Philadelphia Metropolis

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Tale of Two Cities

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By Kat Richter

Exactly one year ago, I dragged the soggy remains of my life in London to the Ravenscourt Park tube station, made my way to Acton Town and caught a Piccadilly Line train bound for Heathrow Terminal 5.

In truth, it was my boyfriend who did most of the dragging and for the sake of my impending flight to Philadelphia, he was attempting to keep both me and my overstuffed suitcases from falling apart.

Most people look forward to going home after a year and a half abroad.  Home is normal food, old friends, your own bed, currency that makes sense, jokes in which you actually get the punch line and standard units of measurement (try following a recipe that calls for "125g light muscovado sugar" and "250ml double cream" and you'll understand what I'm talking about).  Having spent the better part of my adult life either in Europe or wishing I was in Europe, however, I was not "most people." london05_skyline.jpg

That's not to say that I wasn't anxious to see my family, or that I didn't enjoy the year I spent in Philadelphia between college and grad school, because I did--especially Center City Sips and Friday nights at the Art Museum.

Nor is that to say that I haven't enjoyed my most recent year in Philadelphia-- I've been dating my way through nearly every Stephen Starr restaurant the city has to offer and have finally come to understand the rather mysterious process that comprises the acquisition of SEPTA tokens.

But I had fallen in love during my time abroad, not necessarily with the boy who was, 12 months ago, seated beside me on the tube, but with London, the city that had become my home over the year and a half I was there..

 "If Obama doesn't win the election," I regularly threatened my parents, "I'm never coming home." 

But Obama did win, I completed my MA and my student visa eventually ran out.  It didn't matter that I finished at the top of my class, that I'd fallen in love with the jazz clubs of Soho or that I'd learned to navigate the Underground as though I'd been born with an English accent.  My time was up and I had to go.

Given my penchant for drama at the best of times, I arrived at Heathrow with trails of mascara already streaming down my face. 

"You'll be back soon," my boyfriend whispered, steering me towards the security check point.

"I know," I whispered back, blowing my nose for the sixth time, but I wasn't so sure.  I had come to regard Piccadilly Circus as my playground and I couldn't imagine that Center City would ever measure up. 

But it's been a year now. My London boyfriend is not my ex-boyfriend. I've since landed a job I love and, in an effort to embrace my new surroundings, I've dated 19 of Philadelphia's most eligible bachelors.  Even though I've already been back to London several times, I'm falling in love again-- not with anyone in particular but with the City of Brotherly Love.

I still carry my Barclay's Debit Card around in my wallet like some broken hearted lover clinging to the material remains of her past affairs but I no longer feel like I'm "cheating" on London just because the Philadelphia skyline--and the slightly-less-than-sober Mummer's practicing their routines beneath I-95-- now brings a smile to my face. 

It's a strange business, living with one foot in the US and one in the UK.  It's especially strange when you attempt to board the SEPTA bus from the wrong side of the street only to discover there's no door because we drive on the right here in America.  But I'm learning to be a Yank again: bus drivers sit on the left hand side of the bus so you board on the right, Happy Hour starts at 5:00 so you'd better head over to Old City right after work and, last but not least, the heirloom tomatoes at the Headhouse Farmers Market taste much better than they look.

I still get nostalgic every time I hear and English accent but after a year of living my very own initially-reluctant tale of two cities, I have finally concluded that polygamy, so far as metropolises are concerned, is perfectly acceptable.

 

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