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Islands of Escapism

This article was previously published in Issue 20, ISLANDS (March 2019).

Illustration by Grace MacKeith

London, the city we live in, is found in perpetual movement and chaos. With sometimes too much, and never too little to do, a state of constant stress can arise. Nothing allows time to stop in this city. With the condensation of multiculturalism and through the current political period of uncertainty, it is sometimes a real necessity to detach oneself from this fast-paced society. Fortunately, the city offers islands that provide the sensation of time-stopping naturalist and brutalist spots; small nooks that allow for a drastic disconnection from dehumanized London can be found.

I decided to embark on an escapade to two isles of London that are only a few tube rides away: Regent’s Park and the Barbican. You might be thinking that these spaces are already widely popular and do not necessitate any further investigation. Although this might be partially true, I have come to the realization that they have not been explored in regard to the way they might aid one to disembody him or herself from the rest of society. My initial intention was to find people and question them about how they detach from the city. However, I realized that this method would defeat the purpose of my article as I would be breaking their tranquillity by intruding on their solitary ritual. Instead, I decided to document my personal experience in these two juxtaposing areas and find the best location to detach oneself from the city.

Regent’s Park was an interesting specimen to investigate due to its duality in character. Arriving at 11:37 on Thursday, 7th of February, I was shocked by the lack of humans at the park. The only surrounding elements were trees, grass and empty benches. The trees seemed almost threatening, with their gangrenous branches which didn’t seem to stop flowing. The only people present were running, walking their dogs, or simply meandering while listening to music. When they weren’t around, the only perceivable movement was the wind, which could not even be seen. This tranquillity away from the city allowed me to realize the stress of it and how I had become so accustomed to that uncomfortable feeling, becoming impartial to it.

My last stop in the park was the famous Primrose Hill. Personally, I was never impressed by it, as the number of people in the compressed space, vying to see the view, always overwhelmed me. Fortunately for me, while all of London was bustling and commuting, I was found serenely sitting and separated from the anxiety of the city. I was able to enjoy the vast space of London in the company of the wind and the sea of green. In fact, I felt as if I “conversed with the spiritual sun”, as stated by the carving of William Blake’s quote at the top of the hill. With this, I realized that the Park is one of the places in London where you must go at the right time. It faces a continuous metamorphosis from being an island of solitude to another habitual crowded corner of London.

While Regent’s Park is an area where you go to seek solitude, the Barbican enhances the loneliness within yourself on its own. Being there on Friday, 8th of February at 14:36, I experienced a different aspect of the complex, which I had never experienced before. In my previous encounters with the Barbican, the weather was pleasant and I was not alone. This time, the sky was a sombre grey, which obscured the buildings even more prominently. These aspects were most likely the reasons why it seemed more of an abandoned post-apocalyptic location than a residential complex. The only people present were commuters moving between the tube stops of Barbican and St. Paul’s and workers in neon orange vests. My only companion was a pigeon that seemed to be lingering next to me because of the apple that I was eating.

The Barbican’s brutalist architecture allowed me to remove myself from the overwhelming architecture of London’s grand buildings. There is even a melancholic beauty in its ugliness that buildings such as Somerset House or Westminster Abbey are unable to present. The feature of the Barbican which most compelled me was the singular benches that highlight the ever-growing individualist society we live in. Each individual bench was accompanied by a lamppost, as if these could be realistic replacements for other humans. This sombre element enhances the isolated loneliness that the Barbican imposes on people, especially when the cemented complex is found in the greyness of the city.

The goal of my escapade was to find the best place in London for personal release and purification of the soul. I came to the realization that there is no one singular place that is better as this is purely subjective. While Regent’s Park allowed me to release pressure off of my shoulders, the Barbican provided me with a space to stay within myself in between the compressed cubes of the cemented complex. Even though London is a city in which you are constantly immersed in a sea of people, both day and night, you might not actually be emotionally surrounded by people due to the dehumanized and individualistic society that we live in. Sometimes, being in islands of solitude allow for a growth in these connections and a better understanding of society as a whole. It is necessary to detach oneself from the continuous state of superficiality and impressions, making it a necessity to find your own little disconnected island in a metropolis of constant movement.

All photographs by Sara Quattrocchi Febles (@filmbysaraqf)

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