Entry #5: Kings Cross
Kings Cross. Or is it St. Pancras?
The intersection of these two railway stations is confusing for everyone, but essentially what you need to know is that one station is for national trains and the other for international voyages. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think of Harry Potter running into a wall and magically disappearing. That’s the place.
Prompted by the Industrial Era, this rural area was transformed into a network transporting grain, milk, and coal. In 1939, the railways were used to carry troops and weapons from around the country to ports. In 1961, beer was stored in the undercroft of St. Pancras. In the summer of 1988, Kings Cross was the epicenter for rave culture as nearby warehouses filled with acid-induced youth. And 1996 marked the beginning of the Channel Tunnel construction, linking England to the rest of Europe. Today, St. Pancras is the ninth busiest train station in Great Britain with Kings Cross coming in tenth. Waterloo ranks as number one.
From pools of mud to complex metal structures, this hub is a wonderful collision between history and modernity.
What I love most is The Meeting Place by Paul Day. As you return to London from say, Paris or Brussels and step off Platform 5, you’ll walk out to see a massive nine-meter statue of a man and woman embracing, their foreheads lightly touching. A giant clock looms above them. Though the piece received much criticism from other artists, describing it as being too sentimental and kitsch, the site was classed as ‘The World’s Most Romantic Spot’ by Lonely Planet in 2011.
Unfortunately, in 2018, Tracey Emin thought it would be a great idea to put the words: I want my time with you. Under the statue. In bright neon pink. Italicized. If the lovers were too sentimental then, their love was definitely vomit-worthy now.
In truth, if there are to be any words underneath such a poignant image, they should be: and time stops. Because that’s what love feels like.
Maybe it’s because the lovers are solidified and stuck with nowhere to go, but I am in awe of them. Unlike the real-life humans who embrace and slobber all over each other outside the Departures gate.
We all know what it’s like arriving to another country, especially to your home country, with no one waiting for you. It’s a real pinch to the heart. At first, you arrive and think nothing of it. You saunter out planning your journey ahead when suddenly you look up and are greeted by a line of couples. In front of the exit, at the platform, inside the tube, kissing and hugging each step of the way. Their relief in being reunited and excitement for the moments ahead (you know, dinner and sex) are transparent. Their love is infectious, but you are on antibiotics.
Full disclosure: I have always wanted to be surprised from a trip by an old flame with a big fire in their heart. When you are knee-deep in unrequited love, spontaneous declarations are the pacifier. Further disclosure: I am recovering from a break-up.
On that note, cue Your Love by Haerts.
Time stops when you are high on the frenzy of love. I mean, the clock is still ticking, but you feel infinite. Like that statue. Frozen. In love. Forever. The clamor of this world ceases to exist.
Could it be then that the root of my envy towards happy couples was because, upon my arrival to another country, I was being faced with the brutal truth that I wasn’t arriving for myself? When was the last time you traveled anywhere, for yourself? And what point in your life, do you silence the clamor of this world, at what point do you depart from the world entirely?
The brief for creating The Meeting Place was to build something romantic and democratic, a piece of work as iconic as the Statue of Liberty. Day was interested in the different types of meetings, in particular the notion of being together after time apart. So naturally, a couple enthralled is the perfect beacon of hope.
And though the couple dominates the structure, underneath and encircling them are other figures. There is a man sat complacently at the edge of his seat waiting for his train, he is wearing sandals and leans his chin against his hand. Beside him is an older man sleeping on his shoulder, snoring, and on the other side, a woman raising her leg as a man leans in to kiss her and lifts her skirt. There is also a mother dragging her child through the crowd in the train station and a little boy who waves goodbye to his father boarding the train. Day provides a sense of energy and lingers in it, while probing at the underlying uncertainty which all separation involves, "a suspended moment when one wonders is this forever?”
According to UK’s leading Dating Expert, Hayley Quinn, the way we go about love is a bit weird. “You get to go home every night and you get to put your head on the pillow, and you don't have to think about your needs, your wants, your past and actually all the stuff that's really, probably, stopping you from becoming happy.”
I admit I was ready to uproot my life from London as soon as my relationship fell apart. But to what end?
