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Monday, July 04, 2011

My Block, My Island, My Walden Pond

Traditional statue of old famous guy covered in bird shit.
While Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) endured his whim at Walden Pond for a brief two years, the inner city block is meant to last at least a lifetime. My praise for urban life isn’t some romantic delusion but has been a lifelong personal inquiry into what is the most sensible and satisfying manner of living. To me, one of the most important things in life is living in the perfect environment. For me, this has meant a self-contained city block or small urban area where you are within easy walking distance of life's essentials.

Once again I’m in awe of the convenience and diversity to be found on a single city block here in Spain after my recent move (my old apartment was only a half a block away but it seems like a different city almost). My new block is incredibly convenient and diverse but not extraordinarily so, at least not as far as standards here in Valencia go. As I have mentioned before, I can’t believe some of the new housing units I've seen being built in Valencia that seem to forget this model of city living. There are a lot of new apartment buildings and multi-building complexes that don't have businesses on the ground flood, making these areas antiseptic, not to mention hugely boring and soulless. My new block is anything but soulless and boring.

Within 100 meters of the front door of my building there are dozens of businesses. After moving yesterday I was completely exhausted. I had to go out one last time to pick up a few grocery items (beer being the most important on the list). I was headed to the one supermarket that I like which is two whole blocks away when I detoured in favor of another supermarket that is right around the corner from my flat. It’s great to have that choice and as beat as I was yesterday I was so grateful I could have wept—lack of beer makes me emotional. Out of the three supermarket chains here in Valencia—Mercadona, Consum, and Día—the one on my block is my third choice but has moved way up on the scale due to its close proximity (the other two are less than two blocks away).

If you're looking for a place to get a cup of coffee, or a beer you have some decision-making to do. If you walk around my block you have the choice of about six cafés. There’s a tobacco shop, a kid’s clothing store, a couple of banks, a Chinese restaurant, an insurance salesman, a printing shop, a very high-end bike shop, an even higher-end Italian food store, an English language school, and on one end of the block there is a square with a fountain and a little playground. Two of the cafés open into this square so there are dozens of sunny tables to choose from.

I can get to all of these businesses without even crossing the damn street.  If I venture across the street there are dozens of more choices.  There is the bargain movie theater Cinestudio D’Or which plays a double feature of recent films, usually dubbed into Spanish if they are foreign. My old stand-by café, Bar Canadá is directly across the street from me. Next to Bar Canadá is a Japanese specialty shop called Japon.es. I have a Valenbisi station right on the corner about 40 meters from my front door. Five steps from my door is a bus stop for the #19 and the #40.

Anyone who says that city life is impersonal and cold has probably never lived in a city. I find the lifestyle to be warm and comforting. I greet many people in the street with whom I have never exchanged a single word simply because we live in such close proximity. Yesterday in the entryway to my new building I met an old woman who lives on the ground floor. She commented that she didn’t know me so I introduced myself. One down, nine neighbors left to meet.

From my balcony.
I am writing this in the middle of the boulevard terrace of Bar Canada while I drink a glass of wine. I could probably catch my Wi-Fi signal from home but since the bar has free Wi-Fi there’s no need.  I guess that what I am trying to say is that city life can be so easy. I wish that everyone could live this experience for at least a little while. Thoreau should have tried it and maybe he would have lived longer.

I actually made this video before I moved to this street. I can't say which is more beautiful: the street or the song in the video.


  1. City life is the best. And every city is a thousand villages.

    If one of your supermarkets is a Mercadona, you are a lucky man indeed. I have to take a (short)bus ride to get to the nearest one to me in Madrid, but it's worth it.

  2. I have a Mercandona and a Consum within two blocks of my place. I'm a lucky man.

  3. Glad you're enjoying Antiguo Reino John! Would love to hear your comments on the fabulous (and I think almost forgotten) civic scuplture to be found around Valencia's boulevards that dates back to the 2nd Republic. A good example in the top photo in this entry.


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