Living Abroad: The Love Affair With Place

Place Vendôme Paris France Sights

By Shana Ting Lipton

I see your hair is burnin’
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar…
LA woman, you’re my woman.

-Jim Morrison and The Doors

Your knees buckle, you feel off-center, yet filled with joy. A sense of the ‘anything is possible’ comes over you. You’re not yourself; nor do you want to be. You’re in love. And, to keep this love affair afloat, you’ll do anything…

Even move to another city or country.

Yet, in this case, it is, in fact, the city that is the culprit, the object of your affections. You are enamored–or at the very least interfacing and engaging on a deeper more intimate level–with a locale.

Without such a passion, one might argue, how else could one take such a bold step as to pack up one’s things and move half-way across the world (or across the country)?

It takes blind faith, the promise of euphoria, and an object of great desire to drown out the voice of fear (that keeps one moored in one’s home terrain) and kill the creature of habit (and safety).

And just like your first love is different from a second marriage, and a second marriage is different from a whirlwind holiday love affair, so ‘city love’ differs from place to place (and person to person). More detailed analogies and some true life experience can be of some help here.

New York…cue George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue…now that’s a riveting, mile-a-minute, exciting metropolis to fall in love with. My love affair with New York was intense from the get-go. There was nothing that could keep us apart. I ate, breathed, slept (and often pulled all-nighters with) Manhattan. This was one fascinating, intellectually profound and culturally savvy partner.

But then, after living in the City That Never Sleeps for a few years, the bloom wore off the rose to reveal a crazy, thorned bitch of a city who like some psycho stalker was hell-bent on destroying me.

Manhattan, for me, was a city of young love–perhaps not first love (not nearly as naive and crushing) but an immature, passionate love with nowhere to go but into the pits of Hell.

So it was that after some time of enduring ‘the Smell’ (hot, humid garbage and pollution in the summertime), the constant noise (a loop of car alarms and ambulances) and weather (my ‘love’s’ extreme mood swings), I said “enough” and ended the tempestuous and unhealthy relationship.

Amsterdam, with its storybook canals, crooked little houses and wood-worm eaten house boats was romantic in a spiritual way for me. Everything ‘he’ did seemed fated, written in some great book in the sky.

Nothing was real. All was mystique and wonder…a great way to exist…for a time. But as I grew up, I wanted something of the everyday and commonplace in my city relationship–a way to mix the simplicity of life (cornflakes) with the ethereal and mystical (ambrosia).

Los Angeles, on the other hand was like the buddy that high-fives you at a barbecue and gets you an ice cold beer on command–predictable, laidback, uncomplicated but a bit vacuous.

Like ‘friends with benefits,’ LA and I spent years (on and off as LA is always my base–even when I have brief stints abroad) in a Hotel California type relationship. I could check out any time I liked, but I never really did leave.

LA would occasionally deliver the 2 a.m. booty call–disrespectful and shallow. But Los Angeles was also always there when I needed the proverbial couch to crash on or someone to grab a coffee with and hang out.

These days, as it turns out, I’m looking for nothing less than ‘the all’ in my city love, a harmonious ‘something of everything’ relationship Holy Grail. My ideal possesses: the romance and magic, the reliable everyday buddy effect, and the riveting sexual attraction and cultural and intellectual stimulation.

I’m ready for a city I can realistically love–for better or worse, for richer or for poorer–that will love me back unconditionally, realistically but also view me as a gem.

As a result, I have been spending some time in London–a place that never intrigued me before (in fact, my birthplace). It wasn’t ever exotic enough. It seemed to be a city of urban tests, grittiness, and depression despite its historic architecture and wit and witticisms.

But today, as an adult, I can finally appreciate a partner like London. Right away, I could see what would drive me nuts about the town: its spread-out nature, difficult public transport, smog and dirtiness, uptight citizens.

I could also see something magical: how the Gothic details on the molding of the townhouses came to life in the grey weather, the exciting driving cultural rhythm of this media capital.

My walks around the funny little mewses and roads–mad wind blowing through my hair, street life on fire, trickles of rain on my cheek–felt like an appreciative and adoring lover’s touch.

London, in short, may be the whole enchilada…a real city, a human city–of heights of ecstasy, depths of despair…and, ‘the laundry’ so to speak. London, may well be ‘The One.’