Remembering London

This is the Lead Post in a series on London.
See end for a list of all items in the series.

English Parliament at nightAs Fall 2012 deepens, quickening its pace towards Winter, I remember not only the wonderful summer of the 2012 LONDON OLYMPICS, but also a time a dozen years earlier when I lived in London from late August to mid-December 2000.  I was teaching in a study abroad program at Imperial College in London and kept a journal.  Links to six excerpts are below, plus a piece on the 2012 Olympics—a commentary on Gabby Douglas and the diversity of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team—plus a short piece on our friend Deanna, a kind of epilogue to the series epilogue.

On purpose I kept the journal excerpts fairly light.  I couldn’t, however, stay away from issues of the economy, race, and the trials of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.  As I post these sketches a dozen years later, I’m also struck by how much they foreshadow the European Union’s mounting problems.  In Excerpt 5 I tell about Rochfort Young—a table mate of mine at Vincent House, the crazed residential hotel where I lived—calling the Euro the “Urine,” so infuriated was he and many other Vincent-Housers by Tony Blair’s push to “join Europe.”

Also on purpose, much deeper sombre notes sound beneath the surface of these sketches.  That’s because England is a far more serious culture than ours, which helps explain its outrageous comic genius—Monty Python being just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Death and terror haunt English minds more than they will ever haunt ours—unless you’re Black, or Jewish, or Native American, or Sikh, or…. This list, I suppose, goes on and on for the U.S. as well.

But, these groups and September 11th aside—and, yes, I realize, especially given the fortunes of Blacks and Native Americans, that this is a gigantic set-aside—our nation as a whole has never endured something like Hitler’s assault on London.  I know our Civil War complicates this notion as well, but nonetheless the “Battle of Britain,” raging through the Summer and Autumn of 1940, saw Hitler raining bombs and missles on London and other prime targets in preparation for a land invasion that never came. It was Hitler’s first major air defeat, but it costed the English dearly: over 55,000 casualties—more than 23,000 of them deaths, 3000 coming on a single night, December 19, 1940.

America seems to have a great knack for muting the memories of its violences, but the memory of Hitler and other events still resound so clearly through English culture that for me somber notes couldn’t help but echo even when I’m writing about flowers and pigeons and churches. Perhaps especially churches.  In the last remembrance, “An Early Epilogue,” I mention other sobering events I initially kept out and detail a little more of why I wrote these sketches in the first place.  For one thing, professor Jack Shindler and his then-fledgling Office of International Programs at North Central College wanted some notes to share with other professors who might be teaching abroad in the future.  I doubt he had the following in mind.  Still, I thank him and his office for making my London journey possible.

Read London sketches:

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2 Responses to Remembering London

  1. Sarah Mayhew says:

    I still love reading these posts on your experience teaching at Imperial and thinking back to discussing the U.K. during Multicultural Literature class at NCC in the spring of 2016.
    It’s interesting to see what has changed – or more significantly what hasn’t changed – since 2000 and to hear of all your experiences as an American visiting the U.K. whilst learning of all our quirks.
    I hope that our little island across the pond can welcome you back one day – we’ll try to keep the pigeons at bay for you!

  2. Richard Guzman says:

    Sarah — A belated happy birthday to you. Hope you’re doing well. Rachel is keeping me up on all the going-on’s with you, and, yes, I hope one day to be back in the UK. Please keep in touch.

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