An ode to London

I see the white cliffs of Dover.

This must be, by now, a mantra in my life. A battle cry. An inside joke that isn’t quite a joke. A certain kind of statement, from which unspoken words are derived.

I see the white cliffs of Dover.

When we say these words, we say that we see England, it’s charm bestowing upon us instantly. That, from our plane window view, we know the rest will soon follow. We say that we’re here. Finally. But what we’re really saying is— we are home. Finally. We act excited, overjoyed and delighted to be back, but really all we’re doing is unsuccessfully hiding the tears in our eyes, our hearts beating brutally against our rib cages, happiness pouring into our veins so that it feels like we’re high on the best drug on the market. My eyes are fixated on those white walls that stand for so much more, something beyond comprehension so that I do not make any attempts to explain it.

Perhaps the most ironic part is that I know what it means to say that I can see Dover’s white cliffs, but I’ve never seen them up close. They have always been little beacons of hope and joy in the distance– whether that be from the plane or the ferry. I’ve been wanting to see them, touch them, scrambling over them and tripping over the pointy ends so that I fall and scrape my knees and Dover will leave a permanent mark on my body, next to all the other souvenirs it has given me, but at that same time I wish Dover and it’s white cliffs to remain a magic in the distance. That kind of thing you know is there but you can’t embrace it. It suits, for the ideology, the mythology if you will, behind Dover is unattainable, undefinable and unintelligible.

I doubt anyone could ever know what seeing the white cliffs of Dover means when just saying it will still cause the tears to spring into my eyes.

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London is a kind of magical. It sounds so cliche but it is. It’s a kind of place that is big and grand in size, and yet so little. But it’s not little, because it houses too many treasures, secret hideouts and special places, little gems, that a city hosting such differences and magical places can not be called little. It’s the kind of place you can dream about, romanticise, and it actually lives up to all the dreams and the romance you imagined in your head. At the same time, it is all within arms reach—or at least that’s what London likes to make you believe. But then again, London likes to make you believe many things. Perhaps that’s what makes it so magical. The kind of magical that even when it’s raining, you don’t mind. Because it’s part of it. Because it’s right.

We’ve picked a spot where we haven’t been before, an area where we haven’t rested our heads and slept yet, not just because there are so many places like these still, but because we can. Because London offers us this, and we take it. Gladly and willingly. And it doesn’t matter where we go, the city is guiding our feet as if it knows where we’re supposed to go even when we don’t. Especially when we don’t. We roam the streets like we belong, the city’s specific scent in our nostrils, bathing in the air that births here, hanging out in second hand book shops, popping in and out thrift stores to indulge in all the things we don’t have in the Netherlands, satisfied by just the idea that we can stop and take a break with some tea anywhere we are. I know I’m biased, but London is my favourite kind of drug.

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I have never met an unkind stranger in London. I listen to her as she sits a few rows behind me, the bus’ engine steady until it stops. And it stops a lot, because traffic is – let’s be honest here – horrible. But then again, London’s not a city for traffic. With a thick English accent she explains to a small group of tourists where to get off for Camden Lock Market. An elderly lady chimes in and they take turns visually guiding the Korean family on how to get there: get off at this stop, keep going straight, ‘you’ll see the tube station on your right, with the big blue M sign’, ‘you’re basically there then already’. ‘you can’t miss it’, the first lady pipes and she explains the funny signs on the walls, above the shops, the mixture of colour and the mass of people like a river, flowing endlessly towards the end of the street where, next to the bridge and the waters, you’ll find the market. I walk the road with the Koreans and the two kind ladies on the bus, knowing the art decor and the funky look that vibrates in Camden, and even if I’d never been there before I could have walked according to their directions, gaze up and think ‘it’s exactly how they described it’. Look there, a gigantic pair of black boots on the side of a shop, above the windows. The saturated colours bouncing off the walls, fitting in perfectly with the combination of people that, like us, wander and wander until we can’t wander no more.

But London wouldn’t be London if it left you there— there is always more time, more energy, to wander. There is always the wander in London.

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