When I arrived in London that November morning, the 2003 Bush & Blair protest was well underway. I quickly managed to get to my London Bridge hostel and drop off my backpack to join the march, already at Waterloo Bridge. There were tens of thousands of people and they were all chanting and carrying banners and signs. There were several amusing effigies and there was a palpable buzz in the atmosphere. Because I was on my own, I wanted to be sure to find others to march with for safety. I managed to find the Democrats Abroad banner and joined in with them. A young American girl of around 25 came up to me and said hello. She was from Boston. We chatted and I told her why I was there. She grabbed my arm and led me over to her British friends and introduced me. I marched with my new friends well into the evening, singing and carrying on.
That evening, when we were all exhausted and cold, we made our way into a pub in Covent Garden for a couple of pints. I had fallen in love with London by that point. It was such a stark contrast to the old world of Florence with its new steel and glass buildings and rapid metro system. But it was also interspersed with ancient buildings that captured your imagination and made you think of another world. It was a 21st century city with the most exciting mix of history and opportunity. Over a pint, I discovered that my new friends were all postgraduates studying at University College London. I had never before heard that British masters degrees were only 12 months long, and my mind drifted as I imagined myself as an international student in London.
As we parted ways, my new friends invited me to a party they were going to the next night. Having no other plans, I accepted. I spent the next day wandering around the city, soaking up the atmosphere and trying to occupy myself without spending too much money. I spent several hours in the many museums of London, which had free admission, seeing as much as I possibly could.
That evening, I agreed to meet my friends in South London at a junction called Elephant and Castle - which is a much less captivating place than the name suggests. I waited at the agreed bus stop for my friends, where we would all travel together on another bus to Greenwich for the party. When my friends arrived I noticed they had brought someone else with them. We were introduced. He had just moved to London that weekend and unpacking had prevented him from making it to the protest the day before. He was tall and very handsome and had a charismatic yet impudent nature about him. As we boarded the bus to Greenwich we started chatting. He was intrigued to meet a cute blonde American. I asked him what his hobbies were (surfing, skiing, mountain biking) and after I said they were mine too, I pretended to be an expert at all of them. We had the same taste in music and films. After that point in the evening, we didn’t take our eyes off each other.
Once we arrived at the bar in Greenwich where the party was, we had established a non verbal mutual interest in each other. Or in other words, we were seriously flirting. Due to a lack of English speaking television channels in my Italian apartment, I had been watching way too much Euro MTV. The music at the party was very ‘Euro trash’ and I insisted on dancing to the Darkness’s ‘I believe in a thing called love’. He begrudgingly obliged me and ended up having more fun than he thought he would have. When we collapsed onto a nearby bench after about an hour of dancing like fools, he slid close to me. He looked at me earnestly, and whispered in my ear “would it be alright to kiss you?” I was a total sucker for that smooth English charm, and I nodded.
And that was how Husband and I met. I tease Husband now and tell him that had he moved to London a day earlier, he could have met me at the protest. Then, when people ask us ‘how did you two meet’ we wouldn’t have to say on a bus in Elephant and Castle!
Our relationship struggled to get off the ground at first, due to not living in the same city, and after that brief encounter we agreed to try and keep in touch, half thinking that we’d never hear from each other again. I somehow scraped together enough money to return to London for one more weekend before my semester in Italy finally ended. I flew back to London and he agreed to let me stay at his place. That was when we had our first official date. He was a proud British lad and wanted to showcase the best of his country. Naturally, he took me to the British museum. I was thrilled to be dating a boy who was interested in art and culture, so I couldn’t have been more pleased. Afterwards we had dinner in Chinatown followed by a film in Leicester Square where we saw ‘Master and Commander’. It was a wonderful day and a perfect first date. That night was the first night we spent together*, and we stayed up half the night telling each other all about our dreams and ambitions.
“You are so lucky to have grown up in Europe - you’ve seen and done so many of the things I want to do. I would love to see places like Vienna and Prague: the little churches with their chamber music concerts and those small quaint galleries with the most amazing collections of turn of the century European art. Oh, and Paris. Oh I would love to see Paris.” I gushed.
“Oui, ça peut être arrangé. J'ai visité Paris des douzaines de temps dans ma vie, je peux vous prendre si vous souhaitez.” He said in French.
“Oh my god – you speak French? What did you say?” I replied in total disbelief.
“I said that I can take you to Paris if you wish, I know the city well. My mother was born in Paris and I have family there. I spent most of my childhood summers in Paris and in the French countryside.”
“Wow, that is amazing” I stammered, my eyes growing wider at the realisation that this man - who I just so happened to meet, who was interested in culture, literature, music, science and art - was unlike any other man I had ever met before. He definitely put most of the American boys I had dated to shame!
The rest of the weekend went by too quickly. This happened to be my last weekend in Europe, and now it was over. I was in love with him already and I was utterly heartbroken at the thought of having to go all the way back to the USA to complete my undergraduate degree. As Monday morning was breaking, he came with me to the airport for my early morning flight: first back to Italy to collect my things and then I would continue on to New York. The journey to the airport was torture as we felt the few precious minutes we had left slipping away from us. As we said our goodbyes at the departures lounge, I began to cry.
“Don’t worry” He said as he drew me towards him for a goodbye kiss. “We will see each other again. I know it.”
And with that, I walked toward the security gates, turned, and waved goodbye.
*I realise that this blog is entitled ‘The Baby Plan’ and certain physical acts are required; but my parents, sibblings and grandparents read this, so all allusions to sex will be implicit. Feel free to use your imiginations.
Leila Lacrosse http://leilalacrosse.livejournal.com/
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