Red Lace And Blue Pills

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RED LACE AND BLUE PILLS

WORDS BY FERNANDO SDRIGOTTI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI PANDE

Valentine’s Day and London. Ultimately, love and London. I draw blank after blank when trying to tie these together. I can think of sex and London. I can think of despair and London. I can think of poverty and money and London. But I find it almost impossible to think of love and London. Not even in a negative way, as in “London the city of the unloved”. My impression is that in London we are driven and/or tortured by other concerns.
I find myself doing some basic research (which is another way of saying I procrastinate quite freely around this topic). “Valentine’s Day is Viagra Day in the U.K.” shouts the header in a 2007 article published by ABC News, the first thing of interest I bump into. I can agree with this. It might sound puzzling, for Brits aren’t generally regarded as compulsive lovers. But it makes sense to get laid for the calendar. We do all sorts of things for the calendar over here, just as everywhere else, probably because repetition reinforces our feeling of being alive – or at least it boosts the economy. The problem is that this is supposed to be an article about Valentine’s Day in London and, as everybody knows, London isn’t Britain. London is a realm of its own, almost an independent republic that pledges allegiance to no nation but money. That is why so many of us resist here, paying through the nose for that privilege, but also a bit like Asterix and his Gauls surrounded by the Roman Empire, only that we are surrounded by a blue belt of Eurosceptic land owners and alien and foreign lands that extend beyond the M25. But “it is about love; today it is about love,” I can hear myself saying, realising I am drifting off topic.

Does this mean that Londoners don’t love? Not at all: we love in a different way.

Beyond Britain and blue pills, the question I can’t begin to answer could be narrowed down, made simpler: can London be a city of Love? I don’t think so. Love and the City calls for Paris. This might be unfair, for it is as possible to be alone and miserable in the multitude in Paris as it is in London. But the city of the Seine has marketed itself better: Paris, the City of Love. Yes, we have the appalling Notting Hill and a couple of romantic paragraphs and scenes in literature and film. But love belongs at the other end of the Eurostar’s tracks. There is a cultural history to support this impression. Films, books, poems. There are brochures. And there are fools who keep the myth alive, stuffing bridges with love locks and getting herpes of one form or the other during their romantic incursions into the City of Light. Not that we don’t have herpes in London. But at least our love locks don’t persist, to the best of my knowledge, regardless of the love locks industry’s precarious attempts to turn them into another London fad.
This is why Valentine’s Day in London has always come across as a big sham to me. We have been beaten by our continental cousins, by that other nationless city. Romance is their “thing”. London is the wrong setting for love, and for that reason a day of romance is bound to fail. Valentine’s Day in London gets as far as overpriced set menus, extortionately expensive red roses, hearts, lace, cupids and assorted red kitsch. That is the most London can manage when it comes to branding itself into a “lovespot”. It is a poor and forced effort, and none of us really knows how to play the parts we are expected to play. Even though we can succeed at the imported Black Fridays (for they are about celebrating unhinged capitalism) and Halloween (for this date is ultimately about death), Londoners should not be expected to be romantic. We do polite and reclusive, and we are very good at these two things at which Parisians fail miserably.

Valentine’s Day in London gets as far as overpriced set menus, extortionately expensive red roses, hearts, lace, cupids and assorted red kitsch.

Does this mean that Londoners don’t love? Not at all: we love in a different way. Ours is a love of lovers studiously ignoring each another, mesmerised by shiny mobile phones. A love of mortgage rates and of moving in together too soon and struggling to pay the council tax together. And most importantly, our love isn’t made for open space, not with our rather miserable weather. And it is not a love that requires an audience. Ours is an anonymous love, a private love. A love that in order to survive has to do away with the city, with any spectacular performance, that has to go back to basics, to just two (or more) people. For were London to become aware of our love it would demand some form of sacrifice in exchange, perhaps in the form of a tax, or a fine. It would end up destroying the little love we have. It would end up claiming centre stage and making it about London and not about our love.
Regardless of how the blue pills fare elsewhere, it is my impression that this February 14 London will remain rather unfazed. Some might attempt to play their part in this game that belongs elsewhere. The rest of us will stay indoors, counting the days until the next payday, watching the foxes fuck with our trash bins, comfortable in our realisation that there are games in which we need not play. That feelings need no calendar. That there are other things that might belong elsewhere. Like headless passion, public love, and love locks.