jctv: 02.01.2012HOME




A week in London, day III: St Paul's

The next day we went to St Paul’s. That was a lot of fun, although I balked at the entrance fee of £ 14.50 and played the drama queen by saying I wasn’t going to pay it. Thankfully my ever-sensible family calmed me down and made me submit meekly. All this happened while shuffling in a considerable queue so that by the time I arrived at the ticket lady, I had recomposed and was all smiles and politness. Maybe the ticket comes with a free indulgence, I could use one for losing myself there. Reino, Annabel and Victoria came with arguments that the church needed to be maintained, but that argument was weak. Getting tourists to pay for the upkeep of a church is topsy-turvy and shows the Church of England to be a commercial institution like any other and indistinguishable from the Temple from which Christ did his driving. So why not give the cathedral to the National Trust. In any case, its greatest splendour is its exterior. I got that free.

While waiting for Reino and Dan to arrive by scooter I enjoyed seeing the English branch of the occupy movement parked outside. A small-scale tent city, made up of rather dirty and miserable tents covered with bad art and Delphic placards pronouncing on capitalism and democracy. There was a “tent university” or university tent, with a full-scale living room for discussions about how we should organise ourselves as a society. It also contained a small bookshop full of rhetorically angry, funny, stupid and wise ideas hung willy-nilly over the tent walls softly breathing in and out. I wouldn’t have minded stopping there for a while and taking part in the discussion. A friendly young man with a foreign accent and intense eyes and a sticky black beard asked me if I was happy and wanted me to know he was available for any questions I might have. I thanked him. It is a very heterogeneous group, free in the sense of Plato’s description of democracy in his Republic: loads of different ideas, a sort of social supermarket: everything there is, at cut-price.

Having said that I heartily support the protest. Something is rotten and not just in Denmark. What is a democracy where consent has to be “manufactured”. What is a democracy where only oligarchs can take part as candidates because of the cost of campaigning? What is a democracy that is in fact an undisguised timocracy, rule by the politically ambitious, rule by people lusting after power, too eager by half and only for the sake of their social standing, their anxiety to show that they are not nothings. What is a democracy that is ruled by misleading imagery and carefully directed sound-bites? How different that would be if we allowed people their dignity at a much lower price and made sure that everyone were to respect each other’s freedom. If only we could find a way of selecting candidates for a true aristocracy, not the stupid kind of (non)aristocracy like the various European Aristocracies, which aren’t aristocracies at all but more of a self-degenerating genetic selection club; no, force power on the truly excellent for a while, have them focus not on words like efficiency, profit, competition, dog-eat-dog but on the good and the fair, the win-win, reasonable freedom, reasonable profits, Rawls difference principle, duty instead of right, the enduring, the generous. But who is excellent? Who should choose who is excellent? If only there were such a God as religious people speak of. We all are excellent in some way or another, I’m sure. Nevertheless excellence to rule needs a particular kind of excellence. But which sort? And where does education stop? It does not stop outside the classroom, that’s for sure. Boys learn from slightly older boys much more than they learn from teachers, and that is a worrying thing. Why can we not make sure that our good and generous sides help us focus on the picture that society should be a system for giving us all a good place and a chance at dignity? Why isn’t that enough? And why is it that you are accusing me at the very moment of reading this of talking in cliché’s? The answer is that, as gene-machines, as protein-replicators we have not selected for these qualities.

Ok, so here’s the setting for a science-fiction horror story: In the year 109941 ABG on the planet of K.. a far-reaching social experiment was in progress. Only the kind-hearted, the honest and the generous were allowed to breed. At the beginning of the experiment great hopes were nursed. A committee was formed… Surely this would lead to a “better” society. Things turned out differently however….  The story opens on a beautiful day, the sky was bright green and the suns shone brightly…. Perhaps we should settle for democracy after all, it is the best of a bad lot and make sure we educate everyone well.

So then we went inside the cathedral, which, now it has been cleaned up looks marvellous. We did the history lesson; Wren’s catalogue approach to design is always a fun bit of trivial pursuit on the outside but should never get in the way of a serious appreciation of his truly fine way with spaces. The audio guides we were given were almost completely useless, concentrating on waffle about God and all that is generally irrelevant to a proper appreciation of the building, so in the end we gave up on them as another instance of inappropriate advertising. We climbed the gentle spiral staircase leading up to the whispering gallery. Rarely have I walked up a staircase so comfortably, for so long. Arranging ourselves around the drum we whispered or rather talked to the wall and could clearly hear each other from all the way on the other side. Then we went all the way up to the lantern and looked at London all around us which was breath-taking.

