Rikki Li is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
This week, Rikki tells us about her first week in London, and how the city really comes alive when the lights die down.
- - -
It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been in London for more than a week. Each day feels simultaneously fleeting and endless, and I find myself coming home every day exhausted. It’s a good exhaustion though, one that I haven’t felt in a long time—like the satisfying, full-body ache you feel after a particularly intense workout.
One thing I’ve grown particularly fond of already is London’s city scene after sunset. These days, it gets dark pretty early (usually around 4:30 pm to 5:00 pm), which means that I get to walk home from classes right when rush hour and sundown coalesce—and watch the city come to life.
I’ve always found a certain appeal to city life in the evening, though I can’t explain why. I suppose I could trace this fondness back to a childhood memory, or rather, a collection of memories. During the summer, my family and I would sometimes go on day trips to cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., or New York. We’d leave home early in the morning and spend the whole day on various excursions, walking and walking until the last of suburbia had been shaken from our bodies. It wasn’t until it started getting dark that we’d finally slow down, wandering back to our car after eating too much at a Chinese restaurant. Somehow, the air would always smell faintly of sweet woodsmoke and slow cooking meat after sunset, probably from the various restaurants that we’d pass by on the streets, now working in full swing. More often than not, we’d pass a gelato parlor before reaching our car, and we’d sit on the benches outside, sucking on colorful plastic spoons and listening to the whirring twilight around us—the gentle murmur of conversation, the slow crawl of traffic, the twinkle of cutlery on glass.
While London is certainly different from my memories of those American cities, that core nostalgia is still there, just expressed in different ways. For example, I noticed that while the Tube is usually a quiet spectacle (even during the morning rush), the evening rush is much different. People talk to each other more and are unafraid to raise their voice, to gesture with their hands, to spill into each other's spaces. There is still an overall sense of politeness and privacy, but it’s clear that everyone is starting to unravel a little, peeling back the pristine layers they had put on in the morning. It’s like a collective shiver, a transition into something more raw and erratic and bright.
The other night, I was invited by my internship supervisor Kirsty Allison to attend her panel, "Hearts vs. Minds", in Shoreditch, where a group of individuals (all of whom had some prominent connection to the music industry) gathered to discuss the effect of technology on modern music. The panel was more intimate than I had expected, with only a handful of people sitting in a loose circle on the top floor of the Hotel M by Montecalm, sipping from wineglasses and illuminated by London’s glittering skyline. The discussion was casual, warm, and intelligent, and raised some really interesting points about music and art in general; how art, perhaps, is just the human attempt at telepathy, to connect across the void through whatever medium we choose.
I wish I could tell you that I understood a majority of the discourse I heard last night, but I’ll admit that I was pretty lost during most of the conversation. It was less the content of the discussion that I enjoyed and more the phenomenon itself. To have been a part of of the conversation, even as an outsider to the subject. To have reveled in listening to others talk about something they were (and are) passionate about, in an atmosphere that was paradoxically subtle and teeming all at once, just like London’s streets at night. It got me thinking about connectivity and entropy: how we start the day wrapped up in a state of brisk efficiency, but then end up with something messier, shedding our coats and bumping shoulders, sinking into our chairs with a looseness in our bones. The city skyline flickers to life outside, colors blurring, and we glow.
Rikki's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.