this too
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
  Crystal Palace ghosts

When I first moved to London, I used to walk for miles and miles, trying to feel my feet on the pavement, feel present, get a sense of the place. My feet got sore, but never felt they touched the earth. I was nowhere – a density, a noise-level so great I could distinguish nothing. Culture, architecture, history painted on so thickly all the layers turned to black, the beauty upon beauty turned to mud. That’s how it has remained. London, mostly, isn’t something I can feel. My senses are too attuned to detail, small things.

So the enclaves of quiet, of emptiness, where something comes through, can be touched, are precious. This is one: a hole in time, where I feel the air against my skin as I plummet, where stones and ghosts are suddenly audible. The site of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

Once, the grandeur of the great glass palace, luxury, novelty, fashionable crowds. Since the fire of 1936, fading rubble on a bare hilltop.

The wide stone terraces a dusty sward. The flights of stairs to nowhere. The solemn, abandoned sphinxes. And the broken statues… poignant, gracious, self-contained.

My favourite sits some way from the ruined terraces, parked in an open space where kids gather to play football with empty Coke cans or lounge and smoke spliffs. Feet on the ground, hands calmly folded, she sits. And, headless, somehow she smiles.

I love the idea of her smiling - even as she's headless - a sort of Jean smiling to have found such a place. By the way, I've made a note of Crystal Palace for when I travel to England again in the future. Beautiful!
I love this post. Thank you.
Jean - you write beautifully.

Thank you for reminding me about Crystal Palace. I am not that far away and I will have to pay your headless lady a visit. My last visit to the Palace was last year for a Bruce Springsteen concert - hopefully she enjoyed it too!
I will be sure to visit there when I come to London. Thanks for sharing the photos and your thoughts.

I love the headless statue; she looks so comfortable.
Beautiful post. I love places like that too.

What's a spliff?
In spite of having lived in or near London all my life, I've never been to the old Crystal Palace site (it's part of that other place on the wrong side of the river ;-) but from your words and pictures I know I'd like to go and sit a while with those ghosts too.
Dale, a spliff is a joint - didn't know the term was specific to this side of the Atlantic.

Mary, I love the thought of the headless lady listening to Bruce Springsteen. I'm sure she enjoyed it, she's so cool. You'll find her between the terraces and the main park gate on the corner, only just past the formal gardens.
I loved your post. The first time I went to London I kept walking like an austronaut, trying to feel the gravity. Had not it been so cold, I would have taken my Docs off and walked barefoot, to feel with my skin the roads, to grasp the experience, to become conscious of the place. I miss my walks through London so much.

[...and, by the way, Go, Crystal Palace!]
I live in Sydenham, and spent many dawns last summer walking through mist in Crystal Palace silence, watching silent tai chi on those steps that point only to the horizon. I wrote this about it.

Your post took me right back - I love the first paragraph especially. Thank you.
the headless lady in question is psyche abandoned by pietro tenerani now in florence.
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Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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