When they first built the University of California at Irvine they just put the buildings in. They did not put any sidewalks, they just planted grass. The next year, they came back and put the sidewalks where the trails were in the grass. Perl is just that kind of language. It is not designed from first principles. Perl is those sidewalks in the grass.
I was also reminded of one of the unique charms of NYC in the summer: vast piles of rotting garbage piled on the sidewalks, with that sweet yet nauseating smell of decomposing groceries sitting in the humid fetid air, and rancid food juices oozing over the sticky sidewalks. With my windows open to counter the stuffiness, I could occasionally catch a whiff of the stench outside. People actually like living in this chaotic, fetid monument to incompetence? Beats me.
As children get older, this incidental outdoor activity-say, while waiting to be called to eat-becomes less bumptious, physically and entails more loitering with others, sizing people up, flirting, talking, pushing, shoving and horseplay. Adolescents are always being criticized for this kind of loitering, but they can hardly grow up without it. The trouble comes when it is done not within society, but as a form of outlaw life. The requisite for any of these varieties of incidental play is not pretentious equipment of any sort, but rather space at an immediately convenient and interesting place. The play gets crowded out if sidewalks are too narrow relative to the total demands put on them. It is especially crowded out if the sidewalks also lack minor irregularities in building line. An immense amount of both loitering and play goes on in shallow sidewalk niches out of the line of moving pedestrian feet.
If you are not a New Yorker, when you arrive there for the first time you have the impression you grew up there because you've seen it in so many films. It's been filmed from every single angle and by so many different filmmakers that you know the streets, the sidewalks, the architecture, the cabs, the temper of the people.
Deniz Gamze Erguven
There can be no reasonable right to live on sidewalks. Society needs order, and hence has a right to a minimally civilized ambience in public spaces. Regarding the homeless, this is not merely for aesthetic reasons because the anesthetic is not merely unappealing. It presents a spectacle of disorder and decay that becomes a contagion.
More than a decade after our fellow citizens began bedding down on the sidewalks, their problems continue to seem so intractable that we have begun to do psychologically what government has been incapable of doing programmatically. We bring the numbers down--not by solving the problem, but by deciding it's their own damn fault.
Just understand that the end began long ago We got here just in time Look All the squares in the sidewalks were already there All these strangers have more money than you do All the good riffs have been taken And everyone is so scared Murder is commonplace I don't even flinch at the gunshots outside my window I feel lonely without them
Nature is impersonal, awe-inspiring, elegant, eternal. It's geometrically perfect. It's tiny and gigantic. You can travel far to be in a beautiful natural setting, or you can observe it in your backyard - or, in my case, in the trees lining New York City sidewalks, or in the clouds above skyscrapers.
Enormous oak trees towered over the boulevard, which boasted homes with fine woodwork, wraparound porches, and moss on the sidewalks. 'There's nothing like a house in New Orleans. Would you look at those balconies and columns?' He rolled his window down to take in the sounds of life in New Orleans.
When I go to Indian reservations in the West, and especially to the Pine Ridge Reservation, I sometimes feel unsure where to put my foot when I open the car door. The very ground is different from where I usually stand. There are fewer curbs, fewer sidewalks, and almost no street signs, mailboxes, or leashed dogs.
Because they do burn leaves here, the older folks do, and I remember now that I love it and always have. The way fall feels at night because of it, because of the crackling sound and walking around the sidewalks, like when you're a kid, and kicking those soft piles, and seeing smoke from backyards and Mr. Kilstrap standing over the metal drum with the holes in the top, the sparking embers at his feet.
The Czech Republic, severed from its old Slovak half, sits in apparent landlocked contentment, inside the European Union but outside the troubled Euro Zone, set into the new Continental mosaic like one of the small sturdy paving stones, just a few inches square, that form the sidewalks under the visitor's ambling feet.
Growing up in NYC, The broken sidewalks, graffiti filled subways, and humid Laundromats, did not offer solace. I found solace in the strings of my violin, in my ballet slippers at the studio, and while gazing at frescoes in the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was always in the Arts that my soul was replenished.
Susan Anne Russell
Isolated and unincorporated, North Gulfport lacked a basic infrastructure: flooding and contaminated drinking water were frequent problems. Although finally incorporated in 1994 - not long after the arrival of the first casino - many of North Gulfport's streets still lack curbs, sidewalks, and gutters.
I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.
We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people. Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. All our everyday efforts have one objective: Happiness.
