in its depth, as, over time, newer parts of London have been rebuilt over older parts. Gaiman imagines London’s past as co-existing with its present by creating a story focused on underground inhabitants who have been ejected by London’s present capitalist structures.  As our visiting professor Priyanka Jacob noticed, for Gaiman, much of this heterogeneous past is, in fact, focused on Victorian London–particularly Dickensian London, with its Gothic, ragged inhabitants, although Gaiman does also suggest an earlier governmental of church and vassalage, embodied by the Black friars and  a king, even as, in his novel, Gaiman clearly bemoans how contemporary Londoners–too often focused on getting and spending and building big gleaming buildings–have forgotten about their pasts, which explains why the denizens of underground London are simply invisible to them.


A few moments of our trip reminded me of London’s layerings of time  For me, perhaps the most salient reminder of the readings was a German late fourteenth century altarpiece depicting the apocalypse that I encountered in my spinoff from the Natural History museum visit (itself a creation of 19th century notions of the medieval)–a trip to the museum next door, the Victoria and Albert Musuem.


The panel depicts, in startling ways, scenes from the Book of Revelations, scenes which clearly are meant to lift viewers away from contemplation of the mundane to consider the horrors and hopes in the final days of the world.In contrast, this early medieval (5th century) panel depicts an entirely different idea of medieval time, harking back as it does to Roman time (about which Monica has already commented) and to a mundane moment by a fountain, frozen in time.


But London’s attempt to hold on to its past by recreating it was an equally fascinating part of the visit, perhaps nowhere more so than in the New Globe Theater, built pretty much where the first Globe Theater was built.

I admit to many misgivings about this project. For one thing, it fetishizes the Globe Theater as the main place for Shakespearean productions, despite the fact that Shakespeare’s plays were performed elsewhere (mainly at a theater called “The Theater”)  from 1589 to 1599–when the Globe Theater was built; it also ignores that Shakespeare’s plays, during his lifetime, were presented in private theaters and in the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts. And I wondered–and still wonder–about the Disneyesque quality of rebuilding of the Globe Theater by a Hollywood actor producer–although one who spent a good deal of his life in England, after fleeing the blacklist in Hollywood.  As Marjorie Garber has noted (in her article “Shakespeare as Fetish), it seems all too much like an attempt to capture a fantasy of  “Merrie Olde England, ” as if we could recreate and inhabit a time before electricity, cars, and capitalist democracy.  I found some of the efforts to be authentic particularly problematic.  There’s electricity all over the place (see the photo below), but they decided to be authentic by building in many of the bad sightlines from the original Globe.  I also felt quite bad for some of the audience; during the show, one older, seated, audience member fainted and had to be taken out, while one of the younger groundling spectators had to be escorted out for the same reason.  I’m not sure that’s the kind of authentic experience we really want to duplicate.  Nonetheless, the production of King Lear we saw was riveting and searing, and, although the sound of the (non-Shakesperaean) tourist helicopters roaming above was distracting, there was something magnificent about watching a play while the open evening air is above you and the night slowly unfolds its stars.

And the atmosphere after the play, as people slowly sidled out was pretty amazing–with a sense of something magnificent coming to an end combined with the buzz of small talk about what people planned to do next.

All in all–I discovered that tourist time has its own identity, one that is at once separate from and folded into religious time and historical time. Perhaps they merged in this production,  in which Shakespeare himself tried to recreate a lost past–a time before England experienced Christianity–even as scholars have seen this play as commenting on monarchical crises in seventeenth century England.



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Museums in Time and Space

Natural History Museum, London

We visited many museums while in London and one of the most impressive was the Natural History Museum.  The original building was completed and opened to the public in 1881. The Darwin Centre in particular holds millions of preserved specimens, work spaces for the scientific staff, and multiple educational areas for the museum’s patrons. The main hall of this Centre is an amazing space.  And here is the statue of Darwin himself, alone and imposing as a very significant figure for his contributions to scientific knowledge.


