Thursday, 5 April 2012
Recently I was in the United States of America and wrote some of my thoughts during my trip there. Enjoy!
I'm currently in New York City. Even before landing in the Big Apple, I already feel a thrill running through me. You see, I love big cities. Despite my many complaints about them, the traffic congestion, the pollution, the noise and the crowd, I don't think I can live anywhere else other than in a big city. Whether the energy of New York, the dynamism of London, the charm of Paris and even the mess of Jakarta, there is something about a place where lots of people choose to congregate and spend their time in constant close proximity - building, moving, creating, working, living - that is endlessly fascinating.
A city for me is a reflection of the modern human's desires. Parts of it can be pretty ugly. But then, so are some of our desires. Living on top of one another in an anonymous pile of concrete termite hill can be soulless. But then, it is often this nagging feeling of being a little out of balance with ourselves that reminds us of who and what we can be.
If being thrust in the midst of nature we find ourselves face to face with the wonders of the divine creative energy and the insignificance of our role in a limitless Universe, a city is where we, humans, can manifest our own creative powers and produce a physical reality limited only by the paucity of our imagination and the dearth of our ideas.
To explore a city, wandering up and down the avenues of New York, laid out in a perfect grid so one always knows where one is in any part of the metropolis, perambulating the cobbled streets of Paris with her hidden courtyards and the peculiar smell in the air that brings up images of the past, or navigating the filthy and narrow back streets of Jakarta behind the gleaming facades of tall buildings and wide boulevards, is to reveal the inside of the human mind and explore the depths of the human soul in all its ingenuity, its foolishness and its endless contradictions.
In Nature, whether in the greatness of a mountain, the expanse of the ocean, the uniqueness of a blade of grass and the mystery of a petal opening, there is only beauty. Because Nature reflects a creative energy generated by pure harmony, perfect symmetry and eternal balance: the key to Perfection. The secret that inspires all our artistic impulses, the philosopher's desire to seek the truth and human need to conjure up a Divine Creator in order to explain an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. In Nature there is no beginning and no end, but one energy transmuting into another in one perfect universal symphony where not a single instrument is missing nor a single note misplayed.
Not so in cities: the product of the development of the human mind and years of human dreams. The city is a manifestation of the evolution of human creativity. As each human is different from one another, each city too has a different characteristic, with different level of growth and ambitions of what it wants to be.
That is why I enjoy wandering round a city, treading her uneven pavement, gazing at the peculiarities of her buildings: some huge and grand, some slim and elegant, still others ornate and showy, many are ugly and misshapen. Physical representatives of the myriad of human emotions. Here is pride, here is coyness, here is ostentation, here is nostalgia and here is just lack of thought and bad taste.
Wandering round a city we see our soul and desires reflected back to us, in all their imperfections, their arrogance and in flashes of their genius and shallowness of aspirations. The city is where we express both our love and our contempt for our fellow beings, our dislike of close proximity and yet our fear of being alone. Like the humans they inhabit, some cities are better at creating a friendlier and more pleasant living space than others. Some more romantic. Others are cold and unwelcoming. Some are even like a petulant teenager, ever changing, still looking for her identity and making endless mistakes. Some are old and cling on to the past with a tenacity that is charming, refusing to succumb to modern trends of architecture. Many want to grasp the future. Most wish to be the object of global desire and admiration.
Everywhere we look a city is our desire to make a point of our existence. Our way of carving our name in the enormous Universal tree. To say 'we are here.'
To live in a city is also to hate it. The same way that there are always parts about ourselves that we dislike and parts of others that we envy. That is why I love visiting other cities. To revel in the difference. To enjoy the things we're deprived of back home. Bask in the beauty of others who seem so much more interesting, so much more exciting. And New York for me is the epitome of all cities. The Big Apple and the top of the heap of human capabilities with a dynamism and vibrancy that is almost palpable.
A sales clerk in a New York shop asks a buyer in front of me where she comes from. Brazil comes the answer.
'That is so cool!' the sales assistant replies, almost passionately. 'New York is really boring. There's nothing here. It's one big mess. And there's definitely no good looking men in New York! I wish I could live in Brazil too!'
(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)