Thursday, July 30, 2009

Escape from the City

Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free,
Free as a bird to settle where I will.
- William Wordsworth, The Prelude; or the Growth of a Poet’s Mind

As tempting as the hip urban loft life sometimes seems, I cannot imagine being happy in a high-rise. Even if I had a large south-facing balcony filled with containers and pots of every description, I just don’t see a balcony of potted plants providing any sort of bucolic peaceful oasis of my back yard. Life in an asphalt jungle, no matter how hip or idealized, no matter how good the sushi, how seductive the nightlife, seems to me to be too hard. I’d prefer to spend an afternoon pruning rose bushes or clearing brush, earning the scrapes and bruises and the dirt under my fingernails, instead of earning bruises from bumping into the harsh edges and hazards in the city.

Being somewhat hearing challenged in recent years, I find nothing sinister about the silence of suburbia. The unintended consequence of playing music too loudly back in the day is that I have adapted to the muffled sounds of the real world today, punctuated by the nonsense babbling of a senile person who lives in our house. The background noise of passing traffic on the busy thoroughfare a short block from my backyard provides a sort of background of white noise, punctuated by the noisy birds conspiring to spread the birdseed as far from the feeders as possible. I sometimes hear owls at night, much softer than the sound of car alarms on city streets.

There’s nothing better than smelling the nighttime air this time of year. I live in a Mediterranean climate, 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. This time of year we’re getting a bit of cloud cover during the day – they call it a marine layer, but I prefer to call it smog – that moves onshore at night, but not far enough inland as my house. Without cloud cover, the land cools off substantially as soon as the sun goes down – the heat of the day is not held on the ground by clouds – leaving clear chilly nights where the fragrance of eucalyptus trees and night-blooming jasmine permeate the air. I’ve even come to appreciate the occasional earthy smell of skunk as the night critters jostle each other for the water left strategically about the garden.

In contrast, I presume that those city lofts are left sealed against the auto exhaust and car alarms, their inhabitants left with aromatic candles and air fresheners Americans seem so addicted to these days.

The other night, in a major national franchise restaurant, we noted that the small print on the menu warned about food-borne illness eaters risked in ordering dishes with eggs, lettuce, and even antibiotic-saturated beef. Yummy. Even the sushi may be tainted with mercury and other heavy metals meant to be enjoyed best via music, not food. There’s even poison on the night breezes wafting through city lofts – auto exhaust, industrial pollution. Now more than ever, all my senses appreciate my timely escape from the city.


tina said...

Warm days and cool nights sound like the perfect climate. You paint a wonderful picture with your words. I can almost picture it.

colleen said...

I often muse on whether I could leave the city altogether, and have concluded that I cannot. I suspect it is the urban rationing of the kind of experiences that you describe that makes them all the more precious when they do occur unexpectedly.

I wonder what Wordsworth would now make of Westminster (which I found out today is almost a quarter parkland).

walk2write said...

Smell of the good life smacks of complacency, but I see from your latest posts that you haven't fallen for that trap. Loved your description of the postmodern predicament. A little dirt under the fingernails proves just the ticket to escape a sterile existence.