July 22, 2011

From Gerald R. Lucas

I Am a Londoner

I should have been born in England. Not only have I been an anglophile since my years as an undergrad, I am right at home in this city. In many ways, it is gray. From the cloudy summer skies to the faces of hurried pedestrians, the attitude of London fits with mine. People leave you alone, unless you don’t want to be. Londoners are used to anything, so nothing seems to bother them. Much.

London Thames Sunset panorama - Feb 2008.jpg

I like the food. The nightlife. The pubs. Alright, I love the pubs. The public house is something that we Americans need to adopt. The sports bar just doesn’t cut it. In fact, why is it that any restaurant or bar seems to think that in order to be successful, they need to have a dozen televisions? In pubs, people actually talk over a pint or two. What a novel concept. Maybe this is why Americans like TV? Do we really have nothing to say to each other? Also, we don’t need live music every night. A pint and a snug is all that is needed. Maybe two pints. Or three.

I like the transportation. Or more to the point, I like being a pedestrian. I like public transportation. In general, Londoners seem to be in much better shape. Could it be from all the walking? I don’t think they eat much more healthily than Americans do; they just exercise.

I like the parks, speaking of exercise. They have massive, green, beflowered, and well used and maintained parks. Regents, Hyde, and Green parks and Hampstead Heath are gorgeous chunks of nature right in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. Londoners like to eat al fresco. One of the best lunches I had over the last couple of weeks was in the park surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral. I like to see all strata of society sharing this beautiful space—even the businessmen in their suits sit on the grass to have their sandwiches. Could you see American suits doing this?

I like the diversity. Not only are there British, but people from around the world visit and live in London. Since most of them are doing their thing, I have not met many, but they bring with them their culture, food, and customs to make London a unique pastiche of difference. There are tensions, but they don’t seem to be those of the states. I see many racial and ethic mixes; all seem to have a place.

I like the culture. Every night has something great going on. The theatre is the best in the world; the music is ubiquitous; entertainment is actually hard to avoid. And often it’s affordable and convenient, yet just as often it’s not. We’ve heard blues bands in Camden Town, listened to student musicians at lunchtime in St. Martin’s in the Field, and seen Shakespeare at the Globe. There might be too much to do.

I like to drive. Even though I prefer trains in many ways, driving in the UK is invigorating not because I have to drive on the left, but because people seem to know how to drive and they do drive. They don’t eat. They don’t put on makeup. They don’t talk on their damn cellphones. When they drive, they drive. Refreshing. The roads are great, particularly in the country. The British seem to understand the importance of keeping one’s place clean and beautiful. There are no Wal-Marts; there is no city sprawl (maybe in a couple of cities); the highways end on the outskirts of the cities, they do not pass through them; there are no billboards obstructing your view on the motorways. The roads are beautiful and twisty. Great, too, for motorcycling.

I like the weather in the summer. Even in the winter, it’s not too cold. Because of the rain in the summer, there are great colors. The days and nights are cooler, even cold sometimes for this Florida boy. There are few bugs, evident by no screens on the windows. The summer breezes are cool and sweet.

It’s not all love for us Londoners. It’s damn expensive to live in the city (especially petrol!). It rains too much. There are a lot of smokers. It’s crowded. It’s often too impersonal and alienating. People can be rude. Sometimes it does move a bit too fast. I find myself getting impatient with people who are obviously tourists; I find that particularly amusing. In a big city, things are pretty small, like accommodations, bathrooms, and restaurants. Did I mention the smoking? Oh, and could someone bring some good pizza to London, please?

I think I would trade all I had in the states (except my wife) to be able to be a permanent Londoner; Autumn would just have to come with me. Maybe I, a former English Professor, could open a Pizza Pub, and bring a revolution to the UK’s capital. I could take up cycling again—even motorcycling. I could simplify. Cut back. Live in a smaller flat. Just me and A. I could see it.

After all, I’m already a Londoner.