Temple du Temps, qu'un seul soupir résume,
À ce point pur je monte et m'accoutume,
Tout entouré de mon regard urbain;
Et comme aux dieux mon offrande suprême,
La scintillation sereine sème
Sur l'altitude un dédain souverain
-Paul Valéry, Le Cimetière Marin

The most stunning view, I thought, was the one over the millennium bridge towards the Tate Modern and beyond. We saw the blind walls that make the Cathedral appear a box with an impressive volume. I personally think, for what it’s worth, that Wren was right to do that. There is always a gap between the inside and outside, and this gap is what he explores and exploits, presenting a simple volume to the outside and a spatially refined and complex set of punctured diaphragms on the inside.

Walking down through the dome we were given a real sense of the cone supporting the outer shell. And, of course, we went to see John Donne and said hello. A good man, excellent even. After that we walked through an empty City of London and ended up having a drink at the Barbican. I like the Barbican, it is a strange place and it works. Modernism needs to be learnt to work well.

We had wanted to see St Stephen Walbrook, which I had visited with my students only a month earlier and which is my favourite building in England. On our way we walked towards it, past St Mary Woolnoth and at one point I saw a tall office building near the Bank of England with a wonderfully robust massing of volumes, an experiment in tall classicism. It was a building I had noticed a number of times over the years and had always intrigued me, although never enough to actually go and find out about it. One day I shall do that. (see the reaction below by Maarten Willems in Dutch)

Rem Koolhaas’ slick Rothschild building rises up behind the unremarkable and even dowdy exterior of St Stephen Walbrook, which, I was sorry to find, was closed. I had so enjoyed working out its perfect interior geometry with my students, looking at how the volumes work and interconnect, marvelling at the clever trick of putting the wonderfully slender columns on high pedestals so that the volume keeps its spaciousness, the brilliant geometry of its slight asymmetries, the placing of the dome and everything about it. Henry More’s altar looked rather disappointing on that visit. It was covered with an altar cloth, which in itself is not unreasonable but it had the effect of emphasising its sides, which are its weakest parts. The undulating sides of the big rock have something of the quality of fake landscape in a Fun Park attraction. When it is bear, it is the smooth top that takes all the attention and then one can see its full glory and its wonderful placement. At the time of my last visit there was a rather irritating self-inflated vicar sitting on a solid chair with his prodigious weight, giving an art history lesson to a small group of oldies and droning on about this and that and quite spoiling the noise of the church’s quiet. Mixing things is difficult.

