Location, or place as a character – Prompt #8


Photo by Colby Drake, fine arts photographer who enjoys the adventure of going to scenic areas and trying to capture those places to share with others.

Prompt:  Write about a city . . . where you live now, or used to live, or have visited, or from your imagination.  Here are examples from the NaNoWriMo Blog. 

It is Sunday in Hamburg. Six o’clock in the morning and everything is quiet. Most people are sleeping peacefully in their beds, but not me. I’ve been awake all night. Waiting for this special moment. I feel tired but push on: there is nothing better than the beauty of a new dawn and the breeze of freedom it holds. Soon, I will go to the one place where people who lived through the night can meet those who are first to welcome the morning.

Entering downtown Montreal is like stepping through a time machine. The old port brings you straight to the 1600s: where architectural elegance usurped function, and everything was made of stone. And these stones have stories to tell—showing the stains of floodwaters from as far back as 1642.

New York: The City That Never Sleeps. It’s a common phrase, but it means a lot more than last calls at 4 a.m. and a 24-hour subway system. This town doesn’t run on one schedule, it runs on over 8 million.

Bodegas, hot dog carts and $1 pizza places line the streets of Midtown Manhattan and the Village, catering to this continual flux of pedestrian traffic. Trains full of 9-to-5ers pour out of Grand Central Station, giving way to tourists, then pre-curtain-call diners, then club-goers and night shift workers, on to the late-night partiers and night owls, until, as dawn breaks, early-shift workers and audition-goers pass through, re-starting the cycle all over again.

Your Turn: Write about a city.

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  1. James Seamarsh

    Nice to Cannes Marathon

    The sun, unable or unwilling to climb higher, stays low in the autumn sky; not long awake, but more patient in morning risings and evening settings. The wind howls, stripping the trees bare, clearing the streets of fallen leaves and small dogs.

    There is a marathon from Nice to Cannes today. It lures thousands of runners. And because it is southern France, and already cold to the north, and seeing as how jogging is a self-indulgent sport, the runners are joined by sun-loving family, friends, wives and lovers under the guise of caring supporters, support which is easily distracted by the magnificent stores and après-shopping coffee, croissants, and conversation.

    I take the bus from Grasse to Cannes, following a raindrop that had begun its descent high in the Maritime Alps. We fly together down the mountain until my coach stops, the driver no longer able to maneuver in the heavy traffic. The raindrop falls from a cloudless sky, as if from nowhere, landing beside the bus. Other drops follow until the air was filled with winks with sunshine flying with the wind like a swarm of fireflies. Hot Macadam welcomes their arrival with a hiss of applause, celebrating the moisture’s transformation into invisible humidity, a transformation that allows them to climb with the wind, riding upwards, in search of other spirits with hopes of being borne again.

    The coach’s progress is slow and heavy. We crawl down the boulevard, turn left, left again, and arrive at the train station. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know where the finish line was, though I had heard it was at the famous Cannes Film Festival tapis rouge. I walk against the prevailing current of pedestrians. Many had numbers attached to their chests. They were the marathon runners, the finishers heading for the trains to Nice. I follow the ant trail backwards to the finish line.

    I am too late for the Kenyans. Had the winds blown them off course? I did not see Leo, either, who I had met the week earlier in Dublin and learned he would be in Nice for the race. He had been the inspiration for my sojourn, along with my 8am train from Cannes to Paris the next morning. But I never did see him, unable to recognize him in the flood of bobbing heads. Was it Leo who had told me the fast Kenyans weighed under 100 pounds? When I texted him from Cannes, he was already safely returned to his companion.

    I walk back towards the train station, check into my hotel and reemerge onto the crowded sidewalks. I join the pilgrimage to the trains bound for Nice, a ride that will follow the coastline. The station is filled with men who wobble down the stairs, back and forth, their calves complaining, thinking their work was done after the 26 mile run.

