It’s been 19 days since we moved to London. With something new and wonderful around every corner, I’ve been struggling with how to capture these first days and experiences in any opening post from our new home. And so rather than attempting to compile the volumes of impressions (and food and restaurant heaven!) thus far, I’ll share two experiences that I hope have sway on the way we live out our next two years here.
The first experience came this Thursday when I was in a coffee shop in Marylebone (Curators Coffee which I recommend by the way) after dropping the boys off for their first day of school. There working was a barista who I recognized from ten days earlier in a totally different part of the city. She was the first person in London, a city of over 8.5 million people, who I had seen twice. Something in me swelled with that recognition – perhaps a feeling of connectedness in a city so big – that I went up to ask her if she had been where I thought she was ten days earlier (she had and only by chance) and then (awkwardly) told her she had been a kind of welcome gift to me in my new city. She beamed and her co-workers ribbed her as I walked out the door: “You’re famous in London!”
Our words can’t make someone famous but an unexpected reminder to someone that they have been noticed can make them feel that way. There is so much to see in London but is there anything more lovely than connecting, however briefly, with another person? I think not and so while I’ve been rather preoccupied with shopping and setting up a new house, I am overjoyed to be back on soil where English is the common language and opportunities for conversation – and potential for connection- will never run dry.
The second experience came this Friday when I arrived 20 minutes early to pick up the boys from school which is on a beautiful street in London filled with embassies. Rather than stand in the rain, I popped over next door to the bookstore at the Royal Institute of British Architects and indiscriminately bought three niche books on London (none of them on architecture.) One of them, “This is London” by Ben Judah, is a collection of real life stories of the world of London’s immigrants – more than a third of the 8.5 million people who live in the margins of this city, far away from embassy row. I haven’t been able to put it down. The people I am reading about did not receive the same welcome as I.
And so the headline is: “We Love London.” Of course we do. We are privileged. We have a picture perfect set up. Truthfully we will never know what the non-expat immigrant experience is like in London but I hope that we have experiences that push us out of our comfort zones. We’ve taken some small steps. Like Colin traveling to Zone 3 on two Tube lines for 45 minutes to play on a basketball team of non-white British boys where he’s the odd man out (and I am kind of freaking out that he will soon be doing this on his own.) We all need our own regular odd man out experiences to tenderize us for empathy.
It dawns on me with my serendipitous stop at Curators Coffee and the bookstore at the Royal Institute of British Architects; the London I will curate in my blog will both grossly oversimplify the diversity of a rapidly evolving city and sometimes forget the lonely in a city known for its energy. Of course it will. I will therefore do my best to tell you about the London I come to know. Forgive me in advance for when that seems to come off as either entitled or food focused or awkwardly preachy or obvious. Obviously no one needs another good reason to visit London … This is London ...and you will make it Your London.