Saturday 16 September 2017

... That 20 Years Is Nothing?

There's a funny moment in our lives (funny, both ha-ha and strange) when we realise that we have fallen for what we used to mock before. This Augenblick can only be interpreted as a journey from a carefree, fun-filled summer day to the crepuscular beauty of an autumn evening in no more than twenty-four hours. This is that moment in our lives when a "bolero", a “fado” or a "tango" calls to a part of us that had hitherto lain hidden. Or dormant. Or unexplored. Or covered up by layers and layers of identity markers. Those markers we pick up from the shop we call life. There we are, little, hopping, skipping creatures, barely able to reach the dinner table, entering the shop stage right and many years later, exiting stage left, carrying with us multiple transformations, disguises and masks.

It is that time of the year when rain-soaked, dark-inked pavements trigger off feelings of nostalgia in me. This time around, a wet summer, combined with the early onset of autumn has unleashed a deluge of memories. Not just any memories, mind. In November it will be 20 years since I landed in the UK. To stay. To set down roots. To throw my lot in with the people of this country. But the question that has arisen in the last half decade is: have I succeeded?

Succeeded at what could be the swift response.  Perhaps, I should rephrase that question: has it been a fulfilling life for me so far?

With the rain still hanging over the low-rise flats in my neck of the woods and weak sunrays spearing through eastbound, grey clouds, I recently pulled up just outside my house after another long bike ride around London. Whilst catching my breath back, I paused to ask myself that question: has my life been fulfilling so far? The short answer is yes, above all personally and professionally. The long one would be: it’s a work in progress (I haven't even developed the immigrant's usual love-hate relationship with their new home). It is easy to relocate to another place and not have a sense of belonging to it. I believe that the process of settling in another country is a two-way system: you give and take in equal measure. I looked at my bicycle and retraced my steps all the way back to that morning. It had caught me in east London interviewing a guy who can only be described as an essential part of the incredible, creative power this city has. The afternoon had seen me have my lunch in west London in a beautiful park; the dry grass a provocation to the gathering clouds. Trafalgar Square was a sight to cycle past, not a tourist stop. The downpour caught me not long after. It gave me time to think. Unlike running, when most of the time I listen to music, whenever I am pedalling my way around London my ears remain earphone-free. Instead I focus on the sounds of the city: the loud-revving car engines revealing impatient drivers, the voices (with their various accents), the beeping, the swearing, the muzak blaring out of cafes and restaurants, the R'n'B/reggae/rock/grime blasting out of open windows, the football chants, the soft, swishing sound of the closing doors of a double-decker, the whispered plea, "Can you spare some change, please?"

Part of the progress I have made in these 20 years is figuring out what the pattern of this city is. All cities have one, especially metropolises. Havana’s is laid-back, London is a rush-hour one, with a nowadays added screen-facing, neck-bent population.

During the next few weeks, up until November, when I will be celebrating my second decade in this country, my posts will be even more London-centric, if that’s possible. I will be posting interviews I conducted during the summer holidays with some of the makers and shakers of this city’s incredible entrepreneurial might. There will be plenty of autumn-coloured reflections, impressionistic in their design with perhaps a surrealist touch in their delivery. After all, another element in London’s pattern is how often it confounds expectations. Here is a city that is not afraid to wear its eccentricity on its sleeve. A city in which anyone can end up being bathed in nostalgia-scented memories by the power of a fado or a bolero.

© 2017

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 20th September at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Welcome back. I can tell it was an intense summer in more ways than one. All the answers will come to you eventually. You will realize that you made a difference in that country, that you are happy, and that you do not want to go anywhere else. :) However, when you retire many decades from now, you may wish to spend six months back home on account of those old bones of yours!!
    Be well. :)

  2. Listening to Fado may not be a good idea.. they are so depressiong sometimes...
    Just kidding... Portugal have great fadistas...

  3. Welcome back.
    I am really looking forward to your future posts, and pondering the pattern/identity of my own city.

