The first thing is the walking. Everything is within walking distance. There is only one main street where all the shops are situated and it takes you ten minutes max to stroll from one end to another at a leisurely pace.
There are a lot of cafés. They are small cafés with small tables and people in pale cardigans and black jeans. They have fresh, garden-picked flowers in mismatched jam jars on the counter. The windows are open. They serve ice cream sundaes in tall glasses. There are bars next to the cafés. They are locally owned and they have fraying red bar stools leaning against old wood benches. They have live jazz bands made up of old, retired men every Saturday night. They specialize in beer.
People here say, “thank you,” and “excuse me,” and “good morning”. The young, newly-initiated shop assistants at the one of two supermarkets ask you how your day has been with genuine smiles. “Fine,” you reply. “Very good.”
The weather here is beautiful. It is not beautiful because it is sunny. It is beautiful because you see all four seasons of the year in one day. You wear five layers of clothing so you can adjust your outfit as the temperature shifts. You start the morning with sunglasses and finish with a scarf. Rain drizzles out warm on your skin because it was first soaked in sunshine. The little hairs on your arm evaporate like melted sugar.
In the ice cream parlor, they give you two scoops of ice cream for a ‘learner’s cone’. They let you taste four different flavors before you decide on the one to commit to. They’ve hung cartoons of people enjoying their own ice cream cones on the walls. The shop is very small and there is a bell on the door. The door has a broken handle.
In the early hours of the morning, the city is silent. When the sun breaks, it is waiting. You are the only living being in this world and the crisp air has been regenerated for your lungs alone. Slowly, the houses wake up and the city stirs. The shops roll up their blinds like eyes opening. There is hot coffee and pancakes and brunch and laughter and a five-way traffic crossing where none of the pedestrians pay heed to the lights. There is love here, in the way some cracks are nestled into the pavement and filled with short weeds.
And when you leave this place, you leave for something bigger. Out there, with a million sounds rushing at you to knock you off your feet, you are microscopic to the point of invisibility. Out there, you gather your strength for the roar of efficiency, for motorcycles instead of bikes. Everything is fast, hurry, quick. People look straight ahead or at cell phone screens. Their shoes were made for sounds of purpose. Their feet were designed for a different gait.
So when you leave your small city, you pack only the things you’ll need for a week. You will come back soon for the morning quiet and the lazy calm. You will miss the small noises and the small pathways and the big hearts. In this city, everything is yours and everybody else’s too. You are all sharing something delicate and exquisite. Everything is family.