Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Ditch the Lonely Planet and Follow Samuel Pepys
I don’t use my London guidebooks anymore. I’ve found a better compass.
It was the story which ran in the London Sunday Times, Hot gossip as Pepys and Austen go blogging, which gave me the idea. By using http://www.pepysdiary.com/ ,which is an internet presentation of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, the renowned 17th century diarist who lived in London, I would, in the parlance of Twitter, follow Pepys.
Every day I receive an email describing what Pepys got up to on the same day in London 300 years ago. Sometimes it’s exciting stuff involving plague, fire and the execution of a king but sometimes it’s about shopping for gloves or philandering at a public house. Some days he’s at the Guildhall on business or Covent Garden for pleasure. Regardless of what Pepys was up to, he lived life large in 17th century London and following Pepys today is tons of fun.
For example, on March 12, 1665 Pepys did much business in the Royal Exchange, so on March 12, 2009, I went too.
Whereas Pepys would have conducted his affairs in a building which served as the centre of commerce for the City of London, I found a shopping mall filled with some of the world’s most expensive stores such as Bulgari, Tiffany and Hermes. The restaurants were mostly full but the stores were almost entirely empty. I had a pleasant wander around. They have fantastic loos and an unexpected statue of Abraham Lincoln in one of the entrances. I admired the diamonds and the watches, I swooned over the scarves but got in to trouble with the security guard for taking pictures. Like Pepys, who saw plenty of political, social and financial upheaval in his time, I couldn’t help thinking that in its present form this Bonfire of the Vanities monument to ueber-consumption couldn’t be long for this world. So thank you, Samuel Pepys for my instructive afternoon in the dying days of City excess and as Pepys wrote on the day three hundred years before, “and so home to supper and to bed.”
Portrait of Samuel Pepys by J. Hayls, 1666