I have become a tourist in London once again. There’s nothing like a visit from out-of-town guests to make you appreciate where you live or see it through the eyes of someone else.
A couple of nights ago I went to a gig at the Southbank to see Bela Fleck, who is one of the world’s most accomplished banjo players. He was playing with African singer Oumou Sangare for a couple of nights. I was invited by American friends who are related to him. The gig, part of the Southbank’s Africa Utopia season, made me realize once again how multicultural London is. Here I was, five minutes from Waterloo station on a typically wet night, and I felt like I was transported to Africa.
The women, who were wearing their traditional dress, reminded me of hot, humid nights. The colors were vivid, like summer fruit ripened in the sun, all purples, deep reds and golds.
The Southbank skirts the Thames and, on a summer’s night, I felt like I was part of the pulse of something much greater than myself. I caught a glimpse of the London skyline as I approached the river and I felt a surge of excitement.
With the same American friends I embarked on the usual London tourist trail. We walked through Green Park and St James’s Park, passed by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and ended up at the Tate Britain for an early dinner with four very tired kids.
The weather was fickle. I think we spent about half an hour under a canopy of trees, trying to keep out of the rain. I walked for what seemed liked hours back to the tube station that would take us home, dragging the Chatterbox behind me and urging her to press on. She might have a future in an endurance sport.
There were many reminders of the Olympics. I am not sure how London is going to cope with the influx of visitors, but central London is now a maze of Olympic signs and temporary structures. I think I will try to avoid the Tube for the next three weeks.
The Royal Parks, of which St James is one, will be welcoming people from all over the world. Because of all these visitors, temporary toilets have been installed at the far end of the park, where it leads out to Westminster tube and Big Ben.
I’m not sure who’s in charge of these facilities, but I suspect English is not their first language. Good thing many of the visitors won’t notice the embarrassing typos. If England is the birthplace of English, I think someone with a good grasp of the language needs to start giving grammar and spelling lessons.