remembering london in the afterglow

Picadilly Circus, 1960s
Picadilly Circus, 1960s

For four months, I lived in London. I even had a glass of wine with the queen – or a friend wearing a mask of the HRH. But as time passes ever so fast, I slowly lose the detailed memories of that time; the benefit of hindsight is that those big days and big nights feel even bigger and even brighter. Guided by mental and physical snapshots, I’m feeling my way back, one month later.

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I flew across the Atlantic for the first time on Friday, January 13th and I’m superstitious. On my first full day in London, I took a bus tour of the city which was utilitarian, enlightening, and exhausting. Riding over Tower Bridge, I caught this shot with the London Eye, Parliament, and Big Ben.

I’m a wide-eyed kind ofΒ traveller; it always feels surreal, like I’m living in a dream-world and that any minute it’s going to fall away. When I took this picture, it was all so invigorating and a little bit nauseating; excitement and adrenaline burnished with fear. Imagine feeling for three days like you’re living at the peak point of a roller coaster.

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First walk through Hyde Park, and we come upon this, beautiful and bizarre. Like the usual bird-feeding park-lurker, she had magpie tendencies. Just look at the collection she’s wearing; Chanel bag, red lipstick to match her red coat, costume jewelry earrings and scarf. But her attitude and entourage suggested someone much less lonely, someone much more content. I wasn’t sure what her story was then, but I’d still like to know.

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Snow in London, covering Russell Square. The first of this year’s late-winter snows dusted the city in the early morning. A little girl and her grandparents were building a snowman in the wake of this statue. I can’t remember what that morning sounded like, but I do remember that it was exhilarating.

I was out early that morning, although work had been called off, to get pancake batter and hot chocolate with my wonderful roommate N. We’d decided to surprise our other roommates, but when we got to Tesco, quickly realized we weren’t the only ones with plans for a sweet morning. The store was out of everything, but the day still ended up being a hazy monochrome, perfectly lazy.

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An afternoon alone ought to be spent in Hampstead Heath. It’s quiet there and easy to imagine yourself as anyone. The town is quaint and comfortable, and it’s still on the Heath. To my right were swans and other waterbirds that make Lake #5 popular, and behind me the knotted hills so typical of England.

Sitting on that hilltop bench, I could hear the birds’ wing feathers rustle as they flew by me, and hear cuts of conversation as people walked the path behind. I felt for a while like Joni Mitchell sounds and it felt alright.

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This is the London Eye in March, in the very late afternoon. An hour earlier on the same Saturday, I’d reunited with a dear friend at Holborn Station. Though we went to school together in the States, he’s British and lives in England. We met in middle school as carpool partners, and spent our morning car rides arguing about Al Gore and American Idol. We still talk about essentially the same things- pop culture and politics.Β A decade-long friendship is something to be proud of, something unbelievable, and something to celebrate.

As that afternoon drifted away, we walked the width of London, across the bridge to Southbank. For a brief time, we wound up under the Eye. The line was almost entirely 16-18 year olds, dressed up and little drunk, riding the Eye as part of their Prom celebrations. G. and I looked at each other, struck that we were in the London, together, and struck by the remarkable convergence of ideas and memories. Here were kids younger than us – though it didn’t and doesn’t seem possible that we’ve gotten quite this old – pregaming their Prom on the London Eye. They were oblivious to us and to the US-style prom that G. and I had experienced together. They were oblivious to the import of the Eye, treating is as casually as only the owner of something valuable can. They were oblivious to how old they made us feel, and how alien they seemed. The process of observing them seemed simultaneously big and small. This moment was strong/fragile and this image embodies some of that duality for me.

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It’s true that I’ve forgotten now more than I can ever hope to remember, but the memories that I’ve got are more than enough.

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laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

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