The socialization of places

Upper West Side, NYC.
There is an agreed-upon format to a biography. You start in the beginning. You start with someone's birth, or at least, their childhood. You tell the stories of who they were because often, those stories influence who they became. There are accomplishments, obstacles and relationships. Combined, these represent a life- be it that of a human, a disease, or a year.

Though it wasn't on my original list (and though it's not technically a biography), I've spent the last few weeks reading a novel called New York. The format of this book really impressed me; its author, Edward Rutherfurd, tells the history of New York since the 17th century, and then traces the generations forward to the 21st century. In this way, you can see how New York shifted, how it was influenced and purchased and built up and broken down.

In short, it's a fictional biography of the city.

Something struck me yesterday during a run. If cities have accomplishments and obstacles and relationships, then cities can be tracked just as human lives are. This CLICKED with me. I have a curious relationship to new places in that I hate visiting somewhere that I know nothing about. I like to do a little pre-reading, a little historical research if you will. And even after I know a city, I like continuing to learn about its government and why its streets are shaped the way they are (see: Haussmann in Paris).

As it turns out, I socialize with places in the same way that I socialize with people I meet.

To a new person:
Where are you from? Is that where you grew up? I have a sister too. What did you study at school? And what are you doing now? That's awesome that you got to live abroad. That's too bad about losing your job, but I guess it got you here. What neighborhood do you live in? Oh, and do you like living there?

The answers to these questions paint a quick sketch of a person's life: their choices and their responses to circumstances outside their control.

Imagine if you asked these questions to a place.

Who started you? Why did they need you to be exactly where you are? Who took over next? And then who came? That's wonderful that you drew such a crowd. That's too bad that the disease struck during that century. But why did that group move to you? And who lives in you today? Why are they there?

What am I getting at here? That just in the same way that you click with certain people, I believe you can click with certain places as well. Sometimes that click happens on a first meeting. Barcelona was like that for me. But sometimes that click takes a few times, takes a little small talk and a glass of wine for everyone to relax and stop being pretentious. Paris was like that for me.

Sometimes there's never a click, as hard as you both try. Morocco was like that for me.

At this point, New York and I are very good friends. I get New York. I know why she's pissy and why sometimes she acts tough, but I also get why she's an amazing place to bounce ideas off of. I appreciate what she's been through. And just as with any friendship, she's rubbed off on me. Sometimes the words coming out of my mouth aren't mine; they belong to her. And I'd like to think that I've given something of myself to her over these past four years as well.

I love this. If the biography semester results only in this realization, then I feel it was worth it. It makes sense now why I start getting cranky when I haven't visited Paris or Ireland or Clermont or Pennsylvania in a while. It's the same feeling I get when I crave a visit with my siblings or with Maddy or Katie or Skersh. I miss people and I miss places. It's as simple as that.

You can bet anything that I'm going to miss New York if we leave her one day. I'm going to need visits back, hours in which I stroll along her streets and reconnect with her. After all this time, I see that she's beautiful and complex. Just like I hope to be.


Daffodil Campbell said...

I would love to read that book. The history of cities facinates me. Each summer, when we go back east, my family knows that I need a day in NYC, preferably alone. It is such an important part of why I am the way I am. I need to get on the subway to get my pulse aligned, and walk through my favorite neighborhoods, cross Central Park, look at shop windows, and eat my favorite things. I will always love that city more than anywhere else in the world. It's hard not to live there. I miss it every single day.

And I live in a place that is ABSOLUTELY like living in a screensaver, so that's saying something.

See you this summer

heathervescent said...

Love your perspective of a city as person. I myself have a passionate relationship with my own, here on the other coast. Enjoy it, love it.