St. Bride’s Church in London: a place to honor fallen journalists

I am not a Christian. I have read the Bible twice and have attended the services of several denominations and remain unconvinced. Despite this, any time I’m in London I go to an old church off of Fleet Street to pay my respects.

Fleet Street used to be the center of London’s journalism industry and St. Bride’s was the journalists’ church. The newspapers have since moved away to less expensive neighborhoods but St. Bride’s still maintains its connections to the journalistic profession.

At this point I would usually launch into my historical song-and-dance and tell you how St. Bride’s was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, how its steeple may have inspired the shape of wedding cakes, and how there’s a Roman building in the crypt. None of that makes me go there. I go there because to the left of the altar is a memorial to journalists killed in the line of duty. A few candles illuminate photos and cards and a list of names. Yesterday two more names were added.

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed yesterday in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, when the house they were staying in got shelled. They were both seasoned war correspondents. Colvin had lost the use of an eye while covering the Sri Lankan civil war in 2001. Both knew the dangers and both went to Syria anyway.

I was familiar with their work because I’ve been watching the carnage in Syria closely. I spent a wonderful month there back in 1994 enjoying Arab hospitality and seeing the country’s many historic sights. I was there when the dictator’s heir apparent Bassel al-Assad died in a car crash and the nation pretended to mourn. His younger brother Bashar now rules Syria and is ruthlessly suppressing his local version of the Arab Spring.

When I visited Hama, I learned how the al-Assad family leveled the city to quash resistance there back in 1982. Once the fighting started in 2011, I feared Hama would be leveled again. I was right about the massacre and wrong about the city. It’s Homs this time, or at least it’s Homs for the moment. Syria’s dictatorship would level every city it owns in order to stay in power.I never had the honor to meet Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. From their work I bet they were like the war correspondents I actually have met, with a deep love of humanity and a firm commitment to the truth. It would be presumptuous of me to put my job on a level with theirs, but it has taught me the same valuable lesson–that the majority of people around the world are good. Lots of folks believe that, but I know it to be true. I’ve had it proven to me over and over again in places my friends think I’m crazy to visit. Somaliland. Kurdistan. Palestine. Iran.

And Syria. The fighting and oppression and state-sponsored terrorism that Colvin and Ochlik gave their lives to reveal to the world do not diminish my estimation of the Syrian people one iota. The majority of Syrians are good, just as the majority of all people are good. And if you disagree don’t argue with me, argue with Anne Frank, who wrote the same thing in her diary while hiding out from the Nazis.

The news is so often negative that it’s easy for us to develop a negative view of the world and its many peoples. It’s important to remember, though, that those who travel the world for a living don’t share that view. Their travels have taught them better.

So when I’m back in London next month, this agnostic is going to St. Bride’s Church, not for a dogma I don’t believe in, but for an idea I do.

Photo courtesy St. Bride’s.

Broome Street, memories of place, and Jaunted’s tribute to Heath Ledger

Every day I read Jaunted to see what’s happening over there. Heath Ledger was one of the things happening today (January 23) since blogger Juliana was as floored as I was by his death. Her response was to provide an overview of the places Ledger traveled that formed his life as an actor.

If you spend any time at Gadling, you’ll see the theme of place as well. People who travel have automatic feelers for the qualities of a place that make it unique. In one of Jerry’s post on bookstores, he mentioned The Strand. It’s one of my favorite places to go and just a short walk from where my brother lives. My brother has lived in Manhattan for years and over the years of visiting him, I feel like his neighborhood is somehow mine as well. His friends have also lived there for years also, thus our paths have crossed often, and they have added to my scope of what life is like in New York.

When I step out of the subway stop at Union Square to walk to where my brother lives, it feels as if I’ve arrived home. When Broome Street was mentioned the street where Heath Ledger lived, I thought about the many times I’ve walked down Broome Street to Ted Muehling’s marvelous jewelery shop when it was located in this part of SoHo. Ted has since moved to Howard Street, but I can hear the sound that the metal steps made when I walked up to the door at the Broome Street location.

Close by is the The Guggenheim Museum Soho on the corner of Broadway and Prince, but when Ted’s shop was still on Broome Street, The Museum for African Art was one of my favorite stops in the neighborhood. That museum is now temporarily located in Long Island City, Queens.

When I heard Heath lived on Broome Street, I thought of the post I wrote not too long ago how our lives, travel, and the news intertwine to where each influences the other–particularly when we have a personal connection to a place.

If you’ve been to Anne Frank’s house, read her diary as an eighth grader and felt moved, the chestnut tree has a poignancy, for example. It’s not an abstract, far away thing–something that is “over there” with no consequence to our daily lives. When I read Neil’s post about the plans to cut it down, it felt alarming–as if the stars were shifting. I do know that nothing stays the same, but places do in ones memory unless you revisit them and find them changed.

