A local’s guide to London - Edith Fishta - Citimarks

Edith Fishta

Seizing life by the horns


Citimarks: Edith, could you share with us the journey that brought you from Florence to the English capital?

Edith Fishta: All my childhood memories are rooted in Florence. My parents relocated from Albania to Florence when I was very young. I finished school and decided to go to London, an unconventional decision for a school girl living in Italy in the late ‘90s. During that time, very few Italians considered studying abroad, and London was far from being a popular destination. None of my friends had any interest in studying abroad, so, suddenly, it seemed like everyone thought I was unhappy in Italy. My parents kept asking “Why? What have we done wrong?!” (Laughs)

After a brief stay in London, my parents issued me a challenge: if I presented them with a well-thought-out plan and gain admission to an English university, they would offer their support. Without hesitation, I rose to the challenge and accomplished just that. Initially, I thought of London as merely a stepping stone towards fulfilling the dream of moving to the United States. In Italy, London is often underestimated compared to cities like Paris or Barcelona. However, when I actually settled here, I was instantly captivated by the city’s charm -its vitality, the cultural diversity of its various communities, and the essence of a metropolis that never sleeps. It was truly exhilarating.

Did you have any role models who empowered you to deviate from a career in law and pursue the more uncertain path of a writer?

Reflecting on my past, I realize I've always tried to face challenges head-on, without a clear path to success but having to imagine and forge one for myself. I am grateful for my parents' unwavering support in all my endeavors, as their lives, shaped by turbulent political and social times, profoundly influenced my choices. Their experiences, navigating between safe and brave life decisions, instilled in me a moral duty to utilize my freedom in pursuing my dreams, irrespective of the associated risks. Following one's dreams is undoubtedly challenging but, ultimately, a genuine privilege.

Was there a particular moment when you made the decision to write a book?

I believe that nobody wakes up one day thinking, "I want to write a book." Instead, there's often a latent desire for something that one eventually gathers the courage to pursue. Again, when I look back, I now realize that I always wanted to be in entertainment and write stories; I was attracted by the fiction more than by the factual. I aspired to write for television, likely influenced by growing up in a generation that spent much of its formative years in front of a TV screen. Consequently, the stories I concocted as a child inevitably transformed into projects involving TV or movie scripts over time.

"Reflecting on my past, I realize I've always tried to face challenges head-on, without a clear path to success but having to imagine and forge one for myself."

Do you remember the first script you penned?

I wrote my first script a considerable time ago, and it became the blueprint for the pilot episode of a prospective TV show titled “The Sunday Club”. The narrative revolved around five friends living in London, none of whom were British. I've long believed that the perspective of expatriates, particularly from the new generation, is somewhat overlooked in British television. In the storyline, these friends would come together every Sunday, preparing lunch and exchanging their weekly adventures—a practice that mirrored my own autobiographical experiences.

Journalism or creative writing - what do you love most about each?

The most captivating aspect of being a journalist lies in the art of interviewing people—they often share more information than necessary for the question, making the process incredibly enjoyable! Just like our chat here (laughs)! When it comes to writing a novel, what I value the most is the exact opposite: the state of not engaging with others! It involves sitting with my words and ideas. During these solitary moments, free from the need to assume a role for anyone else, one ceases to worry about appearance, behavior, or any superficial concerns. It's almost as if the body ceases to exist, leaving only the realm of thoughts and ideas to explore.

Who are the writers you admire the most?

I have a deep appreciation for Giacomo Leopardi, a philosopher known for his somewhat pessimistic outlook -yet captivating writing. I also admire Cesare Pavese, a writer renowned for his ability to articulate "dark" ideas with a delicate touch. In English literature, George Orwell has significantly influenced me, particularly through his acute political observations of society. His dystopian narrative style has resonated in some of today's most popular TV series, such as "Black Mirror."

Cesare Pavese (1908 – 1950)

George Orwell (1903 – 1950)

Do you have a specific editorial project that holds a special place in your heart?

Earlier this year, I crafted a movie script that paints a picture of today's post-feminism era through the lenses of two generations of women. The story unfolds in a world where men feel disempowered, while women express disappointment in a feminist movement they believe has let them down. The narrative aims to unravel this contemporary gender struggle, challenging the assumption that the battle is over, decisively won by women.

