Art and great cities have much in common. Of course, by definition, all great cities have great art, but that's not my point. It is how we behold them that matters. In order to be touched by cities and art we must allow them to become our own. They must enter us, to become part of us.
So often I've traveled to magnificent cities and museums in the accompaniment of friends and family. While the company is welcome, it does affect my experience. To know a city one must walk it alone. Really alone. One must find for oneself the hidden alleys and the secret treasures. The sounds and smells and light of a city must be absorbed in utter silence.
Once I was in Venice, a city I adore beyond description, with a dear friend. We were strolling and gabbing and after an hour I realized that I could have been in a shopping mall in New Jersey and had the same experience. I'd missed everything.
One hears tangential conversations in museums as well as foreign cities. People talk about everything but what they are seeing. Why is it so difficult to be truly present? I suspect that only silence allows us to see, hear, touch, and smell. Only utter aloneness opens the soul to certain kinds of profound experiences.
Often I feel the most alone when surrounded by groups of talking people. It is as if we were encased in our own floating bubbles, totally separated from all the other bubbles. This has become more profound with the proliferation of mobile communication and entertainment devices. Now the bubbles are wired.
In any case, one must allow for experiences that move us in private ways. We must give ourselves the space and time to appreciate the things we behold. Talking, entertainment and distraction can be addictions. Be with great art and great cities. Breathe them in as your own.