While doing the laundry, getting all my clothes clean and dry before attempting the impossible task of packing for all four of Korea’s impossibly diverse seasons, I walk into my room as The Beatle’s Blackbird rings from my laptop. During my 2004 trip to Korea, a friend and I started a tradition. We would buy a CD in each city we visited, and listen to it on loop all the way home on the bus, and that CD would lock in our memories. Well, I almost subconsciously followed through on this tradition. Surely, to keep up with the times, I downloaded now instead of buying disks. So it happened that on my very first visit to London, where my mother lives, I downloaded a slosh of Beatles music, and some other quaint oddities.
…and so with this one song, back came the smells, sounds and colours of Hyde Park. The lonely yearning which haunts the Thames…and my own thoughts milling on how far film has come from Smith F. Percy’s The Acrobatic Fly while walking around the embankment. Its the travellers’ condition. Every place we visit seems to own a part of us. What we consider home becomes a finely dispersed house with rooms stretched across the globe. Not all have mountains, but London certainly has heels…
London really is one of those cities I appreciate more when I’m on my own. I suppose its because you need to be alone to understand its loneliness, its suppressed angst. French tour groups pass through its curio shops with more understanding of the pound than the people, while the Polish hoard around in pubs passing gas. Somewhere around an unseen corner a Sikh packages spices in little plastic bags opposite a Caribbean hairdresser’s shop. Squeezed in between a cell phone shop and a shoe shop, there’s a tiny South African emporium where a boetie from Bloemfontein advises a confused local on the production of Biltong in a confused accent. A little further down there’s a magic shop displaying new talismans in the over-crowded window. There’s a small cafe squeezed awkwardly in a noisy nook which serves authentic English cuisine. Bangers and mash, breakfast fry-up and my favourite, hot coffee. Not the over-priced sticker-friendly Starbucks kind, but the kind your mother gave you when you came home from school. The owner is from somewhere in the middle east, but much friendlier than the Uzbek girl at Starbucks. He knows his customers by name. Two old ladies one Caribbean, and one English. They pass around jokes, poking fun at each other and giggle about their husbands to the charming gentleman who hands me my cup of brown over the counter just past the bananas. For the first time today, I have found the heart of London.
From the posh country estates, pretty pubs and Staffy-walking East Enders. From the Polish lady who invites Americans into her flat for drinking games, which get broadcasted through the guest bathroom air vent while I brush my teeth. From my mother’s eccentric Jewish boss who always gives me the most wonderful books for Christmas. From the independent , world savvy Pakistani I know in Dollis Hill to that BBC bench where I go to think. London is in my blood still yet, like that cousin you haven’t seen since you were nine. Its smell is in my nose like the smell of my mother’s washing detergent when I open my suitcase after I’ve come home. Like a Blackbird singing in the dead of night, it only creeps up on me, when I’m alone.