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11.10.04, wednesday night

Between my city and the other city was a half-hour and my train, speeding underground and through so many neighborhoods, I became dreamy, weightless. With another train-jolt, I might have bounced right up to the ceiling if it wasn't for Rebecca Solnit's A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland, which I like so much I must copy the entire damn book before I return it to the library.

While reading Solnit, I mused over the city I had left a half-hour or years ago, cities rooted deep in me. San Diego, Berkeley, Oakland, more. These were cities I've known for years, many or few, it does not matter, I lived and loved and walked for hours in them all. I could have stuck to the personal, but family or memories or my body's history are not the only things to be considered. I must also think in terms of a history and future I barely comprehend: the explosion of gated communities, luxury condos, retail monoliths, upscale restaurants and boutiques, making room for the people who can afford them . . . and pushing out the people who can't, people who must move to towns where they might, might, eke out a living kinder to their bones.

My train of thought did not end when I finally disembarked, using an exit I had not used the first time around. For one briefly startling moment, I believed that I had taken the wrong exit. Where was the city judged mostly flat and working-class? The city of bungalows, the city that reminded me of the oldtown San Diego of my youth? This was the city I had not noticed on my first trip: hills dotted with huge ranch houses of pastel stucco and adobe roofs, and some certainly not inhabited, if bare drywall and the drone of construction machinery are enough testimony to that fact.

The sight of those houses overwhelmed me. There unfolded the suburbs of my Southern Californian childhood, endless miles of houses and preternaturally green lawns, me bored asleep in the backseat of my dad's white Camaro.

And now I remember what I had passed last summer, in a car with the windows rolled down along the highway to Byron: an immense pastel condo complex, lone in the midst of a great dry brown field, with one road leading to and away from it, surrounded by hills waiting to be plowed free of its brush and covered with cement.

. . .

"To be local is to merge into your world and become vulnerable as it is vulnerable; to be a traveler is to become the pared-back person I was beginning to recognize, free to invent and learn, but not to live in that local correspondence between memory and landscape. It may be that memory requires a locale and a community, the continuity of reminders in the landscape and people with a shared frame of reference.

"The mobile and local are not necessarily oppositional. The migrants and nomads who follow circuits that tie them intimately to multiple locales are polylocal and must not be confused with drifters whose passage is linear, not circular. And change is not always kin to motion; motion is simply one way to keep pace with or outrun change--or stagnation. I like to claim to be on the side of the birds, but being a bird was a vacation for me. I haven't changed regions since I was five. Watching places over extended periods, I could see how radically they were being transformed, while most of the transient residents who passed through thought they were seeing stable neighborhoods, towns, cities, ecologies, economies, and climates. The mobile person sees the landscape she passes through as static, because she changes faster than it does, but the stationary person sees that everything around is changing. Had I not spoken to anyone in Portumna, I would have thought it was a sleepy town in which nothing was happening, rather than a place in which the past was being unraveled faster than people could bear."--Solnit (132)


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