East End Enchantment

You can keep your forest glade in the silver glow of the Hunter’s Moon. You can keep your whispering trees, leaves rustling in an emerald scented breeze. You can keep your long-haired maidens, embracing their shining knights under nights filled with shining stars.

You can keep the still lakes and the mountain peaks; the lilac flowers of the woodland meadow that a flawless hand seeks. You can keep your unicorns, centaurs, fairies, nymphs; and the ethereal voice singing golden hymns.

All of this, you can keep.

My enchantment is noisy and busy, a portal to endless new lands. On the London Underground, the only direction is forwards – the next tunnel, the next platform, the next escalator. You can’t go back or sideways. You can wait for two minutes, maybe, but the next train arrives and then you’re off again.

You descend from some recognisable landmark and emerge in an unknown Borough. Turkish restaurants and Asian grocery stores; plantains and yams sold from open shop frontages.

I’ve never peeled, chopped or tasted a yam. Couldn’t have told you what one looks like, but they’re here, for sale. Suddenly I can’t distinguish between the reality of my mundane everyday existence and the sensory new reality that stands before me, plain as the muted light of this late-winter’s day.

 The Rio cinema in Dalston, East London, part of  A Tour of the Indies .

What makes this all the more fantastic is that I’m here to visit a cinema. I’ve fallen down London’s rabbit hole to come and sit in darkness and be transported even further afield. The monolithic Rio cinema sits patiently and unobtrusively; a relic of a bygone era that remains relevant in its multi-cultural world.

I’m here to watch two films about food, ironically (though neither mentions yams). The second one is a Danish film about a French chef who cooks for a puritan religious community. The first is my favourite, however. An American documentary about the most celebrated sushi chef in Tokyo: Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

This, then; this is my enchantment.

Learning about the philosophy of a man whose food I will likely never eat, being inspired by his single-minded devotion to the perfection of his craft. Even after seventy years work, he continues to seek to make better sushi today than he did yesterday. He works with the best ingredients, and deplores the fishing practices that are denying both him and future generations the chance to keep using them.

Jiro understands his place in the world, and possesses relentless drive. Never looking back, always moving forward. Like the Underground, he operates metronomically. He is not quite as old as London’s transport system, but he is a remarkable taskmaster nevertheless. Even with all his discipline, however, he is able to smile and laugh.

Because he is human. And because, even on a cinema screen thousands of miles from his restaurant, he is very definitely real. Enchantment is as much about embracing alien realities as it is about dreaming up exotic fantasies.