I was 5 when we moved to London. I took to it immediately. I loved the city, the shops, Kensington Gardens. I had a small wooden sailboat I would bring to Round Pond. I loved the uniforms at Francis Holland School for Girls, learning French, studying ballet at the Royal Academy.
I picked up the accent fast, not wanting to stick out as the American kid.
My father was the American News Editor for the Christian Science Monitor. The choice had been Moscow or London, and my mother, already going through a rough emotional stretch, nixed the overwhelm of a complete cultural and linguistic new beginning. London felt at least somewhat familiar.
In almost every picture of me from that time, I look happy, smug even. My knees are battered - I used to love climbing around walls and church gates, construction plots and courtyards in the neighborhood. In a birthday party picture my black socks are smooshed down around my ankles, my sneakers are filthy, But I look strong, self satisfied. I am bursting out of myself. Sitting like a man.
There’s me in my gingham jumper on the playground at Francis Holland School for Girls. All bruises and duck feet.
There’s Chelsea the cat.
The one of me playing the piano at Wigmore Hall. My beloved Mickey Mouse watch.
I was miserable when we had to move back to the States. I missed our apartment complex full of kids. Karen and Erika, Goli, Roshni, Jessica, Yeena, Anne. And especially Roxanna Djalili, she lived right across the hall. The aromas of her mother’s sauces and stews always filled the stairwells, exotic. She was a little older, more mature. I was enamored.
She sent me a letter not too long after I got home:
Allan Fallow must have been a friend of my older brothers. Roxanna was so cheeky!
I haven't seen her since. It's hard for 8 year olds to keep track of correspondence. But finding these pictures reminded me of a cameraderie I had forgotten. Our building was an amazing playground. There were Porters that kept their eyes out for us, but we really did have a great freedom. So we made plays about dancing runaway princesses and dwarves living happily ever after.
Sometimes I wonder if Roxanna Djalili is still in London. What might she remember of that time! I'd ask her why Karen got to play the runaway princess. And who got to see the final version. Maybe she’ll come to the Islington on September 28 and I'll find out!