Reading the winter issue of The Stinging Fly got me thinking, as Carrie Bradshaw would say. Based on the meanderings of Dublin-born New Yorkers, and vice versa, it takes a glance at the nostalgia harboured by those away from home. Not to mention their appreciation for a new city. And following in the trend of Ms Bradshaw, it is only right I point out she was the one who said it takes ten years to become a genuine citizen of a city you chose.
In that vein, I can acknowledge I’ve got a fair few years to go before I can rightfully call myself a Londoner, which I advocate would not compromise my Irishness. One of the great things about this city, and I guess most metropolitans, is that you can exist in duo, trio or multiple identities. That means you can be Irish, east London, white, freckly, female and an avid runner, all in one place. No boundaries to curb who you are, where you’re from or how you hope to move forward.
Is that because the place is so darn big no one gives a hoot?
It could certainly be part of the equation but it is by no means the entire sum. The truth is that a city brimming with as many as ten million people simply doesn’t have time to judge. Everyone is too busy coming into contact with a cocktail of identities from the morning rush on the tube to the last night bus home and beyond. Of course there are pockets of prejudice, as in any community, but they are limited, and as the riots proved, generally dissipate to nothing when the greater city comes together.
In all honesty, when I step out of my dingy flat to damp streets, sirens and an endless stream of traffic, I don’t hate it. I smile. I know how my day will go, in theory at least. But there’s no accounting for the possibilities. It could be Rihanna stepping onto a tube on the Jubilee line just an hour after I’ve passed through the same station. It might be a violent outburst on a cramped carriage, spurred by the fact everyone is searching for a decent bite of air. Or perhaps it is lying stretched out on Soho Square with friends chatting in complete oblivion to the wider world.
But all this is not exclusive to London. It’s the privilege of most cities to offer newcomers a seemingly unparalled experience they know they will never enjoy at home. Like most things in life, we’re too busy looking ahead to see what’s right in front of us.
The grand reality for many of us, the dividing factor – that which tugs us homeward – is not the image of bustling streets or Switzer’s windows in December. It’s the family milestones we’ll never have the chance to recover. Three-year-olds blowing out candles. Parents aging. Friends sharing a bottle of wine without us.
In the meantime, wherever you are; Dublin, London or New York – breathe it in before it becomes another sweet scent of memory. A past we will never retrieve.