On Saturday morning, my friends and I boarded a tour bus headed for Oxford and, later in the day, Windsor. The tour guide, whose name I was never quite able to catch, started our adventure by reminding us about the historical beginnings of London. “London has always, always been a city of many cultures, ever since its founding,” he said. “No matter what we do about Brexit, whether we truly leave or we end up staying in the EU, this city is, has been, and always will be a multicultural hub.” The trip was fantastic, and I truly enjoyed every minute I spent on the historic campuses of Oxford University and exploring Windsor Castle, but as our tour guide bid us goodbye, it’s what he said to us that has really stuck with me. “London loves having you here.”
I think it might be true.
In class, recently, we were asked to think about looking at the world through a child’s eyes. I wasn’t really sure what that meant at first (because I’ve always had the same eyes, you know) but I may be starting to get it. The longer I stay in the city, the farther I walk through the streets, the deeper I go into the heart and soul of London, the more I can feel my vision clear. I worry less about acting proper and start instead to wonder about what I would see if I looked with eyes unburdened with the things I think I know.
If I looked at London with a child’s eyes, I would see something like this: every morning, people hustle and bustle very quickly in one direction, and every evening they move a bit more slowly in the other, like the tide. Taxis, buses, and bicycles all race about and compete with each other for space and time, which is always running out. There is something called the Underground, a great big snake that lives inside the city, and if you’re nice to it and time it just right, you can ride in its belly as it slithers through the tunnels it has made. Best of all, scattered around the city, there are great big landmarks where you can go and you can touch the history of world and feel the gentle thrumming centers of London’s magic. This magic spreads out through every street, alley, and sidewalk of London and, with patient eyes, you can find it.
I know, because I’ve seen it.
I found it first when I wasn’t looking, in the gardens of Westminster Abbey, where tansy and rosemary and yarrow grow, in the blooming flowers that stretched up to touch my fingers as I passed. I felt it when I pressed my palms to the stones of the White Tower at the Tower of London and heard the wind whisper in my ear, over and over, begging to be heard. I experienced it when my feet never got too lost and, when allowed to take me where they would, always, somehow, led me somewhere new and interesting and never too far from home. And when I started looking for it, I saw magic on my way to class in the morning, on the Waterloo Bridge, in the way parents take their children to school in the morning by racing together on scooters, in the man who says good morning to me every day as he sells magazines, in the people who smile at me when they catch my gaze.
I’ve found London’s magic in the markets, where a man let me try strawberries and raspberries he was selling at his stall because they were too good to let go bad by the end of the day.
I’ve found London’s magic in the Tube, where a stranger held open the door for me as I rushed to leap onto a train about to depart.
I’ve found London’s magic in the people who live here, all of them, every single one.
When I let myself think freely, when I let go of the knowledge of the city I thought I had gained before I ever came here, what comes to mind is these brilliant thoughts of London infused with magic. London is magic. The city stretches far and wide, the old mixed in with the new, people running and breathing and existing in the body of this great being that is the city. London lives, it breathes, it has a soul older than I can imagine, and maybe, just maybe, it sees me. London sees me, and London loves having me here.