Saturday, March 21, 2015

British Travels, Part 2

Sometimes when I travel, the things that are striking are the absences compared with my home (adopted, in this case). America is very much the land of convenience. When one wants something, one wants it immediately, available exactly where one is standing. Anything else is an affront, an imposition from bad design and customer service. If you want to see this, next time you’re in an airport from a different country, take note of how far you have to walk to find a bathroom from the moment that you decide you have to go. In nearly every US airport I’ve been to, it’s rare to have to walk more than 50m, usually more like 20m. In Frankfurt (and in Perth, I recall) it was at least 100m as the median.

The other one is rubbish bins out in public. In most major US cities, they seem to be spaced about 10m apart, so that if one has the urge to get rid of something, the cost to putting it in the bin instead of on the ground is essentially zero. In London, bins in public don’t seem to exist at all. I got handed a ‘certificate of climbing the London monument’ as I exited, and immediately looked for a place to throw it out, but there wasn’t one. Because I viscerally hate the idea of littering, it became the equivalent of a stone in my shoe for the rest of the day, having to be fished out and put back in each time I wanted to get my wallet or phone. For this daily hassle, we can thank the repulsive IRA, under whose bombing campaigns all the bins were removed and never replaced. Just when you thought you’d seen every way that that contemptible organization had managed to make the world a worse place, they find another way to surprise you.

Related to the previous post, the place that is similarly as inspiring as St Paul's Crypt is the National Portrait Gallery. Because this is forced to display parts from different eras, you can see the relative pathetic state of Britain in sharp contrast. The main benefit, however, is that this makes it much better as a museum experience. To wit, the rubes are all in the modern section looking at paintings of Paul McCartney, so you can enjoy the Tudors, Stewarts and Victorians in relative peace and quiet.

I was interested to find that the big driving force behind the museum was the great Thomas Carlyle, the most fascinating of Victorian political philosophers, and the biggest influence behind Mencius Moldbug, the most fascinating of modern ones. It’s always nice to find that your interests and views independently align with people whom you admire, to avoid the conclusion that you like the same stuff as them simply because they told you to like it.

The National Portrait Gallery is my favourite place in all of London. It is one of the very few museums where the subjects of the paintings are of considerably more interest than the artists, making it essentially an art museum dedicated to history. What a splendid idea! Take my advice, start with the Tudors and Stewarts and end with the Victorians to feel inspired for the day.

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