Life in London

On Being Resourceful

solution-chalkboard-concept.jpg

In the context of a culture where we’ve learned to be impatient by expecting instant gratification and where products (and even relationships) are no longer “built to last” but rather “built to make it to 2.0”, being solution minded requires both a time horizon and a creativity that goes against the grain.  I was reminded of that this week with a run of the mill household appliance issue.  

One of our favorite features of the house we are renting is the five burner gas stove with an attached side by side double oven – a full sized oven and smaller compact oven.   Despite churning out some memorable meals from the stove top, the full sized oven hasn’t worked properly since we moved in two months ago.  The problem was a faulty hinge that wasn’t allowing the oven door to fully close.  It was a small problem but with a meaningful consequence.  Not only were things taking too long to cook but the kitchen was overheating every time we turned on the broiler.  

We called for help. 

The oven specialist confirmed the problem and determined a new hinge needed to be ordered.   (Um, yes.)  The good news was the replacement hinge cost £14. The bad news was the hinge was out of stock.  The impossible news was the hinge was not just out of stock but obsolete.   Parts were no longer being carried because the oven was 10 years old.   The expert’s conclusion: there was no way to fix the oven.  The owner would need to buy an entirely new oven. 

We called for back-up.

We suggested a plan B to the property management company to see if a hinge from a similar but newer model might do the trick.  It took 3 weeks for the savior part and a new oven specialist to arrive.  Not entirely surprisingly in a world that seems geared to replacing rather than fixing, the new hinge did not work.  The second expert’s conclusion: there was no way to fix the oven. 

There would be no plan C.  We were instructed to wait for a replacement oven. 

This week we had a service call on a second appliance that resolved easily.  As the handy man was finishing up the job I told him about the oven saga and the sad story of obsolete replacement parts.  Ajay, though not technically qualified to work on ovens, offered to take a look.  

Though I thought it to be a sympathy offer, Ajay asked me to walk him through the problem.   As we stared down the oven together and I started talking about how I wished the problem was on the second compact oven which I rarely use rather than the full sized oven which I always use, the aha moment hit us both at the exact same moment: switch the hinges. 

After a quick clearance call, Ajay went to work to swap the faulty hinge on the full sized oven with the good hinge on the compact oven.  In the process he also discovered several loose screws on a previously unnoticed brace piece that was causing gaps for the heat to escape.  In less than five minutes of work, not only was the full sized oven closing perfectly but the compact oven with the faulty hinge – because of less weight on the hinge and the tightened brace piece – was also completely serviceable.  Problem solved.  Thanks to Ajay's crisp thinking.

Of course life is not a cake walk even if I can now make a cake.  It’s a totally unimportant story however I’ve been thinking about how it might apply to being solution minded in a world of much more than broken ovens.

First, there will always be a debate on when to fish or cut bait but to be solution minded means we need to persist past more than two failed strategies and ideally have a few ideas going simultaneously.   There was no thinking about the oven as we waited the 3 weeks for the savior part.  In this situation we only explored up to plan B before we gave in to the impulse – sanctioned by experts -- to throw away what we had and start over.  The new oven would have certainly solved the problem and insured immediate safety but not without significant financial cost to the owner, inconvenience to us and the larger environmental cost of creating unnecessary waste.  

Second, it reminds me that it’s not only the experts who solve problems.   I assumed the experts had looked at the issue completely but they never really asked me any questions.  Ajay’s success with my other household issue stimulated my belief that he might be able to crack the code on the oven.  Experts may be good at diagnosing the problem but sometimes someone from the outside is able to look at the bigger picture and hear the problem in a new way.  The oven experts could only see the offending hinge but Ajay standing shoulder to shoulder with me was able to see another path by listening closely to both the problem and how I was managing around it. 

Finally, sometimes solutions are as simple as re-balancing what’s already there.  The oven fix didn’t require a single new part.  Instead it required a redistribution of parts that were already there – moving one hinge that had been overworked to a new place where it could get some rest.   It also required the thoroughness of someone to get under the hood of the problem and tighten down a hidden brace piece that was causing as much if not more leakage than the obvious derelict hinge.  Most importantly, it required a stated openness to compromise – a broken compact oven in favor of a working main oven – before we knew it was possible to have both.

