When the streets seem strange
More often now as I walk the streets the words come to my lips or mind, “These things seem strange to me now.”
Funny. Why’s that?
The streets are the same. The people, cars and other walkers – the same.
How can the familiar become strange?
James Joyce, self-exhiled to Paris, could describe the streets and names of most of his home town Dublin. They were in his blood and inhabited his every fibre – his books say so loudly, and fondly, with a deep love of the life, the details of the currents there; streets can offer the small things – gifts, often, if we would only see them to savour, particularly a street dominated by pedestrians where people pause to talk.
When do we leave a place?
When the plane takes off?
But I’m still here.
Now, it seems parts of me are already gone.
The prospect of departure may bring with it the long goodbye inside well before the ground of home is left a long way below.
With my Kindle loaded up with Gulliver’s Travels, Shakespeare, Ovid, Homer, James Lee Burke, St John of the Cross, Dorothy Parker, and so much more – all (except the wordsmith Burke) free! because they’re ‘classics’ and noone buys them anymore, perhaps – I’ve been famialiarizing myself with the mechanics of the Kindle. The first chapter of Gulliver’s Travels, set on the Island of Lilliput, has Gulliver describing himself as a stranger in a strange land. The chapter almost caused a riot when published. Aside from it’s political dimensions, though, wonderful as they are, there’s an unnerving power in the writer, Jonathon Swift, to convincingly describe the street and social life of the world he imagined on that made-up island.
Strange streets there, too, but believable because of the detailed descriptions.
So many writers, and all of us, writers or not, absorb so much from the streets where we are.
Yet, ‘same’ as they may be it’s surprising to me the extent to which we can see them, sense them so differently tho’ they change not a jot. We find different meanings in the street at different times. You know, it’s in the songs; “I have often walked down this street before, but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before . . . ” and more; Highway 61 . . . and on they go.
The great gardens of Italy – great to me because they master the use of water with the plants – are like streets, laneways – they invite you down their paths that are interesting, the design of the water ‘talks’ to your eye and your senses. And their great delight, for me, at least, is to sense the respect the designer has conferred on the public and private mix of intimacy – it’s there in a disciplined way. Sometimes in some of those gardens it’s as tho’ the designer is alive there, still, saying gently, “Don’t you love water?” Or, “This matters – do you agree?” That is, the gardens talk to us.
Perhaps that’s why we feel more human in streets with water, plants, trees than in the hard surfaced places car parks and shopping centres are; there’s simply more sensory complexity with this greater mix.
I notice that it’s more so in car parks, shopping centres and less so in planted streets that the streets seem strange to me, that parts of me are already gone.
Perhaps this is true for most of us; a part of any of us ‘leaves’ when we go to shopping centres and places solely cement, tar and cars.
And we don’t have to be catching a plane to feel like that.