An interesting thing happened in London.
My daughter and I went in search of two houses in the city where I had previously lived. In 1967-8, we spent a year living in at 17 Tregunter Road. I can report that it’s still there, white, surrounded by trees.
Later, after graduating from college in 1978, I lived with a former roommate in Knightsbridge in a basement flat on Brompton Square. Right near Harrods. That building is also still there, along with an associated garden for residents.
I sent a requisite Look Where We Are Now! photo off to my roommate, who is still a good friend. She recognized Brompton Square at once. And added the comment that she finds London less British every time she visits.
That was the interesting thing.
London these days, as the husband of a London friend said one night after cooking us dinner, is buoyant. It is rich, diverse, and under construction. It reminds me not of Downtown Abbey, nor of that best of all BBC series, Pride and Prejudice, but Shanghai, City of the Future.
Now I like Olde England as much as anyone. White mouldings and black doors with brass knockers. Reverence for trees. But I loved New London too. How wonderful to see a city with that much history playing an electric role in the 21st century?
I know that some feel otherwise. The EU brings workers in droves in from Eastern Europe. I heard of entire neighborhoods bought up by Russian money seeking a hiding place rather than a home. A long running river of oil wealth pours through London financial systems, unabated. Real estate prices rise, cheese gets expensive, this is hard for many.
And yet it felt right. Maybe that’s natural for a Silicon Valley native. Can I also say that in the past 30 years England’s men have gotten better looking? The impact of war year nutrition seems to have passed and the men are tall and strong and wearing close-fitting suits. Frivolous observation, but maybe with meaning.
Note that I am a die-hard patriot. I love America, I defend its principles, I believe in its promise – even when we falter, badly. But wouldn’t it be ironic if after all this time the USA became the Old World, and Britain The New?
Old is nice, traditions bring comfort and proven outcomes, but New solves problems and we’ve got a few, we humans.
Which brings us to the question of how to remain New. A very big question, one I am not equipped to answer for nations. But here’s my personal philosophy. Embrace adventurers – immigrants, inventors, even those with whom we disagree. They keep us buoyant, and the metaphors for time are full of rising waters.