Wardour Street

Tonight I was coming home from an event in Soho near Wardour Street while chatting on the phone, and when I looked up I found myself in Chinatown.   I thought I was headed towards Oxford St. but had been walking in the exact opposite direction of where I was supposed to be going, something I still do often in London.  Lit up with dozens of red lanterns and a gigantic dragon perfectly backlit high on a wall, it was all I could do to not abort my Victoria Station mission and get lost in the lanterns.   I didn’t want to be stranded after the last train though, and told myself I could come back, even though it probably wouldn’t look quite the same.

Or maybe Chinatown is always that luminous.  I don’t understand the magic of London yet, but on a few occasions now, walking by myself through the city well after ten, it’s palpable.  The streets are sort of foggy and misty, it’s not cold and not too hot at all–perfect for endless walking.  The huge, antique street lamps glow under window boxes of lush green ivy and bright flowers with names unknown to me.   Pub goers mill about in doorways, holding amber-filled glasses, casting occasional, appraising glances at walkersby.   Further along, towards the Picadilly Tube station, I pass a drag queen with a pancaked face and a black, curly wig.   Twenty-something girls wobble down the sidewalk wearing impossibly short dresses and even more impossible heels.  It’s near midnight on a Tuesday, but people seem immune to sleep.

Okay.  I could fall in love with this city.

“Canadian?” someone asked tonight for the third time.  “You don’t sound like you’re from the U.S.”

I don’t know the ways that I do or don’t sound American, only that there’s more than a bit of self-consciousness about it.   I don’t come into contact with many Americans here–have only chatted with two in my interactions out and about–and haven’t found any all the way out in Kent, where I live.   Clerks in stores often stare for a second after I out myself with speech.  They seem to be trying to place me.  If they figure it out, I hope they let me in on the answer.  I’ve left the US, perhaps permanently, having married a Brit, but I still have a lot to do to settle in here.  The lanterns in Chinatown hover, but their suspension seems much more elegant and serene than my ghosty limbo.

Despite the vast opportunity to explore London, most days I miss the sun, the trees, and the birds of Virginia–my home for the last nine years– the views, miss being able to hop in my car and drive somewhere, miss friends and coworkers, but I’m slowly coming to love watching the people on the Tube, or just walking down the street.  At night when it’s not so crowded I like to try and enter the thoughts of those waiting on the platform, especially the natty business men who seem like they have never gushed about anything in their lives.

Hummingbird Bakery, Pho, Scribbler.   The cheer of whimsy in the windows.   I am probably too old to even be on this street, I quipped to my husband when we first sauntered down Wardour.   I am craving something sweet, something decadent.   Skinny men chomp down sandwiches wrapped in foil and I envy their ease.  (Finding a non-sandwich option when one has food allergies can be tough after ten.)  Londoners don’t seem to eat out as much as US folks, which may be why so many stay so thin…?  Do they go to the pub, or eat–is it one or the other?   I consider what it would be like, in my chocoholic universe, to receive rations of butter, meat, coffee. Charlie Bucket’s one precious, gold-covered chocolate bar.   A constant rumbling belly.   But then a girl walks by with a black and white mod coat and bag, two different prints at once, and I’m in Greenwich Village, pre-Gulliani.  It’s the eighties all over again, and I’ll take it.

The promise of Wardour Street is the antithesis of deprivation.  It’s a hedonistic spree of neon cupcakes, outrageous footware and fun, natural fun.   After all the stresses of relocation, it’s just this sort of fantasy that makes me think that maybe, just maybe, there are still adventures, even past thirty (or, ahem, uh, maybe a little over that), and even wild possibility still sprouting up for no reason.  For now, this is one fantasy that I’m keeping alive.

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