The other day, I read Nora Ephron’s old essay on The New Yorker, Nora Ephron’s Apartment: A Love Story. She wrote about how, despite the ridiculous key money she had to pay for an apartment called the Apthorp, she fell deeply in love with it and was determined to make it her own. In the article, she reasoned, ‘But forget the money. This, after all, is not a story about money. It’s a story about love. And all stories about love begin with a certain amount of rationalization.’
That last sentence is so true, and it certainly is with my love for London.
I have long been obsessed with the Big Smoke (probably like thousands of others). I used to take it for granted when I was still living in Southampton, thinking it was only a train-ride away, just a little over an hour — I could go there anytime I wanted. But I never went as much as I’d like to; I never made the time.
People try to warn me off London, the way they would when they see a girl start falling for a bad guy: by pointing out all the bad qualities. With London, it’s the pollution, the sky-rocketing property prices, the high crime rate, the crowd that can feel unbearable at times, and even the hard water. But just like a starstruck girl, I tune it all out. What are those challenges compared to the chance of experiencing what London has to offer? I’d deal with those inconveniences for centuries-old buildings with stories and grandeur, world-class musicals and theaters running all year round, culturally diverse scene. Not to mention the endless amount of restaurants to try, events to go to, markets to visit, cozy pubs to relax in, and many, many more. I want to experience it all.
A snapshot from the V&A museum.
But what about the bad stuff, you might wonder. Well, I want to be there and enjoy London in all its glory and crap. Strange as it may be, I’m longing to whine about the cramped, shitty tubes in the way that only Londoners do, when you’re a bit jaded with the city and still have to deal with day-to-day stuff. The idea of getting to complain about the putrid smell in Kennington station is attractive to me, not because I want to experience the unbearable smell or any other inconvenience; I just see it as the privilege I would have if lived in London. I want to be so familiar with it, the way H’s sister can tell where to stand on the platform so she will always be right in front of the doors when the tube arrives. I see Londoners stride with such confidence (and speed!) among the throng of tourists, and I long to be one of them.
In my last visit to London, I bought every London souvenirs I could get my hands on. Magnets. Keyrings. Mugs. Postcards. Canvas bags. Everything. I was well aware that no Londoner would be caught buying these things, and what I was doing was the exact opposite of what they would do. But I was compensating for the ache I feel for not living there.
No matter how many times I’ve visited London, it’s not enough. I always have a jam-packed itinerary, squeezing all the places and restaurants I want to visit, and always wishing for a longer time. But it will never be enough, and the only way to really experience it — all the glory and little mishaps, not just the tourist highlights — is by living it. London is too complex, too great for just a weekend fling.
I expected my last visit to London to snap me out of my trance. Maybe I’ll fall out of it when I see it this time, I thought before we flew in. Quite the opposite. All it did was remind me how I was still hopelessly in love with the city, and still very much yearning to live there.
My fascination with London is ridiculous. Irrational, even. Is it an infatuation? It certainly feels like it, but it’s been going on for too long to be just a mere infatuation. I guess it’s love.
There, I’ve said it.