It is all there

Drew looks out on London from the Tate Modern, August 2005.

Drew looks out on London from the Tate Modern, August 2005.

“London has the trick of making its past, its long indelible past, always a part of its present. And for that reason it will always have meaning for the future, because of all it can teach about disaster, survival, and redemption. It is all there in the streets. It is all there in the books.”Anna Quindlen

Quindlen captures London perfectly in this quote, I think.  To visit London was, for me, to fall in love with history all over again, because I felt, as in no other place, the real and immediate connection it has to the present and future.

Growing up in a country where two centuries ago seems age-old history, and living where almost all of the homes are younger than I am, it’s easy to get a skewed idea of the relevance of the distant past.

That error seems less likely in London, where the atmosphere is unmistakably alive and modern, but the surroundings bear traces of bygone centuries that go as far back, in some places, as the rule of ancient Rome.  After a week of touring London, I had to laugh at myself, because I had begun to see anything built after 1500 or so as relatively recent.

When you hear the term “historic,” what era first comes to mind?  Are there any places near you that remind you of eras that seem mostly forgotten by people today?


One year ago today:

A moveable feast


  1. Good Sunday morning, Julia. I think prior to 1900 is historical in terms of land developement, manufacturing, inventions and technology. Oh, and relatives! 🙂
    I doubt very few people that visit this coastal area of South Carolina realize that close by once stood thriving rice plantations. You don’t have to boat very far in these rivers and swamps to see the remnants of the rice fields. It’s quite interesting….and historic!

    • Sheila, I didn’t realize (or maybe had forgotten) that they had rice fields in South Carolina. I think they have (or had) them in Arkansas, too, and probably other places in the U.S. Jeff and I chose Charleston for our honeymoon partly because we thought the historic aspects of it would be interesting. We’d love to go back, and also see Savannah too. So much to explore, so little time!

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Another “Dear Sheila and Julia”: Middleton Place, near Charleston, was a fabulous rice plantation. Try to find an aerial view of the terracing nearest the river. You will see what some have described as the belly of a she crab. (Blue Crabs are a delight second only to the Maryland seashore, in this area.) My daughter-in-law volunteers at Middleton, and I (along with any of her guests) get to tour the many historic exhibits free of charge! btw – Indigo was another lucrative crop at these plantations.

        • WOW, I had never heard of Middleton Place, but I found it online and it looks GORGEOUS. If you visit their website at and watch the scrolling photos at the top, there is a lovely aerial view that shows the terracing you described. Wow, what a nice perk that Marlea works there. Jeff and I spent the first night of our honeymoon at the Indigo Inn in Charleston. I read that natural indigo was once referred to as “blue gold” because of its commercial value.

        • Eric, in looking up the aerial view of Middleton Place, I also saw the butterfly shaped lakes. Then I read the article “The Forever Plantation” by William Baldwin, from Garden & Gun magazine. There is much history there!

          • Sheila, that’s fairly close to where you live, isn’t it?

            • Julia, Charleston is a 2 hour drive south of Murrells Inlet. I hope to spend some time there, one of these days. 🙂

              • Well, if we ever head that way, we will simply HAVE to stop by on our way down. You have been warned. 😀 But I’ll give you plenty of notice. Meanwhile, you can always head north – winter is coming, but the DC area always has plenty of HOT AIR.

                • Julia, we were in Alexandria so many years ago at a Washington prosthetic and orthotic meeting. The girls were young but even so we enjoyed the little shops there so much while Bill was in meetings. It doesn’t take very long to fix a cup of tea! The road to a friends house is never long. 🙂

                  • You must be remembering Old Town, a fun place to stroll. There is so much to see and do here – the hard part is making time for it (if one lives here) or choosing among all the possibilities (if one is visiting). When my sister and her husband were here briefly, one of the first places they went to was the Capitol, and they ended up spending the entire day there. I believe Congress may have been in session and they spent some time in the gallery watching the action. I’ve seen just enough of C-SPAN that I haven’t had much desire to do that myself, but I suppose it’s more fun in person. Years ago I did enjoy eating in the Senate cafeteria. I could spend weeks at the museums of the Smithsonian.

  2. LB

    What a perfect quote!
    I hear the word historic used all the time for our downtown areas. Whenever I travel, I look for the “historic downtown” signage, but as you said for towns that are not huge tourist attractions, the buildings are often only 150 years old … still MUCH better than many of the new, unattractive, non-sustaining buildings we make today.

