Saturday, February 04, 2012

Cities of the heart.

Disclaimer: I unashamedly romanticise places

I’m in love with a few cities, the latest being Budapest. (Etymologically, two cities for the price of one.)   The  realisation that Budapest was my latest source of fernweh started me wondering about exactly how I get attached to these places anyway: I was there for all of twenty-four hours, and now I want to live there.  Not that I wonder at loving Budapest: the castle, the river, the churches, the crazy bars, the history sloppily stacked in corners, and the requisite amount of grunge - some places (Vienna) are a bit too clean to be lovable.

How hard could Hungarian be, really?

Jerusalem is the first city I loved; the first city I spent time in outside Australia. In Jerusalem I heard it said that everyone has two homes: where they were born and Jerusalem. The city of David is as old and complicated and beautiful and modern and mundane as you might expect, and even now I feel a pang remembering the early morning mist on the hills, the domes and parks and ugly apartment buildings. And more churches, of course, but it was the city itself, its totality, that took a piece of my heart.

I wonder if this happens to other people, metropoleis occupying emotional territory. I am a little uneasy at attachment to things inanimate, but then a city – especially a lovable city – is anything but inanimate, and is, after all, composed predominantly of people, piled up. Their history, their homes, their businesses, their weird and wonderful ways of getting around each other and the odd corners of the earth they have made home.

The internet, as ever, manages to reassure me that I am not alone, although love here ranges from tourist gush* through people growing to love where they have washed up, and all the way to stories of people who arrive in, say, Istanbul, and never leave.  My affection (urbanophilia? philopolisia? philocivit-something?**) is fairly specific: it’s given quickly and irrationally, and leaves me with a hankering to live there. I want to know these cities, learn their sounds (Melbourne’s is the flick of tyres across tram tracks),  and their ups and downs and ins and outs in a way you can only by living in them.

London was next; Paris and Rome are lovely in their ways, but the romantic idea of living in them did not stick.  Venice, beautiful and all, was high maintenance right from the start. London, though, felt like another home again – comes of reading too many English books, no doubt, but this was the city that taught me the rewards of wandering, and looking up, and that I could be quite happy, just me and a city. Cold and wet and grey and brown, but something about the stone and the vapour trails and the random greenery stuck.

Chronologically, Melbourne and I met next. Choosing a city makes one’s affection a little fiercer, particularly if, as with Melbourne, it lives up to expectations.  With cities, monogamy is enforced - you have to commit, uproot, transplant; otherwise you’re just visiting.  It's hard, but of course everything is easier after you’ve done it once, and for all its difficulty, moving teaches that you can survive it, and that it’s rewarding.

Oxford, then; another case of indoctrination, perhaps. Oxford surprised me by feeling more familiar than London, but over a week there I learnt how many of the authors I’d read as a child lived or worked or studied – or all three – in Oxford. Oxford and its country are a sort of watermark in any number of stories, and explicit in so many that there is a Wikipedia article on the subject.  This all makes me rather nervous in describing it, although I did try, once, in, let’s face it, some tourist gush.

Perth is still there, the hometown – I am no cosmopolite and don’t think I could be, since it would mean I’d have to love all cities or none. Every time I travel, and every time I return, having lived away a little longer, I see Perth differently. I finally bothered to look up, last time, and to be in its beautiful places the way I am in the beautiful places of other cities. It will always be a measure, in a way: no weather will be as good, no beaches will be as beautiful, and nowhere will ever be as isolated as the city I love because it was the shape for so much of my life.

* my words are, naturellement , much more than gush, and I much more than a tourist
** Latin fail: darn modern education


Simon said...

You're making me want to move overseas and homesick a the same time.

I love the idea of living in a big old city, for a while it was Rome, then London. Recently its been Amsterdam because there are career options there for me.

missjane said...

Neil Gaiman on London: "It was a good place, and a fine city, but there is a price to be paid for all good places, and a price that all good places have to pay."