Sunday, August 18, 2013
The Anatomy of a Community II
Unconsciously, I have sought after and even built community throughout the various stages of my life. In fact, I have even blogged about it before. Its lack was something that made my inbetween year in London so miserable, and its presence is making my second London try so entirely pleasurable.
We live in Primrose Hill, and although each sub-community of London is called a "village," I have heard said that Primrose Hill is the only area that truly feels like an English country village.
It is heavenly. For some reason, meeting people is extremely easy here. Within the cafes, shops, and streets there is always someone who will give you a smile, strike up a conversation, and even extend an invitation or make a recommendation. Once one knows you live in Primrose Hill (we are unfortunately swamped with some tourists (though mostly English) who frequent the Hill), there is an instant kinship. The kinship doubles if you have a dog or a child.
For instance, last week while getting a pedicure (yes, Gideon comes along to everything) just outside of Primrose Hill, I met a woman who shared with me my preference for spa pedicures in American-(or Asian)-style massage and foot bath chairs versus the English version of chair and bucket. She called herself the tea lady, who travels the world buying and selling rare teas. She seemed classy and interesting. When it came up that we both lived in Primrose Hill, there was almost an audible recognition for both of us. We then walked home together and, when the fishmonger was closed early, I offered her some from my freezer and she promised some rare tea in return - deal.
Then there is the mums group I have started for the many mums I have met along my road. I am sure there are more, but I have counted eight of us within a block of each other. It has been fairly easy to meet these women in the library's "Baby Bounce and Rhyme" (turns out I know almost no English rhymes), on the street, in my building, or via local yoga classes. Each are extremely interesting (x-Harvard Law School lawyers, English solicitors, wives of Olympians, x-Columbia Records vocalist, x-fashion designer, etc...), normal, and dedicated mothers.
Finally, my favorite evidence of the community that is Primrose Hill are the cupcakes pictured above. These were going to be sold by two precocious 10 year olds on the village "High" (read "Main" in American lingo) street whom I intercepted because I found them and their cookie sheet full of sorry (but delicious!) cupcakes, pink tissue paper, and new potatoes wrapped in tissue paper (!) adorable. In very few London neighborhoods would little girls be safe enough to set up their own stand, let alone do well.
So all of this has left me wondering - what are the components that create community? One aspect, I believe, is physical proximity. Primrose Hill is hedged in by parks on two sides, a canal on another, and the train line on yet another. There is no car access from other areas. There are also enough community spaces here to allow us to get to know one another - the (community-funded) library, the community centre, two local yoga studios where everyone goes, a delightful little children's plagyround in Chalcot Square, the playground at the bottom of Primrose Hill, and the Hill itself. Another aspect is that while diversity does not prevent community, people need to have enough in common to allow them to feel something of unity. Here, it is normalcy, family, and perhaps dogs.
Yet there must be more that I am missing and need to ponder it yet. Any readers out there with more thoughts?