I am essentially urban in character, more contented within walking distance of a well-stocked bookshop and reliable eating place. Contemplative moments are snatched in art galleries, or during operatic or classical music performances. Though I grew up in an isolated, rarely visited country, from my twenties I made the city my stamping ground. Whether in the alleys of Naples, the culinary back streets of Barcelona, Parisian boulevards, or the grubby, winding streets of London, I feel that I am in my natural habitat. What is it that makes one of us urban in character, and the other drawn to rural life?
There are alternative landscapes I am drawn to when I feel confused or depressed. I have written before of my primordial love of deserts. Ancient forests, rivers, mountain tops, and the seaside. Intuitively I visit these places when I am low in spirits and invariably I return to the city brightened.
Reading Roger Deakin, years ago, awakened a curiosity about rural life. I began to wonder whether I could inhabit the countryside, willingly relinquish urban conveniences. I began to speculate whether urban life was in some way draining me of my life force, and acting as a catalyst for a protracted mild depression. Just over a year ago I laid the first stone of a new chapter. As always in England, urbanity is never far away, but the transition is now underway.
In my last post I referred to Olivia Laing. I finished her enthralling examination of the effects of alcohol on a series of writers. After putting The Trip to Echo Spring down, I wanted to stay with her voice so started her first book To The River. Though the same easy erudition is present, the tone is more contemplative. At first the subject brought to mind Robert Macfarlane, but after a few more chapters it was Roger Deakin’s voice that comes through in addition to Laing’s strong presence. Laing shares with Deakin this ability to bring forth images of absolute lucidity, images that the reader can also inhabit.
I choose to holiday in cities – I am off to Madrid on Tuesday – and would describe myself as a city girl. I detest beaches. However, I believe that there is something very soothing and restorative to the mind in the natural world.
Madrid is a great city; I enjoyed visiting it earlier this year, saw some deeply impressive architecture, though was saddened by the palpable sense of poverty. I love empty beaches, the sound and smell of the sea, the pink-whiteness of the sand, but loathe those crowded holiday beaches, cabanas etc.
I think a sense of space is crucial. Sitting on a beach is so damned uncomfortable! Any recommendations for Madrid?
I was on a tour of modernist architecture, of which there are many fine examples.
I really liked “To The River” a lot! I have never analyzed why, but I guess it might have to do with the way Laing manage to write herself into the history & landscape without excluding the reader.