Sometimes when I’m walking through London it feels like my city. Not like my home. Not like the connection I have to Calgary, where my roots were grown and stretch down deep, but like I know the city through my feet.
I’ll be listening to a song and as I weave through the crowd I connect to the pulse around me. My feet know exactly where they’re going and my eyes can just take it all in. From Covent Garden, down past Leicester Square, the shops dissolve into theatres and the theatres turn into art galleries and historical buildings. Suddenly I’m in Charring cross.
And still I move, the scent of thousands of cigarettes, spilled drinks and vomit coming up from the concrete beneath me. The smell of the sea coming off the river as I get nearer and nearer. And then there is the Eye, looming up into the sky, across the river. I climb the steps and cross the bridge, letting the sea air fill my lungs, fill my belly, fill my heart.
The view is surreal, almost like gazing at a painting. The Houses of Parliament reflect the colour of the sky and the sky reflects the colour of the Houses and everything is golden and light. The tourist stop to take photos or watch street performers. The lovers stop to gaze at the setting sun. The commuters don’t stop, knowing the route they are on and that it is home that they seek.
And still I go with the flow and feel that pulse pulling me forward and onward. The ground is familiar beneath my feet and, as I look at the double decker buses and the red phone booths and the vendors selling pasties, I think about how these things aren’t just symbols of a city as seen from afar. They are associations with the place I’ve lived for two and a half years. They are the stuff the city is built on. The epitome of what makes it what it is. Just as the diversity of languages and cultures defines it. Just as the familiar sound of a train on underground rails is distinctly this place. Just as the giant billboard ads for books make it what it is. Just like the crowds on Southbank on a Saturday are what makes Southbank what it is any other day of the week.
And in the distance the dome of St. Paul’s looms large and in a moment - in a twenty minute walk, a walk I know, a walk that is familiar - I have also seen Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column and crossed the Thames and seen a dozen other things which these tourists are taking in for the first and maybe only time.
But for me these places are now familiar. Familiar and yet still amazing. Still inspiring and able to fill me with awe.
And this is London as I know it.
And it’s dirty and cramped and the crowds rarely pay attention to the individuals within them.
And it’s glorious and full of history and the past speaks from the buildings and the monuments scattered throughout.
And it’s sleek and modern and moving forward and full of opportunity.
In the distance the Shard, nearly complete, juts high into the skyline. Already it is becoming part of the pulse of the city, just as I have become a member of it. Just as I have come to find it familiar and identify as a Londoner.
I am still Canadian and I’m still a Calgarian but I’m also a Calgarian, Canadian Londoner because I know the colours of the tube lines off by heart. I know the way to London Bridge from Covent Garden without checking a map. I know where the crowds will gather and where I’ll be able to walk unhindered by the throng. I know it, in my bones, in my pulse, through the concrete beneath my feet.