London vs. Cambridge

by Carson Reynolds

Last weekend I went for a peek at London and Cambridge with Joëlle. We spent much of our time there seeing the local collection of art museums: the Whitechapel and the Tate Modern. Whitechapel was showing some rather amazing sound work by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. One work had 40 speakers each which recorded one singers voice for a 40-part choral piece. If you stood in the center it was really hypnotic, and if you walked by each speaker, you could hear the individual voices. One guy was so overwhelmed that he just laid down on the hardwood floor and stretched his arms out and closed his eyes.

The Tate Modern offered more of a categorized selection of biological specimens of all the major species of modern art. There were some excellent Man Ray pieces. Particularly striking was Cold Dark Matter by Cornelia Parker. Her method is to pack various objects into a garden shed, then have the British Army give it a good blowing-up. She then collects the fragments and hangs them arrayed around a single lightbulb throwing amazing and sinister shadows on the walls.

I went out to Cambridge to see Ben Piper, who I’d been promising to visit since I left for Dublin. He treated us to a really wonderful afternoon. We took out his college’s punt and haphazardly pushed our way up and down the river. We brought drinks, lunch, and guitar. They conspired to piece together a great afternoon. Cambridge is quite nice, but in a strangely affected sort of way. Ben mentioned much of the older looking buildings were constructed in the last century to add to the ambiance. It certainly has a charm and spirit, but one that is very well manicured.

I brought Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle which I’d been gulping down last month, as well as Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly. Some pleasant moments were passed just lounging about Hyde Park and enjoying the sunshine, as well as wandering along the banks of The Thames. Evenings were spent sampling London’s Thai, Indonesian, Sudanese, Italian, and Indian food.

London to me felt more reliable and reassuring than Paris. More like a charming, paternalistic uncle than the carefree and aesthetic lover who coincidentally shares his name with Paris. The eternal debate between the virtues of the two will hardly be stemmed by my insignificant observations; but I’d probably pluralistically concede that each has its own virtue.