"What is it you miss about London?" asked a cab driver.
At that moment we couldn't think of a thing we missed about London. We had "done" London.
"When a man is tired of London," wrote Doctor Johnson, "he is tired of life."
We didn't feel tired of life... or of London. We just didn't miss it.
"Well... I guess I miss the active city life... There is so much you can do in London. Baltimore is a small city in comparison."
Every word of it was true. But it wasn't really what we were thinking. What we were really thinking is that Baltimore is a better place to live! Less traffic. More manageable. More livable.
We caught ourselves. We stopped. We drew breath. What were we saying? We couldn't mean it. How could Baltimore be a better place to live than London? Ten years ago we never imagined such an idea.
But cities are like women. You look for different things at different stages of your life. If you're lucky, you find them in the same woman. More about that in a minute...
In the meantime, The Washington Post gives us a map to show us "the best place to be born."
Data from the Economist Intelligence Unit (Max Fisher/Wash Post)
From the Post:
If you came into the world today and could pick your nationality, there are at least 15 better choices than to be born American, according to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. [...]
If you look at the map, you'll see that the world's richest countries score highly, but not in the top category. The United States and Germany, two of the world's economic powerhouses, tied for 16th place; Japan ranks way down at 25th. Britain and France score even worse. [...]
Here's a surprise: the top-ranked countries also include Asia's two super-rich city-states, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Taiwan. I'll admit to being surprised by the data's suggestion that a newborn today is better off being Taiwanese than American or German, particularly because Taiwan's aging population and declining birthrate could lead the economy to decline. But Taiwan does enjoy good political freedoms and improving health and living standards.
Too late for us! We were born a long time ago.
But it's mostly nonsense anyway. Because the best place to be born is where your parents are. And they are not in "Germany" or "the U.S." They're in a specific place... with specific friends, ideas, relatives, jobs and wealth.
A person born into the right family in Mexico or Lebanon is far ahead of the person born into the wrong family in the U.S. In America you can find some of the most miserable lowlifes on the planet. Just look at them on television.
These studies try to determine an "average person." But none of us is average. We are all specific and unique. And we live in specific ways... in specific places. We don't live in countries. We live in cities areas... and neighborhoods...
Where is the best place to be? It depends. One of the things it depends on is your stage in life.
... As we were saying, cities are like women. You need one who is well adapted to your specific needs. When you are in your 20s you want a woman who is exciting... maybe a little complicated... a real discovery! You want a London.
"That is no country for old men," wrote the Irish poet Yeats. He was not referring to London. But he might have been.
On one of the many couches in our hotel lobby near The Shard was a pair of lovers in each other's arms. Actually... it was not clear what was going on. She was Chinese. Very pretty. But not very young. She might have been an analyst for a bank... or a TV presenter.
He had red hair... turning white. And black stylish glasses. He might have been an art director at a magazine... or maybe he was in charge of actuarial tables at an insurance company. Nerdy, he leaned toward her.
Were they settling a dispute? Were they making up? He leaned forward even more. She looked as though she couldn't decide. Should she give in... or resist?
Suddenly, her arms flung out... she embraced him. Their heads rested on each other's shoulder. Whatever problem they had had was resolved.
London is a great city if you are young... and you have money. It is the world's leading financial center -- with high margins and high salaries.
You go out on the street. You raise your arm. A taxi stops. "Take me to Annabel's," you say. "To Whites." "The Wolesley." Or to any one of thousands of restaurants, theatres, clubs, bars and hangouts.
Then when you tire of one crowd... you go to the street again. Raise your arm. Within minutes you are with another.
Each ride costs about £10... or $16. A few drinks might set you back $50. Then don't forget dinner. An easy £250. At the end of an average evening, you might have spent $300. Not much if you are a star hedge fund manager... but a lot if you are an aging publisher planning his financial future... it is too much.
And what will you do tomorrow? The same thing!
In your 30s you need a different setup. You need a woman who is a worker and a helpmate... giving you advice on your career... helping with house and home. Think Chicago.
By the time you are in your 40s, a woman should be your partner. By then you have both made a big investment in children, home, business, community, friends. You count on her to do her share of the work... and carry her share of the burden... to offset your weaknesses and augment your strengths. Maybe San Francisco would be a good bet.
When you reach your 50s you look for something different. Children leave the home. The day-to-day challenges ease off. You want more comfort... you develop new interests. You want a woman who holds up... one who develops a sense of timeless elegance. Paris would be a good choice.
And in your 60s... new responsibilities set in. There are weddings to organize... grandchildren... in-laws... retirement... estate planning.
Your children need guidance... help... that you never thought you'd have to give. You need a woman with a real sense of diplomacy and a head on her shoulders. One who is wise as well as witty.