London is a city without a horizon, and London is a city that will never be satisfied. It's built out of liminal spaces and it grows unconstrained, encompassing, devouring, the last remains of empire. There are no mountains, deserts, or oceans to stop it - even the River Thames is only a brief pause. When I came in, tired but ready to keep going, I saw how much London as a city spreads out, how much space it takes up, much more than anywhere else I've ever been, and maybe if I'd climbed the highest towers in the city I'd have been able to see its end, but it's so very much a city without end. Everywhere I've lived has some sort of horizon, or at least some sense of a boundary. When I left, standing at the window of an underground train car to feel the tiniest bit of wind on my face and glimpse a little bit of sky before I'd go up inside, I saw how London as a city will never be finished.
But for all that, within London, people move calmly. There's periods during the day with more intense activity, but there's so much room for people to take a moment to stop. To fully stop. There's parks all over the place, some small, some grand, with plenty of old churches turned into little open-air resting spots replete with lawns and bees working at the flowers. It's not an intense pace but it's a consistent one. The city was here yesterday, and the city will be here tomorrow. And it's accepted that whatever the state of London, it's never going to be quite real, even when you're standing right there inside of it. It's liminal.
London's so liminal it's got palm trees. They're all over the place, including a mile-long park that's wild with birds and blackberries that's also got trains shaking the air right beside it and a wind turbine dropped in the middle and a pub with palm trees tucked in a corner.
There's an urban farm with open fields and an anti-aircraft gun because there wasn't anywhere else to put it. There's parks where foxes slink around after dark, and snails hoof it across the footpaths to beat the evening chill. Just an hour in London gave me new appreciation for so much of Terry Pratchett's work: so much of his genius came from exploring the edges and the corners and finding out for himself just what lived there.
Last Tuesday I stood at the River Thames on midnight and looked at the almost-full moon cast a path on the water, on a rare clear night with almost no clouds to speak of - enough to sometimes pass in front, with the moon more than bright enough to shine through. Except when there was one so thick that when it passed by, the path slowly disappeared, fading away and then vanishing until the cloud moved on and it returned, beginning at my side of the river and opening up the way across to another place entirely. The sky itself, aside from those few clouds, was remarkably dark for a city sky; it must have been the river itself and associated zoning codes keeping the light pollution away. Just a handful of the brightest stars, and the moon.
The next night, walking through a park, the full moon sat in the middle of the London Eye. A pupil in an eye that never winked, just went to sleep when all the clouds came in.
Compared to London, Copenhagen is a town. It's settled into itself, and the ocean is the ultimate horizon line. It's a town built as a city, and it's cozy and comfortable in a way that comes from people living out their lives there, happy to settle in. Though I will say, the Bastard Cafe was outstanding and Tivoli Gardens at night was like visiting a dream.
Oddly enough, the most Danish I heard spoken was during a Jewish religious service. It was a cousin's son's bar mitzvah, and his Danish mother stood up and gave a speech in her mother tongue, and hearing it next to English and Hebrew gave me a good sensation of the tonal differences between the language. Danish melts together, all the syllables and words running smoothly into each other. English has distinct syllables, but flowing words. And even when it's sung, Hebrew makes sure you hear every sound.
I'll also say it was delightful to joke about how Denmark shouldn't be ashamed of looting, it invented it - and then England stole looting, and went on to perfect it.
I saw family on Copenhagen and friends in London, and when I came back to New York, I rode in the front of the shuttle to get to the subway and got a gorgeous panorama of the Manhattan skyline. New York City is built on reality. There's almost nothing liminal inside it: everyone brings their own, and somehow, all the reality everyone has settles together into one unquestionable mosaic. People may try to reverse-engineer it, but the reality remains. Copenhagen has no real conflicts because it doesn't need them. And London, a unique beast, is never going to be as real as the rest of the world - which is what I guess comes from when you build a city without a horizon.