01 December, 2007

Some Thoughts on History

I visited London in late October for the first time, where I spent two weeks getting to know my extended family in Cambridge, and getting lost repeatedly in London. But being lost was a pleasure in some ways, and I was graced with unusually beautiful weather (albeit shockingly cold in comparison to San Francisco). My handy "A to Z London" map guide in my bag, I'd spend my days wandering around the city, bundled up in scarves and a heavy wool jacket, camera in pocket, coffee in hand.

Being a Caucasian American (and a girl raised without any religion) I've often felt that I have no roots; no sense of history, no community that I am a part of. US American history goes back a whopping coupla hundred years, and our sense of what is "old" is ridiculously adolescent. But in England I found some of what I feel is lacking in my life: a sense of a grounded, lived-in past. It might not be my past, but you cannot help but be immersed in it. Everywhere you go, there is culture- and it's been there for a very, very long time.

European history is in some ways very new to me. Growing up in the leftist Bay Area, I learned about The Evil White Man's history only through the lens of another culture's suffering at our hands. I can tell you everything about Central and South America's history of violent dictatorships, but have never taken US history. I could tell you all about parts of Africa, and pieces of the Middle East, but I know nothing of Europe beyond its saga of looting and colonizing. (To be fair, the museums have an impressively worldly collection because of that.) It has always been a little shameful that I am White, growing up in Berkeley.

But in England, I found myself surrounded by the very history I had been denied. Hell, everyone lives in Castles over there. No really. Alright, I kid. But everywhere I went I found buildings that were 600 years old, that contained artifacts that were thousands of years old. Life has been happening in that city for a very long time, and you can feel it in the streets and architecture. And somehow, that long-lived, deeply ingrained sense of history made me feel at home in this place I'd never been before...

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