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The joy of the street


At the NY Review of Books blog, poet Charles Simic pens a tender homage to the anonymous crowds and bustling street life of great cities like Barcelona, Krakow, Mexico City, and Sarajevo:

Even today, a kind of exhilaration comes over me roaming an unfamiliar city, a fear of being lost and a secret hope that I am. In the meantime, how much more alive I feel, how much more readily my eyes notice things and how much better my mind and imagination work. Strange cities compel us to look. We take lessons in aesthetics and political science without being aware that we are. We learn about beauty and mystery by giving some overlooked little street and neighborhood the friendship it deserves. In cities that are full of skyscrapers I feel like I am in a movie and, in the older ones, in a theater walking past brightly or dimly illuminated stage sets, mingling with the actors.

Whitman wrote of the crowd on Broadway:

What hurrying human tides, or day or night!
What passions, winnings, losses, ardors, swim thy waters!
What whirls of evil, bliss and sorrow, stem thee!
What curious questioning glances—glints of love!
Leer, envy, scorn, contempt, hope, aspiration!

Walking the city streets one becomes a collector of faces, some of which stay with us forever. “Every human being, from the humblest to the most distinguished,” Goethe thought, “carries around with him a secret which would make him hateful to all others if it became known.” Or perhaps—I am inclined to add—would draw our sympathy and even our love, if by some miracle we were to find out what it was.

Image: Prague, 1964, Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photo. Via NYRblog.