An English professor once told my short stories class that if you want to be a writer, it’s imperative you live in New York at least once in your life. I took his advice to heart and moved to New York not after graduation, but during it.
Eight years later, I understand his advice in another way. If you want to understand people, live in a city. For it wasn’t just the city that inspired the writer, but the people in it. The city was a manifestation of life and all its elements. Loss, love, hardship, betrayal, success. It was alive, radiating with a pulse that beat from the millions who chose to inhabit it. The values, customs, wants and needs of those who ran its streets. The city was the people and the people were the city.
When I studied abroad, I lived with a host mother, a woman whom I studied closely for six months in her light flooded, tiled apartment in Empajadores. Federica was the embodiment of Madrid. From the way she explained the importance of my birthday – the one day of the years in which the stars and the planets are aligned in accordance just for you – to the way she ate her dinner, slowly, emphatically and with tenderness. She was as much a part of Madrid as the parks and museums and the way the Spanish beer tastes on the cobblestoned streets of La Latina.
I can never go back to Madrid, however. Because the young, naïve girl in the slitted ASOS dresses who once tried to jump the velvet red rope at Kapital and thought the thirty-seven year old dentist who lived in La Latina actually wanted to be her boyfriend is etched into every monument, and states building and café con leche and subway platform. I cannot step foot into Madrid, because Madrid, with it’s flirtatious charm and warm embrace, is like an old lover and it hurts.
But that wound, that fear, only solidifies what I already know and love about cities – that each one is as unique, attributable and alive as the next. That every city has a personality that like all the people I still hope to meet in this world, I want to get to know.
Nobody had forgotten anything here. In Berlin, you had to wrestle with the past, you had to build on the ruins, inside them. It wasn’t like America where we scraped the earth clean, thinking we could start again every time.
― Janet Fitch
Berlin’s getting dark before it’s getting late.
― Charlotte Eriksson
She was polite and quiet, and always wore a dark, elegant dress.
— Gertrud Kolmar
Berlin was charismatic in the roguish way of a love… a lover who was a little dangerous in ways that didn’t always show, keeping you a bit on edge, a bit in love and endlessly forgiving because he made her feel that she was exactly where she was meant to be.
– Whitney Otto
I only care for the subjective life; I am very German, you see: The woods interest me, and the world does not.
― Ouida Wanda
Night fell clean and cold in Dublin, and wind moaned beyond my room as if a million pipes played the air.
I think being a woman is like being Irish… Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the time.
― Iris Murdoch
I’m Irish!…When I feel well I feel better than anyone, when I am in pain I yell at the top of my lungs, and when I am dead I shall be deader than anybody.
― Morgan Llywelyn
When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.
― Edna O’Brien
Fabulous place, Dublin is. The trouble is, you work hard and in Dublin you play hard as well.
Dublin … is not only the capital of a nation, but the capital of an idea. The idea of Irishness is not universally beloved. Some people mock it, some hate it, some fear it. On the whole, though, I think it fair to say, the world interprets it chiefly as a particular kind of happiness, a happiness sometimes boozy and violent, but essentially innocent: and this ineradicable spirit of merriment informs the Dublin genius to this day.
Today I am so at home in Dublin, more than in any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. But, as with Belfast it took me years to penetrate its outer ugliness and dourness, so with Dublin it took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel – which I quite like too.
After the desperate years of their own war, after six years of repression inside Spain and six years of horror in exile, these people remain intact in spirit. They are armed with a transcendent faith; they have never won, and yet they have never accepted defeat.
The first painting that I realised I liked was ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch, when I was six years old, at the Prado in Madrid. I still find myself returning there every time I’m in the city.
For … austere and gracious allegory, as for so much of its mysticism and its chivalry, its ardours and its endurances, the world is in debt to Spain.
Madrid is a lovely enchanting city, and there was almost ready for me a kind of penthouse full of sunlight, a roof garden, and so on. I gave one look at it all, returned to the hotel and went to bed and wept bitterly for eleven hours.
―Katherine Anne Porter
Spaniards and Americans are not like Europeans, they are not like Orientals, they have something in common, that is they do not need religion or mysticism not to believe in reality as all the world knows it, not even when they see it.”
― Gertrude Stein
If Copenhagen were a person, that person would be generous, beautiful, elderly, but with a flair. A human being that has certain propensities for quarrelling, filled with imagination and with appetite for the new and with respect for the old – somebody who takes good care of things and of people.
For years, whenever I’d been traveling and came back to Copenhagen, I’d think: ‘People are so stylish.’ And it’s not any one class. It’s everyday life.
― Susanne Bier
There is not truly bad weather, just bad clothes.
― Helen Russell
Architecture without pain, art looked at in undiluted pleasure, enjoyment without anxiety, compunction, heartache: there is no beggar woman in the church door, no ragged child or sore animal in the square.
Danes are blunt and direct and trusting and secure.
― Helen Russell
A good part of any day in Los Angeles is spent driving, alone, through streets devoid of meaning to the driver, which is one reason the place exhilarates some people, and floods others with an amorphous unease.
― Joan Didion
I was street-smart — but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.
There is no question that Los Angeles expects its long-termers to survive the inevitable and chronic ass-kickings alone.
― Jennifer Harrison
Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.
― Dorothy Parker
The city has a reputation for constant sunshine and warmth, but once the sun is down at night, LA remembers it’s secretly a desert under its newer identity. The cool night air doesn’t care what midday was like.
― Amy Spalding