Monday, December 04, 2006

Urban myths

Salon has some guy's ruminations on SF's North Beach up. Passages that resonated:
The dirty secret is that there never was a Golden Age. North Beach has been dining out on its myth forever. We're nostalgic for Jack Kerouac? Well, guess what -- Jack Kerouac was nostalgic for Jack London, and Jack London was envious of Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Louis Stevenson thought that Mark Twain got there first and ate all the candy, and Mark Twain -- he just wanted to be back on the Mississippi.
But it doesn't matter. There's always next time. And when you finally begin to understand that there ain't going to be no next time, that this is it, that's OK.
It struck me because it reminds me of my own early fantasies about cities, developed around the time I became aware of the Beats, Alternativeness, and the broad theme of the romance of urban grittiness. Like the author of this piece, I remember being driven around Minneapolis by my parents, and later, when I got my license, deliberately taking the long way home through the grittier parts of the city, all while treating steam from grates, old buildings, and everything beat down as an aesthetic experience. Cities were fertile targets this new sort of fantasy in the years before I started spending time in them.

Cities remained these vessels through the move to Chicago, and for some time while I was there. However, I eventually, somehow--I suppose through the gradual accretion of experiences--realized that cities were simply real live places, and that their grittiness, when wandered through enough, felt rather mundane, and that my fantasies were insulting and silly.

Now, in SF, I really don't have urban fantasies any more. I like to think that I've moved closer to that second passage, living life not in pursuit of an authentic experience that never existed (good book on the subject), but as if this is it--this is the real experience I'm supposed to be happening.

So yeah, for multiple reasons, it's important to not spend too much time in fantasy world.


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