Sunday morning ramblings - London, Canary Wharf, the IndieWeb

Yesterday was a sunny end of May Saturday, and we walked for about 20 Km. From Blackfriars Station we followed the river Thames, and the river of tourists, towards East on the South bank. We arrived at Borough Market, which was extremely crowded. It reminded me of my first covid vaccine (which for some reason I ended up getting very close to that area) when the market’s stalls were all closed and there were very few people walking around, an eerie experience. The contrast with yesterday’s overly crowded and overflowing streets was stark indeed. I ended up ordering a chicken and prawns Pad Thai, a classic for me, and it was probably the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had so far in London.

After grabbing a flat white at the colombian coffee roasters in the market we continued our swim through the crowd towards East. Passed in between London Bridge and the Shard, we climbed up the stairs of Tower Bridge and quickly made our way out of the human flood whilst aiming for one of our favourite areas of London: Wapping.

It’s always nice walking around the basins, home of many birds and their nests. The walk from there towards Shadwell Basin and eventually Limehouse is an uncanny experience - a parallel reality between the noisy tourists area on the left side, and the silent backyards of many residential buildings facing the canal on the right.

We got to Limehouse and had a quick look inside The Grapes, an historical local pub now owned by the actor Ian McKellen aka Gandalf the Grey. It was full of drunk and happy people, with their skins reddened by the alcohol and the late May’s sun.

Breathing the sea-like salty air of the river we finally arrived at Canary Wharf, where we spent the rest of our evening. It’s such a unique place, so controversial in its nature but still fascinating. It looks like a sci-fi cyberpunk area on an island in the middle of the river - glass and steel, huge skyscrapers and lovely designed walks and green areas around the various basins and canals. On a Saturday the area has those weird vibes of an emptied business district, full of young professionals out and about, enjoying their long awaited weekend.

Every time I find myself in Canary Wharf I experience this sense of awe for the architecture and the unique vibes of the area and this sensation of perceiving the reality around me as a backdrop to my existence, as if I’m so much disconnected from it. A similar feeling you might get into amusement parks like Disneyland and the likes. This never fails to fill me with contrasting feelings of excitement and melancholy. Excitement for finding myself in such a surreal place that is in fact real, and melancholy, I guess for the fear of looking behind the thin curtain of skyscrapers and monorail stations and finding absolute emptiness.

With all this still fresh in my mind, this morning I was reading about the web, the indieweb, the small web, of which I am a lover (and a participant, impostor syndrome permitting), and I visualised this metaphor: the web right now is like this immense sprawl of a city made of these gigantic buildings owned by faceless corporations, Google, Meta, Amazon, Twitter, etc. The vast majority of people generally live this city as just these buildings, which inside are very ingeniously designed to offer the most efficient (and sterile) experience. Like hanging out in oversized malls that offer apparently everything you might want at your fingertips, but ultimately just a very strict selection of products and experiences, chosen functionally by the rules of marketing, advertising, and consumerism.

But if you look closer, if you are curious and brave enough, you will notice how Internet-City in fact is not just those obnoxious corps buildings and malls. The Electronic City is all around, in the shadow of those giants. The city in fact is not just the buildings, but all the space in between them as well, made of the most diverse people and experiences, and stories, and places. You can do whatever you want there, and build your existence (as in personal websites, blogs, services) freely, however you like it.

a view of Canary Wharf, tall glass building around a quiet canal

A view of Canary Wharf