Huge, crowded, multicultural London. A solid chunk of what happens in the Western world pass through here. I could endlessly write about the culture, the arts, the parks or the shops and never repeat myself.
But when you move somewhere the little things of everyday life are those that actually stick with you. It’s the minute details that you notice: the way people move, the random poetry, the weirdness, the graffiti on the walls, your favourite ice-cream at the local supermarket.
While your new life begins to shape, you slowly build a mental map of your own city that has little to do with what the real streets and squares look like. And once you move out, months or years after, the landmarks of your mental map are what you are actually going to miss.
After all, when you leave, you don’t actually miss a place, a city. You miss your old self, the one that used to eat, sleep and laugh there, and that’s now grown into somebody else.
“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours,” wrote Italo Calvino.
Parkland Walk. A hidden green walkway in the middle on North London that connects Alexandra Park to Highgate Wood and then to Finsbury Park, following the tracks of an old railway. Part of it is located in Muswell Hill, and if you go there early in the mornings, right after sunrise, you can look at the city while it wakes up. Silence is so intense that you can almost imagine you hear it breathing.
Book covers. Someone please show Italian publishers the book covers they design in the UK. Sooner or later I’ll end up buying some awfully written romantic novel just because the cover was so pretty I couldn’t help it. Oh, the bookshops are not bad either, with Piccadilly’s Hatchards and Marylebone’s Daunt Books most highly recommended.
Politeness. Yes, never knowing if the person you are talking to actually likes you or gives a dam of what you are saying can be exhausting. But having random strangers that “hope you are well” at the beginning of every single email is not that bad.
Wetherspoons. Cheap fat food. Cheap good beer. Yeah, the chain’s chairman is a big Brexit fan, but I guess nobody’s perfect. And have I mentioned the cheap hamburgers yet?
See it. Say it. Sorted. Yes, I do mean that thing they play a hundred times a day in the tube to encourage you to report “anything that doesn’t look right” to the transport police. I just love the way it sounds. See it, say it, sorted.
Highgate West Cemetery. It’s one of the so called Magnificent Seven, the Victorian cemeteries that were built in the 19th century right outside the city centre. It can only be accessed through guided tours, but it’s way more fascinating than its East cousin. Thousands of stories lie on the hill. Highly instagrammable as well.
Tea. I was always a tea person. Here they don’t try to offer me coffee all the time and every time I order tea in a café they actually bring me a teapot full of boiling water. I should probably warn my fellow Italians that it’s not that great for coffee – if you are planning on moving, just convert. Your life quality will improve drastically.
Foxes and squirrels. So cute, so fluffy.
Bus 43. And the queue at bus stops. The first time I saw one, I couldn’t even figure out why on earth people were standing in a line in the middle of the footpath. Now I’m ready to kill everyone who tries to skip it. The 43 is just because it’s the one that truly never lets me down – it once took me home safe at 4 am on a Monday morning.
Camden Town. This is a banal one. But it had to be there, even if it’s packed with tourists, even though I’m very well aware that it’s not the 1970s any more. But no place in London’s like Camden – maybe it’s just that disoriented look that punks and rockers have got in their eyes, the one that says that the world somehow caught up with them. The future’s here and it’s nothing like we pictured it, but hey babe, let’s make some music anyway.