The strangeness of London.
I have been away from the city in which I spent much of my youth, rather too long. A couple of days ago, I was giving a talk and I decided by way of introduction, to write up on the board, where I had come from, before arriving in Asia.
I wrote the word: “London.”
It looked very strange on the board, that word. In fact, I had to wonder whether it was a real word at all. It was a very dislocating feeling. The city of my youth seemed to be fictional, in that moment...not real at all, as if it had never existed and I had somehow dreamt it.
I realized, then, that I had been away from Europe too long. My whole European life had acquired the semblance of fiction. The very name of the city of my youth, now seemed not like a real name at all. I thought of “Londoninium”. It might as well have been a Roman city for all the temporal proximity it had to me, in that moment.
I had paused a little long to reflect on the strangeness of the word, “London” and so I turned back to my audience to continue my presentation. Yet, the feeling remained that behind me, on the board, I had written of a town that was not quite real, to me, anymore.
Perhaps, this feeling comes to all who leave the place of their birth and youth and travel far afield. As one travels, and learns of new places, these memories overlay the ones acquired before emigration, until, eventually the original life seems distant, unreachable and, eventually, as has begun to happen in my case, no longer substantial.
There is another aspect to it, of course. “London”, is a very English word. Every day, for the last twelve years, or thereabouts, I have been surrounded by foreign names, in foreign tongues. So, the familiar names of my youth, now seem exotic to me. An inversion has taken place: the places of my youth, once so familiar, now seem to be the strange ones. My experience of many years, has displaced the earlier sense of familiarity and created a new sense of familiarity: now, Malay names and places are the familiar ones to me. English place names have come to seem strange, unreal and not a little fictional.
All this leads me to understand that, perhaps, I should visit London, and Europe, again, before too many more years pass. I need to reacquaint myself with what was once so familiar, before it becomes utterly “foreign” to me, which would be a curious circumstance, indeed.
Then again, perhaps I should write “London” again, a few more times, so that it might come to seem less strange, through the reacquaintance of usage (if such a word exists...my spellchecker thinks not...however I think it should, so I will use it).
This situation could be summarized in a single thought:
I left London, but now London has left me. It is time to find it once more.
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