Cities of You

City #15, Visit #1: Otagani

20 x 16”, Colored Pencil, Marker, and Gouache on Paper

In the beginning of every spring in Otagani, there is an annual Festival of Exhalation. On the day of the official spring equinox, there is a city-wide countdown. The numbers are not shouted as they are during New Year’s Eve; rather, the citizens murmur them under their breath to conserve precious air. When they get down to one, the citizens take one deep concerted breath, sucking all the city’s air into their lungs, collapsing the fabric walls around them. Then there is complete silence for about twenty seconds. Then the city starts to toss and twitch. The children burst in a barrage of exhales at first, as their lungs have not yet grown to full capacity. The soprano panting and puffing slowly give way to baritone hacking and hemming as the elder citizens struggle to recover their breath. The walls of the city slowly start re-inflate, starting with the outer edges of their citizens—the young and the old. Moving inward, the tweens and the middle-aged exhale with frustration, wishing they were just a little older or a little younger. Then the teens and their parents prove to each other they can last as long as the other. The twenty-somethings are left glaring at each other with delirious pride. Their faces are like bright red tomatoes; they would pass out before they concede to their peers. Towards the end, the city is like a stadium, with just a handful of athletes in the center, surrounded by a sea of wind, cheers, and jeers. There is old air, there is young air. There is air that births more air. There is prideful air, there is modest air. In Otagani, the air is as alive as its citizens.