I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein
There is a rhapsody in the sounds of a city. But I sometimes look around and see my generation numbed to the rising crescendo around us. We walk with our headphones in, as if we were born with these little ear-buds attached, and wires hanging down to be connected to iphones. In part, I came to Oxford hoping to throw away all the distractions that numb me. I came to learn that Oxford’s symphony is the spinning whir of bicycles along the road and the steady rhythm of crew boat oars sinking into the water.
I went down to London to see what music a city that holds two millennia of dreams and lives may make. London is a great white metropolis at its center. There are no skyscrapers gashing the firmament like in New York, but instead a collection of white goliaths that look down patiently at our small, hurrying lives. These buildings are quiet giants that are too wise and too sleepy to talk to tourists anymore. Maybe long ago they kept up a conversation, but they’ve fallen into silence.
My bus drops us off beside the Marble Arch. Here I split off from my friends to explore the city alone. I walk along Oxford Street where a current of (alternating by group) lost, excited, loud, shopping tourists drifts around me. I am not here to buy anything myself, but only to be surrounded by these voices. There is the sing-song lilt and drop of Italians with heavily lined smoky eyes and high heeled boots. There are the skeptical tones of a group of French teenagers, smoking along the street corners and looking cooler at fifteen than most of the world can ever look. A mass of shoving and jostling Spanish middle schoolers look out, wide-eyed and ecstatic, as they push their way along the streets. It is like an exotic menagerie, with the cawing and roaring of the crowds fighting with the steady purr of red buses and English taxis for dominance.
Oxford Street is all brightly lit, famous shops where last year’s hit music comes blaring out the glass doors. I can see hunting packs of women going through the racks like a feeding frenzy. Husbands follow behind. At Oxford Circus, an intersection that holds a towering H&M, French Connection, etc. (a veritable haven of capitalism in one corner), I turn right onto Regent Street. It is a relief to get away. But later, it is the sounds of Oxford Street that I keep thinking of, maybe because of how much vibrancy is in the sound of all those lives coming together. When I wear headphones, when I look down instead of out, I miss the most beautiful elements of a city: its living, breathing, crying-to-be heard people. And underneath the buzz of today is the very real voice of all the past lingering in the air. Still awake, still alive in the silence of the old white stone.
always, truly, sincerely