17 December 2005

Fair Play For London

Lest you get the wrong impression from my frequent carping about various aspects of London life, I must say that the old town has been looking especially spiffy of late. A couple nights ago my friend Patrick and I, having dropped another friend off at Charing Cross station, decided to walk across the Hungerford Footbridge to Waterloo. It was a mild night for December, the air was as close to crystal clear as it ever gets around here, and the cityscape along the Thames was breathtakingly stunning. Actually, I've crossed both the Hungerford and Waterloo bridges several times this week, and the lit-up vista from the Houses of Parliament all the way down to St. Paul's has been dazzling every time, but this particular night we both had to stop a couple times to take it all in.

My tendency to focus on the aggravations rather than the joys of London life is probably similar to the way New Yorkers see their city. Visitors - myself included - come away raving about the fabulousness of it all; New Yorkers are often too busy contending with astronomical rents, dodgy or unreliable subways, the noise, the intensity and pace of it all, to notice what an amazing city they live in. When I stop to think about it, pretty much the same is true of London.

Of course my appreciation for London at this time of year is heightened by the fact that I'm a big fan of Christmas. I like the lights, the decorations, the crowds, the roving bands of carollers, even the tatty fun fair in Leicester Square. When others gripe about all the stress of shopping and parties, I just shrug. If you don't like Christmas, I suggest, don't participate. Don't buy presents, don't go to office parties, just sit home and be miserable for all I care. Just don't waste your own and others' time whingeing and moaning about how Christmas is such a bore. Either get in the spirit and enjoy it or go on holiday to somewhere that they don't celebrate it at all. Which in "multicultural" Britain shouldn't require more than ten or twenty minutes' ride on the Underground.

Another highlight this weekend: an afternoon visit to Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames (one of our theme songs is the Clash's "London Calling," thanks to its line about living by the river, to watch Fulham eke out an unlovely and scrappy 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers. It'll be my last match for a couple months, and was suitably exhilarating, as was the walk back to Hammersmith along the Thames Path, with the tiniest bit of red and purple still glowing on the horizon from the winter sunset.

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