Coming up: my online travel writing class for Catapult in mid-April.

Cities as lovers

Today I miss Lisbon. Portugal’s capital popped up in conversation several times in the last few days. Earlier this afternoon, I was having lunch with two colleagues who have never been to Portugal. So I started explaining my love affair with Lisbon, describing it as my impossible love. It remains so, even though I haven’t been back since 2008.

That got me thinking about a theory I’ve had for some time now, about cities as lovers. Just like with people, we either click with a city or we don’t. Of course we can work at it, try to improve our relationship and find some common ground. But if the bond isn’t there, the relationship remains superficial, fraught with problems and ultimately it doesn’t work. So, for me, each city I visit becomes a love affair of sorts. Here is my personal vision of a handful of cities as lovers.

Lisbon is the kind of lover who gets deep under your skin but in your gut you just know it will not last. So you leave this lover who wasn’t meant to be yet you’re forever feeling the saudade – the yearning for something that is lost or impossible to reach.

Berlin is the clandestine love affair that happens in tucked-away bars, at odd hours, behind closed doors. It’s somewhat dark, decadent and depressing yet compels you to stay and play more, even though you know it won’t lead to a solid long-term relationship.

Buenos Aires is that passionate lover who dominates your body and soul entirely, beyond any reason. You lose control of your senses and all you want to do is spend time in your lover’s company, letting all else slip away, regardless of whether it’s good for you.

Rio de Janeiro: a hot, sexy lover who shows you the time of your life, makes you feel as if you’re the most beautiful woman in the world, takes you out dancing, strolling along the beach… Yet you know it’s just a travel romance and the moment you get home, it will feel like just another fantasy.

London happens to be your husband and life partner. Yet there’s a secret lover in the picture, whom you see on a regular basis, without too much emotion, but who fills that need for a little extra spice and adventure in your life.

As for New York, my home base, I could write a book about our love affair. Instead, for now, I’d love to hear about your relationship with New York. If New York were a lover, what kind of lover would it be?

Blog Comments

This is kinda odd. I've always felt NYC is my lover (I met my ex-husband there – we were married for only a month! I blame it on the city!). Here's the link to a guest post I wrote about NYC, my lover. In case you're interested…read here

Wow, that's amazing, Jen! I loved that story, by the way. Glad you can identify with my 'cities as lovers' theory. So what kind of a lover is Toronto?

I do like your theory. Sometimes, a city you move to and can't get to like can be, like the man you marry, that your parents chose for you (In India, that's not uncommon- its called an "arranged marriage") and with whom you are expected to eventually fall in love with. But, sometimes you don't. Nothing wrong with the new city. One is just unable to forget one's first love.

And, maybe Italo Calvino's love poem – 'Invisible Cities' is this too?

Yes, absolutely, I love the way you related my theory to the "arranged marriage" concept. It's definitely true. You can't force someone to fall in love, with a person or a city. I love Italo Calvino, by the way!

Nice post, Anja. I read it after writing something about unexpectedly falling in love with Patagonia, AZ. But it made me think of New Orleans, a city I just left a few days ago.

New Orleans, to me, is a city that gives you a savior complex. She's been abused and jilted and watched loved ones die young and violently. But over plastic cups of whiskey and the rhythm of horns you vow to rescue her and love her gently and never leave. Of course, then you do, and you feel like shit. But she's stronger than you, so she wraps her arms around your hips at the streetcar stop and whispers in your ear, "It's OK, honey, I'll find someone else."

Yeah. I sort have a thing for New Orleans.

Loved your description of the love affair you're having with New Orleans, Scott. Although I've never been, I can totally picture it. Thanks for your inspiring comment!

for me NYC was just a passing adventure, I was in love with the many other cities, but my eternal lover is Dubrovnik. We met when I was still a child, I've always dreamed about it. And when you want something really …we are finally together-

Hello Anja,
I'm portuguese and it was wounderful to know about your love for Lisbon.
I only have been in NY once for 10 days, but in the minute I got there I felt the "clik” you talk about. NY is pure energy. I felt so alive. So many things to discover, so many treasures, so much culture and different realities… For me NY is the entire world in one city and I loved it.
My favorite Museum in the entire world is there: The Museum of Natural History… Amazing place. I have to tell you that now in Paris there’s another amazing one: Quai Branly.

I really hope to leave there for some time. Even if it’s only for 6 months or one year, because I felt NY is one of the loves of my life.

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