I'm on the edge, Neblin, I'm off the edge - I'm over the edge and falling into hell on the other side.' 'Calm down, John, ' he said. 'We can work through this. Just tell me where you are.' 'I'm down in the cracks of the sidewalks, ' I said, 'in the dirt and in the blood, and the ants are looking up and we're damning you all, Neblin. I'm down in the cracks and I can't get out.
Out there people are working and arguing and laughing, living their beautiful, terrible lives, falling in love and having babies and being bored out of their skulls and feeling depressed, then being consoled by some little thing like watching the patterns the light makes through the leaves of trees, casting shadows on the sidewalks. I remember the line from that poem now. Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
It was the day of the worms. That first almost-warm, after-the-rainy-night day in April, when you bolt from your house to find yourself in a world of worms. They were as numerous here in the East End as they had been in the West. The sidewalks, the streets. The very places where they didn't belong. Forlorn, marooned on concrete and asphalt, no place to burrow, April's orphans.
New York! The white prisons, the sidewalks swarming with maggots, the breadlines, the opium joints that are built like palaces, the kikes that are there, the lepers, the thugs, and above all, the ennui, the monotony of faces, streets, legs, houses, skyscrapers, meals, posters, jobs, crimes, loves... A whole city erected over a hollow pit of nothingness. Meaningless. Absolute meaningless.
To those of us who believe that all of life is sacred every crumb of bread and sip of wine is a Eucharist, a remembrance, a call to awareness of holiness right where we are. I want all of the holiness of the Eucharist to spill out beyond church walls, out of the hands of priests and into the regular streets and sidewalks, into the hands of regular, grubby people like you and me, onto our tables, in our kitchens and dining rooms and backyards.
Be careful what you say. It comes true. It comes true. I had to leave home in order to see the world logically, logic the new way of seeing. I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation. I enjoy the simplicity. Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks. Give me plastics, periodical tables, TV dinners with vegetables no more complex than peas mixed with diced carrots. Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghosts.
Maxine Hong Kingston
Summer in Honolulu brings the sweet smell of mangoes, guava, and passionfruit, ripe for picking; it arbors the streets with the fiery red umbrellas of poincianta trees and decorates the sidewalks with the pink and white puffs of blossoming monkeypods. Cooling trade winds prevail all summer, bringing what the old Hawaiians called makani 'olu' 'olu- "fair wind".
Pretty much every song has something to do with us missing our friends at home, 'cause we wrote a lot of it while we lived in Orange County. 'Sidewalks' is a lot about our friends back home in St. Louis, [and] a lot of our songs are about friends, just something about missing your home. I don't know. We're not too mad about anything. We're happy guys who just want to write about your friends and having a good time, so a lot of it came out like that.
The swelling and towering omnibuses, the huge trucks and wagons and carriages, the impetuous hansoms and the more sobered four-wheelers, the pony-carts, donkey-carts, hand-carts, and bicycles which fearlessly find their way amidst the turmoil, with foot-passengers winding in and out, and covering the sidewalks with their multitude, give the effect of a single monstrous organism, which writhes swiftly along the channel where it had run in the figure of a flood till you were tired of that metaphor. You are now a molecule of that vast organism.
William Dean Howells
The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats. Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.
Passers-by Passers-by, Out of your many faces Flash memories to me Now at the day end Away from the sidewalks Where your shoe soles traveled And your voices rose and blent To form the city's afternoon roar Hindering an old silence. Passers-by, I remember lean ones among you, Throats in the clutch of a hope, Lips written over with strivings, Mouths that kiss only for love, Records of great wishes slept with, Held long And prayed and toiled for: Yes, Written on Your mouths And your throats I read them When you passed by.
Play on lively, diversified sidewalks differs from virtually all other daily incidental play offered American children today: It is play not conducted in a matriarchy. Most city architectural designers and planners are men. Curiously, they design and plan to exclude men as part of normal, daytime life wherever people live. In planning residential life, they aim at filling the presumed daily needs of impossibly vacuous housewives and preschool tots. They plan, in short, strictly for matriarchal societies.
