Thursday, January 13, 2022

An Accident of Time and Place (How We Saw the Town)


Seen through a car window, the lights are ... underwhelming

We continued our short visit to St Augustine that night. We drove around town looking at the famous 3 million white holiday lights, and I felt nothing. I was an observer of the city, but I wasn't “of” the city any more. I felt on the outside, looking in. Maybe it was my heart, protecting itself again. Or maybe it was the difference between being in a car, and walking. 

I was texting about this with a friend the next evening, and he agreed. If we hadn't docked in the municipal marina, in the middle of the action, and had to walk everywhere, we'd never have seen and appreciated the city's fine details. We'd never have spent long enough to learn the history in more than the broadest-brush overview. We wouldn't have had the chance to play pirate on the Black Raven, or gotten to volunteer at the Castillo or on El Galeon. We'd probably never have fallen in love with the city. 

In the city, of the city; strolling the plaza during Nights of Lights in the Before Times

This was probably the most profound lesson I learned from 4 years of touring with the Spanish tall ships and 8 years on our own boat. Every port we visited, we saw the city the way it had originally evolved, growing outward from the waterfront. And we'd learned about it human-scaled, walking scale. These narrow cobbled streets were laid out long before cars were even a dream. Our frontier was maritime long before Hollywood glorified the “wild West.” And coming into town by car, coming in from US-1 and the brightly lit strip malls; historic downtown seemed just a dusty crowded inconvenience, with no real story to tell. (Also, coming into town as a crew member on a dramatic tall ship, I was a rock star. A far different reception than I would have gotten as “random retired lady driving a minivan!”)  

We think so much depends on big decisions (“What state shall we move to? Colorado? Florida? Maryland?”) But sometimes it's the tiniest microclimate -- downtown marina, walkable but parking is a major hassle? Or one that's a little further away but car-friendly? -- that has the biggest impact on the way we perceive the place. 

[FWIW, this may also explain why we haven't felt at home in Annapolis yet either. Our marina is located in suburbia: not rural enough to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature while living aboard, yet simultaneously not central enough to really participate in the downtown vibrancy and experience (Covid notwithstanding). Hopefully things will settle to the point where we can get more involved in the future.]

No comments:

Post a Comment