Monday, April 27, 2009

Cities

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. 


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?

22 comments:

Daisy said...

I felt an immediate connection with Sydney - Historical charm, beach vibe AND a busy CBD.

Surprisingly I also felt that way about Wellington, NZ. It had such a great vibe - I could have moved there and stayed forever.

Daisy said...

Ok this is weird - you're going to have two Daisys saying they loved Wellington in New Zealand! It really is a great town - and the only one I can think of that struck me in the way you're describing here. Obv I have to also give a shout out to my "home" towns of London and Paris too though!

insomniaclolita said...

New York, Amsterdam, London, Singapore, Paris, Brussel, and Bangkok.

It's a lot I know but No kidding, I love them all :) Although my own city of Jakarta keeps convinving me that it's the best. ANd that it's home. :)

All Mod Cons said...

Weird that I had this conversation only yesterday. I came to the conclusion that as I live in London, other large cities have a similarity about them. I got back from NY on Sunday, that was kind of just like London, only much bigger and not quite as dirty. Washington was ok too. Top of the tree by a million miles though is Osaka, Japan. Whilst buildings and parks give a city size and shape, it's people that make it live and breathe and Osaka is an amazingly alive place.

smidge said...

Of course, the city I moved to - Edinburgh.

It's always alive, full of culture and unusal events all year rounds, i love its small size and quirky neighbourhoods and of course it has the best arts festival in the world every august!

My home town of Liverpool is also one of my favourite places - the Scouse people are some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet (if you can understand them!)

I also love Copenhagen (going for the 3rd time in June!), Barcelona, Amsterdam and Sydney.

Sydney is a wierd one as it is spectactuar, but the life and soul is in the local neighbourhoods rather than the CBD (in my opinion!)

Loretta said...

Barcelona. Gaudi's work is everywhere and it's so colorful...even the sidewalks. I went by myself in college and have always wanted to take people I love there to share it with them.

distractedspunk said...

New York, Berkeley, Chicago, London, Edinburgh, Tel Aviv.

Surprisingly, I never really fell in love with San Francisco. Berkeley is a smaller city, but it had so many quirks that I couldn't help falling in love with it.

The others are just amazing.

LiLu said...

The minute I set foot in DC years ago, I knew I wanted to live here someday- even if it was just for a little while. Isn't it funny how some places just grab you? :-)

myself said...

Yay Montreal. But I live here, so, biased I guess :)

I feel totally and completely at home in London. Probably due to family background and my sense of humor, but it just works for me, I could be there forever.

Yoda said...

Montreal is the only Canadian city I've visited, and I *loved* it. It was such a stark contrast (for the better) when I flew in from Columbus, OH ;-)

I have never felt a connection stronger than my birth town of Calcutta. It is SO different. The history, the architecture, the people, and the sweat. But most of all the FOOD!

Alanna said...

I agree completely with you about Montreal. When I go there, I feel as if I'm travelling overseas, not to the other side of the country (although, it's almost as far). It's just so rich with art and history and everything that this side of the country sort of lacks.

Besides that, San Francisco, Edinburgh and Paris are some of my favourite city destinations.

Jess said...

I feel that way about Chicago, too. And Denver, of course. Other cities... Toulouse, Dakar, Toronto, London.

typographysnob said...

San Francisco was definitely that way for me and still is.

SoMi's Nilsa said...

Lovely post! I felt an immediate connection with Barcelona - felt like I could relocate my life there and be soooo happy. Similarly, I actually have had a negative reaction to London. Not that I hate it. And not anything that keeps me from going back to visit. Just nothing that I really liked.

sour said...

i feel the same way about montreal as well! i also love mexico city and vancouver and oaxaca...but only parts of vancouver, right in the center.
i couldn't care less about LA or Edmonton or SanDiego though... it is really strange now that i think of it.

sonrie said...

New York, Memphis TN, so far...

Larissa said...

I truly loved Boston when I visited. The people and the cultures and the feel of it somehow felt like home, even though I had never been there before. I hope to go back someday.

Jade said...

For me, it's a tie between New York City and London. I got my first taste of NYC back in high school, and to this day I can't get enough of it. I'm usually down there at least once a year.

London I got to visit just a couple years ago, and I felt immediately at home. I'm going back in a month and a half and I cannot wait!

Katelin said...

i felt the same way about cambria is northern california, i loved it there. same with lake tahoe.

Bayjb said...

I actually said I would never live in chicago because I didn't get a good vibe from it. But years later, after I was in a different spot in my life, it was perfect. Chemistry with a city is key.

Hannah said...

Halifax, Nova Scotia. Its a smaller city and that's why I love it. Beautiful shops, B&B's and the fresh ocean breeze, make it feel very comfortable to me. Plus, it has a definite Scottish feel with a proud heritage so you get some authentic food and music.:)

Mandy Sue said...

I absolutely love my hometown in Southern Oregon. It is definitely a small town, with B&Bs and local coffee shops on every corner. I also love visiting portland. I've been to many other big cities, but Portland seems so relaxed and inviting in comparison to LA, SF, and NY.

Although I do love SF for other reasons. :)