Main Hall, Darwin Centre with statue of Darwin


Effigy of Charles Darwin




Main Hall, Darwin Centre


Baxandall (1991) argues that a museum fulfills three roles in society for those who visit:  a treasure house of the past, an educational instrument, and a secular temple (“Exhibiting Intention:  Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects” in Karp, Ivan and Steven D. Lavine (eds) Exhibiting Cultures:  The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Smithsonian Institution Press.  Pp. 33-41).  There is no doubt that this building contained amazing scientific finds from all realms of nature.  Or that the spaces within this historic building are designed as an educational opportunity for locals and tourists alike.  But how can we envision this space as a “secular temple”, even if we ignored the resemblance to “real” sacred architecture?   We visited Westminster Abbey, the “truly” sacred site where Darwin is buried:

Westminster Abbey

Darwin’s tomb in Westminster













Is Darwin “enshrined” here in the museum as one of the “deities” of science?  Perhaps the other activities that are possible here will help to illustrate this intriguing dimension to this museum space.

Brides and grooms can rent this museum for their weddings and receptions; sacred and time honored rituals that honor the recreation of family and the perpetuation of legitimate reproduction.  Certainly, a wedding in this hall of science, built on collections of millions of species of ancient forms of nature, will be memorable events well into the future for all who attended.  Perhaps this also helps explain the choice by brides and grooms to hold their weddings at the Roman Baths, another link to the past to legitimate and enrich the future.

Wedding Reception in Main Hall, Darwin Centre

Wedding Reception in Main Hall, Darwin Centre


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A Roman Walk

On October 20, 1866, the Times of London announced that workers had pulled 20 cartloads of bones from the site around London Wall while preparing to lay the foundation for a new wool warehouse.  By the time archaeologist Augustus Lane Fox arrived later the same day, most of the evidence had already been removed to the bone factory.  He thought that a couple remaining piles, black from peat, could be the bones of horse or ass, and perhaps deer, boar, and goat.  As he recounts in the Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, he also noted Roman tiles, red Samian pottery sherds, bronze and copper pins, knives, tweezers, and “a piece of polished metal mirror, so bright that you may see your face in it.”  It must have been an amazing sight, this jumble of history brought up to the light of the present day.

I thought of this story on Sunday as we joined the Museum of London’s Roman walk around the ancient city of Londinium.  We began at the ruined London Wall right outside the museum.  At one time, this massive wall, constructed of an incredible 85,000 tons of ragstone, included 20 bastions and extended two miles around Londinium. Since then, it has been repurposed and rebuilt so many times that it almost seems to exist outside of regular time and space.  It required a feat of imagination to look out over the modern buildings and see the site of the old Roman fort that had once stretched out over 12 acres to house around 1,000 men.


The Noble Street Wall, standing 15 feet tall and originally constructed around the late second century CE, has evidence of masonry dating from the second to the nineteenth centuries.  The scarred remainder of this wall has survived various construction projects, as well as the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Blitz.  It was uncovered in 1940 after a German bombing.


Museum of London’s reconstruction of the Roman fort and the Wall


We moved on to London’s Roman amphitheater, now hidden beneath Guildhall Yard.  The amphitheater was built around 70 CE and abandoned in the fourth century; the original walls and drainage system can be seen with admission to the Guildhall Art Gallery.  From the street level, you might struggle to envision the games, gladiatorial contests, and public executions of the past, but it helps that the boundaries of the old amphitheater are delineated by this curved line of dark stone:


And here is the original amphitheater, as recreated at Guildhall Art Gallery:



According to our intrepid guide, a Roman temple used to sit on the site of this Pret a Manger:


We next walked to the Bloomburg London Building, which houses a Temple to Mithras in its lowest level.  This Temple to Mithras, once located on the banks of the River Walbrook, was a mystery cult, open only to men and particularly popular with Roman soldiers. Bloomberg has purchased the site of the temple and is working with the Museum of London to house the temple’s remains.  According to Michael Bloomberg (as quoted on, “this building is designed to encourage cooperation and collaboration, and that’s what makes for a successful business.”


Bloomberg’s European headquarters; Reconstruction painting of the Temple to Mithras by Alan Sorrell from the Museum of London


We moved on to Cannon Street Station.  Underneath the station are the remains of a building dating to around the late first century CE.  It was an amazing structure around 140 yards long, perched above the Thames just east of the mouth of the Walbrook River.  It seems to have been built around a large central garden court with a central pool.

