London: ‘The Violent Jolt of the Capital’

“I miss London. I miss London life.” she began…

“I choose not the suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the Capital, that is my choice. The meanest patient, yes, even the lowest is allowed some say in the matter of her own prescription. Thereby she defines her humanity. I wish, for your sake, Leonard, I could be happy in this quietness. But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.”

The quote is from the scene in Stephen Daldry‘s The Hours where the character of Virginia Woolf, living in the town of Richmond outside of London, implores her husband Leonard that they return to the city. Her monologue is a meditation on a familiar contrast (think Pleasantville, American Beauty) where a dystopian view of suburban life is juxtaposed with the promise of the city. And the distinction it underscores is specially heightened when you speak of London, because in my view that city makes most others feel like suburbs.

As old as time itself, London seems to hold infinite secrets and possibilities. A recent National Geographic article reports “spurred by a building boom, archeologists are plumbing the deep past of one of Europe’s oldest capitals.” So any attempt to take it all in would be some Sisyphean silliness. In cities like this I sometimes just want nothing else but to paint the town red. But that is for the defeatist. It’s better to take the responsibility by at least trying to connect with the city in some way that’s important to me. So, in each of the few times that I visited it I made every effort to suffuse my days with activity and thought aimed at absorbing London life.

On this most recent visit, I was in a middle of an art project where I designed and made costumes for the ALEXA GRÆ music video The Prince. Along with Aganovich I was obsessed with Alexander McQueen. So I was pretty disappointed to miss James Phillips’ play McQueen, but was very excited to at least step into the store on Clerkenwell Road. But there’s another really fun way to see British couture: a visit to the Tate Britain, home of British art. I adore, for example, how the Pre-Raphaelite painters dressed their muses in such fabulous Victorian fashion: never stuffy, always flowy, often florid, and sometimes fluffy.

To me, appreciating art is a very introverted exercise. So I make a point to balance my running around doing that with spending quality time with friends. I’m fortunate, though, to have a very good friend who lives in London who is highly introspective, florid & articulate, and who I share a lot of interests with in art, music, books, and revelry. We can talk for hours. Generous and loving, he makes it so pleasant to share in his experiences in living London life. An anecdote will serve as proof.

On my most recent visit, I told him, M, that I was coming with my partner, N, who had never been to London, to celebrate his birthday. M immediately came up with an idea for and offered to host a surprise party. He invited a few of his friends over and got everyone to participate in assembling a poster filled with notes and things that expressed N’s interests. N was floored. And although neither N nor I had ever met M’s guests, not a strident note came through the Happy Birthday song, nor striding efforts were made on making friends thereafter.

Granted, as a kind gesture as that anywhere will create memories charged with all sorts of positive associations. But the valance of London is such that you can continue to live it up throughout the metropolitan knowing that wherever you end up, you’ll have an electric experience. This is what I mean by the possibilities that a city like London holds. Many people who move to the suburbs do so in the hope of finding peace. But, as Virginia Woolf wrote, “you cannot find peace by avoiding life”. London reminds me of why I will always choose live in the city. Reflecting on my experiences there, it’s not difficult to imagine how the Capital appeal can produce yearnings of such dramatic heights that Virginia Woolf herself ultimately couldn’t weather.

Life imitating art imitating life: I took this shot as a modest nod to Constable.


 

 

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