The London Riots

Westminster Abbey.

It’s been a week of bad news. Really. Bad. News. We had finally made it through the debt ceiling debacle, only to have our credit rating downgraded and the stock market plummet. Thirty American service men gave their lives in a tragic helicopter crash in Afghanistan. And, oh yeah, London and other parts of Great Britain seem to have exploded. (See “British PM: Fightback against looting is under way” on Cnn.com.)

Each of these is shocking and heartbreaking in its own way. I don’t want to get into politics here, and I’m not sure I can adequately express my horror over the loss of so many of America’s finest young men, so that leaves the London riots. And since this is a travel blog, that seems to be the most appropriate anyway.

I think what stuns me most about the riots is that it’s England. England! Land of the stiff upper lip and muddling through. Even during the height of the Blitz in World War II, the British spent their nights in shelters, cleaned up as best they could come morning and then went about their daily lives.

It’s not Greece, which seems to cheerfully descend into riots at the drop of a hat or some Third World disaster like Haiti. It’s a country that is like our own in many ways, from its language, to its Bill of Rights, to its large immigrant and minority populations.

London is one of my favorite cities, a place I’ve often dreamed of living. Built over a thousand years (and dating much earlier, to the Romans), its architecture is a mix of Gothic Medieval, Baroque, Classical, Modern and probably many other styles I can’t name. Unlike most American cities, it’s evolved just as its people have. It’s a city where you can picture Shakespeare just as easily as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Londoners live with the past and their heritage every day, but that hasn’t stopped them from from embracing the future with cheeky humor. (“Mind the gap,” the Tube chimes.)

I’ve picnicked by the fountain in Trafalgar Square, wandered through Hyde Park, attended a West End play and shopped in Harrods. I’ve drooled at the crown jewels in the Tower of London, lost track of time while staring at the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum and eaten at dodgy little takeaways.

It breaks my heart to think of buildings that have stood for centuries and survived German bombs are being destroyed by a mob as I saw on TV the other day. Or to realize that anyone would ruin the livelihoods of honest, hard working people, whatever their complaint might be with the government. There’s no excuse.

Perhaps I’m naive. Perhaps I blatantly ignored history–there have been riots and uprisings in London for centuries, and as recently as a few decades ago–but I could never have imagined London would become a city I was afraid to visit for a second.

But then again, it’s survived war, fire, famine and revolutions and come back stronger each time. I have to believe the same thing will happen, that it will rise from the ashes and broken glass and wow the world at the next Olympics.

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