I watched London burning on the BBC news last night.
To me London isn\’t just a place I have read about in books or seen on television or in movies. London is a city I feel homesick for though I have never truly lived there. I loved visiting London. I spent weeks venturing out every day from our small tent to forage through bookstores for used (or remaindered) treasures. I spent weeks walking each day from our tiny room at the B&B to the tube station and heading off museums, art galleries and, of course, bookstores. I have sat for hours in London\’s parks reading books and feeding pigeons.
I know London well enough that I could follow the reports of riots, fires and looting and think, \”now they are near that lovely little shop,\” \”I remember walking along that road,\” and \”oh, no they are near where [a friend] lives.\”
The experience of watching London burn was not only coloured by the fact that I knew the city well enough to worry about, to mourn for and to empathize with the people who lived there. Watching disasters in \”real time\” is quite different from hearing about them even a few minutes after the fact. Once something is over you can be sorry, you can try to understand and you can feel angry. Watching something unfold before you on the television or computer screen is much more like watching a tragedy unfold outside your front window. You may not be personally in danger but you do feel that you should do something. You feel that if you don\’t you are either condoning it–or you are a coward.
So I watched London burning and I felt impelled to do something and yet there was nothing I could do except meditate on the exact nature of the social contract that kept every city, town and village from burning along with London.