On June 3, I loaded on to a bus with 30 other bright-eyed tourists and traveled around London seeing the filming locations for the Harry Potter films. One of those locations was the Leaky Cauldron Tavern, filmed at Burrough Market. Later that evening, I was back at my central London hostel talking to my mom on the phone. When I hung up, I saw the Washington Post notification: someone had driven a car into pedestrians on the London Bridge. Over the next hour or so, the details rolled in: not only had terrorists “rammed” pedestrians on the bridge, but they proceeded to stab people in Burrough Market, where I had been just hours before. Before coming to the UK, I was already unsure of what I would find because of the bombing at Manchester Stadium in late May. How was I supposed to be a tourist in a country suffering from a national tragedy? I found London carrying on as ever before. But this time I wasn’t so sure—this incident was incredibly close to home and made even more horrific by its proximity to the Manchester attack.
My first instinct was to leave central London, but, when I woke up the next morning, I decided to proceed with the day as I had planned by visiting the most famous sights of Westminster. I made my way to Buckingham Palace, wondering if I would be the only one to show up for the Changing of the Guard under the present circumstances. I was not. Tourists flocked to the sight in droves, pulling out the selfie sticks, angling for a good view at the gate, and taking pictures with the mounted policemen at the palace—the policemen that were part of the same force that had responded to the attacks so swiftly the night before. Many of the tourists, like me, were foreign. Part of me felt like it was vastly disrespectful to act like nothing had happened and carry on with the picture taking frenzy.
As the day continued, things remained eerily calm. Other than announcements that the London Bridge tube station was closed and headlines in the local newspapers, there was little indication that something horrible had just befallen the city.
I grew increasingly more relaxed about my own safety as the day progressed, but the reality of terror in London remained on my mind. I don’t have anything eloquent to say about what happened; I’m only left with the same pointless, rhetorical question everyone asks: how could somebody do something like this?
Being a tourist in London means constantly interacting with its rich history, and this history has often been one of strife. From the great fire that ravaged the city in the seventeenth century to the horror that was the Battle of Britain, London has taken a few hits in its day. And, in sharp contrast to the alarmism of President Trump’s response to the attack, the answer has often been to bravely carry on. So maybe crowding around Buckingham Palace wasn’t an act of disrespect, but rather an act of celebration of this unique and wonderful city—a sign that, despite the evil in the world, it will persist.
Mia is packing up her set of all seven Harry Potter books and the collected James Joyce before heading off to the U.K., and then getting realistic and replacing them with a flashlight and extra underwear. She plans to find out exactly how much beer is in a pint while gallivanting around Ireland and aspires to show her parents that she is putting her (forthcoming) English degree to use by communing with Shakespeare’s homeland. When she’s not making plans to get the royal family to adopt her, she enjoys drinking coffee and talking about the severity of her coffee addiction.