September 22, 2008

Expats, Arancina and Jetsetters in Notting Hill

On the plane ride back to London from New York last week, I opened the first page of a book called Expat, edited by Christina Henry de Tessan. It is a compilation of short stories written by American women who have spent time living abroad.

A quick and interesting read, this book left me thinking about one of the ideas that popped up somewhere in the middle of it: cultural whiplash. That is probably the best way to describe the last few years of my life. Lately, I am constantly bouncing between cultures, be it by actually visiting home or just by chatting to friends and family from America, or anywhere in the world, for that matter. While it is immensely fun and entertaining, there are consequences as well.

One of these is the dwindling of childhood friendships into forced conversation about people and places we don’t have in common anymore which inevitably leads to falling back on reminiscing. Slightly depressing. But I guess it’s all a part of growing up and moving on. There are always those few who will never lose touch.

The other consequence is feeling like I belong not in America or in England, but in this hanging limbo between the two. When I wrote about this feeling on my other diary, one of my infinitely wise friends spun it for me and said, “I think part of that identity dissonance comes from the fact that you aren't identifying yourself as from a place or of a place. You are you, living your life, beyond those simple qualifiers. And simple qualifiers make it easier for us to perceive our role and our position in the world.” Which I suppose makes it all a good thing, right? (Thanks, Glenn.)
Beyond this cultural whiplash, I am extremely happy to embrace this quirkily charming city, as always, once again. As much as I love New York and America in general, and as much as it does have to offer, for some reason, London just feels like the place I’m supposed to be. Supposed to be right now.

On the bus today, as we were driving by road works on a journey that should have taken 12 minute but took closer to 40, I watched the people walk by the window. One part of life here that I adore is the diversity. And not just the races and skin colours, but everything – ages, religions, outfits and styles, the way the rich and poor walk within inches of each other on the same streets and no one seems to judge anyone else outwardly.

That’s London – the place where people have this amazing ability to mind their own business, not to stare, to occupy their own space. That’s one thing that gets to me sometimes as well, because it’s not as openly friendly as the suburban streets of America where I grew up. People are more suspicious here, and maybe rightly so, of someone who approaches to start a conversation. But you get used to that mentality and the effects of it, which include good things, like privacy in a city where seven million people of such diversity can co-exist.

D and I went to Arancina tonight, a little Notting Hill pizza joint that attracts photo-snapping tourists with its orange car at the front window displaying the goods. We walked up the narrow few flights of steps carefully balancing a tray heaped with pizza (half-vegetarian) and two bottles of cold organic green tea to a small upper room with couches and a fake fireplace, a crazy orange clock and Notting Hill Carnival prints on the walls. We chose a table near the window where we ate until we could eat no more then shuffled the cards. Outside the window, we watched people walk by – some all fancied up and some wearing interesting combinations of bad patterns. We watched the red double decker busses stream past, anonymous faces stuck in The London Paper or some selection of book from the used book shop across the road where I go on my lunch break.

We walked home through Portobello Market, past the darkened antique shops with ‘closed’ signs flipped quickly in door windows like an afterthought. People sat outside in metal chairs smoking in the doorways of chic little restaurants and we chatted about living in the market, how we open a cafĂ© at the bottom of our house and use the money to fund lavish fantasy pursuits of travelling the world like jetsetters. Jetsetters who live in Notting Hill.

This is London. Cosy, full of secrets, anonymous, exciting, fresh and full of freedom to be that person who might not be fully attached to any one place in the world except that place in the present. London is the type of place that lets you dream of being a jetsetter who lives in Notting Hill. It won’t even stop to judge.

No comments: