thoughtwisps One commit at a time

baker street

From the London Notebooks. Written on June 21st, 2018.

Baker Street Tube Station

I come out of the Underground into the disorienting din of traffic on Marylebone Road. The sunlight here is irritating, harsh. For a moment I am lost and bump into tourists rushing for the queue at Madame Tussaud’s.

It’s funny to be lost where one used to live. The internal map of where to go and where to turn is on the top of the tongue, like a word lost but almost remembered, almost caught before slipping back into the folds of memory.

Of course, my monthly budget never afforded the more fashionable quarters. My first apartment was not far from here, but physical distance in London is a poor measure for the social separation of their inhabitants.

The street I lived on was tucked away from dignified splendors of the rituals and ways of affluent London. Here the well-kept turn of the century houses gave way to housing estates and domestic violence shelters, and wisps of litter fluttering in the wind.

The dystopia is already here, just not evenly distributed. Here on the quiet streets and flower-full porticos the cruelties are banal and well hidden behind the how-do-you-dos and good afternoons.

But here and there the veneer of civility is fractured. On the high street, a man lies prostrate on the asphalt. His hands reach toward the feet of strangers walking to lunch or shopping. Politely they skirt his hands and avert their eyes. In the world they inhabit, pretending something or someone is air, will make it air. If you ignore someone or something long enough, it will cease to exist, become invisible, vanish from the world of afternoon tea at Claridge’s and weekends at the golf course.

A woman and a man examine a pair of shoes in the window. Slightly beyond, people laugh and smile. The cafe serves rescued apple juice and organic porridge.

I walk. I look. I choose not to see. I too, am part of their polite fictions.

My reflection glides across the sunglasses of men smoking and lunching, across the tinted windows of expensive cars and black cabs, across the tastefully decorated windows of art galleries and pretty little shops that sell sweet nothings, clothing, cosmetics and ornaments.

I walk past them and past the churchyard where the lunch crowd from the nearby offices has already begun to gather. The tree-lined churchyard the last refuge of peace and refinement before the deafening din of traffic on Marylebone Road.

I look at the pavement. The neck is twisted, the legs frozen, the body lying near the building is that of a bird. I examine it, tendrils of empathy extend toward this creature. It’s a wonder such delicate things can survive this place of constant acceleration.

Why is it easier to see one kind of suffering but not the other?