Some people, while kind and polite and every other generic positive characteristic, just aren't terribly memorable. They are pleasant to sit beside at a dinner party, but you may never have another thought about them once you walk out the door.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I find cities can be the same way. While it is rare that I actively dislike a city, I find it entirely disconcerting how apathetic I can feel about them. They all have their cliched tourist attractions, be it their random museum, their ubiquitous waterfront pathways, their concrete shopping meccas. And while these may capture my attention for a series of moments, I always find myself looking for something about the city to speak more directly to me. I can't just let my only snapshot of it be the billboards around the highway to and from the airport, the tacky wall art in a hotel, the abstract patterned carpets in the conference centres, the glass walled skyscrapers. If this is all I see, I can't help but resent the five hour plane ride and taxi rides. I think that I could find this very same experience in my backyard. I wonder what drives people to live there, versus anywhere else in the world, and wish I had the time to figure that out.
Other cities just have an immediate spark. These aren't always the ones I would predict. While I loved the warm beaches and the people watching in Los Angeles, or I found the life amidst the crumbling buildings in Havana fascinating, they remained with me more as stories than a continued connection. I become a little insatiable in wanting to know these cities that I sense this spark in, to breathe them in, wander down random streets, to know all the banal details, like where people get their groceries and walk their dogs.
Montreal, for instance, has an instant charm. It could be that there is something both comfortable and exotic about feeling French flowing off my tongue again, hearing the rolling r's echoing out of my mouth. It could also be that it is such a stark contrast to the modernity of other Canadian metropolises, with its dramatic stone buildings, its cafes spilling into the streets, its steep staircases up the sides of homes. Even the most dilapidated neighbourhoods have this layer of character that other cities lack, making me wish to take photos of the chattering Greek men lined up outside a ramshackle cafe or the bold neon signs shouting "Club Supersexe!"
I was able to predict that I would like Chicago as soon as I started planning my trip there. Granted, when I emerged from an underground train into the looming buildings of the financial district, rolling bag in tow, the details of the city were a little overwhelming. However, in my week there, I relished the detailed architecture and the public art. I found myself picturing my life in a brick apartment building, drinking at the local pub. More than anything, I loved the unique flavour of the different neighbourhoods, how they felt like real communities in a sea of millions.
I just returned from a week in Portland. Often, when I travel, I feel a little vigilant and hyperaware the first few days as I grow accustomed to my surroundings. Portland put me at ease near immediately. People are kind, it is clean, easy to navigate, relaxed, without feeling small or quaint or boring. Although I could list off the features I adored, like the green parks and the eclectic market, it was more just a sense that walking the streets felt comfortable.
I suppose this is one of the best things about travel-- the idea of finding these connections in random locales. So, tell me, what cities have you felt an immediate connection to?