This Sceptered Isle

I fall in love a lot.

When I was young, it was with D.C., where we went on family trips when I was a teenager and visited friends and strolled on the mall.  I was smitten with Georgetown.  I was determined to go to college there. (I didn’t.) There was something important to see, everywhere you looked.

The next time, it was with New York.  I sang at Carnegie Hall with my high school chorus and, oh, three hundred other people.  We took a night cruise around the Statue of Liberty.  We ate at the Russian Tea Room and Tavern on the Green.  It was all very glamorous.

After that I had a big crush on Boston.  I loved the river, and the architecture, and wanted to move in to the Museum of Fine Arts. It seemed like a city that would never get old.  It seemed sophisticated and graceful.

That was all just puppy love, though.  My first real love, my first long-term-relationship kind of love, was with London.

It was fall of my senior year in college.  I spent a semester with fifteen other kids at the Wake Forest house, which was between Camden Town and Hamstead Heath.  Bob Hoskins lived two doors down to the left.  Derek Jacoby lived three doors down on the right.

London was my first real city, the first place where I had to learn to navigate the grocery stores, and find my way around on the Tube, and then eventually find my way around between Tube stops on foot.  We went to the National Theater.  We played football on Primrose Hill on Thanksgiving.  On Saturday mornings I would lose myself in the crush of punks at Camden Market.  Twice we saw the queen herself: once at the Highland Games, where she was a little blue dot under a fancy tent; and once at the Tate Gallery, where she marched through the portrait exhibit one room behind us and guards kept shooing us ahead so she always had the room to herself.

I wore black all the time, like you do in London.  I got evacuated from the underground during a bomb threat.  I saw Swan Lake at Covent Garden.  I heard Pavarotti sing Tosca.  I met Alan Rickman.   That semester, we covered some ground; we saw all the sights, and we went through the tourist checklist.  But we really lived there, for those few months.  London was home.

London wasn’t my last love, or in the long run, even my most important.  That love is currently Chicago, where I went the summer after my first year of grad school, when I couldn’t even imagine trying to put myself back together in Raleigh.  I worked at the Sears Tower, and made sandwiches at a deli, and spent every spare minute on foot in one of the most perfect, most beautifully gritty places in the world.  Chicago has winters that I can’t imagine weathering, though.  When I left Chicago at the end of that summer, I cried all the way home.  But I couldn’t end up there.

I also had a fling with Istanbul.  I would do that again this very second, if I could afford to get myself on a plane and go.  It understood me in a way I’m not sure another place ever will.  It was exactly what I needed it to be.

London, though, was my first.  Living somewhere far from home, even when they speak the same language, opens your eyes, broadens your perspective, and shows you there are all kinds of ways to live. It changes you.

All of this is to say, I loved every minute of the nutty opening ceremony of the Olympics last night.  My favorite part was the giant dance party through the history of British rock, although Rowan Atkinson was also a brilliant addition.  Loved the skydiving queen, even though she was totally humorless about it.  Loved the singing children jumping on beds.  Loved the spouting of Shakespeare. It was all kind of incoherent, and quirky, and once or twice it went completely off the rails, but it was SO London.  SO something-for-everyone.

And now I am homesick.

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