Reconstruction painting of the so-called Governor’s Palace (c. 90 CE) by Alan Sorrell from the Museum of London



According to our guide, this Marks & Spencer marks the approximate location of the gates:


We ended our walk at Leadenhall Market, the location of the Roman Basilica and Forum:

Museum of London’s reconstruction of the Roman Basilica


The theme of our walk seemed to be that commerce and history are deeply intertwined in cosmopolitan London.  All this reminds me of the controversial but approved £1.4bn plan to improve the A303 near Stonehenge with  a deep-bored traffic tunnel: London is truly a rich jumble of past and present.







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Minding the Gap

Many of you who have been to London will recall signs such as the one above, warning passengers on the Underground, or Tube, to be careful of the space between the platform and the train when boarding. Signs such as these, as well as the one below advising pedestrians which way to look for oncoming traffic, are all over London.

Or one of my favorite signs, from Greenwich, forbidding itinerant ice cream sales.

No doubt for many people such signs are fun and interesting mementos of English life, as the t-shirts sold in gift shops with the “Mind the Gap” phrase on them attest. But I think they also point to another aspect of space in London, one that should help us think about how space is designed, debated, contested, and controlled. On a more subliminal level, many of these signs also point to assumptions the English seem to be making about the social contract and the purpose of organizing and controlling space.

Clearly, “Mind the Gap,” “Look Left,” and other such signs warn people about possible dangers, and by doing so hope to prevent accidents and injuries. Especially in spaces such as central London, where tourists unfamiliar with English driving patterns abound, street signs warning pedestrians about unfamiliar traffic patterns will save lives. At the same time, such warning signs point to a design of space that recognizes competing demands on the space. In other words, “Look Left” is not only to facilitate pedestrian safety, but it also acknowledges that the space of a road and sidewalk is multi-use space for vehicles of many types. If the road were only for cars, there would be no need of such signage.

“No Itinerant Ice Cream Sales” announces a prohibition, communicating that the space of the public street and the activities permitted on the street are limited. More than that, the sign tells us that traveling ice cream sales were, at one time, a problem on the streets of Greenwich. Since we saw ice cream carts in other places in Greenwich, the prohibition is specific to the area of the sign, suggesting that the problem was localized. Although my colleagues and I speculated about a possible “ice cream mafia” in Greenwich, the more likely explanation is that street vendors in this small, tourist-oriented area were disrupting the orderly movement of people. So in this example, the sign points out a contested space, one in which local authorities have intervened to end the conflict.

The signs controlling these spaces and the behaviors in them also suggest assumptions about the social contract and the role of government in London. The careful attention to safety and order in public space reveals a primary concern for human welfare, one that is properly facilitated through government actions such as signs advising people what they can and can’t do. In other words, official signage and the messages it conveys speak to values about the role of government in controlling space and the purpose of controlling space. Here that role seems to be one centered on safety and order accomplished through guiding the movement and actions of people in public space.

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When I think of space, it tends to have a tangible quality, a 3D rendering in my mind that I can zoom in and out of. But the very notion of this imagery fails at a fundamental level, serving at best as the plastic surface of something richer. As Bucky Fuller remarked, “Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” As is 99% of where we are. I’m not speaking to Hubble’s law and the unobservable universe. I’m speaking to the ordinary things around us that have been disguised from our version of space.

The Tate Modern sits on the southern bank of the Thames. Like most museums, the building is itself a piece of the art, its sheer massiveness echoing a post-industrial emptiness. It has all the fixings of a wealthy city’s patronage: Mondrian, Picasso, Dalí, etc. But tucked away in the boxy maze was a temporary gallery by Taryn Simon. Her photography exhibit, called “The Hidden and the Unfamiliar,” challenges our convention of the spaces we live in. She draws attention to spaces which are restricted, hidden, or overlooked.

The exhibit has only six photos. The first photograph is of the wall art behind the doors of the CIA’s top secret access. The next is the feed facility for a tiger at a wildlife refuge. Another gives the perspective behind a two-way mirror in a jury deliberation room. Another is a picture of a pile of junk, mostly fruits and vegetables, inside the US customs and border control contraband room. Another peeks at a machine room where the transatlantic submarine cables reach land. The last photograph shows the abandoned movie set of “City of the Pharaoh,” half swallowed by the Nipomo sands.

