Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding

an American in London

For an English teacher, London has some things one can’t see elsewhere—the only copy of the Beowulf manuscript (on display at the British Library), original portraits of the bad boy Romantics (dashing Byron in his Lawrence of Arabia pose, National Portrait Gallery), and small-press editions of contemporary poetry that won’t be stocked at Barnes & Noble in a million years.

Through very bad luck or very good luck, depending how you look at it, a long-planned research trip of mine has overlapped with the Royal Wedding. (I wanted to say, look, kids, it’s a nice time of year and all, but I picked it first.) What has it been like?

Media coverage in the US has probably been as extensive as it was here, so I don’t need to talk about the trees inside of Westminster Abbey or the Battle of Britain flyover or the thrilling and seemingly illicit second kiss.

As with Memorial Day sales or 4th of July barbeques, one thing that may be less clear in the States is the extent to which this is a marketing event, combined with a long-awaited May Day kind of welcoming of spring. London had a hard winter this year, and the economic issues they face are nearly as dire as ours. What we call a “three-day weekend” is called here a “bank holiday weekend,” and the Royal Wedding extended a previously scheduled holiday into an even better, longer weekend. Merchants are thrilled, everybody wants to picnic or have a bit of a night on the town, and in particular, booze sales have shot up.

At the National Museum of the Army, where I had gone the day before to see an amazing collection of made-in-the-field watercolor sketches from the current war of Afghanistan, even the preschoolers on their morning-with-mum outing were going to scribble their way to history.

One can buy Royal Wedding PEZ dispensers, a $4000 wedding couple refrigerator (with their picture filling the entire front door), and Royal Wedding air-sickness bags. Even cigar makers and antique furniture dealers have found ways to tie in. Here is a special loaf of bread at my local baker’s.

A million people were on the streets apparently (so the evening news reported), and I can verify that everybody was on good behavior, and astoundingly so. Lines for the loo were orderly and the police spent more time giving directions to the re-routed bus lines than they did having to use nightsticks or read Miranda rights.

True, some protestors who wanted to stage a mock execution by setting up a non-mock guillotine were arrested—probably for their own safety, since the patriotic good will runs so high that they would have been dismembered by an angry crowd—and here or there, a few people edged past good taste. William and Kate look-alikes have engaged in some x-rated poses, available as books, videos, or shower curtains I am told—and in one bar, as the evening parties drew on, a rather striking young man could be seen dancing on a bar in just his union jack underpants.

Well, if so, Rule Britannia. The members of the monarchy in the UK are hardly any more useless than America’s royalty (that is, movie stars and NBA players), but are about 10,000% more likely to devote their working lives to charitable deeds. It was not so much a wedding event in London as National Feel Good Day, sort of a combination of Christmas and hug your neighbor week. Since the rest of the day’s real news (Apocalyptic tornadoes in Alabama, innocent protestors shot in Syria, the world’s most muddled war quagmiring in Libya) was all too depressing and all too real, I think a Disneyland holiday is just what we all deserved.

I even decided to order an extra helping of cupcakes.

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