AS CASAS - THE HOUSES AS CIDADES - THE CITIES AS CAL&CCEDIL;ADAS - THE SIDEWALKS AS MULECADAS - THE STREET KIDS AS ESQUINAS - THE STREET CORNERS OS BURACOS - THE HOLES BALAS PERDIDAS - LOST BULLETS OS TELHADOS - THE ROOFS NO MINHOC&ATILDE;O - FAMOUS TUNNEL IN DOWNTOWN S&ATILDE;O PAULO FAVELAS - SLUMS WHERE MOST POOR PEOPLE LIVE A MULTID&ATILDE;O - THE CROWD GALERA - SOCCER CROWDS NA MADRUGADA - AFTER MIDNIGHT A GINGADA - A TYPICAL DANCE/FIGHT FROM THE NORTH E'O BRASIL - THIS IS BRASIL PAIS PORRADA - HARDCORE COUNTRY
If you were me you'd do the right thing, help your friends, because you're not a coward, ' Mandy sighed sadly. 'I covered up a murder because I was scared to go to jail and I did the wrong thing... well, now's my chance to do the right thing, to save someone's life, because I don't want you to die.' 'Save someone's life? I'm no one, ' Alecto laughed morbidly. 'A hundred and twelve years is definitely way too long to have survived. You'd be wasting your time and risking your own life... ' 'This is my life, ' Mandy declared, smiling sincerely. Alecto just looked concerned and very doubtful as the rain drizzled down the roads and sidewalks, towards the harbour where it fell into the ocean, indistinguishable from all the other water in the world.
Playdate. (n) A Date arranged by adults in which young children are brought together, usually at the home of one of them, for the premeditated purpose of 'playing'. A feature of contemporary American upscale suburban life in which 'neighborhoods' have ceased to exist, and children no longer trail in and out of 'neighbor childrens' houses or play in 'backyards'. In the absence of sidewalks in newer 'gated' coummunities, children cannot 'walk' to playdates but must be driven by adults, usually mothers. A 'playdate' is never initiated by the players (i.e., children), but only by their mothers. In American-suburban social climbing through playdating, this is the chapter you've been awaiting.
Joyce Carol Oates
If more people understood how nice it is to have a sense of home that extends past our locked doors, past our neighbors' padlocks, to the local food co-op and library, the sidewalks busted up by old trees - if we all held home with longer arms - we'd live in a very different place... We wouldn't feel so alone, no matter the size of our houses or our bank accounts, no matter whether we had good health or congestive heart failure. We would begin to see that each moment presents an opportunity to relax, to notice that the wind has shifted and a storm is coming, or that our friend's toddler has decided to wear dinner instead of eating it. We would see that each minute counts for something timeless and, if we want, we all can find our way inside these big, tiny, moments.
No more junk talk, no more lies. No more mornings in the hospital getting bad blood drained out of me. No more doctors trying to analyse what makes me a drug addict. No more futile attempts at trying to control my heroin use. No more defending myself when I know I am practically indefensible. No more police using me as practice. No more ODs, no more losses. No more trying to take an intellectual position on my heroin addiction when it takes more than it gives. No more dope-sick mornings, no more slow suicide, no more pain without end. No more AA. No more NA. No more mind control. No more being a victim, no more looking for reasons in childhood, in God in anything but what exists in HERE. No more admitting I am powerless. Down the dusty Los Angeles sidewalks, down the urine stained London back alleys ... there goes the connection fading into the crowd like a 1960's Polaroid. 'Business... ?' 'Whachoo need... ?' 'Chiva... ?
feel the fierce way desire tourniquets itself around you and clings Clubland South of Market tweak- chic trannies powder their noses from bullet-shaped compacts and flick their forked tongues like switchblades as they burn the night down bleed day to night to day to Mission sidewalks where pythons hide twenty dollar balloons beneath their tongues which get bartered in smiles quicker than a coke buzz and tossed out through the cracks Cottonmouth kisses camouflage emotions and strike with a vengeance when he wants and she wants and they want and I won't Genet was right, I suppose when he wrote "The only way to avoid the horror of horror is to give in to it" it's the nature of the economy of the business it's the nature of things...
I walk the straight lines. I walk through the summer nights. I walk the silver rope of dreams. I walk through dawns of dawns. There's not a lot that isn't dying. I see people parading in front of each other like insects in a killing jar, watching each other die. I walk the straight lines throught the Christ machines. Through the eyes of throwaway people. Through the wards and the shores and the cracks in the skulls of the sidewalks. Through love's howling vacancy. I am the freedom soil. I dig my own grave. I resurrect myself every night. I am all things to myself. I walk the straight lines. I walk the spiders's jailhouse. I walk the think line, the thin line, the white line and all the line in between. I wish I could trade in my eyes.
