coromandal


Night shift
December 7, 2015, 11:59 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: ,

image



a universe of rented spaces

I go on a six mile walk most weekends this spring.  Often from an urge to get out of the house and enjoy the weather and maybe do some thinking or even meditating. Also to explore new streets. I’ve stitched neighborhoods together that I had previously known separately – oh, here is how the park fronts this neighborhood which is so close to the river, etc.

Sometimes I walk to not be lonely, or to be good company to myself in the bustle of the streets I pass through. Sometimes it can feel like I am looking for some place or someone.

Here is a passage that describes how walking means being placeless: I am neither where I started nor where I am going. And it describes the city as a sort of crucible of placelessness. The writer sees the hope of interconnection in the city, but only a temporary, fleeting sort: the city is in the end a backdrop for our wandering and searching.

Here is de Certeau:

“To walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of an appropriation. The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place — an experience that is, to be sure, broken up into countless tiny deportations (displacements and walks), compensated for by the relationships and intersections of these exoduses that intertwine and create an urban fabric, and placed under the sign of what ought to be, ultimately, the place but is only a name, the City…a universe of rented spaces haunted by a nowhere or by dreamed-of places.”

― Michel de Certeau “The Practice of Everyday Life”



inside and outside
December 13, 2010, 5:50 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

I moved from a medium sized city to a very large city and then, when income decreased, back to the smaller more affordable place.  The smaller of the two, both American cities, doesn’t feel like a city at all, mostly for its psychology.  The people I have met there seem stuck; they give – too generously – credence to impossibility and are suspicious at best, and more likely downright antagonistic, toward what could be possible.  The big city was different.  Although many of the people I met and worked with there were merely aggressive and ambitious and entitled, many others, including strangers, wore a sense of engagement and risk and curiosity.  These are the essential qualities of a real city.  Cities use difference and possibility to incubate change.  They are the centers of this important work.

We all know the story of how American cities were abandoned during the post war period: eviscerated, evacuated centers.  We see the fallout:  it has everything to do with our current condition of overextension, debt, isolation.  And with this draining – the baby with the bathwater –  went the traditional functions ascribed to the city:  the center of trade, social and intellectual life.

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urban imagination image
March 13, 2010, 2:11 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The tools are there but not the vision for building great cities, says Richard Sennett in his article The Open City.  Where have we heard this before, the tools but not the vision?  Everywhere it seems, in this structure phobic world we tenuously occupy.  We’re post structure, what’s the use of vision if we can have endless iterations of technique?

Sennett also says that not only will all-the-technology-in-the-world not fill the vision void that keeps us from building good cities, but this detail and technology driven model is making cities that tend to control urban life, when a truly good city is one that is evolving and open and – in that good vibrant way – uncontrollable.

Here is an excerpt from Sennett’s The Open City:

The cities everyone wants to live in should be clean and safe, possess efficient public services, be supported by a dynamic economy, provide cultural stimulation, and also do their best to heal society’s divisions of race, class and ethnicity.  These are not the cities we live in.  They fail on all these counts due to government policy, irreparable social ills and economic forces beyond local control.  The city is not its own master.  Still, something has gone wrong – radically wrong – in our perception of what a city should be.  We need to imagine just what a clean, safe, efficient, dynamic, stimulating, just city would look like concretely; we need those images to confront critically our masters with what they should be doing – and precisely this critical imagination of the city is weak.  This weakness is a particularly modern problem:  the art of designing cities declined drastically in the middle of the twentieth century.  In saying this, I am propounding a paradox, for today’s planner has an arsenal of technological tools – from lighting to bridging to tunnelling to materials for buildings – that urbanists even 100 years ago could not begin to imagine.  We have more resources to use than ever before, but we simply do not use them creatively.

This paradox can be traced to one big fault.  That fault is over-determination, both of the city’s visual forms and its social functions.  The technologies that make experiment possible have been subordinated to a regime of power that wants order and control.

/…/

In particular, what is missing in modern urbanism is a sense of time – not time looking back nostalgically but forward-looking time:  the city understood as process, its imagery changing through use, an urban imagination image formed by anticipation, welcoming surprise.

