What makes a city, a town or a hamlet beautiful or a great place to live? For many of us, it’s what you don’t see that matters.
Many places can be described as beautiful, either for their natural setting, distinctive architecture, their monuments and museums or their night life, while for many, the charm of a place lies below the surface in the warmth and generosity of its people. Beauty, however, is very much in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and what may be ugly or charmless to some of us can be cherished by others.
Sydney is an example of the first: your first glimpse of its harbour, the bridge, the opera house, the blueness of the water and greenery along its shores, can take your breath. Drive or take a bus along the coast from Botany Bay to Watson’s Bay or north from Manly to Palm Beach and you encounter magnificent surf beach after magnificent surf beach. Most places would be chuffed to have just one; Sydney has dozens, extending a hundred kilometres to the north and nearly as far to the south.
Yet, although Sydney-siders may live many kilometres apart, they are strangely cohesive in that they all expect that all those beaches and outside space to be public, free for anyone to enjoy. You may never speak to the person next to you on the sand or cooking lunch on the next public barbeque to yours, but you share a special Sydney ‘culture’, that binds you together.
Look for European style culture however and you risk being disappointed. Or perhaps not: the same principle extends to opera where the main event of the year is ‘in the park’. Bring a picnic and a blanket; get there early to stake out your patch of grass in front of the stage or at least in sight of the giant screen and wait alongside hundreds of others for the sun to set and the performance to start. Free for everyone: the paradox of this city of free-standing bungalows on their fenced off sixth-of-an-acre plots is a very strongly held tradition that some things cannot be owned and must be available to everyone. It’s the beauty you don’t see.
At the end of our four week stay, it was hard to say goodbye to the place I grew up in. Yet, as our taxi navigated the streets of central Paris, I was elated to be back. The northern winter is long and grey, but on that unusually sunny afternoon, every Parisian seemed to be out in the soft, dappled light of shady café terraces, with waiters merrily scurrying this way and that. An after dinner stroll along the Seine, luminous in the twilight, took us past imposing monuments, picturesque alleys and tree lined boulevards and avenues, but past also hordes of youngsters picnicking cheek-by-jowl while earnest, local street musicians entertained them and us.
It turns out that the real beauty of Paris, the other splendidly photogenic city, is about what its people share and what is rarely evident to visitors. In a city of millions of mostly small apartments, people live close to each other and mix a lot: the fabled cafés really are an extension of people’s living and dining rooms. A seemingly limitless variety of live entertainment by local artists, musicians and theatre troupes perform in half hidden niches throughout the city, often for no more than what their audiences donate. Simply in being there, you are as much part of the show as they are.
Many of us love our cities and even fall in love with them, and are at least a bit chuffed when visitors like them too. If you love your city, then your readers would love to learn about it. Write 500 to 700 words about what makes the place you live in great. Send it to us so we can publish it on our site and so that readers can appreciate it even more when they come to visit.
Featured image by H. Emre on Pexels.