Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Have Been to the Mirrorworld

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition gave me "mirror world," the protagonist's private word for the alien normalcies of other cultures--misplaced steering wheels, different numbering schemes for elevator buttons, odd color choices for post boxes, weird keyboards. Like the world at the end of the Bradbury story "A Sound of Thunder," or Spock's beard.

Or the cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia. It's funny how things change when you enter a different state. New Jersey's jug-handle turning lanes. Philly's skyline. Maryland's center-median rest stops. On that side of an invisible line, you can buy liquor in the grocery store. On this side, no.

So even though you're in suburban Baltimore, where there is grass, and trees, and these are largely the same species (although with fewer spruces, perhaps), the rocks...look slightly funny. They're pale gray, and water smoothes them more than it does their northern cousins. Decorative elements on the highway overpasses are different, green-painted railings or curlicue ironwork, pale stones cut into flat, narrow rectangles. In the city, there are all spaces between tall structures, actual room to view them, which makes them seem like individual THINGS. That's not like a city. That's not like THE city, anyway, which is what everything's judged by after growing up on Long Island. In Philadelphia it's the busy narrow streets, somehow a miniature of a city despite the perfectly respectable skyscrapers nearby.

My standards for what comprises a Mirrorworld are clearly lower than they were when I traveled this country in a car for six months or navigated rural Spain fairly well on my honeymoon, but that's what happens when you narrow your horizons by adding children and steady work. Even the familiar and obvious becomes strange when it's not precisely identical to what you experience every day.

This post brought to you by having run out of ideas and getting in very little sleep, but a lot of driving, the last several days.


Unknown said...

On the other hand, thank goodness for those differences. Most of the country is experiencing such homogenization with the same chain stores and restaurants everywhere that it's becoming hard to distinguish one place from the next. Viva la difference!

wcs said...

Arrgh! Transporter malfunctions. I hate when that happens.