Thursday, May 14, 2009

Novella Bookstore and a Croatian Writer's Take on Cities

There is a charming little bookstore at 5510 Kingshighway owned by a very kind woman who just happens to share my rare last name (we're no relation, though). She is from the former Yugoslavia, and carries books mainly from that part of Europe.

My wife bought me a copy of Debravka Ugresic's "Nobody's Home". She writes of some personal experiences living all over the world, and not really ever settling down in one place for too long.

Here's an entry from one of her short stories that speaks to people's personal relationships with cities:

"There are cities where I feel compelled to intervene. In these cities some devilish voice is constantly nudging me: I'd move this, smooth over that. In cities like that I feel like a self-appointed mayor.

There are cities whose former beauty brings tears to my eyes. St. Petersburg is one such city. There are cities which galvanize me, raise the level of adrenaline in my bloodstream and blur my vision. New York is a city like that.

There are cities held together by a river. Take away the river, and the city turns into an amorphous smudge. Belgrade is one such city. There are cities whose beauty lies in the promise of sea and shore. Take away the promise, and all that is left is a mega-oasis. Los Angeles is a city like that. There are cities which bring together essentially incompatible things such as power and melancholy. Berlin is that sort of city. There are cities which would need nothing more than a facelift to place them among the most beautiful cities in the world. Budapest is one such city.

The beauty of the city is in the eye of the beholder. The more beholders, the more visions of beauty."

I'd put St. Louis somewhere between the Berlin and Budapest category. I, like Ms. Ugresic, feel like a self appointed mayor sometimes. I too feel that the more beholders we have the more visions of beauty we will have. It'll take all the beauty and vision we can muster to move us out of our darkest period in St. Louis (~1955-1995) and on toward something that makes us great again.