Monday, April 28, 2014

The idea of London

I was always in a hurry to leave London as a young man. It was the place that was far too expensive. The place I couldn’t speak the language. It was intimidating, coolly grandiose but never charming. Then I got to know it again in the last decade, through the bloggers who made me want to write about memory the way they did about architecture, music and philosophy: which is to say always critically, always politically, aspiring to a relevance that wasn’t tied to a place. Not even London.

I got to meet some of those writers this month. They all knew each other, just like I always imagined they did. I caught up with Nina Power and Owen Hatherley – both major influences on what I do here – and Alex Niven, Dominic Fox, Douglas Murphy, Carl Neville (my wonderful host); Philip Challinor, who brought a copy of his latest book; Daniel Trilling; Anindya Bhattacharyya. It was all rather special, and it changed the London of my mind again, into another place still – one that I’d like to visit again soon, but probably won’t.

Yet it’s hard to deny the other, somewhat more objective London, of old stone imperial buildings, modern finance company headquarters and hyper-real tourist hotspots. I’ve taken to calling this fucking London, the same way I think of fucking Venice as a distinct place from Venice in the more general, fuller sense of the toponym. Every one of these too-famous cities has a fucking version made of the iconic. Suddenly you are there, inside a postcard, caught up in a slow-moving river of tourist flesh. The fucking Thames.

Fucking Saint Paul’s.

The fucking Old Royal Naval College.

And so forth. For the first time I enjoyed it, too, this fucking city, thanks to a combination of the leisure, the amity, and an improbable string of frankly gorgeous spring days.

I don’t know if it was Nina who invented the blog photo-essay, but hers are the ones I encountered first. In that spirit, these are some photographic impressions. My borrowed London.

'We are moving, business not affected.'

Phallic industrialisation. (Part of the very impressive power station in Deptford.)

The ubiquitous anti-climb paint. I was dying to test its effectiveness.

Digging for treasure on the shore of the Thames.

I developed an obsession for the small doors of London. This one is smaller than I am.

This one is just pretty.

The “T” is silent.

What passes for modern architecture.

Detail of the building at the back. It has a sheer concave face of glass so naturally they found it melted cars. A child of five could have told them this, but maybe they couldn’t find a child of five.

I enjoy this image.

Imperial Mean Time.

The corpses of modern buildings: a brilliant art installation in the art of London, if that’s what it is.

Another view of same.

The London park bench, designed to prevent people who sleep rough to lie down on it (as Daniel explained).

Not far from Carl’s place.

Ellie was here.

The Elgin Obelisk. It was elgined by one Erasmus Wilson in the 19th century, encased in an iron cylinder (the obelisk, not Mr Wilson). Canny fellow.


The back of the public library near Victoria Station.

More doors.

Milano’s Pizza & Chicken.

Ask me how much I love this decorative motif.

Oh, stop showing off! (Alternatively, the fucking Guardian.)

The Trafalgar Tavern.

The fairly strange bronze of Isaac Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi in the courtyard of the new British Library.

Something tells me that when they built St. Pancras they really thought that the sun was never going to set on the British Empire.

At the British Museum, even the architecture is stolen.

The Mayor of fucking London.

Chris Marker seen through a glass door.

Lastly: ‘With Nail and I.’ And we're done.


mistah charley, ph.d. said...

Very nice.

Philip said...

For the record, we don't all know each other. I have retweeted Owen Hatherley on occasion, but I hardly consider that a Biblical level of intimacy.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"For the record, we don't all know each other. I have retweeted Owen Hatherley on occasion, but I hardly consider that a Biblical level of intimacy."

True - you are the exception, and it was exceptionally good to meet you.

Anonymous said...

Ah - Giovanni! You're making me want to visit London again. I have a love-hate relationship with the place. It's always a pitstop on the way to see family in the depths of the West Midlands - an expensive few days that allows me to visit the perfect National Portrait Gallery. The city is both beautiful and alienating.

Unknown said...

certainTOffbre"The fairly strange bronze of Isaac Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi in the courtyard of the new British Library."
After Blake, who used the guy as a way of saying...fucking "vegetative eye".
Jeeebus wv is getting harder and harder to decipher. After 3 attempts feel like giving up lest Faust invokes the Devil.

Unknown said...

I took a pic of the Newton statue. Dead pinch from Blake.

B'art Homme said...

Hi Gio,
I get your postcard thingi so when I lived there I read Ackroyd's London the biography... absolutely loved the stuff on Cockquaine (SP?) land of cake or somesuch... utopia... Ackroyd's themes are wonderful... and again even the befallen utopia - replete with a New Zealander painting the smashed up old st. Paul's


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the photo blog. I would be interested to see how your perceptions of London pre your move to NZ. I would suspect London would seem less alien than it once did.