Sunday, October 4, 2015

Our London Town

I wasn't sure what to expect when Chris arrived in London a few weeks ago.  It was his first visit since 2007 where the most we saw of London was the food hall at Harrods and an evening performance of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre.  Both of us left London feeling disappointed and flattened by the city.

Honestly, I was expecting Chris to hate London.  I was expecting his transition to London, and our transition to being a couple in London, to be tension-filled and difficult.  I was expecting non-stop, impossible comparisons to Paris.  I wasn't expecting normal.  I wasn't expecting Chris to find "his local' in Belsize Park, walks across Hampstead Heath, or cozy nights tucked up in our bijou flat eating Gail's Bakery sandwiches and watching BBC 3. I wasn't expecting us to be so happy and comfortable in London. 

That Chris fell in love with London is a relief and the part of me that has been holding my breath since June can finally relax and breathe.  This move to London has been one of the biggest challenges we have taken on as a couple and while we are grateful for this incredible opportunity, I know we have both had moments of doubt and fear.  

London isn't easy and it doesn't have the same softness as Paris.  8.6 million people live in London and it can be maddening, exhausting, and dirty.  The stress of dealing with banks and landlords, the relentless streams of miserable commuters that clump together at every major intersection, and the endless dance to sidestep piles of vomit on my morning commute through Camden Town can make me question my decision to leave the fresh air and wide open spaces of Canada. 

 But it's London...

Chris responded to London's energy even before I finished my carefully rehearsed "why-London-is-great" speech in the taxi from Heathrow.  At his suggestion, instead of unpacking, we went for pints at The George and he told me he already felt "at home".  The staff now know his favourite pint and I was greeted warmly yesterday when I stopped in for a glass of wine and a packet of crisps.  I saw London come alive for Chris and I saw him energized by its endless opportunities. 

Since June I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to settle in London.  Some days I have felt more like an observer or like I am taking a vacation from my real life in Victoria.  Other days, I have felt so at home that I can't imagine living anywhere else.  But always, I was waiting for Chris and waiting to see London through his eyes.  I wanted to share my London with him, share everything I have felt about London, and make it our London.  Chris made London real for me, and even though I miss him terribly, I am excited about our next phase and confident we will build a life in London. 

In London!
Don't worry we went to Paris!  We ate, drank, and wandered our favourite streets.  I introduced Chris to choux at Odette and watched in admiration as he ate steak tartare two nights in a row.  Paris was perfect, right down to our croque madames at Le Petit Cler and our kiss - more than one! - at the Eiffel Tower.  Paris will always be our best selves and always have our hearts. 

In Paris!
Things Londoners say (overheard at Wahaca on Charlotte Street)...
"I don't think she's quite socially developed.  Too much time at private school.  Still, I guess she's a good egg.'

Things Londoners, actually priests, say at the pub...
"I better not switch to beer.  I have been on wine all day."

Hampstead Heath dog owner problems...
Struck up a conversation at the dog pond with a distinguished looking gentleman wearing red linen pants and throwing soggy tennis balls for his grinning, bouncing chocolate Labrador.  He confessed that his dog was "greedy" and he must always carry 10 GBP in case his dog eats a family picnic.  He learned the lesson a few years ago when, empty pocketed, his dog crashed a children's birthday party and ate the entire cake.   

Lost in translation...
"Love seat" doesn't translate and my confused colleagues thought I was talking about some sort of sex chair instead of my flat's two-seat sofa.  Add the word "panty" and they will all be in hysterics and blushes for ages!

Things tourists say in Paris...
"This restaurant looks ok.  They serve real food here."

A moment I fell in love with my husband again...
Chris became the accidental doorman at Marks & Spencer Oxford Street and I watched as he patiently held the door for tourists and little old London ladies dressed in plaid head scarves and brown brogues.  One of them reached up and gave his arm a squeeze and I could see smiling down at her.  I bet she called him "lovey".