Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...
November 5th is a holiday unique to England: Guy Fawkes' Day and Bonfire Night. In 1605, Guy Fawkes was one member of the Gunpowder Plot, which tried to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I. He was the one found with the gunpowder, ready to blow up the House of Lords on the next day. Fawkes was dragged into the streets and burned at the stake. Today, British people erect massive bonfires and burn effigies of Fawkes, accompanied by many fireworks.
My day was a ton of fun. I took the bus into London but got there early, so walked through Hyde Park, passing preparations for a Christmas fair, and went to Diana's Memorial fountain. Then I met my friend Nadia at Holborn. We had a nice lunch in a pub, then spent a little over three hours in the British Museum, seeing a lot of really amazing things. I think my favorite was the prehistoric art, carved bones and things depicting Woolly Mammoths- some of the earliest known art ever found.
After the Museum, Nadia and I walked through Leiscester Square, which I had never been to. The city was lit with early Christmas lights- there's a big effort here to extend the Christmas buying season due to the poor economy. It looked really nice. Then we went to Camden. Camden Town is really neat- the hub of alternative culture in London, and filled with street markets. There is massive three-dimensional art on the buildings, and the markets extend into old stables filled with enormous horses on the walls, floors, and even ceilings. It's unlike any place I've ever been, kind of an enormous (and enormous is an understatement) flea market feeling, with cool art and giant things everywhere. Hopefully the pics tell the story a bit better than I can.
Nadia and I had a very good dinner at an Italian restaurant called Marine Ices. Then we met a bunch of her actor friends. They were really great people, and perhaps because I am also a theatre person, I found them really easy to talk to. We all walked up Primrose Hill, which is a park that overlooks the entire city. I could see Big Ben far in the distance ahead, with Canary Wharf off to our left, and the BT Tower and skyscrapers to our right. Regent's Park was right in front of us. The park was filled with people, most of who at least had sparklers. We had heard and seen many fireworks across the city, even before getting there. I did not do anything Bonfire-related, but will do that next week.
The thing that amazed me most about the Fawkes fireworks, was how different the feel was from anything in the States. In the US, for the 4th or other fireworks events, I am used to seeing a presentation organized by a city or State that is very controlled. People group together and look at it. Some people do set off their own, but they're just tiny little, usually illegal, displays. This was completely different. There were a few organized firework displays, most notably by Big Ben and the Eye and another near Canary Wharf, but they were just a tiny fraction of the fireworks we saw over the city. The vast majority of fireworks (which are completely legal to buy and use here, they sell them in many stores, even supermarkets) are put up by random people. On Primrose Hill, the best fireworks were ones set off all around us- not miniature fireworks, but full-sized enormous changing, screeching bursts. For about an hour and a half we stood on the hill, never sure where to look for the next burst- they were literally on every side. The fireworks over London were mostly in front, but the best displays were closer. There were also many people lighting and releasing Chinese Lanterns, as in the video below.
After the fireworks, the group I was with (6 total) went to a pub and hung out until after 11. It was a karaoke pub, but we didn't sing. It was a lot of fun just hanging, drinking, and talking. Great people, great time. The one bad thing happened after I said goodbye to Nadia and headed home- her house was burgled (found out today) :( Overall though, a really good day.