Expat Chronicles: History Lessons

London, as most folks know, is an old city. Its history dates back almost to the days of Christ, and it’s been a global business, political and cultural power for most of the last millennium. Walking around today, you never know when you’ll wander past a building that was erected long before Shakespeare’s great-great-great grandmother was born. It’s easy to forget the city’s long history when you see a Starbucks on every other corner, or an H&M, or an endless parade of cars whizzing past at obscene speeds because Londoners all drive as if they’re 20 seconds away from soiling themselves, and if they don’t hit a toilet soon the world will explode, and so they mash the accelerator even on quiet residential streets, and they come within a hair of plowing right into you, and you yell at them to SLOW THE **** DOWN, BUT…

What was I talking about again?

Right, London’s history. Since moving here in early 2018 we’ve stood beside the remains of a fortress that dates to around the year 1000. We don’t live too far from the Tower of London, a castle that was built during the era of William the Conqueror (1066 or thereabouts). If you walk about 20 or so yards from our house you get a great view of the Tower Bridge. People often mistake the Tower Bridge for the London Bridge because the Tower Bridge is the iconic, majestic structure you see in all the picture books, while the London Bridge is just a flat, boring thing a bit to the west.

Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, making it a mere pup by London’s standards. Even so, I sometimes sit and look at the bridge and wonder how many people have crossed it during the last 125 years or so. The first ones did so on foot, or horse, or bicycle, and are all long gone. Those crossing today, whether by car, foot or bike, will be long gone 125 years from now. Will Tower Bridge still be there in the year 2144? My bet is yes. But it’s no sure thing.

After picking up the kids from school we’ll occasionally take the route home along the Thames just so I can let them look at the Tower Bridge, or the Thames, which was first settled 2,000 years ago. I get the sense they know they’re surrounded by history, but for the most part it’s just home, the place they live. No different to them than the brand-spanking new suburban neighborhood was to me when I was a kid in Charlotte, and the history of the homes I walked past didn’t date back any more than a few months.

My childhood neighborhood is now more than 50 years old, making it “mid-century modern,” in the current real estate branding vernacular. Nobody as famous as Shakespeare ever lived there, at least not yet. But the drivers were better.

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