I waited in vain for someone like me to stand up and say that the only thing those of us who don't believe in god have to believe is in other people and that New York City is the best place there ever was for a godless person to practice her moral code. I think it has to do with the crowded sidewalks and subways. Walking to and from the hardware store requires the push and pull of selfishness and selflessness, taking turns between getting out of someone's way and them getting out of yours, waiting for a dog to move, helping a stroller up steps, protecting the eyes from runaway umbrellas. Walking in New York is a battle of the wills, a balance of aggression and kindness. I'm not saying it's always easy. The occasional "Watch where you're going, bitch" can, I admit, put a crimp in one's day. But I believe all that choreography has made me a better person. The other day, in the subway at 5:30, I was crammed into my sweaty, crabby fellow citizens, and I kept whispering under my breath "we the people, we the people" over and over again, reminding myself we're all in this together and they had as much right - exactly as much right - as I to be in the muggy underground on their way to wherever they were on their way to.
I can explain myself: If you want to be safe, walk in the middle of the street. I'm not joking. You've been told to look both ways before crossing the street, and the sidewalk is your friend, right? Wrong. I've spent years walking sidewalks at night. I've looked around me when it was dark, when there were men following me, creeping out of alleyways, attempting to goad me into speaking to them and shouting obscenities at me when I wouldn't, and I suddenly realised that the only place left to go was the middle of street. But why would I risk it? Because the odds are in my favour. In the States, someone is killed in a car accident on average every 12.5 minutes, while someone is raped on average every 2.5 minutes. Even when factoring in that, one, I am generously including ALL car-related accidents and not just those involving accidents, and two, that the vast majorities of rapes still go unreported [... ] And, thus, this is now the way I live my life: out in the open, in the middle of everything, because the middle of the street is actually the safest place to walk.
The door is cracked We used to meet like water does land no not that more like when skin touches skin kissing fingertips or when air escapes a lung and is felt across the world I've leapt over cracks in sidewalks and swallowed away troublesome back pains that could only be fixed with someone else's pills We met by your house one stray day and you drove me to the bay where we sat and kissed like it was yesterday And here you told me that you loved me and that you always loved me and that you would always love me the wind blew and I held you You rested your head on my shoulder and the wind blew warm Later, in your big red truck, we smoked some green and I kissed you harder and held your breasts, and felt between your legs and with a gasp you told me you were in love with me And then you drove me back and we promised it wouldn't be the end not this time The quill and inkwell on your foot I'm a writer and you are my greatest art I returned to my hell and dreamt of you once more
The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio. On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed tubes of toothpaste, blown-out light bulbs, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers, encyclopedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought, that you can measure Leonia's opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia's true passion is really , as they say, the enjoyment of new things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels.
The whole idea of it makes me feel like I'm coming down with something, something worse than any stomach ache or the headaches I get from reading in bad light- a kind of measles of the spirit, a mumps of the psyche, a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul. You tell me it is too early to be looking back, but that is because you have forgotten the perfect simplicity of being one and the beautiful complexity introduced by two. But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit. At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible by drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince. But now I am mostly at the window watching the late afternoon light. Back then it never fell so solemnly against the side of my tree house, and my bicycle never leaned against the garage as it does today, all the dark blue speed drained out of it. This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself, as I walk through the universe in my sneakers. It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends, time to turn the first big number. It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine. But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed.
She has that voraciousness about children. She swoops in on them. Even I, in public was a beloved child. She'd parade me into town, smiling and teasing me, tickling me as she spoke with people on the sidewalks. When we got home, she'd trail off to her room like an unfinished sentence, and I would sit outside with my face pressed against her door, and replay the day in my head, searching for clues to what I had done to displease her. I have one memory that catches in me like a nasty clump of blood. Marian was dead about two years, and my mother had a cluster of friends come over for afternoon drinks. For hours, the child was cooed over, smothered with red lipstick kisses, tidied up with tissues, then lipstick smacked again. I was suppose to be reading in my room, but I sat at the top of the stairs watching. My mother finally was handed the baby, and she cuddled it ferociously. Oh, how, wonderful it is to hold a baby again! Adora jiggled it on her knee, walked it around the rooms, whispered to it, and I looked down from above like a spiteful little god, the back of my hand placed against my face, imagining how it felt to be cheek to cheek with my mother.
A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, our of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities: First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects. Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind. And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.
