The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was indeed well-lit, and offered stunning views of the Millennium Dome and the towering steel and glass centers of global finance.
It was low tide on the longest day of the year. At the Thames Barrier, we saw a cormorant and a curlew. House martins fed their young in an artificial cliff above the river — a concrete apartment building.
And in the adjacent park, local residents strolled, played and picnicked around heaving waves of shrubbery.
We made our way west and across the river to the Royal Observatory, although we didn’t know exactly where we were going until we got there.
The observatory was closed, but the prime meridian, being arbitrary and imaginary, continued to work as well as ever. The queue to get one’s picture taken straddling it exhausted my patience, but it was fun to see just how popular such a quintessentially nerdy thing could be.
It was a pattern already familiar to me from London’s Natural History Museum, a veritable temple of science, where families line up to take pictures with the iconic statue of Charles Darwin,
or gaze in wonder at the ichthyosaur’s bony eyes.
As in any big city, there are a lot of things to see that don’t make it into any tourist guidebook,
and something that seems completely normal to a native might strike an outsider as outlandish.
Minor works of public art can have more appeal than something in a museum, especially if they have a cool back-story (canal-side art made from trash dredged from the canal),
though they might not be on anyone’s list of things to see before they die. (This was another public installation along the Grand Union Canal. Several colors of chalk were provided, but oddly, no one had yet used any other color but white.)
In another thousand years, the things our civilization has deposited in the river and canals may get their chance to be enshrined behind museum glass, as in this truly epic exhibit at the Museum of London,
and their relative abundance may suggest what we valued most,
what uses we made of our fellow animals,
and even, perhaps, what refracted images of ourselves we chose to worship.
See my photostream on Flickr for more photos from this summer in the UK, including some disturbing photos from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which I may or may not get around to blogging.