A City’s State of Mind

To get under the skin of a great metropolis, unravel the multitude of messy stories it holds within.  
Editorial 15
Photo by: Alexander Spatari/ Moment Unreleased/ Getty Images

The world’s greatest cities are brutal, unsentimental places, precisely the reason why so many of us fall so irrevocably under their spell. In its worst hour, this bond can curdle into bitter complaints of unrequited affection and everyday torment. “The subway doesn’t work, trash is overflowing and it’s too crowded; this is over.” Let me assure you that right now someone somewhere is uttering these words about your dream metropolis, New York, Rome, Rio De Janeiro. Like an unrepentant cad, the city laughs in their face, “Go on… live without me.” Wresting long-term connections comes with the occasional pang of nostalgic regret. Those who can’t escape their love of cities are destined to keep replaying that first flush of romance, that moment when a city went from a destination to home.

A traveller’s sense of a city is always ephemeral. Not that this discredits his or her insights but to genuinely get under the skin of a modern metropolis, we look towards its people, leaning against its sidewalks, reading in café nooks or flirting in nightclubs. One of the best descriptions of city love I’ve read is in a wonderful book on London with a rather circuitous moniker: Londoners: The Days And Nights Of London Now—As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, And Long For It. In it writer Craig Taylor, who lived in the British capital for years, recalls relocating to Toronto and fielding that pesky question, “How do you feel about London?” He had a complicated answer, “It wasn’t a two-way relationship. It was no use thinking this place loses any sleep over me.”

That’s the messy conundrum of a great city, as experienced by its besotted paramours, some of whom can’t kick the habit even if they tried. Travellers attempting to understand an urban jungle are better off trying to study its undercurrents. In September’s ode to five global cities, NGTI attempts to get a measure of their pulse. A writer dives into Belfast’s turbulent past to fully grasp its present-day vibrancy, another digs into the back alleys of Kuala Lumpur’s inimitable heritage food joints. We profile New York’s Hudson Yards, a gaudy spectacle that has divided New Yorkers, and chronicle the rise of Bauhaus in Tel Aviv. Finally we unpack Finland’s oldest city Turku.

A city is fertile land for dramatic histories, new narratives and moving stories. Travellers, never immune to these irresistible tales, are bound to pass through its golden gates, over and over.

  • Lakshmi Sankaran fantasizes about a bucket-list journey to witness the aurora borealis someday. Editor in Chief at National Geographic Traveller India, she will also gladly follow a captivating tune to the end of this world.

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