Oh London, my London.
The air there coats my sinus cavities with toxic waste, the cobblestones do a number on my knees and ankles, and the papers only ever run stories about a scantily-clad strumpet named Jordan, or women who help their husbands fake their death and then scarper with the insurance money. Still, after nine years Ė nine years and eight visits - the first sight of Big Ben and Tower Bridge and the shining lights of Piccadilly Circus still get the butterflies in my stomach swirling. Carrie Bradshaw wrote her love letters to New York, Audrey Hepburn had her Roman Holiday, and Cole Porter sang about Paris in the springtime, but Iíll take London anytime.
I know I was quiet about it all before I left, but only because itís now rather embarrassing that I still get this excited about visiting the same city over and over again. Itís difficult to appear elegant and blasť about jetting across the ocean if I still get a thrill out of seeing a black cab on the wrong side of the road. They say that the older you get, the wiser you get; in a way, thatís true, because Iíve learned that while Iím not getting any more sophisticated, at least I know enough to keep my mouth shut so you canít hear the rattling.
Without delving into the difficulty of the last couple of years, I want to mention that my last couple of visits to London were a bit of a disappointment, if only because it seemed the air had been let out of the balloon a little. The magic had left, the charm had evaporated, and it all fell a little flat. Donít get me wrong: I wasnít lying when I waxed poetic about the wonderful and therapeutic times Iíd had. London was still wonderful and entirely cathartic, but I simply wasnít absorbing it the way I was used to. The city had only become a refuge, a geographical camouflage for the pain, rather than my oyster, my own personal confidence booster, the place where I had no fear or misgivings about choice and direction. The party, it seemed, had ended.
And then, I suppose it was sometime in October or November, a friend from across the pond asked me if I would be making my yearly trip again. I remember looking up at the calendar and realizing that, blimey, it was autumn all of a sudden! It was time to start planning again! And thatís when the thought struck me that, business obligations and the ever-welcoming, money-grabbing arms of Soho and Covent Garden aside, there were people who were looking forward to seeing me, people who got a kick out of making me laugh, people who I made laugh.
I suppose thatís when, out of the blue, the glimmer came back. Thatís when I started to get excited again. After that, it was a flurry of booking flights and making hotel reservations, scheduling meetings for business and pleasure. And then the waiting, the weeks and days before departure, when I started to get jumpy and energized because dammit, I was going to London again! Time had worked wonders, doing everything that time is supposed to do, making my brain and my heart into a reasonable facsimile of what it was Before. The party hadnít ended; I just hadnít been in the mood to go. (Oh, donít groan. I could have twisted the metaphor a little further, so that I was the party, butÖ ew. Heavy-handed and gross, much?)
Anyway. It was kind of wonderful when, completely independent of each other, both Andrea and Stewart said that I was a much happier person this visit. ďLike chalk and cheese,Ē said Stewart, as he filled my glass yet again.
I will tell you right away that I spent most of the week in a blissful state of early-stage inebriation, always stopping short of being completely smashed, never waking up less than the picture of health. Every moment was full of activity, full of people, full of food and wine, like a commercial for vitamins, or holiday resorts. There was no time to bother myself with introspection and startling insights about my life or your life or the state of the world in general. It was, frankly, a nice break. Toronto is a mess of navel-gazing, and frankly, thereís never enough merlot around for that type of thing.
Now I always, always indulge in days of art or nights of theatre while Iím there, alongside some perfunctory bit of tourism. I do it because I donít want to get lazy, and have nothing to bring back from the UK except dirty stories and new shoes, and I do it because, frankly, Iíve not yet come close to exhausting Londonís offerings.
