Sunday, June 17, 2012

Visitor, Ghost

A visitor to a city is a ghost of himself, ghosting those who live and work there, his feet landing on the pavement as surely as theirs, his body filling space in trains, in parks, in bars, but only temporarily. If he's a bit actor, an extra, than so is the city itself a kind of movie set, navigated through without glimpses of the lives behind building facades. "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving," wrote Lao-Tzu in the sixth century BC, which is precisely what differentiates me on the train from the riders who fret over being late for work, their second job, an interview, or to pick up their kids. For a traveler, arrival means not stasis—I'm here for a while—but the promise of movement—I'll have to leave soon. Arriving in a city with few fixed plans is one of the rights, and pleasures, of the traveler, but he can't claim that he's really experienced the city when his plans are few and his arrivals brief.

Ghost in the tunnels

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On the F Train in Brooklyn, pulling into the 4th Avenue station in Gowanus after gliding through the currently-rehabbing Smith Street Station. How do others see this view? The landscape and cityscape blinking in late afternoon sun, the view across the water to Governor's Island and the piers, the chalky sky and towering, obstinate BQE, the backs of billboards, the nearness of anonymous windows, church steeples and industrial roofs, water towers and graffiti, red brick alight—it's all urban gorgeous to me, in its blight. But I don't live here. I romanticize here, I see here in bits and pieces of my choosing, can leave here when I wish, though it's often before I wish. This view to those who stay? Colors, textures in a language I've yet to learn, and too often fool myself into believing would be easy to pick up.

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