Monday, November 01, 2004

the Wasteland and the City

I went to a miniature town, Eastwood, just a few kilometers away from where I stay. My feet automatically, without conscious bidding, took me to the 'centre' , a small strip of mock cobble-stoned land between two rows of shops. It felt like a town, a town somewhere in Europe. There were the usual sidewalk cafes clustered around , there were the usual street singers and the weekend crowds. There was one guy playing energetic jazz with a double necked guitar, backed by a bongo player and after he left suddenly and discreetly, the wails of a casio filled the 'square'; played by a grizzled old man. The tunes were ancient greek folk songs, and the casio somehow did not succeed in mangling the tune. I sat, appropriately enough, in Homer's Cafe sipping a cappuccino as the sun played hide and seek with the fickle clouds. I had a book, a coffee and warm sun rays in my face: I truly felt content. From time to time, my eye would be caught by something in the street. I watched a parade of shoppers, pushing their shopping carts as conscientiously as parents pushing prams.

I returned to the suburb where I stay. I got off from the bus and walked half a km to my house and encountered scarcely a human around. The grass lined roads stretched for ages and i swear the road shimmered in the distance. I passed many immaculately tended houses on the way, but no sign of inhabitants. Only the wind blew through the inevitable eucalyptus trees and the leaves rustled in response. The horizon stretched endlessly till I could see the entire suburb. A wasteland where no one knows no one else. Where neighbours only greet each other over the roar of the lawnmower. Where a car alarm or house alarm can go on for hours because no one knows whom to tell. And where strangers are treated with excessive civility, something that has a verisimilitude of friendliness, but strangers come and go in this place, and though you might get the same treatment the next time, you can be sure that they don't recognize your face.

Both these places are technically in Sydney, the mothership, the City. But the Idea of a city is more in Eastwood than in the suburb. I can only paraphrase Walter Benjamin, who claimed that the charm of Paris was that it was a city made for and made by walking, and the suburb is a wasteland made for people with cars to escape elsewhere.

UPDATE: The suburbs, they are a'changing. Atleast in Canada.