Sunday, April 08, 2012

Finding Inspiration, Part 3: The Square

Mgarr Church and Square, Mgarr, Malta
When I think of a village square, I think of the many in the tiny nation of Malta. Those  squares usually appear in the village center and are built around enormous churches surrounded by boutiques, bakeries, grocers, cafes, bars, and restaurants. They tend to come alive in the evening after the ghost town atmosphere created by the brutal, blinding daytime sun gives way to the cooling sea breezes of evening, when dozens of people sit on stoops or lean over bar stools sipping a Cisk lager or munching on a pastizzi.

Times Square, New York City
That's not the kind of square I was in on March 22, when my wife and I walked around Times Square after eating dinner at Carmine's and before seeing Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Times Square literally is brighter at night than it is on the most radiant noontime. Blazing  billboards and glittering neon-lit storefronts flash endlessly for teeming crowds larger that the entire Maltese population. The atmosphere is electric. If Atahualpa, king of the sixteenth century Inca Empire, were to see the evening become light on the streets of New York, he would have his subjects worship on the ground of this City of Fire. In fact, half a millennium after the Incas faded, I recall from my childhood the main Times Square feature being the Marlboro cigarette billboard with smoke circle billowing from a cowboy's mouth. Not much more. So I remain dazzled anytime I walk around Times Square.

True, nothing about New York City is routine, but even in Malta the locals know how to break the routine by going someplace out of the ordinary on the 122-square-mile island. I'm reminded of a village square regular who one evening was sitting on the church balustrade, a mere 50 feet across the street from his favorite chair in the local bar. I asked him why he wasn't in his usual spot. "To get a different point of view," he answered. I laughed, but took his answer as a lesson that you don't have to go far to break routine.  Find inspiration not only in breaking the routine but in rediscovering it.

[Next post in this series: The Show.]