And I'm back, in about the same mood as I left, though with clear memories of a wonderful city. What with one thing and another it has been well over a decade since I was in London. I wandered around for four days with my eyes ears mouth and skin wide open, soaking up the place. I could offer some bad and embarrassing word painting, or some almost thoughtful social demographic type comments, but the first thing that comes to mind is: expensive. Holy crap is it expensive. I wasn't even paying for that much, and it was expensive. Dinner for four was more than my month's rent, a short tube ride as much as a New York taxi, and the belt I did not buy as a souvenir for Imo (in their way, my girls are ideal kids -- tell you exactly what they want) cost about 200.00. No, it was not made of gold or signed by the Dalai Lama (you know, his clothing line would be a seller. Really good socks, you know? or, Pants you'll want to be reborn in or something. I wonder if he's exploiting his popularity enough). It was the same belt I can buy in downtown Toronto for 25.00. And will. So if you see Imo in a new belt, don't tell her where it comes from. Enough about money -- such a vulgar topic. I'd like to do the sun glinting off the cornices of the Georgian buildings, the gap-toothed smile of the stockbroker walking down Park Lane, expansive in his pinstripes, and the view of Father Thames all silver in the sunlight ... but like I say I get embarrassed by that stuff. So let me tell you about what I missed.
I missed the shock of diesel exhaust. London used to smell different. Now it smells the same as everywhere else. (We've caught up to it.) I missed the grime (actually not so much missed as noticed -- the tourist part of the city looks like it has had a facelift. Clearly a good thing, but there was something endearing about buildings which all used to look like they'd been smoked like kippers). And I missed the English accents. Service trades -- retail, hotel, restaurant -- are staffed by eastern Europeans. Again, this is not criticism, but rather a middle-aged hearkening back to a simpler kindlier time.
My favorite memory was the Tate Modern -- not the art so much as the whole experience of the place: a major gallery in a reconditioned power plant, filled -- packed -- with tourists and locals. I have never been in a gallery that full. I loved listening to the family discussions in front of Rothko, Hepworth, Pollock, Freud, or whomever, mom or dad pointing out various interesting aspects of the artist's craft to scarily interested tots (in my day I'd have been picking my nose in an ecstasy of boredom). I loved the quarreling teens and the stately older couples, pausing, shuffling forward. I wondered why they were all here when they could be playing football or hanging at the mall, and then it struck me. What do you do when everything costs so much? You go to the art gallery, which is free.
My sons didn't say what they wanted me to bring back. Not ideal children from the gift-giving point of view. They get flags and like it.