December 13, 2013

So how is it to live in London? - Recap Friday part 1

Mid-December, it's 10 o'clock in the morning and everything outside is dark and grey and gloomy, the only sound around the house is the Christmas music, and my eggnog latte is right beside me. Something about this whole scene makes me pensive, and I feel the need to start making mental lists of the good, the bad, the what-where-I -thinking of the year. December always get me in this mood. The need to look back over the year(s) and see where life has taken me. It's not only because December is the obvious month for it - after all in 18 days it will be 2014, it's also because I am not the best person there is with dates, ok, I am extremely bad with numbers and dates. I had to have my wedding ring inscribed with my wedding date so I'd remember it correctly; I am forever forgetting Yon's birthday (it has a 7 and a 9 in some order); I have no clue what my phone number (or my home number, or Hidai's number) is. I can go on. That is why I long ago decided to celebrate everything in December. Well, it's kind of a no-brainer really because Hidai and I met in December, got married in December and left Israel in December (not the same one obviously).
So for the next few weeks, Fridays will be known as "recap Friday", and will give me the option to look back at the last year and get some much needed closure.
This week is my - So how does it feel to live in London? recap. Truth be told we moved here in July 2012, so you should have read this one back in July, but you didn't. Because I didn't write this in July. First years don't always take 12 months. Sometimes they take 18. Sometimes they take more. A first year ends when you have inner-security, when you can hold your head up high and say "I'm here". First years are over when the fear is manageable, when you feel you have a place to call home, when not everything feels like life-or-death all the time. I am not sure I'm there yet, but I am going to fake-it-till-you-make-it, and say that yes we are starting our second year. Second years are about building, having roots and belongings. Third years are usually when we leave, so I have no idea what they are all about.
Living in London was our dream from the moment we set foot here on December 23, 2003. One of the hardest moments of our lives was stepping inside the plane to go back to Israel 10 days later. We swore we would some day come back to live here. It took us 8 and a half years to make it happen, but we did. Over the years we came back here to visit every chance we got, so it wasn't like when we moved to Gibraltar and didn't really know what we are getting ourselves into. But living is not the same as visiting is it? Tourists have a different sense of the city, of life. You are never in a hurry, you don't care that everything is so bloody expensive, you stay in a hotel. The biggest fear when you get what you dream about is - what if it turns out to be not as good as I dreamt it? What if my bubble will burst? What will happen if the life I built in my mind will turn out to be so much better than the life I will have in the real world??? (The second fear is what's next? but that's for a different day.)
We had an image of life in London, we had so many expectations of it, and we arrived here after a very tough time a bit broken and sad. In a sense I think we expected London to heal us, to give us back some things we lost along the way. It's not really fair to expect it of a city, or of anyone for that matter, but unconsciously that what we did.
London is a very confusing city, it's big and small, touristy and intimate, young and old. It is full of contradictions, and is never boring. So you won't be surprised when I tell you that it did not fail to live up to every single one of our expectations, and at the same time that it didn't.
Life in London is more than anything else confusing. We chose to live in a central part of London, in one of the more touristy areas around here (especially on match days), and yet there are weeks I don't leave the house and I am starting to feel like I live on a different planet; This city makes me feel old more than anything else (and frumpy and a bit fat, but that's more to do with me than the city I guess. Everyone here is always on the way to or from the gym it seems). Everyone around here are my age or older, but they all have younger children, or no children, they all have careers, they all make me feel as if I am living a different lifetime; This city frustrate me to no end when I try to find something (other than "London has lots of parks") to do with the kids that won't cost a hundred pounds to enter and all the emails I get on "what's going on in London" hasn't got one thing; This city feels me with a sense of wonder whenever I walk its streets; This city always makes me smile when I'm feeling bad; This city makes you feel like a foreigner, but that being a foreigner is perfectly fine; No matter what you do, how you dress, what your accent sounds like - walking the streets of London there will always be someone weirder than you. Even two; It's London - everything is possible, everything is at your fingertips, you can do anything. And as soon as we win the lottery and finally get a babysitter we will.
I love living in London. Its reality is different to my dreams, as reality is, but it is no less wonderful. I missed the green when I was in Gibraltar (now I miss the blue), I missed the ability to order food (now I miss the Morrisons), I love the buses (but not the tube), I love walking around, I love the changing of the seasons (we don't have autumn in Israel. Or spring. Just Summer and three days of rain), I love the ability to be a tourist in London because you can, but then just take the tube and be home in less then half an hour, I love the culture (though I would enjoy more of it if I win the lottery or at least get a babysitter), I love online shopping (though maybe if I enjoy it less I would be able to enjoy the culture more), I love that my kids grow up in a multicultural and tolerant environment, I love the grey (not the rain. I hate rain) I was afraid of it before we moved, but I find I love it (in the winter. Less in the summer) and I love how excited everyone get when it's sunny (adore the "the weather is too good for work" line) and how everywhere you can see people sunbathing or cleaning in the nude (seriously). London, and the UK, has welcomed us in, and I am grateful for that. It has also taught us some harsh lessons about what living as expats really means and made us feel at times like we are trying to get in to a club that doesn't want us; it made me feel sad and afraid and lonely; living here made me realise that I don't belong and I will never be; living here made me come to peace with the widening gap between me and my children; London did not heal my wounds, it did not gave me peace.
But it did give me Oxford st. in December, and that is pretty darn close.

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