Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Global Project...

In conjunction with two book we're reading right now by a man named Italo Calvino (an amazing Italian author you all should read), I had to compose a description of the city I know most intimately. Naturally, I chose Springfield, my latest home, and I tried to describe it in the most subjective way possible (as if there's an objective way to describe anything! Ha!). Anyway, I really enjoyed this assignment, so I decided to put it up here. Some of the passages are intentionally allegorical (some more obviously than others), and some are just meant to inspire images. My goal was to be vague with most of my descriptions, giving you the freedom to fill in the gaps however your mind sees fit. It isn't about explanation, it's about experience.


Describing a city is absurd since no city exists outside of experience, so today I’ll describe my experiences of my city. In doing so you’ll learn more about me—and also about yourself—than about my city, surely, but I’m beginning to think that that’s the point. My descriptions follow an order of size, from smallest to largest.

In the center of town, one giant edifice stands fully erect. Built originally as a status symbol and still perfectly maintained, it is now surrounded by shambles and serves only as a compass.

In the warmer months, the lights dim and one can hear the explosions of victory resounding from a nearby sports complex.

In the center of town there are neighborhoods where one can walk for hours and never see the same house twice. Still, the feeling that you haven’t experienced anything different since the first row persists. The only things that change are the names.

In short sleeves and long sleeves, I feel pavement like brail via my bicycle as I observe now the blooming flowers, now the dense summer air, now the colored leaves drifting downward, now the grey winter sky aching to lighten itself.

Trees are everywhere. It is as if the city used to be an open field and a farmer scattered seeds all across the plain. Some seeds contained the plans for an oak and pine trees, others apartment complexes and office buildings.

One night I was atop what I thought was a lifeless parking garage hoping to flea the movement of the world. The world turned still, and I gazed unexpectedly at the most beautiful sunrise. Surprises are everywhere. One need only look.

Within city limits, the earth has been homogenized. Everything is flat and even. If one wishes to race down hills or hug curves, one has to leave the city in search of diverse topography.

On warm summer days, the scent of factories processing corn meal, like thick musty dog food, pervades for miles and miles. To outsiders, it’s obtrusive. Some find it comforting. I tend to think the scent itself doesn’t matter. People choose how to feel about it.

Green meadows speckle the city. They hide between warehouses and government buildings waiting for you to notice them so they might caress the soles of your feet. Some have fountains, some caves, still others have monkey bars. During the day they’re filled with small children and giggles. At sunset they harbor lovers and artists. Later still they house the homeless and narcotic dealers.

Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, I visit the largest tourist attraction in the entire state, which is in my city. I walk the aisles marveling at the millions of ways we humans have devised to kill things as efficiently as possible.

There are streets, only a handful among the thousands of the intersecting lines, which leads to a graveyard in the center of town. I have paced between the rows of headstones, reading the epitaphs, for days. Some days never a word is spoken, other times magnificent orations. Still, I’ve never seen another person there.

Every couple of blocks you’ll see a giant yellow sign with the silhouette of a cowboy, or golden arches standing on red plains, or a white siren in a green circle, each depicting a different way to feed an addiction.

On Sunday mornings, the buildings are all full, so I go to church. Outside of the city a few miles you’ll find pavement winding through a reserve where I go to meet God. I hear my deity in the bubbling brooks, I see my deity in the flight of birds and butterflies, I feel my deity in the rush of wind.

For one reason or another, I have found that very few people exist in my city. In search of people, one finds instead mostly titles, opinions, beliefs, memberships, held together by a physical proxy.

Visiting the grocery stores late at night is eye opening. People wearing nothing but rags carrying children with dirty faces stand in line where only hours before wealthy businesspeople bought their prime rib. I’m not sure why the schism exists. I don’t think either group wants to be near the other.

When the church bells strike twelve, you can hear the nocturnal creatures emerge from their shelters. Police sirens echo through the streets, train whistles blow, drunken wanderers utter the occasional shout, and I wonder what they’re all looking for in the dark.

The city crawls with students. Everywhere you look there is a café filled with textbooks and collegiates aching to tell you what they know about Kung and Kant, Donne and Dumas, or Christ and Krishna.

There is a small diner downtown that serves the best breakfast food. On Saturday mornings I like to drink my coffee there while I observe the cook prepare my eggs and listen to the couple behind me talk about their grandchildren or their wedding day or the big day of shopping that lies ahead of them.

There is an organic coffee shop on the square downtown where the baristas will tell you everything you need to know about life while serving you a cup of the best Guatemala Antigua you will ever taste.

On the first Friday night of every month, there are several things to witness downtown. One can marvel at the art in the galleries, or there are always the circus performers in the historical square swallowing fire, or there are always those filled with hate making themselves obvious. They stand on the corners shouting—or at least it looks like shouting; nobody ever hears them—about the evils of this world and how they’re God will have no mercy on the sinners.

My city is a global headquarters for religions which stand against more than they stand for. Every Sunday morning you won’t be able to find anyone until at least noon. Except the droves of homeless people. They smell like rotten eggs and locker rooms.

After a time, I have found that every part of my city speaks to me. When I first arrived, all the roads and buildings were shy and quiet. Now I see them and they tell to me about the time I was here with so-and-so, or the time I ate there that Tuesday evening, or the time I took that friend to the hospital. Nothing is silent, even if it only speaks to tell me who I should bring on the next visit.

The city is connected by a single trail I have spent hours speeding through, though it’s hard to find. It starts in a field to the North, winds through neighborhoods, parks, churches, banks, restaurants, and finishes again in the wilderness in the South. At the end, the traveler finds her or his self standing on a bridge overlooking a gushing river eroding everything in its path.


Anyway, I leave tomorrow morning for Thessaloniki and Meteora, so I'm not sure when the next time I write will be, but I'll have more interesting material when I return. Take care!


Mozart said...

Poetic, inspiring, beautiful.
Thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

I love this.

It pretty accurately sums up the experience that is Springfield.

Anonymous said...

Great description of your town.

Robin said...

great sharings

have a great trip.

PeterAtLarge said...

Your description is timely. I'm having lunch with Tom Russo and Rebecca tomorrow--they're in town for the College Art Association. And they're the ones, of course, that brought me to the town you so beautifully describe.