Sunday, January 22, 2006


Before I begin: check out my new blog. It's meant as a more academic discussion of what I'm thinking about with respect to work, geography and all that stuff that probably does not fit the loose confines of this site. The address is and should be linked on the side above Jed.

The more time I spend in this country, the more I'm struck by the implicit differences. To echo Pulp Fiction, 'they have the same shit over there that we have's just a little different...'

In many cases, this is more than true in terms of things, popular and material culture: yes we have those damn furry boots too and the latest fashion trend for women--dress shorts. ?? just wait. If they're not on the streets of Anytown USA, they will be there soon.

The difference to which I'm referring is as systematic within in the culture as it is in the landscape, and in many respects, the two are mutually construitive. My flatmates and I, after a particularily debauched evening, spent a Sunday afternoon watching some neo-western movie on the television, and though they all had been to US, none were able to apreciate its general openness. By openness, I am not referring to tolorance, or acceptance but rather the physical environment and how much distance there is between places. Last week, flying to Nantes, it took about an hour. In such time in the plane, I had crossed the entirety of London and South West England, the English Channel, Norman Beaches and finnally landed in the French countryside. It actually took longer by train to get from my house to the airport than it did to transcend two national borders, and in that regard, there were more official interior controls to my movement in Britain than there were leaving the country and entering another.

Remember that all of Great Britain is roughly the size of Kansas, and movement is impeded by population density rather than spatial proximity. That is why watching this film, I was struck by the miles and miles open alfalfa fields, something I'd causually observed from the back of my bicycle in the past but never apreciated at a deeper level. For me, this realisation was akin to the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean and pondered its significance, standing from my spot on the beach at Carmel and remarking 'my God, there is only ocean between here and Japan!"

This compression and expansion of distance is expressed within the culture as well. My experience in the US has led me to believe we will travel great distances to participate in a particular activity, whether it's drive to Iowa for a bike race accross town for boozing. Here, the thought of going all the way accross London to go drinking is almost a novelty, an experience that should be savoured. Out of this sentiment arises the concept of the 'local' not in esoteric terms but in the sense of the pub. The 'local' refers the nearest public house where friends and neighbors alike meet for food and drink. Ours is about 50 feet from my front door and called the "Moby Dick." The 'Dick is as equally crappy as the name may suggest. So, more often than not, we go the 'other local,' called the Ship and Whale, a proper pub with good food and awesome beer. For those who have this question on their minds, yes, most of the pubs in my neighborhood do have a maritime theme, probably having something to do with my location in the Docklands and proximity to a 10 century long tradition of shipping.

What the 'local' provides the community is just that: community. This tradition is rapidly dying in Britain with the commodification of experience, but the roots will probably always remain, though I guess there is also a convienence factor...
In this sense the stereotype of the English does live up to its expectations; the English loves their drink but hates doing it alone. The name 'pub' suggests this trait; short for 'public house,' the concept of the pub allows people to come together in sociable circumstances in a completely egalitarian system where the only gentrifying factor is the ablity to buy the round when it comes up, and more often than not, if a patron finds himself light one Friday, someone will extend him credit until the next--expecting of course to have the favor returned when circumstances are reversed. The pub is the great equalizer; I've now drank in some of the seediest places in the city with what would amount to some of the hardest criminals of the past and present, and despite the inherent differences between us, we are all equal(ish) in the free house, subjected only by the bar man who controls the flow of booze. I might add that gender differences evaporate in the pub, and an East End lady can easilty out drink, smoke, swear and fight most anyone I know who did not grow up in under the bells of Bow. In the context of the pub, however, all are welcomed as friends as long as their funding holds, and in the context of the local, the welcome often extends way beyond the social and economic.

My train of though is derailed as I slip into the unfortunate academic habit of adding unnecessary articles infront of adjectives transforming them into nouns, so I'm off to ponder the distance between my couch and the nearest cup of coffee.

take it easy, thanks for reading


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