I left London one dawn, in early March, carrying the same huge suitcase that I had dragged with me when I first moved there – strangely enough, I hadn’t seemed to acquire any possessions, probably because I had been too broke to ever afford anything more substantial than clothes. Those were the days when crappy apartments came fully furnished and you weren’t too fussy with what the mattress might conceal and tv sets could be rented. No kidding. I am that old.I sat on the plane, looking at the familiar spread of gray and dark red roofs, cut in half by the Thames, under a lead sky and I whispered “I’ll be back”. And I was, a million times in 20 years but never to be part of its daily grind again.
The austerity of London, with its restrained beauty, the gray air that pervades every facade and the (literally) bone chilling excitement of its life represented, for many years, a welcome counterpoint to the color and noise and fat of the city of my youth. Most of my Italian friends, all colorful, noisy and sunny, could scarcely comprehend my love affair with a city that, to them, appeared severe, closeted and permanently damp. I am the product of two opposing cultures, the Latin and the Anglo-Saxon that found in me a peculiar and happy cohabitation.
For someone rarely prone to regrets, I have sometimes wondered how my life would have unfolded had I overcome my broken heart in the arms of the city I so loved instead of those of my mother’s. One thing is sure – I was better fed back in Bologna.
Every time I return, the same acrid, slightly sour and “metallic” smell greets me upon setting foot at Heathrow. The same limited palette of colors soothes my eyes while walking around the severe avenues, the same cockney accent still lilts on most cab rides, the same atonic voice will remind you to “mind the step” whenever you get on or off the tube and it all makes you think time has stood still. Until you notice the disappearance of the red double-decker buses which used to be open at the back, to make it easy to hop on and off (and after thousands of people getting hurt, the City of London decided to discontinue them), or of the ornate phone booths. The Indian immigrants who used to run the “corner shops” have been supplanted by Arabs and the food is oh so much better.
London is where I shed my baby skin and became my adult self and that is probably why I have such longing memories but, that asides, it remains one of the most intriguing, vibrant, teasing lovers you will ever meet, the one who welcomes you with open arms but always holds something back. While I watch the sun falling into the Pacific as I write, setting the sky ablaze with myriad hues of pinks and blues and reds, the only thing I am happy to have left behind is the drizzle.