Is two weeks long enough for a new city and you to decide whether you would make a good team?
Well, two weeks is all I have.
The fog was so thick, this morning, it had swallowed up the Cathedral spire. In a city where I do not know a soul, it was unnerving not to see the familiar landmark. In a new city where everything and everyone seems strange and alien, buildings become your first friends. The winding cobbled street with the Teddy Bear shop. The unnaturally white, unnaturally square Norman castle that looks like a sugar cube; or a sandcastle come out of a mould. The large, late Mediaeval church dominating the market place.
As soon as I got off the train, last Tuesday, I smiled. I kept smiling even as I discovered, whilst dragging my two heavy suitcases, that – contrary to my previous notion – this is a place full of hills. I wanted to introduce myself to this new city with a smile. I wanted to make a good impression.
The city smiled back. A shy smile, through the bleak grey sky and the grey stone buildings but, I think, it was a smile.
You prepare for so many possible problems and hurdles, when you go to an unknown place. I thought I had anticipated every difficulty. One thing I had not anticipated was acute physical pain. Sharp, burning pain in my back where the cold and damp air had penetrated, grabbed a muscle in its fist and twisted. Let’s see what you are made of. Let’s see how determined you are. Let’s see if I tighten my fingers around your shoulder blade. What if I dig in my nails? What – not smiling? I hope the sun – that looked like a brilliant white china plate behind the grey clouds, today – elects to smile at me, soon, and steps out in its golden glory to warm my chilled back.
When I pack to go to a new city, I choose the most neutral clothes. Nothing to attract attention. I want to be able to spy on the city before it notices me. My tweed flat cap is not suitable, I told myself, choosing, instead, the dark brown beret. It is too striking, too bohemian – too London. Then, at the last minute, I put it on my head. That flat cap is me. In this new city, I thought, I want to remember who I am.
It is a beautiful little city. I can walk across it in an hour. Passers-by smile when they meet your eye. They stop what they are doing to show you the way. A glint of amusement flashes across their faces when I tell them I am studying the city, as a potential new home. “We call this city ‘the graveyard of ambition’,” someone told me, this afternoon. It is the second time I have heard this, in three days.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because we have all these high-flying big city people coming here, taking a look, loving the place so much they decide to stay here.”
I have been to cities with much worse reputations.
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I have my own idea of where you might have relocated, although I am American and just taking a wild guess based on something you said. I will be eager for the big reveal to find out if I am remotely correct!
By all means hazard the guess – but I’m not saying yes or no until I am ready :–)
I would try getting to know one or two people a little bit. I am American, not English, so I don’t know how that is frowned upon or welcomed, but it sounds like a friendly place. Maybe start chatting with one of the friendly people and have a drink together? Tea, etc.? I have difficulty ‘breaking the ice’ so to speak, but I have found if you start with one or two people it’s less intimidating and if you are doing something it’s easier also. Best wishes, I am intrigued…I am going to England for the first time in my life this August and can’t wait….
Meeting people for the first drink/tea is easy. It’s making sure the meetings become regular that’s the real challenge. Thank you for commenting. Do let me know when you’re coming to England closer to the time :–)
I think I know where you are, but it is not a city I have ever visited, so I’m not sure about all your clues. Durham has a teddy bear shop in a cobbled street, but I don’t think it matches apart from that, so I have ruled that out! Sue
So has Cambridge :–) No, not Durham.
I’d guess you are nearer to Cambridge than Durham! Sue
Oh, good luck! Last post I read you were thinking of leaving London; next time I look, you’re there! I had a feeling for Bath, but it doesn’t quite fit with all the clues you left, so probably not. Wherever you are, be safe and enjoy the adventure with your flat cap.
Thank you, Isabel. No, not Bath.
I like the sincere way you go about this. Making a good impression, feeling smiled upon … So evocative, how you’re inviting the city to speak to you, though the buildings, the weather, the people. This message though, ‘the graveyard of ambition,’ would challenge my resolve and make me deeply explore my meaning of ambition. Now I’m curious, and want to know what else the city says 🙂
Thank you for your unwavering support. Oh, trust me, my resolve is challenged at every second. A voice is constantly shouting, “What if this is a terrible mistake?!” in my ear.
You are presenting us with a tantalising mystery Katia! Probably not less than the mystery you are presenting yourself with! I am enjoying it and hope you are too. best wishes in your new surrounds. A bit exciting and daunting I guess. Philippa
Thank you very much, Philippa. Although I’d replace “daunting” with “terrifying”.
och it’s not Scotland is it? The locals there seem terrifying at first (my partner was born in Edinburgh)!
But the locals here are far from terrifying. They couldn’t be friendlier. What’s terrifying for me, is the whole gamble I’ve taken with trying to relocate.
sorry to persist and I know you won’t answer, but I have heard Manchester referred to as the graveyard of ambition, recently on a TV show I think! So glad the natives are friendly – that helps greatly.
I don’t think I could walk across the whole of Manchester in just an hour. Patience. Please…
Hope you find what you are looking for. It’s an adventure whatever happens.
Thank you. Here’s hoping :–)
I’m sorry, but for me, it’s the brilliant literary styly that comes first when I read your posts Katia. And then questions come to my head: where are you now and what town is it? I hope you are safe and sound and enjoying your stay there! Soon we’ll learn your whereabouts)
Thank you very much, Anna.
Reads like 21st century Thomas Hardy:-) Casterbridge?!
Very funny :–) Thank you for reading and commeting.
All the best wishes I can send. But you are teasing us. Spire, castle and church, in marketplace? Um. Durham? Salisbury? Nope. Shrewsbury?? Put me out of my misery, because it sounds like a good place to live. Is there a locally-sourced butcher?
Just give me a couple of weeks and I shall give you a blatant clue, OK? :–)
Thank you ever so much for your good wishes – I appreciate them more than I can say.
Though I couldn’t begin to guess exactly where you are, not being up on many cities’ topographies, I’m eager to hear tales that you unearth from the cityscape, and wish you all the best there. Are you planning to go from city to city for a while, two weeks each, and then choose, or just try one out at a time? Whichever, I hope you like where you are (and that the damp doesn’t get to be a serious or repetitive problem).
I need all the kind wishes I can get – so thank you :–)
I’m afraid I don’t have the financial resources to go from town to town, so this one has to work out, really. Otherwise, it’s back to London (though that’s really a last resort).
I imagine that from the remarks you’ve made already about the new city, you will succeed in making a success of it (there are ways around the damp, after all, all sorts of not-too-expensive little machines for the home these days). You seem to have a basically upbeat and positive attitude, determined to find the good in everything. Good luck!
Yes, but you can’t control the damp OUTSIDE :–(
Thank you for kind words but, trust me, I have my moments of pessimism abyss – I just don’t write about them :–)