Categories
the journey

Walkshop 12: Way From Home

For this walkshop I was tasked with making a map, to show my way from, well, my home, with the destination being a special place that I would then walk to, making special additions as I went. When I initially planned to do this walk, I already knew what special place to choose: a little rental house on Canady Road, the place where we stayed for may and june of 2016, when our old house was sold and the new one not quite finished being built. It was in this little house that we discovered Comet’s fondness of baskets, catching him nestled in a wicker basket of blankets provided by the owners. We were there for a few weeks of school, through finals, and a few weeks of summer, and it was strange. But it was an important time in our lives, and I’ve sorta run out of other special places. Anyways, I was gonna walk this on a day that turned out rainy, so I decided to just listen to the story part of the podcast… during which I decided to draw a map. I got a little bit carried away.

The thing about getting carried away is I went a little too detailed (in the places that mattered anyway), with the correct number of houses in my neighborhood and semi-accurate street shapes.

I also had to make sure there was an appropriate amount of detail for the house itself, indicating the private dock Max spent so much time fishing on and the large hill that kept the house above the water level.

Eventually the rain clears up, but this hyper detailed map doesn’t serve my purpose. Instead, I draw a new one, smaller and simpler, more suited to the walk. Once complete, I hit play on the actual score and begin the walk, sketchbook in hand.

The map was told to have my home, the special place, and landmarks in between. Then I was prompted to go to an unfamiliar place, somewhere different. In the sketch above you can see my denoting of it, the mystery path belonging to some private landowner running parallel to our neighborhood. I ducked between the shrubery to get “inside” this area.

To the “left”, you can see the empty neighborhood that was initially woods belonging to the mystery rich guy. To the right, a peak of one of my neighbor’s homes. I went down the in-between space as far as I could, until fencing cropped up and a metal gate loomed, NO TRESPASSING sign too large to ignore.

The PRIVATE PROPERTY sign is probably a holdover from before they sold this chunk, before it became an empty field that the next real neighborhood could be seen through.

The gate reminds me of something off a farm, heavy and sturdy and chained shut. The path continued on, I could see that, and likely parallels the rest of my neighborhood down to some secret house close to the coast. But trespassing is something I try to avoid when on class time, so I turned around and got back to the road, ready to continue on the next prompt. I also made note of the gate on my little map, seeing as I didn’t have any tracing paper. The next place I was told to stop was one where “something reminds me of the home”.

The place I found wasn’t far, it was simply the sign for the neighborhood next door. But the reason it reminded me of home was the flowers, the neat arrangement of orange, yellow, and purple petunias.

We used to grow them, not at this home, but at the home before, and the one before that, back in Swampscott. To make myself “feel at home”, I smelled the flowers, then pocketed a few. Then I continued onwards, passing a construction site (there is always one around here) and one of our very large trees I wish I had the confidence to climb.

The next directive was to find an unfamiliar place, which I did when I stopped at the sign for another marina, this one a location I hadn’t ever thought much about.

How did this place make me feel, I was asked. The answer is that it was eerie, standing next to a sign I had seen many times but never bothered to read. I was also asked to ponder what object I could place at the spot, to make it more familiar. It was like a puzzle, and as I reached into my pocket and pulled out a trio of bruised petunias, I found the perfect piece. I stuck them through a little hole drilled in the sign, an off-center decoration on the “i” in restricted.

I continued from there, getting closer and closer to the destination, until I finally came to the long gravel road leading to the house. It was here that I stopped for another “familiar place”, glancing over the mailboxes before turning my direction down the steep decline of the land before me, then the swoop as it raised up again towards the houses. 

the mailboxes are out of frame, as each boasts the family name of the homeowner, but I denote the spot with a little mailbox on my map before walking onto the gravel. There are two houses closer to the road, but the one I want is behind this layer, near the water. I am prompted to stop somewhere facinating, and glancing about, notice the bright silver of a metal pipe laying among the foilage to the left of the gravel, in a lush green path of natural beauty. 

what interests me about is is the hard lines and sharp edges, the regular grooves on an object that has no place belonging among the organic landscape. From there I continue on to the house, which is more yellow than the orange I remembered.

I have come as close to the special place as I dare, not knowing who currently occupies it making me cautious to proceed any closer on the gravel, which feels less like a road and more like an informal driveway. I rename the spot on my map as summer of secrets, reminded of the events that transpired in that surreal space, divorced from normal life with our things in boxes and a room not my own, my home no longer mine and my new room not yet finished.

My walk complete, I return home swiftly, not a fan of the cold creeping up my toes. The experience wasn’t lengthy, but there was something fun about it. Given the stress of these last few weeks, I think fun is good enough for me!

