Sleeping on the upper bed, I woke up Thursday morning while Walid is playing the creepy man prank on me, staring at me real closely. I missed his creepy man jokes. He used to stand behind the door of my office when we worked in 2004 in a cellphone shop, and watch me in a creepy way, and pretend that he is hiding when I see him. Sometimes it made me wonder if a psychological issue was really being manifested. Thankfully, it was just a prank all along.
Walid is 10 years older than me, but he has the wisdom of a 100 years old philosopher. He grew up in Beirut Golden time, in an ocean of intellectual waves, when Beirut was the Paris of the East. Then the intellectual waves became intellectual wars, and they in turn converted to real wars, and he lived the civil war in lebanon that started in 1975 day by day, the Israeli occupation that swept up to Beirut in 1982, till he left in the 90’s, and the civil war outlasted him till the year 1989, when it kind of ended with the Taif Accord, while the war with Israel continued till today. He studied music in California, and a bunch of other things. He is a professional guitarist, a well learned pianist, a great composer, and an accomplished poet in Arabic. He is a reference and an expert in the Arabic Language with all its branches, Arabic Music, Arabic poetry, and fluent in English and French. He also speaks Spanish, and some Russian and German. He is also an Islamic scholar, and few of his friends declared him as Mujtahid. Although it might have been a joke at certain times, but it really reflected his intellectual capability to infer the jurisprudence he needed for his daily life.
Walid is also a radio producer, video producer, a TV host, a columnist, a chinese cuisine chef, a donut baker, an educator, and school administrator.
I have been in London since Sunday, and I have not yet gotten to the real icons, like Big Ben, The Parliament House, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, nor have I seen the Thames yet. By this point, I knew that it was not possible to catch up to the possibilities of each area, and it will be a matter of glancing over, and selecting few destinations of each neighborhood among the few ones I had planned originally.
It is time now to go to the heart of London, Westminster, where Big Ben, Parliamentary palace, and surrounding government buildings. I wanted to start the tour in the National Gallery. The bus took us to Trafalghar station, but stopped few stops before due to traffic, and after grabbing a croissant au fromage from Paul cafe, a little stony entrance called my name to it.
In a city like this, almost everything is beautiful, and every shop or cafe, every alley and corner, is worth a stop and a visit. It is like walking in a large museum. Nevertheless, some places call your name, so sometimes you answer to the call, and sometimes you apologize sadly and promise to have a second chance in the future.
Paul called me into it, just like a Roman arch on our way. Upon entering it, and moving from one chamber to another, I found myself passing through some Roman sites. It was the Roman Bath.
This is London for you. Layers and layers of history, all preserved, all appreciated, all relevant, all breathtaking. If an alien species attack us, and give us the choice to preserve only one city from utter destruction, I would choose London, because objectively with it, you would preserve the largest amount of human civilization possible.
Exiting from the Roman Baths, I found myself passing through King’s college and then at Somerset house.
Carrying on, I finally got to the Trafalgar Square.
Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain. The name comes from Arabic طرف الغرب … meaning cape of the West.
The site of Trafalgar Square had been a significant landmark since the 13th century and originally contained the King’s Mews. After George IV moved the mews to Buckingham Palace, the area was redeveloped by John Nash, but progress was slow after his death, and the square did not open until 1844. The 169-foot (52 m) Nelson’s Column at its centre is guarded by four lion statues. A number of commemorative statues and sculptures occupy the square, but the Fourth Plinth, left empty since 1840, has been host to contemporary art since 1999.
The square has been used for community gatherings and political demonstrations, including Bloody Sunday, the first Aldermaston March, anti-war protests, and campaigns against climate change. A Christmas tree has been donated to the square by Norway since 1947 and is erected for twelve days before and after Christmas Day. The square is a centre of annual celebrations on New Year’s Eve. It was well known for its feral pigeons until their removal in the early 21st century.
That area is busy. I can’t start to tell you what is in that area, but I headed to the National Gallery.
The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, in Central London. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.[a] The Gallery is an exempt charity, and a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its collection belongs to the public of the United Kingdom and entry to the main collection is free of charge. It is among the most visited art museums in the world, after the Musée du Louvre, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Chambers and chambers, rooms after rooms, filled with the masters of the masters, the founders of Art! Like nothing I have seen before.
There is a room in the Detroit Institute of Arts that I considered the most valuable room in North America. It contained three paintings for Van Gogh, two for Renoir, Two for Degas, and a couple paintings for Cezanne.
To walk into a building that contained all the pieces I was already in love with, and had watched with awe in Art History Books, and fantasized about all my life, was a big event in my life.
Rooms of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Goya, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Degas, Seurat, Delacroix, Ruben, Manet, Monet, Ingres, David, and one of my favorite artists of all times, Joseph William Turner!
I have no words to describe the National Gallery, but I will leave you with these samples and comments:
Lady Queen Jane Grey: "Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. 18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar."
There was a special exhibition for Michelangelo that I didn’t have a chance to see. I left the National Gallery, and found Walid watching an Indian movie being shot.
It was time for lunch, and I could not put off the Fish and Chips anymore, so the closest restaurant was called the Admiral, an 1860 restaurant, that offered the authentic British Fish and Chips. We enjoyed our dinner, and headed to Westminster to enjoy the sunset at Big Ben and the Thames. It was a lovely night. The only disappointment is the attempt of American corporations, like Mcdonald’s, World Disney, Universal, and Coca Cola, to penetrate this historical city.
On our way, we stopped by 10 downing street, at the Prime Minister’s residence.
This Whitehall street that took us down to the Westminster Abbey, was lined with governmental departments and monuments. We saw the guards changing at the Guards House, which houses ,by itself, few museums and monuments.
The Westminister Bridge had witnessed a terrorist attack few days before, so the columns were filled with flowers, candles, and notes such as these:
We spent sunset walking the Westminster Bridge and South Bank, chatting, and finally taking a bus back to the hostel, getting lost, ending somewhere with lots of nightlife, eating a Turkish Large Spicy Chicken Shawarma, and walking home in an epic day in which we walked about 12 miles and over 25,000 steps.