Simon exposes what’s missing from our internal models of the space around us. We ignore things, forget them, or never even consider them in the first place. We’re excluded by law from parts of the world. Or we’re blind to the vast internal workings of the infrastructure we walk along. Or we lose interest after its purpose has been served. Or we simply walk by without taking a closer look. In a way, her exhibit is the antithesis of our group: it is anti-space. It is the places we cannot see, we cannot go, and cannot imagine.

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Time, Space, History, and Experience

As we prepare for our final full day in London, I’m struck by the number of experiences we’ve had in such a short period of time. Museums, tours, restaurants, pubs, meetings, performances, (and pubs) have all provided insight into different perspectives on time and space. I’m equally appreciative of all of the things we haven’t seen or done. London is a city steeped in history, and in a week we’ve only scratched the surface of what it has to offer.

Across from our hotel is the famous Savoy Hotel, which opened in 1889. Gershwin debuted Rhapsody in Blue there in 1925. Lena Horne made her debut there in 1955, and Frank Sinatra was a regular performer. On the ground floor right next to the Savoy is a pub called the “Cole Hole.” It is repurposed space that was formerly the coal cellar of the Savoy. We also visited a bar called “The Cellar Door” that was formerly a set of underground restrooms. There are no doubt thousands of stories like this across London. It is a city of layers, and this “repurposing of space” has been going on here for thousands of years.

Of course, there are different perspectives on change. For example, we had dinner with Michael Parker Pearson of University College London, a leading archeologist at on the Stonehenge site. He told us about a recent new discovery near Stonehenge that could be the resting place of human remains more than 5,000 years old. His best guess as to Stonehenge’s purpose is that it was designed as a monument to the dead for persons of note (not entirely unlike Westminster Abbey).

However, our time with Frank the Druid provided a very different perspective on Stonehenge. Frank sees these archeological digs as desecrating the graves of his ancestors. DNA testing is underway that may provide some clarity to the questions of exactly who the descendants of the Stonehenge architects are. According to Michael Parker Pearson, the answer is likely to be either everyone or no one.

Reflecting on our visits with Frank and Michael, I noted some stark differences in how we responded. We were far more likely to ask tough questions of the archeologist. Various members of our group poked and prodded and challenged the hypotheses that he presented in a way that any scientist might expect. With Frank the Druid, we were far more willing to simply listen and learn. It’s uncomfortable (and usually not very productive) to challenge someone’s religious beliefs. One question that we did ask both men was “How did you decide to become a Druid/Archeologist?” Michael said that he knew he wanted to become an archeologist at the age of 4 after finding fossils in a load of stone that had been dumped in the drive. Frank came to be a Druid later in life after some personal crises and a particularly low point in his life.

It seems trite to say that people and spaces change over time. However, the deep sense of history in this place brings this truism into a laser-like focus. It brings new perspective and awareness of how our time is spent.

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Overlapping Times and Spaces: Ghosts and Modern Technology

Our trip down the back alleys of White Chapel in London’s East end following the trails of the gruesome murders by Jack the Ripper and our sojourn to the Roman baths in Bath provided intriguing views into the past thanks to modern technology.  The images provided through “Ripper Vision” and the projections and “soundscapes” of ancient Romans appearing next to visitors to the baths today worked to open windows into the past; windows that asked us to imagine a very different time in the same space.

The website for the “Jack the Ripper Tour” promises that “you will feel like you’ve been transported back to the mean streets of the Victorian East end” and states that out tour is “not just a ghost walk” but an experience that “utilizes the latest technology to bring the 19th century to life”.  Our tour guide set the context for the Ripper Tour as she asked us to “remove all thoughts of movies and what you think you see” as we look around us. She relied on a micro projector to share images of the original old photos of the buildings and back alleys in area in 1888.  This image is what drew me originally to this tour when we were planning our trip:



The tour was broken up by stops during which she flashed images on the ceilings or walls of old newspaper photos of the crime scenes and the victims.  Our views of the projections of the victims’ photographs brought their “ghosts” to join us in space.