  4. A very warm welcome back to you!

  5. Sounds like you had a interesting summer indeed. Welcome back too. Delving further into where we reside is a win. Unless you dig up some old bones, then maybe not lol

  6. Having spent my entire life (other than my years in college/university) in the same area, I find this post very interesting. I've loved the visits I've made to London, so I look forward to your upcoming posts.

    Good to have you posting again!

  7. I look forward to the interviews. I am sure you gained some insight to your ity.

  8. Good to have you back posting. I've been to London, but laid back Havana sounds nice

  9. Those future posts should be interesting and I look forward to them.

  10. In a way, I have a sense that no matter where I am or what I am doing, it would not form any real degree of actual contentment or lasting satisfaction or valid self-fulfillment. Life always has been a never-ending search for me -- essentially for new experiences -- and, I have no reason to think it might ever be otherwise.

    Good luck, CiL, with your continuing adaption to England and to the London-way of living life. I am glad you have come back ....

  11. Hi ACIL - good to see you ... and I loved the film Volver ... so evocative and thought provoking. London is a real mix - wonderful mix ... I love it - all sorts around us ... I enjoy my visits and the places I can see, while the early years of my life offer other perspectives before I left for some years. Now I look at it as local visitor ... your interviews and perspectives will be a delight to read - thanks for the music - cheers Hilary

  12. I'm so glad London has made you welcome - long may it stay that way.

    But London isn't Britain - it's a wonderful vibrant, cosmopolitan city and I, too, love it. Nevertheless, getting grips with London doesn't explain contradictions in other parts of the UK (any more than Havana can stand for the rest of Cuba).

  13. Welcome back. I have missed your posts. Although I travelled to other countries on a yearly basis I am happy to spend the rest of my days in the city where I was born because, as the saying goes, 'there is no place like home'. Enjoyed the video/music.

  14. You're back - and even better than before! Can't wait to read your interviews and learn more!

  15. Glad you're back from your break! I've been here much less time than you, so I can only imagine what it's like to have spent two decades here. Still, the seasonal change triggers nostalgia in me, too. I think changes of seasons often do that to people. I liked the video -- I saw Volver when it came out and I must say I don't remember much about it, though I really liked it. I need to see it again.

  16. What an evocative post. I've never been to London but it makes me want to visit and stroll (scurry?) the streets and enjoy the sights and the people.
    Hope your week is filled with sparkle.

  17. Welcome back! Your blog post is so thoughtful... I love London very much. Really, the great, large and vibrant city!

  18. Mario, it's great to see you back at the keyboard. It was wonderful meeting you in London last month and I look forward to reading more of your insightful observations of this most beautiful city.

  19. Glad to have you back!

    You write beautifully!!!

    appy 20 years to your chosen and loved one city. i think life itself is "work in progress" if it is owned by positive spirit and you sound one with depth and profound positivity .
    Loved the description of voices you hear while your peddling!

  20. Congrats on your upcoming 20 year Anniversary in London, enjoyed your musings today.

  21. I have not been to London for a while, and when I was last there I found it interesting, as ever, but messier and scruffier than I remember. Somewhat grubby. I would like to go back soon. Maybe next year. Given the choice though I would head to Havana, never having been, but would travel with some trepidation.

  22. At some point I had to chuckle at the familiarity you have rightly expressed in your thoughts. Years often seem like days doesn't it? You find yourself in a new place and soon enough you are retracing steps down memory lane, and that's when it hits you -the time, the moments, the memories, all come rushing back and then there's a sense of nostalgia for the early days and excitement for the present day and future.

  23. for me here in the country is slow and steady, suits me fine.

  24. That was a real nice, thoughtful read.
    Back in 1999 we were close to move to Perth, Australia, but since I had no work-experience at all we had to delay it.
    Found a real good job here and whoosh, nearly two decades have passed and now I am too old to make it (the Aussies can choose, so many want to go).
    We visit our friends every couple of years and in some ways I´m even glad we stayed (for (mostly sad) family-reasons).

  25. Yes, beautifully expressed and I can so relate to rain conjuring up memories and emotions from long ago. 💟

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