Saturday, December 6, 2008

In London for Cheddar

I feel neutral about London.

According to a young Spanish woman at a wildly entertaining party near Manor House last Saturday that Jonathan Czar invited me to and I didn't leave until after 5 a.m., this isn't possible. Either you love London or you hate it. She loves London and has adopted it as her home.

That morning, on my walk to work, I was just thinking about how I didn't feel particularly connected to London, despite how much visual joy my walk to Covent Garden from Vauxhall brings me. Even though I have spent quite a bit of time in the city over the years, there isn't a part of London that I claim as my own and want to share with visiting friends. If they asked me what they should see, I'd tell them to go to Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden, of course, and its other shop near Borough Market, as well as to the market itself and nearby Southwark Cathedral, but what else, I don't know. For the cities that I get excited about (e.g., New York, Providence, Rome, Berlin, Sydney & Melbourne), I have a mental list of must-see places. I don't for London.

If pressed, I'd suggest exploring the edgy East End and Brick Lane, which I got to know eight years ago and very much wanted to share with Deidre when she came to visit me then for New Year's (but have since forgotten), walking along the stunning south side of the Thames between Lambeth and Tower Bridges, finding a cheap but excellent play, visiting shops on Portobello Road and then having old-school cocktails at either Trailer Happiness or Montgomery's Place (or both), appreciating the clever inscriptions for Sir Hans Sloane in his eponymous square and for Sir Thomas More outside Chelsea Old Church, following the remains of the Roman wall, climbing the Monument to the Great Fire and appreciating all that was lost and subsequently rebuilt, glimpsing the opulence of Knightsbridge and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, touring the British Museum for the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, and the Lewis Chessmen, and strolling in as many of the beautifully manicured parks as possible.

These are all wonderful and important places, but none of them grab hold of me. I am not sure why they, or the city, don't. The reasons I can come up with are that I am put off by how needlessly expensive London is and how everything shuts early. There's also no medieval section of the city, thanks to the Great Fire, that I could easily connect with. And the churches, which I relish touring on my travels in other countries, are too cool and cerebral. Since I don't know much about English history, the existing monuments don't mean a lot to me.

If I don't love London, you may wonder why I quit my job in New York, my city, to live here for two months. It was for Cheddar, of course! Eight years ago, after working at Neal's Yard Dairy for three or four months, I vowed to work another Christmas there. It took me a while, but I finally came back.

So far, it's all been worth it, and I am actually sad that I have less than three weeks left in London. A two-month stay isn't enough time. I may not have fully connected with the city, but I've had a rich social life here, become a known regular at several pubs, started to establish myself at Neal’s Yard Dairy, and have settled into a fulfilling routine. And there's so much more I want to do and see!

The wheels of Cheddar will still be here after I've left, and I can always return to them. London is worth it just for them.

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