Ann Arbor is a city built upon a framework of relationships — people finding friends, jobs and love.
Writer Italo Calvino describes a particular fictional city — Ersilia — as full of color-coated strings, each representing a relationship between two people.
In his work, “Invisible Cities,” Calvino writes, “When traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”
Though time carries away the physicality of cities and even of the inhabitants themselves, the relationships made continue to stand erect, to matter.
Strolling down the street this fall somewhere near Greenwood Avenue, I hear voices singing along to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” on a paint-chipped porch. While stuffing biology notes into my backpack, I watch a student and Graduate Student Instructor discussing their collaboration on an upcoming research project in New England planned for the summer. After a “Spy Kids” marathon, I look over at my friends and wonder if I will be looking over at them on my own porch somewhere in Florida 60 years from now.
These relationships might begin on campus, but their potential to evolve into real-world friends, colleagues, and spouses is more of a reality than I like to acknowledge. Ann Arbor is a place to build these relationships, but also to consider our role and interactions with people outside of the University that are worth investing in — the residents with wildflowers scattering their front lawns or the guy spooning lobster bisque into your cup at Le Dog.
Paris has been called the city of love, but college towns in the United States might be our twisted equivalent — where people find it, bring it with them, lose it, agonize over it, and download Tinder a few times only to end up deleting it all the same. Scribbling your initials onto a five-euro lock, wrapping it around the Pont des Amoreaux and tossing the key into the river below is the Paris equivalent of kissing under the Arch at midnight.
There is a significant population of Ann Arbor that consists purely of residents (think: the people who make you roll out those fences between houses when you’re planning a party). Many of them are lifers, born here or having attended college here. Their lives and relationships grew here and they chose to stay. I fantasize sometimes about coming back to Ann Arbor one day and finding myself and what will probably be a few weird little children named Julip, Indigo, and Theodore living in a rickety old house just walking distance from Kerrytown.
Even the most cold-hearted and focused among us can stumble upon love and connections amid the possibilities and opportunities of this city. On autopilot, rushing to a class or to work, you don’t see the city. Trapped, you end up forgetting that it is human connection that makes a city to begin with. I wish I could see all of the strings that were formed between us in this city: to see the ones color-coated to signify the lasting marriages that began on the streets of Ann Arbor, or the ones that represent the grungy weirdos we eventually call best friends dancing mindlessly for the first time at the Blind Pig, or our roommates, and all of the roommates before us, talking at three in the morning in the worn down, quirky homes so many of us will “enjoy” at some point in our college careers.
You think about a city as you see it — no strings involved — but they exist and that realization has the power to banish the hopelessness this overworked, underpaid city can exude from time to time. The numbers and connections are insurmountably numerous and the lives we touch altered, such that while the walls of the city will never again look how we remember them now, this place has been and continues to be magical, a welcoming open door of opportunities if you let it.