Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Here... and There
Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland: "There is no there there." She wasn't stuttering; she had simply failed to find a heart in the city, a center that held it together. Although I like to agree with Stein in most things, I think on this matter she was dead wrong.
In protest, Oaklanders fashioned a flag: a white outline of the Oakland Tribune tower on a green background with the word "There." at the bottom.
There is a heart in Oakland. It may be different for different folks, but it's there: Lake Merritt, Jack London Square, the Farmers' Market every Friday morning, the Coliseum, Raider Nation, Eastmount Mall. For me the "there" of Oakland was walking around Lake Merritt in earliest morning, as the sun was rising and the citizens were out taking their exercise. Asian couples walking vigorously together; black teens in training; white women walking and talking like pigeons; the ever-present Canadian geese who came through on the flyway -- and stayed. Every time I walked the Lake I could feel the city alive and waking.
There's a "there there," but you won't find it from a distance. You have to be there. More accurately, you have to be here -- not there -- to find it. The heart of a city never opens to those who consider it from a distance. The heart of a city opens only to those who walk its streets, gather with its people to celebrate a holiday, mourn a verdict, protest a policy. When you are here, there's a "there there."
And now I am here: Minneapolis. "Here." I wrote the word on my calendar the day I arrived. I hadn't known when that would be. One morning I drove out of Oakland on Interstate 80 and started driving east. I knew I'd turn left at Des Moines, but I didn't know how long it would take to get there. Or here. But the road beckoned; the weather cooperated; and the landscape was enchanting. At the end of three days of hard, luminous driving, Oakland had became "there" and Minneapolis became "here."
People say of Minnesota or Minneapolis what Stein said of Oakland: "there's no there there." Particularly Californians can never fathom why anyone would leave California. These people have been telling me: "Do you know how cold it gets in the winter?" "Do you know how hot it gets in the summer?" "Do you know that the mosquito is the state bird?" Yes, I know all of these things. But I also know what one knows only when she is here: there's a "there" here.
Maybe it's the view of the city skyline from the bridge I run over every morning. Or all the people out up and down Nicollet Mall on a warm summer night. Or the Mississippi as it cascades over St. Anthony Falls. Or that feeling, when heat matches the humidity, that you are in something that's alive.
Here. I love it.