Our guide engaged our imagination to envision the past.  We learned that this area was full of Irish and Jewish immigrants living in extreme poverty in 1888.  Fifty five percent of children died before the age of 5.  Thousands of people did not have a permanent roof over their heads, especially women who were forced into prostitution to “make ends meet” and earn the 4 pence they needed for a night’s shelter.  And it was these women that Jack the Ripper stalked and  brutally murdered.

It was sometimes difficult to “see” the past, though. There is considerable altering of the spaces here; our tour guide pointed out the new “ugly” buildings that had replaced the older, historical back alleys and buildings from Ripper’s time.  What this means for the tour is that it will become harder to use the projector to “envision” the past onto the present, if the historical space can no longer be found as it rests beneath a modern building.  There were several places in the tour where we had to really “imagine” a space that only five months ago had still been in place.  But I wasn’t sure that folks really cared too much about that on our tour.  I think many of our group were  more interested in the gruesome details and pictures of Jack’s victims.

Our “gaze” on the buildings and spaces of today and the projections of the past created by our guide truly masked an important dimension of our walk.    England and Wales combined has seen a population increases of 7.1 percent this year, the largest since 1801.  The area in which we walked today has seen a spike in hate crimes and in attacks in the streets on British Muslims.  The Guardian noted on June 7, 2017, that Muslim women and non-Muslim female activists had been kicked and punched by hate groups.  And on July 7, 2027, The Guardian reported that the police has recorded an increase of 10% in crime in this area and noted that violent crime has increased by 18%, and gun and knife crime was up by 20%.  Sexual offenses were up by 14,000 since the same time in 2016.  And according to Wikipedia, the Whitechapel Market and A11 corridor has received a 20 million pound investment to improve the public spaces along the very route we took as we followed Jack the Ripper in 1888.  This remains a contested space and time but the current dimension of this is reflected loss of the settings for the time of 1888 as London changes in response to today’s issues.

The present wasn’t completely masked, however.  It wasn’t discussed by our guide, but she began our tour in front of contemporary graffiti as she set the stage for our visit to the past.  I couldn’t help noticing the commentary on current events:


The Roman baths were an important stop on our exploration of time and space.  I had hoped this experience would reveal the past through carefully documented archaeology and well crafted labels.






But Monica and I were very disappointed as we met up inside.  The artifacts of the Roman occupation and the spaces we explored were very ambiguous in terms of time; there were no real dates or explanations of the different archaeological horizons we were viewing.  There were few labels and the ones that were there had no real information on them to help interpret what we saw.  The museum also relied heavily on technology to bring the past into the present:




The moving images and sounds of their passage that were projected onto the original walls of the bath existed side by side with the tourists moving through the space.  These “ghosts” were everywhere, but in the case of the baths, the physical space of Roman culture was revealed in a most confusing and disconnected time.  The projections of Roman citizens moving through this space helped to make our experience more “real” than the actual artifacts and excavations sites we viewed.  But of course, these figures were actors performing a script written by the curators of the museum today.

I was intrigued that this was also a “sacred” place in which weddings could occur:


But the “sacred” nature of museums is certainly discussed by scholars in museum studies and I will treat that topic again after our visit to the Natural History Museum.

In any event, our explorations of the area haunted by Jack the Ripper and our visit to Bath relied on modern technology to make the tour successful.  And the history of spaces in time for both tours was incomplete.  I was left with wanting to know more, though.  Sometimes it really doesn’t help to be a social scientist!




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Break heart; I prithee break!

The opening of Nancy Meckler’s Lear at the Globe is a bit bumpy—literally–as the cast enacts a Harry-potter style luggage trolley “trip” through a seemingly solid door. But if one expects an inventive use of doors, windows and traps, one will be disappointed—staging is not the strength of this production, which is a mostly two-dimensional affair. This, however, doesn’t diminish Kevin McNally’s terrific interpretation of Shakespeare’s ancient monarch. Particularly in the mad scenes, McNally exhibits a range that will probably surprise audience members who know him only as Gibbs from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Anjana Vasan is an affecting Cordelia, and Emily Bruni and Sirine Saba do creditable turns as her less than virtuous sisters. There was some disagreement about Loren O’Dair who plays the fool—some thought her histrionics got in the way of the development of the character while others appreciated the way that her seemingly inappropriate and potentially dangerous behavior communicated “foolish” truths to Lear. Meckler made the interesting choice to cast Saskia Reeves as Kent, Lear’s faithful follower. I love her work, but not every one thought her performance as compelling (even if they appreciated the choice to cast a woman in the role). Traditionally, just before the curtain drops, Edgar and his illegitimate (and bad) brother Edmund reconcile. Meckler made the curious choice to omit this, so that the end (Cordelia, her sisters, Lear, Cornwall all dead and Kent on the way) is even darker than usual.

