It’s eight years ago, and I’m living just outside of Derry, New Hampshire. I drive into nearby Manchester, turn down a street I haven’t seen before, and it’s lined with interesting cafes, galleries, restaurants. I’m delighted to find it, and so close to home, too. I park my car, get out…
And then I’d wake up.
I don’t mean to knock New Hampshire (although I didn’t like living there that much), but I had that dream over and over again when I lived in the Granite State. In fairness, it’s a variation of a dream I’ve had all throughout my life, most of which I’ve spent in New York City – either I’m discovering a new street, or a new room in my house, filled with previously unknown fascinations. Chances are, you’ve had this dream too, it’s apparently one of the twelve common dream types that people have all around the world.
I’ve had that odd and pleasurable sense of that dream come to life in a few cities. Venice, for instance, which is well-known for its maze of a street map, although a map doesn’t tell you that some of these “streets” are actually narrow passageways through the center of buildings, which look exactly like dead-ends. I set aside decades of New Yorker instincts against entering the dark and desolate, and learned to head confidently towards stone walls – a sudden turn at the very last minute would reveal a delicate bridge over chalky green waters, presided over by elegantly shabby buildings, a café with a few chairs in front of it, inviting an order of a trimezzi sandwich and a spritz.
Given its history, much of East Berlin’s vitality is kept tucked away, hidden in courtyards and interiors. You can walk down a street which seems unremarkable, say, Rosenthaler Strasse, but you turn into a courtyard and find a museum (dedicated to an industrialist who saved blind Jews during World War II), a boutique and a bar that’s adorned with metal sculptures in the shape of giant bugs and monsters well-suited to a dream of a darker type. Berlin Agenten offers insider tours.
I just got back from Melbourne last night. Its downtown is arranged in a straightforward grid, but tucked inside many of those right-angles are narrow laneways – I’m told these were once the service entrances for the buildings, although they’ve now evolved into restaurant, shop and gallery spaces in their own right. The laneways are also venues for public art works, including a couple of lanes that are set aside for graffiti artists – a little spur off of Centre Place (pictured left), and Union Lane. There are also shopping arcades, or covered streets, that were always meant for retail, not to mention a subterranean areas. One of my favorites is the Art Deco-style Campbell Arcade, which is a tunnel that leads to the Flinders Street train station. There’s an art installation, a couple of funky clothing boutiques and a ‘zine store called The Sticky Institute. It’s hard even for Melbournians to keep track of it all; when I took the (highly recommended) Hidden Secrets Laneways and Arcades tour, I was the only out-of-towner in the group.
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