What the City Wants

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, Paris, 13. Free topic by Andie2 Comments

In Iowa, the world is seventy-five percent sky. A friend from Massachusetts told me she got vertigo driving through the state on a road trip when she was young. “I felt like I was going to fall off the earth,” she said. In some places, you can nearly see the curve of the planet; in others, I think I can see the curve of the sky like a dome above me.

In Paris, the skies are lower to the ground. Clouds hang just overhead, practically skimming the buildings. I can sit in my bedroom on the third floor and watch them disappear and reemerge from behind the five story building opposite. If the Midwestern sky is a dome, the Parisian sky is a flat disk suspended fifty feet up. The sky I’ve been under for the past three years, the New York sky, is a satin ribbon laid above along wide avenues, weaving itself into a grid as it snakes around corners and crisscrosses intersections, bursting open as soon as you have the city at your back.

We don’t know what we’re leaving behind until we walk away, everyone knows that. When I left home for New York I missed the sky in Iowa, but I didn’t feel the urge to return. When I left New York for Paris, I thought I would feel the same, mostly because the city and I tolerate each other like messy roommates with two months left on the lease. New York threatens to kill me with stress or a rogue taxi, I threaten to move to a goat farm in Virginia, and we get on with the day.

But over the past three months, I’ve realized the sky is not the be-all-end-all of a home. When I walk into a patisserie, I miss hearing outdated pop songs in the bodega on the corner of Putnam and Franklin. I miss skirting around buskers in the metro, a rarity here. I miss the ribbon of sky turning into a swath blue silk over Prospect Park in the summer. Seamless comes to me in dreams like God handing down the Ten Commandments.

Paris has a rhythm to the day. Paris has a sense of history New York tends to pave over. Paris doesn’t make demands in the same ways New York does. If you can learn the rhythm in Paris, you’re set. When to buy bread, when the cafés close, what day the metro workers go on strike. If Paris asks you to fall into step, New York wants you to come up with an entirely new dance.

We make plans for what we want to wrangle out the places we inhabit, but we can’t deny that these places also want things from us. Under new skies, we can see what we’ve left behind and where we ought to be, the cities we love and the cities we learn to like. It’s been a grand semester in Paris marking time, but I’m ready to dance again.

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(Image: Morning in Le Marais; Source: Andie Newell)


  1. First of all, I think this is one of the most beautifully written posts that I have read on this course. Your analogies are so lyrical and the imagery is so rich – I can picture everything you’re talking about, even though I have never been to Iowa. I have been to Paris, however, 3 times in the last year, and it is a city that I love. I think it is beautiful how you capture the ways it evokes New York to you – in ways that call up both similarities and differences. Have a safe trip home and enjoy the last few days of the semester.

  2. Wow! I really enjoyed reading your post about the different skies. I’ve always loved the sky, and I find myself just staring up at the clouds for long periods of time. However, I’ve never thoughT of the sky in the same context as you do and I’m so glad that you’ve shown me a new way of thinking about it! I guess I’ve never experienced a sky as grand/big as the one in Iowa, since I’ve lived in New York all my life, but now that you’ve mentioned it, the sky in Prague does seem a bit different from the one I’ve seen in New York all my life. The air seems a bit clearer as well, and the sunsets here are a lot softer. The sunsets in New York are extremely vibrant and strong, but the ones in Prague aren’t as intense and are more pastel/muted. Overall, I agree with Tia in that this was a beautifully written post and I really want to see what the sky in Iowa is like now!

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