    The ride is short, children being admonished to put down their iPhones to appreciate the Cote d’Azur. The view is spectacular, all the more so because it is from a train, often running at water’s edge. From Nice Central I wander alone, searching for the sea, following the sun as I head down Avenue Durant. The cafes are filled with yellow jerseys with jogging shoes surrounded by family and friends, all recounting the day’s battles, the wins, the losses.

    A sudden gust of wind and my hand jumps to my hat as I turn to protect my eyes. A high-pitched tinkling sound rides above the rumble of wind in my ears. The breaking glass draws my attention to the surprised faces of patrons at the sidewalk tables, their expressions turning to disbelief as another place-setting of wine glasses are toppled by the wind, rolling, slipping over the edge of the white tablecloth, shattering, scattering their remains at the feet of Adidas and Avia shoes.

    The waiter is unperturbed. Perhaps this scene has played out every year, tourists eating outside in a futile attempt to stretch summer into fall. They are not American tourists, though there is the occasional smattering of nasal English. Most are continental tourists. For it is off season, too late for le grand voyage, and only a long weekend in November, Armistice Day, a holiday not even celebrated by many countries in Europe.

    Placing the wind at my back I abandon my sea quest, settle instead for a cluster of trees just visible a few blocks away. Closer, the trees reveal a rectangular oasis among residential buildings whose orange-ochre walls were decorated with plaster versions of Corinthian columns, tall windows with azure shutters, and fanciful wrought-iron balconies.

    There is a plaque declaring the square “Park Mozart.” Its benches filled alternately between old men and the sleeping homeless. Standing in the middle, easily visible, is a heavy-booted flic-looking man. The radio that hangs from his belt crackles with news of distant wayward souls. Was he there to protect the old men? To protect the homeless? Protect one from the other? His cap and shirt carry the initials “A.S.V.P.” Did the S.V.P. portion stand for s’il vous plait? I did not ask him. I had been treated poorly on previous attempts to satisfy my curiosity about French police. I avoid eye contact, feeling diminished, bent to submission by my years of experience. Perhaps he was there to protect me, the old man from America. I sit down on a park bench, ponder how close I am to the end of my own marathon, and watch the sun disappear behind rooftops cluttered with chimneys and TV antennas.

  2. mcullen Post author

    I love how this is written in present tense, taking me along the adventure as the narrator journeys from one vista to another. I especially love the description of following the raindrop. I enjoy the surprising phrases,”clearing the streets of fallen leaves and small dogs,” and “the air was filled with winks,” and “the wind like a swarm of fireflies.” The pace moves along with a tranquility like a gentle poem. I enjoyed the ride with the narrator to the poignant and reflective end.

  3. mcullen Post author

    Inspiration for writing can come from so many different places. In the summer of 1997, my friend and excellent writer, Susan Bono, began her Editor’s Notes for Tiny Lights (A Journal of Personal Essay) like this, “From the windows of my house on this high hill, I can look out over the lights of our town.”

    From my kitchen window, I can see the other side of the hill . . . the hill that prevents me from seeing into Susan’s windows.

    I’m in-between hills in a small valley in our little town. I miss the view from our home in the southern part of San Francisco, where we overlooked John McLaren Park near the Cow Palace. We could catch a sliver of SF Bay from our second story bedroom window. We could hear the steady hum of traffic on Highway 101 as people sped north to downtown San Francisco, past the Dutch Boy paint sign, past hospital curve, inhaling the heady aroma of fresh ground Folger’s coffee. San Francisco . . . my home town.

    I loved growing up in The City . . . school field trips to Steinhart Aquarium and the planetarium. I squirmed to get comfortable and settled into my seat as the round room slowly darkened. Tilting my head back, I looked up and all around the perimeter, seeing the walls and ceiling magically turn into twilight and then the night sky. I loved the mystery of the constellations and the mythical stories of how they got their names and meanings. Mostly I loved being on a field trip.

    And I loved growing up in the city in simpler times, without electronic gadgets to distract, entertain or annoy — and a giddy joy in being part of the magic transformation of a round room into the wonder of the night skies.

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