He tans into burning while the opening fanfare to "Peaches en Regalia" flows over him, the bugle call for a hippie army that marched at the peak of the American parabola, that moment when physics held its breath to allow levitation, a small reward before the descent. The hippies knew it then, Maggot Boy Johnson thinks; they couldn't build it into words but they could feel it; a floating in the stomach as history shifted direction. They stopped, hey, what's that sound, and knew that the spiny skyscrapers reflected in the river, the chasms of concrete, the wide streets and sidewalks, the power lines cutting into the hills and mountains above missile silos, the highways drawing lines across the blank plains under enormous skies, the pupil of God's eye, would be the ruins that their grandchildren wandered among, the reminders that once there was always water in the faucet, there was electricity all the time, and America was prying off the shackles of its past. The vision opened up to them and winked out again, and those it blinded staggered through their lives unable to see anything else, while the rest of them wondered if they had only dreamed it.
Brian Francis Slattery
Seeing that I would never manage to fall asleep, I arose, lit a candle, and after dressing went outside. Beneath the dull glow of the winter moon the snow glowed like pale blue china. The sidewalks sparkled weakly beneath the rays of the flickering street lamps; the benumbed streets slumbered forlornly. I walked, passing one corner after the other, and suddenly found myself on the edge of town. Further, beyond the square, an endless expanse began to glisten with a somber silverness. I stopped just before the gates. My intent gaze could distinguish nothing in the distant white expanse. Before me rose the imposing bank of the Volga like a gigantic snowdrift. So barren and uninviting was this deserted view resembling eternity that my heart contracted. I turned to the right and approached quite close to the monastery enclosure. From behind the bronze gates, glimmered a dense net of crosses and gravestones. The ancient eyes of the church gazed forbiddingly down on me, and with an eerie feeling I thought of the monks sleeping at this moment in tomb-like cells together with corpses. Were any of them thinking of the hour of death on this night? ("Lamia")
"The wanderer in Manhattan must go forth with a certain innocence, because New York is best seen with innocent eyes. It doesn't matter if you are younger or old. Reading our rich history makes the experience more layered, but it is not a substitute for walking the streets themselves. For old-timer or newcomer, it is essential to absorb the city as it is now in order to shape your own nostalgias. That's why I always urge the newcomer to surrender to the city's magic. Forget the irritations and the occasional rudeness; they bother New Yorkers too. Instead, go down to the North River and the benches that run along the west side of Battery Park City. Watch the tides or the blocks of ice in winter; they have existed since the time when the island was empty of man. Gaze at the boats. Look across the water at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, the place to which so many of the New York tribe came in order to truly live. Learn the tale of our tribe, because it's your tribe too, no matter where you were born. Listen to its music and its legends. Gaze at its ruins and monuments. Walk its sidewalks and run fingers upon the stone and bricks and steel of our right-angled streets. Breathe the air of the river breeze."
And when spring comes to the City people notice one another in the road; notice the strangers with whom they share aisles and tables and the space where intimate garments are laundered. going in and out, in and out the same door, they handle the handle; on trolleys and park benches they settle thighs on a seat in which hundreds have done it too. Copper coins dropped in the palm have been swallowed by children and tested by gypsies, but it's still money and people smile at that. It's the time of year when the City urges contradiction most, encouraging you to buy street food when you have no appetite at all; giving you a taste for a single room occupied by you alone as well as a craving to share it with someone you passed in the street. Really there is no contradiction-rather it's a condition; the range of what an artful City can do. What can beat bricks warming up to the sun? The return of awnings. The removal of blankets from horses' backs. Tar softens under the heel and the darkness under bridges changes from gloom to cooling shade. After a light rain, when the leaves have come, tree limbs are like wet fingers playing in woolly green hair. Motor cars become black jet boxes gliding behind hoodlights weakened by mist. On sidewalks turned to satin figures move shoulder first, the crowns of their heads angled shields against the light buckshot that the raindrops are. The faces of children glimpsed at windows appear to be crying, but it is the glass pane dripping that makes it seem so.