(obligatory strava map)

 

Categories
the journal

Reflection 9: Landwalk & Transurbance

intro

For this week’s reading, we have returned to Francesco Careri, for the final two chapters of his book Walkscapes, the “Landwalk” and “Transurbance” chapters. The former chapter focuses on a few years and a few artists going through different interpretations of what it means to incorporate the land into their art, while the latter is focused more on the theoretical shift of the city and how the changes are interpreted.

Landwalk

Careri’s first section of this chapter begins with the map who started it all: Tony Smith, the “father” of Minimal Art. In the December 1966 issue of Artform magazine, Smith published what would become the origin of  Land Art: his journey along the under-construction New Jersey Turnpike late in the evening. Smith described this journey as creating “ineffable ecstasy”, which he determined to be the end of art, pondering the fact that the road and landscape around him were artificial, and yet, were not considered art. This article led to a new question: can the road be considered as art? if so, what sort of artwork? “As a large readymade? As an abstract sign crossing the landscape? As an object or as an experience? as a space in its own right or as an act of crossing? What is the role the surrounding landscape?” These questions, posited by Careri, would be interpreted differently by various artists and spawn new movements (page 111).

This rebellious adventure down an unopened highway does seem exciting. Driving with no one else around, no signs to regulate your speed, and only your headlights to guide you? It all adds up to an exhilarating thrill, a dangerous adventure as you break the rules with no one to stop you. I do not think of driving as an act of art, I’ll admit- I simply enjoy the act itself. I imagine the roads as maps made physical, permanent directions poured onto the landscape, guiding your travel and ensuring your path would swiftly carry you to your destination. I suppose that makes it an abstract sign in my mind, but it has a utilitarian purpose, which I still tend to divorce from art.

Two of these movements were Minimal Art and Land Art. In Minimal Art, the road became a sign and object, the crossing taking place upon it. Land Art, on the other hand, declared the very act of crossing as the experience, as “attitude that becomes form“. Neither, of course, were the end of art, but they did change it- moving art away from the gallery and museum, trying to “reclaim the experience of lived space” and the massive scale of the landscape itself. Carl Andre, inspired by Smith, sought to make objects that occupied a space without filling it. This was akin to Smith’s road, a 2D space that could be inhabited, a sort of abstract ground, flat and without any sculpture upon it, but still defining the way the space was experienced by observers (114). Richard Long, also inspired, determined that art was created by the walking act itself, being able to live the experience. To the sculptors, walking became an expansion of sculpture. It connected walking to the type of activity that transformed the Earth’s surface, which was shared by the subjects of architecture and that of landscape design (115).

I find it interesting that these two artists, and these two art forms, sprung from the same source but went in different directions. It reminds me of how different people interpret works of literature, and how many different denominations have sprung from the bible. It really just depends what interests the individual the most, what direction they wish to spin as they interpret various elements to suit their own needs. Andre gets caught up in the way the road exists, how it is physically present without taking up the space, leaving room for items or individuals to exist upon it. Long, it seems, thought more about why the road exists, that it functioned so people could exist upon it, and therefore the art came from completing the action.

Careri continues, bringing up Artform once again, the June 1967 issue this time. Michael Fried, an art critic, wrote “Art and Objecthood”, a response to Smith’s journey- which he saw as an example of the war of theater and literature against art. Fried wanted to keep individual arts within their own boundaries, disliking the other arts “invading” painting and sculpture. Fried worried that experimentalism was moving toward unitary urbanism. In reality, sculpture was doing the invading, pushing its boundaries to get into the living space life, the realms of theater, dance, architecture, and landscape. Rosalind Krauss crafted a definition for this post-50s sculpture: “that which, on top of or in front of a building, was not a building; or that which, inserted into a landscape, was not a landscape”, a nebulous explanation defining sculpture by its limitations (118).

Fried’s concerns seem a bit humorous to me, this idea that each type of art is specifically defined, with rigid boundaries that needed to be protected at all costs. The human brain is not divided into neat little boxes, our ways of expressing creativity and knowledge cannot so easily be divorced by subject. Multi-disciplinary approaches exist for a reason- they provide a fuller, more vibrant picture of the subject in question. If drawing or painting is what you are good at go ahead! But if you want to do something interesting, you don’t have to limit yourself to the canvas, to the boundaries of traditional art. You can paint on someone’s back, become a tattoo artist, get into cosplay makeup, or create something on the ground that is only visible from a building window.

