I think I understand it now. Cities, that is, and the attraction to them. There’s such richness, diversity, and confidence. Everyone is somewhere doing something, or seeming to do something, and you choose either to take part, or sit back. Watch them move or move with them. And everywhere everyone is making mistakes and slipping up, standing confused or asking, attempting to understand whilst others help them, or further confuse them. At any one time in one place there are at least a handful of the confused, and, in a city, everyone seems aware of that. What with the numbers on the streets, in the buses, on the trains – the tube – in combination with the confusion of living and the complexity of the environment; the height of buildings, sprawl of an alleyway, the web of reds, blues, parks, passageways and routes… there are always the lost.
I’ve been to London plenty of times and I always get lost, or confused, or both. Then irritated, frustrated, etc. Though this time it was different. I embraced the fact that I was lost and relished it. Perhaps that’s because I was always equipped with the means to become found, or un-lose myself, but then I’ve always been equipped as such in London. But once you start looking you can see it on so many faces. So many other people are lost with you, and altogether, combined, the lost can easily outnumber the found. There was a certain pleasure in that, I thought (when I felt it), though I couldn’t understand that pleasure. It was as if I had lost the need to appear significant. Standing there, alone, or with another as lost as I was, I (or we) could simply stand, with no aim, no need to appear to be doing anything.
The city, it seems, works in two contradictory ways: to reinforce your significance, and to diminish it. One minute you are there with the others, moving confidently towards a destination, or to achieve something – and at that point in time you feel a significance, as if you are part of something larger than yourself, that you understand the workings of the city. Yet, really, you are insignificant. Another face on the bus. Another suit. Another green light, red light, amber. Pale-faced glass. Grey concrete façade. But that confidence is, to the lost, significant. You want to know, to understand, and yet – really, it is the lost who are significant. Who dangle in the unknown as unsettled individuals. Uncomfortable. And it seems to me the lost see more than the found. They taste the colours on the wall and feel the vividness of the clothes against their arms. That they are consumed by nerves when they fear they’ll miss their train. It is as if they, then, in that moment, truly embrace the difficulty of their own significance, and the relativity of the significance of those around them.
I went to London to see Radiohead. Perhaps that’s what this post is meant to be about. Maybe it’s meant to be about my waltz along Denmark street, or the roam around Hackney Marshes. But it’s not.
Maybe next time, eh?