The object of the game is to find the feeling of being in a particular city, to exist there as no one has ever existed there before, to make the ‘there’ part of your existence.
Sometimes the tourist attractions can give rise to that Feeling. Sometimes the Feeling lurks in places completely uninteresting to tourists; walking in the damp Westminster night, footsore and weary, I look up and a neon sign turns the key to my heart. Its compartments fall open. In that moment the air of London, the drizzle of London, the tire treads of London tumble into my open heart like pebbles into a well. Their echoes tell me that both I and London continue, together, to exist.
A chat with the DC nerdfighters about cities and identity...
John Berger: "Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman."
Grace: I think New York would be a punk bohemian. Or maybe I'm confusing that with San Francisco...Paris would be a snooty, sophisticated, worldly white girl. Definitely.
Me: San Juan is an ancient male neighbor who knows everybody in town. Barcelona is a starving artist by day and enchantress by night.
Giuliana: Rome is some tanned Italian goddess.
Ivan: No, Rome is middle-aged and confident and quiet and noble of bearing. Giuliana, you’re thinking of Florence.
Lisa: Florence is a snarky, cynical man in his late thirties or early forties, who's led a fantastic and interesting life and will tell you about it any opportunity over a bottle of wine.
Ivan: Venice is a jerk.
Me: Cholula (Mexico) is a jewelry-making gypsy. I can't imagine Washington as anything but a Hill staffer out for cupcakes... XD
Lisa: Venice is super snide and standoffish and will rob you blind given half a chance. But is also super sexy.
Me: Figueres is a brash fifteen year old boy.
Lisa: Boston is an anxious yet pretentious twentysomething, not as big a deal as it would like to be. Baltimore is a tired old man.
Me: Newport (RI) is an old-money pearl-wearing Daisy Buchanan meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh type. Its younger sister Providence is the family's unfortunate forgotten rebel child, age twenty-one and disowned.
Ivan: I think I concur with Lisa, except that Baltimore also has surprisingly good fashion sense.
Giuliana: Cologne (Germany) is a snobby art curator who wears too much dark make-up.
Ivan: DC just has this one jacket that he’s really into and he keeps wearing over and over.
Alex: I feel like DC would be extremely indecisive.
Me: Albuquerque (NM) and Santa Fe (NM) are estranged second cousins who only get together for family reunions every once in a while. You see, they had a bit of a falling out when Santa Fe started ditching Albuquerque's humble (instant) Sunday dinners for independent movie nights with that mysterious Navajo boy.
Jordan: Cleveland is that one guy who always shows up JUST after the best part of a party, when things are sort of winding down.
Me: Minneapolis and St. Paul are twins (obviously), both in their late twenties, but Minneapolis is the career-driven heels-wearing one while St. Paul got married early and quietly resents Minneapolis' exciting life. (Understand that this is pretty much my favorite hobby.)
Lisa: Baltimore and Pittsburgh grew up together, but they don't speak anymore. Years of petty squabbles, stealing each others' toys (and, later, significant others) have given rise to a particularly bitter form of hatred.
Me: Charleston (SC) is your often charming but overly blunt grandma who will always make you brownies and apple pie but will then tell you you've gained weight.
Lisa: Or Cleveland could be the guy that nobody wants to come to the party, but he hears about it because he hangs around all the time and no one can bear to uninvite him.
Jordan: Annapolis is a middle aged mom who doesn't want to admit that she is middle aged. She wears lots of bright colors, and speaks very very loudly.
Alex: Or Cleveland could be the guy who always brings a banana to a party, but everyone think's he's a bit psycho because they don't get the joke.
Me: Bar Harbor (ME) is the adorably accented seventeen year old girl next door who spends too much time hiking and exploring to get to know you very well.
Giuliana: Bangkor (Wales) is a slightly unattractive twenty something English major whose insights about daily life aught to be written down. Too bad he only tells them to his sheep. His cousin, Cardiff, is slightly more attractive but also more eccentric. He has a tendency to wind up having unexpected adventures which makes Bangkor jealous.
Lisa: Bel Air (MD) moved to the area years ago because she thought it was an up-and-coming hotspot. Now, when it has failed to be as upcoming as she thought, she's too used to it to move. Even though she thought she'd have a more exciting life by now.
