Friday, May 10, 2013

Scraps of St Louis


March 7

I can remember the hysteria I tried to suppress inside my chest, like an overstuffed suitcase you have to get your friend to sit on so you can zip it shut, or a sandwich that threatens to spill out all its contents.

It’s never easy to pack up and leave for a new beginning, especially if you can’t bring some of your favorite things (fiancé, best friends, monsoon rain fragrances) along for the extended trip. But despite the bouts of loneliness and the sneaky panic that would shoot up throughout my body at random moments in the first few weeks in St Louis, I think I was pretty determined to make the most of it.

I always have a special place in my heart for cities. Like an earnest young professional, I have the highest expectations from a new place. I do my research, start specialized bucket lists and slowly and determinedly, fall in love with the quirks that make each city unique.

I like St Louis because it doesn’t put on many pretenses. It has its problems – racism, high crime rate, poverty – but at the same time there are little movements sprouting out to make things better. Like the Old North revitalization project. If I want to continue with my optimistic, generous tone, I would say that North city is kind of rundown. There are vacant lots scattered with junk and graffiti, broken down buildings being slowly consumed by weeds and shrubs, and an air of quiet resignation. But, slowly, the revitalization project is spreading color in the dreary landscape. It’s like peeling the plastic layer off a new electronic object, to reveal the shiny color underneath. They are restoring buildings, trying to invite new businesses into the area and hosting community programs. I would say (cautiously) that it is development at its best – using local resources and using the same rhythm rather than imposing a foreign soundtrack. 

And yes, the public transit isn’t exactly like clockwork but most of the bus drivers will wait that extra few seconds for you if they see you running towards them with your unbuckled sandals and bulky backpack.

And then there are the lovely seasons.  I know I complain like all other North Americans about the cold and the rain but I have thoroughly loved the passion with which St Louis throws itself into seasons. The fall this year was spectacular, all the colors bright enough to make you think you were wearing tinted glasses, and there was enough snow to make several strange looking snow creatures. And now that spring is here, with its constant showers and sudden temperature drops, the city is abloom. There was the wave of tulips, no matter how busy and stressed out I was, the bright reds, oranges, purples and yellows would always make me feel better. And at the same time, all the trees were budding pale pink, white or fuchsia, the blossoms turning sidewalks into patterned carpets.
The parks are all awash with green, the birds are annoying and loud in the mornings, and the chairs and tables have been dragged out to turn regular sidewalks into obstacle courses. Food trucks and festivals, free movie screenings and weekend concerts. It is not an easy time to be leaving this city.

I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but St Louis became home. I developed favorites: best route to school, cutest café, the yummiest Chinese food, the most ideal way to spend a blue Sunday afternoon.

I know I feel like I’m ready for home, I have been counting months till I had only one month left and realized I didn’t need to pine for my country and my people anymore because it was right around the corner. And I know I will miss the solitude and the independence of walking out of my house to the Italian pastry café for an hour, my tea sessions on the balcony and the freedom to chart out my day exactly as I want.

But I will carry little pieces of St Louis with me – the erratic weather, the dandelions, the potholes that our cars always forget, Forest Park (you can never pass by Forest Park without admiring how awesome it is, even if you pass by it every day), the neighborhoods with all the eclectic food, the rundown houses, the colorful architecture that stand out so vibrantly on cloudy white days, the Loop with its mediocre but earnest musicians and all its local shops and restaurants, and of course, most of all the people that have left their kind, weird, sweet imprints on my heart.