Covent Garden and the Imperial War Museum

Okay, first of all, check out the havoc we got to partially witness firsthand at Covent Garden this afternoon. As we left the tube station, the first thing we noticed was a smallish (but growing)  horde of Arsenal fans chanting something we couldn’t really make out. We were already a few blocks away by the time the offending smoke flare went off, but they had already made their enthusiasm pretty evident. Apparently, as we just now discovered, we were witnessing an early stage in their “Impvasion” (a portmanteau I couldn’t begin to define or understand). It was kind of cool, honestly. You hear stories about deranged football hooliganism, etc., but this seemed like some pretty benign trolling compared to some of the stuff I’ve seen among American college football fans in the southeast. (I realize this is maybe not totally relevant to the subject at hand, but still–it was an interesting moment.)

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Covent Garden in general kind of reminded me of a much larger-scale version of Boston’s Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market: it’s old, with loads of history etched into the buildings themselves, but also a very tourist-y quintessentially modern shopping complex. There are some exceptionally cool independent bookstores, antique shops, etc., but also a lot of fast food restaurants and a lot of the same overpriced corporate boutiques you’d find yourself consciously avoiding at, say, Lenox Mall in Atlanta. In that way, maybe it hasn’t changed that much since the days of Sherlock Holmes’s “Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” Things have gotten a lot more corporate, and more homogeneous, maybe. But it’s all capitalism; capitalism looks different now, and consequently so does the Garden, but its essential purpose is pretty much the same. We got at least one picture that embodies this dynamic: a whole alleyway of fascinating independent shops–bookstores with rare editions of Ulysses and Moby-Dick and old William Blake exegeses–partially obscured by a Chipotle.

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The Imperial War Museum was very impressive. The name had us a bit worried going into it–like it was going to be overly jingoistic and celebratory, a relic of a different era for the British Empire. But it was pretty detailed and harrowing. Parts of it were a bit reminiscent of certain museums in the U.S.: the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, for instance, or even the Warner Robins Museum of Aviation. There’s a lot of “Check out this old plane with a cool personalized mascot” stuff going on:

But we came away thinking it had a deeper sense of history than some of those other museums. This makes sense, of course: the UK’s dealings in both World Wars were significantly more involved and drawn-out than America’s, and their WWI and WWII exhibits are accordingly comprehensive and thoughtful.

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I thought the WWI exhibit was especially impressive, as a document of not only Britain’s involvement in the War, but the preceding decades of European politics leading up to it. We’re having some trouble connecting this to any of the books we’ve read this semester, but “A Scandal in Bohemia” does obliquely touch upon the late-19th Century hotbed of burgeoning European nationalism that eventually made WWI such a tragic inevitability. The Museum had a weirdly Gilliamesque animation displaying the impossibly convoluted series of alliances, betrayals, and simmering tensions that characterized the fin-de-siecle era’s European politics. It’s not hard to imagine Doyle’s King of Bohemia playing a minor role of his own: diplomacy

The Holocaust exhibit is also devastating, frankly. I don’t really know what else to say about it beyond that. I mean, you really should go if you can. But you won’t come away from it feeling good about the world.

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One thought on “Covent Garden and the Imperial War Museum

  1. Wow! You guys had an amazing day. Real-life football “hooligans”! I’m glad you liked the Imperial War Museum. It’s the best of it’s kind I’ve every been to. I, too, especially appreciate the WWI exhibit. We get a concrete sense of what these wars meant to GB and Europe–we can never get that feeling with our involvement. We simply didn’t lose nearly the number of men.

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