7 July 2010


The view from Paul's house
How are we meant to live? How are we meant to be? For millennia, human beings were never city dwellers. We raised crops and animals. We hunted. We fished. We existed in small rural communities living interdependently with our neighbours with whom there were often blood links. When they became adults, our children made their homes in close proximity to us and our horizons were limited. Though we knew there was an outer world, what really mattered was the continual quest for survival and happiness within our rural microworlds.

The patterns that evolved from that way of living are imprinted like tattoos upon our very DNA. We were never "meant" to live in cities. Cities happened but the fundamental rural psychology of our species never changed. We jump in taxis, check our texts, flick through channels on the television, listen to our microwaves ping, book flights to Timbuktu, dance to the throbbing rhythms of city life but underneath it all we were programmed to wake with the sunrise and pursue country habits like sowing seeds, picking fruit and thatching the roofs of our huts.

It is estimated by demographers that it was only two years ago that the balance of the world's population switched to become more urban than rural. Just over 3.3 billion people now live in cities while just under 3.3 billion continue to live rural lives that are very often still about subsistence and those ancient quests for survival and happiness.

I was reminded of this as Paul's open coffin rested on wooden chairs in the living room of the isolated Irish schoolhouse where he and Josephine made their home. When people die in rural Ireland their wakes and funerals happen very quickly not just because of corporal decomposition but also because, for hundreds of years, the only attendees would have been family, friends and neighbours living within walking distance.

Now most extended families are fractured. We probably live far distant from the place where we were born and raised. We may well have important relatives living in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada or yes - Timbuktu. We may connect with them through telephone calls, emails, Christmas cards but it's not the same as walking up the lane and saying "Can you help me with my thatching?" or "I've brought you some spare logs for the winter."

We'll never get back there to that natural life. Most of us will continue to live in urban areas, sometimes with neighbours we will never meet, surrounded by strangers as sirens occasionally wail from the dark heart of the city. And you can never really escape to the country because it's not the same country that it used to be and your neighbours are more likely to be urban refugees like yourself than continual country dwellers or your second cousin's family.
Cait - Paul's only grandchild


  1. Elizabeth1:31 pm

    Oh, YP, you have no idea how much I agree with all of this. Just don't get me started!

    What an idyllic location and what a beautiful little girl Cait is - those eyes are just the same as those on that young picture of Paul that you showed on your last post. x

  2. Although 2 million people live in Barcelona, in other parts of Catalonia there is still a similar feeling - one example, when I went to university in the UK I returned home for the first time at Christmas, 3 months later. Here when youngsters go, they come home EVERY weekend!

    Best wishes to you and the family, it's nice to see you seem to be seeing the positive in life in what must be a difficult period for you all.

  3. I have never booked a flight to Timbuktu, but I have a friend who went to Rapa Nui.

  4. She's beautiful. I can feel the yearning for a different way of life pull at me constantly..but like every other city dweller I doubt that I will ever have the courage to change.

  5. I'm one of the very few in California who is the 5th generation living in the small small community. There are a few new people here, we find them amusing as they come for a while and then go back to the city. The ones who have stayed are first generation immigrants from Mexico who have brought half their rural community with them. They fit right in here, they know how to be good neighbors.

    Rural life is better, that's all there is to it. We have iPhones and computers, it's not the technology that makes city life different. But we know how people are supposed to be, NOT crammed so close together they won't even acknowledge each other's existence.

    I'm sad that it's a problem everywhere. (Well, maybe not in Nebraska.) I'm happy I'm observing it from a rural place.

  6. Yes. And yes. I have many thoughts extrapolating from this idea, as you know YP. Perhaps we can discuss some of them out under the sun umbrella in the garden around Christmas 2011, over a bottle or tow of a nice crisp NZ sav. blanc or What You Will.


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