Urban Silhouettes

Many of my childhood Sundays were spent driving around São Vicente do Sul, my hometown of  8,000 people in the extreme South of Brazil. After lunch, whilst most people were taking a nap, my mother would slowly drive us around; no destination, no rush. The window of the car would transform into our personal television screen as we would watch the city’s architecture flash by.

Seeing the city is nothing extraordinary. We live in it, we know many of its streets, we know our way around by heart. The difficult part is knowing how to look at it in the same way we would with a holiday destination, as if that were the only time we could ever catch a glimpse of that particular landscape. The tourist seems much more watchful than the inhabitant.

The major difference between the tourist and the people who live in a particular area, is the difference between how much time they have, and the intensity of their observations. Tourists travel with a specific goal in mind, and often on a tight schedule: they want to enjoy their experiences and absorb the atmosphere of a new place. Inhabitants of a city on the other hand have an established life: home, work, the supermarket, the bank and so on. Everything is already laid down on their mental map. Proof of this is to simply think about how much we absorb from the places where we spend the majority of our time in comparison to new places we simply pass by in a fleeting moment. The repetitive scenes of daily life become stale, staunching much of our vibration and excitement.

Who does not appreciate the imminence of new landscapes? It is in our nature to be curious and we enjoy new outlines. However, after a while we forget to pay attention to ordinary places – at least not with the intention of discovery. Our senses get used to the geography of everyday, to the point where we become bored of where we live.

Our senses get used to the geography of everyday, to the point where we become bored of where we live.

Suddenly, boredom does not just blind us to frameable sights but also to the urban cracks. As we are always in a rush, with no time to miss a step, we do not see corners anymore, nor absurd urban plans, nor unfinished buildings, nor anything. If we do not see the outlines of the city, neither do we see the human consequences of such urban forms. Silhouettes fade away, and our lives stop at the obligation of getting ‘there on time’. Paths become empty.

However, on a Sunday afternoon for instance, we can take a step back and breathe some fresh air. We walk, wander, we become momentary flâneurs. We go on city tours and guided tours. We take photos. We check in and register the remarkable. We do all of that until it is Monday again and we have to go back to work, to class, to the obvious. And, yet one more time, we hopelessly land on the obvious, getting lost where we live. Bored, stressed, weary.

How to overcome this fleeting glance we all too often take over the places where we live? We travel in it. We enjoy any moment to take a different street, change the way, pass by that area we only know from bus lines. Travelling does not have to be flamboyant. It could as simple as opening our senses up to the cold, distant urban silhouettes of our ‘business days’.

Gianlluca Simi

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