Au revoir, the London I thought I knew!

My first visit to London was over ten years ago. How strange and exotic a city it seemed to me then! Their accent was impenetrable to me, another language it seemed. But oh, how they could cook! The dreaded English cuisine I had heard so much about was soon debunked by one delicious meal after the other — delectable cheeses, voluptuous wines. When I left that city, my mind was filled with its images of fashionable women, sidewalk cafés, and bicyclists with loaves of bread under their arms.

Imagine my shock on visiting London a decade later. How everything had changed! Globalization has evidently taken ahold of the city. Everyone speaks a more comprehensible English, which is convenient, it’s true; but at what price?

That delightful steel spire in the center of town — gone, and replaced with a stuffy old clock tower they call “Big Ben”. Gone are the Gothic cathedrals and the artists’ terraces.  The nation’s very flag, once an elegant arrangement of three stripes — one red, one white, and one blue — has been replaced with a hideous sunburst of red and white stripes on a blue field, all jammed together as if wondering which way to point.

Possibly the most bizarre development of all is that the people have all decided to drive on the lefthand side of the road. This may be their way of fighting the creeping homogeneity that is globalization. If so, I salute the intent, but wish they had found a more practical way to express it.

I half-dread what I’ll find in the other European capitals. What of Paris? If I were to fly there tomorrow, would I still find it full of bullrings and matadors, with the sound of distant castanets clacking in the night?

No, better I stay at home, where I can preserve unsullied my visions of these graceful cities: a Helsinki that echoes to the ballads of its gondoliers, a Berlin that stands in the shadow of its centuries-old Great Wall, visible from space.

[Music for people traveling to cities that may or may not exist.]

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