The shape of a city, as we all know, changes more rapidly than the heart of a mortal.  However it often happens that before being discarded, left behind to become the prey of its memories, the city — caught, like all other cities, in the vertiginous metamorphosis that characterizes the second half of our century — will have found ways to change a heart still young and impressionable just by subjecting it to its climate and landscape, and by leaving an imprint of its streets, boulevards, and parks on the most private thoughts and daydreams of its owner.  It is not necessary to have lived there like an ordinary citizen; I even doubt that it would make much of a difference.  The city’s influence will be much stronger and perhaps last longer, if it has remained partially hidden — if, because of some unusual circumstances, we have lived in its midst but never reached a degree of familiarity, much less of intimacy, if we never had the freedom, nor enough leisure time to walk through its neighborhoods aimlessly, to stroll its streets at will.  It is possible that by making only certain concessions and without ever completely surrendering, the city has — just like a woman — tightened the threads spun by our daydreams around herself, and better adapted the rise and development of our desires to her rhythms and moods.

To live in a city means weaving one’s daily peregrinations into a maze of paths usually linked around several directional axes. If one disregards all movements connected with one’s job and counts only those steps leading from the center to the periphery and back again, it becomes clear that Ariadne’s thread, which ideally unravels behind the true city dweller, takes on the characteristics of a carelessly wound skein of wool.  It encloses an entire complex of streets and squares within a finely meshed network of comings and goings; seldom do we wander into outlying areas, venture forth beyond the familiar haunts. There is not the slightest similarity between the plan of a city and our mental image of it as we consult the unfolded map, or between the sediment deposited in memory by our daily wanderings and the sound of its name.  The Paris where I lived while a student, and later on during my mature years, is contained in a rectangle bordered in the north by the Seine, and almost entirely by the boulevard Montparnasse along the south.  This heart of an area which comes alive during my daily peregrinations is surrounded by concentric circles where — at least in my perception — all activity progressively decreases until, close to the periphery, they become lifeless, indistinguishable from each other.  It is the central chambers of a labyrinth that attract the city dweller like a magnet, a locale he returns to time after time; its perimeter serves mostly as a protective screen, an insulating layer intended to shield the inhabited cocoon, and to prevent any osmosis between the outlying areas and the true city life securely locked within that inner sanctum.


From: The Shape of a City Turtle Point Press – ISBN 9 781885 586391