My wonderful mother has been constantly showering my sister and myself with little gifts ever since we arrived here. Just little things, like new stockings, or new make-up; luxuries neither of us can afford since leaving home.
Yesterday she presented me with a little red book she picked up at an Oxfam: A first edition, signed copy of A Book About Books, by Robert Blatchford. She knows how much I love used books- the feel of them, the smell, the falling-out pages, and if you're very lucky- marginalia by previous owners.
I was trying to read some of it yesterday, but written in 1903 by someone who educated themselves by reading Charles Dickens, it was slow going. Still, this passage jumped out at me "as if it was written in my soul, from me to you" (Tangled Up in Blue, Bob Dylan) :
"How London grows upon one! At first the endless whirl, the cruel rush and greedy hurry of it, with all the misery, vulgarity, snobbery, and vanity of the crowd, the tragedies of its dismal streets, the poverty and ignorance of the workers, and the monotonous ugliness of their surroundings, sicken and dismay you. The pain and the shame of it are more than you can bear. You want to get away- away to the cool beaches and unsullied seas, or to the clean and quiet streets and the clean and quiet life of some sleepy old market town.
But, imperceptibly, London tightens its grip upon you. The mysterious and awful magnetism of the crowd hold you. You mix with the unnumbered, nameless millions until the swirling tides and feverish currents of the great human sea seem to carry you away."
(Robert Blatchford, A Book About Books)
Having gone to London this weekend for the first time since I was 17, I know just what he was talking about. And, really, replace "London" with the name of any major city- Rome, Athens, Paris, Istanbul, Cairo, York the Saturday before Christmas, haha- and it feels the same.