A uniform snowy blanket, as white as a sheet over a corpse lay stretched in all directions. Clumps of brown shaggy growths, once trees, disturbed the landscape. Occasionally cluttering the landscape were towns, contributing more to the monotony because of their brutal geometry.
Morbid as though it sounds the above is no prelude to some ghastly horror story, merely a description of the American landscape in winter, viewed by yours truly from 28,000 feet. Flying off to my cousin’s place for the hols, with a window seat, I was excited. As the plane rose I saw the grandeur of the continent, the extent of winter and the orderliness of American cities. I, for one am completely bowled over by the ways Americans plan their cities. Roads intersecting each other at ninety degrees, perpendicular and straight to the core, with a geometrical fastidiousness that only a square can inspire. Breaking the monotony are wide sweeping curves, they too perfect semi circles. Blocks over blocks of houses and people living their dysfunctional non-linear lives in straight lines. Railway lines and highways define straightness here, brutally cutting across geography. It’s no wonder I fell in love with it all. As someone who is particular about symmetry to the point of being obsessed, Indian cities have always frustrated me. Parallel roads intersect, Perpendicular roads never meet, railway lines, boulevards highways and lanes all bewilderingly meet at a single point and more astoundingly, move away with rapid swiftness each to its own course. Neighbourhoods overlap relentlessly and geography interferes causing roads to swerve erratically, chaos reigns supreme. However the occidental cities lack a character, a flavor so present in the orient. With roads at interesting angles, there’s always space to squeeze in that small triangular shop selling funky beads, or that Chinese restaurant with standing room only. By contrast American cities are stiff, strict and formal. Our cities are a vivid mess of informality, with the most unexpected urban landscapes ever. Where else in the world can a straight road suddenly turn right back, for no apparent reason and gift you with a view of the sea? Indian road makers also seem to have an aversion to tunnels, meaning you get sick with hairpin bends and risk falling off cliffs, but are also granted fabulous views in the bargain.
Flight take offs regularly clear the mystery of why roads travel the way they do. I have been surprised several times by looking down and seeing two landmarks of the city exactly next to each other. Travel to them by road and you would never guess. American cities are terribly simple to navigate (given that you have to navigate in straight lines only), and directions to reach an address are fairly straightforward. Compare this with how you would give directions to your house and you get the picture.
So what in the end did I like? The straight neatness of the west or the comfortable chaos of the east? The brain says one and the heart another. Also the air hostess is now getting chips of an interesting texture and I want to try them out. I have to change planes at Minneapolis and the temperature there is a forbidding -12 degree Celsius. Expect more morbid winter descriptions.