Saturday, May 30, 2009
Johnny is a jewelry merchant that works in the Camden markets. For the past 25 years, he showed up to this market everyday to sell jewelry carved from Jade stones and animal bones to locals and tourists that pass through. His stand lies between a clothing store, owned by an older Chinese woman who pop’s in to schmooze from time to time, and another jewelry store owned by a younger woman from Bangladesh who mostly keeps to herself.
Johnny hails from New Zealand. Or at least, that’s where he spent the early years of his life. He used to own a bar there. In fact, that’s where he met his wife. It was a kind of “love at first sight.” She was too beautiful for him to resist and he completely enchanted her. Why shouldn’t they end up together?
They got married and had a child called Ella. Ella was born deaf, and as the years passed Johnny’s wife became less enchanted with the life and the child that Johnny had given her. She began drinking, and Johnny began to search for a new life for him and his daughter. He found his way to London in the 1980’s to sell hand carved stone Jewelry in the town of Camden. Johnny carved all of this jewelry himself so he should know better than anyone else, there is a story for everything.
Born of Native American heritage, and living in London for the past 25 years, Johnny has an original story for every piece of stone at his shop. He sought one out and told me a fantastic story of a girl called Purity. He said, “Purity was a girl that lived in a sad world of heavy truths.” Johnny continued to hold the stone tight in his had while he told the fantasy story of Purity’s journeys to a happier world. “She finally existed in a world without gravity,” Johnny said. One in which she was free to spread her wings. As she extended her wings, she was confronted by an unnamed demon who asked, “Are you pure?” In a time of Monarchy, in which Kings and Queens demanded loyalty and service, only those of great wealth could be considered pure. Johnny said “Purity was frightened by the demons knowledge so she wrapped her wings around her body to hide herself from the demon, but just as she did, the demon clipped her wing so Purity would never be able to fly away.”
As Johnny finished his story, he held the piece of stone back up to the light, as he probably has done a thousand times in his life. As the light peered through the foggy stone, I took a quick glance once again as to take notice of the veins inside of it, but this time they seemed to pulsate as if there were streams of blood actually pumping through them. Johnny had me convinced! His story set a vision in my eyes, and even more importantly contained so much passion and conviction, that I found myself thinking of it as a true story that, through the years, had simply fallen into the realm of legend. I then realized that Johnny wasn’t telling me these stories for the sake of telling me a good story, or even a true story. After all, how am I to know if he really was the son of a Native American man? How am I to know that he really had a daughter, or a wife for that matter? I realized that throughout the two-hour conversation, Johnny was passing on to me, not just a story, but also his existence in the form of poetic metaphors.
Johnny has become a man of stories, some true and some false. But that is okay because, in a story, all that really matter is whether or not your audience believes. Even in true stories, there’s no such thing as absolute truth, “its all fantasy”, as Johnny put it. As I stared at the clipped wing from a girl called Purity, I realized the purpose of Johnny’s strange story. The only reason it exists is to make people feel something he has felt. When Johnny tells a story, he makes you feel and believe in what he is saying, so the question of truth is no longer relevant. Instead, it becomes a passing of knowledge.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I walk around in a city of stories. Some of the stories are good, some scary, some sad. However, now in the year 2009, I venture around this city, thinking of the people, and the buildings, and the spaces that once existed here. Most no longer do.
Sometimes you can feel the ghostly presence of even a building that once use to exist here, and sometimes you can't seem to feel anything other than the shifting in the air as people pass by. None of them existed during the times of fire and bombings so why should they let it bother them. They'll hastily continue on their way to the office or the bank with their business wear on. They'll walk the same streets where street walkers once searched for business, or entire families searched for one night of shelter just to be able to wake up the next morning and ask "Is St. Paul's still standing?."
Well, just as the pale green dome could be seen over the clearing smoke, It stand still today, peering over a clearing of cement, brick, and the rusty brown metals of a modern metropolitan built around it throughout past decades. As the city is rebuild, it's begins a new story, it becomes a new place, and shelters new generations. The remains of the dead are removed and put to rest and most of the ruins are paved over. Stories are passed down to become history and eventually legend. Most of the bad disappears with time.
Monday, May 25, 2009
One of the parks we went to today is one that, i believe, holds up to it's name very well. Green Park covers central London in about 53 acres of green land and trees and lies between Hyde Park and St. James Park. This park is definitely the place for local Londoners and tourists alike to come relax, contemplate, and enjoy the fresh green scenery.
After watching the changing of the guard, we ventured off to another of London's Royal Parks. St James's Park is another green scene in central London and, if you are into ghost stories, this park has the best story in town. It is said that the misty ghost of a woman dressed in red is frequently spotted drifting from Cockpit steps in the direction of St. James Park. It is thought to be the ghostly remains of an officers wife. One Theory is that the officer murdered his wife by cutting off her head and disposing of her body in the pond in St James Park, but he was caught by his fellow officers. The ghost is usually said to be wearing red and in some cases, headless.
