Saturday, April 27, 2013

Through old glass

The view through rippled glass from Burgh House, Hampstead Village

I mentioned that I've been going on a lot of guided walks. If this sounds dull to you, think of it this way: it is really like going to listen to a storyteller, who skillfully links what you see now with that-which-was-before. Combined with walking through one of the world's great cities.

A good guide makes connections and creates a narrative that places in context the churches, inns, pubs, alleys, lanes, place names, geography, and historical figures who walked these pavements, enabling you to see past the surfaces. She or he reveals the secrets of a place...those oddities, nuances, idiosyncrasies and stranger-than-fiction truths known by those who care about the events that help define a place, its culture and its peoples.

That is the main thing that strikes me—how much these guides and ambassadors love their Place. Some may be doing what David Abram calls "the practice of spinning stories that have the rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again."

Like all storytelling, it is interactive. Together, you conjure up the ghosts, imagine what was, and see how it connects with what visibly remains. While it is impossible to encapsulate THE story of such a place, or any place, it is A story, one of millions of stories.

Sometimes, you'll turn a corner and walk down a narrow but beckoning lane, and whoosh! The relentless noise of construction and traffic is gone. You're in a peaceful Georgian courtyard with flowering trees.

Apothecaries' Guild or Livery (mortar and pestle on wall

Or you've happened upon a church built by the Knights Templar in 1185, and the sound of cellos and violins floats from the windows.

London Walks guide Hilary

And occasionally, you'll hear a vendor singsonging on a corner about why you should buy what he is selling, or hear the clip-clop of horses' hooves on the cobbles (Mounted Patrol), and just for a moment, you'll be transported to Victorian or Edwardian London. As if the Past just swept up these old streets and tapped you on the shoulder, whispered in your ear.

How living amid this must shape your view of the world. London endures. From waves of invaders, plagues that wiped out half the population, the great fire of 1666, civil war, and the Blitz to terrorist attacks, London endures.

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