Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Magic of Royal London

This past week, I took a lot of heat from people who thought I was crazy when they learned that I was staying home Friday to get up early and watch the Royal Wedding without having to get ready for work and leave home halfway through the ceremony. For me though, having visited London a couple times and also being keenly interested in the history behind most royal families, there was no way I was going to miss this.

I was only 11 years old when Charles and Diana got married, but I remember it vividly. My mom woke me up to watch the ceremony at an ungodly early hour, but it was the middle of the summer and easy to get up when it was light out anyway. We watched the whole thing beginning to end (this in the time before you could record anything!) and I guess like other girls around the world, I was captivated by the fairy tale of the whole thing. I remained interested in Diana over the years and followed with interest the many twists and turns of her life. I felt she'd just really found herself and was at peace with her life when it was tragically cut short. In Ireland and Scotland the week that the car crash took her life, I still regret that I didn't extend my stay for another day to see the funeral procession.

About a year after Diana's death, I visited London for the first time and visited all the Diana-related sites that I could: St. Paul's Cathedral where she was married, Buckingham Palace for a view of the famous balcony, Kensington Palace where she'd lived with her boys after the separation, and of course Westminster Abbey where her funeral service was held. I was especially taken by the contrast in size between St. Paul's, which was just shockingly massive compared to how "intimate" Westminster Abbey is. The area in the Abbey up near the altar past the choir screen feels as close and homey as a chapel. The verger giving me the tour of the Abbey on my first visit there sent chills up my spine when I asked where Diana's coffin laid during the service and he responded "right about where you're standing now, ma'am." Wow.

Even returning some 12 years later, I still found London magical. There is something alluring and mystical about the royals for me. By this visit, I had read up on Henry VIII and his many wives and of course his daughter Elizabeth I. I was captivated by the love story of Victoria and Albert. I spent an afternoon in the National Portrait Gallery looking at what these "characters" in the readings I'd done looked like. I was on their stomping ground, and it seemed like their reach was infinite. I noted with interest the spot in the Tower of London where Ann Boelyn lost her head. I admired the crown jewels. I enjoyed again the pomp, circumstance and reliability of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. The most notable remnant of the royal past I think is the legacy left at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is one of the grandest, most exceptional, and most diverse, collections I've ever seen.

Watching the coverage Friday morning reminded me of all the things I loved about London. Seeing the military bands and horsemen as they marched through the streets, knowing exactly the streets the processions were taking, having just walked them myself not a couple years ago, seeing not one, but two kisses exchanged by the newly married couple reminded me of standing there at those very gates one morning having my own picture taken there. It was just incredibly impressive to see Big Ben and Parliament, the London Eye, the Mall and Buckingham Palace broadcast out over the airwaves, and witnessing the history that took place at that spot in front of the altar at the Abbey again, and remember that I'd been there.

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