Looking Back

Going to London I was excited to say the least. I read all the guidebooks, scrolled through many many pictures, read their news, and I even bought a British Vogue for the plane.

The day I was set to leave, I felt confident I’d fit right in. I speak English. I love tea. How different can this place really be? Upon arrival, I immediately felt shocked by the accents and unique sense of place. Continuing into the first few weeks, I experienced the London I’d imagined the city to be. I took pictures of the old statues, beautiful parks, fancy buildings, royal guards, excreta. But by week three I felt restless. While I had photographs of the iconic London, the romantic, perfected city I’d always dreamed of, I didn’t have much in the way of authenticity. The images seemed somewhat empty and expected.

What I wanted was to find the “real London” or in other words the hidden secrets of the city. The only problem was at that point, I had no idea where to begin.

I looked in museums, places of heritage, famous monuments. I looked in new places, design centers, avant guarde coffee shops…I looked in crowds. Then quiet parks. Even through store windows and inside grocery stores.

Then one day I had a horrible idea. I should take a picture inside the Tube. As I raised my camera to my face, I felt uncomfortable before I even looked through the viewfinder. I quickly pointed the lenses to the right, blinked and looked down at the screen. What I saw was a teenager scowling back at my rude attempt to take a picture in such a private place.

Of course the Tube is actually one of the most public places in the city, but in this teen’s eyes it was private because it showed the raw, unedited version of London life.

I hated to be “that person,” but at the same time, I love the intense backlash within his eyes. It seemed to prove that I’d finally discovered where cameras weren’t allowed, a place that wasn’t suppose to be documented, analyzed or exposed.

Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on this one moment, but it made me think about what it means to find the “real side of any city.” There will always be the cultural myths about a place. Like wise, there will always be the universal patterns of transportation and daily grind. The one thing that connects these two absolutes is local pride.

The teenager seemed protective of his city. That seemed to be a common trend among other locals as well. Despite all the commuting, crowds, and crazy weather, you got the sense that Londoners loved living in a city that everyone else can only dream about being a part of. It was also the pride of knowing you can live the ideal version of London, but handle the “true” version too.

I definitely don’t think I’ll ever pinpoint the definition of “real” London, but the following entries offer an attempt.

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