Walking through the Infinite City

I’ve recently begun to read Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City, a collection that maps the city of San Francisco based on a number of themes that have played a significant role in shaping the cultural and political movements that are synonymous with the city. Part geographical exploration, part cultural study, part history lesson, this unconventional atlas takes the reader through a journey of a multitude of experiences in and perceptions of the city. Through these meanderings, the reader is invited to wander/wonder about their own city, places they’ve lived, played, travelled.

While I’m still at the beginning and admittedly, the first theme didn’t hold my attention, the introduction was quite captivating.  Rather than summarize, I’m highlighting two passages that drew me in and made me once again consider all of the places I’ve wandered…

[A city has thousands of] inhabitants, more or less, and each of them possesses his or her own map of the place, a world of amities, amours, transit routes, resources, and perils, radiating out from home. [A city contains thousands of] living maps, because each [citizen] contains multiple maps: areas of knowledge, rumours, fears, friendships, remembered histories and facts, alternate versions, desires, the maps of everyday activity versus the map of occasional discovery, the past versus the present, the map of this place in relation to others that could be confined to a few neighbourhoods or could include multiple continents of ancestral origin, immigration routes and lost homelands, social ties, or cultural work.

And this one, which set me to dreaming of the neighbourhoods I lived in as a child…

[No] two people live in the same city. Your current surroundings exist in relation to your other places, your formative place and whatever place shaped your ethnic heritage and education, in relation to your role in this current place… If you pay attention to the neighbours, you find other worlds within them, and other neighbourhoods magnify this effect. Most of us settle into familiar routines in which we see the same places and people…in the city, but it takes very little…to land in some unfamiliar city, to find that the place is inexhaustible.

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