by Nancy Jane Moore
This is a place where I never was before: here breathing is different, and more dazzling than the sun is the radiance of a star beside it.
It is always possible to spot the newcomers to the city, for when they emerge on the street, they throw back their heads and stare in wonder. In truth, longtime city dwellers and repeat visitors often feel the same surge of joy in their hearts. They have merely learned the art of appearing blasé when awestruck.
But even the most jaded among them cannot resist the temptation to play tour guide. “Look,” they say as they pass a skyscraper built from red-tinged granite, “that is the tallest building in the city. It takes seven and one-half minutes for the elevator to take you to the top, but when you arrive you can see for hundreds of miles in any direction.”
Or as they walk up the steps to a building of odd angles and glass overhangs, its rough exterior walls the color of sand with just the faintest hint of pale orange, they say: “Did you know the museum has the latest paintings by Alexis Li? The distorted nudes that provoked such a scandal?”
Let them overhear someone admiring the giltcovered gingerbread on one of the great theatres in the heart of the city, and they will interrupt to observe, “It was designed by Pieczynski, you know. She also designed the hotel across the street—see how it repeats the same motif? Such a great architect, before she went mad.”
Great cities should provoke admiring responses in their residents and visitors, and those who live here have worked to make that happen. The place sparkles at night. All of the really tall buildings—and there are so many that most people lose count before they complete a tally—are accented by lights so that even their most obscure corners glitter. A slender pyramid shines gold, while a group of buildings connected by walkways and hanging gardens gleams silver with streaks of green.
Far below, giant, bell-shaped streetlights make the major avenues almost as bright as in the daytime. Neon signs advertise places to drink and dance, their style ranging from elaborate, unreadable script to block print variations on “BAR.” Hotels and theatres set in place a vast array of lights to give their patrons the feeling of being celebrities.
(And if there are parts of the city not so well-lit at night, dark passages in which the person who enters might come back out as someone else entirely, or perhaps not come back out at all, well, these are not the places a tourist needs to know about.)
Unlike many cities that dazzle the eye at night but look dowdy at noon, this one also glows in the sunlight. The streetcleaners come out before dawn and sweep up the trash so carelessly abandoned by late night revelers, so that when the sun comes up, the city looks neat and fresh. Even in the parts of town in which the skyscrapers are clustered, the sun reaches down to street level, for mirrors and prisms catch the light at strategic points on the buildings.
On several buildings, garden platforms have been interspersed at different levels—all placed so that the highest do not block the sun from reaching the lowest. You can step outside on the thirty-seventh floor and lose yourself in a country garden. At ground level a park snakes its way around the city, forming an irregular circle of green.
(And if in some neighborhoods the sun and its blessings do not quite reach all the dark corners, well, that is only to be expected.)
They say the city reached its pinnacle of beauty in a massive thunderstorm some years past, a storm so powerful that it knocked out the entire electrical grid and left the great place completely dark. For several hours lightning played high above the city, striking the massive metal rods (some elaborate and ornate, some just straight shafts) that top all of the tall buildings, jumping from them to the towers located at strategic points throughout the park. This light show outdid any of the artificial ones, proving once again that nature will have the last word, even in great cities.
On her tenth birthday Margaret Hines watched that storm from the top floor of an abandoned warehouse at the southern end of the city. The irregular lines made by the lightning as it jumped from spire to spire were etched in her brain.
Maggie loved this city above all else. But she didn’t live there. She didn’t even know where it was.
Copyright © 2004 Nancy Jane Moore
by Nancy Jane Moore
$2.99 (Novella) ISBN 978-1-61138-041-5