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August 26, 2007

Greetings from London

This post comes to you from the Apple computer store in London. (Free terminals!)

Expect photos soon.

I'm going to be away for the until September 12, but I'll be updating as much as I can.

Anyone who has previously guest blogged and has a password is welcome to post anytime.


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the British Museum is a wonder - there's a hall in the basement with busts and architectural fragments that's worth an entire trip in and of itself - and the ancient world displays are amazing, if morally questionable (they have the Rosetta Stone, and they display it by a staircase to keep it in period. That amazed me).

It was kind of funny how badly the Met iced them on their northern Europe collection - I guess while the british were stripping the greeks and egyptians of their history American robber barons were busy in England.

Any way, go see it, it's at least a great afternoon.

Also my buddy Hoa is in front of the food court. Say hi for me.

Did not realize you were going there.

How long in London? If you will be there for more than a few days and will be taking the subway, you may want to take the trouble of applying for an Octopus Card, their version of a MetroCard.

Without one, believe that a single one zone trip costs four pounds, which is the biggest ripoff of any mass transit system in the world. With an Octopus Card, same trip is "only" one pound fifty.

You can get one from the attendant at any station. Or borrow someone else's if they are not using it that day, and just refill what you use. One of the quirks of the London system is that their card can only be used for one person at a time.

Frugally yours,

Vastly Lower Carbon Footprint that Al Gore

Visit Kensington. Look up Nick Lowe (John Cash's ex-son in law, as you know) in Chisick (sic) (tell him you're a friend.) Enjoy the Indian prawns. Get take-out Sheppard's Pie from one of the shops, and picnic along the one of the rivers...(there are two, you know...)

Find out if Caprice is still chic?

“Vastly Lower Carbon Footprint”

My family visited London in a cold spring in the early 60’s when I was a buck-toothed little kid. London was evidently still weaning itself off of coal after the big smog in 1952. The whole place was sooty. After a couple weeks all our coats were thoroughly besmudged. The hotel rooms in England had little gas heaters that had to be fed with the big English pennies. We’d keep a few pennies near the heaters so that they’d be readily to hand when you woke up at 3 am shivering your ass off.

Since the weather was wet and hella-cold, we did a lot of museums, which was just candy to me. My parents dropped me off at the science and natural history museums for several days running while they did other stuff.

I’ll cite one of hundreds of exhibits I saw that I remember with eidetic clarity, and which stamped my interests for the rest of my life. There was a very large room in the natural history museum that had several dozen wooden cabinets with broad, shallow drawers containing curated, Riker-mounted insects. Pull open a drawer and you’d find eighty grasshoppers of ten different species, or twohundred termites, or whatever. There were other insects displayed in the room, not in the drawers: giant butterflies, walking sticks, cockroaches, a wasp the size of your thumb from New Guinea (with what looked like a threepenny nail for a stinger), but it was what was in the drawers that riveted me. Thousands and thousands of insects of seemingly innumerable kinds. Nothing else could possibly demonstrate so palpably what everyone refers to now as biodiversity.

I had the room mostly to myself. I pulled out probably at least a hundred drawers. There were no fancy interactive displays, no computer terminals, nothing “fun”, no flash at all; pretty much just drawers, and it was one of the best museum exhibits I have ever seen.

Both the science and natural history museums were like that then: information, and tons of it - no contrived Disneyland crap.

Lindsay, from one photographer to another, may I also recommend the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate. London was my home for 3 years during the 1980s. Even as an expat in residence, there was never enough time to take in everything. I hope you will also log some theatre time in the West End.

Cfost, once upon a time at the Victoria & Albert (where the Natural History Museum is housed), I asked a guard where the chocolate exhibit was located. He answered, "make a right after spice." One has to hear enough cockney to understand that "spice" means "space."

It's an Oyster card, not an Octopus card. It is however pretty much essential for public transport.


You are correct. I got my seafood mixed up.

The Octopus Card is used in Singapore's mass transit, which is world class. The card also can be used in 711 stores, so you can use the thing to commute home, and then again to buy a couple of bottles of beer once you are there.

Oyster Card info can be found here

The Oyster Card will help you avoid otherwise extortionate fares meant to soak the tourists--and, again, unbelievably, it can only be used for one person traveling at a time, another tourist unfriendly feature.

Why is that unbelievable? How would you get two people through the barriers on one card? And anyway, they're free. If you're travelling in a group, just get lots at the same time. The Underground is definitely a rip off, thanks to decades of underfunding and a criminally bad public private partnership, but Oyster cards have made things a lot easier.

Young Parisiens use neither billets nor oyster equivalents. They jump turnstiles with abandon and brush past or bump into you on their way to trains. Watch your purse or pockets in any case.

Under NYC's MetroCard system, you can take up to four people at a time with the same card. This includes free transfers from bus to subway or vice versa.

So, if I am traveling here, and am escorting an infrequent visitor, its no problem. They do not have to fill out any forms, or get any cards--I swipe them into the system for a price of $1.60 or so ( $2 less discount for buying in increments of $10 )

I'd think that the Oyster Card could accommodate multiple travelers--just redo the software so it can accomodate wanding the first traveler, then a second. etc and the same upon departure.

Or ditch the whole zone system, to make things simpler. You may wonder if the cost of collecting the various complex fares is equal to the money taken in.

