In Eat, Pray Love, her fraught, funny, moving memoir of a woman's search for herself in specific geographical areas, Elizabeth Gilbert makes a discovery with the help of a couple in Rome. The husband, a native of the city, tells her that every location can be summed up in one word. This one word defines the identity of the city itself, it motivates its people; it pinpoints the essence of the people and their commerce. In Rome, he says, the word is sex.
Gilbert loves Rome, and she sees what he means. In Rome, lives seem to be designed for sex, to look sexy, to feel sexy, to experience all the sex they can as they go through the other motions of their lives. Every other pastime is secondary; sex is what it's all about.
In the discussion, of course, the talk turns to Paris. No question, the word for Paris is "love." If you've ever walked the streets of Paris, strolled its bridges and looked down by the Seine, you expect to see Gene Kelly dancing his halting love-dance with the lissome young Leslie Caron. You don't, but you see lovers canoodling on benches, nuzzling against cobblestone walls, groping in every darkened corner. Eating a meal in any restaurant in Paris, you see lovers in deep conversation and intimate eye-locks over their bisteacks and red wine. Love is the ultimate Paris experience.
She turns the conversation to New York. Undoubtably there is one word for New York. ACHIEVE. The city has so much to offer, so much to take, so much to savor, but it begs its people to achieve. It's in the atmosphere. You almost feel guilty if you're not achieving, but something in air of the city makes you feel you are anyway.
I decided to choose the word for cities I knew. New Orleans, even after Katrina, has its word: Enjoy. It's hard to do anything else in New Orleans, and that's okay. Fun is the business and the currency of the city.
When I got to Hoboken, I was stumped for a while. What one activity pervades my newly adopted burg? What cuts through all classes, all personalities, all ages, styles and occupations of its citizens? What gets us all up in the morning? There must be one word.
It took some thinking, observing the discarded cartons in front of brownstones and bars alike. There was an unmistakable fragrance of tomato, cheese and garlic. There was a theme, a raison d'etre shared by the yuppies, old folks on their stoops and middle-aged smartass newbies like me. In that moment I realized the word for Hoboken. Pizza.
If you have any other suggestions, please make a comment.