    • Yes, I have learned to love the historic little towns that are all over America. So many of them are being spruced up and made more attractive, while still retaining the historic architecture and vintage charm. Maybe it’s a sign of my increasing age, but now when I think of dream vacations, I usually picture smaller communities instead of the big cities. Even relatively recent history gives a town character that’s lacking in the sameness of the stores and restaurants that are seen in seemingly every city nowadays.

      • LB

        We are on the same page, Julia. I avoid chain restaurants and favor local shops and diners. My friend Ruth and I take an annual “Road Trip to Watch the Hokies” and we choose it based on a town or city we can explore. No Chains 🙂
        SKype with you this evening 🙂

        • Don’t you just love those little cafes that are in almost every small town? Jeff and I love to eat breakfast at these places. Love the name of your road trip! I always thought “Hokie” was a hilarious name to have as a mascot – I just looked it up to see what on earth it means. I had no idea it came from a silly cheer! I so enjoyed our Skype visit tonight!

  3. I felt the same when I went to Rome, especially when the cars were zipping around the Coliseum.

    • Wow, that would be even more of a time warp than visiting London! It’s fun to wonder which (if any) of our “modern” buildings will still be around in 2000 years, and what will be zipping around them?

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        In Istanbul, tour guides laugh at people thinking of the structures in Rome as being ancient. There is a column in the Blue Mosque, for example, that they scavenged from the temple of Diana, of Ephesus.
        They claim it was originally carved over 3000 years ago! (I guess the term ancient history is relative.)

        • I was quite impressed with the expansive ruins of Ephesus, particularly the Roman Library of Celsus, which goes back less than 2000 years, a latecomer compared to the carving you mention. Yes, ancient is a relative term! Here I was, thinking that some of the stuff in my attic is ancient. 😀

  4. When I’m in San Francisco I feel the history, especially along the different piers. But when I was in Mont St. Michel, standing in a 700 year old church, wow! If those walls could talk.

    • I hope someday to see Mont St. Michel. It seems so intriguing.

  5. I too visited London, you are right. It was incredible, steeped in the past, but living in the future. I also felt that way when we went to Narro, Sicily. I stood in a ruin from the 15 century. Wonderful. :o)

    • Patricia, if I ever am able to visit Sicily, I will be thinking of you! I feel almost as if I have already been there thanks to your delightful memoir. I love the way so many of these places have preserved their ancient history while living modern lives. If the USA is around for hundreds more years, I hope we will still have places still standing that go back to the beginnings of our recorded history.

  6. singleseatfighterpilot

    Welsh explorers in the New World over 300 years before Columbus?
    On the western edge of the Cohutta Mountains (which range lies west of the Blue Ridge) Fort Mountain is an imposing salient. See the following article:

    • WOW, this really is interesting. I had never heard of the Madoc legend. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia: “Thomas Jefferson had heard of Welsh speaking Indian tribes. In a letter written to Meriwether Lewis by Jefferson on 22 January 1804, he speaks of searching for the Welsh Indians said to be up the Missouri. The historian Stephen E. Ambrose writes in his history book Undaunted Courage that Thomas Jefferson believed the “Madoc story” to be true and instructed Lewis and Clark to find the descendants of the Madoc Welsh Indians.” (Citations are furnished).

  7. raynard

    Julia the only thing i remember about London. It was running thru the airport to catch a connecting flight to NY feeling like” George Jetson on his Treadmill dog walker’Jane stop this crazy thing lol( I did get bumped up to first class and ate for the first time shrimp cocktail…

    • Raynard, it is my dream to one day get bumped to First Class on a transatlantic or transpacific flight. I would love to experience it, but I know quite well I would never pay the price even if I could afford to. I hope you will one day be able to visit someplace in London other than the airport. After my first visit to Europe in 1972, being frustrated by having only two days in London, I literally had a recurring nightmare for some time after that, in which I had landed at Heathrow but nobody would let me get off of the airplane! 😀

  8. Good morning, Julia! I agree with you about London. I think history is woven into the fabric of today by the continued use of the historical buildings. Where historical buildings are turned into museums, a snapshot of time is preserved, but when the buildings are still in use, yesterday flows into today, and grounds us for tomorrow.

    • Susan, that’s a great distinction to make. One thing I love about Yorktown (Virginia) is that, unlike Colonial Williamsburg where the buildings are part of a living history park, several buildings from the same era in Yorktown are still in use, and people actually live within the historic area. Of course, what we call “historic” is new compared to much of what is in London. The colleges at Oxford and Cambridge are beautiful for the same reason. Imagine going to a school where the history goes back nearly 1000 years! As far as I could tell, all of the old buildings remaining in these university towns are still in use.

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