The Open City, Richard Sennett

resources:

author:  Richard Sennett

essay:  The Open City



fear itself
January 21, 2010, 12:29 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

Last week I had an argument with a friend about the skating rinks in Manhattan.  She argued that the ‘market should decide’ what we pay for the rinks, and I argued – a bit forcefully, I guess – that the rinks should be made accessible to a broad public which could involve the market but also other decision making bodies.  It ended badly and COFRB “The Chairman” Greenspan’s name was taken in vain.

It is patently absurd that something that doesn’t care be made an oracle that we consult and beseech and yea verily believe in.  Market truth is an ideology that is particularly unyielding and unhelpful when it comes to how we build and live in cities.  The city, like a lover, needs more than mere assertions of truth:  without nuance and care the deal goes south in a hurry.

In the excerpt below, from the essay Confronting Fear by Sophie Body-Gendrot, is a discussion of how fear is a cancer to the proper public use of the city.  In imagery reminiscent of a witch trial – only on the other side – Body-Gendrot tells us we need to drag fear and rumour into the public square and reveal their intransigence and wrongheadedness.  Fear has lead to flight and sprawl, and sprawl destroys the city, and the people who partake should be taxed.  Now that’s a daring statement, and one of the few that is worth listening to in the clang and din rising from the prophets and hawkers of the new sustainability.

Here is the excerpt:

It is our task as urban scholars to deconstruct such elusive terms as unsafety, urban violence, disorder, community and ‘sensitization to violence.’  It cannot be denied that crime and terrorism are urban threats in our time.  There is a before and after 9/11, with global repercussions.  Yet the answer to fear is not to escape from the city, buy a gun and shelter ina gated community.  It is an illusion to think that families, their children, and their grandchildren can live safely for ever after in a bunker, dismissing the outside world.  Because the city is a historical construct, what they miss is the overlapping and intersecting urbanisms, each representing different historical moments and existing simultaneously.  Parks, riversides, shopping centres, museums and shared collective moments of celebration illustrate the vitality of cities.  Fears and rumours about crime that undermine the use of public space should be selected, confronted and addressed in public debate.  The debate about sprawl is open:  according to Anne Power and Richard Rogers, the harm it produces to the city should be officially acknowledged and higher taxes should be implemented for those whose lifestyle destroys the urban core.

-Confronting Fear, Sophie Body-GendrotThe Endless City, Phaidon



people to avoid
October 10, 2008, 10:48 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Here is a list of the kinds of people you should avoid.  It’s from a travelogue written by Richard of Devizes warning about the dangers of 12th century London, but it reads a bit like a contemporary American political campaign.

Mr. Devizes says the people you should avoid mostly live in the city, no surprise there.  To him, crime in the city is pervasive, a pastime that will let noone merely spectate.  He thinks that the worst crooks are esteemed the highest, an idea that could catch on now – as our worldwide banks tip like dominoes – but probably won’t.  He also says the evil company you keep will corrupt you – where have we heard this recently?

The corruptions of the city dwellers fall into several broad categories:  entertainers, foreigners, the poor, mystics, the sexually deviant. In a sense the city described sounds like a circus – with its itinerant clowns, freaks and sideshows.  Or like a tabloid version of the scandal of Hollywood.

Thankfully, we – you and I and the writer and the written to – are observers of these corruptions.  We sit safely out of the ring and its bright lights and scandal, in our ring side seats.  We can laugh at or judge them, depending on our predilections, and at the end, get up and leave to our normal outside lives.

I actually think the corrupt, in the circus or the city, could be laughing at us.  Or maybe more likely shaking their heads at their judges, briefly, in disbelief, and returning to their lives.

Here is Devizes’ warning:

When you reach England, if you come to London, pass through it quickly, for I do not at all like that city. All sorts of men crowd together there from every country under the heavens. Each race brings its own vices and its own customs to the city. No-one lives in it without falling into some sort of crime. Every quarter of it abounds in grave obscenities. The greater a rascal a man is, the better a man he is accounted. I know whom I am instructing. You have a warmth of character beyond your years, and a coolness of memory; and from these contrary qualities arises a temperateness of reasoning. I fear nothing for you, unless you live with evil companions, for manners are formed by association.

Well, be that as it may! You will arrive in London. Behold, I prophesy to you: whatever evil or malicious thing that can be found in any part of the world, you will find in that one city. Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with the throngs in eating-houses; avoid dice and gambling, the theatre and the tavern. You will meet with more braggarts there than in all France; the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanderers, magicians, mimes, beggars, buffoons: all this tribe fill all the houses. Therefore, if you do not want to dwell with evildoers, do not live in London. I do not speak against learned or religious men, or against Jews: however, because of their living amidst evil people, I believe they are less perfect there than elsewhere.”

