The Walled City by Peter McMillan

June 7, 2012 Comments Off on The Walled City by Peter McMillan

What I did on my summer vacation.

It was just a weekend trip—just the four of us, my parents, my brother, and me. We almost missed our flight. My stupid brother set off the security alarms—he didn’t empty his pockets—and was taken aside, patted down, and questioned. Mom cried. Dad stood out of the way with his hands in his pockets. Turns out they were just training a new guy.

When we dropped below the clouds, there it was, built on a cliff, overlooking a river. Mom read about it in the airline magazine they keep next to the barf bags. She described a lower and upper town, watched over by a towering fort. The skyline of the city was dominated by spires and steeples and bell towers—no glass, steel or anything modern. This place was centuries old.

She also told us—she alone loved history—that after the wars, the inhabitants came to feel the upper town had become like a prison, so they lowered the walls—from 10 feet to two feet. Behind the walls, the history, architecture, food, music, and crafts of 400 years had been preserved.

The churches were mostly empty now, she had read. Even so, they dominated the city as we saw up close on our dizzying cab ride through the narrow cobblestone streets that rose and fell with my stomach.

We’re not real adventurous, especially Dad, so when it came to hotels, we stayed with one of the big American chains. At the front desk, they spoke perfect English. Of course, the food was best when it looked and sounded like something we had eaten before. Pizza and steak were safe. No translation needed. Coke was universal, too.

It rained Saturday and Sunday—that time of year, they said—so we all stayed indoors. We girls went shopping. We stayed in the upper town using the church towers to navigate. The boys watched college football in the room.

We got back late Sunday night, but because Dad forgot the passkey, we had to wait past midnight for the security guard to let us in the gate.

Finally home, my brother lugged his stuff into his room and slammed the door underscoring the “KEEP OUT” warning on his door.

I rolled my suitcase into my room, locked the door—CARBON LIFE EXPERIMENT to the outside world—and pulled out my i-Phone. That’s when I stopped taking notes.

“So, Ellen, what did you say was the name of the city? Maybe others would like to visit.”

“Uh, it’s not really real. I sort of made it up.”

“Ellen, you know you were supposed to speak, not read, about a REAL vacation in a REAL place. I’ll excuse it this once, because I did say this is not a graded assignment. Class, did you notice how Ellen’s story personalized the ‘walled city’ theme? That was clever, Ellen, and I’m sure you came up with it on your own. Who’s next? Kevin, I think you are.”

© 2012 Peter McMillan

The author is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.

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