For some time now, Iíve wanted to go on the London Eye and walk through the Dali Museum, and for some time now, Iíve always managed to find excuses to give them a miss. Iíll admit that some of those excuses involved hangovers or shoe sales, so I was bound and determined to make full use of all my waking hours this time around. I refused to see London through the fug of grief and sadness again, so I though it fitting to get a good, clean, thorough view of it all at once, sort of like starting over after youíve fallen out with a friend. And so, I finally rode that damn Ferris wheel! I took in quite a bit of the city and the Thames all in one go, and it was an extra bit of thrill when I spied from one of the Eye pods Salvador Dali and his curling moustache on a big flapping sign just meters away from the exit point off the wheel. So, all in one shot, I was able to take in magnificent views of the River, and examine Daliís melting clocks and dirty pictures. It was a brilliant morning; indeed, one canít spend all oneís time trying on dresses.
Although, screw it, one should probably mention that Iím the new owner of a particularly delectable late Ď50ís-era style black and white frock, the hunt for which was an excellent way to spend some of my waking hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon before meeting someone in Soho for dinner. In fact, it was particularly lovely to retreat to my hotel on Tuesday to gaze at it in glee, after spending the morning with Andrea at the V&A, holding myself back from licking the windows.
You see, he two of us had gone to see an exhibit called The Golden Age of Couture, which featured gems from Diorís ĎNew Lookí and Balenciaga and Givenchy, oh my! All those delicious frills and furbelows, that exhilarating post-war excess of fabric, the absolute deluge of fun and femininity. Clearly, it is unnecessary to mention that my head popped off my head and rolled across the floor.
And Andrea, that funny, beautiful Amazon of a girl who came down from the far reaches of Lincoln, a town a few hours and a hundred years from London, just to see me. We salivated over sixty year old fashions together, and that night we joined 8 others at Pulcinella for dinner. Our friend MarcoÖ do you see? So many people to love! Our friend Marco stamped his foot and demanded that an evening of merriment was to be reserved for him while I was there, which is how the Big Gay Italian Dinner came to be organized. Friends and friends of friends came together, some for the first time, to eat and imbibe and flirt in three different languages, and clink glasses and chin-chin and cheers, and oh, it was just so nice!
Oh Lord, this tale has become rather unwieldy, hasnít it? Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose! Iíve sort of given up on doing thing in any sort of chronological order, so Iíll just lay it on the table for you to do with what you please. Anyway, on another remarkable evening, Stewart and I had had dinner and then gone back to my hotel for a nightcap. As he had to work the next morning, we said goodnight, but it was 10:30 and I was restless. Too late to start a Sunday evening, but too early to end it.
In past visits, I had made friends with one of the boys at the office. Nick no longer works for the company, but we had continued our acquaintance through sporadic emails and random text messages. On a whim, I called him up for a chat and found out that he was with two mates, at Kingís Cross tube, only one stop and mere minutes away from my hotel at Russell Square. I told him to get himself over as quickly as humanly possible, which he and his lovely friends did. While weíd spent time enough together during working hours and at company functions, weíd never hung out outside of work, so I was a tiny bit apprehensive, but in the end, I was so glad to find out that my friend was as Good People as I thought he was. We shared a bottle of wine, gossiped mercilessly, and suddenly it was much too late for anyone to catch a tube home, and that is why I now have this brilliant story about the time I shared my hotel room with three delicious men, two of which were strangers, two of which insisted on sharing the bed with me, both of whom were gentlemen. There was some inappropriate groping, of course, but I will continue to swear I was doing that in my sleep.
A couple of nights later, Nick introduced me and Stewart to the same Bar Italia that Pulp sings about which, let me tell you, delighted me to no end. The three of us then dined at one of my favorite spots, quaffed too many cocktails, had daiquiris for dessert (for the love of God!) , and generally made my last night in London a brilliant affair.
So. I worked, I played, I cemented friendships. I got a raise. I rocked the hell out of a beret. I had brilliant days and nights that I swear were designed for my own personal enjoyment. There was a rather droll incident with a rickshaw that was sort of a pain in the bottom, but even that ended well. I danced until the very last song at my Christmas party, and had the aches the next day to prove it. I bought a delicious new dress, and saw the entire city from the highest cloud in the sky. I loved my week in London, wrapped my arms around it and felt it right next to my skin, without any kind of fog to cloud it except for the sadness of having to say goodbye to the ancient modern city once again.
I canít wait to go back.
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