I am in the USA at the moment and am struck by the stark contrast between the two great cities of New York and Washington DC, albeit as viewed by a visitor.
NYC aptly named “the city that never sleeps” is vibrant, dynamic, endlessly fascinating and constantly on the go. Streets are teeming with locals and tourists. You hear so many languages spoken, you stop trying to figure out where people are from. Something interesting is going on everywhere.
Children run and play ball in local parks, musicians busk on street corners, quirky statements are printed on pavements and interesting art adorns door frames and walls. Bins are overflowing. Poverty and mental health problems are apparent. Strangers on the subway express their grief and shame at having such a terrible president. It all feels organic and touchingly human.
Washington on the other hand is beautifully designed. The roads are clean. Trees line the broad avenues, reminiscent of Paris. A panoply of colours from the many flowering shrubs make the space feel open and fresh. There are not many people on the streets. I cannot remember seeing a child just playing. It all feels very adult. In the centre, beautiful monuments catch your eye wherever you look. Fabulous museum after museum offer a treat to the eyes and food for thought.
Life seems more leisurely. The metro is wide, clean and pretty empty, maybe because it is August. On my first evening here I am invited to a silent meditation followed by a reading and discussion. I see signs for Mindfulness meetings outside a local church, of which there are many. I counted 6 on the way to the metro. My friends attend book clubs and avoid any talk of Trump, “we don’t want to bring him into our home”.
This gets me thinking about two opposing attractions which probably live in all of us.
NYC appeals to the urge to do everything, see everything, taste everything, hear everything and not lose a minute of precious awake time. It is 'Doing' personified.
DC inspires breathing deeply, reflection, 'Being' rather than 'Doing', choosing what you wish for and how you spend your life, if you have that luxury. It feels like a city that gives you time to pause.
My outsider’s view is most likely totally skewed and purely impressionistic.
I imagine that it is harder work to make a space to cultivate peace of mind in NYC and maybe less exciting and stimulating to live in DC.
Yet I can truly say I have fallen in love with both cities. Maybe the unifying factor is how kind and friendly everyone I have come across has been. If you look in the least bit lost, people ask if they can help. Service staff are warm and sound genuine when they wish you a pleasant visit. Random encounters lead to engaging discussions.
Perhaps what I take away most powerfully is the sense that wherever you are, if people take time to greet and speak, to share and communicate then your life is enriched by the contact. In that moment, nobody is a stranger.