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I adore the incredible simplicity here. For example, one of the attractions of central London is The Monument. That’s all. Just: The Monument.
I couldn’t imagine what might deserve such a singular name, but as I rounded the corner out of the Underground I found myself faced with a stunningly large monolith.
Pure stone soars into the sky, and its width around is incredible. Utterly simple, the Monument is carved as an Doric column, and at the base is a Latin inscription, an English description, and a bas relief sculpture. Atop it is a simple golden sculpture with a deck for viewing.
Completed in 1677, its purpose is to commemorate the Great Fire of London (1666) and stands 202 feet tall—the exact distance from the base of the Monument to the spot where the fire started. It is the tallest isolated stone column in the world, yet this monument, surely an astonishing sight in its day, is now blocked out by mere office buildings. A shame, really, but this beautifully simple structure is truly a sight to behold.
Everything in England seems simple, and this extends to its safety regulations and laws. I saw a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night that would have been shut down in moments by half a dozen squad cars and the organizers jailed if it was lit in America. I nearly lost a toe to a firecracker that’d been stuffed into the kindling of the blaze. But, this is England, so stand back from the fire y’wanker—or don’t.
Everything is a suggestion—but a strong one at that. There is little to tell you what not to do, but rather there are signs which inform you that every inch of street is covered by cameras, so do as you wish, but, you know, don’t.
Their national pride matches this subtlety. Flags don’t wave from every building, car, and lamppost. So far—and only after searching—I’ve seen just one British flag flying, and that was atop a government building. Yet their cultural and national pride is unmistakable.
The British themselves seem very comfortable with being British. Whereas an American might feel extraordinary, boastful pride in their nationality, or be even a bit apologetic, the British simply are. Yeah, they’ve got lots of history. Yeah, they’re kinda powerful. Yeah, they’re a little backwards (at least to an American like me!). It’s cool. Everything—good or bad—seems to get a bit of a shrug and a bashful smile.
It is understandable, though. I get it, the British mindset. They have existed for eons. They have ruled, been ruled, and everything between. They have made history and witnessed it made. They have existed for longer than memory can effectively recall—and it shows. There is an ebb and flow to the ways of humanity and after so many times up and down the socio-political ladder of power, they’re used to it. If they’re up they’re up—if they’re not they’re not. They do not have anything to prove.
The British are content with their day to day run, the commute, the grind—and content with complaining almost dutifully about it. The world goes on regardless of a man’s intent and the British seem to have internalized that.
Americans, on the other hand, have only been here for barely over two hundred years. We are fresh awake with the youth of our nation. We still see possibility. Every action we have taken in our nation’s short life has been of some great consequence and it seems a part of the American consciousness that we can and must perpetuate that influence. The British have left their glory to the royalty and the knightly caste—America has left it to its “lowliest citizen.” Americans are boastful and hubristic—the British, though certainly not perfect, are wizened.