I had been warned about London. I had been told of the reasons why I might hate the city, and I’d heard stories of terrible attempts at assimilation.
But, as a typical flaw or attribute of mine – I haven’t decided which yet – often causes me to do, I went ahead without listening. An instinctual part of me told me they were wrong, and that I would love London, regardless of its supposed flaws. Visions of the London Eye nestled excitedly in the forefront of my thoughts, and the opportunities here seemed endless.
Truthfully, my initial experience of London – which was enchanting, yet discomposed to say the least – set the mark for what I’ve come to believe to be the common London experience.
You see, my relationship with London didn’t exactly start off on the best foot. I successfully collected my luggage after my flight landed and found the taxi driver holding a sign with my named scrawled on it: “Alexa Suter.”
I smiled and greeted this man, who was less than amused, though his disinterest didn’t bother me much. I laughed at myself as I climbed into the backseat, noting the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, and sat quietly entertained as we meandered our way through the narrow back streets, pulling over and dodging parked cars constantly – again on the opposite side – to allow oncoming vehicles to pass by.
I was feeling a bit ill from my long day of travelling and the bumpy car ride, but couldn’t help but smile ear to ear as my first impressions of London left their mark. And finally we arrived. The taxi driver directed me around the back of the building to number 8; I pulled my enormous suitcase behind me along a narrow path, anxious to get settled in, showered, and rested.
When I arrived at the gate of said number 8, something immediately struck me as odd. Prior instructions informed me of a key that would be waiting for my arrival under the mat. I stood aimlessly for a while, staring, confused and slightly horrified, at what was before me: a freshly swept entryway void altogether of an entrance mat. I almost opened the gate to knock at the door, but acknowledging the children’s play set in the front yard, I became convinced at what I hoped wasn’t the truth. I’m in the wrong place.
And, yes, it was true. I had been dumped on the sidewalk at the wrong address and abandoned, frantic, by the taxi driver. I didn’t have the taxi driver’s number, nor did I have the address to my new home – silly me – and my phone couldn’t get through to my new “flat mates,” (as they call them here). So with an enormous suitcase and not a clue as to where I was, I stood aimlessly and out of place. I yearned for a bed and a warm shower. Passersby, although friendly, had no idea how to help.
I made it, of course, and ten days later I’m not only fed and warm – I’m alive! The London experience has repeated itself time and time again, returning relentlessly on my second day and delivering me at a dark back alley where a reputable course was supposed to ensue momentarily, or seeping into and wetting the soles of my feet as I panicked, lost and alone, while praying to catch the last train home.
Though we have our disagreements at times, we always find our way again. And with each bump in the road, and each argument, our bond seems to grow stronger. London continues to present me with these enchanting, discomposed moments, and somehow I continue finding the humor in them.
Normally easy to frustrate, I realize that London has made me a better person, perhaps for the first time allowing me to experience true gratefulness in its prolonged form. Gratefulness as a lifestyle – a way of thinking – as opposed to a momentary and fleeting feeling. And as we continue to grow more closely acquainted, I realize we aren’t so different after all. We both have good bones, and good-hearted intentions, we just have trouble at times avoiding a frazzled and clumsy execution. We make mistakes, but we always try to make up for them.
Perhaps I’m beginning to understand that life, though not nearly as fantastical as I always expected it to be, is humorous and – without its imperfectness – would quickly become boring. I can only ponder at why I ever had such silly expectations of perfectness, and why for so many years I refused to see the beauty in life’s flaws.
Now fully acknowledging the imperfections of this city, I can confidently say that I’m happy to have ignored the warnings about this place. London and I have a discombobulated and enchanting relationship, of which I’m certain one thing is true.
London, I love you, flaws and all.