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Pam finds the “Faith Room” in the Natural History Museum

Who would have imagined that the Natural History Museum, often called “The Cathedral of Nature” had a “Faith Room”? Pam Frese.

The majority of the Museum is dedicated, however, to science. In the main lobby is a daunting skeleton of a blue whale.

The section on Human Evolution displays Lucy (Australopithecus). Lucy is estimated to be over 3 million years old.

The main lobby is closely watched over by a marble statue of Charles Darwin.

And, who could resist a photo opportunity with Darwin?

This was obviously only a small tip of the iceberg. The Museum left me in awe. I could have spent a week there and not been able to take it all in.

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Time Passages: Greenwich

1.Getting There



In a sense we were going back in time as we traveled to Greenwich–essentially a late 17th-century planned town, so it made sense to take a leisurely boat (albeit a motorized one), even as we began our excursion in the usual way: standing in line–with coffee in hand.

The boat–slowly made its way past the most famous monuments of London, allowing us to chart both tourist time (the slow, time-suspended, checklist march from famous site to famous site) and historical time–

not only by moving from the medieval Westminster Abbey to the twenty-first century Shard, but reflecting how the Shard itself was built over the medieval Tabard Inn, made famous in The Canterbury Tales.  The latter reminds us that most of these medieval and Renaissance buildings have been torn down and built over, or suffered badly over time–the 17th century fire of London and World War II in particular–so they are essentially re-imagined versions of their original selves: the space of the historical is and is not itself.

Most tourists got off at the Tower of London–itself an oddity of modern tourism–the desire to get historical frissons of pleasure/horror from stories of decapitations, deprivations, suffocations, and torture.  Our group stayed on, moving  past some of the areas that historically had been the poorest and most rife with rats and cholera, but now theses same spaces are sites of personal wealth and of new business enterprises, as the gleaming buildings of Canary Wharf reminded us.  Two stories stood out: the actress Dame Helen Mirren is selling her flat in the historically poor east of London for 6.5 million pounds; and the Isle of Dogs–once so infamously poor and barren that it inspired the title of Ben Jonson’s 1601 savagely satirical play against the London Council (a play which was soon destroyed and lost to posterity by order of the London Council)–is now a place of show-offy prosperity.


If any place is about time and space, it is Greenwich: Greenwich mean time.

Greenwich–the place of pleasure and escape from London for so many of its prosperous citizens from the Middle Ages through today, also attests to the way that the British ability to transform navigational time and space into mathematical equations was key to its colonial expansion.  As such, it is a place whose elegant neo-classical buildings show off Britain’s pride in its conquest of time and space, but also a place somewhat frozen in time.  Almost the first man-made object one encounters in Greenwich is an 18th century ship.


And, throughout, the beautifully, and beautifully spaced out, buildings and parks reflect the mathematical beauty of proportion and balance–the situation of the Royal Observatory prominently displaying this love of symmetry, as if scientific innovation and aesthetic beauty must necessarily accompany each other.

Climbing to the apex, the group paused for a quick conversational refresher before moving into spaces dedicated to beauty, time, and navigation.





Here are just a few examples of the tributes to time and beauty that we encountered:

If then, this group trip is about time,one might say that we found the place where our modern notions of time were invented, particularly as we stood, one-by-one, on the point of zero degrees longitude and latitude, and noted–but didn’t shop at–the first shop in the world.


So, perhaps it is fitting that we ended our day being reminded that we are slaves to time; our anticipated short stop at a pub for lunch ended up taking up almost two hours, as we were preceded by a large group of tourists.



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