Saturday, July 08, 2006

John Russell, in his book "London" talks about how for a time during the second world war his spent his nights in Westminster Abbey.

In 1943, "it was thought desirable for Westminster Abbey to be patrolled during the hours of darkness by men who in one way or another were associated with art and architecture." Russell's connection with art and architecture was knowledgable love.

"It was expected that we would show up at night fall and stay until sunrise. . .Specific duties were never laid down, but it was assumed we could find our way around the Abbey. . .Though awed by our putative role in the defense of the great building, we were untried, untrained, un-led, and unequipped. The idea that a gang of aesthetes could double as paraprofessional fire fighters did us too much honor."

On the other hand, while these lovers of art and architecture patrolled a complex with many exquisite examples of same, nothing happened. No bombs hit. No fires started.

Earlier in the war, when the bombing was heavier, there had been damage--to a stained glass window, to the roof of the library. While these men wandered around, nothing.

Things happen and don't happen for more reasons than we are capable of knowing, but malevolence and randomness might have gotten a tiny push away in a great big building with a small group of people in it who deeply, smartly cared.

--John Russell's well written meditations on the city he loves and its history are illustrated by good and great art--a few superb photographs, but mostly paintings. "London" published by Harry Abrams, so good at beautiful books that aren't shallow.