Krista Westerlund is our spiritual + historical correspondent. This dispatch examines and arrives from the present center of the world’s attention: London.
Ah, London. City of contrasts and competing visions. It is difficult to discuss such an iconic city with so much variety, so much grandeur, and so much touristic appeal because there are simply so many ways that you can enjoy visiting it. There are as many Londons as there are people who visit or live in the city. The tremendous diversity is the beating heart of London‘s urban charm. This year London is experiencing a unity and pride that has probably not been felt in decades. 2012 is a year that is synonymous with London. Andy Murray may not have won at Wimbledon this summer but Britishness has not been so lauded in years and never before in this fashion. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics games are aligning to make this summer a celebration of the city.
London has been riddled with social unrest, class tensions, and the legacy of its imperial history as a center of global commercial and political power. Various societal malaises have plagued the city, many of which don’t require mentioning because they have dominated headlines. London has been through a lot of bleak times. There has been a sense of an identity crisis in the city as it struggled to cohere its substantial history with the change brought about by fundamental shifts in the global geopolitical order. Economic and societal woes have been in lock-step with London for many decades as it faced a decline in global significance and, at the same time, a rise in cosmopolitanism. Regularly spending time in the city over the years, I could not help but be swayed by its charm because no matter how difficult things get, it remains a vibrant, fascinating and transformative place. In 2012, London is palpably different though. Some may consider events like those that London is hosting this summer to be trivial. They may think that money spent on things like concerts, sporting events and parades should be suspended when the world is in such economic upheaval, but they are like lights in the storm. They are moments that make life worth living and London excels at those. That is perhaps how the city has been able to retain its magnetism in spite of the difficulties that have beset it at various times in both recent and more distant history.
As the eyes of the world turn to London, the city correspondingly comes together. The city that emerges after this summer’s festivities are over will still face serious challenges. However, it will do so with more identity and more confidence. There will be more union in that Jack at least as far as the metropolis is concerned. So of course, I suggest that you go to London in 2012, but then again, I suggest that you go there at any time. You didn’t have to attend the actual Jubilee events nor do you need to watch the Olympics in person (congrats to those who are though) in order to get into the spirit of London this year. Visiting a pub (or your nearest imitation if you really can’t make it), raising a glass, and toasting with those near and dear to you is as quintessentially British as anything and, alcohol aside, it is the warm communal spirit of merrymaking and connecting with others that is essence of London. That is the reason that the city endures through all of its incarnations and tribulations. It touches upon the profound social nature of people, which is why it so excels at hosting events like those of this summer.
Go on then, and celebrate London wherever you are. Cheers.