In a world where we are desperate for solutions, may we pursue past early setbacks with creativity, patience, and an openness to stand shoulder to shoulder with the person who has knowledge and the person who’s living with the thing that is broken.   We might be surprised to find there is less to compromise than we thought.  Golden breadcrumbs could be around the corner ...

City Living: The Joy of an Urban Garden

This is my little urban back garden.  Isn’t it cute?  It’s one of the features of our tall terraced house I proudly show off from the kitchen window and again from the second floor window whenever anyone comes round to visit.  If you’ve been here, you’ve no doubt heard me gush.

This past Saturday night, after an epic wind storm, I woke from a light sleep with a startle.  The wind and the unusually brilliant sun the day before had caused me to realize something I couldn’t quite believe.   I embarrassingly had to admit that as many times as I had smiled at my garden from behind a glass window, I had never actually set foot in it.  Not once in the 9 weeks we have lived here.  

Sure it’s been winter and not exactly time to be hanging out in the garden but had I really been that preoccupied with exploring everything out my front door that I never even bothered to open the back door of my own house?  The answer was yes.  Though there was no one calling me to account and because it was the dark of night, I honestly felt a little fraudulent for having bragged about a place I hadn’t yet taken the small investment of time to get to know.  My own back yard.

The garden isn’t on the way to anywhere.  There is no exterior gate.  In fact, the only way to get to it is through the house, through one set of doors on the ground floor – a floor of the house we rarely use.  This past Sunday afternoon, as it was my first visit, I fumbled opening the ground floor door.  I brought with me the modest-sized Clean Green bag we ordered when we moved in and found where my traveling husband had left the rake, broom and dustpan.  I thought to enlist my children to help but soon decided it was probably a one person job.  It was.  I didn’t know enough to give instruction yet. 

The wind storm had knocked a lot of leaves and branches down and so the bag filled quickly.   As I moved around the perimeter of the garden, I couldn’t help but notice how much bigger the tree in the center of the garden looked from ground level.  How it provided shelter over the entire space - and not just my garden. I picked up as many leaves as would fit in the bag, knowing that a single bag would not get the job done.  I swept up debris that had collected in the corner.  I noticed where new buds on the trees were forming.  I imagined a time when the garden would be in full bloom.  I marveled at how such a green oasis could exist in such a dense, concrete space.   The 45 minutes felt like 10 minutes.  It was invigorating.  The bag was full but the job wasn’t done.   I have decided to do it again next Sunday.   

It’s got me thinking about how we all get so busy with the demands of life, the season we are in, the density of our time – we bypass the work it takes to enter into our inner lives.  We assume we can get to it later.  We think viewing what’s going on in the garden of our hearts can be short circuited behind the safety and comfort of a glass window.  But there is so much going on at ground level that can’t be seen from a window.   

It often takes a wind storm for us to finally crack open the door and tend to the first order of mess.   You could hire the clean-up work out but not without handing over the keys to your house.  If you’re willing to find a rake and grab a bag, once the downed branches are cleared, you have the chance to take inventory of where things are growing and dying and shedding and being made new.  The bag will fill up quickly at the start but the invigoration of seeing visible progress in such a short time is a kindness that invites us back.  The theologian Eugene Peterson says, “Our deep center gets buried under the everyday debris of routine and chatter, while we shuffle about out of touch and unaware of our true selves.”

An unseasonably warm day could happen tomorrow.  Someone could come over to your house in need of a breath of fresh air.  Will you point to your garden from the window or will you fumble with the back door making it obvious your garden isn’t ready for company? Or will you throw open the door and say, “Check this out!  This is my little space in a noisy world.  Can you imagine what it will be like in full bloom?”

City Living: The Joy of the High Street

 George at the Camden Coffee Shop

George at the Camden Coffee Shop

Last time I shared a post on the Joy of Not Having a Car.   This week I share a complimentary post on the Joy of the High Street. 