~Richard of Devizes, A Critique of English Towns in the 12th Century



taxonomy of strangers


(-, bacon, ernst)

Here is Plato’s description of stranger types that come to our cities, some like birds, some on narrowly defined missions. The first kind of stranger is one that stays all summer.  The second comes for a shorter period to become enlightened by way of Muses.  The third comes with public business.  And the fourth comes on a special, rather vague assignment to look at richness and rarity in the visited city.

Plato was a rule guy and there are a bunch of mildly ridiculous ones in here if you have the patience to mine for them.  For him the minimum standard is justice; his version of hospitality is guarded and prescribed.  He sounds like a fear-monger.  Surely this is the standard for our own immigration rulebooks.

Now there are four kinds of strangers, of whom we must make some mention – the first is he who comes and stays throughout the summer; this class are like birds of passage, taking wing in pursuit of commerce, and flying over the sea to other cities, while the season lasts; he shall be received in market-places and harbours and public buildings, near the city but outside, by those magistrates who are appointed to superintend these matters; and they shall take care that a stranger, whoever he be, duly receives justice; but he shall not be allowed to make any innovation. They shall hold the intercourse with him which is necessary, and this shall be as little as possible. The second kind is just a spectator who comes to see with his eyes and hear with his ears the festivals of the Muses; such ought to have entertainment provided them at the temples by hospitable persons, and the priests and ministers of the temples should see and attend to them. But they should not remain more than a reasonable time; let them see and hear that for the sake of which they came, and then go away, neither having suffered nor done any harm. The priests shall be their judges, if any of them receive or do any wrong up to the sum of fifty drachmae, but if any greater charge be brought, in such cases the suit shall come before the wardens of the agora. The third kind of stranger is he who comes on some public business from another land, and is to be received with public honours. He is to be received only by the generals and commanders of horse and foot, and the host by whom he is entertained, in conjunction with the Prytanes, shall have the sole charge of what concerns him. There is a fourth class of persons answering to our spectators, who come from another land to look at ours. In the first place, such visits will be rare, and the visitor should be at least fifty years of age; he may possibly be wanting to see something that is rich and rare in other states, or himself to show something in like manner to another city. Let such an one, then, go unbidden to the doors of the wise and rich, being one of them himself: let him go, for example, to the house of the superintendent of education, confident that he is a fitting guest of such a host, or let him go to the house of some of those who have gained the prize of virtue and hold discourse with them, both learning from them, and also teaching them; and when he has seen and heard all, he shall depart, as a friend taking leave of friends, and be honoured by them with gifts and suitable tributes of respect. These are the customs, according to which our city should receive all strangers of either sex who come from other countries, and should send forth her own citizens, showing respect to Zeus, the God of hospitality, not forbidding strangers at meals and sacrifices, as is the manner which prevails among the children of the Nile, nor driving them away by savage proclamations.”

– Plato. Jowett, Benjamin, translator. Laws. 348BC. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Release date March 1999, Online. 16 April 2007



out-of-step

Here are Fellini’s notes on his film Nights of Cabiria about a prostitute, and following that a description of the prostitute’s house on the outskirts of Rome.  Have you seen it?

The settings for Fellini’s films are often exurban and bleak.  No doubt they are a counterpoint to the fire and optimism of his characters.  But also, and perhaps more significantly, they are the manifestation of a social act: the ostracism of people, in this case a prostitute, from proper society.  You can see this rejection in Fellini’s notes below:  his producer is scandalized that the filmmaker would want to make a film about a … prostitute.

Fellini describes meeting a poor and illiterate woman on his film set; she is like a scared animal. The prostitute’s house is a hovel, it is loved, decorated with character, and sits all alone in a field outside of the city of Rome. Of course, no one misses that she, as a prostitute, lives outside of proper Roman life.

All sorts of bad things happen in all ages to lots of people outside city gates.  A walled city can be a place of refuge or a place of appearance.  It seems Fellini’s Rome is a place of appearance, and business that needs doing but doesn’t meet the prescribed particulars of city life is conducted outside where it appears to not matter.

