cities & views

Bee's picture
Fri, 04/08/2011 - 21:00 -- Bee

London is a city largely without a view: there are very few hills, fewer tall buildings for the wandering public to ascend, and the river is bereft of commuter traffic.

For a person like me, who grew up on a peninsula between two mountain ranges, hiking up and down steep hills for even the smallest routine chores, using ferry boats as regular transportation, this is rather odd.

When you go walking around this city the main experience is not of vista and distance but instead of surprises - alleys and boulevards making sharp turns toward unexpected delights. True fact: if you are not sure of your route, even St. Paul's Cathedral can sneak up on a person. One moment you are in shadow, looking at store windows and puddles of urine, and the next! Standing in front of the grand facade.

It is possible of course to climb to the top of St. Paul's, the Monument, and a few other old buildings. But unlike Berlin, NYC, Houston, Seattle, there is no easy way to gain access to one of the skyscrapers if you don't work there already. There are no swift elevator rides into the sky.

But earlier this week a consortium of charities arranged extremely limited access to the BT Tower - closed since the early 80's due to risk of terrorism - and I was able to snaffle two tickets.

In order to enter the building you have to provide a passport and endure security controls more intense than certain international border crossings. Then an attended elevator ride whisks you up so fast your ears pop as an odometer on the wall informs of the reckless pace and height of the trip.

What did I see when the doors opened and I walked out, blinking in the sunlight? Xtina, of course. We never make appointments to see each other, rarely discussed our plans even when I lived in her house, mainly because we often end up in the same place at the same time. If I buy tickets for an event, there is literally a fifty percent probability that she has independently purchased a ticket not only for the same time but the same row. She is so mysterious.

It was good that she was there, because she is one of the only friends who can tolerate my disgruntled rants about cancer charities. Not that I disagree with their premise; I was conditioned to expect treats in exchange for trauma and that instinct has served me well. But my major illness happened at a historic moment when no foundation funding was available, so I feel slightly cheated. Where is my goodie bag? To summarise: I have "issues." Xtina just laughed at me and said "Your prize is you get to be alive."

True! I also get to live in London, and on that particular day see the most amazing view, more precious because it is so rare. Xtina and Kevin departed after awhile but Byron and I lingered for hours, staring down at the city, pointing out landmarks to each other.

The miles I walk every day take on a new meaning when viewed from above.