The High Street is the British shorthand for what we Americans call Main Street, the precursor to shopping malls.   As the center of a neighborhood’s commercial and social life, it’s where you go to get life done and get a few people to know your name.  

It’s fun to occasionally go destination shopping on bustling iconic streets like Oxford Street or on pedestrian streets like Carnaby Street in Soho but for the day to day, you need your local High Street.   Yes, there is online retail (thank you Amazon for Prime and employment of my husband), but you still need the High Street for drugstores and haircuts and groceries and take out and pubs and fresh flowers.  Every neighborhood's High Street has their own vibe which makes them more personal.

But the High Street isn’t only for a retail fix; it’s also the place you might bump into a neighbor or where you’ve put in enough foot miles to notice new growth.   In the last two months, I’ve been out and about enough to notice and stop in on three different shops on their opening day.  I was there when the deliciously decadent Crosstown Donuts opened their bricks and mortar location in the Camden Market North Yard near the Amy Winehouse statue, when Guy Gold opened his coffee bar & osteopathic treatment rooms (I don't know if I need treatment but I always need coffee) around the corner from us last Friday and a new bakery I sniffed out but didn't get the name of the Camden High Street only hours after it opened.  I need to go back another Saturday when I haven't already stocked up on hand rolled New York bagels from Bowery Bagels or the fluffy English muffins and sour dough bread from Jamie Oliver's The Flour Station.  These are dangerous streets for carb avoiders.

The High Street is also your best hope for when you’ve dragged your kids along to do some errands and promised it won’t take too long.  Promise delivered!  Last week we got haircuts, stopped at the ATM, picked up lunch (trying our 12th or so stall at the KERB Food Market), bought some new shoes (at Vans) and made it for the matinee showing of “The LEGO Batman movie” (at Odeon) in less than 90 minutes.  And even more beautiful: because it was so close, I dropped them at the theater door and they walked themselves home.

One of my favorite things living in my neighborhood is that I can flip through any cookbook and source every ingredient and related kitchen tool within a 10 minute walking radius.  Yesterday when my husband asked me about my plans for the day and I mentioned going to local bookstore (Waterstones) to skim through some Mexican cookbooks, then to a local cooking store to find individually sized skillets (either going upscale to Richard Dare or downmarket to a seconds store on Camden High Street which can't be found online) and then to one of several local grocery stores for ingredients, he lovingly gazed into my eyes and said (the truth): “Every day I’m with you is another day for you to buy a single use kitchen apparatus.” And I can-nacho lie, this neighborhood makes it easy to accomplish that.

Speaking of cookbooks, I have a collection from my chef hero: Yotam Ottolenghi.  Ottolenghi is originally from Jerusalem now living in London with several very popular restaurants (four Ottolenghi locations and Nopi) and a huge following.  He also writes a regular online food column in The Guardian.  With a city-sized Whole Foods and the fabulous fruit and vegetable grocer called Parkway Greens around the corner from me, I’ve been cooking a lot from his cookbooks.  The boys now ask for a sprinkling of zatar on their eggs.  Pomegranate molasses is my new balsamic vinegar.  Barberries save me from having to chop dried cranberries.  I’m all about finding new uses for preserved lemons, sumac and rose harissa.  And there isn't a dish that a refreshing yogurt sauce can't make better.

So imagine me reading this in one of Ottolenghi's columns:  “It’s easy to get stuck in our ways with apples. A granny smith is sweet and tart enough to work here, but why not try something new for a change? My local grocer, Parkway Greens in Camden, gets some of its apples from Brogdale in Kent …” His local grocer is my local grocer!  This has me more star struck than any celebrity sighting.  I have no idea what I will do when I see him there one day but you know I’m looking … every day.  I will get to know those apple varieties.

Another favorite spot in the neighborhood is the Camden Coffee Shop.  They don’t sell brewed coffee only coffee beans.  George, the owner originally from Cyprus, has been roasting and grinding coffee on the same premises for 40 years.  The equipment, even the old school scales, hasn’t been upgraded in that time.  George does all the work himself telling me there’s no room in the shop for another employee.  I visit George once a week (when he's there as the hours are "roughly" 9-5) for the best 500 grams of Ethiopian coffee for my paper filter and 250 grams of Costa Rica coffee for my stove top Italian espresso maker.   He’s taught me a few things about espresso.  It’s a weekly joy to feel part of something with that much history.

