Monday, June 19, 2006

How was the sheep drive?

The sheep drive was a bizarre event. I'm certainly glad I went. Although, I'm not sure I need to go again.

Meant to highlight how much London's cityscape has changed (and stayed the same) over the centuries, the drive retraced livestock drives that occurred as recently as
the nineteenth century. Rather than the publicized flock of 60, there were maybe 20 sheep amassed at Borough Market to be driven by almost as many shepherds. Compared to the thousands of additional humans who’d come to witness the drive, I’m surprised I even caught a glimpse of the ovine celebs. Ironically, the next day I was in Kent, where zipping along the countryside in the back of a car, I saw plenty of sheep grazing in a natural setting and not a single person encroaching upon them.

Among the drive's human spectators were a handful of animal rights activists – who seemed to have a some valid points, however poorly expressed. They argued (at the top of their lungs) that it was cruel to use the sheep as spectacles. Now the poor sheep did, at times, seem (and seem is the operative word because I really have no idea) to be frightened by the crowds and the urban setting. But as far as that point goes, the protesters' rants were the loudest sound to be heard, and afterward the sheep seemed mellowed out and happy to just hang in the shade and eat hay. The main complaint yelled by the protesters was that it was too hot for the sheep. It was a warm, sunny morning (the temperature probably in the high 70’s), but c’mon, it wasn’t that hot. Beyond that, the protesters called out against the slaughter of animals. A point I can appreciate. I even used to be vegan. But, I hardly think they'll change any attitudes with their approach. Most people don't like cranks yelling at them.

Smithfield Market, where meat has been traded for over 800 years, marked an inevitable end of the drive. Awaiting the drivers, the driven, and the flocks of onlookers, was a recreation of Saint Batholomew's Fair (Bart's the patron saint of butchers). However, this recreation was considerably tamer than original fairs: no prostitutes (that I could discern), no Protestant burnings, no William Wallace being drawn and quartered, just food stalls and tschotke vendors. Among the food stalls was one run by Jollof Pot, which served delicious - and spicy - Ghanaian cuisine. I had a heaping plate of blackeyed peas and tomato stew with rice. The dish had lots of flavor and reminded me of Cajun cooking. I hope to run into Jollof Pot again.

Now that the drive is over, I'm still wondering if it was merely a spectacle or an actual eruption of wonder upon the otherwise mundane - or just messy mix of both. It has made me think much about how much this city has changed through the years and how London has always been at the cutting edge of whatever leading industry dominated the world economy. Impressive. It has also enabled me to make a little better sense of why streets, buildings, etc are where they are and why many have the names they do. Did sheep really need to be subjected to teeming sightseers to get such a message across to people? I don't know. But, it worked.

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