Friday, July 17, 2009

Cities

My first year in Boston (2006), I went to a friend's house in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving. Her family lives in Walpole, a quaint little town with a mountainous horizon. Incidentally, I had lived in Walpole, Massachusetts, for a couple of months, where a couple of very good friends let me crash in their basement until I found a job and an apartment. 

While in Walpole, New Hampshire, we passed through Keane, a college town that seemed oddly familiar to me. I was nearly overwhelmed with deja vu when we passed through the town square, and suddenly it hit me: I had indeed passed through this town before. Twice, in 2003 and 2004, on my way to Franconia for the Frost Place Poetry Festival (where I met the Massachusetts friend who graciously offered her basement when I expressed interest in moving to Boston after winning my bachelor's). Keane is a stop on the Concord Trailways line going to Franconia. I had spent almost a year among unfamiliar surroundings. It was an immense delight to find myself unexpectedly in a place I somewhat knew. 

On one of our trips to Recife recently, the bridge over the river, taking the city bus, the tall buildings, the subway, all gave a vague sense of traversing Boston. Many talk about the differences from culture to culture, separations of language, custom, religion, and taste. But I find it more interesting to discover what we all have in common. Traveling through a large city, I get a sense not only of its peculiar character and energy, but also a trace of all the other cities I have visited and lived in before. Despite its violence, Recife seems to have a very good energy. All of the strangers we asked direction from were extremely friendly, and accurate in their advice. One walked with us for a couple of blocks, in the pouring rain (borrowing an umbrella), to make sure we headed in the right direction. 

Writing about Recife has made me nostalgic for the lost New Orleans. Toward the end of 2004 and through the middle of 2005, I finally came around to exploring the decadent city I had avoided much of my life, convinced by my family that, if I entered those vile gates, I might never return. I only really got to know a few trendy restaurants and a decent movie theater on the edge of the French Quarter before Katrina hit. I am interested in going back there, for only the second time since that hurricane, to see what has survived and what has not. 




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