The wall of the viaduct near Waterloo station, white glazed bricks without pointing. The start of a delightful walk to St Paul's Actually this was further along the South Bank somewhere beyond the Naitonal Theatre. I was struck by the way the light caught the litter  
Intense graffiti space on the South Bank.  
I love the National Theatre: hail to Denys Lasdun I don't know why I am showing you this..  
Underneath Bayswater Bridge, which is being vamped up with solar panels.. I should hang it on my children's door The gorgeous history lesson  
and again This is a deep one...but I think it refers to Tent city as an exemplary instance of democracy  
The occupy supermarket of ideologies and anger just outside St Paul's: The text is set against a vertical word in the left had margin which spells TOPPLE then come the words: capitalst regimes, cuts, war poverty, something in arabic, then UK, US, FR, All states. Revolution every where. Not everywhere, but every where, that is haunting. The same tent has another placard saying Capitalism is [a] kind of slavery with...  
These are extraordinary texts by someone called PGR who must be at least 60 but probably more like 75 or 80 as the author purports to have done research "for over 50 years". He or she claims to understand the dynamics of crowd control through the observation of baboon behaviour. The text on the left tells a story of a leader of a pack of baboons starting a chant which was soon taken over by the group and led to such frenzy that a mother baboon who had minutes before been peacefully caressing and caring for her baby started to tear its limbs from its body in order to eat them! The message is: be warned, we are monkeys too. The centre text tells us that we need not feel lonely and unloved because we are loved by love itself. A kind of Spinozan mysticism I suppose. The story accompanying this wisdom is rather moving, but the climax was covered by the painting and I did not finish reading it. The orange tent says: Meat: big business, big cruelty, go vegan this holiday!  
This one is complex: it says Compost Capitalism and has the word "corporate" with an upward arrow on the left and "consumer" on the right with an arrow pointing downward. I presume the corporate and the consumer are the ingredients for the composting process. The banner on the right has a thoroughly sympathetic message it says: grow the real economy and then commences to name its primary products: energy, wisdom, skills, experience, knowledge and time. These words are surrounded by other words that obviously represent the means to grown them: love, care, learning, teaching, empathy and something I cannot read.  
No: capitalism and religious fundamentalism, poverty, cuts, war, tyrany (sic) Fat Cats, env. disaster and later someone added Paradise. The picture on the right tells its own story.  
The text on this tent is a print out of Wikipedia's article on desire. Me trying to be part of something I am not, in front of the Tent City University. Even so, I wish I were somehow...  
On the right is the front facade of the university tent. I particularly like the wishlist in the bottom right hand corner: fresh produce, gaffer tape and notebooks  
The ideology catalogue. Isn't it marvellous how right Plato was. The yellow text, next to a message from Greenham Common (is that still going? wow) is: People are choosing money as their friend, trampling over others in order to tend to their love of materials and we wonder why people take from each other, maybe we should look closer at ourselves not facing the facts because we don't want to put rain on our day got too many problems of our own its easy to say, roof over our heads its easy to say. Around the edges someone has written smoke kills kids.  
The book shop with a man who clearly is very much part of it. Maybe he is PGR, I didn't ask him. In any case he is completely absorbed in his thing, pure happiness. Two quotes on the pillar next to the bookcase: "Jesus is the greatest man ever live church is the bigest (sic) come out of it" Che Guevera. And above it a brotherly message from occupy Amsterdam. On the right the university living room for ideological discussion: Tent city uyniversity "A horizontal space in which people can learn from each other."  
Do you want... The Hard Times...  
A detailed guide to holding discussion meetings  
A man on the staircase to St Paul's and an inscription to commemorate the fact that Queen Victoria stood there too once The revolving gates of heaven at £ 14.50 per visitor  
The reinforcement surrounding the cone securing the two shells of the dome The eye at the top of the inner dome shell, looking down to the floor below  
Eighteenth Century Grafftiti Twenty-first Century Graffiti  
The walls making St Paul's a box    
The space between the two shells, lloking sideways The same, looking up  
Same window at two slighly different angles  
Dan and Donne, well done St Mary le Bow's steeple  
Again and again      
The lovely St Stephen Walbrook in a bed of other stuff Koolhaas' Rothschild Tower  
A fine study in tall classicism... See the reaction from Maarten Willems below (in Dutch) which I do not find a problem as I believe Dutch wil inevitably become the next world language.... St Mary Woolnoth, one of the niche window surrounds on the side, the window itself has been boarded up  

(email 28.1.2012) Hey Jacob,

Eindelijk in betrekkelijke rust je nieuwste diary-bijdragen kunnen lezen. Maar het was veel, meer diarree dan diary. Dat was een grapje.

De vierde die ik las was het dagje St. Paul's. De vijfde, Tate, kwam er toen niet meer van. Mijn oog bleef hangen op de foto van 'a fine study in tall classicism'. Ik deel de fascinatie voor het gebouw. Eigenlijk meer nog bleef ik hangen bij het zinnetje '...although never enough to actually go and find out about it. One day I shall do that.'  Alles kon ik plaatsen, behalve dat ene zinnetje 'One day I shall do that.' Mijn leven bestaat bij de gratie van dat zinnetje, dus ik ken het erg goed, maar uit jouw toetsenbord is het anders, a-typisch.
Want bovenal is het wel een typisch Jacob-gebouw; het staat tegenover een walgelijk potsierlijk post-modern gebouw (No.1 Poultry), wat mij betreft een vergissing van James Stirling, dat iedereen zonodig fotografeert omdat het zo geinig is, dus jij fotografeert de classicistische schoonheid er tegenover. Terecht. Het is een langzaam gebouw waar jij van houdt. Jij kent dat gebouw, dat kan niet anders. Maar nee, '...never enough to actually go and find about it.'.

Het hoofdkwartier van de Midland Bank, tussen Poultry en Princess Str., dat was het ooit. Zo begon het toen het in de jaren vanaf 1921 werd ontworpen door de 'huisarchitect' van de bank John Alfred Gotch met de hulp van niemand minder dan Edwin Lutyens. Sinds de opening in 1939 een trots gebouw van een trotse bank met een ouderwets arbeidsethos als het gaat om klantvriendelijkheid. Maar, analoog aan jouw kennis over het Engelse classicisme, ging het bergafwaarts met de bank (dit was weer een grapje) . De grote Hongkong and Sjanghai Bank kocht gaandeweg Midland op eind '80er begin '90'er jaren en een nouveau-riche Rus nam in 2006 het gebouw over. Ik geloof dat er nu een hotel in zit. Ik moet er eens heen. One day I shall do that.

Veel groeten,


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