AKIRA SUEMORI / AP Enlarge
LONDON Mayor Carty Finkbeiner encountered a colorful mixture of street demonstrations, royalty, and art on his first day exploring London.
Mayor Finkbeiner, who is leading Toledo s bid to be named the most-liveable city of its size in the world, finally got the chance to see some of the English capital s famous landmarks yesterday.
After spending the first few days of his trip cooped up in hotel rooms practicing speeches, Mr. Finkbeiner was raring to go when The Blade met up with him and his wife, Amy, at their central London hotel.
Stepping out into a chilly, sun-drenched autumn day, he was soon relating anecdotes about some of the interesting people he d met in London.
I got a chance to speak to Churchill s great-grandson Duncan Sandys at dinner the other day. He s a councilor in Westminster, told me all about the problem they have here in London with gum on the street, the mayor said.
First up was Speaker s Corner, a five-minute walk away, and a place where some of London s oddest folks have gone since 1872 to vent their views on a Sunday morning.
A modest crowd gathered to hear a wild-eyed grandmotherly type stir up the 30 people gathered around her with talk of a coming apocalypse.
Another man, a black, bearded Muslim with an American accent, spoke of oil, war, and jihad. Mr. Finkbeiner s curiosity turned to a man on a small stepladder, draped in an English flag, wearing a cap with three horns protruding and a strange grin on his face.
What s your message this morning, brother? he asked.
My message is no message, he replied. My message is to be silent and let people be free.
God bless you, Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Soon the party was striding through Hyde Park and the mayor spoke of his passion for exercise since heart bypass surgery a few years back.
This park is just beautiful, I d go running here all the time if I lived here, he said.
Dressed in a black-peaked cap, trench coat, and dark glasses, he almost looks like a lord of the manor as he steps through the ankle-deep fallen leaves.
As he passes other Sunday morning strollers, Mr. Finkbeiner strikes up a conversation with strangers.
Hi, how you doing? he asks the bemused sightseers.
Though initially wary of any interaction with unfamiliar people, passers-by soon warmed to his Midwest friendliness.
He greeted children and grabbed the gloved hands of people walking past.
There is an energy about this place, he enthused. It s like New York City.
After passing through another park the lungs of the city, as Mr. Finkbeiner liked to call them the party arrived at Buckingham Palace.
With the queen away in Africa, a few tourists begin eyeing Mr. Finkbeiner with interest as an Associated Press photographer snaps away pictures of him.
Satisfied that there isn t a movie star hiding beneath the shades, they move on.
Another short walk away is the National Gallery, where art lovers go for Picasso, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.
A half an hour of taking in the French Impressionist section of the museum leaves Mr. Finkbeiner feeling enlightened and he s off again.
As the mayor and his wife pass through London s tourist epicenter, Trafalgar Square, he eyes a group of around 30 young Latinos holding placards.
Are you guys students? What are you doing here today? he asks.
The group is from Venezuela and they re protesting against President Hugo Chavez, a controversial figure and outspoken critic of President Bush.
Mr. Finkbeiner tells them: You never know, a protest can light a spark that can cause change. I m very happy that you re here today.
The students are suddenly crowding around the mayor, pouring out their frustrations, while Amy looks on.
In Toledo we call them Cartyjams , she said. He s like an onion, he just gets these layers around him.
Does it bother her that she s always left waiting, while he chats away?
After 20 years, I should be used to it, she said. It s the same wherever we go. How are you? Where are you going to school? What are you doing in the summer?
It s usually about that time that he tells the person that he may be able to help out getting them a job, Mrs. Finkbeiner said. But he does follow through on these things; it s genuine with him.
Mayor Finkbeiner hugs several of the Venezuelans good-bye and promises to write a letter to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has monitored elections in their country.
No sooner have we walked to the other side of Trafalgar Square than we encounter another protest this time it s a crowd of about 1,000 Turkish demonstrators.
The focus of their venom is a Kurdish guerrilla group called the PKK.
Banging drums and chanting, the protesters whip themselves into a fury by the time they reach Downing Street, home of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, where they are held back by police barricades.
Doesn t it strike you as amazing Mr. Finkbeiner said, that with all the ethnic, religious, and cultural differences that we have in this world, we are still able to live in relative peace and harmony?
So many people sit in front of the television sets from 8 a.m. until midnight and it s great that these people are making their voices heard, he said. I might come back to London and become a radical activist. Power to the people.
We eventually end up at the Houses of Parliament, for a few more photos of the mayor and his wife.
But before the photographer can get the shot he wants, Mr. Finkbeiner is chatting away to a woman walking her dog.
He s like Crocodile Dundee, the photographer says. He s always saying Hi to everyone. I love it.
The LivCom awards, now in their 10th year, recognize cities with the most user-friendly living conditions and are backed by the U.N. s Environment Program.
The winner will be announced today.