London and I first met in 1997.
I had preconceived notions of the city’s sordid history with numerous others — famous writers, artists, musicians, and royalty. I anticipated a dark, mysterious, potentially controversial affair with this notorious capital. One that would torment my soul and keep me coming back for more.
I was a bit cautious in the beginning, partially expecting him to prove me wrong. He can’t be as great as everyone says he is. And he’s not — he’s better.
London didn’t necessarily sweep me off my feet. The courtship was subtle and slow. A flirtatious walk through St. James’ Park one day and Regent’s the next. Eventually farther afield to Hampstead Heath then Kew Gardens. Each encounter beautiful in its own way. Each offering a different view of London life. Iconic Notting Hill, ceremonial Kensington and Buckingham palaces, and the eerie Tower of London. All the places in my guidebook checklist. Been there, done that. Worth it.
Parts of London are quaint. Some of it charming. But it’s also a raw, concrete jungle of packed neighborhoods representing colorful populations from Brick Lane to Primrose to South Bank. I love hearing the mix of Norwegian, Chinese, Hindu, and Dutch, and eating the foods to match. I love spending a morning at the Tate laughing at abstract installations exhibiting someone else’s truth, then walking across the modern Millennium bridge toward St. Paul’s Cathedral, where John Donne and Christopher Wren are laid to rest and a 528-step climb offers 360 degree views of the gray, somber city below.
It’s moody. Slightly snooty, but self-deprecating and polite when it needs to be. At times it’s rowdy and cheeky. But you take the good with the bad. Despite the dismal weather, packed Tube stations, and, more recently, Brexit, I still look beyond its flaws and consider London my refuge.
It was the first place I turned to when my mother died. In a cold January, my husband and I crossed the pond to a quiet and crisp London. We visited the house in Kensington where my mom lived as a teenager. We walked our familiar stomping grounds but were greeted each morning with the prospect of a new discovery.
Even in my mournful state, London brought out the best in me. He inspired me to be open and to live life fully. Anxieties faded and I found myself at peace in the present, living with intention.
I miss London when I’m not there. I imagine myself in Borough Market selecting the cheese and bread of the day, and grabbing a samosa take away and Turkish delight for the road. I recall the scents from medicinal herbs at the Chelsea Physic Garden and shopping in Marylebone.
My husband calls it a sickness. Maybe he’s slightly jealous.
Still, sometimes I wonder if it is possible to love a place more than a person.
I’ve visited London 12 times in the past 20 years. On the last trip, we celebrated my daughter’s 2nd birthday with an impromptu playdate with Prince George at Diana’s Memorial playground in Hyde Park. Their nanny and Princess Charlotte were in tow.
It was a chance encounter of two toddlers running around a huge, wooden pirate ship and taking turns on the slide. I didn’t take any photos to respect their privacy, but also so I could savor the moment of watching my daughter play.
My own mother met Prince Charles and Princess Di back in the ‘80s. Who knew that their two future grandchildren, whom they would never meet themselves, would somehow come together in a sandbox?
That’s London. My London.
Images provided by Elena Shamis (@elensham).