I Love Cities

Those who visit here with some frequency know that I am mighty fond of the rural landscape and its many, many charms, but it might not be quite as obvious that I am equally smitten, often enough, with the joys of urban life. Some of my happiest times and most exciting and meaningful adventures are attached to various wonderful and fabulous cities where I’ve been privileged to live or spend time.photo + text

Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite cities where I’ve visited or spent any little amount of time, the first places that come to mind are truly lively, astoundingly adventure-filled places. I’m not big on bravery or constant busyness or the unknown, as you may well know by now, but I always manage to find myself energized and passionate about what these fabulous environs have to offer at every turn. It turns out that there is no shortage of urban places that fill me with dazzling delight. In addition to my hometown of Seattle, there are so many other magnificent cities for me to love wildly, places like Stockholm, Boston, Vienna, San Francisco, Munich, Cincinnati, Oslo, San Antonio, Vancouver, New York, Prague, Chicago, and London—for starters.photo + text

I will always crave my quiet time, and often that’s best found in the sweet, laid-back grace of the countryside, removed from cities’ bustling pace. But besides that it is possible to find moments of peace right in the middle of any major metropolis, if one only knows how and where to look, there is the inherent buzz and boisterous beauty of urban life to enjoy as well, and I am not at all immune to that kind of happiness when I can bask in it. I suppose the root of the whole equation is always, quite simply, to seek my well-being wherever I happen to find myself.

I Left My Car in San Francisco

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Edmonton

Many cities are best appreciated on foot. No matter how plush or sexy a car you have, sitting in it immobile in ugly traffic is just as unattractive as ever–maybe more so, if you’re thinking that somewhere in the next six blocks, if you can ever traverse them, is the bling-swinging pedestrian, high-speed messenger’s bicycle or runaway shopping cart with your pretty car’s number on it, and nowhere in the next eighteen blocks is there such a thing as a parking space for under $40, should you negotiate the next six unscathed. Life in a car is rough enough.

But there’s so much you can see and do on foot anyway that is unattainable or at least seldom noticed from inside a car. Window shopping while driving is no safer or more successfully accomplished than texting at the steering wheel. People watching, one of the best entertainments and learning tools known to observant persons, is at best a fleeting glimpse while driving past, not like the pedestrian’s opportunity to slow down and say hello or, more covertly, sit on the nearest bench and watch the whole human show parade along its way. Some cities, like San Francisco and Prague, Seattle and Stockholm, have enough narrow hilly streets that you can’t see halfway along the block, let alone what’s up over the hill’s crest or down around the next curve.

But if you were trying to operate automotively anyway, how would you be close enough to smell the smoke of a wood-fired oven drifting out a cafe window, to peer in and notice a gilt coffered ceiling behind the revolving door of an old bank building, to catch the eye of the shop proprietor who winks at you out of the dim interior so slyly that you can’t resist going in to see the hand-woven silks so ravishingly gleaming under the curved glass of that ancient mahogany display cabinet? What chance would you have of getting ever so slightly jostled off your straight walking path so that you notice that in the almost invisible gap next to you, between the bent copper drainpipe on the left and the broken rusty post-box on the right, a narrow cobbled alley appears, with sunlight spilling into it in ragged patterns created by its tiny balconies swathed in brilliant yellow and red and purple flowers?

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Denton

I’ve always preferred in-town meanders of the bipedal variety over wheeled ones, especially those exploratory ones in a new town or just a new part of a familiar town. If there’s not too much ground to cover, I covet the freedom I have to stop and gape, to slow down, take sudden unplanned tours and detours, to take pictures of the quirky oddity that almostescaped my eye. The fitness that comes from walking certainly beats that of planting my posterior in a car seat, no matter how tensely city traffic might make me perch there, and if I do get weary there are not only refurbished old trams, pedicabs, monorails and water taxis to deliver me from my exhausted state to my actual destination if necessary, or better yet, a nice leisurely cafe break at a sidewalk table with a sparkling mineral water in hand and dark sunglasses on so I can see all of the action nearby without appearing to stare too disconcertingly while I catch my breath and give my aging parts a little welcome recovery time. I’m just grateful to have two functional legs, no matter how modest my fitness level happens to be.

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Casco Viejo

Since my dyslexic gifts (yes, I just spelled it dsylexic before editing) include complete lack of an inner compass, one of the particularities of strolling wanders for me is that I must always allow plenty of time, and assume a fair likelihood that I will be well and truly lost at least once per outing. Including in my home town. Possibly in my own yard. But so far I’ve always found my way back again, like the proverbial Bad Penny, and remained alive and unharmed. I’m reasonably canny about not going into dicey areas alone or after dusk, taking off without an emergency cell phone (now that I finally have one, though it really is strictly for emergencies thankfully), or going for a genuine who-knows-where expedition without telling someone. But beyond that, plus some welcome good luck and guardian angel accompaniments, I can say with a certain amount of pleasure, surprise and/or pride that many of my best adventures have happened as a direct result of just staying close to the ground and taking advantage of the fortuitous events that occurred along the way, embracing the goodness of the fun and fascinating people who cross paths with me in those fine and serendipitous ways that happen when you let them. They can’t put that stuff in tourist guidebooks.

