Wednesday, September 17, 2003

This is John and we're back in business with a vengeance. We got back yesterday from London; since the last time I posted, we went to Brighton and Kew Gardens. Brighton was a fascinating sociological experiment. A lot of it is pretty tatty and has clearly seen better days.

Here comes an unkind generalization. Based on what I saw in England, and we were in London, Ealing (suburban London), Salisbury, Canterbury, and Brighton, the locals ain't that physically attractive. The blacks are very good looking in general, the South Asians and East Asians are often rather handsome, and the white folk in middle-class and upper-class areas are attractive in a rather English way. But the British working class is, almost to a man (or woman), rather plain and most likely overweight, and wearing unattractive and obviously cheap clothes.

I can feel the poisoned darts flying my way and hear the outraged folk in Essex and Bradford screaming for my tarring and feathering. No, neither the American nor the Spanish working class is known for its refined taste either, but I can't help reaching the judgement that both American and Spanish middle- and lower-middle-class people are physically more handsome than their English equivalents.

Yes, I freely admit that I personally tend to bring the American attractiveness average down rather downward than upward. I have no illusions about myself, except for the fact that I might actually look cool in sort of a geeky way after I throw away this damn weak-ass fragile pair of glasses and get them replaced by some unbreakable Buddy Holly or John Lennon specs, whichever is available cheaper.

While we were in Brighton they had a Mods and Rockers reunion. Forty thousand people wearing either green duffle jackets with patches proclaiming their allegiance to the Who riding on scooters, often ridiculously chromed up like an East LA lowrider with twelve or sixteen headlights and rearview mirrors or (the majority, maybe three-to-one) wearing leather jackets with patches proclaiming their allegiance to Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent and those other rockabilly guys. They had cool motorcycles, like Triumphs and BMWs and Harleys and Indians, also often ridiculously chromed up. I immediately sympathized much more with the Rockers than with the Mods.

All these people were members of the white English working class; there were very few non-white people.

I've never been surrounded by so much ugly. These guys were all, like, fifty-five or whatever. I had to wonder how many of them were real people who were part of those groups back in the Sixties and how many of them joined up after the fact. They sure looked goofy. Well, OK, some of the Rockers looked pretty cool.

The locals and the more middlebrow, middlecrust tourists hang around on St. James's and this area they call the Lanes, full of shops where you might actually want to buy something. I was particularly impressed by one place where they sold kites and frisbees and hackysacks and the like, physical-movement games I almost bought a plastic American football that claimed it could be thrown for longer distance than any of its competitors because of like the way it was weighted or something. I would have bought one of their plastic-vinyl-spandex specialty kites with unbreakable fishing line cords, but they were all like forty-eight quid.

We ate very well at a place called Leo's Lounge in the Lanes. If you're ever in Brighton, go there. We each had fresh fish (John-cod, Remei-trout, Elizabeth-sole) that was very good and quite reasonably priced. Nicely and simply prepared.

Official Stonehenge Visitor's Comments: Apparently you used to be able to just walk up to Stonehenge and climb up on the rocks and stuff. Now they've got a walk cordoned off with rope around which visitors can walk while listening to a (well-done; slightly social functionalist) audio commentary. It costs five pounds to get in; a round-trip bus from Salisbury's central bus station which passes by the railroad station on the way costs like five more pounds. No complaints. I understand you used to be able to go in and commune with Jim Morrison at dawn on the summer solstice or whatever, and I can see why they've decided you can't do that anymore. Last thing we need is a bunch of damn hippies tripping on acid to have a mass freakout and knock one of the lintel stones over.

As for the question, "Who built it and why did they do so?", answer number one is its building was organized by the people living there between 5000 and 3500 BC. The locals were apparently a sizeable, wealthy, and powerful pre-Celtic people who knew how to weave and to make pottery, and they traded all over southern Britain. Answer number two is that it served as a calendar. There are far too many coincidences between various stones and wherever the sun comes up over the eastern horizon in line with whatever big rocks for that to be a coincidence. Answer number three is they built it out of huge stones as homage to the sun god; the greater the effort and sacrifice put forth, the greater the devotion to the god and the more likely the movers of the project would be rewarded by the god's favor. It probably didn't hurt that anyone from rival peoples who saw such an impressive construction would be impressed by the strength and power of the people who oversaw its construction. If the function had been strictly that of a calendar, they'd have stayed with the first construction they made at the site, a circular ditch with wooden posts. All the work of quarrying out and moving the huge stones is superflous to Stonehenge's function of knowing the seasons; it therefore has another purpose, which is religious.

And answer number four is that Stonehenge was built by slaves. Our constructor-people were comparatively rich traders. Slaves have long been one of the most basic commodities traded, and I do not know of any peoples that never had some kind of slavery. According to the audioguide, the heaviest stones weigh 45 tons, 90,000 pounds. If each slave can move 100 pounds, you need 900 slaves for each stone. I imagine the constructor-people managed to get their hands on at least that many.

P.S.- Here's a Barcelona shout-out to Elizabeth's roommates in Ealing, Darren and Kelly and company, for putting up with our staying in their house. They are very nice folks and treated us extremely well, and we're hoping to see some of them show up in Barcelona sometime.

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