Saturday, December 8, 2018

On Walking Through 3rd Places

Dear Anto

Since we’re probably the only two people reading this blog I thought I’d address you directly!

I was wondering about the phenomenology of places and walking. What I think I mean by phenomenology is the experience of a place or object seen when walking (experience, not concrete reality), and specifically in relation to another similar place or object. For example - when you pass a building or a wood that reminds you of another building or wood and somehow the two become fused together into one atmosphere.

This realisation may occur gradually but it could also be as sudden as seeing an old shop front from a bus window and in it the sweet shop from your childhood.

The Avenida Cinqo de Mayo in Buenos Aires is tied together in my mind somehow with Holborn’s Kingsway. Is it just a similarity of architecture that makes me think this?

I have read somewhere - Twitter or Facebook I think - a light dismissal of poetry that goes something like “Yes poets, we get it: some things are like other things.” But I have come to think that when comparing two ‘things’ you are actually talking about three ‘things’. In my Kingsway/Cinqo de Mayo example you then have:

  1. Kingsway
  2. Avenida de Cinqo de Mayo
  3. Kingsway + Avenida de Cinqo de Mayo

Since the poetic experience is exactly that: ‘An experience’, then really we are not linking two things when we reach for the word ‘like’ but rather the ‘experience of the things’.

The poem is not a monument to the moment but a monument to the experience of the moment.

I want to use poem in its most broadest sense. So the feeling I get walking down Kingsway is the meeting point of two rivers of experience. But is it a monument? Yes. But unlike a written poem or work of art it is still vibrating with change because, for now, it is a monument that I continue to live through and build upon.

The monument is a very real third place: there is no Kingsway, there is no Av. Cinqo de Mayo, but there is a kingsway-cinqo-de-mayo.

Sometimes 3rd places will occur even when it’s not clear to us what’s being tied together with the word ‘like’. 

Walking on Pineapple street in Brooklyn one evening I saw a piano near a window and felt the vibrations of a 3rd place. 

The same feeling has struck me standing in front of Pissarro’s ‘Louvre Under Snow’ at the National gallery.

For both of these examples (and following my previous formula) I could only write them down as:

  1. A piano on Pineapple street
  2. ???
  3. A piano on Pineapple street + ???

I have a memory of walking beside a wood of chestnut trees on a bright cold morning but I don’t know now whether the wood or the walk actually existed. Did I dream them or were they real? Either way, the image appears at random moments when what I experience seems to channel or marry to the atmosphere of the chestnut trees to create the sensation of a 3rd place.

Writing in ‘Poetry’ magazine in November 2017, the writer Matthew Bevis notes:

Poetry is, among other things, a reminder that bewilderment may be a bequest.”

So maybe the 3rd place needs no further explanation than that it exists. It is handed to us without instructions.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I need coffee - I hope you’re having a great weekend!


Monday, June 4, 2018

Strolling down Peter's Hill

What am I doing here, in an early misty morning of spring. I'm lucky that there's no rain. I stand on the south side of Saint Paul's Cathedral, right at the top of Peter's Hill, in the middle of the paved semicircle. I feel the humidity floating in the air fighting the first warm particles announcing the slow arrival of new temperatures - the white petals fallen from the cherry trees support my theory. I admire  the white flowers of the cherry trees around me, the white facade of the temple, the white sky forever vast and high. The few pedestrians and buses at this time don't bother my connection with the void, with the beyond - which ever this is.

I turn my back to the temple, to the blossoming cherries and the white void. I start strolling down Peter's Hill with no regrets, along the ramp. Going down hill helps me to forget the past, my inexistent faith. I forget the void and look forward. I find three quiet mirror balls in my way that help me distort the view of the past and walk towards the future. However, I can't help looking back, the impressive dome of Saint Paul's tries to camouflage uselessly and stands dormant and clear against the white eternal cloud - the further you move away, the bigger it becomes, like any prohibition. Its sharp breast pointing up, as an icon of what really matters.

My soul seems lighter at every step, but my freedom stumbles upon that one banned to the skaters on every handrail. As I approach the river in the distance, the red brick facade of the old repurposed Bankside Power Station motivates my journey towards more colourful faiths - if only we could live faithless.

