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“and the animals will love it if you do” (another sunday photoessay)

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I do not live in my favorite part of London. It’s no great tragedy; these things happen. But my favorite part is rather large. Basically, if you sketched it, it would look like one of those WMD dispersion maps after a weapon of some sort went off at Waterloo station on a day when the wind was blowing NNW. Or N and then NW and then N again – as the area in question hangs a rather sharp left turn at Euston Station and then a right at Regent’s Part and heads toward Hampstead and….

… Jesus, why am I making this so hard on myself? Radiation dispersion? What’s wrong with me? Basically, I like the run of the Northern Line (Charing Cross and Edgeware Branches) from Waterloo to Hampstead! Southbank, the Strand, the bit below the British Museum, Bloomsbury, Regent’s Park, Belsize Park and South End Green, Hampstead and the Heath.

Just about smack in the middle of this cloud or scatter or Underground continuation lies the London Zoo. It’s on the north side of Regent’s Park. This is, of course, the park where one of the best scenes in modernist literature takes place, the bit when Peter Walsh walks past Septimus and Rezia and both recognizes and utterly misrecognizes the scene that he’s seeing:

“But I am so unhappy, Septimus,” said Rezia trying to make him sit down.

The millions lamented; for ages they had sorrowed. He would turn round, he would tell them in a few moments, only a few moments more, of this relief, of this joy, of this astonishing revelation—

“The time, Septimus,” Rezia repeated. “What is the time?”

He was talking, he was starting, this man must notice him. He was looking at them.

“I will tell you the time,” said Septimus, very slowly, very drowsily, smiling mysteriously. As he sat smiling at the dead man in the grey suit the quarter struck—the quarter to twelve.

And that is being young, Peter Walsh thought as he passed them. To be having an awful scene—the poor girl looked absolutely desperate—in the middle of the morning. But what was it about, he wondered, what had the young man in the overcoat been saying to her to make her look like that; what awful fix had they got themselves into, both to look so desperate as that on a fine summer morning? The amusing thing about coming back to England, after five years, was the way it made, anyhow the first days, things stand out as if one had never seen them before; lovers squabbling under a tree; the domestic family life of the parks. Never had he seen London look so enchanting—the softness of the distances; the richness; the greenness; the civilisation, after India, he thought, strolling across the grass.

Jesus! Amazing! He’s goes on to do the 1918-1923 bit. Go read it for yourself. What a brilliant woman she was. Anyway, I was Septimusy a lot recently, despite not having had my buddy blown up in front of me, but I’m feeling a lot better now. And so we went to the Zoo today, a fine fine day, but I’m a little short on snaps because, don’t know, nothing was really doing it for me in the clique clique sort of way. And I guess I was having enough fun with my daughter that I wasn’t reaching for the Nikon every thirty seconds. Photoessay without pictures – there’s a concept! More later…

Here’s another picture of that canal with which I started the post.

It’s the Regent’s Canal, built during the early nineteenth century like almost all canals, and now (or latterly anyway) seems to be mostly something along which to build posh condo complexes in Camden town. The Zoo abuts the canal, which gives it all a bit of an inland island sort of feel.

I’ve been starting to think more and more about the fact that so many leisure areas / tourist attractions seem to descend in terms of layout and design from some sort of general “pleasure garden” sort of place from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Worth looking into a bit, but there’s a way that all of these things, Disney World and the London Zoo and Central Park and, I don’t know, lots of other things have the same phenotype, carry some basic layout principles deep in their DNA. More to come, when I’ve got more to say on the topic.

I’m starting to recognize distinctively English florascapes as such. I am very sensitive to such things. I am absolutely positive that if you blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of the woods in Northern NJ, I’d know instantly just where I was, from the trees and the plants and the skyshape and, I don’t know, the color of the dirt and the low roar of I-80 somewhere in the background. London, or the thing underneath London that pushes its way up through the city wherever it is allowed to, I’m just starting to see and sense.

Yeah, Jesus – fortunately this isn’t in the zoo itself. I guess I could have taken some pictures of animals, huh? We didn’t really look at all that many. One of the best things about having a zoo membership is that you don’t really feel any pressure to see much of anything. Saw the gorrilas, the penguins, some bearded pigs, and the giraffes, yes, but mostly played in the playgrounds and rode the carrousels and ate a halfassed pizza in the cafe (should have gotten the hotdog outside. Always get hotdogs at zoos! It’s like one of the fundamental rules of life!)

But here’s a brand new Foxton’s estate agent office in Camden Town. Not sure exactly when it was completed, but we think the last few months, as my wife didn’t recognize it from the last time she was at the zoo. And it seems to be the last and best of its breed. A full espresso bar, wall-to-wall plasma screens scrolling available properties, and an utterly ridiculous color-scheme.

The truth of the boom somehow appears most vividly in the last things that it spawns, the things that it makes that are born obsolete and obscene in their obsoleteness. You can imagine this branch office closing a few months after it opens. The color scheme will seem even more garish, more tacky, as the next few months pass.

Ah that’s better. We had a stroller-sleeping child on our hands, so we stopped at a pub for a half-hour. I am befuddled, still, by the kid-in-the-pub thing. Sometimes it’s fine – some of them are like day-care centers on Sunday afternoons. Walk into another with a sleeping child and you’ll be asked to leave before you even clear the door. We sat outside at this one, which clearly wasn’t for kids. (Hmmm… The Spread Eagle... I guess not, eh?)

Bits of Camden Town are awful reminders of the worst bits of the West Village in New York. But other bits – just like the best bits of the West Village – are lovely. This part, the Parkway part, is AOK. But soon, as is wont to happen on Sunday afternoons, it was time to go home.

I’m shitting myself about work this week. Not a nice week at all. I should have spent the weekend, part of it, working, but I did the parks and zoos and lunches instead. I will wake at 6 AM tomorrow, I will try to make every minute count. I promise! I promise!

There was a sign by the gorilla house in the zoo that described a day in the life of the gorilla, and ended with (approximately) Snacking, wandering around with friends, taking rests in the grass. Wouldn’t you love to be a gorilla… at least if it weren’t for the difficulty of finding food and the possibility of being killed by a poacher? Hmm. Maybe. I’d settle for being one of my cats. At least I think I would. Cats don’t know the sadness of Sunday afternoons. Unless, as I suspect, having spent my whole life with cats, it’s sort of always like that for them, just not in a work-related way…. This is my prized Brooklyn stray who knows no father but me. What do you think? Does she look anxious?

Ah, but there’s a post that I really want to and have to write very soon about Gerhard Richter, a fabulous set of things that you can see here, and a few other things. Among those things, I am going to write about what it means for GR to rub out and deface personal images, pictures of his family, what the difference is between rubbing them out and thematically distorting them, and lots else. Coming soon! Too big to write quickly!

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 1, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Posted in london, photoessay

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