Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Vertical World

Man has long delighted in creating infrastructures that ascend as close to heaven as possible -- delighted in testing their mastery over gravity. Yet for century upon century, only the most massive of projects could achieve any sort of height; the product of these attempts can be seen most clearly in the vast cathedrals of Europe, which soared ever higher through the Gothic Period. However, for all the sweat and blood that our ancestors put in these creations, they are nothing compared to their modern counterparts. The skylines of Tokyo and New York are interrupted by countless giant fingers reaching towards the sun; some even manage to break their way through the clouds. The people of a hundred years ago couldn't ever have imagined the system of life that we've created in the metropolises of the world.

There is a sort of safety, I think, in living in the shadows of these buildings. When we first stepped out of the subway and were greeted by the bright lights of the restaurants and stores and the towering walls of hotels and corporate headquarters, I instantly felt at home. Perhaps it is unsophisticated of me, but the lively, crowded feeling of sleepless cities is a comfort like no other; they are cocoons of verticals. After spending so long in Kyoto, which crouches low to the ground and allows only its bright green hills to reach any sort of height, Tokyo is a stark, artificial difference. Kyoto is a sprawling land of horizontals and I often found myself disconcerted walking through its streets; and yet, I always knew where I was going. North and South were concepts that easily stuck in my mind, and I never had any trouble returning home. Tokyo, however, is composed only of verticals, and I often find myself completely devoid of any sense of direction, locked in by walls; the only way I can orient myself is by looking up to the towering buildings and trying to find landmarks. Essentially, the element of the city that gets me lost is the also the only way that I can find myself.

There's something more interesting and confounding in this way of finding your bearings than in a horizontal world's way. There's no curiosity or adventure when you innately feel the world's compass, but when you're lost and completely stripped of this knowledge, it's a humbling experience and a good one to have.

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