Thoughts of a former city dweller
July 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment
I grew up in Buenos Aires, but I am not much of a city person. I don't dislike large cities. I find them interesting. I enjoy discovering similarities among cities that are in many ways so different. For instance, I don't find it difficult to pretend that I am in Buenos Aires when visiting New York or London. I tend to feel comfortable and at-home in large cities, but I would never again be able to be a permanent resident of one. I love walking their streets, discovering their small unique corners, and trying to absorb something of their histories and geographies. I hate driving in cities, though. I am exasperated by exasperated locals trailing me as I try to find my way around. They are right, of course. I can relate to their frustration when I am the exasperated local. I prefer walking and riding the rail systems. Never the buses or trams. Trains have set stops, you know exactly where you are and where you have to get off. They are discrete, quantified, exact. Buses are more complicated, they are continuous variables. If you don't know your way around it is very easy to miss your stop. Who, me ask? Never! So I take the train/underground/U-bahn/Metro/Subte, etc., get off close to where I'm going and walk the rest of the way
I left Buenos Aires about three decades ago and have lived in smallish University towns ever since - Eugene, Oregon and Athens, Georgia. I would never be able to re-adapt to being a permanent dweller of one of the world's large cities. I do miss quite a few things, especially the chance of being able to get out of the house and spend an evening walking streets that I may have walked many times before, recognizing trees and front doors and gardens and sidewalk potholes. Somehow this never worked in Athens nor in Eugene. You need a large city, with a seemingly infinite collection of streets. A city that, without much effort, one may think of as a dystopian creation of J.G. Ballard. Otherwise you (or at least I) soon get bored.
I don't live in Georgia because I like it (I do not), but because I have to (the perils of academic careers, which are even worse for two-career couples). I try to flee the Southeastern US as often as I can but, when planning a trip, large cities are seldom, if ever, at the center of my itineraries. If I can choose, I choose places with few people, which means jumping on a plane and traveling cross-country or over the ocean to go walking in the deserts and mountains and remote coastlines of the Western US, Hawaii, Iceland and Spain. Every now and then, however, the opportunity arises of spending some time in one of the world's large cities. On the way back from our trip to Iceland in November of 2014 (more on that elsewhere) an overnight layover in New York was unavoidable. If we are going to stay overnight, why not make it a couple of days?
New York is a city that brings up strong feelings in me, perhaps because it reminds me of the city that I grew up in in so many ways, good and bad. They are both cities that swelled with the immigrants who arrived in overcrowded steamships at the turn of the twentieth century. The buildings from that time are still plentiful in Buenos Aires and New York. Italian and Jewish DNA are everywhere in the two cities. Both have distinctive accents and slangs, they share their paranoia, moodiness and humor.
New York is of course the more spectacular of the two - it is the Capital of the World, no doubt. And this fact makes Central Park all the more special. It is the city's courtyard and garden, a small patch of relative quiet and lack of asphalt, where one can pretend to be inside a bubble, looking out onto a world in another solar system. We spent a warm November evening, just before Thanksgiving of 2014, strolling around Central Park. These are my impressions of that peaceful day.
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Photos, commentary and opinions by Alberto Patiño Douce