Friday, July 07, 2006

Remembrances of London’s 7/7

Remembrances of London’s 7/7

One year ago yesterday evening, I “interrupted” my exhilarating Italian vacation to fly to London for a mere 36 hours so I could see two of the year’s most fêted musicals in the West End: Billy Elliot -- The Musical and Guys And Dolls. I was particularly thrilled to see the latter, since I had purchased a second row seat to enjoy performances by Ewan McGregor and Jane Krakowski.

As much as I was loving every minute of the Italian portion of that trip -- which included stops in Milan, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Venice and ultimately Rome -- I just knew the most memorable moments of my time away from home were waiting for me in London. Ironically, London would indeed hold the moments that would forever be seared into my consciousness unlike any other from that tour, but certainly not in the manner I had so anticipated or desired.

Shortly after waking the following morning in my spectacular hotel room overlooking the Thames -- right next to the London Eye and diagonally across from Big Ben and Parliament -- I was shocked, saddened, horrified and downright disgusted to learn that London had been rocked by a number of deadly terrorist bombings that ultimately took the lives of 37.

Originally, news accounts were sketchy at best -- not unlike those Americans observed in the first few, unsure hours after the 9/11 attacks. One year ago today, conflicting reports throughout the morning kept me pretty much glued much to my hotel television, although the constant wailing of sirens outside my window regularly brought me to my feet to see what I might witness.

Before the morning was over, my hotel concierge informed me that my afternoon matinee of Billy Elliot – The Musical had been canceled, although there was no word on Guys And Dolls just yet. Because of all the uncertainty (and paradoxically, the realization that this was likely a coordinated Al Quaeda attack), it wasn’t long before I had my answer: Guys And Dolls would not be performing that evening. In fact, for the first time since World War II, every single West End theatre would be closed -- remarkable, considering that unlike the United States, this proud city that epitomizes the famous stiff upper lip also weathered decades of continual terrorism at the hands of the IRA.

In view of the appalling loss of life that the city had just endured, the fact that I was even bothering to ask about the performances made me feel extremely guilty and selfish. Only then did it strike me that I was truly fortunate simply to be alive and that I should be counting my blessings.

Most of the rest of the day I spent walking around London -- since the terrorists had hit the Underground (or subway) and one of the famed double-decker buses, public transportation had ground to a halt. Indeed, most people in London that day were also walking, just as in New York and Washington DC in the aftermath of 9/11. It was a very surreal experience. My heart genuinely ached for the people of London (this would be the second time I would feel like an interloper on the British psyche, having been in London on the distressing day that Princess Diana was tragically killed).

Witnessing the amazing spirit of the British people first-hand was both astonishing and instructive. Despite the assault they had just endured, the Londoners with whom I came in contact demonstrated tremendous courage and heart, as well as a defiance that they would not allow the day’s events to vanquish their resolve. And while I felt like an intruder on their collective consciousness, the memories I now have of their tenacity will be the most enduring impressions I will hold from that fateful journey.

As a postscript, almost immediately upon returning home, in my own meager way of showing solidarity with the people I met in London, I booked Thanksgiving tickets to see Billy Elliot- The Musical and Guys And Dolls -- much to my pleasant surprise, I once again landed in the second row for the latter. Both were worth the wait, and I was thrilled to travel to London when overall bookings had declined in the aftermath of the attacks.

Come what may, I will continue to do whatever I can to show my undying support and love for our British cousins just as they did for us after that awful September day in 2001.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre, London, UK) (May 26, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (Victoria Palace Theatre, London, UK) (May 18, 2006)

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