London fit like a glove. The genius and I lived just off of Baker Street, in a little mews flat where we poor Californians nearly died of cold and damp that first winter. At first, the best job I could find was as a shop assistant to support us both while the genius lived the life of the mind. Life was costly and my salary was laughable. Penniless in central London, our only entertainment was to walk. Every evening, we walked, the A to Z in hand, passing theatres, opera houses, and restaurants we could not afford to enter.
We were so lucky. My grandmother, who had travelled the world a couple of times over, always said : "There is no better way to learn a city than to walk it". Oh, how we learned London. We walked from the City to Bayswater, from Oval to Hampstead and everywhere in between. We became more adventurous and walked to Greenwich and back one night. We saved up to buy tickets on the last tourist boat to Hampton Court Palace and walked back. We learned hundreds of the impossible little streets, a small portion of what cab drivers spend two years of studying "the Knowledge" to know thoroughly. My first memories of London are all of the streets and buildings at night, lit by streetlamps with regular help from the moon; and one of my best-loved books is Stephen Graham's London Nights.
Eventually, I found a good job with a magazine company. We walked less and began to go to the theatre. Perhaps unsurprisingly but amicably, the genius and I fell out of love. London did not suit him so well. We divorced and he returned to California. I planned to return a few months later, but ended up staying in London for over nine years. During those years, I wrote for magazines, then I built a consultancy; one of my biggest clients was the government. I paid taxes, bought property, saw my doctor on the National Health. If ever I understood what it meant to be an immigrant, to struggle to learn and fit into a society and culture -- as my ancestors did -- it was in London.
Surely, part of the reason I was so content there was that, with all of the documentation episodes: visas, a divorce, tax and National Insurance numbers, bank accounts, business registration, etc., never once was my identity questioned. Never once was I required to produce more than my passport as documentation. This has probably changed in these days of terrorism, but I doubt that there has been much change in the basic attitude that accepts that I am who I say I am and I have the right to determine who I am.
Also during those years, I met a Frenchman. It was a lackadaisical courtship, but we did finally get around to marrying. Why, oh why did we not marry in London? Why, oh why did I agree to give up my dear, adopted city to go live in Istanbul?
©2010 Anne Morddel