Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Walk on the Wild Side: South of the Thames

 Just like Bassett suggested, the walk on the south of the Thames truly was a walk on the wild side. I didn’t come across any brothels or cockfights as I may have in the Tudor times, but the stretch along the lovely river was filled with activity and excitement throughout the day. My walking group chose a very popular day for walking down the Thames—the weekend of the Thames river festival.
            Our walk started at the Tower Bridge where many people were crossing to get to the festival. Apparently, this bridge is often mistaken for the London Bridge, which is actually the next bridge upstream. I cannot say that I didn’t make this mistake before I was corrected. This bridge received its name because of its close proximity to the Tower of London. The bridge also consists of two towers that operate a drawbridge between to let the large ships through. As it does this, the towers almost look like castles that drop and lift their drawbridges across the moat.

            After passing city Hall, one finds their self right on the river in the hustle and bustle of the river festival. There are tents and vendors everywhere selling just about anything you can imagine. I saw all different kinds of foods, clothing, and crafts, and from all different parts of the world. Satchels from South America, tunics from Africa, vendors selling Paella, a favorite Spanish dish. The variety was astounding. There was music, dancing, street performers, and even an insect circus. And of course, the variety of the attendees of the festival was even more impressive than the goods being sold. I heard all sorts of accents and languages spoken from the people all around me.
            One of the most fun places my group passed on this walk was the Borough Market. And again the variety is very impressive. You can get anything from a grilled cheese sandwich to Middle Eastern Cuisine. At a candy booth, I tried a rose-flavored turkish delight. I never knew that people made rose-flavored candy, and it really tasted like a rose. I found out that I like candy that tastes as lovely as a flower looks. The variety of cheeses and olive oils at this market was incredible, and there were plenty of samples. I think I anyone could learn a lot about food just by spending ten minutes in this market.

            Not far from here, was the Southwark Cathedral. It had some modern additions made to it compared to other cathedrals and abbeys, but a historic feel remained inside the lovely place of worship. Luckily, we showed up during a choir practice. This allowed us to stroll the cathedral, reading the memorials and admire the architecture to the soothing music of worship. It truly was beautiful. Here we found that John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University, was baptized here. There is a stained glass dedication for him. Also, there is a statue of Shakespeare. He appears to be lounging about, dreaming up his next masterpiece. Above are stained glass scenes from his plays. I wondered why there would be a memorial for Ol’ Bill here. It appears that he buried his brother here, and the Globe is also very close to the Cathedral.

Historically this area was quite scandalous—known for prostitution, rough bars, cockfighting, and the theatre, which was unacceptable to civilized society. People had to go South of the Thames to escape the government so they could produce their work, and it seems many people crossed this river to see them.
Finally, after the theatre was supported under King James’ reign, this area and art began to flourish even more. As I experienced this place during the huge festival, it occurred to me that this river was a center of culture that perhaps began with the London ex-patriot actors. Also, being near the water, it is a place where people can travel to by boat, perhaps from far away places.  By whatever path the celebration of culture became magnified in this area, it was successful, and made manifest at the Thames River Festival.

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