As a tourist, you might notice a few interesting restaurants and pubs on Parkway, our closet street for services.  As a resident, I can tell you this one street has two dry cleaners, a record shop, a musical instrument shop, four Japanese restaurants, three coffee shops – two chains and one independent, a tea house, three nail and beauty salons, two Indian restaurants, an Italian restaurant, a pizzeria, a fish and chips place, a Spanish restaurant, a French restaurant, an upscale modern European restaurant, a charity shop, two hair salons, an electronics store, a running store, a lifestyle/accessories store, a mailbox center, a movie theater, the Gap, Whole Foods and Parkway Greens (a second mention because I love them so much), lots of real estate offices, two pubs and three live music venues.  And that’s all in two blocks and before turning a corner. There's more too but it was making me hungry writing them all down.  I won't frequent some of them.  Moobo for bubble tea or Chicskin for sheepskin coats for example, but I like their names and I like knowing they're there for someone to enjoy.

A vibrant High Street is one that has services by day and a robust evening economy which I’ve heard referred to as “alive after 5.”   This neighborhood has the evening economy in spades.  Not all of it pretty.  We have yet to explore the music scene of Camden appropriate for the over 40 years of age crowd but on Parkway alone there is the famous Jazz Café, the Dublin Castle for a cheap beer and weekend live music, and Green Note - a vegetarian café bar and acoustic live music venue voted "London Venue of the Year 2015" by Timeout.  That high praise was enough for me to get our first tickets for the March 8 show at the reasonable cost of £10 per ticket.  About the same price as the Batman Lego Movie with a trade of popcorn for beer.  If you are local, meet us there?  If not, expect to read a City Living: The Joy of Live Music post soon.

City Living: The Joy of Not Having a Car

I was hopeful but uncertain about how much I would like being car-less in our new city.  I wondered how we would manage family life without a trunk full of sports equipment, crates of water bottles, on-demand pretzels and snacks, mobile phone chargers, Kleenex that doesn’t run out and a healthy supply of bags (the dry cleaning bag, the returns bag, the donations bag, the dirty shoes bag, the "left by another kid at your house" bag, the barf bag.)   I imagined a life without IKEA or worse, going to IKEA and only coming away with tea lights due to space constraints. 

I was excited about shopping with my cute trolley until I pictured walking home with a one-wheel-gone-missing trolley and a 24 pack of toilet paper balanced on my head.  (I know from recent experience that a one-wheel-gone-missing trolley is really just a very heavy, very awkward bag.)  Then I reminded myself I was returning to the land of Amazon and online grocery stores to take care of the relentless toilet paper needs even if it couldn’t solve for how to carry a large houseplant home.  (Answer: cute trolley gets dirty.  I cut off circulation to my right arm.)

Many of my concerns were about convenience and moving “freight” but I also wondered if I would miss the sanctuary of the car.  I wondered what it would be like on a rainy day after school and not having the comfort of a warm car to usher your kids into.  I wondered if the free-flowing conversation that sometimes happens between parent and child in the safety of a car would still happen on a noisy bus.  I wondered if I would get as much out of a podcast played in my ears instead of over the car speakers. 

But as it turns out, after six weeks of living in London, hope has beat out uncertainty.  Big time.  I do not love being wet and cold and packed in like a sardine on a crowded subway but I actually love not having car.  It’s definitely not always easy (ie, taking your feverish son to the doctor) but I’m confident that being on foot and on public transportation has been a major contributor in accelerating our sense of belonging to our new city.  I say the belonging bit with confidence for a number of reasons:

First, there is plenty of online shopping to solve the moving stuff around issue.  So many places deliver in London.   Having well-stocked backpacks and children old enough to pack them is another adjustment. We simply take more care when walking out the door knowing that we won't be returning for a long time.  And if there is something we would have had in our trunk but forgot to bring, we pick it up along the way.  (Shoes excluded.)  Our stuff now feels like the responsibility of each of us not just the one behind the wheel of the car.

