London Reverse Diaries III - Day 7

Day 7 – Saturday 20th of July

Purchasing a suitcase, a matter of urgency. First thing done in the morning after breakfast, at a tourist store on Russell Street.

Writing postcards at the hotel. Quite a job I have embarked upon. Silly idea. Most people seem to like it however. It makes me think also that others are reluctant at being tagged. Is it going a step too far, closing in the social network? Feedback will tell. Socializing with the new media is still a matter of learning (see note on Day 6 – Friday). I make an educated guess: at some point in the near future we will receive best practice instructions at school, it’s probably already the case for the young, and business will study “body of knowledge” manuals and people will get certified in practising the “art & craft of social networking”. There even might be university degrees in applied psycho-sociology. No doubt: research is underway. No scientist can dream of a larger (though largely uncontrolled) social experimental field to observe, check hypothesis, and even run experiments by introducing control variables and measuring output functions: y = f(x) on communication, behavioural patterns, beliefs. Fascinating topic. Still, the guy at Facebook Lab who had the idea of identifying network connections with the emotionally charged word of “friends” is a moron. There was an assumption all people would be nice. Or maybe this guy is the supreme experimenter? Silly ideas.

What am I doing with my “free day” am I asking? I want to visit the British Library. 

Twelve o’clock: a snack at the Piazza of the Library. Listening to a language conversation group with two ladies, one old guy and a young teacher. Sounds like Turkish, but not sure. Might be Farsi? I’d like to ask, feeling too shy to interfere.

A friendly information officer at the desk explains me how to become a member of the British Library. “You need some proof of foreign residence, in case we need to find you abroad…” He is laughing… “In case you steal something.” He explains the case of a guy condemned to 3 million £ of fine and six months jail in the US after he stole some precious old books. “And you need a field of research, it can be anything, you don’t need to be an academic, the Library is open to anyone with a genuine interest, needing resources available from the immense pool of books, magazines and print material owned by the institution, thanks to the law.” As I will learn later, the British Library is the largest one existing on Earth as per number of volumes (slightly bigger than the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.). I think Borges would have loved it. I should check if he ever visited London. “What is your field of study?” the gentleman asks me. “Management theory, psychology.” I have still the head full of the course followed during the week, searching some of the original research papers supporting the textbook would be interesting.

Parts of the building open to public (free entrance) are the magnificent “King’s Library”, a five-storey glass encased building inside the hall filled with leather bound books, which was the personal collection of King Georges III, and the superb Sir John Ritblat Gallery containing the “Treasures”. 

Among them in the section of sacred texts, I saw the Codex Sinaïticus, the oldest manuscript of Christian faith with the New Testament in full, written in Greek, from the 4th century AD, found in the Monastery of St-Catherine in Palestine, in a state of perfect conservation. Next to this book, sits the Codex Alexandrinus, from the early 5th century. The third oldest codex of Christianity is in Rome. It stuck me that two out of three of the most fundamental archaeological sacred texts of Christians are in London, and they were just in front of me behind a strong glass, opened, ready for a patient deciphering. I started reading, or trying to, when a woman in her middle age, came close to me with a man, and she was feeling very intense emotions. At a sudden she stared at me and asked: “are you Greek?” I admitted, and as usual when I’m asked this question, replied: “yes; half-Greek, from my mother”. She then asked if I could read the scripture, and quite logically upon her deductions, she concluded: “then you are a Christian, you have the faith.” I nodded soberly, not sure who was this lady. She gave me a piece of paper ‘New Life’ I read. “I am a born again in Jesus she said, I saw him, I have a message to deliver.” In the paper, there was an Internet address on YouTube. “Have a look she suggested, my name is Mimi.” She thanked me for my attention and waved the hand “You will be saved.”
Mimi is a woman from Persian origin who happened to see Jesus, having been touched by His Grace, and since her vision she is a fervent evangelical.

A bit amazed, feeling elated with the discovery of the Codex, the discussion with Mimi, I went my way a bit farther in the Gallery, and stood upon a letter from Jane Austen, and next to this manuscript covered with an elegantly feminine cursive, there was a pair of Jane Austen’s small glasses. Emotions surfaced at this very moment, remembering all good time I had in London with Marie, my wife, and I wished strongly she were there.