So on a lighter note, throughout my adventures around London town, I have notice these grass covered bugs that drive all around the city. Check them out. These things are smart cars covered in artificial grass turf and they belong to the Easigrass artificial grass company. Seeing as how the locals take great pride in a well kept garden, it is no surprise that grass is dead and plastic is alive and well!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The first place my journey took me was to the street markets. Camden has about six different large markets, which are magnets for tourists and young people. As you walk through the main entrances of any of these markets, you begin to feel as if you have been submerged into a cesspool of trendy clothing and funky music. The vendors are pushy, but always ready to strike a bargain. All it takes is a bit of haggling and friendly chitchat.
Once I cleared the crowd of people herding together in the markets and shook off the grungy cigarette smell, my brain jumped into gear and, without any predetermined path, I began wandering the intoxicating streets of Camden Town. Before even turning my first corner, I stumbled upon one of the cities Jazz venues.
Along with being know for it’s association with a trendy culture, Camden is also known for it’s fresh music scene. Beginning in the 1970’s, the town of Camden hosts a “Jazz Week” festival every year. Being that the town embraces such a hip scene, its population has come to be known as one of a Punk sub-culture, a culture that makes black leather, chains, neon-colored hair, and dreadlocks merely a fashion statement.
As I turn the streets and see people from all walks of life, I became aware of a vibe that exists within the town that I just could not put my finger on. On one side of the street exists a bar full of trendy hippies congregating on the sidewalk outside to tell stories and relax in the warm summer sun. On the other hand, there stands a music store right next to it that contains punks in leather gear and brightly colored hair listening to loud rock music. Maybe it is the fusion of these two different lifestyles into one picture that makes this town the cutting edge of all things thoroughly modern. Or maybe it’s the grungy guitar man on the street corner. Not the one sitting on the sidewalk asking those passing by to throw him some change because he showed up with a guitar, but the one dancing on the street corner with his guitar in hand and eyes closed, singing a song for those passing by who would feel it join with their soul just as he does. You can tell just by looking at him that he exists solely for the music.
There's no better time than now and there's no better place than Camden!
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Today we visited Fleet Street, which is a street in London most properly know for it history in the publishing industry. Publishing started on Fleet Street around the 1500's and since then, it has been home to many world renowned writers such as Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, and Anne Scott-James.
Although these are probably the more accurate histories of Fleet Street, it is also famous for a story of a much more chilling gravity. Fleet Street is also know to be the home of one demon barber more commonly known as Sweeney Todd. The demon barber of Fleet Street is traditionally said to have lived and worked on Fleet Street. The story tells that the demon barber would lure unsuspecting customers into his shop by offering them a shave. While they were there, he would slit their throats and pull a lever on the side of the barber chair that would cause a trap door to the basement to open up and the victims would fall through. Once Todd had pocketed all of their goods, Mr. Todd's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett would dispose of the bodies by baking their flesh into meat pies at her bakery shop and selling them to unsuspecting customers.
Although the actual existence of such a man is often disputed, I couldn't help but feel an eerie chill through my body as I walked down the sidewalk of Fleet Street knowing that such a man could have existed and that he walked the very street that I was standing on while he looked to prey on his next victims.
Today we also visited Saint Paul's Cathedral, which is another site in London where you cannot help but feel the past lives that have come and gone from the site. The thing that makes St Paul's Cathedral such a marker of the past goes back to traditional European burial practices. While most common people were buried in grave yards or unmarked graves, nobles and people of high social status were commonly buried inside or beneath churches and cathedrals.
In the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, where a cafe and gift shop now stand, there lie stone epitaphs in the floor in remembrance of two people who were buried there. At the base of the stone there is a carving reading: "The memory of the just shall be in everlasting remembrance."
Again, instilling in our minds that the dead are never gone. They are always there, lurking in spirit and in memory. (Crypt video coming soon)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Usually the purpose of the traffic circle is to require people to slow down when entering an intersection. However, when the is no splitter island for drivers to maneuver around, they tend to just keep the same speed and drive clear through the roundabout. This makes the traffic circles mighty dangerous for unsuspecting pedestrians, which I am one of.
As we continued through the city, we increasingly became aware of the hazards of aimlessly wandering through the streets of good old London Town. The first hazard being the most obvious- the traffic runs in the opposite direction! However, the people of London were kind enough to post signs on the pavement that tell you which way to look.
The second, and possibly most threatening, of these traffic hazards is the rate at which the cars come speeding towards you with no intention of stopping. Thankfully, there is a zebra crossing on almost every block, which is basically the same as the white-stripped crosswalks we have back home. The pedestrian’s safe haven!
The third travel hazard in London is "the gap". When you ride the tube in London, there is a distinct distance between the platform and the train. Last year over 30 people were injured because of this gap. In an effort to prevent these injuries, Londoners have taken the time to make sure that everyone will "mind the gap" so as to not end up in a nasty predicament.
Thank you London!
So today we also saw the London Eye or the Millennium Wheel, which is a large Ferris wheel of over 443 feet (135 meters). The Wheel carries 32 passenger capsules, which each represent one of the London Boroughs. Since it's opening, this wheel has become one of the largest tourist attractions in London. The London eye is large enough to be seen from St James Park, which is approximately 8 miles away. Check out the wheel on Webcam.