Thursday, July 21, 2011

Visiting Cities, a tale of metrophobia

On Wednesday of this week I had occasion to visit a city. Yes I know, I swore off cities for life - I remember. But just sometimes, loyalty to your own blood and important conferences with high-ranking people directly relevant to your own blood override your better judgement, and it was in that spirit, with my better judgement railroaded in favour of my family, that I packed my bags and headed down to Sydney, NSW, for the aforementioned important conference. Before I left, I organised to meet someone for coffee beforehand, and to sleep over afterwards at a friend's place, as the event was scheduled to end fairly late for those of us in even nearby regional centres.

It was with a heavy heart that I packed my eccentric-but-toothless Luggage, the one that doesn't have "hundreds of dear little legs", with my favourite pyjamas, my laptop, my toothbrush, and a change of clothes for the following day, dressed respectably, and wrapped myself up in a warm winter shawl in conservatively dark colours.

The weather was a howler of a day, with high velocity winds and near-freezing rain, so a kind-hearted friend of mine agreed to drive me to the train station which would take me into the big smoke, so that I could avoid the whole bus-train-transfer debacle. In return, I was to buy this friend the lunch-of-their-choice (the conference was an evening thing).

We arrived in the vicinity of the appropriate train station, and said friend pulled their car into a side-street well-known to contain a couple of different fast-food franchises. And immediately hit the anchors. I say that advisedly as more than a metaphor for stomping hard on the brakes: the road was under a significant amount of water, and sundry cars were either choosing to pick their way carefully through it, or doing U-turns to get away from it. Boats have anchors, and a boat would have been more appropriate transport at that time.

So, no lunch. My driver chose the U-turn option, and dropped me at the station. I thanked them, unloaded my bags, waved goodbye, and hastened up the ramps towards the ticket office. My transport organised and paid-for, I had some time to wait for the train, and in that time a young guy of seventeen asked me about the colourful, eccentric braids on each of the zips on my luggage. I explained how to get that particular visual effect that had engaged his interest, and we fell into a conversation.

Seems he worked at the franchise where we had intended to eat, but as their carpark was completely awash with a living tide that was exploring the kitchen door and as there was low-altitude electrical equipment in the kitchen, his manager had wisely decided to err on the side of OH&S staff safety policies, and had powered everything down and sent the staff home. His bus came, my train came, and we parted company.

Trains are an interesting phenomenon, especially when they are almost empty. They provide a gentle rocking motion that is almost nurturing and is certainly conducive to meditation, but as the ground keeps getting whisked away from under your feet it is very hard to connect with it if you would like to use the time to do anything earth-based. Tunnels are also interesting - you are plunged into the earth but into a completely unnatural environment - and tunnels that lead immediately onto bridges high above salty esturine water are even more interesting with the sudden changes of energies. I spent the trip enjoying the flickering of passing sensations.

Just over half-way there, the air conditioning no longer could hide the fact that it was feeding us processed city air instead of processed heavily-populated regional air, and I gradually became aware of the increasing amount of spent fossil fuels and rancid chip-fat in the air behind the air conditioner's choice of low-grade chemical-based "air fresheners", an unwholesome combination of smells that once had me throw up on the pavement a few months after I took the plunge and moved out of the city two decades ago, and visited for one day less than three months later.

I disembarked at a major rail interchange, looking for food. I know my stomach, and it settles when it is lined with something familiar, so I went looking for something familiar. I was served by a woman whose personal and psychic shields were so strong that I looked at her with a combination of awe, revulsion and envy. Her aura was almost as solid as her body, and far more prickly. She smiled thinly with her public smile, and served me professionally and politely. One thing was for certain: at work, nobody ever saw the real her. And I was probably one of a minority who immediately knew that, and could see why.

As I ate, I started to relax, and became even more aware of all the psychic noise in the place. Hundreds of people, all in a hurry, all stressed about one thing or another (or several things), hundreds of people in a controlled panic over bosses and deadlines, bills and families, shopping and transport, and all of them - all of us - additionally stressed because the weather was unusually violent, even though rain is not necessarily a bad thing. All that angst filled me with existential dread and nausea, so I ate slightly faster.

Guess what. Familiar food doesn't help if it is accompanied with boiled beverages made with water heavily polluted with a cocktail of chemicals only beginning with chlorine, and lungsful of air heavily polluted with many kinds of burnt fossil-fuels and other chemical residues. Twenty minutes later, I was upside-down in a none-too-clean public toilet, emptying myself spasmodically.