I wanted to write an adventure story, not, it's true, I really did. I shall have failed, that's all. Adventures bore me. I have no idea how to talk about countries, how to make people wish they had been there. I am not a good travelling salesman. Countries? Where are they , whatever became of them. When I was twelve I dreamed of Hongkong. That tedious, commonplace little provincial town! Shops sprouting from every nook and cranny! The Chinese junks pictured on the lids of chocolate boxes used to fascinate me. Junks: sort of chopped-off barges, where the housewives do all their cooking and washing on deck. They even have television. As for the Niagara Falls: water, nothing but water! A dam is more interesting; at least one can occasionally see a big crack at its base, and hope for some excitement. When one travels, one sees nothing but hotels. Squalid rooms, with iron bedsteads, and a picture of some kind hanging on the wall from a rusty nail, a coloured print of London Bridge or the Eiffel Tower. One also sees trains, lots of trains, and airports that look like restaurants, and restaurants that look like morgues. All the ports in the world are hemmed in by oil slicks and shabby customs buildings. In the streets of the towns, people keep to the sidewalks, cars stop at red lights. If only one occasionally arrived in a country where women are the colour of steel and men wear owls on their heads. But no, they are sensible, they all have black ties, partings to one side, brassie¨res and stiletto heels. In all the restaurants, when one has finished eating one calls over the individual who has been prowling among the tables, and pays him with a promissory note. There are cigarettes everywhere! There are airplanes and automobiles everywhere.
Jean-Marie G. Le Clezio
America is a leap of the imagination. From its beginning, people had only a persistent idea of what a good country should be. The idea involved freedom, equality, justice, and the pursuit of happiness; nowadays most of us probably could not describe it a lot more clearly than that. The truth is, it always has been a bit of a guess. No one has ever known for sure whether a country based on such an idea is really possible, but again and again, we have leaped toward the idea and hoped. What SuAnne Big Crow demonstrated in the Lead high school gym is that making the leap is the whole point. The idea does not truly live unless it is expressed by an act; the country does not live unless we make the leap from our tribe or focus group or gated community or demographic, and land on the shaky platform of that idea of a good country which all kinds of different people share. This leap is made in public, and it's made for free. It's not a product or a service that anyone will pay you for. You do it for reasons unexplainable by economics-for ambition, out of conviction, for the heck of it, in playfulness, for love. It's done in public spaces, face-to-face, where anyone is free to go. It's not done on television, on the Internet, or over the telephone; our electronic systems can only tell us if the leap made elsewhere has succeeded or failed. The places you'll see it are high school gyms, city sidewalks, the subway, bus stations, public parks, parking lots, and wherever people gather during natural disasters. In those places and others like them, the leaps that continue to invent and knit the country continue to be made. When the leap fails, it looks like the L.A. riots, or Sherman's March through Georgia. When it succeeds, it looks like the New York City Bicentennial Celebration in July 1976 or the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963. On that scale, whether it succeeds or fails, it's always something to see. The leap requires physical presence and physical risk. But the payoff-in terms of dreams realized, of understanding, of people getting along-can be so glorious as to make the risk seem minuscule.
People walk the paths of the gardens below, and the wind sings anthems in the hedges, and the big old cedars at the entrance to the maze creak. Marie-Laure imagines the electromagnetic waves traveling into and out of Michel's machine, bending around them, just as Etienne used to describe, except now a thousand times more crisscross the air than when he lived - maybe a million times more. Torrents of text conversations, tides of cell conversations, of televisions programs, of e-mails, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters in Metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefour and Evian and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again, I am going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever-shifting landscape we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it. Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world. We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.
I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away. In high school, I was biding my time until I could become the college version of myself, the one my mind could see so clearly. In college, the post-college 'adult' person was always looming in front of me, smarter, stronger, more organized. Then the married person, then the person I'd become when we have kids. For twenty years, literally, I have waited to become the thin version of myself, because that's when life will really begin. And through all that waiting, here I am. My life is passing, day by day, and I am waiting for it to start. I am waiting for that time, that person, that event when my life will finally begin. I love movies about 'The Big Moment' - the game or the performance or the wedding day or the record deal, the stories that split time with that key event, and everything is reframed, before it and after it, because it has changed everything. I have always wanted this movie-worthy event, something that will change everything and grab me out of this waiting game into the whirlwind in front of me. I cry and cry at these movies, because I am still waiting for my own big moment. I had visions of life as an adventure, a thing to be celebrated and experienced, but all I was doing was going to work and coming home, and that wasn't what it looked like in the movies. John Lennon once said, 'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.' For me, life is what was happening while I was busy waiting for my big moment. I was ready for it and believed that the rest of my life would fade into the background, and that my big moment would carry me through life like a lifeboat. The Big Moment, unfortunately, is an urban myth. Some people have them, in a sense, when they win the Heisman or become the next American Idol. But even that football player or that singer is living a life made up of more than that one moment. Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearl. It takes so much time, and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small, and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies. But this is what I'm finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I'm waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets - this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.