As much as I love exotic places, being surrounded by jungle and steaming in the tropics, I love the quotidian with equal fervour. There’s something about finding the local hangout and being hailed by a familiar shopkeeper as you pass by in the morning that makes my heart sing. We all strive for it, even on holiday, looking for the little bar, the particular waiter who’ll recognise us, make us feel like we truly relate.
Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.Angela Carter
Wherever they belong, natives and tourists alike who set themselves the task of exploring their city in earnest can uncover gold and London’s no different. As Samuel Pepys knew, “when a
man person is tired of London, he is tired of life.” While we don’t need to delve into the heteronormativity of Pepys’s pre-suffrage time to appreciate the sentiment, I rather like Angela Carter’s quote about the three big cities: “Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.” Any New Yorkers here?
There really is something masculine about London, with it’s cast bronze bulls in the financial centres and tall monuments, like The Shard. Makes one want to jump into some silver brogues and a boy’s suit to blend in But you still need that city trader swagger. Setting myself to the task at hand: explorating the minutiae of the big smoke, I decided to tag along with a friend, Alba, who’d planned a detailed schedule of London by movies. If I can catch up with her, we’ll have a round-up of her travels later, as its an intriguing concept – if a little OCD. Alba, as you may remember is no stranger to peering out over cityscapes and merging herself with the absence of nature, so the trip promised some utilitarian fun.
The messy, cheek-by-jowl atmosphere of the old days in an edgy city..DV
This particular day, with it’s smothering clouds and greige exterior was a perfect intro to the real London. We started at Borough Market, and progressed past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and then to St. Paul’s, by way of Millennium Bridge. With street names like Bear Alley and Clink Street, (from the resident jail, which gave rise to the slang word for prison: the clink) it’s easy to conjure up the messy, cheek-by-jowl atmosphere of the old days in an edgy city. Not much has changed.
We drooled over cupcakes and specialised breads in Borough Market, and if you happen to like cheese, you’ll need a large bag. There’s something of everything, not least fruit and home made smoothies from farmer’s kitchens all over the South East.
Sated with a piece of garlic herb baguette, we strode on through the increasing gloom, lit by old-fashioned street lamps and panelled windowed restaurants. It was super quaint and made me realise why people visit London. Far too easy to feel acclimatised to things one sees every day. The walk nearly ended when we saw this chocolate restaurant (!) but we gallantly dragged ourselves along, for the sake of research (Yep, going in could have been another sort of research, I know. I’ll do it later, I’m heroic like that..)
On the way out we’d crossed the pretty but gothic Tower Bridge and to reach our beloved St. Paul’s we walked The Millennium Bridge, all concrete and futuristic angst, with spotlights descending from the sky and the dome of the cathedral across the river.
Take an hour to peer into the backstreets of London, or indeed any metropolitan area; you can always grab a bite to eat from a stall along the way and be back at your desk before anyone notices your culture injection. Every city has something interesting, no?