I hadn’t seen London through the eyes of a tourist until early this week. My visits had been purely academic, focused on meeting key people and taking rambling walks around the Olympic area. I had only noticed sites such as the Palace and Trafalgar Square as tourist-thronged areas that slowed down my progress. Hyde Park was an interesting experience in landscape, with rolled up grass, gulls and a pungent aroma of the sea, for some reason.
A few days ago, I finally ventured to London with the sole objective of sightseeing and being a TOURIST. It was the only time I have been in the city without heading over to Stratford or Hackney and trying to look through fences at the Olympic progress.
It was an unusual experience at best. Peering at the London Eye from directly below it, considering it only as a massive and impressive architectural feat, the amazing crowds at the London Dungeon and the Big Ben and the notorious photo-opportunities at the Abbey and Tower Bridge. For the first time in my day-trips in the city I was part of a crowd that was experiencing a shadow of the reality. It would be incredibly cliched to consider that I had seen the other faces of London; but then who is to say what defines a face of a city? Central London was as much ‘London’ as the slightly abandoned looking areas around the Olympic area or the frightening and imposing structure of Westfield.
The only reminders of the 2012-near-apocalyptic Olympic event that I saw were advertisements of the shopping center on the side of a bus and the sale of stuffed Wenlock and Mandeville in touristy shops.
The photographs I took, besides commemorating my visit with a childhood friend, all seemed to signify how utterly small and out of place I felt in the presence of the history of London.
Quite simply, I missed being able to walk freely around the Olympic fence, without having to bump into people at every few steps, without having to pose for pictures that millions of people have taken before me, without having to take pictures that meant something for my research. I was an out of place researcher, out of place as a tourist, out of place in a city that I had visited a number of times, but did nothing for my sense of familiarity.
But I would definitely be in trouble if I ever became familiar with the area. The dynamic of the geography of the region, photographs of rogue art and images of an ideal legacy, mean everything to me. For now.