Saturday, June 26, 2004

Two friends from Verona are coming to London in August to have some fun and do a language course whilst they’re here. On Thursday I went up to town to watch the England game (no comment) and found myself thinking about what they’d make of the place.

It’s hard - less than 48 hours later - to explain what felt different after nine months in a relatively tiny and quiet place; I’m from London, so it doesn’t take long to readjust. But neither of the girls coming to visit has ever been here before, and the pace, sounds and size of the place will shock them.

After a bit of window shopping I drop Underground. It’s half past six (and the England kick-off is just over an hour away) and rush hour is in full swing. People are rushing around; anybody not fluent in using the Underground stands out a mile, mainly because they stand still, thereby breaking the second Golden Rule of Using The Tube (The First Golden Rule of Using The Tube being: stand on the right when using the escalator, for fuck‘s sake). I get to the platform and a tube pulls up immediately. Seemingly hundreds of people get off, as many get on and just 30 seconds after arrival the train is moving again. In Italy trains often take minutes at stations as people leisurely get on and off or say goodbye to relatives and lovers while the train drives has a fag. Here, travelling around town feels much like being in a large crowd: you have little choice but to be carried along by the weight and momentum of the crowd, and on the Tube you have little choice but to move at the frenetic pace of the locals.

I reach my interchange station. As I change lines I realise that the distance I’m walking under the city would take you half way across Verona. How many miles of network are there under London? Then I hear a busker playing the theme tune to Pulp Fiction. The excellent acoustics of the Tube system do a good job bringing the sound down the tunnel to me: the place is more than alive, it's a city system in its own right.

I reach the pub and it’s packed. No bar in Verona was ever like this. And, watching the game, I notice how many non-white faces there are, and they‘re cheering England. Although I grew up in a very multicultural area I still, when I return from more homogonous places, notice the cosmopolitanism of the place. The only non-white faces in Verona are in Veronetta, the city’s ghetto, and they represent a sub-culture; there seemed little, if any, integration into mainstream society. Of course, Britain still has much to do, but living elsewhere makes one realise how much we have embraced multiculturalism. Another surprise waiting for my friends.

I have nothing to say about the football that hasn’t already been said.

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