Where you want to be

I like to think that cities have souls. That there’s something that reaches out to us in your favourite cities - atmosphere, feeling, life. Something that draws us to them.

Are you a small town person, a where-everybody-knows-your-name person? Are you a big city, metropolis, crowded subway person? Are you trees and parks or skyscrapers and shopping malls? Are you peace and quiet or lively and happening? Maybe you aren’t these things. But your favourite city is. Maybe it’s the opposite of you. Maybe you’re really shy and quiet but you love a city that screams around you and you just fade into the background?

london underground, par moi

I love London. I have since the first time I stepped off the tube from Heathrow. I’ve been four times in the last two years, and I have never run out of things to do. I like the feeling of London. It’s a huge city- the world happens in London. But it has neighbourhoods and sections that are basically autonomous.  Like Neil Gaiman said in his short story, Keepsakes and Treasures, “London is mad. Multiple personality problems. All these little towns and villages that grew and crashed into each other to make one big city, but never forget the old borders.”

It’s strange because I don’t generally like big cities. In fact, I normally hate them. I don’t do well in crowded places and I find it very difficult to look past crowded high streets and chain stores to find the character of a big city.

I hated New York City. I didn’t much care for most of Dublin. But I loved Galway.


Galway felt like home. On the bus ride from Dublin to Galway, you pass a beautiful ruined castle on the ocean. The tide was out and there were little tide pools among the rocks. Even though I had originally planned to live in Dublin for the summer, the minute I saw Galway I knew it was where I wanted to be. Galway is a small city, though the third largest in Ireland. It’s cobblestones, small pubs and buskers. It’s the famous Galway Bay of songs. It’s beautiful.

I don’t really feel any attachment to Newcastle. It isn’t, technically, a very big city. But it is a lot larger than I expected and it’s definitely quite crowded downtown. There’s no character in the city centre. There are only chain restaurants serving bad food and big stores. I don’t know if independent business even exists in Newcastle.

I remember, years ago, Fae told me that she was in the car coming back from somewhere, some vacation. When you drive into Pittsburgh, it suddenly appears in front of you from the highway, all hills and rivers and lights. And she said that she knew then that it was home. That no matter where she went in the world, Pittsburgh was home.

pittsburgh, par moi

I didn’t understand it at the time.

When I was young I wanted to be anywhere but there. Growing up in the suburbs leaves lots of things up to the imagination and provides very little inspiration. I rarely saw Ottawa at all, except on Canada Day or when we caught a bus to go shopping downtown. Yes, my house was home. I hadn’t known any other. But my city was not.

Now, I’m wondering what to think of this city that I come from - the one with snow and the streets I know. I used to think those streets would never take me anywhere. But at least I know where I am.

I’m conflicted about Ottawa. I will always be drawn to it, it’s so much a part of who I am, there are so many memories here.

And feeling drawn to a city is what makes it home, rather than just a place you live.

1 Comment

  • By Shaun, December 21, 2009 @ 8:35 pm

    I dont know how to feel about Newcastle and Ive lived there (or near abouts) for the last 15 years. Yes its bland, yes it lacks character in some respects and yet…and yet…show me the Tyne Bridge and something stirs within me. For all its faults I do ‘love’ the city. Maybe one day Ill find somewhere that I feel a proper connection to but until then Ill be happy with what Ive got :)

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