I completed my visit with a glimpse in the reading rooms, and stayed until closure with students in a quiet zone open to public with comfortable seats and Wi-Fi access.

The British Library is next to St-Pancras. I thought refreshment was required. I went naturally to Searcys and its longest champagne bar in Europe.

Good time drinking a glass of 'Balfour Brut Rosé cuvée 2011' ("elegant, crisp and fresh pink fizz, blended in Kent exclusively for and by Searcys", as the menu of St-Pancras Champagne Bar describes), and reading an article from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine - 'Sylvia Plath and the Depression Continuum' (Brian Cooper, in J R Soc Med 2003 June; 96(6): 296–301). 
At the same time, a Eurostar train is arriving (don't know whether it comes from Brussels or Paris), people come out quickly, they rush, some run, most carrying heavy luggage many youngsters, single or in couple, wearing light shirts and trousers, expecting sunshine, heat wave probably, no one businessman in the crowd - come on, we're Saturday evening - a few families, not much surprisingly, oh yes, a group of Asian kids there, and there a family with two Nordic style girls... the crowd is fragmenting... I have the impression the train was not fully booked, in working days it's densely packed... obviously all those people come here on vacation. I bet this was a train from Paris.
And now, yet another one gently arriving and masking the former train behind it. I quickly take a picture, using this train as a reflector behind the glass wall in front of me and add it to this post. 
This is like real-time news, right? With a bit of description and atmosphere. Switching now to the article's unintended interruption. Note: Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) is an American writer known for 'advancing the genre of confessional poetry'.

Sydney is a bit too far. Hope this play "The Maids" with Isabelle Huppert and Cate Blanchett will tour somewhere closer (London would be a good fit)

I never had before so much pleasure staying at a train station. St-Pancras has been designed in such a way that you're happy spending your time here, enjoying a lot of different things, people, shops, bars, restaurants, a piano playing somewhere, the quality of the light, the architecture, people again, and Eurostar arrivals or departures looking with a bit of imagination like old-time Victorian coaches carried by gigantic black steam horses in a dream-like version of London; even the security messages airing do not sound frightening but gentle, appeasing; St-Pancras is definitely one of London's places to be. I guess it owes much to the renaissance of the neo-gothic St-Pancras Renaissance five-star Hotel (part of Marriott group) with its posh, provocative style. I must go there have a drink, tomorrow maybe. I have a jacket and a tie. I am safe. 

Quiet evening at the Hilton Euston. Dinner menu: 
 Asparagus, (served in a Puff Pastry Case with Mushrooms and Cream Sauce), Scottish Salmon Fillet Marinated in Lemon and Herbs, 
 With a Large glass of Pinot Noir
 Selection on English Cheeses
(Somerset Brie, Cheddar, Stilton Blue) with a glass of Porto

Discussion with “Julien”, the young French waiter, who was doing his first week of work at Mulberry’s, the hotel restaurant, and with whom I had sympathized from the first day of my stay. We talked on minimal wages, hard-life in London, he was there already three years, and staying because of his girlfriend, and social life he had entirely rebuilt in London but he wished going back someday to Paris. “Why so” did I ask? “It’s the exchange rate with the British Pound, currently at around 1.25€/£ he explained, it is less favourable to our terms compared to the rate five years ago where we could earn a substantial bonus from the conversion.” I nodded. “But it’s a good working experience coming here. I hope it will benefit me to become more attractive in France.” Yes, “France!” I thought, one of the most rigid labour markets in Europe. There is no surprise that between 300,000 to 400,000 French people are living in London, making it the sixth largest “French” city (French Consulate estimates in May 2012).

A group of Chinese with beautiful ladies looking somehow to film director Wong Kar Wai’s creatures of the night, captures my attention, at a large table in the centre of the restaurant. There are also a few Englishmen and translators. The Chinese delegation is lead by a discrete man wearing a black suit and shirt. I am fantasizing a scenario with Triads and High-profile industrial conglomerate negotiating on a new trade agreement with British officials. When East meets West what do you think is the outcome?

Credits, the King's Library at the British Library, the author


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