Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Final Post, on the occasion of the anniversary of the July 7 bombings

For the past six months I've been meaning to write something here -- a final posting, something with a sense of finality, something to sum up my experience in London, and acknowledge how it changed me. Clearly, this was too hard a task. First it seemed too soon, and then it seemed too late (and I haven't exactly been displaying the ability to write anything at all recently, to tell the truth.)

The July 7 anniversary seemed like a nice, non-arbitrary occasion to take the plunge. Because July 7 really did mark a turning point for me. It marks the moment that I began to feel like a Londoner.

I mentioned in my post about the bombings that what really got me, what made me clutch myself in fear, was the image of the bus with the roof blown off. I didn't relate, though, the time I actually cried in public: it was a week later, when I saw, near Russell Square, a poster advertising the New Issue of Time Out London, a while field with large black letters: "OUR CITY." (That magazine cover is now posted behind my desk.) It was not clear at the time -- and remains a bit unclear -- why this made me cry. And, honestly, when we're dealing with an event of faces blown off and mangled limbs, it probably would have been best to just pull myself together and repeat R—'s always-relevant mantra "It's not about you".

And yet, in the very smallest of ways, it was about me, inasmuch as it was about everyone who called London home. Of course, by July of 2005 the process of coming to feel at home in London was gradually progressing. I had met R— on May 21, B— on June 11, my dinner party on June 18, and (perhaps most importantly) my first Londonist post went up June 21. (My first post was about Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's upcoming London performance, which I missed, and now she is gone, far far too soon.)

My reaction to the July bombings says something about me, but it also says something about London. A phrase that I've been using a lot to describe my feelings about the city is "genuinely cosmopolitan." Unlike many American academics who come to Britain, I have no affective bond to the England or Englishness. But I was drawn to my sense that London really was, in certain way, in certain places, among certain people, a space beyond nationality. A place that a foreigner can feel at home without a radical identity transplant.

There are many caveats to be made, and obviously cosmopolitanism is a luxury only open to the few. And yet... the sense of living "in the world" in London isn't a simple matter of interacting with immigrants on a daily basis or having the choice of a lot of different restaurants. The sense I'm trying to get out has more to do with the news media: the British newspapers and broadcasters have many, many problems, but compared to news outlets in the US... well, there is no comparison. Consider that the newspapers the people actually read in London (let's leave out the tabs and the Standard) aren't "London" papers at all. The London papers are the national papers, and the national papers are international in remit and outlook. And the global outlook in the papers filters down to a more global vocabulary in (for lack of a better term) the public sphere. (Yeah, I know, poor choice of phrase; bear with me.)

So in returning to San Francisco from London I didn't just move from a city of seven million to a city of three-quarters of a million. As much as I love the Queen City by the Bay -- and I do -- it feels so much smaller in the mind.

It's funny, all the little things that annoyed me in London when I first arrived were pretty much still bugging me when I left. Being misunderstood, having to repeat and repeat and repeat myself, the officiousness, the "Oh you're American?"... I doubt I would ever really get over this were I to live in London longer. As I think I implied in very early posts on this blog, my first impulse, in any foreign situation is not to confront and interact, but rather to become invisible.

But Philip Larkin, in the poem "The Importance of Elsewhere," observes how comfortable being a stranger can be. The poem end with his having returned home, as I have, and observing

Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence

I'll be back to London one day. I need to get back to London.

This blog is now really, officially, over.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

(sniff) It will be sorely missed. But I guess I'll be living in the same area soon, so I at least have that to look forward to! -einjpn but only for a little bit longer!

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This final posting makes me a little sad. For a short period this blog was a window in to my own life as well as Gregs.

the BF

8:56 PM  
Anonymous R--- said...

I'll open with the immortal words of that assasinated early twentieth century leader:

So if you're lonely
You know I'm here waiting for you
I'm just a cross-hair
I'm just a shot away from you
And if you leave here
You leave me broken
shattered alive
We're just a cross-hair
I'm just a shot then we can die
I know I won't be leaving here
With you


My words to a dear friend which might have been funny to say on your departure. But, it's been like, forever since you left. And I still have stories, and Greg moments, and I'll turn to mention something to someone and, well, you're not there. Damn you. You damn...monkey.

I concur re: your interpretation of London whole-heartedly. In thinking about being forceably removed from here, I break out in a cold sweat, panic sets in, nausea follows, then the heavy breathing into the carrier bag (paper or plastic you ask...depends on what part of town I'm in when the thought hits me - it's usually plastic as you can find them generally on any street corner. I have taken to carrying my own aesthetically pleasing paper variety, and I must say, it's collecting some very trendy distress lines from living in the bottom of my TopShop carry-all with matching faux-punk button set from UrbanOutfitters(TM)!)

I've outgrown Popstarz. This nail driven home only last night when, flanked by Germans, I found myself the oldest person not wearing a tanktop. I did see Talia though. I went up to her and said:

1)Is your name Talia?
2)Do you write for the Londonist?
3)Do you know a Greg?
-affirmation + "I was talking with him last night"

I then panic and say "Okay, I just wanted to say Hi..." I leg it. Don't know why. It was bizarre. I couldn't dance properly, so I buggered off and caught the last train to Walthamstow.

Random Statement Storytime Corner
*I found your book whilst unpacking the other day (I'm officially living with Steve now - can't remember if you knew)

*On Friday I ran into 12 Americans. Five of whom, literally. They were taking up, well, most of the pavement, clutching wheely-cases, looking up, slackjawed and hungry. Simply ravenous. Like they hadn't eaten since being paroled.

*I'm teaching myself Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, AfterEffects and Photoshop from these self course books. It's very pleasing.

*I still haven't had a raise.

*Steve and I went to visit a friend of his in Blackpool and 4 days after we came back home his friend died. In his chair. Clutching a plum.

*Aymie, my dear friend whom works with me, went to Morocco for two weeks touring with her drone rock outfit only to pick up a horrid well-water bug her last day and now she has internal bleeding.

*I've discovered Xtube...nuff said.

*I'm treating this post as confession, as technically anyone could read it. I suppose if there is a God, he will be just as prevelant online as he is in the ether. He must upgrade, God that is. Do you think there was ever a Beta version of God?

*I'm reading too much Douglas Coupland.

*I miss you.

6:47 PM  

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