City: mind/ Country: body?

A wonderful comment showed up in my inbox this morning. Apparently Camus had his own questions about living in the city or in nature. I’ve just located a used copy of the book, “Summer in Algiers.” I’ll include an excerpt below. I’d love any other suggestions that have to do with this subject, because I know I’m not the only one who struggles with where they live. I hear so often from people, “I envy your life. All that open space.” And I agree– open space is under my skin and engraved in my being. And yet so many Sunday mornings I wake up longing to go get bagels and coffee and a paper at the corner deli, and walk around. Pop into an old record store or a gallery, or catch a matinee at an indie theater. But then even as I write that, the loon that flies over every morning of summer bugles, and I can’t help but smile and feel grateful. It doesn’t have to be here or there. Home has to be inside. This I know well. Stegner’s “The Angle of Repose” is all about this. But it does seem true that life in nature is so much about the body. And life in the city, so much about the mind. E.B. White’s book of essays when he moved from NYC to the city comes to mind too: “One Man’s Meat.” Feel free to add to the list.

“The loves we share with a city are often secret loves. Old walled towns like Paris, Prague, and even Florence are closed in on themselves and hence limit the world that belongs to them. But Algiers (together with certain other privileged places such as cities on the sea) opens to the sky like a mouth or a wound. In Algiers one loves the commonplace: the sea at the end of the street, a certain volume of sunlight, the beauty of the race. And, as always, in that unashamed offering there is a secret fragrance. In Paris it is possible to be homesick for space and a beating of wings. Here, at least, man is gratified in every wish and, sure of his desires, can at last measure his possessions.

Probably one has to live in Algiers for some time in order to realize how paralysing an excess of nature’s bounty can be. There is nothing here for whoever would learn, educate himself, or better himself. This country has no lessons to teach. It neither promises nor affords glimpses. It is satisfied to give, but in abundance. It is completely accessible to the eyes, and you know it the moment you enjoy it. Its pleasures are without remedy and its joys without hope.”– Albert Camus

I would add that: nature has its lessons. It’s just that it doesn’t care if you learn them. Therein lies the lesson of humility.

3 Comments

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

3 Responses to City: mind/ Country: body?

  1. Cindy

    love it. you NEED to come to San Diego…not the big city, but some…not all wide open space…but some. Cute corner coffee shops. The forever famous adorable bookstore where we “met”… A gallery may open one night…next morning, you can choose…ocean, mountains and desert all within an hour. The quiet of the desert is still my pull. A beach girl at heart, with big city in my roots from LA…but nothing, nothing is as quiet and still as a morning in the desert. You can actively listen and hear not a single sound for minutes at at time. Not a lizard repositioning in the sun, or a bird on the wind…it stops my heart…have fun tonight at your event…i can hear you reading as I write.

  2. Do you remember Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”? Hideously long thing, but I recall this part clearly:
    “I live not in myself, but I become
    Portion of that around me; and to me,
    High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
    Of human cities torture.”

    I don’t find cities to be torture, but I do know what Byron meant. If you “become portion of that around,” it can be challenging to manage the tangle of sensations and vibrations in a city. Physical space can open mental space.

    But then…there are the bagels. And books. And really good coffee.

    BTW–The city doesn’t care whether you learn its lessons, either. Ask any of the folks shot in the streets of Kansas City (or any city) last night.

  3. It’s wonderful to mix things up, regardless of where your “basecamp” is. Last night, I had cocktails atop a downtown skyscaper (well, the Minneapple version), and next week I’ll be vacationing in Montana. Your idea that the city is more about the mind while the country is more about the body is interesting. I think that using my body (running, yoga) is part of how I cope with my generally urban/suburban existence.

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