I have just arrived in London after a great weekend in Lisbon. Despite being in meetings for the majority of the time I was in the city, I did get the chance to walk around, soak in the sun and the sights, and enjoy the over-thirty-degree weather that let me forget for a few short days that winter was on its way. This morning, as I got up and got ready to leave for the airport, the temperature had dropped, the sky was gray, and little droplets of rain were forming on my hotel room window. Lisbon was telling me that it was time to leave, time to head back to London.
So I spent a good chunk of the day in the airport and in airplanes, and arrived here in the Queen’s city a few hours ago. I’ll be here for about a week before I head back out to Toronto.
I took the photo above while I was in London a few months ago, standing in Leicester Square, thinking about the past twenty-five years of my life. (I do a lot of retrospection when I’m away on business.) As most of you know, I was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1982, and since then have called several cities my home: New York, London, Victoria, Washington DC, and of course Toronto. People often ask me which city I truly call home, and while I may answer “Toronto” most of the time, it is only because it is difficult for me to explain that home for me is a state of mind rather than a physical location. Toronto (a city I truly love) is a springboard for me — a place from where all my travels begin — but my home rests in a consciousness of the urban environment: home is not a city for me, but is instead the concept of the city itself.
Case in point: I arrived in Lisbon on Friday evening and was already giving directions to taxi drivers (in a city I had never visited before in a language I did not speak) that same night. On my first ever visit to Montreal, I strayed from the tour group to spend the day in cafes in the old town and then met up with the group without incident later in the afternoon. In Hong Kong, I had found free lodging in the apartment of a previously-unknown local within 25 minutes of arriving at the airport.
All this to say that I am at ease in the city; in the essence of the true flâneur, I feel at once intrigued and at peace surrounded by tall buildings, large crowds, sprawling roadways, and urban malaise. While I do enjoy the periodic trip into nature — my years in Scouting has instilled in my ethos a necessity to escape into wooden and leafy obscurity with relative frequency — it is when I am in the city (the larger and busier, the better) when I am in my element.
So as I stood near the plaque in Leicester Square that reminded me that I was 7495km away from the city that I first called home, I realized that I hadn’t traveled as far as those numbers indicated. Instead, there I was, twenty-five years later, standing in the exact same spot where my life had began: in the middle of a city, the middle of the city, the middle of horns blaring and investors trading and panhandlers begging and skyscrapers towering, the middle of a place that, in my glass-and-concrete-and-stone-encased heart, still felt like home.