|Sze Tsung Leong @ The Morning News/|
Javier Marías on the conceits of Barcelona @ Threepenny Review.
One of the innumerable ways of differentiating large cities would be to divide them into the boastful and the conceited, in the certain knowledge that there isn’t a city in the world that doesn’t fit one of those two categories. It might seem, at first sight, that the categories are too alike, inhabit the same semantic area—that the frontier between them is too blurred and therefore pointless. For me, though, there is a big difference, which has to do above all with character, because ultimately it is character, far more than the look of a place or the customs of its inhabitants, that leaves its mark on you as visitor and stays with you when you leave.Boastful cities tend to be insecure, child-like, and chatty (even vociferous), unenigmatic and exhausting, impatient places eager for praise and in a hurry to captivate. If you don’t watch out, they’ll take you off on a tour, or plunge you into the hustle and bustle, and thus not allow you, as a visitor, to go poking around on your own account and at your own pace; they’ll try by every means possible, however disrespectful or loutish, to impose their own wishes on anyone who dares to tread their streets. In other words, they try to draw you in, to subdue and overwhelm you. Boastful cities like Paris or Rome or Madrid are completely changed by the presence of foreigners, not so much because they rely on them (if that were the case, they wouldn’t be so boastful), but because they simply cannot leave them in peace to do their own thing. It could be said that the only reason they pay them any attention at all is in order to intoxicate, stun, befuddle, and even corrupt them as much as possible. Their boastfulness definitely has a totalitarian streak: they don’t allow for difference or even distance, for impartiality or the cool spectator’s eye. They are all-pervading and require wholehearted commitment: they demand it, and yet they are the ones doing the committing.read more