Beauty in the Streets (What Keeps Me Walking)
There’s beauty in the streets
for my eyes to catch and my heart to feel:
grass finding its way through the asphalt,
flowers growing between bricks;
green hands tearing the grey fabric,
sowing seeds of freedom like tiny grains of salt
in a sea of concrete.
Subtle signs of hope sidewalks will never steal.
Under the same sky wherever I am,
I let the wind play with my hair.
Whether the sun warms my face
or the clouds darken my eyes,
it is my skin, my soul, my pace to share
with the elements, my part to improvize
at the right moment: a clear spell to embrace,
a puddle to jump in, and other childlike charms.
Instead of buildings, instead of stone and steel,
I see notes rising from the ground.
And as the road unrolls into an endless score
the walls, sometimes, wrap themselves in magic.
Every step that I take teaches me a new chord,
then I can hear the town
making its own music
to the sound of my heels.
Rather than the distance, it is about people.
Schoolboys, joggers, beggars,
walking down the streets every single day.
Different realities colliding at one time.
Humans fighting the same battle
of being alive,
all coming a long way.
Treks and the City
I’m a city girl. Not the “Carry Bradshaw kind of girl” but a city girl anyway [in other words, the one wearing jeans and sneakers]. Besides a few occasional holiday trips to my parents’ house in the countryside, I have no experience whatsoever of what it’s like to live in a non-urban area. I’ve always liked feeling the vibe of the cities I lived in, whether I was in Paris, Brussels, Bordeaux, London or – for about 2 years and a half now – Lille (northern France).
The great thing about living and working in the city is that most of the time it’s very easy to travel short distances without using a car. I’m a rabid user of the public bike system that was launched in Lille last year and I also have my own bike to cover longer distances. When I’m not cycling, I take public transportation and also walk a lot. I’m lucky to live in a city that is big enough to offer all the infrastructures possible in terms of culture, leisure, shopping, bars, restaurants etc., but small enough to reach all of these by foot, providing I’m not in a hurry or wearing stilettos. [Okay, the latter never happens…]
The Poisoned Chalice
At 33 years old, I’ve never had a car nor felt the need to buy one. I drive when I have no other choice, like when the driver of the car I’m in is tired, or drunk, or having a heart attack. In fact, I only got my driver’s licence as a safety measure ’cause you never know when you might need to save lives. When I was 18, I was so motivated to take my driving test that it took me 3 attempts to pass it: I [unintentionally] ran a red light the first time, then [still unintentionally] exceeded the speed limit the second time. [But who’s counting?]
Anyway, my car-free existence is now coming to an end. My grandma passed away a few months ago and – surprisingly! – she left me with her car. Although I know her car meant a lot to her [it was proof she was still fully independent despite her 93 years of age] and although I should be flattered that she officially designated me to drive a car she called “My Little Darling”, it felt really awkward at first because I’ve always been very proud to say that I’m a “no-car girl”. So I spent a lot of time wondering what I was going to do with that burden. Financially speaking, it’s going to cost me more than I’m willing to spend on a piece of metal but I don’t have the heart to sell it. So I took the decision to keep it and make the most of being a responsible car owner.
Which leads me to another question: how am I going to use it? Some of my friends are just lazy asses that take the car if traveling involves more than 15 minutes walking. And yet they get angry for pretty much anything as soon as they’re on the wheel (cursing at other drivers, being stuck in the traffic, finding a parking space, blaming gas prices, etc.). [Oh my God, I have horrible friends!!] They waste time, money and energy using their cars for short-distance travels downtown, and I don’t want to become that kind of crazy person. Besides, what’s the use of having a car if it means I can’t drink? Well– bad example… But still, cars are supposed to ease our lives, not complicate them. I want to use mine to go to places that cannot be reached by public transportation, or to help a friend move out, or when I’m in good company so I can pretend the car’s broken down at night in the middle of the forest and… You get the point, right? I want my car to SERVE LEGITIMATE PURPOSES. [In case you’re wondering, yes, picking up guys is a legitimate purpose]
Obviously, I’m not the only one who cares about being car-free. There’s one initiative in particular that I’d like to mention here: The Alternative Travel Project. Promoted by actress Stana Katic (Castle), it aims to encourage people to “enjoy the social, health and environmental benefits gotten by traveling alternatively”.
There’s no doubt cars have a negative impact on the environment and that’s what all green organizations tell us. But the ATP’s motto “Go car free for one day” is beautifully presented. Instead of advocating “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” or being outrageously alarmist as lots of organizations are, the message is really optimistic: using other means of transportation will have positive repercussions on our lives. The ATP echoes the options that we have to do things differently and how fun it can be, and encourages people to share their experiences. It highlights individual actions as part of a collective process. In other words, even selfish egotistical cheapstakes can quickly get the benefits of being a bit greener.
Millions of Drops Make an Ocean
Last March, Stana Katic asked people to submit videos for the “Car Free March Experience” and she picked a winner. The video below won the competition and let’s be honest: it’s frikkin’ awesome!
I took part to the adventure too and submitted a video. I had a lot of fun doing it, filming the area with an onboard camera fixed on my helmet. I kinda felt like a secret agent, except when that Afghan hound gave me a weird look at a crosswalk and started to growl at my helmet and I was calculating how fast I should pedal if the dog decided to chase me. Which, luckily, didn’t happen.
So you know what? In the end, I don’t feel so guilty anymore for keeping my grandma’s car. I’ll use it as less as possible and I know that when I do, I’ll do it the right way and for the right reasons. [And I promise I’ll tell you if the broken car trick actually works]
Again, I’m a city girl. I love where I live and I love observing buildings and watching people when I’m commuting, even if that makes them unconfortable sometimes. [Have you ever played this game, the one that consists of looking people in the eyes until they…] [Wait, no. Don’t do that, it’s creepy!]. Alternative means of transportation are amazing opportunities to learn what the world is made of. That’s what I call “feeling the vibe”, and I won’t lose it.