LONDON CALLING

Re-creating European cities

I went inside for coffee, noting a Chinese takeout place that reminded me, perhaps oddly, of a Turkish kebab stand in Leicester Square. Now all of the food court began to strike me as an aristocratic parody of the cheap little places I used to patronize in London. It was when I noted a shoeshine booth, where you can get your shoes squeaky clean for $4, that I realized that I really was in a kind of London—all the weird, random things I love about London presented as part of a single package.

I paid $1.50 for the coffee and stepped outside again. The homeless man was still there, still staring at the pond. I pulled up a chair at the pond's other end. It was near 10 o'clock, and other people had filtered into the mall. I watched two women—one Latina, one Anglo—wander by with two small blond children. The Latino woman seemed to be the nanny, the other the mother. I noted the way in which the kids hovered close to the nanny and the sharp, harsh voice the mother used when addressing them. I watched a couple of Newport Beach jocks wander by, talking boisterously about something I couldn't quite make out. Everyone who wandered past stopped to look at the pond. In fact, within moments there were a dozen of us, all watching silently as the fish swam tranquilly back and forth, back and forth—happy in their small, safe world, convinced they have all the space they'll ever need.

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