Wednesday, June 27, 2012

liberty, egality, fatigue

Picnic dinners of nutella, mcvitees and brie on the hotel bed, St. Paul's great cathedral, coral jeans and loafers, the roses at Regent's Park, the seals of the families of England at Canterbury Cathedral, tea at Liberty of London. 

My feet are aching and happily propped up, as I take the night off in our hotel room with Caroline. London has been a bit of a whirlwind of sights and places and getting lost and running for trains, and I still haven't quite adjusted to the city. In my experience, every city has a vibe, a frequency at which things run and to really enjoy it you have to understand and fall into that frequency. In the words of John Berger, "Every city has a sex and age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn't changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman."

Some of it has to do with architecture, the size of the streets, the way neighborhoods and tourist districts and restaurants are arranged - the flow of traffic, human and vehicular. Some of it has to do with style and attitude - the way that people dress, the pace at which they walk, the attitude people assume when waiting in a crowd for public transportation. And there is a third ingredient that just . . . is.

Here is what I've noticed about London:

People look good. Not in the sense that there are more beautiful people, but in the sense that people know how to dress and claim personal style. There are loads of sixty and seventy year-old women with killer haircuts and sharply tailored blazers who look gorgeous, and twenty year-old men with trendy glasses and perfectly fitting suits. And the shoes! You can rock anything you want to wear in London, and fit in better doing it. 

The generational gaps are both more pronounced and more relaxed than in American cities. It's as though everyone between 15 and 25 is going through a wild phase, and everyone above thirty is relaxed and restrained in loafers and Barbour jackets and pressed trousers. But this doesn't seem to be a problem for anyone - I don't get a sense that the youth culture is loathed as it is in the states, but merely tolerated until they grow out of it with a sense of patient fondness.

London is a city trying to be as new as possible and as old as possible at the same time (something to do with the point above?) - restoring and presenting its ancient and clung-to history while also building the shiniest, most postmodern and spiraling new buildings. So the city feels both ancient and trendy at the same time.

To Penshurst for the day tomorrow, Paris on Friday, and then the weekend back in London. Maybe I will have figured it out by then!


  1. I can tell you from past experience that it takes a minimum of five visits before you really know your way around London. You'll be back! :)

  2. I love your London's an interesting way to think about it. And ahhh picnics on the bed in your closet-sized Mentone rooms :) I am missing you all!

  3. you write really well. Having lived in London a long time though, i can tell which parts of London you are in from how you describe what you are seeing. Go up the road to Hackney on the 38 bus and you'll see a completely different crowd!!!

  4. thanks to all, I want to come back for a while to really get to know the city - it seems as though it would be very worth it!