The subject of loneliness and the observation of the isolated person has always interested me. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but notice those who didn’t fit in for one reason or another—myself included. In life, and for my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it’s usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of those who has been excluded.
/…/
During the shooting of Il Bidone, I met a real-life Cabiria. She was living in a little hovel near the ruins of the Roman aqueduct. At first, she was indignant at my disruption of her daytime routine. When I offered her a lunch box from our food truck, she came closer, like a small homeless female cat, an orphan, a waif, maltreated and living in the streets, but still very hungry, hungry enough to overcome her fears with the offer of food.  Her name was Wanda, a name I might have made up for her if it hadn’t already been hers. After a few days, she communicated with me, though in her inarticulate way, some of the circumstances of being a streetwalker in Rome.
/../
Goffredo Lombardo had the option for my next picture. He was appalled by the idea of a story about a prostitute, an unsympathetic character as far as he was concerned, and he found his excuse to back out of the deal. He wasn’t unique. Quite a few producers didn’t like the idea.
/…/
For Giulietta’s wardrobe, we went to a street market to shop for the clothes Cabiria would wear. Afterwards, because she wasn’t going to have pretty clothes to wear in the film, I took her to an expensive boutique to buy a new dress for herself.
/…/
The positive nature of Cabiria is so noble and wonderful. Cabiria offers herself to the lowest bidder and hears truth in lies. Though she is a prostitute, her basic instinct is to search for happiness as best she can, as one who has not been dealt a good hand. She wants to change, but she has been typecast in life as a loser. Yet she is a loser who always goes on to look again for some happiness.

-Federico Fellini, Nights of Cabiria

As I said, here is the description of Cabiria’s house outside of Rome.  I think she hasn’t chosen to isolate herself, but that others have isolated her as Fellini says.  She is outcast and her house shows her situation clearly:  it floats, is unconnected in the no place removed from the economic and social security of the city.

The little house belonging to the title character in Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” rises out of the landscape on the edge of a desolate yet oddly cheerful little Roman neighborhood, like one of the solitary, boxy buildings that dot the horizon in a Krazy Kat cartoon. It’s a cube built out of something like stucco, with a curtain of beads hanging like a shimmer of fake rain in front of its simple door — part jazzed-up fairy-tale cottage, part Spartan make-do dwelling. For its owner, the love-starved yet emotionally self-sufficient prostitute Cabiria, played by Giulietta Masina, in the role of her career, the house represents security and pride, a place to return to that’s all her own, like the tiny studio apartment of any city working girl. But is the house meant to signify isolation as a protective measure, or the sense of feeling truly at home with oneself? Or both? That conflict lies at the heart of what may be Fellini’s loveliest and most moving picture, made in 1957 … Maybe what’s so wrenching is that the house in “Nights of Cabiria” does symbolize both: Isolation can be a way to hide from pain and involvement, but there are also times when no one seems to deserve our company, when solitude — a deep sense of being at home with oneself — is preferable to anything else.

-Stephanie Zacharek, The Little Tramp, Salon Entertainment



half century merry-go-round
April 1, 2008, 8:26 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here is an excerpt from Suketu Mehta‘s Maximum City.  A story in a story about being nomadic, but in the city instead of the desert, and presumeably with more red tape, and with taxis instead of camels.  I guess there are differences, but really the fundamentals are the same:  necessity and property owners are my overlords; I must pare down my dependence on things and be careful to not invest emotionally in people that I soon may have to leave.  Material property and the world are as insubstantial as the time between moves, and the idea of home.

The Rent Act leads to peculiar constructions of “home,” unique to Bombay.  Each April 1, a parade of taxis and tempos will take the residents of the F.D. Petit Parsi Sanitarium at Kemps Corner to the Bhabha Sanitarium at Bandra.  Four months later, they will all move to the Jehangir Bagh Sanitarium in Juhu.  Four months after that, they will all come back to the Kemps Corner.  The mass migrations back and forth to the same place, often the same room, happen because the Parsi Panchayat, which owns the sanatoria, knows that tenants who are allowed to stay on become de facto owners.  So they keep their tenants constantly on the move, even as they provide them shelter.  Some of the families have been doing this merry-go-round for over half a century.  Every time they move, they must reapply, coming up with a health certificate, to prove they need the salubrious quarters of a sanatorium.  They are allowed to keep their bags and some furniture – but not a refrigerator.  Installing a fridge is claiming home, so the residents must subsist on powdered milk.

~Suketu Mehta, Maximum City