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Friday, March 02, 2012

England: The Country With a History Face

There is something absolutely magical about visiting another country, especially a country like England.  At least, I think so.  But why?  On my descent into Gatwick, I thought about that question, and this is the best I could come up with:

England is a country that wears its history on its face.  To someone like myself, who has lived in various parts of the United States where colonial history is not explicitly present (i.e., there aren’t a whole bunch of forts and “old towns” on the West Coast).[1]  But what does it mean for a nation to wear its history on its face?  Traveling to England is like traveling through hundreds of years of history compressed into one space.  It is impossible to look at England without being able to see the ancient, the old, the modern, and the contemporary all comingled in the same space.  Perhaps this does not fascinate the British, but it certainly grabs my attention every time I visit (just as it captures me now as I sit in the airport).[2]

Perhaps that is, in part, why Damien Walter claimed that England is bewitched by the magical/mystical (having only glanced at the post, this is really random speculation).  England really is magical, mystical, bewildering, wondrous, and all manner of other delicious descriptors one might use.  But it’s because of the history, I think, that so many tourists are drawn here.  That history is a kind of magic of its own, filled with myths, legends, exciting stories, architecture, characters, and literature.  It’s a place where you always feel like there’s something grand to learn about the very place you’re standing on.  Something happened here, perhaps something insignificant within the endless stream of historical time, but something exciting nonetheless.

Maybe that’s why I keep coming back – this is my fourth trip to England (though my first foray into the southern half of the island).  I’m jetlagged.  I’m tired.  I’m unclean.  But I’m amazed by the wonder around me.  Is this just the journey of the tourist?  Or is there something truly magical about England or equally ancient places that inspire such emotions?

A question for you all:  what countries or places have you visited that seemed to wear its history on its face?  Let me know in the comments so I can make a list of places to see with my girlfriend…
This is what a picture taken from a plane looks like.  What is it, you might ask?  Well, it's the  clouds being murdered by the sunlight on the horizon.  Pretty?  I think so, even if my photography skills say otherwise...


[1] When I say old, I mean by degrees of hundreds of years.  Much of California was settled fairly late in American history.  But there is also something to be said about living in these places that demystifies the historical experience.  I love the Old West – the mines, frontier towns, the Gold Rush sites, etc. – but I have lived in that space for so long that it doesn’t hold the allure it once did.

[2] I wrote this post while I was sitting in Gatwick International Airport while waiting for my train.

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