I’ve only been here six months but I already range over a larger territory than I did in New York.
At heart I am a creature of habit. I have routines and routes, it’s how I find comfort and security. I walk the same streets to the same destinations, day after day. I pass the same shops and people, see the slow steady progress of the buildings under repair. See the cobblestone streets being deconstructed, mysterious underground work completed, then reconstructed, usually in the space of three days at most. Miraculous speed in some things.
I marvel at the cobblestones which are taken up, piled on the side of the road, and then fitted back together. One of those low tech solutions that seems so smart. No pavements cracking and shifting in the cold or wet weather. No potholes or tree roots breaking up the roads. A little rough on the shoes maybe. I have to replace my heels regularly. I often wonder how old those gray-blue stones are. In the summer it takes longer for the dust and dirt to settle back into the cracks between the stones. A bit messy perhaps, but all the more reason to remove your shoes indoors, a habit I developed in New York and am happy to continue here. My apartment stays so much cleaner and I prefer padding around barefoot, toes sinking into my fluffy white carpets, to clomping around in shoes.
That is my home territory, what I see on my regular walking route between home and friends and my cafe and the shops I frequent.
But at times I range farther afield. I take the tram and the metro, sometimes to the end of the line (it’s not long). I catch buses which are labeled helpfully with their various destinations. They take me on crowded curving, looping highways. I look out the windows and I always feel that what I see is familiar— I know where I am!— and then realize that like any city this one has repetitive buildings and many areas that look alike. There are the pink buildings and the grey buildings and the yellow buildings. Pale sage green buildings. The colors don’t vary much.
I get off the bus at the correctly labeled spot. It all looks the same until I come this way often enough that it’s incorporated into my territory. Until I start to recognize that cafe, that shop-owner, that business where the yellow dog sleeps under a tree in a spot he’s worn into the bare earth.
It’s a strange feeling, knowing how to get here but not where I am.
Friends who know me well are used to the question, “Where am I?”
Having no sense of direction, the twisting highways confuse me and I know how to get to my destination, which bus to take, where to get off the metro, but I could never point to it on a map.
I couldn’t point home either. I have to retrace my steps to get there. I can’t move easily between the spots in my territory. I have to ask for directions or go to “home base”, my neighborhood or the city center, and start again from there.