gulping an entire city in one word
over winter break, i’ve been burying my bookwormy-aspiring nose into elizabeth gilbert’s eat pray love, which is turning into a delightful appetizer to my impending study abroad semester in denmark.
although i have neither a lucrative book advance, nor a messy personal divorce from which to cleanse myself, nor an intense three-pronged travel attack of 1. eating, 2. praying, and 3. loving, i do hope to spend my days soaking up new experiences with a similar spirit. specifically, finding the things make my heart sing, gaining a more international+diversified outlook on education and design, learning how to be by myself, and overall just making a teensy bit of headway on my journey towards — ah, dare i say the term? — …self-discovery.
as i am becoming (alternatingly) more apprehensive/excited! about my first solo expedition to continental europe, i am making a mental list of all of the cities i would hate to miss. that is ever-scarily-expanding.
[prague, paris, amsterdam, stockholm, istanbul, um….budapest, berlin, barcelona…]
ambitious, green-nosed, and wallet-wrenching, here i come!
in eat pray love, there is an ‘ohhh!’ chapter in the italy section where Liz and her Roman buddy Giulio talk about how ‘every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there.’ [‘ohhh!’ in the sense of ‘what a perfect way of expressing that idea i always had fluttering in the back of my mind which i never knew how to string together properly’]
Giulio asserted that if you could walk down a street in that city and read people’s thoughts, you would discover that the majority of people would be thinking the same thing — and that thought would be the word of the city. [and if your word isn’t the same, you better get a move on and find another city to call your own.] he asserted that the word for rome = SEX. [apparently, SEX — ‘thinking about it, dressing for it, seeking it, considering it, refusing it, making a sport and game out of it–that’s all anybody is ever doing in Rome,’ says Giulio]
liz replied that new york city’s word = ACHIEVE.
and los angeles = SUCCEED. [subtle, but different.]
after awhile, they decided that naples = FIGHT.
and that the vatican = POWER.
Liz’s friend Sophie from sweden soberingly stated that stockholm = CONFORM.
initially, i balked at the idea of subjectively summarizing anything into one word. but as i thought about it some more, i realized that we did it all the time: nicknames, magazine subtitles, simple word associations, overgeneralized categories… A one-liner, or better yet, a one-worder, is just obviously one of the best ways to explain things, remember things, classify things, and market things — and cities are no different. we just adore putting things in boxes. it’s so organized to us. is this unfair labeling? blatant stereotyping? marketing by pure soundbyte? yes, yes, and yes. but it works, doesn’t it? how many times has someone asked you how was your vacation to some exotic locale?!?!, and a one-word answer tumbled out of your mouth, either out of laziness or simplicity of explanation? [tropical! luxurious! festive!] how important is it for a desirable city to have a single, unified image? how much does rome just looove to keep up their reputation and exploit their word? new york? san francisco?
if i had been sitting at their table in the Roman outdoor cafe, i wonder what i would have contributed. from my temporary stints in various cities, in my humble opinion:
boston [new england culture, youth-stimulated] = LEARN.
san francisco [countercultural, accepting] = ECLECTIC.
new orleans [carefree, sinful] = INDULGE.
bridgewater, nj [okay fine, not a real city….but suburban, cul-de-sacked, without a single non-chain store] = GENTRIFIED.
i wonder what copenhagen’s word will be.
…and what’s mine?
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