This is the view from my London hotel room. They look more like Thai buildings somehow than English ones but that’s one of the many things I forgot to ask when I booked the room. "And the view, any Thai looking buildings, would you say? How about Brazilian ones?"
I am here to participate in Russell Davies’ Interesting2007. It’s going to be really strange, this precipitation of a virtual world in a more actual one. Plus, we have been instructed not to talk about blogging. No, Russell says we have to be interesting. I ask you.
I could talk about the buildings I can see from my hotel room, but that doesn’t actually make much of a presentation. "They look kinda Thai. Good, night everyone. Drive safely!" On the other hand, you don’t know. It’s just possible that while I was winging my way across the Atlantic, there was a wee wobble in the space-time continuum, and Thai buildings just showed up. That would be interesting.
Blogger bags a big one! (I have been reading the Daily Mail over shoulders here and I am starting to think in punchy, big cap phrases.) But really, this is not the sort of thing that belongs to an anthropologist. I mean, this is why they have a Royal Family, to make calming announcements.
Peter Ackroyd changed London forever for me with that book about a malevolent church near Spitalfields. I am sorry, I can’t think of the name of it. This building might as well have slid down the space time continuum, relocating in this case from the 16th century to the present one. I build up a very clear idea of what this church must look like, and went to have a look when I was here a couple of years ago.
Oh, the cunning. This church does not glower. No, it’s entirely embarrassed by the whole thing. By the historical association. By the novel by Ackroyd. Very English, after all. No, this church caught Ackroyd’s eye, I am now guessing, not because it spoke in another tongue. It caught his eye because it is working so hard to conceal its historical truths, and the fact of its transplantation. How completely English.
And this makes me think of walking through a big cultural institution here in London in the 1980s, this was when I was still in the museum biz. I was walking with the director and we had been touring the institution, and I knew him pretty well, and I felt I could take the sort of liberty the English have come to expect of us (mix two parts resentment, 1 part condescending delight, and 1 part relief that somehow should be able to speak so candidly.) "Bill (not his real name)", I said, almost shouting, "You control the very image of the nation here. This is Plato’s cave. Change the image, you change the country!" He looked at me in horror and said, "Oh, dear, no. That is not the way we do things in England. What we do is make a big change and then paper it over so that it looks like it was always thus. That’s what this is for."
And that’s another way of saying, I think, that if Thai buildings were to show up here in London, the monuments commission would have little brass plagues up the very next day. What’s interesting about the English is their ability to pick up after themselves. To paper things over. To embrace ferocious change and wave the wand of sprezzatura. What’s interesting about the English is that they are so very good at dissembling on this point, at concealing the things that made them discontinuous. That’s what’s interesting, that they work so hard never to seem so.
Well, that’s what I have so far. … Good night, everyone. Drive safely.
Christ Church Spitalfields is the church you’re looking for. In Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor.
yes, that’s the one. you walked past it, in spring 2000…turns out it’s available for rental…weddings, parties (bar mitzvahs??)
Thanks for coming all the way to interesting 2007 Grant!