Momentarily lost in London: Crowded city is juxtaposed against the serenity of nature
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of journal entries from Rick Gunn, a South Lake Tahoe photographer, detailing his two-year bicycle journey around the world. Along the way, he is soliciting donations for The Make-A-Wish Foundation. To donate, go to wish.org. To read his complete “Wish Tour” journal, go to rickgunnphotography.com.
I’m not sure what it is about large cities, but they always seem to leave me feeling lonely. London was no exception. Stuffed inside a train car on the outskirts of Chiswick, I was headed downtown with the blues, and hundreds of bodies pressed against mine. No one made eye contact or spoke.
When the train doors finally opened, I rose for the streets like a drowning man coming up for air. This brought little relief, for the moment I hit the streets, I was nearly swept away again by a continuous tide of people. I fought my way through the crowds as I struggled to gain my bearings. When I realized I was lost, I scanned my surroundings, and bounced off the others like a disoriented Ping-Pong ball.
I made my way from the madness of Picadilly to Leicester Square, then Buckingham Palace. It was there I had enough space to observe the city’s masses as they cursed at traffic, dashed for buses, fought for parking, or otherwise accelerated toward a nervous breakdown – all of this in one of the most competitive cities in the world.
Wishing I’d had a sword and shield instead of a camera, I hoofed the well-trodden tourist trail; past Big Ben, along the River Thames, to Downing Street, where I came upon a group of wildly variant protesters. They were demonstrating against Tony Blair’s recent bill that made it illegal for people to carry protest signs on the sidewalk directly in front of the Parliament building.
Technically, I was no longer a news photographer, but there was something within the scene that roused my interest. I reached in my bag, pulled out my camera and got up close.
First I photographed a Christian group, as they protested for their right to prayer under protection of free speech. As I began to photograph, a woman stepped toward me and shouted, “I’m here to protest against the Muslims! They’re taking over the world!”
A cute little old woman standing next to her, and wearing an orange beret, stepped forward and smiled with her eyes. She said, “I’m here to pray for peace, and protest against the devil!”
I knew which one I wanted to hang out with.
When I turned my attention back toward photography, a man in a fluorescent jumpsuit stepped in front of the crowd. He was wearing the traditional beard and hat of a Hasidic Jew. As the Christian crowd sang hymns, the man raised a staff and began conducting the crowd as if conducting a symphony, while he verbally abused the crowd. The police came and hauled him away.
Next I walked across the street and set my focus on a group of anti-war protesters. There, within an entire city block, stood hundreds of signs protesting Bush and Blair and their war in Iraq. As I stood there, I remembered something a relative had said to me regarding the people of Iran and Iraq.
She said, “Rick, the only thing these people understand is brute force.” As I looked at the pictures of dead and dismembered Iraqi children, I certainly recognized our use of brute force. I just wondered what it was the parents of these children were meant to understand now. As I pushed down the anger that rose against those who supported such delusional acts, I took solace in a quote I’d once read by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He stated simply:
“We will match your capacity to inflict suffering, with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force, with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot, in all good conscience, obey your unjust laws. But we will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And in winning our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience, that we will win your freedom as well.”
In this, I realized it was time to leave. As I stepped back across the street feeling a bit ill. As I did, I came under the glare of a lone protester, standing silently with a patch of red tape over his mouth. I raised my camera and released the shutter. “Forget Picadilly,” I thought to myself, this was the real circus. Frayed from being clenched between the jaws of the city, I sought solace in the relative quiet of Hyde Park. Once there, I sat beneath a tree and reflected that I had little of what it took to live in this kind of environment.
What I needed, I thought, was release. My London host, Tim Cummins had just the thing. An avid surfer, snowboarder, mountain biker and kick-ass human being, Cummins suggested we saddle up our bikes. When we did, he led me out toward a wooded stretch of dirt just outside his home in Chiswick. Within moments we were ripping west, through a wooded stretch of greenbelt that insulated us from London’s hectic core. While we rode, Cummins described his life in London.
He is a fairly prominent merchandising manager for the clothing group Arcadia. Having worked hard to reach his position, Tim informed me that his business required him to travel frequently overseas, and at last count he had visited over 31 countries on business. These included Singapore, Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain, Turkey, India and Hong Kong. One of his last business journeys of note, he informed me, was Saudi Arabia, where he was entertained in the lush hospitality of a walled compound by an Arabian franchise partner.
Cummins was not the only successful businessman living in the area. As we pedaled through a posh neighborhood in Richmond, Cummins pointed out the homes of two other successful businessmen, Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend. By the end of the ride, Tim had shown me a slightly different London. And the chance to spend a day among the trees cleared my head like sun on fog.
Jan. 26- Feb. 3, 2006
Mileage log: 7,080
Elevation: Sea level-200 feet.
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