Saturday, 9 December 2017

Thoughts in Progress


Claude Monet, one of the pioneers of impressionism, was said to have been struck by London’s ever-changing weather when he alighted in the British capital in 1870. He was especially attracted to the metropolis’ combination of fog and light. On subsequent trips he managed to translate these two elements into a series of paintings of London’s bridges, the Houses of Parliament and the river Thames.

One of the more famous ones, The Thames Below Westminster, has become the go-to image to show Monet’s fascination with London. Shrouded in mist, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge emerge in the distance as a ghostly vision, one that contrasts heavily with the more colourful and dynamic foreground.

Living across the seat of British democracy gave Monet a unique insight into what London in the 19th century was like. Traffic on Westminster Bridge at the time, both pedestrian and carriage-led, must have been heavy. After all, one of the reasons to build the bridge was to serve as a link between the expanding West End and fast-growing south London. Up to then, commuters and visitors were forced to use alternative routes, such as the Strand and New Oxford Street. Westminster Bridge, upon opening on 18th November 1750, elicited glowing praise like this comment, from The Gentleman’s Magazinea very great ornament to our metropolis, and will be looked on with pleasure or envy by all foreigners.” Truer words have never been written. On any given day, nowadays, Westminster Bridge is always full of families, tourists, or just politicians taking a break from parliamentary duties.

It was on this bridge, sadly, that Kent-born, 52-year-old Khalid Masood (né Adrian Ajao), decided to carry out his heinous terrorist attack on Wednesday 22nd March of this year. He drove a car into pedestrians, killing three, two instantly and one later on in hospital. Once he crashed his vehicle outside parliament, he tried to enter the building armed with two knives stabbing fatally a police officer in the process.

Monet took inspiration from London’s foggy weather to create his masterpieces. Terrorists’ main intention – whether the Daesh-inspired or the white supremacist type – is to create a mist-like, blurred, hazy vision of unimaginable panic. Perpetrators like Khalid know that they have not got a chance in hell to turn their hate-filled philosophy into a viable political alternative. Hence, their “amateur”, but devastating, modus operandi.

The entire area around Westminster Bridge has changed a great deal since Monet walked its streets more than a century ago. It is no longer just a place to go through in order to get to south London, but an almost essential photo-op stop (the mud-coloured Thames offers a fabulous background) before purchasing a souvenir at one of the stalls nearby. Westminster Bridge and its surroundings are often so packed with pedestrians and cyclists (the East-West cycle superhighway takes in part of the Embankment) that it makes sense to use the road instead, despite the obvious dangers.

In trying to mow down those he saw as infidels, Khaled might have ended up killing fellow Muslims. The paradox of this new kind of terrorism the West has faced for the last sixteen years is that it is nothing new in Muslim nations where the number of victims murdered by extremists is far higher.

If Khaled had ventured “sarf” of the river and driven down York Road, he would have come across a couple of Italian restaurants and two or three Indian-themed ones. At any time of the day or night, these establishments are crowded with punters. Punters who come from all corners of the globe. This is what terrorists are up against. It is not just a way of life that refuses to be defeated, but also a two-finger-up attitude that whatever flaws London has (and there are many), we, Londoners from here, there and everywhere, love our city the way it is. Warts (plenty) and all.

Of course, the sheer volume of visitors London attracts (9.98m visits from January to June according to the VisitBritain website) makes the city an obvious target for a terrorist attack. This is the reason why most of us, city-dwellers, have adopted a mindset that has more in common with the famous “Keep Calm and Carry On” World War II slogan than with the panic terrorists are intent on spreading.

It is interesting, albeit not surprising, that Monet, who was inspired by London’s dreamy, hazy, misty autumn weather, is getting his own exhibition at the National Gallery next year. His art has defied the passing of time. On the other hand, we have a terror-spreading individual whose actions, whilst costing the lives of some, were repudiated instantly. Nobody will remember Adrian Ajao’s name in five years’ time. In attempting to paint our lives in fog-coloured textures, Khalid became what the Houses of Parliament emerged as in Monet’s The Thames Below Westminster: a ghostly and fast-disappearing vision.



