The magazine More Intelligent Life has a series titled "Seven Wonders." They ask their esteemed interviewees to name their favorite: city, journey, building, work of art, beach, hotel, and view. I think it's a wonderful exercise (good for distracting, inspiring, much like the Mighty Life List of an earlier post, and there is some overlap). Plus, reading these lists is a great way to pass some idle time.
One afternoon my roommate and I decided to buy firewood. The ten or so minutes in the car, staring out the window, the idle chat...I was incredibly elated. I think we listened to jazz on the radio. I was in love with him, and the simple act of driving with him on a beautiful autumn day to collect wood for the fireplace was magic. I could count on one hand the number of times I've fantasized about a white picket fence and happy marriage, but that was one of them.
It is, without question, the Aya Sofya in Istanbul (pictured above). I visited Turkey three years ago. As soon as I stepped into the large domed expanse I began to cry. I haven't yet seen anything that parallels its grandeur, unique history, or emotional effect.
Work of art
This is impossible! The Masnavi by Rumi (read the first beautiful lines here). Strangely enough, La Jetée by Chris Marker. Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Any of David Lilburn's maps. The tiled Rustem Pasha mosque in Istanbul. The Beautiful Season by Ernst. I could go on for hours.
I'm not a beach person, though lately I spend an excessive amount of time looking at beachfront property in southeast Asia. Escapism and wishful thinking. As far as the coasts I have visited, I think I'd have to choose the rocky shores of Cape Clear Island, off the southwest tip of County Cork, Ireland. Rugged and lovely.
The Selçuklu Evi in Ürgüp, Cappadocia, Turkey. The region is famous for its caves/churches/cities carved out of stone, and the otherworldly pillars of limestone. I stayed in a loft room carved from the stone. Outside there was a small terrace with low benches and kilims. Roses climbed everywhere. It overlooked a courtyard where two tortoises roamed. It was, in a word, magical.
Here I'll copy Frances Ashcroft's answer of earth from space. I have a book titled The Home Planet in which there are dozens of stunning photographs of the earth from space, paired with quotes from astronauts about their time in that void. I'll excerpt one quote here:
"A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That's how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. 'I could not help but love and cherish her.'" -Taylor Wang, China/USA
I desperately want to say Istanbul, Marrakech, Paris, or London. All amazing cities. But I am compelled to choose Durham. Does it have the arresting architecture of Paris or Istanbul? The Epcot-like mix of cultures like London? The dizzying ebb and flow of people through packed markets as in Marrakech? Nope. But it is home to: a downtown renaissance, award-winning chefs, amazing artists, brilliant scholars, incredible medicine, and the sort of gritty reputation that keeps my city real--blood pumps here. It is the raw, thumping anatomical heart to the Valentine's paper doily hearts of Paris or London. All of it is real, not just the edges. There is violence and tension, but there is also a pride of place amongst my young peers here that I haven't found anywhere else. We didn't inherit that pride from tourism boards or other generations. We made it ourselves.
Image: the Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia), link.