Though I was in London 16 days, I feel as though I barely scratched the surface of it.
That’s in part because of the role I was there to play in Christian’s life, but mostly it’s because you have to live in London as Christian did to begin to grasp the magnitude of it and the way it draws people to itself.
I think Christian found the best metaphor to describe London.
He said that to him, it’s like a choral reef.
The more I thought about that image, the truer I found it to be. Choral reefs take ages to grow and to find an equilibrium. They are vast and varied, offering shelter to multiple living layers that learn to live in balance with each other and even to offer protection to each other.
London is an ancient city built layer upon layer, attracting life from the vast ocean of human populations. Life within it is multicoloured, stratified, fluid and fragile, and circulates through its Tube network.
Its most colourful spots are its gathering places, like Portobello Road, Borough Market, and all of its theatres and pubs.
Thank you Christian for showing me YOUR London. xoxoxoxo
(Images: Coral Reef and Portobello Road, London, UK)
With Christian’s year at LAMDA having drawn to a close, London opened up to us both, because now he could give me a proper introduction to the city that he’d been living in for a whole year.
Not the touristy London that one approaches with a checklist of monuments, historical sites and choice selfie backgrounds to capture on a smart phone, but Christian’s London, a far more personal, excentric, joyful, human, culturally rich, fluid, kinetic, spontaneous, complex and slightly cheaper (!!) city: one meant to be experienced.
Thanks to a hyper-efficient transit system that comes close to bending spacetime, every district of London feels within easy reach. With Christian, I also discovered that each destination is just an excuse for a long and lovely walk.
I also realized that London’s rain shuts on and off like a deranged sprinkler system, so if, for instance, your destination is the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, then you’re best to jump on the first day that promises three consecutive hours of dry weather.
First September 21st Facebook post:
Even the old stone outer wall at Kew Gardens is beautiful. If only we could all remain so solid as we age…
After tea with scones and clotted cream, we went directly to the Treetop Walkway, which swayed and shivered underfoot.
Second Facebook post:
If given the time though, I would have written an ode to the trees, because they were my favourites at Kew Gardens.
I saw strangely bent trees and a carbuncled ash, beautiful towering cedars that seemed to have stepped out of three-dimensional paintings. And then, there was the Lucombe Oak.
In Quebec (and other parts of Canada), most of the old oaks were cut down and used up.
When I found Kew Gardens’ giant oak, I just ran to it. I’d never seen anything like the gnarled, twisted, arthritic, jagged and beautiful old giant.
So many of the trees would feel right at home in Tolkien’s deep woods, in the company of Ents.
On Saint-Patrick’s Day, 2014, the phone rang at our house. It was Rodney Cottier, the Head of the Drama School at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (or LAMDA) on the line.
LAMDA is one of the finest drama schools in the world and a month earlier, my youngest son Christian had auditioned in Toronto for LAMDA’s Masters in Classical Acting program. Rodney’s call was to inform Christian that he had been accepted.
It isn’t always possible to know which of the choices, or which of the curves thrown at us, or which of the harrowing experiences, or successes, or events, or chance encounters will be seminal in our life, and I think that’s a good thing.
But on that day, Christian knew. We all knew…that his life had just jumped its tracks, that its course had been indelibly altered, that he was going to live an adventure the likes of which he had only daydreamed about.
And so began the saga of Christian’s year in London.
That story is his to tell.
Mine is about how the story ends. It ends with success and immense shared joy. It also ends with a trip to London, which I began on September 11th, because it was unimaginable that I should miss seeing my son on stage performing Shakespeare in the greatest theatrical city in the world; and that he be left to graduate alone, and to pack up and move back to Montreal alone.
I arrived at Heathrow on September 12th. What followed were 15 extraordinary days during which a lifetime of hopes and what-ifs and imaginings about the land of Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Stephen Fry and BBC drama were measured against the reality of Great Britain’s capital, and found to be totally up to snuff.
What I also realized during my time across the pond is that while Christian was at LAMDA, his father, brothers and I were in London with him for a part of every day: with every Skype and Facetime session, with every Facebook post and Message, every story, every experience he shared with us, every problem, every fever or cough.
This is the way we love each other. Our London was discovered vicariously, but it had its own reality.
Here begins my LONDON JOURNAL. Bon voyage!
September 11th, 2015
Facebook post from the airport:
Okay! I made it through airport security and here I am at gate 59.
A year ago, I had just walked Christian to his security check point.
There was such strong emotion on that day; such an acute feeling of separation, anticipation and apprehension…in us both! Finally, Christian disappeared behind the wall of security and what was left was the most painful happiness I have ever known.
Now, I go to see who he has become and what he has accomplished in London, at LAMDA which, for me, still feels more like fiction than fact.
“The truth is life is full of joy and full of great sorrow, but you can’t have one without the other. “
Andre Dubus III