Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Up North

So I am on Virgin Trains on my way back from spending all day doing store audits for work. What, you say, you went shopping as part of your job? Why yes, yes I did, and it's not as glamorous as it sounds. I recently picked up a new account at work for a major UK retailer and as part of our initial phases we have to audit the shopping experience. So I got on an 8am train and headed north to visit 8 stores with a team of colleagues who have been visiting stores since Monday. Sheesh.

The thing is, I really like going up north. I like the industrial cities, and the red brick architecture and abandoned smokestacks remind me of Baltimore and Philadelphia. I like how nice everyone is, how if you drop something they pick it up for you and how everyone knows each other. I don't really like how everyone drives everywhere - that part reminds me of Syracuse - and it can sometimes feel a bit forlorn how cities like Manchester and Birmingham are pinning their futures on retail. But they are also hotbeds of creative talent, with inspiring musicians and designers and artists all budding there. Oftentimes I think, maybe I'd like to live here.

It's often said that London isn't truly representative of England, and sometimes after I experience the charms of these old anchors of England's north I find myself agreeing. There is a solidity and permanence about Northerners and the counties they call home that makes London's oldest monuments seem like sketches drawn yesterday.

As a New Yorker and now a Londoner, I'm become accustomed the balancing out the tension of belonging to the big economic engine while wistfully wishing I could be part of the ideological heartland. It's a difficult terrain to navigate, as it sometimes feel there is never a happy medium between growth prosperity change and history tradition comfort. It is sometimes something, I think, you have to choose depending on the place in your life in which you find yourself. What is more important: the promise that a big global city holds, with all of its potential risks and rewards, or the reassurance of community and the comfort and stability it provides?

I don't know the answer: never have and it seems like I shan't for a good while more. But I do know that, like going to some of my old American haunts, going north has the same effect of making me nostalgic and contemplative.

Somehow, I think that's the point.

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