My career has taken me to some interesting and some not-so-interesting
places. Fortunately, I carry a camera
with me to record it all for posterity. Lately it feels like I spend
more time traveling than I do at home. But I'm sure that's just my
imagination running away with me. It tends to do that.
The index below is intended to make it easier to navigate:
I've also collected some favorite pictures and cropped and scaled them for use as desktop backgrounds. If you have a widescreen PowerBook like mine, you might enjoy them.
(By the way, does anybody remember the
that gave these pages their name? No?
I can't say I'm surprised. Cool theme song, though.)
My first major business trip coincided with a transfer from Upstate New York to Southern California when I was all of twenty-five. I was fighting for more money. My new manager offered me two months in London. I accepted. Eight and a half months later I finally made it to California. Below are some images from that trip and the much shorter ones I've made since.
I always imagined London as described by
Conan Doyle and
by Basil Rathbone: a place of
cutpurses and ruffians whose activities were held in check by
well-meaning but often inept officials with the help of the odd
talented amateur. Scotland Yard, home to Inspector Lestrade and his
ilk, was a landmark I knew as well as Big Ben. Actually, this is
New Scotland Yard. The original Scotland Yard is a couple of
streets away and got its name from the fact that a road called Great
Scotland Yard is at its rear. That building was just reopened as
stables for the Metropolitan Police. And New Scotland Yard? It's
been replaced with a boring chrome and glass structure near Victoria
Station. It too is called New Scotland Yard, although it's a lot
newer than this New Scotland Yard. Do they do this just to
confuse us tourists?
A couple of views of the clock that adorns the Houses of Parliament. We
all think of it Big Ben, although a purist will point out that that's
the name of the clock's bells and not the clock itself. When I first
saw the tower I was a little disappointed; somehow I expected it to be
a lot bigger than it is. In the second volume of
Equator, Mark Twain talks about this phenomenon: how your own image of
great landmarks is far greater than reality but how the two come
together again after repeated visits. And so it is with Big Ben;
after almost twenty years I can't imagine how I wasn't
Smart man, Twain.
Tower Bridge is the easternmost and by far the most interesting
looking of the many bridges across the Thames. I was surprised to
learn that it isn't all that old, dating back only a hundred years or
so. Its design is entirely practical: the drawbridge permits ships
access to the docks to the west while providing a street level roadbed
for the era's horsedrawn traffic. A remarkable achievement of
Victorian technology and sensibilities. By the way, notice the
difference in the sky color from the Big Ben pictures above. Now this
is London weather the way I remember it!
On every trip I try to stop at Harrods and visit my money. Harrods
food halls are spectacular, although less impressive if you've been in
a Japanese department store. Still, their collections of glass and
china are unmatched. And they still deliver: a friend arranged for
them to deliver a copy of the
Guide To The Galaxy on
record (this was a while ago) for a party. They couldn't find the
address the first time and we couldn't wait for their next delivery
day, so they sent someone out on the Underground to complete the
delivery. Extra points for service, guys.
A view of Upper Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus. Regent Street is
home to some of some of my other shopping haunts, including Liberty
(source of cool ties and great windows at Christmas) and Hamley's, the
world's biggest toy store and the usual collection of American
stores. There's even a Warner Brothers store there now. But, sadly,
they don't offer any special British cartoon stuff.
London is where I first developed my passion for theatre, taking in a musical or a comedy or a thriller nearly every weekend during that first long stay. (Now when I visit I try to see something nearly every night!) Annie was in its first run during that long ago time. And what a pleasant surprise to reencounter it almost twenty years later. A couple of small changes, though. For one thing the youngest orphan is now playing one of Daddy Warbucks's servants. And for another, the evil Miss Hannigan is portrayed by a transvestite by the name of Lily Savage. What, there aren't enough roles for men on the legitimate stage?
Speaking of transvestites, London is also where I saw The Rocky Horror
Show five times, completing its original seven year run at the Comedy
Theatre. This marquee is from a revival at the Picadilly which,
although fun, just wasn't the same. And I could have done
without the audience participation. I wish people would save that
stuff for the movies.
And as long as we're talking about
(and we were, weren't
we?), I took a trek across Southwark Bridge to see actor Sam
Wanamaker's dream: the reconstructed Globe
Theatre. It's a brilliant recreation of Shakespeare's professional
home, using original materials and techniques. With a few additions,
like a sprinkler system in the thatched roof to prevent history from
repeating itself. And a new location about three hundred yards from
the old, giving it a nice view of the river. Sad to say, the new
Globe's open roof means it's a warm weather facility like the
original, so I didn't get a chance to see a performance. But one of
(Is it a coincidence that Shakespeare's historical legacy owes so much to Americans? It was P.T. Barnum's attempt to buy Shakespeare's Stratford birthplace and move it to the States that finally got the English to come up with the money to rescue the place from the ravages of time. And it had to be an American who led the effort to give us a new Globe. Sometimes I'm kind of proud of my countrymen. Not often, I grant. But sometimes.)
This unimpressive door belongs to Number 10, Downing Street, the Prime
Minister's residence. Not exactly the White House, is it? To be fair,
the doors to any of the Queen's homes are probably a lot more
spectacular. I was lucky to get this shot on my first visit.
Nowadays they don't let you get nearly this close. Something to do
with people who have an extreme approach to expressing their political
A little excursion to Dover, two hours by car from London. Famous for
its White Cliffs, the Channel Tunnel (which was only a dream when I
was there) and this little piece of architecture, Dover Castle. By
the way, I finally got my chance to to take Eurostar through the
tunnel on my way from Paris to London. What surprised me about the
journey is how commonplace it all is. Just a pleasant little train
ride that happens to be the culmination of a hundred year old dream.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California