London Tale: Londontown burning down
This week's musing already had a name: All is quiet on the London front. It was to relate the general calm that reigns in all European cities as August draws to an end. The image of my neighbors’ mail gently piling up hinted to the fact that they had most likely decamped for warmer and more summery pastures. The weather, a second protagonist in almost all of my London stories, was holding steady with some "tropical" temperatures peaking through what has been a winter's summer here in England. With ballet and little swans on my mind, I figured this was going to be another deathly boring summer just without the usual oppressive heat.
The first indication that perhaps things were not quite as rosy as they seemed was this little matter of the Euro going down in flames. As members of Europe squabbled in the government-less country known as Belgium that, ironically enough, serves as the capital of the Union, I counted myself and the pound coins weighing heavily in my wallet lucky. Unlike France who had heavily invested in Italian and Spanish government bonds and kept on denying it, the United Kingdom had most thankfully always been Euro-skeptic. Yes, it is true that with the American economy also up in flames, their prioritization of a "special" relationship with the States showed less promise now than ever. Indeed, there is nothing like money matters to put a damper on that warm and fuzzy feeling between nations. All in all, with the economy heaving pretty much all over the world and people freaking out about it, I took comfort in the mundane stories of David Cameron, the British prime minister, on his vacation in Tuscany. He reportedly failed to tip an Italian waitress, then got lots of heat from bored tabloids, then went back to give her double her due, which, in Europe is already included in the bill and thus extraneous. With the Duchess of Cambridge in hiding in some Royal Scottish retreat also known as Balmoral Castle, the press focused on the next next next best thing, commenting on Samantha Cameron, the posh prime minister’s wife, and her summer attire.
Preoccupied by things I did not fully understand like the economy and matters I should not admit to reading such as the British tabloids, I honestly failed to notice the first night of riots. When a burning building made it to the front page of the aforementioned publication, I realized that whatever was going on had to be important enough to take precedence over SamCam (Samantha Cameron), Her Royal Hotness (Pippa Middleton) and the Duchess (of Cambridge). Locating Tottenham with the help of google maps to understand where it all had started, I felt comforted by the fact that, way north of central London, all the trouble seemed far far away. Things escalated on Sunday night to the South of London in Brixton which, in my opinion, was already too close for comfort. My friend Shanay and I had actually gone there for some of what he insisted was London's best clubbing. Needless to say that I never understood why the highest of highs when it comes to music had to be located in the lowest of lows kind of areas. Nothing however cemented the feeling of impending doom like Monday night's creeping violence everywhere including much more central areas I frequent such as Camden Town, Hackney, Oxford Circus, Chalk Farm as well as rumors of rioters running around with knives in my area of Notting Hill.
While I should probably not confess to this considering the business I am in, digital media and particularly social media are really a double edge sword in these situations. Because print and television journalism actually check and recheck their facts, they are slow as snails. There is nothing more frustrating than hearing the wailing of police sirens outside one's window all the while waiting with abated breath, then impatience and finally anger for the BBC to bother to report anything at all about one’s own area. On the other hand, reading rumors of purported violence everywhere in London through Twitter is not exactly reassuring and most of all, not necessarily accurate. The capper however was google maps' supposedly helpful localization of the riots, which, based on Twitter accounts, covered the whole of London with little burning tipi icons. Though I was never journalistically motivated enough to go find out what was going on outside my window's visibility range, I saw no fires, smelled no smoke and, located on the third floor of an apartment building, declared myself safe for the night. On final thought, I put my valuables in one locked bag and decided that if Londontown really burned down, well, I would take my goodies bag and head for the riot-less Swiss mountains.
As I walked through the affected areas of Camden the next day, it became obvious that the rioters were opportunistic youth whose plan of action consisted of going for mobile stores, pizza shops and a bike shop which looked completely dismantled. Notting Hill, my neighborhood, had fared a bit better. According to a friend, the store windows were luckily thicker and thus harder to break through. Most of all, the police had not waited for hours to intervene as with other neighborhoods and thus mitigated the damage. Nonetheless, it became obvious that people had little faith in them for Tuesday as shops boarded up their windows for the night. Yesterday, David Cameron, his opposition, the mayor of London and their mutual governmental posse interrupted their vacations and came back to town. Parliament was, in what is described as an exceptional move, also returning for an emergency session later in the week. Last night thankfully ended up finally being quiet in London though a mess for other large cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.
I personally have no plans on going anywhere for the moment and remain yours truly, just a Rambling Muse reporting as faithfully as possible from London.