I’m a city boy, having lived most of my life in major metropolitan areas, and I feel strongly that cities provide a congenial home for what is best and most hopeful about humanity (although of course humanity’s worst features find expression there as elsewhere). This essay by Aleksandar Hemon about his native city Sarajevo puts it well:

One of the things in the nationalist imagination is the belief that the city spoils the purity of the people who come to live in it, which is exactly what I liked about Sarajevo…
You cannot keep cities pure ethnically or in any other way. They cannot be clean.
Sarajevo, in that sense, was very impure, both because it had the biggest percentage of so-called mixed marriages, and because throughout history a lot of people ended up there…
Villages vanish and suburbs vanish – not enough of them! But cities don’t die.

Hemon’s essay is part of a BBC series called “Sense of the City,” which also includes Ingrid Bengis on St. Petersburg, which I had already read thanks to Beth, and half a dozen others, which I look forward to. (Via Moorishgirl, who is well worth reading in general; she recently linked to an interesting Guardian story about Russian bureaucrats “trying to keep literature dealing with the purges of the Soviet era away from schoolchildren.”)


  1. Dungbettle says

    Purity ? try drinking pure water, PH balanced Totally useless: it’s the Impurities that give it its fantantasic value. Try pure wine? there is not any, except of course La champaigne.

  2. If you click on the “audio” button at the top right of the page for each “sense of the city” you will be able to hear the item as it was broadcast. I understand they’ve been rather well produced as monologues mixed with music.

  3. Thanks for bringing that to my attention — the music with the Hemon piece is mesmerizing!

  4. “Profound understanding of the city” sounds awfully hopeful and self-assured…:)
    Thanks for the link.

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