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Postcard from London

by Jennifer Garner

October 6,2007

I’m sitting on the top deck of the red bus as we round the corner and there is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. We’ve passed Victoria Station and Westminster Abbey along the way. There is the statue of Churchill, looking fatherly but concerned. This is my bus ride on the 211 to work everyday. As I look at the face of Big Ben and imagine Peter Pan floating down the hands, I still can’t believe that I live here. London is now my home and I love it. I picked up my life, selling nearly all my worldly possessions, to work at King’s College London. I had discovered that I work in a field that would allow me the elusive work permit in the UK and I decided to set off on a big adventure.

I’ve visited London many times and as an English major always loved the history and literature that seeps from the buildings and cobbled streets of London. I loved watching the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and seeing the mummies in the British Museum. But living here is entirely different. It is such a vibrant, alive city. It reminds me of the pulse and life of New York City, but with 1,000 more years of history. While the modern financial hub of Europe and a cultural and artistic capital of the world, in some ways it feels like it could still be 1885 in London. There is a formality and politeness to the people, they sing God Save the Queen and drink tea at 11:00 and 4:00. They have a stiff upper lip about the usually bad weather and have enormous national pride. They wonder what the future King is doing tonight and lay red poppies on the countless memorials to the war dead.

It has been interesting to see what daily life is like in London. After the tourists have gone home, 7 million of us live here and still have to shop and clean the flat on Saturday. Of course with no Target and strip malls in central London, the shopping takes much longer and involves several stops -- the butcher, the bakery, the chemist, the grocery store and the newsstand. There are wonderful fruit and vegetable stands featuring items we don’t easily get in Charlotte. Eggplants are auburgines and zucchini are corgetttes. Cell phones are mobiles and calendars are diaries. I have, without realizing it, begun to use their words. (I have not let go of ya’ll and never will, I promise.)

The rain is not an urban legend, but a daily reality. I have learned to cherish a sunny day and I’ve been eating lunch on a batch of grass with 25 other people stripped to within an inch of decency trying to soak up as much sun as possible before the next shower.

I love that I have reduced my carbon footprint and don’t own a car. I haven’t totally figured out the bus and Tube maps yet, but I do know which buses get me home. By walking so much more, I realize how much more I notice the sky and weather, and how I see the shops and notice surroundings so much more than I did when I flew down Sharon Road in my car. With no car radio on, I have 30 minutes of bus time to think, be still and observe the world from the top of the red double decker bus.

As I listen to four different languages around me, I think of how Elizabeth I was crowned at Westminster Abbey, that Shakespeare rowed the Thames to the theaters, and that Benjamin Disraeli had a pint in the local pub. Today, I’m crossing that river and sitting in that very same pub and I realize that their great city is now my city.

It still catches me off guard as my cab goes by Buckingham Palace at night and I realize that the Queen is there asleep as I head home past Harrod’s to my flat in Chelsea. I may have changed a three-bedroom condo with a yard for a one bedroom flat with no dishwasher and a mini frig, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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