Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Sense of Place

Yesterday was Queen's Day in the Netherlands, one of the biggest (or the biggest) celebrations of the year in Amsterdam. Looking at a friend's pictures of it, I couldn't help but miss the strong sense of place that Amsterdam has.

Considering myself a sensitive artiste, I like to be in a place that has a strong sense of self; that when there, you know you could be nowhere else in the world other than that place. Amsterdam has this. Love it or hate it, there is no place I've been with quite that sense of place that Amsterdam has. It oozes with...itself. Skinny tall buildings, skinnier and impossibly steep staircases, bikes chained everywhere, trees bending green over the canals, and that particular Dutch spirit.

It can be harder to find in the U.S., which is so much newer and built so much faster, especially in Colorado. We have a handful of buildings dating all the way back to 1942! But so many have been built in the past 20 years that neighborhoods haven't had time to build a character, and the always new and always transient nature of our population makes it hard to build a character of any sort.

There are exceptions, like Boulder. And it is amusing to see a glimpse into what the outwide world thinks of Colorado, as shown on the Office this week: Rocky Mountain Oysters, altitude, and bears that gnaw your legs off. As far as I know, only tourists and ranchers eat Rocky Mountain Oysters, though we do have altitude. And, now that I think of it, there are some amusing bear hijinks around here. (Last year, a little bear disturbed the U.S. open at the Broadmoor by walking through the course, and on the more destructive side, a bear trapped itself in the car of a friend's neighbor and tore it to shreds. Is that culture?

In any case, it's what we have. Rather than decry and bemoan the Springs' lack of character and culture, I will choose to focus on the positive and find gems of a sense of place in what I have.

My boss, from Canada, forever won me over when he said he liked our architecture - a certain neo-mountain architecture, which I like too, even if it's only employed to house Smashburgers and Coldstones.

I haven't had a bear gnaw my leg off, or drive my car, but this gang did visit us yesterday. There were about 10 of them. This is why I don't plant flowers. My neighbors do, and that's why gangs come to visit them.

I especially like this picture of the gang moving down the street, knocking down trash cans in their wake.

I don't have history, but I have deer. In fact, most of the sense of place I can name was God-given and not man-made. We have the mountains and the wildlife. Yesterday I found the head of a fox (and only a head) on my daily walk through the neighborhood. Ah, culture.

We never see the sunset because the mountains at our house block off the sun 2 hours before it sets, but in the day time, we enjoy the clearest, bluest skies imaginable. We live in a microclimate that starts roughly two blocks from our house. We will have snow in our neighborhood, when two blocks away it is dry and sunny.

For fun, people here walk straight up a mountain - 2600 feet in one mile - and destroy their knees for life on "the Incline." (I don't do this because I have a sense of sense as well as a sense of place.) For my city park, I take a walk through what is arguably the most spectacular free city park in all of the country.

So, although we may not have much in the way of historic buildings or centuries' tradition, its' a pretty swell place.

What is your favorite thing about where you live?


Eric said...

"Sense of place." Yeah, I like that. I never really thought about it in such terms before, but you're right. Amsterdam totally has it. I've never been to Colorado Springs, so I can't vouch for its "sense of place" -- but I actually think much of the American West has a very strong sense of place... so there's certainly something to be said for your part of the world.

As for me, here in Amsterdam, I think I'm most enamored with the cafe terraces -- particularly on a sunny spring day.

Amber said...

It's true Eric that it's easy to take for granted the sense of place (or culture) you're from because it simply seems normal to you, a given. So there probably are things about the West I take for granted...but I'm still jealous of cafe terraces.

Tara said...

I love that I work in the 'burbs and live in the 'burbs on the other side of the city, but can still hear phrases like--be careful around your cattle today (I heard that one today at physical therapy). I also love being able to see for a very long distance . . . I am definitely a plains girl and I like the open range!!