I do like the London system, despite all, and your points about underfunding are unfortunately true.


Yes, that is also true.

NYC and its mass transit system looks very good indeed after returning from some of these foreign systems!

Actually, Phantom, I still prefer the Paris Metro above all. Even if you miss the last Metro, you can always hoof it more safely than in London or NYC. The French may be rude, they may be passive-aggressive, but few if any are ever as violent.



Couple of years back, I was on the RER (know it ain't the subway, but..) from the airport and there was a palpable sense of menace as some of the fine locals from the suburban slums cased the cars, glaring at the riders. Some of us NYers used some of our pre-Giuliani era nonverbal communication, and the incident passed. Some of the habituees of this place will start passing around Bernie Getz cliches right around now, but if you knew NY back then or Paris of the much more recent past, you know exactly what I speak of.

I think NY is vastly safer than either London or Paris now. We disagree on that one.

I personally feel totally safe in London or New York at any time in any hour -- but I have more than once seen things in Paris that would frighten most people.

For what its worth, I think that
this article is still largely true about Paris.

And I don't take pleasure in saying this. Perhaps the new leadership will change things. I hope so.

Phantom, I know all three cities equally well having lived in NYC for 11 years, London for 3 years and Paris for 3 years. The article you cited is generally correct only in the sense that any article reporting the crime blotter of any major city will convey the same impression. From personal experience, I was sufficiently street smart in NYC to know where not to go and what not to do.

In the 1990s, I was living in Paris during a wave of Algerian terrorist bombings. In fact, my daughter and I passed through San Michel station 24 hours to the minute on the day before the first terrorist bombing killed 54 people and injured hundreds. I missed the RER bombing at Musee D'Orsay only by hours. Trash receptacles everywhere were sealed to prevent the placement of nail bombs. I am not romanticizing Paris, but I did not experience petty crime on the streets even after the "last Metro" had left the platform. I lived in the 15th Arrondisement south of La Motte Piquet at the time.

London, however, was not kind to me. Three reincarnates of Fagin's gang mugged and attacked me with box cutters ... sending me to hospital. My London flat was twice robbed, once in the middle of the day whilst I was at LSE. Metropolitan Police advised me to move out of London, so I moved to my girlfriend's farm house in a small Kentish village. Three months later, her house was robbed too. Later that year, I returned to NYC.

One footnote I should have included above, most of the crime and violence in Paris emanates from the Peripherique, the area of socialized housing outside the perimeter of the city. This area is inhabited mostly by immigrants from Northern Africa, an area of high unemployment with lots of socially alienated and angry young people. A familiar story.

Your London experience is what I keep hearing... more muggings and a much, much higher level of burglaries and home invasions than in most other places, incl New York.

Here in Brooklyn, I do not have a burglar alarm in either my car or my home. I think nothing of taking the subway at 1am.

Every one of my London contacts have security systems in their vehicles and in their homes. Yet many still tell me stories of burglaries nonetheless.

This really bothers me. I have affection for London, and for people there and elsewhere in England, in Britain. I have been treated with great kindness when there over the past 25 years.

This level of crime is hardly just a London problem. It exists in every big city in Britain. Lots of small places too.

London needs a Mayor Giuliani, but does not have one.

England as a whole needs a much tougher approach to the yobs and the other criminals that afflict the ordinary salt of the earth people there.

I too have affection for the many friends I made in the UK, more among the Scotish and Welsh than the English. The English, I found, are masters of duplicity, i.e., they invite you to Sunday roast just because an American in their midst is a social curiosity but then they put you on the spot at the dinner table with questions like, "So what do think of your President." To your face, everything is "quite lovely" but behind your back Americans are almost always a "bloody bore" as you eat your over-cooked veggies with clenched passivity. That is what I mean by 'duplicity.'

In my opinion, petty crime in England has historical and social roots that would defy Guiliani (not my favorite character in any context). For centuries, the English had a class system at least as rigid and mindless as the caste system in India. The English claim there is no more class system, rationalized during the 'Big Bang' deregulation of the financial markets that brought cockneys into the trading rooms, but common sense would suggest that class systems do not disappear with mere pronouncements. English footballers are not welcome in most European capitals; the undercurrent of crime and violence in England is palpable and real.

In contrast, the native French are delightfully passive-aggressive but otherwise non-violent, notwithstanding the angry immigrant hordes massed on the Peripherique.

>The Hun [or the Brit or the Yank] is either at your throat or at your feet. -- Winston Churchill

Few Britons other than politicians would say that there is no class system any more. It's changed, certainly, although I'd say that has more to do with the expansion of higher education and the increase in home ownership since the 80s, but class distinctions are still a pervasive fact of everyday life.

As for duplicity, I can't speak to your experiences but I would say that many Brits perceive Americans' general affability with total strangers (the ubiquitous "Have a nice day" and all that) to be "duplicitous". There's a lot of cultural misunderstanding all round.

Reminds me of an experience we had in a London "actors' pub" where all the staff were quite the characters. We were bantering with a pair of bartenders when the guy cracked a particularly rowdy joke.

"You'll have to forgive him," said his female co-worker, "he's from Australia."

"Heheh -- well, we're from America."

"Ah. Well, then, you understand each other."

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