I love it when new people show up and comment. Regular readers know that I try to answer every comment, and sometimes I’m a bit ridiculous with the length of my responses. On my last post new commenter Bernadette Coley asked “Tell me why you love London so much? (So do I, but everybody’s London is different)” and I dashed off a response between conference calls this morning. It was such a perfect question that several people have asked if I would move my response to its own post so they could comment on it directly. FULL CREDIT to Bernadette for asking a really great question on a Monday morning.
“Everybody’s London is different” is the truest thing I’ve read in days. Why do I love London? Because in my heart she is my city and I will always belong a bit to her.
My London contains echos of the summer of 1994, when I explored her as a newly-minted adult that was just waking to a larger world. I’d never really spent time beyond the boundaries of my cloistered northwest american life, and it was a shock and a liberation to suddenly find myself immersed in something truly cosmopolitan yet somehow safe.
At the time my London was full of westenders cheerfully gathering to stand on the shed end of Stamford Bridge and cheer on Chelsea even though they sucked, and then stumble drunkenly out into the evening to drown the sorrows of another thrashing at the hands of Manchester United in warm beer and rowdy bravado.
She is still the home of the British Museum and the British Library, where I experienced twin epiphanies about the past, the present, and my place in both. As a resident instead of a tourist, I’m not sure how often I would return to those halls, but there is something about knowing they are close…that they exist at all…as foci of the human urge to remember and understand.
She is where history and modernity meet together. A city where the Gherkin and the Shard can share a skyline with the Victoria Tower and London Bridge. She is where Covent Garden has survived as a shopping center for more than three-and-a-half centuries. I live in a country where something 50 years old is historic; there are buildings in London that have been continuously occupied for more than six centuries; not as landmarks or monuments, but as shopfronts and houses and pubs. There are roads in London that have been thoroughfares since before William and the French came over the waves. She is a millennium and more in age, and yet thoroughly modern in flavor.
London contains one of the best transportation systems in the whole of human history, and that is really a reason to love her all on its own. And the cadbury bars in the vending machines…dear GODS the cadbury bars…
She is a city where history stalks the bright avenues and the dark alleyways equally, where every year new culture and new life pour in to renew her soul. A city where you can buy a curry and a chinese on the same street on the same night after 2:00 am and BOTH will be the best food you’ve ever eaten in the whole of your life.
Above all, it is her people. Whinging, grumpy, gloomy in reputation; yet I’ve never known better in all the travels I have done. Where a punk boy, fearsome in a towering green mohawk and face covered in piercings, dashes to a traveler’s aid and carries her bag onto the tube car and then travels an entire station the wrong direction just to make her journey easier; and he’s hardly unusual in his compassion. From professionals to students, shoppers to salesmen, bobbies to buskers; she is a city who’s people all seem to have the same wry smile for the raindrops and exasperated sigh for the glaring sun.
London is so many things to me because I want her to be them, because I remember them so. But what is truly great about London, is that she IS those things because she can be everything. London remains a place where you can find what you’re looking for, and you will be rewarded if you let her show you new things and put away your old assumptions.
And the cadbury bars…did I mention the cadbury bars?
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