Romanticizing Places

I’m no stranger to romanticizing places. Those who know me- even just a little bit- know that the summer camp I attended and now work at holds a place in my heart reserved generally for family, and NBC sitcoms. I know I’m not alone in my romanticism. People love the places they are from, and the places they wish to go. They love places that hold memories, and places where they wish to create them. Go on to Amazon and type in ‘Paris.” You get more than 300,000 items. Books, movies, photographs- each a love letter to the city itself. Type in ‘New York’ and you get almost a million and a half.

There is no doubt that the city of New York holds a broad appeal. Art, culture, food, can find just about anything you are looking for in the city that never sleeps. But can a city that does so much really do all of it well? Some people think so. I’m not so sure. I feel like a lot of the aspects of New York that so many people love, are done in other places—and done even better.

My best friends senior year, and a US capital building that
looks a bit like someone set it on fire.
It won’t surprise anyone that has spoken to me for even the briefest bit of time that I love Washington DC. There is something about the nation’s capital that is so special to me, in a way that is really quite hard to describe. It could be the incredible history- you can hardly walk down a street without passing a building where an important treaty was signed, or where some great protest was held. It could be the politics- there is a real sense of importance about DC. It feels like the work that is going on there matters. It could be my own personal bias. I grew up in the suburbs, and my father’s office was right off DuPont. So many memories from my childhood are contained within the district. It could be something else entirely, that I—in my fit of romanticism—haven’t even been able to put my finger on.  

Chicago is always where you learn what
cold really is.
Chicago also has a place in my heart- though in a very different way.  While DC reminds me of childhood, Chicago reminds me of growing up. When I moved to Chicago, at 18 years old, it was a real step of independence. I had an apartment, a job, a brand new life bursting with opportunity and optimism. I’m not going to sugarcoat my time in Chicago. It was hard. Very hard. In ways I didn’t foresee, and couldn’t have expected. But the city itself was wonderful. Full of museums, and art, and bookstores, and libraries.  And I could go to all of them, just about whenever I wanted. One of my favorite things about Chicago was the fact that I could get around by myself. There was no need for a car, when with a simple swipe of my El pass, I could get just about anywhere I wanted to go. So I went. I went to science museums, and art galleries, and plays, and parks. I wen t to the places that I loved, and I learned about the things that interested me. Chicago was hard—true—but it was also a place where I learned how to nourish myself in a very real and very important way.

Surfing on a dino in Cleveland. Obviously.
Cleveland is the city where I learned how strongly people care about the places they are from. My immediate distrust of Cleveland honestly built mostly on my attitude about being so far away from home, allowed my friends to sweep in and show me the city through their eyes. It meant I got to go to little restaurants hidden away in places I never would have found on my own, and see concerts in clubs I probably would have been afraid of if it weren’t for a gentle nudge and a helping hand from someone I trusted and cared about. Cleveland taught me to put my trust in others, and that sharing love and happiness can be it’s own reward.

A very unflattering picture of me and a Hebrew coke bottle
on Ben Yehuda street.
Jerusalem taught me independence. It taught me history and culture and taught me fierce loyalty. It taught me that loving a place means protecting it, and loving people means protecting them too. Jerusalem is a city that’s modern and historic in equal measure, and the people there don’t find this a contradiction. In Jerusalem I can be every part of myself and still add up to a whole.

New York has a few memories for me. Disastrous trips to my uncle’s house in Brooklyn at age 10. A trip with my Hebrew school class to Ellis Island in 10th grade. Broadway shows, Jewish Delis, and taxi cab rides where I felt certain that death was imminent. But when I think of New York, I’m not filled with any real, quantifiable emotion.  The memories are there, but the heart behind them is not. This apathy towards what seems to be the world’s favorite city confuses me. If I can feel emotions for places I’ve never been—even fictional places!—then why am I unable to feel a connection to the city that so many hold so dear.

There is no denying the awesomeness
of the Times Square Toys R Us, though.
Maybe part of my problem is how badly I want to feel something—anything—for New York. Apathy makes me uncomfortable. The lack of feelings I have for a place that so many feel so much about seems unlike my norm, and in that I’m forced to confront my own indifferences. I’ve always been the kind of person who cares a lot about having convections, and believing in them strongly, and wholly. I have Opinions, and Ideals, and Ideologies, all of which—in my mind—seem deserving of capital letters. All of these things have become so much of who I am. I am a person who has feelings on issues, small and big. I am a person who has feelings about ideas. Except of course, when I don’t.

That feeling of not knowing what to feel frightens me. It goes against so much of who I am—what I stand for. Confronted by it, I feel confused, and more than a little lost.  Staring into this metaphorical abyss of nothingness, I feel small-insignificant, and completely unprepared. How do you confront something that doesn’t exist? How can you even comprehend it?

Maybe I’m getting carried away.

Cities are romantic to me. They hold memories made and memories yet to come. They’re waiting to be explored, and reward the innate curiosity I feel when faced with a new place. I’m sure a lot of people think it’s strange that I get so philosophical and carried away when confronted by subway map, but I honestly can’t help myself. I want to learn new things and go new places. I want to get lost on back streets and learn history by walking in footsteps and eating in restaurants that are older than my grandmother. I want to see and hear and experience everything I can. So maybe a subway map isn’t a bad place to start.

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