Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The River of Time

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my
song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
-TS Eliot, "The Wasteland"

The Thames (sounds like Tems) is the heart and soul of London. When the Romans first arrived in England in 43 AD they built a small settlement by the mighty river, which they called Londinium. Over the centuries the strategic river trade position of Londinium lead to more settlers, more traders and more buildings. Rulers of the land recognized the importance of the location; William the Conquer er built a larger fortification on it's banks (which would later become the Tower of London). The city expanded like rapidly growing organism; absorbing nearby townships as it grew to become the great, living city that exists today.

The Thames is still a major trading river, but it is also a major lifeline- it weaves through the concrete and steel, connecting the modern city with it's roots. A cruise down the Thames is like a trip through time; you can see the Tower of London, the reconstructed Globe Theater, St. Paul's and the gothic houses of Parliament interspersed with the Millennial Wheel, the Tate Modern, and a variety of glass and steel apartment buildings.

In honor of my Dad choosing to spend his birthday in London, I arranged for us to go on a guided river side pub walk. The guide, a loud spunky woman with truly British teeth, told us that the Thames is unusual in that it is a tidal river. In every 24 hour cycle the water level rises and falls a full 19 feet- twice! This is a dramatic difference that I've unwittingly noticed many times. At high tide the river is close and immediate, it presses along the embankment like a fat man in a bath tub. At low tide it is a thin and shallow ribbon, the water recedes to reveal hidden staircases leading down to wide rocky beaches. I've never given it much thought other than that it looks pretty gross at low tide, but our tour guide told us that beachcombers can easily find bits of broken pottery and other treasures on the banks- instead of washing away, pieces of treasure are simply lifted up and redeposited by the constant rise and fall of the river.

After her spiel the group bounced joyfully to the next pub...while I bounced joyfully down to the beach. I've always had secret dreams of being an archaeologist; Indiana Jones in a kicky skirt if you will. The beach wasn't quite the Temple of Doom but it was a fascinating corner of the city I never even knew existed! Far from the gray sloppy muck I envisioned, the stretch was a sea of whites, browns and greens peppered with a rainbow of red and yellow volcanic looking rocks. Within minutes of combing the pebbles I found a half a dozen shards of porcelain with a dainty blue ink design. There was treasure everywhere! a ghostly green bottleneck with a glass cork still attached. A brown clay fragment of a much larger pot, with a thick dotted design at the neck. Was any of it more than a couple years old? I have no idea. But I like to imagine that the porcelain was from a dainty Victorian tea set and the bottle came from some long ago dusty apothecary. The clay pot...it's Roman, and it's been jostling under the tides since the dawn of London, just quietly waiting for me to arrive.

This week has been bittersweet as it is my last one here in London. I love it here and I can hardly bare the thought of leaving, but a whole new set of adventures await me back in the States...at least I hope!

1 comment:

dre said...

When you come visit be sure to give me a list of "off the beated track" of things to do and see in London!!