Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It is ordinary citizens that make a city

People generally think of icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa when they talk about the people who have made the most difference to a country or to humanity at large.

However, the common citizen has a lot to contribute, too, and thousands of responsible, fun-loving citizens doing their everyday jobs with passion truly make a city a great place to live or visit.

While I was in India, I probably did not appreciate the fruit vendors, the 'chaat' (spicy Indian fast food commonly sold on streets) stall owners and the artists who would draw giant 'rangoli' portraits of Jesus or Hindu deities as much as I notice and admire the stall owners who sell hand crafted soaps or fresh blueberries or paintings drawn by hand. The United States as commonly seen on TV and in Hollywood movies is depicted as a country of fast-paced, modern cities with skyscrapers, glamorously dressed folks, cool stores and restaurants.
There is another fascinating side to the States - that of the country life. People who own small farms and even vineyards, starting up their own winery or bakery, in short, agro-entrepreneurs - pardon me, this is a term that I have coined myself:). There are city fairs where you find vendors selling charming products such as all natural handmade soaps, lotions and candles, folks who sell handicrafts, paintings and bracelet charms.

Above:  The marketplace under the banyans in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii where artists sell their wares                                      
Below: Tender coconut shells near a small roadside stall in Maui, Hawaii

There are those people who run their own outdoors company and take customers out on fun rafting/snorkeling/scuba diving trips. These are filled with young, enthusiastic people, typically those out of college or older employees who take up summer gigs.

                                          Sand dune buggy ride in Florence, Oregon  

Then there are the myriad restaurants, serving up everything from freshly squeezed juice to pastries to steak or purely vegan/vegetarian restaurants. In fact, the number of small coffee shops, bistros, patio restaurants and bars in many US cities is simply staggering. This is not even counting all the 'proper' restaurants serving three course meals.

                                          City view of Seattle from Queen Anne Hill

Case in point: A few weekends ago, we were on a visit to Seattle. While meandering around the picturesque and warm, welcoming Queen Anne neighborhood, we walked into this absolutely charming coffee shop tucked away in a corner. To top it off, it was next door to a bookstore, Queen Anne bookstore. The cafe is called El Diablo and they serve Cuban style coffee such as Cordanito and snacks such as chips with mango salsa. The interior decor is absolutely funky, combining Spanish style colors with the eccentricity of the Northwest. They have a sofa in a corner called the Love Grotto:) and another wall shows a picture of a devil like creature whispering 'Drink more coffee' and an angel whispering 'Eat more cake' to the same guy.
I fell in love with their Cafe Con Leche which is a latte concocted with Cuban style espresso with the sugar mixed in and foamy milk. Mmm... The accompanying mango salsa with chips and the toast that I had ordered were absolutely lip-smacking. The prices were reasonable, with some items being slightly above that in, say a Starbucks although I must say their menu is unique and has options for vegetarians and vegans, too.

                                          Flower bouquets at Seattle's Pike Place Market
No matter what you do for a living, if you do it with all your heart and contribute to the community around you while acting as a conscientious, good citizen, you are enriching your neighborhood, city, country and the entire world. So blaze a trail in your own way. Build eco-friendly, charming structures, grow and sell organic produce, decorate interiors with ethnic charm, offer free dental/medical services occasionally to the poor, volunteer at the local park, do something that makes a positive difference.

It is the citizens that make or break a city.

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