Jordan: Tel Aviv is a 20 something girl who was brought up in a really Conservative home, and now that she has moved out on her own is rebelling. Hiram (where my college is) is an old man who really likes to tell stories about The Good Old Days, and can't quite understand why everyone doesn't want to listen.
Giuliana: Edinburgh is an old Scottish couple in their 60s. They've been all over the UK and Ireland but like home best. The husband likes to have a glass of whiskey after dinner and the wife secretly keeps watering it down because she doesn't want him to have liver problems.
Grace: Charleston is a young, jet-setting businesswoman who sees the best in all things. She loves shirley temples and copious amounts of good food. She's sleek, intelligent, and charming. But she has a fiesty side as well. She might belong better in a more fast-paced place, but she's perfectly content where she is. She also has a taste for European flair.
Giuliana: Dundee (Scotland) is a middle-aged woman who feels like she settled in her marriage and is jealous of her little brother St. Andrews who is a sophomore in college. St. Andrews is studying to be an architect but finds himself constantly drawing the beach instead of working on his course work.
Lisa: Medford (MA) is a young Haitian immigrant determined to make her way in snooty white Boston. She's doing pretty well for herself, too.
Jordan: Jerusalem is a very smart older man, who everyone trusts instinctively and they aren't sure why. He's never been very good at acting his age, and although he is very wise, he isn't afraid of a good argument.
Me: Girona (Catalunya) is a devout mother of twelve who cooks well, sings beautifully, and cares for everyone, but is unappreciated and unnoticed by all her beneficiaries. Empuries (Catalunya) is a deceptive young playboy with a thing for intelligence and inspires an inability to resist. Calella de Palafrugell (Catalunya) is a precocious four-year-old with a bigger vocabulary and more insightful worldview than you thought someone could have. Teotihuacan (Mexico) is a forgotten veteran in a nursing home whose family never comes to visit him, but who is full of vibrant stories waiting to be shared. Denver (CO) is an athletic single male in his early thirties with commitment issues and an addiction to biking.
Giuliana: Nappa (CA) is a 40-something who owns a winery. He bought it recently and his wife is very bitter about him spending so much of their savings but she tries to be supportive.
Me: Zion, Utah is a regal Native American man who speaks few words but ever poignant ones. Bryce, Utah is a talkative ten-year-old Boy Scout with a badge in everything but the quiet game. Mexico City is an ancient, male, outstretched, overburdened genius with spices in his breath.
Jordan: Chicago is a mid thirties jazz pianist who loves art and food more then he loves his own parents. He moved out on his own at a young age and hasn't looked back since.
Me: Clarksville (TN) is a three-year-old too busy playing with a football bigger than he is to pay attention to anything going on around him. Brooklyn, Michigan is a fifty-year-old farmer who volunteers at a church he's not actually a part of.
Jordan: New Orleans is a mother of about a dozen who has lived just about everywhere south of the Mason Dixon line. She was pretty wild when she was younger, but now she is just about as protective of a parent as you could imagine.
Me: Ocean Isle (NC) is a self-conscious teenage girl in a bikini that doesn't fit but a smile that does.
Lisa: Ocean City MD and NJ are twins whose mother dressed them exactly alike for way too long. MD is younger by five minutes and resents how NJ always makes herself out to be more posh and successful. It's okay, though. MD's punk rock band will be at number one someday.
Jordan: Philly is a fast talking guy in his older twenties. He is ALWAYS chewing gum, and seems to have something to say about just about everything. He can be confrontational when you criticize something he cares about, because when he cares about something he cares about it with his whole heart.
Lisa: Philly's definitely not afraid to get all up in your face. He'll rough you up, but it doesn't mean he doesn't love you.
Me: Montserrat (Catalunya) is an old, wise woman with jade-colored eyes and many secrets. Some consider her a goddess, others a challenge, but most pass her by without knowing what they're missing.
Jordan: Tzuba (Israel) is a hardworking guy in his late thirties who never finished high school. He had to support his family at a young age, so he dropped out and went to work in a factory. He doesn't resent it, though, and is glad that he could find a real way to contribute.
Giuliana: Vienna (Austria) is a twenty something trying to start a band that mixes classical music with rock. In the mean time he works at a CD store that nobody goes to except the occasional tourist looking for "traditional Viennese music". Brooklyn is a mother of three who keeps complaining about her lack of grandchildren (only her oldest is married).
Me: New York is like Regina George. How do you even begin to describe New York?