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London: A Lover Guides

Every journey can be a love affair,
where you're left wondering over who you are
and whom you've fallen in love with.
-Pico Iyer

...sit by my side and let the world slip: we shall ne'er be younger.
-William Shakespeare

London waits like an English lover. Strong, unbendable, magnificent. He waits with both arms to his sides, which he will wrap around you if you run to him, and once enfolded, you know there's no safer place on earth.

I would like to go back to where my heart had grown roots- Notting Hill, Golders Green, Regent's Park, Covent Garden. To once again run for a bus to take me to Hodford Road. There, an orange-red brick structure would have a nondescript side door. If I pass through it, will I find everything as I left it? The old desk, mismatched chairs, chipped mugs, and most precious of all, Bong, Doc and Mr A putting our paper to bed? Most probably not. I choose not to linger. I instead will opt to take a stroll around the upmarket area, searching for my favorite nooks sitting quietly in unstudied rusticity. How many times have I sipped coffee al fresco, my eyes scouring the local bakery for fresh challah, the best you can find this side of North London? Three minutes away is Golders Green Tube, where I will be taking the Northern line to Embankment. I wish to visit the South Bank, for its limestone walls and grand orchestras, maybe chance upon A Little Night Music at the Lyttleton. I once spent an entire afternoon there with a friend I was destined never to see or hear from again. Will these circumstances as I am making them, allow me to form new friendships even as I hope to bump into old ones? I am more inclined to go down the bridge, past the buskers, to take the Central line to Sloane Square. I will walk to Kings Road for the trendy shops, past Worlds End where I serendipitously met three wise men, discarded old gods, and tired myself out. I will find myself very thirsty in Knightsbridge. I long for tea. I can taste hints of bergamot orange... and serenity, amongst saffron curtains and dark green twills. If I conjured up an image of Tita Bebeloi, will I also be able to re-create a time that is numinous, that even I, vaguely remember?

And the Serpentine! Its curves leading to Kensington Gardens will entice you to sit awhile, visit with dolphins and nymphs and a famous mischievous boy. There, I will scatter the weight of years and distance, where many have buried unreckoned half-lives, before walking out the gates to Notting Hill, now world-famous, now no longer home. I will run to the tube, down the stairs, and pretend to nearly miss my train. How strange to be out of breath on a Central line to Oxford Circus, with my friend Lourdes now based in Cairo. I will change to the Bakerloo line to get to Regent's Park, in hopes of finding a floating restaurant, an open-air theatre. I see silhouettes instead, of seaweed and Kate. At this point, I will want to turn around and cab it to Heathrow. But then, I would miss antiquing along Portobello Road, Encounters at the V&A, next day's lunch in Canary Wharf, a pint at the Prince Albert in Maida Vale, being a local again at Borough Market.

I wish to retrace my steps, unhurriedly. If prodded, I can depend on my erstwhile love to reveal all the secret cobbled places. For London is good at preserving. He will have changed everything and nothing. Take him. Or leave.

London, my dear, you have ruined me for other lovers. How many times must I leave to fully comprehend the finality of leaving? And how to comprehend, with your skies so low clouds descend to touch the ground, enduringly... endearingly. They have suffused me. Suffuse me still.

And I so desperately wish to retrace my steps. Unhurriedly. The incongruity of entire soles resting on temporary rootholds is something I had never considered there.

© Aileen Ibardaloza

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