Not a book. A song. By a band well-loved by me, the Decemberists, who also happen to be one of the more literary bands I can think of. (See lyric at bottom.*)
And by Los Angeles, I mean Southern California. Kind of a metonym(?). Because that’s where I’ll be this week. Road triiiiip.
Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city. And by the city, I mean your life. I’ve actually only lived in what I’d call a proper city for the past six months. I grew up in the sheltered suburbs of San Jose, before moving in eighth grade to the even more sheltered suburbs of Cupertino. I did my undergrad in the sheltered college town of Davis. Most of my twenty-five-and-a-half years have been spent in places where I’d think nothing of taking a stroll around the block at midnight. (Even now, I live in a semi-sheltered subneighborhood of San Francisco, the Outer Sunset, where I would only think a little bit of a thing of it.)
So maybe that’s why I am in love with cities. When I used to take day trips to San Francisco I would be immensely impressed by the business types who would briskly walk around with their heads down.** Who would cross the street on red hand signals. I was in awe of their ability to not be awed by the awesomeness around them, the fact that they were so used to it that it had become part of their background. While I, on the other hand, would constantly be “citystruck” (term trademark me, blog entry circa 2004).
So I move to the city aspiring to do the same, to make myself at home so it’s not so scary- to conquer it. But now, I think I would rather do something in between. I want to walk a line between being over- and underwhelmed. Somewhere in which I am a fearless navigator, impervious to insane people, knowledgeable of neighborhoods, but also appreciative of the visual deluge, the impromptu occurrences, the sheer diversity of things and peoples and places. I think it’s a good thing if I never get totally comfortable.
P.S. As cities go I am particularly in love with San Francisco, but that’s a story for another day.
And since this is a blog about books- and Her Majesty the Decemberists doesn’t quite qualify- let me make a recommendation for an actual book about a city.
Orhan Pamuk, ISTANBUL: MEMORIES AND THE CITY. New York: Vintage International, 2004.
*O, great calamity
Den of iniquity and tears
How I abhor this place!
Its sweet and bitter taste
Has left me wretched, retching on all fours
Los Angeles, I’m yours
**See Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. There was a city that faded away because its inhabitants stopped looking up at it.