Friday, June 17, 2016

London: Long Live the Queen

Just celebrating with the queen....

London was awash with parties, picnics, and parades over the weekend--that spilled around England (literally since it was one of the rainiest weeks of June in years). Queen Elizabeth's 90's birthday was being celebrated. Despite the upcoming referendum vote or "Brexit" to stay or exit the European Union, England was in a festive, jubilant mood to show their respect and love for their queen. Throngs of people meandered around London, being drawn for her auspicious birthday. It was time to lay aside political controversies and to purposefully unite. Who can estimate the power of a birthday party?

Some merrymaking photos on the street that day:

A father around Westminster with his three daughters. He told me he had two sets of twin girls, but one was missing. I thought they were irresistible--all decked out for the queen.
Lots of panache and gallantry on the streets that day....
In front of Buckingham Palace after spotting the queen on the balcony with the royal family.
The Royal Air Force over Buckingham Palace 

Some ladies in waiting with another merrymaker

Most everyone dressed up "to the nine's" on the streets of London to celebrate the queen's birthday.
When we planned our trip here, we had no idea about London's birthday gala party for Queen Elizabeth II, the grandmotherly face that is ubiquitous around the world. After all, she is the longest ruling monarch in English history, surpassing her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria in 2007. Her reign, beginning in 1952, has spanned over six decades--two London Olympics, wars, and 12 countries that have become independent since her accession. The royal family's popularity has taken a few dives at times in the last few decades, but Queen Elizabeth always seems to launch back on top.

As an American unknowingly stumbling into the festivities, we enjoyed observing all the "pomp and circumstance"--many people "dressed to the nine's" and traveling from far corners of England to join in on the party. Weaving through the crowds and parades did not inconvenience us as tourists; it all seemed completely worthwhile--especially when we caught a profile of Queen Elizabeth. One British woman remarked, "We Brits have to be careful because if we do something once, we want to make it into a tradition"--conveying the thought of Shakespeare in Henry V when he said, "Nice customs curtsy to nice kings."

For some Americans, all the pomp would be excessive or overdone. But we enjoyed the spectacle. It meant people were remembering the past, and honoring the future. Indeed, traditions, ceremonies, and rituals are sacrosanct in Britain. The predictability of traditions are reassuring somehow--giving you a sense that all is well in the kingdom. As we observed the crowds, the traditions and celebrations connect people, bring them together. It was a time to put away differences--reveling in tradition.

Pictured are Joyce and Albert Goodman of Birmingham, England. They celebrate their 60th anniversary next year, and are very excited to receive their letter of congratulations from the queen on their special day. Joyce, 78, said that Albert, 88, "robbed the cradle when they married" after WWII. Albert was eager to tell me as a teenager how he hid in many shelters to keep away from the bombs. He said, "Everyone was in it together."

Not far from where we glimpsed the queen stood the Winston Churchill War Rooms that provided shelter for Churchill and Allied leaders during WWII--in a time of great divisions. If you look hard enough, you can even find signs on houses that read "shelter." In war time England, people gathered in dark shadows under homes and train stations to be saved from the the Blitz or showering bombs. As I watched the stage of pageantry around me this weekend, I silently hoped that the gathering and unity will continue to coalesce, just as it did in WWII times.

This past weekend in London, England, it did not matter the diversity of opinions. Pandora's box of reality would be open soon enough--with looming economic and political issues to settle. For an American, the pomp showed an undeniable outpouring of a desire to remember traditions, and most of all, honor a 90 year old woman who has unquestionably taken her job very, very seriously for 64 years. May she reign in peace....  And again quoting the Bard, "Our peace shall stand as long as rocky mountains." Long live the Queen!

I must say it was "jolly good fun" to crash the party!