Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Greetings from: NEWCASTLE

For us, Newcastle is a waypoint -- a few hours to kill before we head up to Durham. As we exited the bus from the port, a chipper information guide gave us a route through the town. “It’s a nice bit of time,” she said.

At what point do all ancient keeps, castles and crumbling fort walls begin to look alike? As we travel from one former medieval city to another, I begin to gloss over their individual histories: which cathedral was destroyed when? And by whom? Was this city sacked or merely fallen into disrepair? I enjoy the scenery on an aesthetic level (rib-like arches, stained glass windows) and a conceptual level (how many conquered peoples did it take to build that?), but much of the awe that seems to overtake other tourists regularly escapes me. I’ve been more parsimonious with my photo-taking (you’d think that a digital camera, with its instant gratification, would lead to more pictures, but that’s not the case with me).

It’s not merely the tourist view of history, either; young Newcastletons sit on the medieval walls, dipping their fingers into bags of crisps and drinking lagers. A young couple snog as if they’ve only just discovered their lips. They’ve been exposed to this history so long they no longer realize that it’s there, except when tourists come to gawk and clog the sidewalks, reading historical plaques and signs.

But Newcastle has something that the Netherlands doesn’t have: charity shops. In the Amnesty International bookstore, I pick up a Javier Marias novel, and in another shop, I get a CD that, upon closer inspection, was smeared with maple syrup and rather scratched. But it was cheap, and a quick rinse cleared off the syrup. I’m not sure it’ll play or not, but I’ll just chalk that up as a donation to mental illness abatement.
I’m a giver, I know.

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