And my mother has spent decades saying I fake my metrophobia to cover the fact that I hate her. Two things: I don't fake metrophobia, and I don't ever cover my emotions. At least I have emotions, unlike some.

After I washed out my mouth - with polluted water - and waited for the taste of pollutants to lessen in my mouth, I foolishly went to the same venue, but this time only purchased a bottle of apple-and-guave juice. I love guavas, and have a young sapling in my garden that gave me its first crop last season - around a dozen exquisite, juicy fruits. After drinking the juice slowly and playing with one of the Tarot decks in my bag as I did so I started to feel less contaminated, almost clean.

I did say "almost". You can't ever really feel clean in any part of a city.

It was an hour before the appointed time of the conference, and time to wend my merry way there. I pulled out the documentation and double-checked. Then I went looking for someone in uniform, to ask what was the best form of public transport to get there. I followed their advice. Having taken "the dry option", one of a number of routes that allowed me to be inside vehicles or under cover for most of the trip, I arrived at my destination-building with all my clothes sticking to my skin, and so chilled-down that I could no longer feel how cold I was. My waterproofed Luggage was also satched, in the parlance of my daughter, and I was slightly anxious that it and the waterproof laptop bag within it might not have been waterproof enough to protect my computer. There and then I wasn't going to check, though.

Along with a few other people, I lined up at the door, and waited to have my name marked off on a list of people who had RSVPed that they were coming to the event. I had emailed my RSVP to the correct email address a day before the deadline, so I was obviously on the list, right?

Wrong. I and half a dozen other people, about four of whom had travelled great distances and arranged accommodation and swore blind they had RSVPed in time, were not on the list. We were going to be turned away after all the effort of getting there until we started making a fuss, then seeing another potential public relations disaster looming they decided to let us in as long as we stood quietly in the back of the room, didn't disturb the people who were legitimately there, and didn't voice an opinion about the matter-at-hand. We were told we wouldn't get coffee in the break, either.

Guess who voiced an opinion about the matter-at-hand. I got growled at. I gathered my somewhat damp shawl around me with as much dignity as I could muster, grabbed my sodden Luggage, and stalked off in high dudgeon. All that time and effort for a non-event. And a non-event in a *city*! I was seething - cities are places to avoid right up until you are frogmarched there by circumstances you can't change or ignore.

Cold again, I made contact with the friend I was to stay with, met them, and got whisked away. We were to sleep on a superannuated ferry now moored in a quiet part of the harbour. Option one for getting on the ferry was a boat, but there was no boat available to us. I briefly considered swimming - I could hardly get more wet than I already was. Option three, which we took, was a pretty little bush-walk, past boulders and trees and ferns, with the occasional flight of stars cut into the very bedrock. I would love to do it again by daylight to really appreciate how pretty it was, and preferably when I wasn't so cold that my joints were all locked up (don't worry, my two companions were the same!)

Option two was a walkway prepared by the local authority, through a tunnel. There had been three original tunnels, two of which were blocked off. The third, which was open, channelled massive amounts of water from the hill over it through a couple of broad openings, and was flooded out. I am told the other two had perfect ceilings, and had they been open, no rainwater or runoff would have found its way in.

Lessons of the day:

* Town planners are not the smartest people in the known universe.
* Bad weather is not fantastic for travelling in.
* Executive bodies of major organisations with annual budgets in the billions, don't know how to manage events, or even maintain a list of RSVPs.
* City air is toxic.
* City water is toxic.
* City energy is toxic.
* People who live in cities are panicky, angry, and/or ill all the time, to some degree. This is because they are being constantly systemically poisoned. They then generate huge amounts of negativity as a result of being poisoned without even realising they are doing it - thinking they are only receiving it from others - and this only makes the environment less human-friendly, not more.
* Cities are great places to get out of, as quickly as possible. Even if they contain friends that you've known for decades and now see only rarely.
* Metrophobia is the only sane response to a city - any greater degree of acceptance than that is symptomatic of a break with reality and a crumbling of awareness of the real world.

No more cities. I've done my dash. Never again, even if it means turning my back on those I love. The only thing that saved the day was friendship, and the fact that in retrospect I can see how funny it all was.


  1. O.M.G., what a day. You know, when I go to the city I can hear the ground screaming as it suffocates beneath the concrete. I will probably go again if I have to- but not by choice.

  2. The ground is beyond screaming now. It's barely whimpering. Never again. Not for anything.

  3. I completely understand! We went into Brisbane some weeks ago to see "Winterfest" and I had a panic attack (something I have not had for many years now). The city was oppressive and I couldn't wait to get out.