© 2017

28 comments:

  1. Thank you.
    I really needed this positive reminder. Beauty endures.

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  2. That is a problem. The terrorists do not care who it is that they kill and terrorize as long as they can do it. It is a sad state of affairs.

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  3. I like Monet's depictions of London but my favorite pictures of Parliament are their burning, as depicted by Turner.

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  4. What an interesting and thought-provoking post! Love the music, too. Excellent.

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  5. I pray for unbroken peace in my country but I don't think it will happen - not now - not anymore. Thank goodness I live away from cities, at least I feel free to walk,

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  6. Excellent post. Some create beauty, some destroy it.

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  7. There is beauty if we look, but always those hemorrhoids that want to destroy it.

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  8. I very much like your shot with the bike.

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  9. Blind evil balanced against the ethereal beauty of Monet.
    Excellent post for a some Sunday contemplations.

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  10. Brilliant post, dear Mario. You've contrasted Monet's foggy depictions of beauty with the senseless fogs of extremism and hatred in a most effective and thought-provoking way. May the things of beauty in this world continue to prevail.

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  11. What interesting way of thinking of it - finding a dialogue between Monet and the terrorist. You’ve made me think - again!

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  12. This is the essential for me, as you put it:
    "Nobody will remember Adrian Ajao’s name in five years’ time."
    Those words should spread.
    "Keep Calm and Carry On", that we try, but seeing so many police officers on the Christmas Markets at 3 in the arvo was a sad feeling. Terrorism has too many faces and finds new ways, even Monet could not keep up with it...

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  13. Hi ACIL - I was there just before the latest attack, and then a day later ... I walked the bridge - and noticed the heavy duty concrete barriers now in place ... but London is such a mix of peoples - it's lovely to hear and to see everyone happy together ... cheers Hilary

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  14. This was such a wonderful, informative post. Thank you.

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  15. This is a very moving and powerful post. As horrific as these incidents are, you rightly and powerfully point out that the perpetrators will fade into obscurity. Two fingers up indeed!

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  16. Una buena forma de inspiración para el buen pintor los cambios atmosféricos, pero actualmente lo que quiero es ver el cielo azul claro despejado y buen sol.
    Un abrazo.

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  17. a long time since I heard Sting, thanks for sharing.
    I do a lot of photo art but I have no clue whatsoever about famous artists. I have heard the name Monet of course. but had no clue of what he did.

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  18. A compelling post, once again...Thank you for your visit and the compliment.

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  19. Wow...such a brilliant post, Cil...pointing out the futility of terrorists' grandiose visions of power...and the true grandness of Monet!
    Thank you so much for informing us that Monet is to have his own exhibition next year. That, I must see...so will brave the crowds and pay a long overdue visit.
    Thank you, too, for the fabulous music clip. Great!

    Greetings from Hampshire.:))

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  20. I love this view of London from Westminster Bridge, both good and sad. When I was in NYC for Thanksgiving, I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge with my son, something I haven't done since I was kid. It offers a fantastic view of Manhattan and Freedom Tower. It feels like there are too many terrorist attacks to count, lately. I hope 2018 will be better.

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  21. You are quite correct, CiL. The names of terrorists, for the most part, vanish as soon as the dust settles. But, art has a way of enduring, even when it fades from public attention for a few generations. A Frenchman, Claude Monet, and an Italian, Caravaggio, are my favorite painters. Their styles are as different as day and night, but the presence or absence of light in their work is, perhaps, the key element which draws me to them.

    A fine post, CiL ....

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  22. Siempre brillante. Que pases una feliz Navidad.

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  23. Passing by again to wish you a very Merry Christmas!!
    : )

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  24. What a fascinating, historical city you live in. I hope lasting peace is restored there soon, so much grief in the past few years.

    I hope your new year is filled with all kinds of happiness.🎀😂🍸

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  25. It is mind-blowing how muslim extremists are so willing to kill fellow muslims in the name of Allah. They rationalize it one way or another. When you're judge, jury and executioner, you can make up your own rules, I suppose. Anyway, I love your expression of London's resilience and beauty, as recorded by Monet (and indeed by centuries of writers and artists).

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