When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. —Samuel Johnson
Sometimes life gets a little bit dusty, or feels beat. No biggie, just this general roughness around the edges — like worn-out shoes, a bad hair day, or a chipped plate —- all manageable, except that it can pile up. And how. We go through days packed with hours upon hours of things we both need and want to do, except that usually the former far outweighs the latter. You work yourself to the ground, until tired just feels like busy, and becomes nothing more than a feeling — not good, not bad, just one more thing to make peace with before the sun goes down.
London is definitely one of those places you go to when you are weary. That was the very thought playing in my mind as I sat in one of the easy chairs of the Café Royal lobby, magical as it was in its golden glow at any given time of the day. The look is contemporary, but with classical features, and walking through its revolving doors feels like entering a jewelry box. It is almost impossible for anyone to look ugly in lighting like that — naturally golden, as if perpetually kissed by sunlight, and at night the tasteful color and sheen of the walls enhanced by clusters of candlelight shyly glowing from within hurricane lamps. Always there are fresh flowers, an impeccably-dressed doorman or two with faultless manners, and so much fine attention to non-living detail — furniture and accents that speak of the old without looking staid, or stuffy, in a world that is so new. Ah. Beautiful.
That is how every day felt like during our stay in London. Just beautiful. It was the first trip I have taken since typhoon Yolanda hit, made even more special by the fact that it was one enjoyed in the company of both family and friends. Together we enjoyed long meals and took even longer walks, combed favorite shops, found new stops, came together for many warm and funny conversations and for lovely birthday celebrations. In what was a very cold season, we were thankfully very warm in our hearts. It was all good.
When I was younger, travel was mostly about shopping, stumbling upon all these things to love and yes, wanting very much to take most of it home. But as I grew in years I found that travel shifts: it becomes a gentler and even more rewarding experience. There is a change in preferences that sort of just happens, maybe one brought about also from what I learned from and with the people I usually travel with, and there is much joy to be found in that it no longer has the power to whip me up to greater speed. The whole journey then becomes a lot more about paying attention to every beautiful detail and being thankful that you are there to behold it, steeping in the sights and sounds, eating food not just to satisfy a literal hunger but to enrich the senses. It all becomes very experiential.
Instead of rushing through each stop, I prefer now staying for several days in one place, so that the pace is languid and I can be more present in every moment. I want how being away from home (as much as I love home) can calm and still all that is frenzied about me — yes, even if it is just for a very short stretch of time. We all do need a little time away. I like being enthralled by the many pleasures that abound in a place like London — familiar yet not exactly mine to have every time I want it. There are many random ones that shift with every visit: the meals that are as beautifully plated and presented as they are delicious; a gorgeous middle-aged couple nibbling each other’s lips as if they were teenagers, the woman with flowing blonde hair thrown back, her back arched and kept steady by the strong hand of her man, he looking imposing and dapper in a dark coat. They were absorbed in their own lovely corner, oblivious to the way people, myself included, gave them a second look. Oh, they were a scene straight out of a beautiful film. And then there are all those colored doors that pop out unexpectedly from very traditional spaces, cast-iron lamps I am endlessly fascinated with, the grand gates fronting real palaces, flower-decked windows and perfect cups of coffee, beautifully rich museums.
We went to Borough Market and by the time we packed our suitcases to fly back home, half of mine was filled with jams and biscuits and wedges of cheese, packets of dates stuffed with either almonds, candied ginger or oranges. We wandered around that bustling market, eating paella dished out steaming hot from a paellera the size of a big, round tabletop. We tasted jams and marmalade that won gold and silver medals, went through pedigreed oils and vinegars that had been flavored with fruit, scoured through mounds of different kinds of bread. We slurped the thickest and most decadent milkshakes, making rooms in our appetites for more empanadas and freshly-shucked oysters even after eating (and taking home for midnight snack in the hotel) yet another award-winning meat pie. Award-winning food abounded, cheap, too; it was show-and-tell time for the proud merchants. What is not to love about the place?
Perhaps with each of our travels we seek the same things — that quiet time that will potentially afford us the much-needed second wind, the opportunity to think objectively, the grace to be more grateful for all that we already have, and the rekindled passion to softly keep on praying and working for all that we still need to carry on in each of our journey.
I am thankful for that escape, that time I had to run away from myself — the me that replies to emails about fishing boats deep into the wee hours of the morning. The me that worries about this and that. The me that thinks too much. The me that can get easily disheartened when people are cold or mean. After that respite, it is easier to remember that, really, it all works out in the end.
Thank you, London. Time spent with you was a gentle reminder that the only way to take on life is with the sensuous passion that stress has managed to diminish over the years. You are love. And the way I feel about you borders on madness.