For me, simply moving here at all was an act of faith. I had no clue why I was doing it.
At first, I was fascinated by London’s energy. Then, I became critical of it. Soon, I was picking it apart, constantly battling with a need to belong. It was like going through a 12 step program, a dysfunctional relationship with a city, and though I have yet to experience a spiritual awakening in London, at least now, I accept my place in it. A year ago I would arrive at St. Pancras and think: goodness, what am I and this backpacking hippie riding on the train next to me doing in this city? Now, I walk by Kings Cross and think: we’re all stuck here and it’s wonderful.
Mayte flew in from Mexico with a fierce desire to be part of the madness that is London. During her first year here, she struggled to find a footing and would often visit Kings Cross. Whenever she felt low, she’d grab lunch and go people watching. She describes this experience as something that made her feel like she ‘made it’ or was going to soon anyway. Watching other people, busy people, hurrying to places and having real end-point destinations feels good. Even if you are not physically going anywhere in your own life, the potential to move forward and grow is exciting.
Big, small, tall, short! A group of friends, a loud family, a couple holding hands, a lone walker with a professional camera, two women clearly trying to shake off a hot flash from early menopause and drinking beer in the shade, two young girls laughing and taking a selfie next to an Underground sign, an old man schlepping his wife’s luggage to get a cab…you see, when you’re living in London, you forget how many people would do anything just to visit the city itself.
On average, 30 million tourists visit London every year. With the recent political atmosphere, the number of visitors to the UK has declined by 3% from 39.2 million in 2017 and 37.9 million in 2018. Though it’s predicted to return to equilibrium by the end of this year, with May’s tearful resignation and parallels being made between Johnson and Trump, I remain doubtful. Nevertheless, London is a city enriched by diversity and feeds off this ethos and because of it; we arrive and depart from each other’s lives with such speed.
We are always running, enveloped in all that surrounds us with the small hope that if we just keep on running, our wave of fulfillment will come. What astonishes me most is how almost everyone in one way or another is looking for that rush – that sense of relief you get when you’re no longer lonely in a crowded room. It’s no wonder then that we dive right into forgetting the details of ourselves to become part of something else. Nobody wants to be suspended in time.
This deep attachment to almost anything (but yourself) ironically becomes a good excuse to not deal with the nitty-gritty. Whether it’s work, your partner, or a deep dedication to family and friends, there’s got to be some point where you sit down with yourself and ask: to what extent might this merely be a distraction?
In April, I decided to take a trip to Costa Rica back. It was a rather impulsive ticket purchase and I wasn’t really in the position to take time off work, but London was becoming suffocating – everything was going nowhere. I told my parents a week before traveling and didn’t think much about the journey before going.
When I found myself in the plane, looking out the window, I didn’t feel nervous. The flight attendant announced take-off and the plane began to move. Then it hit me. Like a tidal wave.
As the plane started to ascent, my heart started to drop. I cried with relief. For this decision to leave London, even if it was only for a holiday, was my decision alone. Friends, family, or a partner, did not influence me. This is what freedom felt like.
Soon after, I realized that I was altogether wrong. I felt freedom, from a brief moment, and then I came back ten days later with the same problems waiting for me at my doorstep.
We can run from family, we can run from friends, we can run from romance, but we can never outrun ourselves – even if it’s a beautiful destination in Central America. Ever since, I have grown a real hunger to know more about myself and came to the realization that it’s important to always be searching for yourself. Regardless of what country you are in, what line of work you do, or what romantic adventure you embark on.
Or as Quinn expands, “When we deal with ourselves, and we’re not running away from it, when you don’t have anything to prove anymore, in order to feel alive, in order to feel you exist, when you can just be, I kind of think, that’s real love.”
Staying in London is a conscious decision taken almost daily. If you too moved to London as an act of faith, you’ll know what I mean. London is not particularly romantic; it’s a bit manic and deeply isolating. Romanticizing Where I Live is more than a project to “romanticize” London; it’s an invitation to understanding why we chose and stay in it.
Though I can’t say I look forward to the row of couples greeting me at the next Terminal I go through, it would be wrong to dismiss the abundant love that exists here. After all, if 30 million people come to visit every single year, isn’t there something here worth fighting for?