London, the call of the old in so many ways, including my old life. As I walked through Leicester Square, which I have done numerous times since I went to university there, new memories and images emerged. So little changed and yet, so much.
The pizza stand on the corner as you veer to the right heading towards Covent Garden remains unchanged as does the Cork & Bottle next door, now adjacent to a half-priced theatre stand. Blood Brothers is still playing in the West End, now in its 20th year. For old times sake, I saw it again, for the 9th time. As good as it ever was, the English dry wit and extraordinary drama are there to remind you that its not an American play with a perfect fairy-tail ending (both main characters die in the end).
One of the two colleges I attended has now been turned into Capital Radio and the Kensington campus of Richmond University seemed smaller somehow (isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?) Two blocks from the main campus, a new bakery solely focused on cupcakes just opened. Then I proceeded to get lost in a park I knew cold.
I only had time to visit one of the numerous places I lived over the years, a small basement garden flat near Earls Court. Again, it seemed smaller and the outside plants needed work.
One of the coffee bistros where I worked had barely changed — the new manager informed me that the same family who owned it twenty years ago is still involved. He served me the best cappuccino I’ve had in London on the house and nearly enticed me to help out for a few days.
As for the countless pubs where I served pint after pint, the central-London locales were close to untouched with the exception of an added TV screen or video game machine, both glaring oddities in a British institution.
High Street Kensington and Kings Road felt cheaper or perhaps my standards are now higher. Barkers recently closed down and while Harrods has as much grandeur as ever, the food hall, while enticing on multiple levels, did not measure up to Paris’ Galeries Lafayette.
The chocolates were decadent and rich however and I found myself buying a few from each counter, always amazed at the beautiful choice of packaging, almost worth the price of the item alone. As I relished in one great design after another, I was reminded that soon, I’d be introduced to much more in Italy, my next stop.