Friday, September 26, 2014

A London evening

The sunset over London is purple tonight.
What keeps running through my mind is lines from Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, in which he describes London many times, at length, and with his usual authorial flair.
It was impossible for so much uncovered dirt to exist in a city like London without becoming a breeding-ground for Crime or Commerce, and Daniel spied instances of both as soon as he got out of Wren’s carriage. (The System of the World)
Christopher Wren (and many other actual historical persons) appear throughout the trilogy; here's another quote on Wren and London:

Wren had put up so many churches so quickly that he’d not had time to plant steeples on them. They all looked splendid on the inside. But steeples were essential to his vision of how London ought to look from the outside, and so now, in semi-retirement, he was going round to his old projects and banging out majestic yet tasteful steeples one after the other. (The System of the World)
These books have reinforced a certain attitude and set of historical facts (or authorial imaginings, now gelled in my brain conflated with historical facts) about Europe. So much action takes place in London, though, that the experience of walking through the city brought back all these reading-memories, and wry jokes, and ridiculous costumes, and hapless alchemical experiments. Having read (and re-read several times) The Baroque Cycle enhanced my actual visit to sites of the books' scenes in a multimedia-flavored sort of way. I experienced more than I would usually; emotions were invoked.
A view of London bridge (about which I could find no pithy quotes).
There is a sickness of the mind that comes over those who bide too long in London, which causes otherwise rational men to put forced and absurd meanings on events that are accidental. (The System of the World)
I tried to avoid this "sickness of mind" by lingering in London only a few days at a time.

This post's theme word is nodus, "a complicated situation or problem." The novels' plots form an insidious nodus, much like the worldwide history they visit, excerpt, and creatively restructure.

An example of the verbose, winkingly snide, and lengthy descriptions which fill the Daniel Waterhouse sections of the novels:
For the London in which he had grown up had been a congeries of estates, parks, and compounds, thrown up over centuries by builders who shared a common dream of what a bit of English landscape ought to look like: it should be a generous expanse of open ground with a house planted in it. Or, in a pinch, a house and wall built around the perimeter of a not-so-generous patch of ground. At any rate, there had been, in Daniel’s London, views of sky and of water, and little parks and farmlets scattered everywhere, not by royal decree but by some sort of mute, subliminal consensus. In particular, the stretch of riverbank Daniel could see from this garret had been a chain of estates, great houses, palaces, courts, temples, and churches put up by whatever powerful knights or monks had got there first and defended them longest. During Daniel’s lifetime, every one of these, with the exceptions of the Temple (directly across from the outlet of Crane Court) and Somerset House (far off to his right, towards where Whitehall Palace had stood, before it had burned down), had been demolished. Some had been fuel for the Fire and others had fallen victim to the hardly less destructive energies of Real Estate Developers. Which was to say that with the exception of the large open green of the Temple, every inch of that ground now seemed to be covered by Street or Building. (The System of the World)

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