Monday, January 5, 2009

Creatures of Habit

There was a time when I used to walk home in the evening past Big Ben, crossing Westminster Bridge and then walking by the river until I reached the London Eye. My flat was right behind it, in the white building known, with a distinctive lack of imaginative flair, as the White House. Even though my windows overlooked not the river but the roundabout at Waterloo and the IMAX cinema, the White House had a roof terrace whose incredible, flower-edged balcony stretched from the National Theatre to the London Eye, and then towards Big Ben itself, poised at the other end of the river like a golden pencil stuck inside a golden hedgehog cake.

Now I am thinking about it, I can feel myself smile a little, my head slowly nodding in recollection of one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the chance to live in. Yet, when I did, not once did I look up to Big Ben as I was passing in the evening and not once do I recall listening to his chimes on the hour. But it must have chimed, right? It always does. When I cross Albert Square in town on the hour, I surprise myself thinking that it almost sounds like Big Ben, except I do not quite remember what Big Ben sounded like in real life.

As for the roof terrace, I only stopped there once, taking in the passers-by below, the boats on the Thames and the cool air of June 2001. Today, as I spotted dad taking pics of Exchange Square, I reflected upon the tragic influence that habit has on our lives. It has a tendency to drop a veil of ingratitude in front of our eyes, so that we eventually do not see past the end of our noses any longer. And do you know something? I haven’t got a picture of the view from my flat at Waterloo, nor of the very back of the Eye or of Big Ben from the roof of the building. No, there always was time to take that picture, I’ll take it tomorrow. Except tomorrow never came.

I am entirely certain that my great passion, and current longing, for Chicago is partly exacerbated by a reel of pictures with steely buildings upon a cobalt blue sky. I should have taken pics in London while I lived there; I should have started taking pics of Manchester many years ago and now I would be able to look back at how it has evolved since my first foray in 1996. And so my resolution for 2009 is to start taking pics of places and things I see all the time, for through the camera lens we step into out of body experiences that allow us to recall and enjoy the past in ways that memory alone cannot capture nor romanticise.

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