I often think cities are best explored in solitude. The hustle and bustle, the myriad unknown bodies scuttling about, rushing somewhere, the traffic, the cacophony of noises create a barrier that invariably makes me look in. At the same time, when walking around without the company of a friend, or anyone with whom conversation is sustained, I find it easier to notice.
Let it be said I have no eye for the detail, and I have found it useful to have my companions point things out to me I might have otherwise missed, but the experience of savoring a walk, a park, a monument, a museum, a movie, even a restaurant, in solitude, offers a deeper experience, maybe because all the senses are focussed on the task at hand.
I honor a long tradition of solo dates, born of circumstances: in San Diego, when I first moved and didn’t know a soul, I set out to discover the city on my own. Or in Los Angeles, when I was stuck working every weekend, and found myself with no one to play with on Monday mornings. I still went out. I savored the experiences so much that, even now that I have plenty of people to ask, I still take myself on solo dates.
A few months ago I booked a ticket for the Rain Room, an art installation at Los Angeles County Museum, just for myself. I picked a day and a time that suited me and, last Monday, off I went. Alone.
I was early and the security guard told me the place was uncharacteristically empty, and did I want to go in ahead of my scheduled time?
Picture a cavernous black room, with one single glaring spotlight, where it rains the sort of tropical downpour that would get you soaked in under two minutes. Imagine walking slowly through it and, as if by magic, just where you are, the rain stops.
Is is art? I am not sure. More a feast of well-functioning sensors. But exhilarating nonetheless. Who hasn’t wanted to experience rain without getting wet, at least once?
When I went in, three old people were milling about, taking photographs. Two girls came in after me smiling, their shadows dancing on the walls.
I stood, surrounded by a wall of rain on all sides, and grinned, an occasional drop falling on my arm. When I left, I meandered through the permanent collection, looking for my favorites Miro’ or Picasso. I sat on a bench, in the sun, reading emails. I did not linger over a coffee or a drink.
Would have I enjoyed it more had I had company? It would have simply been different. It was only a couple of hours out of my day, at my own pace, without mediating the experience with someone else’s expectations and, sometimes, it is all it takes, especially for introverts like me, to recharge enough the face the world.