Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Fall in Love with a Place

The river split the city in two while ornate bridges worked like stitches connecting one half to the other. The spired Parliament building led the façade that eventually spread out into the tapestry of short, grey buildings that were Pest. Behind us on the Buda side, the red clay roofed houses suggested a fairy tale town that was more show than substance. I was sitting with Tünde, my Hungarian friend, at the top of Buda Castle, getting a run down on why Pest is infinitely cooler than Buda.

I tried to carefully observe all the miniscule structures that created the labyrinth that is Pest, the mix of architectures, the flowing river that reminded me of the Spree, the Seine, the Río Grande de Loiza— all while sitting on a Castle-Cathedral that was a distant cousin of the one I’d visited a few days earlier in Prague. That day my friend Nick had noted with frustration how impossible it is to see every beautiful thing, every detail, take in every element that together creates the whole that is immediately, but vaguely, beautiful.

I’d been told that I would love Budapest. Most people love Budapest—Tünde certainly did and with good reason. But even with this moment and the subsequent ones—the bars and cafés, Tünde’s eccentric and charming friends, the meals, the hot springs, the walks by myself trying to get to know the city—even with that heightened awareness that comes with the threat of departure, I wasn’t in love.

There are definitely places I’ve fallen in love with, cities in particular that I feel a strong a connection to for reasons I couldn’t explain. But it was Budapest that got me thinking about cities in this way. Nothing makes you think about what something is than experiencing what it is not.

So how do you fall in love with a place?

The Wow Moment

Stepping off the U-Bahn into this giant metal structure illuminated blue and white—the curving, gargantuan shell that is Potsdamer Platz— was my first introduction to Berlin. Driving down the snaking roads of the mountains of Rincón through a tunnel of flamboyanes, bright blue Caution Tsunami signs breaking up the wall of green at either side of the car while Jim Morrison crooned from the radio, “This is the end, my only friend, the End.” Those are the moments when you know, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The Narrative

Not just anecdotes, but the story structure of the visit. The most satisfying narratives are the ones where the main character changes during the course of the story—sometimes by being hurt, sometimes by earning what he strived for, or getting what they need. As a traveler, the best locations are the ones that make a dent in your structure. While you won’t love every place that affects you, you can’t love a place unless it affects you. Its like watching a movie. Some movies you love—Chicago—, some you recognize as great but can’t really get into—Bali—, others are life-changing masterpieces that you’re glad you saw but would rather not see again—New York —and some are guilty pleasures—Texas.

Prolonged Exposure

Prague wasn’t love at first sight but I realized I’d fallen in love when my friends reminisced about everything they missed about the States and I realized, for the first time in my life, there was nowhere else I would rather be than exactly where I was. As someone with a chronic case of wanderlust that’s a big thing to experience. But it took finding my routine, my spots within that city, learning to read the effects of it history and how closely they resembled those of where I came from, that changed my relationship to Prague.


Sometimes the relationship to a place becomes intrinsically linked to a relationship to a person. It’s the Casablanca effect, “We’ll always have Paris.” And its never the broad strokes, the larger picture that lingers, but details—a pan de piquitos (EPI baguette) still warm from the oven shared over hot chocolate one morning in Córdoba, getting lost in El Morro while slightly drunk, sharing Pakistani food in a park at the edge of the East River watching the sun set over New York (disclaimer: I do love Brooklyn). Because once you leave a place what’s left is memories.

Not Being In Love

Creating a relationship with a place is just as absurd and irrational as the connections people form with each other. All the elements were in place for me to fall head over heels for Budapest: the dual almost contradictory nature of the two parts, the long, winding history that started at the maze under Buda Castle, went up through the Soviet-era buildings and into the tea shops and bookstores exploding on the screen when I saw Taxidermia, a Hungarian film that somehow married beautiful and gruesome. But the city and I would only have this fling together.

The places you aren’t in love with are the ones that act as a foil to the ones you do fall head over heels for. Even a short relationship, is an important one. Its part of those little details that come together to create a whole that is immediately, but vaguely, beautiful.

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