My research focused on second-wave feminists from the '70s and how their life choices intersect with those of contemporary women. To illustrate this generational crossroads, I introduced two characters: a septuagenarian, second-wave feminist intent on writing her memoir and a young editor at a publishing house tasked with assisting in the editing process. The feminist holds succeeding generations of women accountable for failing to carry on the torch of the feminist battle, while the younger woman points out the limitations of the movement at its origin. Thus, the stage is set for a wrestling match between generations, with each grappling with perceived shortcomings against the backdrop of their deeply held beliefs.

What do you remember from your first trip to London?

I was truly impressed by the abundance of parks in this city—large ones and smaller ones tucked into every little square. It was in London I saw a fox for the first time in my life. Surprisingly, it's not the kind of place where one would expect to see a fox, or a squirrel. The locals here have a strong connection with the parks. They truly "live" in these green spaces, taking the time to picnic, relax, socialize, or simply hang out. I find this habit to be both civilized and delightful.

Are there any habits you adopted here?

I've embraced long-distance walking, often covering 10 to 20 kilometers with ease. I've bid farewell to high heels because I want to be able to walk any distance, - whether I miss the bus or simply wish to enjoy a sunny day.

People here are keenly aware of the city's prevalent cultural diversity. In contrast to other places where the initial inquiry might be "What do you do for a living?" a Londoner is more likely to ask "Where are you from?"

Has the city changed over the last decade?

We have witnessed significant changes in the past few years! Firstly, the city’s weather has undergone noticeable shifts. When I first arrived in 2007, London epitomized the familiar image from movies: cold, dark, and humid. However, with each passing year, there are sunnier, warmer days. This alteration in weather has influenced people's behavior, leading them to spend more time in parks and enjoy meals or drinks on the multiplying terraces.

Moreover, I've noticed that the city has become less international compared to 15 years ago. The 2008 financial crisis, followed by Brexit and the recent Covid-19 pandemic, has led to the departure of many expatriates from London. For years, all Londoners, regardless of their nationality, lived as one big family, disregarding any dividing lines. However, Brexit has stirred up feelings of resentment towards London, ultimately prompting many Europeans to relocate.

Lastly, London's gentrification stands out as another notable change. In this city of constant regeneration, areas once deemed sketchy, such as Shoreditch or Kings Cross, have evolved into ultra-modern, affluent hubs accessible only to a select few. Further out, places like Brixton and Tooting once considered undesirable just a decade ago, now symbolize promising, new frontiers for this ever-expanding metropolis.

What is your favorite neighborhood in London?

Oh boy! I have so many favorites. London encapsulates so many different areas—they're like many small cities within the city. I have favorite neighborhoods for different activities. I love going to Cheswick for a leisurely walk along the river – it's absolutely gorgeous! Notting Hill, with its plethora of cafés, pastry shops, and bakeries, is ideal for a Sunday brunch. Soho is my go-to for drinks at one of its many speakeasy bars. East London offers fantastic rooftop views of the city. Marylebone is perfect for getting lost in its charming bookshops. Every area has a unique vibe. Whatever you're into, there's a place that represents you.

Is there a common behavioral trait shared by most Londoners?

In a city as bustling as London, where everyone seems to be in a constant rush, it's impressive how polite the locals are in their everyday behavior. For instance, Londoners are accustomed to asking questions slowly, almost assuming that their interlocutor may not be a native speaker. Where else in the world does this happen? People here are keenly aware of the city's prevalent cultural diversity. In contrast to other places where the initial inquiry might be "What do you do for a living?" a Londoner is more likely to ask "Where are you from?" Londoners have embraced a high level of tolerance and open-mindedness towards the different and the unknown.

“What I particularly appreciate about London is how natural it feels to live in this melting pot. Diversity is seamlessly woven into the fabric of this city […] it acts as the glue that binds everyone together.”

Living in a cosmopolitan city like London, how does the cultural diversity impact your everyday experiences and interactions?

Wherever you go, you're surrounded by different accents and languages. In a diner, around the table, it's rare to find two people from the same country—one might be from Mexico, another from Spain, another from Sri Lanka, and so on. This diversity brings forth a tapestry of stories, new learnings, and exploration of various cuisines. What I particularly appreciate about London is how natural it feels to live in this melting pot. Diversity is seamlessly woven into the fabric of this city, and it doesn't feel strange or imposed. While in other cities, diversity might create dividing lines, in London, it acts as the glue that binds everyone together.

