London Trip: Day 4: British Library – Russell Square – British Museum – SOHO

Someone once said that the greatness of a city is in the proportion of its public places to its private ones.  The British Library is not only a library.  It is a celebration of knowledge.  It is a museum of the history of script.  It is a compositor of the great documents written in history.   It is London’s largest indoor public space.  It holds over 150 million items. Almost 14 million books, 824,101 serial titles, 351,116 manuscripts, 8,266, 276 philatelic items, 4,347,505 cartographic items, 1,607,885 music scores, and 6,000,000 sound recordings, and that makes it the second largest library in the world after the library of Congress.   It is also a conglomeration of awesome cafe’s and shops.  Thus, it is a great place for studying or working with its free wifi and 10’s of sitting spaces.  5 to 9 thousand people visit it a day.


I saw there Leonardo Divinci’s sketches, and ex rays  that show things he erased off his sketches. Music notation starting from the year 1050.  William Shakespeare’s first editions.  Music manuscripts by the hands of Purcell, Bach, Arne, Gluck, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Puccini, Elgar, Stravinsky, Barton, Schubert, and Bennett.  Debussy’s style in music notation is so soft and delicate.  I saw hand written manuscripts of Wyatt, Hoccleve from 1411, Jane Austin 1792, Percy Shelly 1819, George Elliot 1819, Laurence Sterne 1768, and my favorite writer, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urberville 1891 original manuscript, with his changes and notations.  Also strolled next to manuscripts by Oscar Wilde decorated by his colorful sketches, and manuscripts of the Beatles musics and lyrics.

I saw there historical letters and documents from WWI and WWII, from Karl Marx, Nelson last letter to Lady Hamilton, Florence nightingale in the Crimea, Royal letters, and Elizabeth letter dissolving parliament in 1567 with her drafts. I also saw manuscript for St Augustine’s Martyrology from 11th century, Leo Tolstoy, Lord Byron, John Keats, Balzac, Verlaine and 10’s more.

I saw Beowulf manuscript, King James Bible first version and edition, law code of King Cnut, and maps … 10’s of maps and bibles, 100’s of maps, 1000’s of maps, actually millions of maps (almost 4 million maps)!

The original five poems of Nizam 1474 Iran, and the Bustan by Sa’di, the articles of the barons 1215, Quran from Madina 8th century, before the invention of grammar and dots.  That is considered one of the oldest Qurans in the World.  We tried to read it me and Walid, but we couldn’t.  Very primitive Arabic script, that you have to rely on the memory of the verses to figure them out.  There were also Qurans from 11th century Kufa, and 13th century Andalusia (Spain), and few others.

The climax of this day achieved early on the day by standing in front of the original Magna Carta …  “The Great Charter” which is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England in 1215, it became the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law, was established.   It is the cornerstone for much of the civil society laws and order.  Although photography was prohibited, Walid could not help but snap a photo of me standing in front of it.  Four original copies were made, two of which were in front of me, and one of them was with the Papal seal of approval.

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The library is made into a shape of a ship.  I overheard the story from a tour guide addressing a group that it was originally designed by a designer who wanted to place it on the Thames, as he was a navy guy.


The library was packed with youngsters studying on their laptops and books, in groups of 2 or 3, and few alone, for it was next to the University of London.


It is an endless monument of knowledge and education.  One fascinating experience me and Walid had is when we passed by the currency archives, and opened the box for the Palestinian currency between 1918-1938.  The currency was signed by Brits and issued by the governance of Palestine. But what struck us is that the currency was both written in Arabic and Hebrew.  That is a clear indication that there were a considerable amount of Jews living in Palestine before 1948, to the extent that the currency is dual language. Something that was down played by Arabic media and history narrative.

We left and headed to the British Museum, crossing beautiful markets and restaurants. We couldn’t help but take detour stops every once a while due to the interesting call of some of these stores, and in case of Walid, the beauty of a fresh loaf of wheat bread calling through a window of a bakery.

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As we passed through a street called Cartwright Gardens across from a large building that makes a large half a circle.  It hosts multiple hotels and residences. Then an area heavy with restaurants, shopping stores, grocery stores, and a little shopping outdoor mall called The Brunswick market next to Russell square station.  At the busy station entrance, there were two Budweiser representatives giving free Budweiser beer cans to passers.

American commercialism spreads like termites, eating away genuine culture and authenticity.  Budwiser has been advertising heavily in London, painting the red heritage two floored red buses blue, and sticking their names on every possible rare billboard, and newspaper.  Mcdonalds, Starbucks, even Five Guy Burger are trying to find a spot in this food rich city.  It is a disease that I hope London would recover from before it is too late, and it turns into a Times Square.

We picked up some fruits and veggies and decided to take a break in the park in this beautiful weather.  We were looking for Russell Square park, but stumbled upon this Brunswick Square Gardens, where the shape of a beautiful old humongous tree attracted us to its shade.

Me and Walid ate and talked … topic after topics … mostly abstract .. mostly multicontextual … mostly global .. sometimes ancient … sometimes modern .. and sometimes futuristic.  He then made Wudu with a water bottle, and prayed.

The scene of a beautiful girl sitting on a park bench reading, while pigeons are starting at her closely attracted my attention.  I love these authentic moments.  What is she reading? I asked myself.  Where is she going next?  Who does she think about before she sleeps?  Who is in love with her?  What is her childhood dream?  What does she think of America, Americans, Arab Americans, and multiculturalism in London?  My curiosity flirted with me, and it argued with my introversion; Should I go introduce myself and chat? But to what avail?! and what if she thinks I am flirting with her, or that it is weird?  We left.

Finally, we reached the British Museum, and after a fast bag check, we are in.  An awe making magnificent museum.  Chambers after chambers of world’s history.

Rosetta Stone

A post shared by Wissam Charafeddine (@wcharaf) on

After finishing a long day at the British Museum, we had our light dinner and walked through SOHO.  Had coffee at the Island Cafe, and headed back to the Hostel to stay for the night.

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