Friday, December 5, 2008

Real Cities

All my life, I've tried to live and work in what I call "real" cities, or close enough to one to use it.

I've tried to avoid cities that don't have all the things I think a real city should have.

First off, the city has to be located on an ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or a Great Lake. No smaller lake and no river will do. Then, it has to have the major sports: football, baseball and basketball. Since I grew up a long time ago in the South, I give cities a pass on hockey and soccer. But they have to have an opera, a symphony, a good art museum and some theater. I think those eight things are essential.

I went to college and worked in a couple of land-locked Texas cities, and I spent some time working in Washington, D.C., but I was never really happy in those places. I missed the big water.

If I made a list of real countries, I wonder if America would be on it. What would a list of eight things a real country has to have look like?

Growing up in America, I never doubted we were a real country. I still remember coming home, after spending several years in Europe. I flew into New Jersey, and I was amazed at the amount of street lighting and the number of pay phones in America, compared to Europe. Thinking about the enormous wealth the consumption of that much electricity required, I felt proud to be an American, happy to be back home.


quinn the eskimo said...

Real cities are easier to spy than real countries. Just because you can stand certain places and say, "I'm not in a city at all." But countries? The nation-state claimed every inch of ole terra.

Up here, part of your HS education is debate on "What makes us a country?" Or, "Are we a country?" You guys might think we are. A lot of us don't. When your flag & anthem & constitution came in during your own lifetime, tough to say it runs that deep.

So I switched off on that state-sponsored nationalism long ago. You can fight with me about symbols like flags & all that - but that ain't the country.

#1 thing people would say identifies us as a country? Get this. Medicare. But I keep asking, when people say they're so proud of this, "What happens when the Americans get it?" So, sure, I value it, but it doesn't make us a real country.

Any more than street-lighting.

So I end up with the land, the place... and the people, and their stories. Easy to see the impact of the land up here, it almost overwhelms you. Four seasons, and each lands with big boots.

Problem is... nature is SO large here. "The wilderness" they tell us in Grade 12 Lit, shaped the Canadian identity. Atwood. Makes me laugh, because wilderness, on this scale, eats you up. If you go out there on your own. No heroic mountain plane crashes, living in a hut, eating beaver. You go North on your own, you'll die. So maybe the land shapes you, but you need some distance from it, some fellow dogs in the harness, and that's your real country, eh?

Which leaves people's history. Story. Funny enough, we got so many. Which is ok. But everybody's got lots, right? Do we have one big story? Not just an official history, any ole dead town got a canned history. But a story that moves forward somehow, or is at the least, open at one end? A live one?

Not sure we do. Truth is, and I usually only whisper it - in the interests of smoothing social relations - I don't think anybody's got one of them big juicy stories anymore.

At least not, one that isn't bullshit. Because to be a live one, you kinda have to believe it.

So, no... There are no real countries, Billy.

Come back tomorrow though, cause you never can tell what'll turn up.

Billy Glad said...

Detroit could make the list, even without the auto industry. Amusing.

quinn the eskimo said...

City-wise, yeah, I want water. But I just realized a factor I've come to respect, and prefer, in cities. And this from someone raised non-union, rural.

I like cities that still have an active, functioning working class. With their own neighborhoods. And history. And places. And schools. Organized enough to pack a punch at City Hall.

Not just government workers or ghettos or artists colonizing old buildings downtown or nice cafes or a gentrified waterfront.

So Billy.... Opera or Working Class?

gasket said...

The only real city is New York City. Everything else is Not-New-York.

quinn the eskimo said...

It's tough to claim you're the only, when your name starts with "new."

- New Gasket