The Tower Of London

058The Tower of London is London’s oldest landmark, and one that is central to the interesting and bloody history of British monarchs. Every tourist guidebook that you might read will tell you it’s a can’t-miss destination if you are visiting London, and they are absolutely right.

070The Tower is one of those locations that itself is historic. When you walk around the central courtyard, where gigantic ravens with clipped wings still are found, you know you are walking where Anne Boleyn last trod before her head was separated from her shoulders by the executioner’s axe. It was in these towers that the two little princes deposed by Richard III were last seen, where Henry VIII disposed of various wives, and where countless prisoners were kept until they were ransomed, or beheaded, or freed if their patrons gained favor.

So, the Tower of London is worth a visit. Be prepared for an expensive entrance fee — more than 21 pounds, or about $35 — and big crowds. If you want to see the Crown Jewels (Richard and I didn’t) be prepared to wait in queue for an hour or more.

064Some of the parts of the Tower are wonderful; others not so much. Richard and I enjoyed a display about the Tower’s history as the British mint — who knew that Isaac Newton was the long-time head of the mint, and tough on counterfeiters? — as well as the Medieval Palace of Henry II and the intricate graffiti carved into the plaster of the towers by prisoners and preserved for all these years. Imagine the painstaking effort involved as prisoners worked on their messages day after day, knowing that they could spend years in their cells. And the Yeoman Warders, who regularly guide tours of the Tower, are iconic and funny, besides.

There are curiously cheesy elements to a visit to the Tower of London, too. The White Tower, with its spare Norman architecture, is the oldest building in the Tower complex and was built immediately after William the Conqueror successfully invaded England, yet it is filled with bric a brac.

076For centuries, the White Tower apparently has hosted a display of mounted British kings on wooden horses that has been a popular destination for distinguished visitors, even though the monarchs wear armor that is acknowledged to be wildly inaccurate. So, the visitor first sees pictures of sultans and other notable prior visitors to that display, then the wooden horses and non-historical suits of armor. Elsewhere in the building you will see a kind of metal, modern art dragon sculpture, a Native American headdress, and other paraphernalia.

For most of the visit, it seems that the White Tower’s history as a tourist destination has rubbed out its history as a fortress and residence. Then you finally reach the fine Chapel Royal of St. John, small and solemn and light-filled and beautiful after all of the consciously touristy stuff, and it makes the entire visit worthwhile. 080

On Pins And Needles In Columbus

Tonight there is a profound sense of unease in Columbus.  Republican and Democrat, old and young, Deadhead or Justin Bieber fan — it makes no difference.  We all fret about what will happen tomorrow when the Ohio State University goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to address the issues with the football program.

The feeling of grim foreboding hangs over the city like a rancid fart in an elevator.  The brooding paranoia has been stoked by our friends at ESPN — boy, they love the Buckeyes, don’t they? — who have issued a weird report about a second letter from the NCAA concerning potential additional areas to investigate.  And so, people are wondering:  what else could have happened?  Were some of the Buckeye football players actually mutant genetic products created by crazed researchers in the Ohio State School of Biology?  Did Terrelle Pryor secretly maintain a fleet of untaxed corporate jets in a locked hangar at Don Scott Field?  Was Jim Tressel’s sweater vest actually made in Taiwan?

Sometime tomorrow people will appear before microphones at NCAA offices in headquarters and say that the hearing is over, and then we will wait.  We will wait to see whether the NCAA accepts the retirement of our outstanding coach and OSU’s self-imposed punishments as sufficient penalties for the Buckeyes’ transgressions.  Or, whether the NCAA cuts out our hearts, stomps on them, and then stuffs them down our throats by cutting scholarships, banning the Buckeyes from post-season play, or imposing other, even more draconian sanctions.  Now we know how Anne Boleyn must have felt as she waited in the Tower of London for the capricious decision of her King.

We care because this is Columbus, and this is who we are and what we do.