Second, not having a car takes you out of the driver’s seat.  Ceding control, where you can, is healthy for all of us.  You are at the mercy of a bus driver or train operator and try as you might, you won’t be invited to ride shotgun.   Nor can you “make up” time by leaving a few minutes later.   You have to leave with plenty of time to get where you’re going (in London anything that crosses town usually means 45 minutes) and then surrender the rest of the ride to someone else behind the wheel or the upper limit of non-perspiring, speed walking.   Plus, until you exorcise it from your life, you have no idea how much traffic, terrible drivers and the teeny tiny number of available parking spaces causing 40% of the traffic intrudes on your sense of well-being. 

Third, not having a car means regular exercise just got a whole lot easier.  It also means that when confronted with an able-bodied but tired child, you can say “this is our only option” and they will know negotiation is futile.   So yeah, sometimes you have to dodge a few piles of dog poop on the sidewalk or suffer through a hail storm in the wrong outerwear, but you are burning calories while at it.  And when you’re (and they’re) burning calories instead of eating empty ones like stale car pretzels, the endorphins send you “well done” messages that make you like your life way more than you liked your leather seats.   

Fourth, after a few goes in the car, you know the way.  But when walking or taking public transportation, there’s always something more to experience because all your senses are engaged.  You are not just getting from point A to point B but you are creating a detailed mental map.  You see tucked away shops you wouldn’t notice from a car window.   You smell the coffee shops that roast their own beans.  You hear a wide range of voices, sometimes exuberant off-key singing, instead of the monotony of road traffic noise.  Your body begins to know where the wind tunnels are and where to expect a late afternoon sun beam.  My children might also mention not having a car improves the odds of stopping for a proper snack.  

All your interactions are closer and because you don’t have to keep your eyes fully on the road, you are free to notice them more.   Depending on the time of day (ie commuting hours), you might only be able to notice the dandruff on the guy sharing your personal space on the subway which isn’t awesome but still beats risking your left bumper and sanity trying to find parking where there is none.

And finally, if belonging is about community, mass transit can be a way to enter in to it.  Sometimes that means conversation (which I enjoy) but I’m finding that sitting or standing with someone in silence is a kind of solidarity.  I love not having mobile service when I go into the subway which forces me to engage with my thoughts or a book or the London Evening Standard.  It’s a wholly different kind of sanctuary than my car was, and I have to share it not just with my family, and yet it feels like one.   I doubt my children would agree on this point (they would say they prefer the car because there is more room) although they don’t seem at all hindered by sharing their day with witnesses.  Their sanctuary is wherever you are.

Not having a car isn’t viable in a lot of places but if you live in a big city, you might be surprised how much more at home you feel in your city without one.  So far it’s been one of our joys living in London. 

We are family

There are 20 minutes in each week I dread. From precisely 7:15pm to 7:25pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s the 10 minute walk my 13 year old son takes from basketball practice back to the Tube stop, far from home and in the dark.

Just now I pulled up the thesaurus and replaced “fear” with “dread” as if shedding fear, an emotion experienced whether a threat is real or imagined, is as simple as a search and replace. It takes more than that – often a communal effort – which, in this story, actually happened.

Now I came to these 20 minutes of weekly dread by choice. We want to honor our son’s desire to play competitive basketball which for him, in London, means a long transit. But we don’t have a car and it is not practical for my younger son and me to spend every Tuesday and Thursday from 4-8pm accompanying him to and from practice with a stop for falafel or fried chicken in between. I made the commute with my son until he felt comfortable doing it on his own. It didn’t take long for that to happen.

His basketball club is far outside the buzz of central London. It is not a destination stop. There are no tourist attractions. There aren’t even many street lights. If I’m being honest, the source of my fear wasn’t only because of my son’s age, the distance from home, the change of Tube lines, the dark and a general feeling that the area isn’t the safest. At a deeper level, I was scared because my child is white in a neighborhood that isn’t.

