Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker…
It’s an acquired taste. Especially for those of us from the other side of the Atlantic, where shiny and new and up-to-date is the holy grail out at the end of an ever receding horizon. And where that which isn’t s and n and up-to-date is that most pitiable of also rans: history.
Personal note, here. Toast and history: these days I’m fond of both of them. Very. That’s what 40 years in Blighty will do for you, no matter how deep-dyed a Yank you are. So when I hear either of those phrases – “he’s toast”, “you’re history, pal” – uttered in my native woodnotes wild it does make for a certain amount of disequilibrium.
But back to wabi-sabi. I suspect it’s slightly finer, slightly more delicate than its English counterpart. A bit of grit – tat even – is almost always part of the compost of the English aesthetic in these matters.
Anyway, here’s how Ernest Callenbach puts it: "As the Japanese know, there is much unnoticed beauty in wabi-sabi – the old, the worn, the tumble-down, those things beginning their transformation into something else.
"There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth…Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth.
“Mono no aware, the Japanese call it: the somewhat melancholy awareness of the impermanence of things.”
But enough already. Words I mean. They’re just foils for these two images (above and below). Images of “old, worn” trolleys in the Berwick Street Market in Soho. I think they’re beautiful. In a wabi-sabi way.
A London wabi-sabi way.
Oh and on a very practical, very English note: the market traders are mighty fond of their trolleys. Swear by them. “You load it right it’ll carry 30 boxes of oranges. Solid rubber those wheels are.”
Said with a lot of pride.