Monday, April 16, 2007

“Can you tell me which ones to use?”

The sun is shining, and the weather is sweet, yeah. Not in Kingston, no not this time. London is brimming with optimism, I heard people here were cold, very rude, distant even. But today they seem oh so kind, even gregarious. It must be my lucky day, I leave a mid-April snow forecast behind me and arrive in 25 degree sunny weather in the land of April showers that bring springtime flowers.

I can attest to those flowers being in bloom, resplendent, full-bodied. If they are missing the rain, I’ve been fooled, misled so thoroughly that showing my face in public would seem a dubious deed. My jet-lagged induced stupor has brought me out twice to appreciate the early summer tidings, and well, I had to peek into my favourite vintage shops. How could I not? I could hear Portobello Road calling my name over the perky Notting Hill roofs and through the well-manicured Holland Park gardens. Shame on me, I couldn’t wait out the first stop, I splurged on a £3 grey hoodie, a thing of beauty, that I’ll probably end up gifting to someone dear to me with longer arms. I can see my brother wearing it well. I think it was the smell of cherry blossoms that inspired my purchase, walking down Holland Park Road in this Royal Borough, my posh, adopted London neighbourhood, I could do nothing but notice the smell of flowers burgeoning around me. It was romantic. And still a bit foreign. After all, I needed to ask the clerk which coins to use in order to buy my sweater. I figured it out. Two-toned (silver and copper) and large is two pounds, while solo copper and thick is one pound. Sound familiar to my loonie and toonie friends? I wonder if I can get by without using pence, i.e. the other array of coins. I’m sure I could, but it would be a terribly expensive trip, as it already looks to become, hoodies and all.

Of course, to leave my walking-events in the realm of pure vintage fun and odiferous buds would be simply to romanticize. In order to dissuade such careless reflections, I mention the not-so-appealing dimensions of my outings: the all-too-familiar odour of raw sewage, the unspoken charm of every big city, as well as the nauseating stench of car exhaust. I thanked the cyclists who swam through the mad, multi-directional flow of traffic, and saluted their bravery in the face of what seemed like unsurmountable odds. I should drive less. Yes, I should.

Despite my gesture to the rank side(walk), the flowers have defiantly defeated the exhaust and sewage for my affection. London is once again the apple of my eye, surprising me at every turn. Ooops, that person smiled at me, that’s not supposed to happen. Oh, I’ve been here for 10 hours in April and it hasn’t rained. Hmmph, I made a joke at a grocery checkout and two people laughed! And my favourite, oh yes, my favourite, I spoke to a small child who was sitting on her mother’s lap, she was eyeing me rather oddly, which I find is very common in young ones, and her mother responded to me in three different languages, waiting patiently for my ponderous reply. Cold? I think not. It must be said though that in every one of these cases, the person in question was no more English than I. That’s the other great thing about big cities, it’s what lures me in, interpellates me into the city fabric more than anything else: people gather here from all over, to get away, to start over. It’s not always easy, if the history of imperialism teaches anything, it’s precisely that the relationships between the metropolitan centre and its peripheries are fraught with the vicissitudes of imperial ambitions, like so many capillaries running through a human body, carrying the raw materials that sustain our global capitalist system. So no, I don’t want to romanticize hope, since it is dictated by certain taken-for-granted global geo-political questions.

But, it is hope that springs forth most forcefully on this glorious London day. I look forward to getting some sleep tonight, so that I can be ready to meet those friendly gazes with my own shining eyes. I really do hope the flowers win out. From my current vantage point, how could they not?

é + à Londres, où il fait beau temps, de très beau temps