I love life in the city. This city. Ottawa.
As much as I can sometimes be critical of mass culture, as much as I abhor mobs in general, and as solitary a life as I lead, YET, I love the throng and the pulse… the teeming anonymity of city life.
I love the simultaneous blending of familiarity and unfamiliarity that is a part of long-term urban existence.
Let me explain myself.
I have lived here in the downtown core of this city for over ten years. When I lie in bed at night, I am 130 feet in the air, [top floor – top corner] and through my floor-to-ceiling window I can see Parliament Hill on the other side of my balcony railing. Especially if the pigeons move over a bit, to give me a better view.
To me, it is beautiful, and serene. At night, the twinkling lights of the city illuminate the entire apartment.
As often as I can, as often as is humanly possible, I leave my penthouse sanctuary and descend to street level, and walk the neighborhood.
Weekends are usually my full-time Downtown-Time! My car usually remains parked underground from Friday evening to Monday morning!
And so, one becomes accustomed to several aspects of familiarity.
One gravitates towards certain coffeeshops. Or stores. Or restaurants. Or parks.
One walks streets, and the same ones so often, that [at a certain point] these could probably be walked blindfolded. Such familiarity is part and parcel of being immersed in daily amounts of urbanity. And I love it.
You begin to know the friendliest of the maple-syrup vendors. You quickly learn who makes the best Lebanese shawarma. Where the best pizza is, etc. I can walk into any coffeeshop in the downtown and immediately know where the power outlets are located. Why? Because I have been there with my laptop a thousand times before.
At the same time though, there is a level of newness and unfamiliarity that meets a person each step of the way.
I do not really know the baristas that serve me coffee at Starbucks. Yet we are familiar with each other on a first name basis. Or, if not this, they will usually know what I want to order before I even say it.
I may hear some sort of racket up the street, and as I get closer I find that a substantial crowd has gathered around a busker, who is juggling flaming thingamajigs. The streetcorner is familiar, but what is currently happening on it is unfamiliar.
I am sitting even now at a coffee place on the corner of Dalhousie and Rideau, and as the signal changes, a woman walks her pink bicycle across the street. I am watching her, and I know her, but I don’t.
I know her because I have seen her dance on the street during many Canada Day celebrations, over the years. She is an amazing dancer. She does all of those crazy bare-footed gyrations while frantic bongo-music drives her on. It is like a state of frenzy. I have seen her dance many times. Today, her large-frame pink bike seems so incongruent alongside her tiny body.
And just the fact that she walks this bike across the street [rather than riding it] sort of says to me that she has a respect for order. In the sense of decorum. She wants to ride her bike, but not in and out amongst honking traffic!
A couple of blocks further, when I can no longer see her from here, she will get on her pink bike and peacefully pedal, probably humming some seriously New-Agey tune to herself.
I’ve seen her probably fifty times, and in that sense, she is very familiar to me, but I have never once spoken to her, and so in that sense, she is utterly unfamiliar.
This sort of teeming anonymity may not appeal to a lot of people.
A lot of people would rather live in an environment where they can recite [if necessary] the very intimate life history of nine-tenths of the people they associate with, or see, on a daily basis.
But this is not me at all. I don’t have the slightest desire to peer under anyone’s rug. Nor do I want them lifting mine. I prefer the teeming anonymity.
It fits my overwhelmingly Platonic/Idealistic lifestyle, perfectly.
Teeming anonymity allows me to actually apportion people [en masse] to what I prefer to think of them as.
I actually like it that if anyone walked up to me right now and started talking to me, I could literally turn to them and say → “Hey listen. I’m real sorry but I can’t talk to you right now because I am busy writing a little essay about how I prefer to live in an environment where I don’t have any real societal obligation to talk with you.”
Of course, I would not say it like that. I am purposely exaggerating.
But on the flipside, there also exists an option, and that is → TALKING WITH THEM.
Meeting them. As in, getting to know them. The important word though, for me, and for people like me, is “option.”
For me, Quality of Life is based heavily on keeping that option an option.
Recently, I have been wrestling with the recurring idea of moving. Moving back out west, where I came from. But it’s tough. A tough decision for me. Because well, I love it here.
How could I do it?
How could I leave these streets?
How could I abandon all of these people I do not know?