What is it about cities that help shape us? What is it about the streets and the skylines that give us a sense of who we are?
I remember so well the moment I knew I had to make London my home. It was 2004 and I was sent to London by my former boss for a three month secondment. I had been living in Atlanta, Georgia for about 3 years and was eager to do some travelling for work. Then an opportunity came to anchor and report from the London office for three months and I jumped at that chance. I was single, hungry for more professional exposure and experiences, and being sent to London was a dream come true.
I remember landing at Heathrow airport early Sunday morning in March 2004 to begin my assignment. The skies were grey, the roads were quiet as it was just after dawn, and I felt I had come home. Back then, I didn't know why I felt so connected to the city, but I knew it was where I was meant to be.
I slipped into a regular routine at work and the office felt like I had been there for years. Colleagues quickly became close friends. On weekends I would explore this amazing city, walking from my little flat above the bureau on Great Marlborough Street (across from the Liberty department store where I wiled away many, many hours) to St. Paul's Cathedral, to Southbank, and then just meander along the Thames with a coffee in hand and my heart just bursting as I looked out towards the Houses of Parliament. I couldn't believe I was there. When my assignment was coming to an end, I asked my boss to consider a permanent transfer which, to her credit, she made happen. If I ever needed a time or an example of really knowing, instinctively in my heart and gut, that this was the right move, I can refer back to how I felt that moment when I was told my transfer was confirmed. I had felt it was right with every fibre of my being. That's what gave me the courage to ask for the move in the first place. It would be one of the earliest examples of me not being afraid to ask for what I want.
London, with all its history, its architecture, its gritty streets, its elegant corridor of buildings along Regent St., the bustle of Oxford Circus, the edginess of Soho, the sounds and smells of Borough, Spitalfields, and Camden markets, the pubs, and the parks, all of it felt like it was part of me, coursing through my veins almost melting me into the heart of this city. I was reminded of this when I read an article about the change of a London landmark. Billingsgate fish market has been a fixture in the city for centuries and at one point was the largest fish market in the world. That is all about to change with an expected move away from the city to make room for luxury housing. It made me think about the connections we have with the cities that mean something to us, why we have that bond in the first place, and what happens when we and the cities in which we live evolve.
For me, London was home even before it became home. It was where I discovered myself. It was where I grew up. I landed a naive young woman who had just come out of her family's shell after living in Toronto and then briefly in Atlanta. It was in London where I became who I was meant to be. In the decade that I lived there, I got to know what made me me. I got to know myself, my flaws, my baggage, my strengths, and what I really wanted in my life. London is where I met my present and my future in my husband, and it was where I had some of the best times of my life being the happiest and freest version of a woman who had no worries about needing to be a certain kind of person in order to satisfy a cultural and familial expectation. And I had a future waiting to be explored.
With all of London's famous landmarks at my doorstep, knowing they were there for me any time I needed to see them, it was a representation of all that was possible in my life, a representation of being able to make things happen for me. I think that's why I have such an affinity for architects and designers, city planners and urban landscapers who recognise the importance that where we dwell shapes our lives. It has the power to inspire and empower us.
I have since moved away from London, but not too far. And while I love where we live now as it is right for who I am today, London will always be that place in my heart where I can remind myself of that young woman who came, saw, and conquered her fears to realise her dreams.
Before I go, I would like to introduce you to my new podcast. It has been something that I had been contemplating for a while. I finally called up all the courage I had to publish my first episode which you will find online. The first series of The Citrine Room Podcast is called Lost & Found. Do go to The Citrine Room's homepage and have a listen. It's also available on iTunes.