Did I just say that? I have no evidence, no experiences, and no hard data that should make me fearful. And it should be noted, my son is not afraid. And though it would be convenient, I can’t chalk it up to maternal instinct or unease because this is not my home country. No, that confession comes with a heavy dose of guilt. I know there is racism and stereotyping in my heart to even feel that way. I am ashamed to think that my 20 minutes of neatly scheduled discomfort is what a mother of color would feel EVERY time her child walked out the door, except hers would be grounded in a blanket of real – not imagined - experiences he and I will never have.

I would prefer to bury this confession except something happened to mitigate, though not completely erase, that dread. I didn’t “solve” the problem by hiring an Uber to take my son to and from practice which I could have done practically speaking but not without a cost to my son’s developing independence and him appearing even more entitled to his teammates than his latest Nike shoes already do. Something much more beautiful happened.

After the first practice where coach recognized I wasn’t there, he gathered the team around and told them to walk my son the 10 minutes back to the Tube stop. The entire team did it without question or complaint. (All of them except for my son live in the neighborhood.) I considered it a nice gesture of welcome to the team except that he’s asked a group of boys to do the same thing after every practice. When my son told his teammates recently it was ok he knew how to get to the Tube stop, they said: “No, we have to walk you. And if Coach finds out we didn’t, we’ll be running all practice.” Last practice Coach drove by to check on them, where every guy he asked to escort my son was there. Coach got out of the car to make sure my son understood: “Since you aren’t from around here, it’s better for your teammates to walk you. We are not just a team. We are a family.”

When I emailed Coach this weekend to thank him, he said it again, “You’re welcome. We are not just a team. We are family.”

You see I was kicking myself for seeing color but they saw it too. But where my instinct was to push down the reality of the color differences, their instinct was to face my son’s vulnerability as “other” and encircle him as you would any family member. I am humbled by how this team has embraced our son both on and off the court. It was so immediate and not because he is a star player. He is among talented players, many already towering over 6’3” at 13 years old. I know their model of familial love has instructional value beyond what I can grasp just yet.

It reminds me too what while I will never know when it means to move in the world where we are judged by our skin color, those brief flashes of discomfort we all experience from time to time – even the “managed” kind like my 20 minutes – can be openings for us to enter into a conversation we actively try to avoid. I found it interesting when I turned on my favorite podcast yesterday, “On Being” and the latest episode happened to be “Let’s Talk About Whiteness” by Eula Biss. I guess it was something I needed to hear. Maybe you, my white friend, do too.

Are you ready to eat? KERB Camden Market

One of the things we missed living in Luxembourg was the access to cheap eats.  I’m not talking fast food but good, inexpensive tasty food.  We hit the jackpot here in London as we live down the block from a street food market called KERB Camden Market which opened in August 2016.  It’s a 3 minute, 55 second walk from our front door.  (I timed it today.)  Open 7 days a week for lunch, there are 34 of London’s best street food vendors selling their signature dishes for mostly around £5.   Like who knew there was a thing called a Taiwanese Lunch Box or a Korean burrito? 

KERB has other pop up food markets around London but only the one in Camden is open every day.  We’ve sampled several of the vendors already (Venezuelan street food, halloumi fries, gourmet mac and cheese, salted caramel brownies) – without a single miss but a lot of napkins – but it will take weeks to eat our way through all of them.  So if you stop by over the lunch hour and I suggest you keep your coat on, you’ll know why.  And if I invite you round for dinner and serve you re-heated crispy squid, you have full permission to call me out.   

I have no tips except to say: a) go hungry and preferably without caloric judgment, b) go when you can’t decide what you want to eat or your kid has decided that the only thing he will eat is a hot dog because Oh My Dog!, c) go with a friend who likes to share and d) watch out for the pigeons.  It was quiet right at noon when it opened today (but there is also an overblown fear of “snow flurries” today) but typically the queues do pick up throughout the lunch hour.  The market stays open until 5pm Monday-Friday and until 6pm on Saturday and Sunday.  And if you overeat or the BBQ was good for your soul but not so much for your stomach, know you can get to a private toilet in 3 minutes, 55 seconds.  

This is (My) London

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.