There's a series of commercials that have been airing on CNN International here in Cambodia that feature a number of tourists sampling the sights and sounds that are unique to Madrid, Spain. The food, the people, the vibe, the jibe -- all of it is captured quite well in thirty second clumps of tourist propoganda, and each commercial ends with the vistor enraptured by the city, mourning their exit, wistfully exclaiming: "Madrid only happens in Madrid."
I like that catchphrase. It makes sense. It has heart. It makes me want to quit my job and pack my bags and hightail it on out to Spain to find out what the hell is so unique about Madrid. And it got me thinking: does every city have its own, individual essence that cannot be replicated anyplace else? Fuck that -- does every person have his or her own unique domain?
We're all taught that as kids, right? No two snowflakes are alike, there's nobody else like us in the world, torturing small animals is perfectly reasonable behavior, as long as fire isn't involved. (What, you weren't taught that last part? I can't be the only one.) The thing of it is, som much of life is redunant. The asshole who cuts in front of me is not the same asshole who cut in front of you, no, but they are distant cousins, metaphorically speaking. If you've seen one small town in Ontario, I guess you haven't seen them all -- but after driving through dozens of them, it sure as shit seems that way. Identical modes of being and living are just that -- identical. The details may change, but I'm not sure that every person and every place has a secret heart and sympathetic soul; carbon copies exist. As you grow, you learn that. Sad, but true.
'Phnom Penh only happens in Phnom Penh'. The legless female dwarf in the wheelchair. The smell of dust and dirt and shit and exhaust. The morning sun, arrogant and blazing. The row of motodops sleeping in their carts, cloaked by the night. The fast-driving Mercedes, with their fast-driving owners. The smiles of naked children picking through trash. The anger and fear lying just below the surface of the most gentle faces.
Yes. I suppose 'Phnom Penh' only happens in Phnom Penh'. And if this is true, which I believe, than who am I to say such is not the case for all places, every place, all people, every people? The maddening aftereffects of aging, I suppose. We live through the years, and the years live through us. I have been there and I have seen that, we think. Not realizing that a tiny piece of ourselves is being chipped away. Not understanding, even remotely, that we are cutting ourselves off from a kindred soul that could emerge from a flower in the pavement or the hand of a stranger. We look into others' eyes thinking that we've seen them before. What a fallacy! How routine us humans can sometimes be! To think what that particular person has seen and done! And a new town. To imagine what secrets and hearbreaks it contains! Were we to have such concealments exposed in all their human sordidness, surely our hearts and our minds would crumble with the weight of such emotion.
It's a battle, I suppose. A battle against our own boring, mechanized nature. The urge, the temptation, remains, one that still enclouds me (as you can tell by the beginning of the post.) Nothing new under the sun, we think.
Bah! True or not, we must fight such temptations. As long as we are beginning a new day, as long as we can encounter a person or a place that we have not encountered before, there is always the possibility, always the tantalizing prospect, that newness could result.
(Even when some of those small Ontario towns do feel a little bit drab after awhile. I mean, have you been to Barry's Bay?)