The next day was largely a travel day to London via Chunnel. I actually do prefer trains to planes because it’s a lot less of a hassle. Plus you leave from the center of the city (usually) and arrive in the center of the city. I wish we had the fast trains in the US. Imagine going to NY in 5 hours or something! It was a pleasant ride as always. However, we did see some small shanty towns in France before Calais. Stark reminder of the contrast of worlds.
When we got to London, we threw our bags into the hotel (a common occurrence) and ran to the British Museum. We were staying a block and a half away. It was about 4 o’clock and the museum closed at 5. We had a little bit of time to say hello to our favorite galleries: the Ancient Egyptian, the Parthenon Marbles. I had a chance to wander in the old fashioned galleries that try to tell the story of the history of the museum and recreate a little bit how things were displayed. I love the stories on the cards. There is an Indian currency that is both in Greek and the particular Indian language of the region. Yeah, the Greeks got as far as India. This coin helped decode the language since it had the Greeks.
Also, there’s a copy of the Rosetta Stone in that gallery that you can touch. Or in my case, hug.
The following day was spent at the Middle Temple. This was my fifth year of preparing a speech for the Loyola Law Program in London. My topic this year was the history of coffeehouses, tea and Twinings. Some readers of this blog know that I find food history fascinating. It’s a wonderful intersection of all different kinds of history: social, cultural, economic and political. I talked about the contested history of coffeehouses in Britain. While they were spaces to discuss and read news and research, this new order wasn’t simply accepted by society. The monarchy and parliament were wary of this new social space and they attempted to control it. Also the news could be libelous or completely fraudulent; being told that something “coffeehouse news” was not a compliment.
One neat thing about coffeehouses was that they specialized in specific professions, regions of England etc. There was a coffeehouse for stockjobbers, another for actors, another for maritime traders. Lloyds, you know the insurance company, came out of a coffeehouse by that name that specialized in maritime trade. It published its own newspaper and a group of insurance brokers came together to create the insurance company.
The funniest thing I learned was how people were really suspicious of coffee. It has suspicious origins: Turkey. Most English and other Europeans experienced it for the first time and due to the prejudices of the age, Turkey was morally suspect. Generally anything foreign was. Some people warned against the dangers of coffeehouses and coffee. They thought men spent too much time there, impacting their virility!
That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about the Twinings part of the speech and the second part of our day in London.