Half way down the hill, there is a long wooden bench - bit rotten in one side - looking towards my way. It helps the flaneurs in their reflections. I enjoy the break infused in freedom among city workers passing fast, looking down on their steps.

A zebra cross - some strange force keeps pausing my way forward away from the temple and its white tentacles. To the right, a giant walky-talky offering help like an emergency phone in the fire escape. On the other side of the road, the Salvation Army trying to recruit peasants shouting out nice offers of warm coffee and danish buns, but I ignore the kindness with my eyes fixed on the red bricks - if only they were yellow - on which you can now read: Modern art from around the world.

Finally the annunciation, the message, a meaning of life, an ecstasy beyond the HSBC gates.

My legs get to a steady pace over the river, on the Millenium Bridge. I greet Ben, the gum-painter, real people doing real things. The towers of the city on my left almost crumbling into the river. The high tide splashes small waves on the walls of the north bank reminding me of home. A flock of purposed-face joggers make the bridge wobble slightly. The doubt strikes my path again. White gulls hover over the river waiting for tourists to arrive with their left overs.

At the end of the bridge, the big erected tower of the Tate Modern raises in front of me, like the hidden sun, promising safety, empowering the warmth of a mindfulness existence.

The end of the bridge makes you turn back to where you came from, it makes you land on the south bank looking back but walking forward. The giant white breast has disappeared in a thick white mist. The smell of caramel-coated almonds in the making brings your smile down to earth, the white  coat of the birches brimming with green guide your way to the red entrance of the museum of modern art.

While I wait for the opening time, I observe the buskers getting ready for their performance. The river runs by. It still has that brown matt colour from this side.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Crossing From the Tate Modern to St Paul's

"I enjoy the walk from home to the office and in the evening from the office back home. It takes about three-quarters of an hour." 
- Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to Theo van Gogh, London, 30 April 1874

"The Lord have mercy on those who weaken and stand in the middle; only at the end, the only salvation is at the end of the road."
 - From 'The Fratricides' by Nikos Kazantzakis

In the very middle of the bridge, between St Paul's and the Tate Modern, you find the peanut sellers, gum painters, fake art-dealers, wedding photographers, TV crews, and tourist groups. Walking towards them from the Southbank the dome of St Paul's hangs in the distance, the wind comes off the river a little, and looking down towards the water you see a long stretch of mud, brick, and dirty sand. On some days the river is sludgy, on others it’s dotted brightly with waves. Sometimes, when the tide is low, little figures comb the shoreline.

The shoreline is a kind of no-man's land and the bridge is a kind of no-man's land too. Maybe it's interesting to think of these places as being no-places, suspended between museum and church. Maybe it's interesting too that we name bridges. To the right is Tower bridge, to the left, Blackfriars and this is the Millennium Bridge which, unlike the others, tells you nothing about where you are going or where you have just been. Perhaps it should have been named after St Paul. It is in these middle-places that time slows and magic sometimes happens. Sunsets are middle places and so are sunrises. In a way they are little commutes between ideas of what is definite.

Bridges have something of the magical commute about them and though St Paul watches over this one there is no 'Saul on the road to Damascus' stuff here. The surface of the bridge glints and shimmers in the sun without requiring an epiphany. Standing in the middle with the little gum paintings and trying not to get in the way of people’s photos, it's enough that St Paul's, beautiful with its white dome and little flourishes of gold, is here as the back drop to a journey home....

... Sunlight catches a gold statue on the roof of St Paul’s... A breeze blows steam from the peanut vendor’s cart... I’d meant to say something about spires, about the shard being unfinished at the top, about St Paul's and other buildings including intricate designs and sculptures so high up that only a god would be able to see them: this seems important somehow... but as I wander down onto the opposite bank, with St Paul's school, the breeze, and little mirror ball sculptures in front of me, I try to remember a poem by Wallace Stevens instead. How does it go? What does it mean? I'm not sure but it ends something like:
...The boots of the men clump
On the boards of the bridge.
The first white wall of the village
Rises through fruit-trees.
Of what was it I was thinking?
So the meaning escapes.

