23 October 2008

Soft City

I come out of a formica kabab-house alone after lunch, my head prickly with retsina. The air outside is a sunny swirl of exhaust fumes; that faint, smoky-turquoise big city colour. I stand on the pavement waiting to cross at the lights. Suddenly I know that I don't know the direction of the traffic. Do cars here drive on the left or the right hand side of the road? A cluster of Italian au pair girls, their voices mellow and labial, like a chorus escaped from an opera, pass me; I hear, in the crowd, an adenoidal Nebraskan contralto, twangy as a jew's harp. Turned to a dizzied tourist myself, forgetful and jet-shocked, I have to hunt in my head for the language spoken here.

...You're a balloonist adrift, and you need anchors to tether you down.

A sociologist, I suppose would see these as classic symptoms of alienation, more evidence to add to the already fat dossier on the evils of urban life. I feel more hospitable towards them. For at moments like this, the city goes soft; it awaits the imprint of an identity. For better or worse, it invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. You too. Decide who you are, and the city will again assume a fixed form around you... - Soft City, Jonathan Raban, 1974

1 comment:

VisuaLingual said...

Beautiful and well-written. I thrive on that distinctly urban form of alienation; I suppose I should check out this book.