So I’m glad that I got out and left behind any car in so many grand places, or I’d never have loved them so well. Munich, New York, Verona, Chicago, London .. . would any of them have been a tenth as lovely from a car as on foot? It’s possible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t take back a single pair of my worn-out soles to find out for certain. I suspect more truly that it’s because I get up and leave my car in all those wonderful, fantastic places that I end up leaving my heart in all of them too.

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Boston

Run for Your Lives! I Feel an Adventure Coming On

EM & CD's shoes

Pull up your socks and grab your shoes, it's time to get a move on!

Now, I can’t back this up with any particular empirical data, but I think it’s fair to say that I get a hankering to travel, to be in favorite Other places, about as often as a teenaged boy thinks about sex. It’s pretty rare that I’m not mentally meandering in München, Vancouver, Boquete, London, Veszprém, Stockholm, Prague, Chicago, Toronto, Wexford . . . no matter what else I’m ostensibly occupied with doing. It’s not that I never want to be where I am or doing what I’m genuinely supposed to do, it’s just . . . .

I blame my sister. Aren’t eldest siblings supposed to carry the burden of blame for all their successors’ lives, deeds and foolishness anyway? It was she who first infected me with the travel virus when we were in college and her senior year concluded with her in a study-abroad program in London, from whence she had written me innumerable tantalizing letters and tortured me with promises of every kind of impossible delight if I’d only join her for travel after the school year ended. She was so unrelentingly and unreasonably picturesque and dramatic in her enticements that another of our sisters hastened over with two cousins to join her for a couple weeks’ gallivant before I could even gather up passport and toothbrush, as soon as her own school duties were wrapped up for the year. But yes, I too succumbed to big sister’s blandishments and by the first week in September of that year had effectively crammed all of the next semester’s monies, my other puny savings, a couple pair of jeans and several sweaters and a ‘space blanket’ into a big fat backpack and joined her in London almost as soon as our other relatives had returned stateside.

Of course, our parents bear some guilt in my infection too, having permitted me to squander college time and money (on the tacit understanding that I would still graduate on time, however I should manage that–and I did) and dodge my worldly responsibilities for a semester like that. Perhaps it was good parental medical wisdom, knowing that a semester of autodidactic meandering in Europe would likely do more to cure my sophomore blues than hunkering down in the familiar trenches of the university might. Still, letting your kids wander the Continent incontinently–no, not in that way, just somewhat at random and on our varying whims–takes a certain amount of parental fortitude and perhaps a smidgen of cheerful insanity.

Our younger sisters share in the fault for poisoning me against staying safely home: here a sibling younger than me successfully and rather fearlessly went off on just such a jaunt before I even dared. And our youngest sister was already past-master at asking all of the questions we elder three dared not, convincing Mom and Dad of her or our suitability for all manner of things they’d surely have been perfectly within their parental parameters to deny us, and otherwise paved the way for us older girls in numerous ways uncommon among the Baby Sister set. So I guessed I’d damn well better yank up my bootstraps and steel my one non-gelatinous nerve and get on over the pond too. Can’t be shown up by the young’uns.

Of course, as some of the worst offenders when it came to creating the monster of travel-lust that I became, the record must clearly indict all of those unnaturally great and groovy people that greeted, enveloped, adopted, fed, housed, tour-guided, coddled and otherwise ruined for any normal and useful life my sister/travel companion and me. In three and a half months, about thirteen countries, and countless escapades large and small, I gained memories and insights and skills and joys enough to fuel an entire lifetime–and also to infest my soul with burgeoning urges for more.

It’s not that I can’t ever sit still or love where I am or what I’m doing. At times I am the world’s champion homebody and love nothing nearly so dearly as to hole up in a soft blanket in a deep chair safely at home with my constant companion and current fellow-traveler, my spouse. But honey, he’s just as dangerous when it comes to feeding my need to wander and indulge in any road trip, voyage, or other traveling enterprise that might come into view. Once bitten and all of that, yes, but I’m only that much more itchy-footed since he and I ganged up, he having been just as deeply intoxicated as I before we ever joined expeditionary forces. At least it’s mighty handy that not only is he a suitcase-silly hit-the-road guy just as I am but is also a devoted fantasist in the same vein. So whether we’re in our own living room or circling the globe at 30,000 feet, it’s safe to say there won’t be much time when we’re not plotting the next trip and dreaming up what to do in the new town or country we’re about to discover. Real or otherwise. After all, even the most tangible and widely-known places have their mysteries, and that, my dears, is yet another reason I can’t be blamed for this my infirmity.

I won’t see all of the world in my lifetime, am not even sure if that matters, and it’s highly dubious at best that I will change the world. But I sure do love living in the world, and seeing how it changes me. Mostly for the better, I’ll wager. Now, where is that train ticket?