Would you recommend living in London?

Yes, it would be wonderful if everyone had the opportunity to live in London, if only for a brief period. In London, people discover that they are not the center of the world. This shedding of self-centeredness and embracing an open spirit are two profound life lessons.

If you were to be away from London for an extended period, what aspect of the city do you think you would miss the most?

It may sound like a cliché, but I would genuinely miss life itself. Everywhere else I go, I sense that life is slower, less flavorful, and even somewhat dull. I spent some time in Italy in the period after Covid-19, writing my book, and I recall repeatedly asking myself the same question: “I wonder what people are doing right now in London?”

Cadavre Exquis

If London were a book, which one would it be?

“White teeth” by Zadie Smith. The novel portrays a darker facet of London -a perspective rarely depicted in glamorous movies- through the eyes of second-generation immigrants from the Commonwealth.

If London were a film?

It would resemble a production by Richard Curtis: as a highly successful screenwriter and director of London’s most iconic comedies from the ‘90s and ‘00s -such as “Four weddings and a funeral”, “Notting Hill”, “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, and “Love Actually”- Curtis captures a lighter, more sanitized version of London, without losing sight of the city’s essence.

A piece of music?

It would be “Bohemian Rhapsody” – what else? It is crazy, it’s intense, it’s British and it’s Freddy Mercury! This larger-than-life, exceptionally talented artist served as inspiration for generations of immigrants who moved to London to pursue their dreams.

A word?

“I am sorry” is perhaps the most commonly used sentence in London’s everyday life. Everyone seems to be apologizing all the time.

A drink?

Surprisingly, it would be Prosecco wine! The UK stands as the largest importer of Prosecco in Europe! The city is literally obsessed with it. Since moving to London, I've found myself indulging in Prosecco more than I ever did in Italy. Be it after-work gatherings, girl meet-ups, birthdays—any occasion is reason enough to pop open a bottle of this beloved Italian wine.

If you could turn back time which point of London’s history would you like to explore?

I would love to explore London during the swinging '60s when the city was the capital for numerous progressive movements, spanning from women's rights to music and fashion. Living in London during that decade must have been incredibly cool and filled with cultural energy.

If you could meet an historical figure of London whom would you choose and what would you talk about?

I would love to engage in a conversation with Virginia Wool, a delicate writer who managed to shine in a predominantly masculine literary world. I'd be interested in discussing her perspectives on the challenges she faced as a woman in her time.

24 hours in London

9 am
A charming café for coffee and breakfast
At Gail’s in Paddington, enjoying the great views of the Canal, or aboard one of the canal boats hosting cafés.
10 am
A favorite food market
Borough market
11 am
A museum to explore
The V&A with its extraordinary collection of costumes and decorative art is a true treasure.
12 pm
A nice park to stroll
Regent’s Park, my all-time favorite. Meticulously curated, it boasts a Shakespearian theater, a zoo, Italian gardens -sheer perfection.
1 pm
Lunch at your preferred restaurant
The Westbourne pub in Notting Hill and the “River Café” in Hammersmith.
2 pm
A bookshop for getting lost and losing track of time
Daunt Books in Marylebone.
4 pm
A tea room or a hotel for a proper high tea
The Wolseley, a big London classic.
5 pm
A favorite shop to buy gifts
At Selfridges. It’s huge, it has got everything, it’s an experience.
6 pm
A stroll in a tranquil area, away from the bustling crowds
The Chiswick Gardens and the Kew Royal Botanic gardens with their rare plants and flowers.
7 pm
A favorite pub for a pint
The Cow pub and Prince Alfred in Maida Vale. Prince Alfred is one of the few London pubs having preserved its authentic Victorian-style interior, including the “snob screens” - a 19th-century device consisting of etched glass panes intended to separate middle-class patrons from working-class ones.
8 pm
A romantic diner
“Clos Maggiore” is an absolute “must” for a romantic French-Italian diner by the fireplace.
11 pm
A nice rooftop for a cocktail
The "Aqua Spirit" bar for its lovely views on the Oxford street buildings and “Radio Rooftop" for its nice panoramic vistas.
1 am
A favorite place for a walk under the stars
Little Venice!

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