On the Relocated Life

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A city is like a person: it has a personality, a life, a morality, and movement unlike that of any other city in the world. We get to know our cities. We know the best places to go, the best places to be, where to get things and find things and do things. The city holds us like a dear friend or an old enemy, well-known and comfortable.

So how much harder is it then to leave a city whose life is entwined with ours to such an extent that we don't know where we end and the city begins? It is like leaving a friend or a lover who has been all things to me for six long years. It has fed me, clothed me, housed me, loved me, abused me, furnished me with anecdotes and made me into an anecdote myself. I know its streets and subways like the texture of my own skin. I can find my way through its canyons with my eyes closed, orienting myself by the sounds of the traffic and the vendors and the people passing, and the boats that come and go still on the long rivers. I have absorbed the music and the energy of the place like it was life-giving water, and it has changed me both for good and ill.

And now I am considering leaving this place, my home, the place where I have so many memories that I can't walk down a street without saying "Oh, I remember when..." This place drove me to be better, more driven, more creative, more energetic than I was before; more arrogant, less patient, more angry as well. It has shaped me, and I am leaving it. I am excited and terrified, optomistic and heartbroken, resolved on my course and yet tempted to waver from it. I don't know where I'm going yet, or how long I'll stay, or where I'll end up. I don't even know if I'm running to something or away from something. But I'm running.

New York is the greatest city in the world, and I am leaving it. And I'm afraid that when I leave the most interesting part of me will stay here with it.

-- katie mccaffery (katiemac3@hotmail.com), November 04, 1999


I have never felt so committed to a place. I think I'm jealous.

With time, maybe I could have come to feel that way about Cairo. But all the other places I've lived - I've liked them, but I have felt linked to them. I love boston but I am not bound up with it. I am not part of it, nor it, me.

Even Syracuse, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, never made me feel that way. It is still drenched in memory for me; every part of the city reminds me of something. But I don't think it shaped me.

I would like to live somewhere that means as much to me as New York does to you. But I fear it, too.

-- alanna (shaikha@bu.edu), November 04, 1999.

I feel a need to defend Cairo here. Cairo is only of the only cities I love. There is nothing of the desert in Cairo. True, parts of it touch the desert. But Cairo is a river city, built around the Nile. It may not be lush or verdant but it's heart is water and the city knows that.

On of the Arabic names for Cairo is "mother of the world" and I think the city has earned it. It is vast, and it is old, and it has everything. Cairo is a world in and of itself. It is not a city of adrenaline, like New York. It's a city of coffee. It's always busy; I have never seen a deserted street in Cairo. But it's busy at its own pace. Cairo does not hurry, and it teaches its citizens that they need not hurry either.

It think that's what makes a great city. A city with a character of its own, that hapes its people in its image, not the other way around. If you live in a great city, it gets in your blood. if you live in an ordinary city, you leave untouched.

-- alanna (shaikha@bu.edu), November 09, 1999.

On Relocation, and Cities

I am a city person. I love the country, and nature can move me so much that I long for the ability to write poetry or paint pictures. But I have never been able to convince myself that I could live without urban stimulation. When I was choosing colleges, my top two choices were Georgetown and Middlebury. About the only thing they have in common is an emphasis on study abroad. But although I absolutely fell in love with the Middlebury campus, and really worried over whether I would be happier there than at my long-time standout favorite, Georgetown (which I saw in the rain, and didn't feel particularly moved one way or the other), ultimately I couldn't get past the fact that the nearest city was over an hour and a half away - and that was in Canada.

Although I haven't lived in the city proper since I was four, I have lived close enough around it so that I grew up with the feeling that New York was the best place in the world. But even knowing that in my bones, I have spent the same six years that Katie has spent soaking up New York experiences living in three other extraordinary cities - Washington, Paris, and London -before returning to New York again.

It is my absolute love for cities that has driven me to live in so many in such a short period. It is my love for New York that has made me commit practically career suicide (or at least terminal stagnation) by trying to start an international relations career away from Washington. I need to live in the city for a few years, to learn the city from within. Eventually, I'll want to move on - the lure of new cities is cannot be ignored forever. San Francisco, Boston, Berlin  these are only a few that I want to experience. But it is New York to which I compare them all.

So far, none have measured up. But living in each new city is like making a new friend. Some have more in common with New York than others, and others fascinate me despite the differences. London, while very different from New York, called to some part of me - I know I'll want to spend several more years there. Washington I loved, but it bored me in three years. There is a hum of energy in Cairo, too, but it is the hum of the vastness and silence of the desert.

No matter how long I live in New York, I know that I will also want to leave to explore new cities. It is the fun of discovering the many differences and individual idiosyncrasies that makes relocating worth it. And each one you get to know will add to you, like new friends add without deleting the value of the old ones. Each will create a new set of memories to look back on, and add still another place to revisit with nostalgia and delight.

Living in New York is like living with an intravenous drip of adrenaline - there's a humming in your blood that you can never find anywhere else. If that drives you nuts, or worse, you don't feel it at all, even subconsciously, then you will never truly touch the city and it will never truly touch you.

But once you've gotten the city in your blood, it will never completely leave you, no matter where you move. Simply the echo, the flashback, can be enough.

Particularly if you keep in mind that you can always return, and it will always be the same and yet completely different.

-- wendy (wruhm@compuserve.com), November 08, 1999.

There is no need to defend Cairo - it is a beautiful city, and one of the few that remind me of New York quite a bit. The comments I made were meant as compliments. I really liked Cairo. In fact, upon returning to Cairo from a week spent traveling around the rest of Egypt - perhaps prettier, certainly less crowded - unlike my companions who were sorry to leave the smaller towns we had visited, I felt instantly happy to be back amid the jostle of pedestrians and the hustling and honking of black taxis. It was yet another of those moments which bring home to me the fact that I am a city person.

I can see that my impressions of Cairo may well not jibe with those of someone who has spent a lot of time there. Since Alanna has lived in Cairo, and I have only visited, of course my impressions of the city are at best telescoped compared to hers. However, I stand by my statement.

It is true that Cairo centers around the river, but at night in certain places the city is quiet or at least muted and distant (something that almost never happens in New York - it may be muted but it is never distant) and it was then that I could feel the pulse of the desert surrounding the city. The time I spent sitting along the banks of the Nile at night with Alanna was one of the parts of the trip I enjoyed most - where I felt the most truly peaceful and reflective. The desert is there, and one can feel it - even if there is nothing of the desert in Cairo itself.

As for Alanna's last statement, I have to say that since I have never lived in any but great cities, perhaps I cannot have a truly well-informed opinion. But although I mostly agree with her, I do think there are those who are not city people, and any city, no matter how extraordinary, and no matter how much they appreciate it, will leave them untouched. But then, they are probably far more in touch with nature than a city person will ever be.

-- wendy (wruhm@compuserve.com), November 09, 1999.

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