A Sense of Place

How long does a person have to live in a city to know it?  Thanks to blogs and summary emails, we’ve all become travel writers.  But while it’s obvious that travel writing in most cases isn’t a substitution for traditional fiction or non-fiction writing, it does a disservice to the locales we live in not to improve how we write about them.  I’ve noticed in my own thinking about Kolkata lately that mere description of a new neighborhood visited or a particular day’s itinerary reveals very little about the city or the citizens.

In a career where 2-3 years is the maximum normal tenure in any one place, and where the job places you in a flexible bubble of security that requires reacting to demands from on high, the difficulty of “knowing” increases.  The solution may be to interact rather than observe.  By interacting you run headlong into immediate barriers — language, class, culture — and it becomes easy to retreat into your comfort zones.  Watching little Kool – Q’ul discover the world around him is a lesson in how to do it — touch as many objects as possible, engage as many of the senses, and throw things to the floor to see how they break apart.

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3 thoughts on “A Sense of Place

  1. Quite surprising duing my recent tours I no longer seem to be enjoying being a tourist superficially observing whats happening around me. The thought that came to me was would I rather not like to ‘immerse’ myself in the context of the place? Immersion would possibly include interacting and perhaps contributing too. It would also mean a signifcant investment of time, interest and effort.

  2. Reminds me of the last time I really “backpacked” –in France, of all places — and lying in a musty bed that would more apropriately be called a hammock and deciding that it was much better to stay in one location, eating at local restaurants not in the guidebooks and talking to people rather than seeing any “sights.”

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