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14 June 2010

anthology of a moving 2 (long distance love)

it is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. this is probably why lovers who are apart spend most of their time thinking about each other. in my case, i've got this eternal love for a city, london, and my absence from it sharpens my love, while presence streghtnes it (citing thomas fuller here). it's my mirror city and every visit turns up new reasons to love it. because, like samuel johnson said, "when a man is tired of london, he is tired of life; for there is in london all that life can afford".

first time i visited london was in the summer of 1990 with an international students organization, EF. it was an educational tour of 3 weeks that had a tremendous impact on me, as i was  abroad for the first time at 17, eager to know the world and excited to be finally living the experience i had waited so much since i had started to love english. until then, my international perspective of the world was through my penfriends. i couldn't believe i could finally connect with new experiences in real. 

i loved every second of my entire time there, even the shabby family who hosted me in the ugliest home of the south western suburb (wimbledon). every other student had better people and more beautiful houses but i didn't care. i was realizing my dream and i couldn't ask for more. the experience was highly episodic, there could come a nice story out of it so maybe i should consider it as a source of inspiration. probably it won't have the same impact on daily teens. they're more well travelled now. but london never stop being fascinating for everyone at every age. i became more confident and independent, qualities that stayed with me through adult life.

too bad all the photos i have of this memorable time were taken by others because my camera collapsed. no digital era! i had to collect them and many of them were out of focus. the only decent ones i keep are these 2: 

 near westminster abbey

 at windsor castle

all these emotions surfacing from my english stay only confirmed that london is a place to come and live for anyone seeking for inspiration, as well as for those who want to be in the epicenter of cool. i wanted my body, mind and soul to be enhanced by london's vibes and creativity once again and for a longer time, so my second time in uk was for about 1 year, from 1997 to 1998.  i was fresh with a university degree and ready for a changeling. i had decided that london would be an investment for my professional career, as well as a highly educational experience once again.

and so it was, obviously. truly unforgettable. london at that time was my personal grand tour. it broadened my horizons and made me learn about life and ethic working world as well as people from a new perspective. i got to know people with backgrounds i had never been in touch with, so that year served as a construnctive rite of passage. it also made me work on my inner self. like v.s. naipaul well knew, "i had come to london. it had become the center of my world and i had worked hard to come to it. and i was lost". its vastnees amplified my solitude and forced me to deal with it. i proved to be strong in ways i didn't think were possible and was oriented towards a problem solving attitude that has marked my whole life. it also taught me the art of relating to people. in what disraeli called "a modern babylon", teeming with a myriad people, languages and cultures, i learned how to to know when a relationship is good and lasting and when it is not.

pics i have of this dreamy era are much better, i keep them as treasures in my 3 different albums and i scanned some of the most important ones for this post. the first one is of me with different colleagues at the mc donald's i used to work during the first semester of my permanence.

  former mc donald's in whiteleys

my student card

and then there was the romance factor. i fell in love with a black guy who was totally unreliable. my desire and determination to live everything at its fullest put me on a fragile condition here, and i was at this guy's total mercy for a good while. i felt like audrey, the character of 'the last time i saw jane', one of the books i read while in london. she had left her roots and her traumatic past far behind but a passionate affair with a black guy brought uncertainities and confusion. and as she digged deeper into this affair, she was forced to confront her troubled past. that was pretty much me: little warrior elda facing all the changeling without an armor. and if there was another thing london taught me was to face life in a more protected way. that time with adrian was the last time i was so deliberately exposed to sufferance.

all these tumultuous feelings produced a very autobiographical novel. i wrote it in 2 months after my london year. i had to, it was my personal catarsis to exit my state of inertia. life at home was considerably boring and nothing made sense, not even my boyfriend of 7 years. writing the book helped me put things in perspective. i was pretty conscious to be standing at the crossroads of life. there's a fork in the proverbial road in everyone's life and mine was after i got back from london. for a long time i stood frozen at life, paralyzed as i struggled to hear my intuitive voice about if coming back to london o rnot. i truly wanted, but at the same time i wasn't sure i was so ready to leave everything behind me. in the end i decided to try look for a job here in italy, indulging in a 6 months deadline. i bet italy's precarious job opportunities would have driven me to uk again, but within 2 months i found a very good job in a multinational and my future husband. destiny happened to entail a fellow explorer at some point along the way, and i welcomed his company.  life has a way of interfering with the idealistic dreams and zealous plans of youth!

my passion for london remained, it was actually amplified by the casual renounce. the first time i got back as a tourist it was a couple of years later and it was fairly nostalgic. it was an odd feeling, a strange mix of odd and unease. a lust for a time past, yet knowing that it could never happen again. but there was one thing that was obvious: i was back home! and it's always great to return. i've been there many times and even lived there for a while, but i honestly feel like i've barely scratched the surface of this amazing city. there're so many stunning sites and places to visit, as well as the fact that there's constantly something happening. love is eternal after all. the aspect may change but not the essence.

the thing i like the most is that london is a city very alive with culture. the number of cultural activities on offer is breathtaking. open up a copy of time out or a broadsheet entertainment listing supplement at any point of the year and it's possible to find up to 6 or 7 off-west end musical theatre shows running concurrently. music scene rocks, too. and celeb spotting is so easy that you don't need to be a determnied spotter to encounter a genuine resident of celebsville. when i lived there one of my neighboors was sinead o'connor in bayswater so any day was never prosaic.

it's home to a wealth of covered, outdoor and street markets, eccentrics heaven for the strange and outrè, where you can also tuck into worldwide street snacks. it's such a melting pot, what a mosaic of peoples, races, colours, languages, faiths, cultures! many maintain their own cultures, customs and way of life. and this is something i've always been fascinating from. 'there's more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the world'. samuel johnson was so right!

pubs are excellent, too. i love sipping ale and watching london's tall and handsome men standing and titling their pints after work. but nothing beats afteroon tea, which is a real treat. silver trays of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and expertly brewed tea in a classy setting in any of the sumptuous hotels of the tea guild's prestigious awards guide. paradise for a tea lover like me!

 wonderland afternoon tea at the langham

 not to mention that london is one of the greenest cities of the world where you can be a squeer as you want to and nobody cares, and the way londoners talk, the subtle turn of the prhase, the gracious delivery. Awwwwww!

and suburbs. in the last years, every time i went i stayed at my friend lisa's, one of the girls i shared my flat with and who didn't go back to her country but remained in the capital. she moved from central basywater where we lived to a northern area, to find a home with more space and greenery, and i explored  more of london suburbia. it's very attractive to me. each suburb has its own character, small individuality and dinstinct atmoshere. many are like cities within the city, each with their own high street full of cafes and restaurants (also chains, everything in london seems to be) and hidden side-streets with quirky little stores and cheap take-aways. 

maybe my favorite thing in london is public transport. it's excellent, especially the underground. the first line (bakerloo line) was the first underground system in the world, opening in 1863. in 1890, london tube was the first to have electric trains. it's the biggest system in the world and the stylised map became a design classic in the 30's and was adopted around the world. 

carriages also display lines of poems, as part of a program called poems on the underground, whose goal is to bring poetry to the audience. "go where we may - rest where we will, eternal london haunts us still" was one of the lines i read during my last visit last year. it's by sir thomas moore, who was chosen to celebrate the city as it stays in the mind for ever. so inextricably true for me. now, if they're really going to put airconditioning on the tube like they say, london will be the perfect city!

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