I took a run this morning, and of course, listened to a podcast. This one was on the Selected Shorts show – it was an essay by Colson Whitehead (author of 2009’s Sag Harbor and Zone One which comes out next week) called “Lost and Found.” The entire essay focused on New York city, and how each person recreates the city for his or herself. He gives examples like the dry cleaner on the corner or the favorite Chinese food place that has closed or moved, and how it will forever be the spot you remember as the dry cleaner or Chinese restaurant, no matter what else might move into that space. He discusses how the city knows you like no other person on earth – only the city has seen you alone. It sees you spit gum into a bush. It sees you flinch when drop of water drips out of a window air-conditioner onto your head. It has seen you on your midnight ice-cream run when no one else has. Whitehead mentions the Twin Towers, and how they exist in “his” New York, but for the new New Yorker who is just moving into the city from somewhere else, his or her New York will contain the specter of “Ground Zero” while someone moving to the city, or coming to awareness in the city, in five years might have a new building on that very site as part of “his or her” New York. Whitehead speaks of New York City so reverently, and notes that once a person has lived there, they never truly live anywhere else. It’s a beautiful piece, and it was read by the incomparable Alec Baldwin, so the whole experience of listening was a treat.
I feel similarly about “my” Tokyo. Oh, I admit that my Tokyo isn’t the same as a Japanese person’s. But then again, it isn’t the same as any other expat’s Tokyo either. My Tokyo includes the little shrine on the hill where they ring sets of bells around 6am every morning. My Tokyo includes the adorable security guard who works at the wedding chapel down the street from me every weekend and never fails to bow and say “Konichiwa” to me. My Tokyo has the memory of the Mediterranean food restaurant that used to be down the hill from my house and is no longer in existence, but the building remains and that’s how I think of it. My Tokyo contains several hairpin turns on streets that have no business being two-way.
What’s great about living in a large, dynamic city that lives and breathes is that My Tokyo is always changing. Since I’m working now, I’ve learned of new restaurants that are near the school. I’ve gotten a bicycle, which has changed my point of view of the city immensely. It’s all part of the process, it seems.
What about you? What about “your” city? I love the idea that yours is different from mine, and I’d love to hear about how you feel about it.