A Trip to England
by Michael McGinnis
I had wanted to visit England for years, and finally last summer I went there for ten days. I have always felt a lot of affection for England, and I was curious — would I have any feelings of recognition, maybe some kind of "deja vu" experience of a previous lifetime spent there? It is nice to go somewhere just to relax, but it is a great treat for me if I can go somewhere and learn something too.
I first went to Paris and spent a few days there. I found that the French are very proud of Paris; it's almost like the whole city is an exhibit. The bus station is at the end of a subway line, outside the city limits. Leaving on the bus feels like going into exile. But Parisians enjoy their city, and also really enjoy tourists who are also enamoured of Paris. Paris is a joy to visit, but the first feeling of finding something that was already mine came when I traveled by ferry to Dover from Calais.
The chalk cliffs of Dover and the grass covered slopes nearby made a strong impression on me as the ferry landed in England. The landscape seemed like an old, familiar friend — the land in England seems fashioned to a modest, human scale that makes it easier to merge human and natural features, such as churches and hills, together in a powerful and most appealing harmony. I was tempted to leave the bus and my baggage at Dover and just ramble over those inviting clifftops indefinitely, but my practicality and the London hotel reservations that I had already paid for intervened.
At first, London seemed much like a large North American city — crowded and cosmopolitan, with the varied selection of people you might see in Vancouver or Chicago. Of course London owes most of its multiethnic character to its history as the capital of the British Empire, and the central authority for her colonies scattered throughout the world. But Britain's attention has now moved well away from the Empire, or even the Commonwealth. The newspapers and TV there had virtually no mention of news from Commonwealth countries — including "important" ones like Canada, much less smaller and/or poorer ones like Ghana or New Zealand. Britain's attention is now focused on itself, Europe and the United States.
While I was there I discovered part of the reason why London is still one of the world's most important cities, though Britain has been reduced to minor power status since the Second World War. The answer is the great flood of artistic creativity that continues to pour from London. London has a great variety of dramatic and musical productions, including productions such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats". These productions generate a great deal of emotional energy — they act like a psychic generator which energizes the city and makes it more lively and inspired. It is a great thrill to experience the energy and elegance of these events.
I also visited Glastonbury in southwest England for a few days. Glastonbury was an important center in ancient Britain, located next to a solitary, small hill that stands out in the flat land surrounding it. On the top of this hill is the ruins of a church: only the tower remains. I found the image of the church on the hill to be strong and compelling. I went up on the hill repeatedly to enjoy the feeling of peace and the view.
I feel that I had been there before. Life goes on past death and starts again — through whose eyes in some future time may I see the Yukon again, as I revisited England this summer?