Having a bit of an identity crisis here in London. On the train down from Scotland, we sat across from a lovely couple who hailed from Berkeley, who knew Dona was American, but somehow suspected I was English. But at Westminster Abbey today, we had to stand in line to receive our audio headphones and device. Ahead of us one of the staff asked each couple from whence they came, and gave out appropriate language audio systems. When it was our turn I spoke before he could ask, and said, “the states.” The gentleman responded, “Yes, I know.” My Brit bubble was burst. But I’ve since realized it must be Dona who had given us away.
Dona objects! She points out that her recent 23 and Me DNA test showed that she’s 39 percent European, including about 5.6 percent British and Irish. Me? I don’t need a test to know that I’m about 95 percent Italian.
So anyway, it was on to Westminster Abbey, with a first stop at the National Portrait Gallery. On the way there we couldn’t help noticing that we encountered more bookstores in three blocks of walking than exist in all of Tacoma.
We spent far longer in each place than Dona had planned, which caused us to pass on the War Museum, which Dona has been wanting to visit since our last trip here about 20 years ago. But you can’t blame us. The history in these places is affecting. In the Gallery, room after room of royalty, statespeople, writers, and artists, paintings dating from as early as the 15th century. As good as the Gallery is, it can’t compare to the Abbey. Perhaps nothing can. The greats and near-greats of British history lie beneath its stones and in tombs throughout this massive structure, which was originally constructed in the 11th century.
I wondered aloud to Dona about the sense of history in the Abbey as a force of national solidarity, and if somehow having something similar in America might begin to heal our current national divides. But of course there’s a lot more to it than that. Our country is much larger, more spread out, and more diverse, both culturally and politically. The Abbey wasn’t always accessible by the average Brit either. Yet, there is an awesomeness that pervades this place where so many of the nation’s revered (there’s even a Poets’ Corner) are entombed for all to see. Imagine if Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan lay enshrined in one place, and were joined by Lee, King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Einstein, Hemingway, Andy Warhol, Patton, and hundreds of our best, as well as the other presidents.