Scary stories from a lovely place
The good thing about acquiring a mass of clothes during my early 20’s is that I now have an abundance from which to dress myself each morning. At a time when new clothes barely warrant a line in the budget I’m enjoying restoring relics from garbage bags at my parents house.
A few items I’ve found recently were acquired during an international holiday I took when I was 21. Besides being both boring and exciting, those 4 months were a lovely time of privacy and self indulgence that will never be replicated. And so I’ve found a lime green t-shirt from Sweden, some underpants from Slough, London (where the British Office was set), earrings from Hawaii and three pairs of surprisingly sturdy Chinese style slippers from New York.
The five days I spent in the shadows of New York were indelibly memorable. It was bitterly cold. It snowed just before I arrived and the streets were layered with the crunchy, white flakes. This amazed me as I had barely seen snow so thick, let alone in a city, that hummed on despite the debilitating weather. My plans to sit in Central Park and read all day were dashed as the weather coaxed me indoors to cafes, bars, trains and bookshops.
Those five days, as well as the previous four weeks I had spent house-sitting a flat in London, sowed a love for cities deep in my bones. After this trip I lived in Sydney, by Wynyard station, for a couple of years and the city love was cemented. And of course, my four years in Jozi – the city of gold.
A major part of this love is the tall, tall buildings. Visiting a city is like leafing through a history book about architecture, all the fashions and eras are displayed on each pavement, sometimes in order, but usually mixed around. I hope I can visit New York one day with Stephen. He made me a card for my birthday before we were engaged and it featured a picture of New York’s Flatiron building. When I opened the envelope I knew I was on to a winner.
Another part of the love revolves around the city’s community. When people in the burbs (like me) long for regular friendships of mutual support or interaction with neighours, they idealise the city. It’s full of people of every kind, living almost on top of each other, getting on with life. And yet many of those people would be lonely, passing by a multitude of other potentially lonely souls.
This loneliness-despite-hoards-of-people is an overwhelming theme of post-modern American literature. When I was living in Sydney and studying Doctorow, Franzen and Wolfe I could relate to the weird emptiness their characters felt when functioning in a metropolis. For a while my evening ritual was a jog from the top of York St, down to Circular Quay and back through Walsh bay. It was down at the Quay with the tourists, opera goers and ferry passengers that I felt more singular and alone than the watery quiet of the piers of Walsh bay.
It’s a shame that crowds and bustle don’t automatically equal inclusion and belonging. Perhaps it’s in a city, in amongst humanity, that ones flaws and failings come painfully to light, rather than when we are on our own. But it’s also in a city that humanity’s genius and skill is displayed – in the architecture, the innovation, the design and the systems that make it all hang together. It’s the paradox of city life. The good and the bad demand coexistence.