I haven’t been down Broome Street for a few years or so, but it’s still there and it’s altered. Along with the sound of the metal step, and the taste of the rich piece of chocolate that I chose from the box that was on the table in the back of Ted Muehling’s store, I have other thoughts of Broome Street that I never expected. My memory is not quite the same.

Across Northern Europe: A second thought on museums in Amsterdam

You should never agree with yourself too often, at least that’s what I’m thinking today, so I’d like to mention a few museums that are worth all of our time. Some readers may remember an anti-museum post a little while ago, though more readers may have stopped reading after that one and are missing out on this mea culpa.

There are plenty of very good museums in Amsterdam, but the three I visited were Van Gogh’s, Rembrandt’s, and Anne Frank’s. Museums dedicated to one person tend to be really interesting; Picasso’s museo in Barcelona may be my favorite anywhere with work spanning from his childhood to old age.

But in Holland’s capital I first stopped into Van Gogh’s temple with work spanning seven of the ten short years he worked. In contrast to my experience with Picasso, I came away from Van Gogh’s museum with less awe rather than more. The work we always see from Van Gogh (Starry Night, the sunflowers, the self portraits) hews to a familiar and wonderful style. But a fuller sampling of his work revealed a scattershot, groping attempt to find that style. One portrait looked like a rough Rembrandt, many like so-so Seurats. But they also helped you understand the steps he took to reach his own iconic style. Most striking to me was Pietà (naar Delacroix), a painting of Mary and Jesus with a pallet so identical to Starry Night that it had to be put to canvas with the same physical paint (both were completed in 1889 but that’s as far as my scholarship goes on this one).

A couple canals away is Rembrandt’s house, where the master lived for two decades before creditors came calling. There are only a couple Rembrandt paintings here, but dozens of his etchings are on display and many are amazing. The various rooms of his multi-story house have been restored to approximate the furnishings he knew but it has a slightly sterile, fake feel. At one point a security guard started fiddling with the painting tools in the studio, underscoring that the original items are long lost. Still, the studio where most of Rembrandt’s work was created is inspiring. The light in the room has the soft, flattering quality of his portraits.

Another excellent display is at the entry, where a broken vase and other items sit just below a painting of the same items. Comparing the vase and the painting reveals the hyper-reality of the art and also the natural imperfection of the pottery which you might otherwise hold against the painter rather than the sculptor.

If you’re walking through Amsterdam and see a thick line snaking around the corner, you’re probably at Anne Frank’s House. It was after 8pm when Sabrina and I got there but the line persisted. Better a line than an over-stuffed museum.

“I feel really bad being German here,” Sabrina said. I tried to commiserate by mentioning the War Crimes Museum in Vietnam.

Still, I thought I’d make the most of her presence by using her as a translator but we were both surprised to learn the diary is written in Dutch rather than German. Anne was just four when the family moved to Amsterdam, it was another seven years before they went into hiding.

The first most striking thing about the Frank house is how big it is. Most Amsterdamers would be happy to have an apartment as big as the secret annex. Most Amsterdamers, of course, don’t share their flat with seven others without leaving for five years. When we’re talking about experiences as horrific as the Franks we’re apt to think of it as an unmitigated hell, but the relative spaciousness of the annex is maybe an example of our narrow conception of hell (and/or the way its been presented to us in film and story). Regardless, it didn’t have to be small to be awful.

It was a pleasant, wet night in Amsterdam when they closed the museum on us. Sabrina sat on the back of her bike and I peddled hard up the little canal inclines, proud to keep the bike upright with someone on the back. I flew to Copenhagen the next morning and I’m no Tony Bennett so I took my heart with me. But the airline must have been more sentimental, cause they left my bag in Amsterdam.


Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival
  8. The Elusive Dutch Drivers License
  9. Terror in Berlin
  10. Authentic Belgian Beer
  11. Two to a bed in Bruges
  12. A Coda to Travel Love in Amsterdam

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.

Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

When I did a search for Boise attractions I was totally caught off guard to see this Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial pop up. I wondered what connection the young Jewish girl who seemed to have became the voice of human hope through her diary kept during the Holocaust had with the state? While there is no direct connection the reality is a site like this one should be placed on every corner of every city. The memorial was constructed to promote respect for human dignity and diversity and was inspired by Anne Frank’s faith in humanity. As I strolled along the walkways I soaked in the uplifting words of Helen Keller, Maya Angelou, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Fredrick Douglas and Anne Frank to name only a few. The memorial is not huge, but it is certainly quaint and serves the public some food for thought. Located next to the public library and human rights educational center, delving into the minds of great dreamers and fighters doesn’t have to end after a 20 minute jaunt on the memorial grounds.

The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial is located at 801 S. Capitol Blvd, Suite 102, Boise, ID 83702. Ph. 208.345.0304