The first white wall of the village . . .
The fruit-trees . . .
Metaphors of a Magnifico
- Wallace Stevens

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Lea Valley

Now that the blackberries are starting to bloom, all the hedgerows are coming to life. 

A path leads away from the Lea Bridge Road, winding through thickets that catch tin cans, crisp packets and pieces of paper, weaving its way like a gentle river into Hackney marshes. The traffic noise calms to a slow simmer, and it's as though a large animal has been tamed or grown tired. Magpies cackle in the trees, Blackbirds sing. Bindweed climbs across a bank of nettles throwing up white flowers like tiny porcelain bowls. Bright green parakeets dash between leaves. A tree sends out a covering of seeds that fall upon the footpath and the brambles beside it like a thick layer of cotton wool. If my googling is correct, this is the Black Poplar, or Water Poplar, and said to be the most endangered hardwood tree in the UK. Water Poplars can live up to 200 years. 100 Years ago there was the water works, the filter beds, and pump systems. 200 years ago there were the trees, the animals, and the Lea river moving slowly over the marshes. 

Though the path is concrete and fenced on either side by black iron rails, there is still a sense of civilisation unravelling into wilderness. This is a landscape of birds, and wind, and trees, and tall grass. Only this giant red metal bridge crossing the river, blocking almost all view of it reminds you that the landscape has been shaped by humans. Beyond the bridge wild flowers move in the breeze. The land opens out into a huge field with rows and rows of white goal posts.

The path turns behind a row of Silver Birch to avoid the football pitches. Now the view is small again and the birds return, calling to one another. In the longer grass and in the hedges there are spaces were animals have made their own paths.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Behind the Lea Valley Riding Centre

Following a path across Millfields park, behind the ice rink and on through the riding centre. The path crosses the Lea River before continuing over the train tracks and on towards Walthamstow.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sailors´ Village without sailors.

I would like to talk to you about these sailors.

Well, at least I like thinking they are sailors, although they're not close to a seashore, if they have ever been close to one.

Their houses made of wood and their facades painted in colours. Their roofs raise up to the stormy skies like the crest of waves, breaking against imaginary figureheads.

Every morning I cross their village.

The wind blows around its corners, and fills its alleys with brown leaves and blue carrier bags sailing against the whirlwinds.

The cables hit the mast of the antenas at a continuous metallic pace.

Never I have seen kids on the front yard decks, the swing in the playground only rocks its own shadow.

Every morning, alone.

I look for eyes behind the net curtains or whistles coming from the slot of an open window. Doors open behind my steps, and close instantly when I turn my head to them.

My eyes hang from a sudden camera zoom.

Nothing happens at the sailors' village without sailors, without boats.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Collecting Dandelions

In the summer of 1985 my Mum and I went for a walk through the country lanes close to our house.

It was warm and dry and we had an idea that if we collected flowers from the side of the road we could later press them into a notebook.

I say 'we' but it must have been her idea really. Perhaps it was something she had done as a child.

I would have been four years old.

I remember the fields being yellow.

In the banks of grass beside the roads we found dandelions, buttercups, and bright blue flowers that I don't know the name of.


We must have walked in a loop. Perhaps we cut across fields, although we would have a pushchair with us so that seems unlikely.

I think I remember the fields being quiet though I'm sure cars passed at intervals, becoming louder as they approached and then quickly dying away.

The idea of silent yellow fields and cars mixes in my mind with a kind of early summer morning smell and the sound of blackbirds.

But these must be from later summers. The smell of the shade behind the house with the sun baking down and cutting the garden in two. Blackbirds outside a bedroom window in the early evening.

Did I sellotape the flowers into the Transformers notebook? I think so; look at the way the tape has been torn.

Also, the flowers were fixed into position with the book upside down and back to front. I recognise my own work here.

Did we walk back together or did I sleep in the pushchair? Were the flowers carried in my mum's handbag or did I want to hold onto them?

We must have stuck them down after lunch, placing a heavy object on top of the book to press the flowers into position.

We would have shown them to my Dad that evening.