Glimpses of London on the Eve of Brexit

Thursday, January 30, 2020 | London, UK

For many visitors, London's authentically local sites pale in comparison to the multicultural imports.
After a torturous 3.5-year saga, the fateful day has finally arrived: Brexit is here. Tomorrow will be the United Kingdom's last day in the European Union; after 47 years of integration, it's back to "splendid isolation"—with all the tradeoffs, missed opportunities, and problems (bafflingly invisible to some) that it will entail.

By this point, most Europeans I know have long since settled on "good riddance." The Brits, by contrast, remain a bitterly divided bunch.

Nina and I have taken two trips to London in the past year or so, visiting this past New Year's and around Christmas a year earlier (my first time back since a trip during college in 2005). Both visits were brief and we spent most of our time catching up with American expat friends rather than pestering the locals about politics. However, my British friends around the world (a very non-representative, cosmopolitan sample) have spent the past few years feeling universally horrified at—yet powerless to stop—their country's willing self-destruction.

Britain won't be weighing anchor and shoving off further into the Atlantic tomorrow, of course. It will still depend on Europe for most of its trade. (And what's so bad
about that anyway?) If the British felt fed up by "unelected bureaucrats" in Brussels setting the terms on that trade and the goods exchanged, the conceit that they will somehow obtain better terms by ceding their seat at the table is utterly perplexing. But don't expect the nativists who voted for secession to care; they weren't even phased by the revelation, earlier this month, that the losses inflicted by Brexit will soon surpass the full value of the UK's 47 years of EU contributions.

During our visits we stayed with our generous American friends Joe and Christianne, and didn't come away with any particularly novel Brexit insights, other than firsthand confirmation of the obvious: London is a strikingly cosmopolitan city, and thus is likely to suffer the impact of Brexit disproportionately. Whereas residents of the English countryside and second-tier cities might maintain the illusion that the country can thrive independently of the world around it, London is inescapably plugged in. We walked the streets past gaggles of pouty-lipped khaleeji princesses, attended a Danish-Icelandic artist's exhibit, ate at sumptuous Chinese and Indian restaurants, and heard speakers of Russian and Arabic and Malay and so much more. Sure, the pubs are alright and the little red phone booths are cute for about a minute, but who really goes to the UK for the purely British attractions? Some people, presumably, but not us.

As the UK flees Europe, shunning a globalized, open future in favor of a return to imagined glory days of "sovereignty", it's likely to instead rediscover a less illustrious past, the one that defined it for far longer than its relatively brief moment at the center of the world: that of a few cold, rocky islands, isolated in the North Atlantic and buffeted by strange forces from beyond the horizon.

My Rolleiflex photos from London are available here: 2018 Rollei - London, and my Leica Q2 photos are available here: 2020.01 Q2 - London.

No comments:

Post a Comment