6 June 2008

New York / Paris / London

The three pillars of civilisation!

Just kidding, folks! But they are pretty great, that's for sure. I have had the fortune, in recent months, to do a lot of travelling. A luxury I am sorely aware may not be possible for the rest of my life (read: peak oil). Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact it's possible now.

I have to admit, I'm a sucker for cities. Big, small, famous, infamous, rich, poor: living and breathing cities. I'm a total romantic when it comes to them: Paris, London, New York, Berlin, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Stockholm, Sao Paolo, Munich, Helsinki, Melbourne, Venice, Brussels, Montreal, Zurich, Madrid, New Delhi, Barcelona, Prague, Moscow, Warsaw, Reykjavik, Athens, Mexico City ... the list goes on ... I want to see them all.

I spent a week in New York City from April 4 to 12, my first visit to the Big Apple. It was an experience which I cannot properly put in words. I found New York invigorating, inspiring, energetic, beautiful, friendly, coarse, commercial, free, sophisticated, gentrified, pulsing ... the list goes on ... but it was absolutely amazing. I feel excited just thinking about New York. The people there seem so motivated, they are in New York to make it happen. I love that. The fact it's a 24/7 city is a big plus, too. New York really is the city that doesn't sleep. I love eating out every night at restaurants with amazing and cheap food (Angelica Kitchen, Tsampa, Hampton Chutney), I love that everyone is in New York for the same reason. Your heart beats faster in NYC.

I spent three days in Paris from May 2 to 5, my third visit to the city. You can feel the beauty, elegance, class and, yes, romance in Paris. It really is a stunning city, the perfect city to be in love. I stayed in Montmartre which is incredibly charming, with multitudes of cafes and cobbled streets. The first night I climbed up to Sacre Coeur and looked out over Paris in lights, saw the Tour Eiffel, smoked a cigarette and trod in dog poo - a quintessential Parisian evening, I felt. Life's pleasures are truly valued in Paris: good food, wine, coffee, company (and, bien sur, clothes!) are life's essentials. Time is really valued in Paris; you never feel forced to down your coffee or pressured to buy something from a store because you looked. Paris is about pleasure in the doing, seeing and being, rather than the buying, flying and striving. Paris is a pleasure in itself.

I live in London, and have done for over a year. It is thus unfair to compare it with Paris and New York as one's experiences living somewhere differ fundamentally from those of visiting. However, I will say that London makes you feel like you could do anything, if you really wanted, like London has everything. Anything is possible and attemptable, if you're willing to give it a go. Londoners, whether they're here to make money or to realise their dreams, all understand this. No-one scoffs when you tell them what you're doing or trying to do, however absurd it may be. Londoners are tolerant, but London can be a very cold, unfriendly city - no eye-contact. The city is not beautiful like Paris, nor is it magnificent like New York. It is sprawled and flat. Due to it's Victorian town-planning, it is complicated to navigate. London was not built to function in a modern world, and yet somehow it does. Somehow, it's alive with inspiring people who have forged past it's complexities and created something beautiful.

Undergrounds in cities are essential. Whether it be the Subway, Metro or Tube, each city has created it's own system, each with pros and cons. Here are mine:

New York Subway
Pro - open 24 hours (how New York-esque!)
- very practical carriages

Con - line-links could be more intuitive
- directions somewhat confusing

Paris Metro
Pro - the Metropolitan signs on the street (so beautiful)
- clear and easy signage

Con - last station rather than direction used to represent end of line
- have to open doors yourself

London Tube
Pro - very easy to navigate (unlike London itself)
- massive red and blue 'Underground' signs (they're fun and kooky)

Con - closes way too early, some before midnight which is ridiculous in a city like London
- slightly inhuman; silent, awkward, self-conscious

I really love Lomography and have a SuperSampler. It's very unpredictable but I love the fact that getting a good shot is basically down to complete chance. There is a grainy, soft, quality to the pictures which appeals to me. Slightly surreal, like a dream. I'd love to hear what you think, and your thoughts on each city, too. Please click on the images to see them properly.

The world is a beautiful place, we need to keep it that way.


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