Within, Amidst, and Beyond the City in which I live.
There are two views of cities, from above and from within. Dickens’s novel bleak house demonstrates this duality. Often, the narrator gives the reader an overview of the city from a bird’s eye view:
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.
then the narrator immerses the reader in the city:
Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murky afternoon besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause, two or three counsel who are never in any cause, and the well of solicitors before mentioned? There is the registrar below the judge, in wig and gown; and there are two or three maces, or petty-bags, or privy purses, or whatever they may be, in legal court suits. These are all yawning, for no crumb of amusement ever falls from Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the cause in hand), which was squeezed dry years upon years ago. The short-hand writers, the reporters of the court, and the reporters of the newspapers invariably decamp with the rest of the regulars when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on. Their places are a blank. Standing on a seat at the side of the hall, the better to peer into the curtained sanctuary, is a little mad old woman in a squeezed bonnet who is always in court, from its sitting to its rising, and always expecting some incomprehensible judgment to be given in her favour. Some say she really is, or was, a party to a suit, but no one knows for certain because no one cares. She carries some small litter in a reticule which she calls her documents, principally consisting of paper matches and dry lavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in custody, for the half-dozenth time to make a personal application "to purge himself of his contempt," which, being a solitary surviving executor who has fallen into a state of conglomeration about accounts of which it is not pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is not at all likely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects in life are ended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from Shropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at the close of the day's business and who can by no means be made to understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence after making it desolate for a quarter of a century, plants himself in a good place and keeps an eye on the judge, ready to call out "My Lord!" in a voice of sonorous complaint on the instant of his rising. A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor by sight linger on the chance of his furnishing some fun and enlivening the dismal weather a little.
in fiction, these two views are not mutually exclusive. In real life, however, it is not possible to be in two places at once. We are unable to experience simultaneously dickens's two views of city.
This week's topic was public spaces. Initially, I drafted my blog post about a cliché topic, Prague’s old town square. As summer rapidly approaches, more and more tourists begin to crowd the public spaces. Because I must fight my way through them to class, I really enjoy taking myself out of the city's business and removing myself to quieter areas.
Prague, like Rome, has seven hills. Unlike Rome, these hills were never flattened. Every Tuesday, I venture up to one of the tallest hills, Hradchanksa to teach English as a second language to Czech university students. The program could not have come at a better time. My routine had grown monotonous. I was set in my ways: home, tram, class, tram, home, dinner, and home.
Hradchanksa hill allows me to experience something new. On top of the hill, there is a public park. Unlike other public parks in Prague, however, there are no people. This gives me the chance to reflect.
Every Tuesday, I take the half hour bus ride up the hill with enough time to sit in this park before class begins. The experience is surreal. I can look down on all of Prague’s iconic spires, I see the traffic moving, I see the boats on the water, and I see the people strolling. The beauty of my perspective is that I cannot interact with them. I am removed from their scenario. I silently watch them from above, and they do not know that I watch them.
Sometimes the best public places are the ones that are most private. I better interact with the city when I am outside of its midst.