Welcome to my Living in London series! If you missed the first chapter, you can check it out over here.
I took the picture above at the Tate Modern on a dreary London day. Most of the day had passed in a blur of writing and reading, with the remaining few hours left to wander through the emptying museum before it closed. I was alone, attempting to appreciate artwork with messages I respected, but aesthetics I found mostly unappealing, when I came across the painting above. The color – the organized chaos – and the fact that I was entirely alone in the room – seemed like the perfect representation for my life this past month.
Moving abroad happens in steps. Of course there’s the packing and repacking, flying and apartment hunting, moving and unpacking. But afterwards – after the chaos and the movement and energy of those first few steps, a quiet lull creeps in. That lull of not knowing anyone in a new city.
It’s not a bad lull. Not at all. Well at least, it doesn’t have to be. I’ve enjoyed researching new places to explore, new markets to try, bookshops to love, cafes to sample.
It’s all one long sampling process as you create a life all over again.
And I love it and hate it. You both have to start again, and get to start again.
Where Paris was emotional, London is chaotic. It’s lighter but harsher, stranger yet simpler. People say Londoners are rude, the city cold, expensive, dirty.
But I don’t see that. I see the markets and artists, fashion shows in graffiti tunnels, and pubs overlooking the lights of the Thames.
London may not be as atheistically beautiful as Paris, but there’s a vibrancy here – an opportunity to create I never found in the City of Light. And I’m slowly beginning to love it.
Admittedly though, I spent the majority of October feeling mildly disjointed, as if I lived two lives. One in London with a lackluster social life, and the other traveling to new cities with Chris. I would transition from complete solitude to constant companionship in unhealthy shifts.
Part of this, of course, was the natural progression of moving to a new city and attempting to make friends. But I’ve also found that unlike Paris, I feel sequestered in my little London neighborhood.
Just the other night, I ventured outside of my East London pocket for the first time in a week. I had been invited to a magazine launch near Picadilly Circus, and was attempting to brave the Tube at the tail end of rush hour – the horrors we face for a social life.
(By the way, I’ve concluded that the best way to visit Picadilly Circus is by a flying boat. Or flying car. Or just anything that hovers, because those streets are absolutely mad. Avoid).
Anyways. I met a wonderful shoe designer Aase Hopstock at the launch; we began discussing our little London pockets, and the tendency to create nests and routines in your neighborhood – to feel as if you “know” and “understand” the unfathomable city of London, only to cross the river and look like a frantic tourist staring at Google Maps in an “I didn’t know this existed” kind of wonder.
In Paris, I found myself exploring the various arrondissements with ease, and by the end of my time there, I felt as if I had at least a basic understanding of each neighborhood. But London is so vast, so confusing and unconquerable. I feel like I could explore for days or weeks or months or years, and still find myself in complete confusion.
But we’ll see, right?
Most popular Instagram photo this month
And the most popular post this month was about my upcoming trips to Scotland! (A photo that incidentally, I didn’t even take. But you know, that’s fine).
Book of the month
One of my class assignments is to read Paris-related memoirs so I can begin thinking about the structure of my own novel. What? You mean I have to read books about Paris for class? Oh, how tiresome.
I had seen ads for My Paris Dream by infamous fashion editor Kate Betts in nearly every bookstore I visited. I finally picked up my own copy, and then promptly began reliving all my own tumultuous, wonderful Parisian experiences. Betts’ evocative descriptions of the City of Light are enviable; I burst out laughing at her description of “Paris Poignancy Attacks” – the overwhelming periods of inexplicable melancholy, quickly replaced by bouts of euphoria, for no reason. It’s just Paris.
Definitely read this book!
Paris – twice!
I’ll never fully move on from Paris, but at least I’m close enough to visit now.
Alnwick/Bamburgh – One of the best trips around England I’ve ever taken. A birthday – champagne – chocolate cake – a Harry Potter castle – The North Sea – what more could you ask for? I’ve written about Alnwick here, and will soon share my experience at Bamburgh!
For those of you just stopping by, you probably don’t know I’ve actually been working on a YA fantasy book, along with the Paris memoir for my Masters degree. Well just this week I (finally) finished the first draft of my fantasy book! I apologize that this isn’t travel related, but it’s a massive part of my day-to-day life, and I’m excited to delve into the editing process.
Find of the month
Exmouth Market, which I totally didn’t pronounce incorrectly for about a week. From around 12-2:30 every weekday, this pedestrian walkway becomes flooded with Londoners on their lunch breaks. Restaurants have booths set up all along the street, and chefs cook pastas and Moroccan spiced lamb right before your eyes. It’s a feast!
- Edinburgh, of course. Honestly, I can think of at least a dozen reasons to prefer living in London. More to do, more to see, more opportunities to create – and yet Edinburgh has lodged itself firmly in my heart as a home away from home.
- A London day trip – yet to be announced…because it’s yet to be decided. I probably won’t make the decision until I’m at the train station, to be honest.
- I have an exciting trip to Austria planned as well!
Blog posts published this month
Please forgive me, I’ve been reading and writing so much for school that my blog has somewhat lagged.
Favorite London memory of the month
Unbeknownst to me, an innocent invitation to an art gallery one Monday night would kickstart my London social life.
My roommate walked her bike beside me. “I don’t know what it is exactly,” she spoke with a Parisian-turned-Londoner accent, “It’s an art gallery, yes, but there’s something else. I just, I can’t remember what.”
We entered a concrete room of red and smoke and evocative photographs. Models, fashion designers, photographers, and onlookers like myself, sipped free champagne, impervious to the floor buzzing with the beat of the music.
It was a world I hadn’t seen before – and a version of London I had only guessed existed, like some myth all new creative Londoners chase.
A man in floor length fur coat seemed to know everyone there. He flitted from clique to clique, becoming instant friends with everyone in arm’s reach, until finally, the barrier to the basement was lifted, and the throng of people moseyed below.
We all gathered around a catwalk. We were here for a fashion show.
The music shifted, the lighting dimmed, and the first model strutted onto the runway – wearing next to nothing.
Each model appeared as though she had bathed herself in glitter. I won’t share any pictures because as it turns out, I had been invited to a lingerie fashion show. I will say that the models were true acrobats worthy of the Cirque du Soleil.
But more important than the performance was the enthusiasm from the audience. The fashion designer’s friends and family cheered and chanted her name, with her grandmother front and center. I had arrived completely clueless, but for the fashion designer, this was her space – her night, and I somehow got to be included. While watching this bizarre community of East Londoners support a fellow artist, I felt like I was experiencing something genuinely special. I may have been a bit of an outsider looking in, but for a moment, I realized I was a part of that community.
Evidence pictured below:
Creating a home takes so much time – and it’s all in the little things. Having a favorite cafe, a market you particularly love to explore, a new hair stylist, and most of all, friends. That comforting knowledge that somewhere in your city, someone cares about you, and wants to laugh about your problems, and sip wine with you on Friday nights. Those relationships take time, but I’m slowly beginning to realize I’m part of this space and the people here.
So cheers to the eclectic East London community!