I had never believed in love at first sight. But in 2009, I went to London. And it reinforced these beliefs. My time there as a mere sophomore in high school was rotten in my eyes – the weather was blisteringly hot, our location was less than ideal and I was more focused on what I was missing out on at home rather than was I could have been experiencing in London.
Always the believer in second chances, I revisited the idea of London as the greatest city in the world a bit later on in 2012. While this trip included milder conditions, a more posh locale and less worries about the folks back home, the city still failed to wow me like I had been promised to be wowed – where was the glamorous dirt and grime, the tenuous balance of beauty and grotesque, the old and new twisting together to form one unique city?
Then I came here for a third time. This is when I fell in love. This is when I was here long enough to spot all of the beauty and all of the terrible in one walk to work. When I could sort out the best and the worst and choose to focus on the best, relying on the worst to make the best appear better. This is where I dove deep into a city that was begging to be tapped into. Where friends and arts and culture waited for me to get beyond the sightseeing and spectacle gazing and oohing and ahhing and to delve deeply into the joys that come from late buses and rainy walks and delayed Tube lines.
And now I’m back for a fourth time.
I am here on business, taking a weeklong break from school to learn through meetings and dealings and interactions rather than through PowerPoint slides and hour-long lectures.
I’ll admit, I was a bit wary to be coming back to this place that gave me so much my last time. I learned quite a lot here and I was almost scared that I would return to find a city that was just that – a city. A place that held so much magic because of who I was with and what I was doing, not because of what it actually was in and of itself.
Luckily, I was wrong.
The moment I stepped off of the plane and walked the long and tiring walk to customs, I couldn’t wipe this goofy grin off of my face because I could feel it in my swollen feet all the way up to my ruffled hair – the feeling that this city is as electric as I had known it to be since the very first time I saw London for what it was, the beautiful mixture of old and new, of grime and splendour. So as soon as I reached the hotel, I dumped my stuff into my room, took a quick shower and immediately hopped back onto the London streets and explored my new surroundings.
Red double-deckers rushed by, small cars honked incessantly at each other and at pedestrians, dogs pulled at the leases of their wary owners, struggling to juggle their pets and their lattes. I couldn’t help but smile as I waited to cross the road and cars whirled by, refusing to stop for the lone pedestrian, when to think that at school, cars would come to a quick halt to accommodate the harried student on their way to class.
I don’t know why, but I loved the whooshing of the cars speeding by, ignorant to my waiting for a clear path. It made me feel like a distinct part of the city, not stopping or slowing anything down, a part of something whole, like partners working together in a synchronised dance that welcomed anybody ready to curtsey and bow as directed to keep the music flowing.
While I am only here for five days before I jet off to Frankfurt, I need only the fervent and passionate melody that I hear as I walk the streets of London to reinforce the tale that I sing back to the city – adding to the music, adding to the story.