Life, in my opinion and experience, is a continuous procession of events and incidents, of decisions opening new ways and advances into the unknown. This might sound trivial and obvious if you don't think much about it but it's true and quite deep. There's more to life than just hanging on and staying for the ride. There must always be an active motion. If your dreams are dead, if you don't know where you're going, if you don't aspire to anything or work hard towards getting somewhere, you're not really alive anymore.
Over the years, I've moved from place to place, driven by desire for education, novelty, the unknown, advancement, a career – a handy number of goals that hover blurrily in the distance and change shape when I get closer, always more subtly to be recognizable but in the end undeniably. When I realized that the novelty had worn off or the education was depleted or the career imagined, I found a way to move on, to a place that offered similar prospects to a naive traveler as the one before, but with a fresh perspective and renewed excitement.
Times flows in one way only and years have passed. Salt Lake succeeded Jena and Grenoble was followed by London. And still I have my sight set at the Fata Morgana that keeps shifting at the horizon, forever elusive in its precise delineation. The thrill comes from trying hard to get closer, from the pursuit of the undefinable. Satisfaction in life, for me, is every little effort that takes me closer, as far as I can tell, to the point of convergence, to the target of intention, however poorly described that might be and however ephemeral.
The other day I got back from San Sebastian, city by the beach, between the sea and the mountains, in the north of Spain but not in Spain in its self-image. This list of attributes is long and diverse enough to arouse my curiosity even if I hadn't had such a blast there, and it's making me consider my options.
London has been my home for the past three years and the howling madness of the city is becoming routine. The tingling is burning in my toes again, telling me in no uncertain terms that it is time to move on. The fields have been ploughed and the seeds sown. The growth has been tended to with care and the upcoming harvest evaluated for its richness. There are aspects in my work that still burn hot with excitement and the promise of gold, but there are others that lie fallow, having fallen aside in moments of distraction.
In spite of habit and method working their invidious grind, I have been subdued in spirit for lack of options. San Sebastian has changed that. Why not Spain? (Never mind that I was in the Basque Country.) People were nice, the coast and the mountains beautiful and the food extraordinary. What can be wrong with red wine and pickled octopus for price of a slice of old bread? I really enjoyed the week I spent there, so much that I'm toying with the idea of going there for a while. Or at least I'm entertaining the possibility to see what might happen.
San Sebastian is as idyllic as a city can be. It sits by a large circular bay with wide beaches that are perfect for swimming and playing in the waves. Against my natural predisposition I went into the water every day. Clear, warm and free from critters, it was nearly perfect. Pamplona – where the bulls are run in July – and Bilbao – with the beautiful monstrosity of the Guggenheim – are nearby.
The region might not possess much in terms of ethnic diversity. The cultural breadth cannot hold a candle to the daily fireworks that's London. The weather – sunny and hot for the entire week we were there – must have been an anomaly if the lush meadows and deep green forests mean anything. But the positive characteristics have burned their mark into my cortex.
Even more so as I'm getting increasingly sick of London (still the center of the universe and the greatest city on earth, that goes without saying). The lack of nature is part of it: no cycling, not mountain biking, no hiking and the like. But worse is the large gap between rich and poor that creates all sorts of mind-boggling contrasts and disparities and that gives the city a face that is as ugly as it is elemental.
A flat in a new development on the south side of Hyde Park has just sold for 140 million pounds ($200,000,000 for one apartment!!), to some filthy rich dude far away. Such purchases, with the objective of gaining financially from house price inflation, keep driving prices and rents for ordinary flats up, to an extent that average workers cannot afford anything decent and something that's not even close to decent can be rented out for a small fortune. Median for an average two-bedroom apartment is as much as the median salary after tax.
And as with salaries, there's a huge spread in the quality of dwellings. Surrounding the glitter of restored Georgian semis and the luxury of spacious lofts are old flats that haven't been remodeled in decades, in streets that are noisy and messy. The facades of most houses are depressing to look at, with crumbling brickwork, blind windows, peeling paint, and windows of another era. (Inside it's frequently just as bad, with prehistoric plumbing and an electrical system unfit for wiring of the bathrooms.)
Taking the train into London is always a profoundly dispiriting experience, and it's not because of the peculiarities of British Rail. Rows upon rows of crooked, dirty terraces in varying states of dilapidation decry the depravity that calls London home. Beholding this bleakness with eyes that had just got used to modern tenements in clean streets, to a city surrounded by mountains and the sea, to effervescent street cafés instead of thick-necked pubs, the discrepancy exploded in my awareness and a realization filled my vision: The fire is still burning, and it's time to move on. Gotta find a goal and a place to shoot for it.