It only seemed fitting that after visiting the enchanted studio where the Harry Potter books were transfigured into films, I would dedicate my next blog post to magic.
But the magic to which I am referring is not, as some might expect from me, the magic of hexes and jinxes, of Quidditch and Quodpot (the most popular wizarding game in the United States. See Kennilworthy Whisp, Quidditch Through the Ages, Chapter 8).
This magic does not come with flying sparks and exploding leather balls. Granted, it does come with the occasional ability to defy gravity, as these levitating Covent Garden-dwellers demonstrate.
It is the magic infused in acrid pipe exhaust belched out of double-decker buses and the curried notes of fragrant Indian street fare; the same magic that rings with the pounding of feet on pavement, that stings and smarts with the chilly blast of air channelled along the river. It is the magic embedded in and intertwined with all things tangible and intangible in this sublime city.
One of my favourite quotations is from a story by Britain’s own Roald Dahl.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Indeed, there is a magic to the City of London that the keen observer may find – or, more accurately in my case, the young woman from the other side of the pond with an at-best-average sense of direction may stumble upon. It unlocks the door to the heart of the city, a spellbinding world that lies beyond the banal.
Each structure, all the way from the sky-grazing mansion down to the humble cottage, has a unique character. In central London, the juxtaposition of historical grandeur and modern sophistication is particularly striking. There, the derelict ruins of a once palatial edifice are as likely to border an ordinary flat as they are to appear adjacent to an old Irish pub.
For all the sunshine I may have enjoyed during my first week in London, this is the city where it rarely stops raining, where water maintains a semi-permanent presence in dripping off roofs, running in rivulets through cracks in the pavement, and permeating every molecule of air. The steel-grey River Thames, the Serpentine as true and blue as denim, the Hampstead Ponds melting into crooked trees in a fusion of blue and green. I am learning to soak it all in.
London is like a jigsaw puzzle; each person and neighbourhood is a puzzle piece that refuses to be identical to the next, but somehow merges into something of profound beauty. There is something quite satisfying about being able to nip underground seconds away from the Queen’s residence and emerge minutes later in a completely different world – frenetic Leicester Square, eccentric Camden Town, posh Wimbledon. From orderly to eccentric, medieval to modern, this city virtually has it all.
Of course, there are the Londoners themselves, a mix of boorish and cosmopolitan and everything in between. And then there are the tourists, who carry with them massive cameras and a certain air of discombobulation. But there are also these people. Most of them are not from here, but whether they are visiting for only a handful of days or months and months, they help to make London feel utterly magical.
E. Pan, enraptured