Monday, October 29, 2007

London Is My Marmite

I have a love hate relationship with London. Having spent my university years here I greatly appreciate all that it has to offer: entertainment, culture, whatever - if you want something you are sure to be able to find it here. But it'll cost you. A lot. London life certainly isn't cheap, even if you live in the forgotten depths of zone 4 south of the river, and especially when you aren't earning any money (my unemployment benefit still hasn't come through yet and I'm just grateful that I'm staying with my mum and getting fed and horribly spoilt). And so even when you don't want to money, and how to get it, keep it and not lose it too quickly, never seems to be far away from your thoughts. Getting away from this cycle isn't easy either, as once you are in London it has a huge gravitational pull in terms of employment: looking for a job outside of the capital isn't easy, although conversely, you can always find a job here no matter where you are in the country (or at least an advert for a job - getting it is another matter completely). So once you are here it's hard to leave. Then there's the sheer size of the city. No matter where you want to go it'll take you an hour to get there, regardless of the actual, physical distance. So I just try and stick to my local area which has pretty much all I need anyway. In the three weeks I have been back this weekend was the first time I had ventured into the world of debauchery and hedonism that is zone 1 - to see a concert of contemporary Persian rap with my mum (a bit more on that later).

But even without going into the centre of town and staying in the suburbs I continually encounter what I love most about the place. Whether I happen to be strolling through Sutton High Street, or just sitting on the 213 to Kingston, I can always hear people talking, and as often as not it won't be in English. Chinese, Polish, Vietnamese, German, Russian, Hindi, Spanish and many more that I can't even begin to recognise. London is a true melting pot, in the best form of the term. People come from all over the world to London to make a (better) life for themselves, and so they are all in the same boat and seem to get along well together, accepting each other with no difficulty. That's not to say that there are no race problems, there always are, especially with the British resenting the large number of Poles that have come over with the expansion of the EU (the vast majority of waiting staff in the capital are eastern European). Part of this multiculturalism is found in the diverse number of cultural events to cater for every taste and ethnicity. And so there I was, at the plush Southbank centre watching a concert of Persian rap to celebrate the 800th anniversary of one of Persia's greatest poets Rumi (not much publicised within Iran itself as he was more of a Sufi mystic, and Sufism, despite being a Muslim sect, is very much disapproved of under the current regime). The acts themselves ranged for cringeworthy to very good, with rap switching between between Farsi (which is a surprisingly good language for the medium) and English with frequent criticism of the regime. Though there were a few jabs at the British government aswell due to the fact that several acts were not allowed to attend the concert due to draconian visa resttrictions (despite the fact that they were allowed into other European countries).

Generally travelling has been greatly enriching for me, but there has been one aspect of my life here that has taken a turn for the worse as a direct result of it: I am taking far less pleasure in eating out. Not only can I no longer get a meal for half a dollar, but I find foreign cuisine less tasty than I used to. This is because I know what it tastes like abroad, and the stuff here just doesn't cut it anymore. Plus things taste much better when you eat them from a grubby little street stall on the dusty streets of a third-world backwater.

1 comment:

Inihtar said...

I completely understand your love-hate relationship with London. But me, I have a weird relationship with the city. Some of the worst things that have happened in my life happened when I lived there. And yet, I can't bring myself to hate it, dislike it, or to even feel anything remotely negative towards it. In my head, I am well aware of all its imperfections, inefficiencies and the difficulties of living there. But while I find something to to dislike in practically every other place I've lived in, I can't do the same for London! I am a complete weirdo, but London, for me, is the greatest city in the world (well, my world is a lot smaller than yours!)