Krauss contrasted the negative elements of sculpture with the positive ones of landscape and architecture: the two ‘identify the space of action of the construction of places”, places that were used for rituals or games. Architecture and sculpture were linked in history, having been divided in the past as architecture took on the function of a place for shelter, worship, or gathering, and sculpture was relegated to displaying the image of man or god. The goal became to create works that were functionless, being both sculpture and architecture- this would be inorganic sculpture, symbolic forms that suggested or stirred representation, such as the Egyptian obelisks, colossal statues, and pyramids. Inorganic creations elevated man to become nature’s equal, creations driven by deep desire and without an existing template (122). Inorganic sculpture, therefore, only presents itself, naked of any embellishment, which both Minimal Art and Land Art exhibited. The menhir was the archetype of this naked presence, and the path was therefore part of the sphere beyond it. If architecture and sculpture shared the common action of symbolically transforming the territory, walking becomes both these things as well as landscape, between the primitive need for art and inorganic sculpture (123). With the menhir existing before the split of architecture and sculpture, it was both: interpreted as a column in architecture, while sculpture saw it as a statue. It was also the first symbolic transformation of the landscape from natural to artificial. With this in mind, the Minimal artists returned to ground zero of the discipline. The menhir directly connected sky and ground, without any color or natural materials, forced vertically, and without a hint at anthropomorphic or zoomorphic elements. The resulting vertical stone was “monomateric, situated, fixed, immobile, inert, inexpressive,” seemingly devoid of any hint of life (124).

I think it’s interesting here how inorganic sculpture is framed as the key for man to become nature’s equal. Nature is the source of all creation, it’s true, with weather and earthquakes and the pounding of the tides forming the landscape, and all these things guiding the way plants and animals formed. But nature’s creations all have a purpose, whether it knows it or not. How can creations without purpose make their creators as powerful as the force behind everything, up-to-and-including that creator’s existence? Is it the idea of a creation existing “just because” someone wanted to create it, without a need for the creation, that actually makes it so powerful? What do these philosopher-artists mean when they claim the creators of inorganic sculpture are without external reference? Every image, every sound, every smell and touch and taste, from the moment we were born, originates in nature someway and somehow. These things that shape us and make us and birth our thoughts and imagination cannot be divorced from nature. The menhir, this solid, vertical structure, can just as easily be interpreted as representation of a mountain, or as the trunk of one of the gigantic trees that still existed around the dawn of mankind. Careri himself previously stated in his book that the menhir was a ray of sunlight made solid- how can that be considered unnatural?  Menhirs served a purpose, we know that, signalling paths and marking ancient boundaries.

The previous section had described how the Minimal object moved toward the menhir as an object with internal presence, but now Careri directs us to Land Art, which examined the menhir as an inanimate object used to transform the territory- the realm of architecture and landscape. After Smith’s publication, sculpture was regaining and claiming new spaces, asserting their right to transform and model the signs and materials of the territory. Land Art would now physically change the territory, using architecture to “construct a new nature” and “create large artificial landscapes”, abandoning anthropomorphism in a conscious return to the neolithic (125). These were primal actions, embracing an archaic nature, operated in places without human presence or architecture. There was a desire to go back to the beginning of the world, to start over, where a unitary discipline could be found, with “earthworks” being the only way to comprehend natural space and infinite time (126).This need to change the territory, to leave a mark on the world, seems to be a constant part of the human drive, and honestly, isn’t limited to just us. This new direction of art almost seems to be play-acting the role of early man, back when we were barely divorced from the other animals. What is really gained by this? Is trying to turn back the clock by traveling to the few places visibly untouched and trampling upon them, creating shapes in the grass or figures from piles of stone, actually accomplishing anything? Or is it just another wild place altered by human presence, frightening the mice away from the fields with hours of your trampling, stealing the rocks that salamanders and insects call home to place in a pattern just for fun? In the time of the neolithic, our first agricultural revolution, there was barely a fraction of the current population. Our impact and ability to change the territory was limited to what we could carry, how far we could go, and how hard we could labor. In a world of billions today, with the amount of free-space forever shrinking, I find the explanations a bit lacking. With a movement of artists taking to the wilderness, carrying away piles of stones to fill an exhibit or leaving behind concrete tunnels that invite people to seek out the site and explore, aren’t we just contributing to the more harmful change of the landscape? How fast can nature recover? Maybe I read too much into this, but subtle things can have enormous effects in an ecosystem, and half a century of destruction and damage puts this examination of 60s land art in a more jaded context.

Careri turns us back to Richard Long, who in 1967, “sculpted” A Line Made By Walking, flattening the grass with his feet as he repeatedly paced across a field. The work had “radical clarity and formal simplicity” (126). This was considered a fundamental shift in contemporary art, combining sculpture (the line) and walking (The action), a work that produced a sensation of infinity, hinting at a line without limits. This type of art was the “presence of absence”, as the viewer cannot witness the action or the body, and no object exists. It was also the result of a body in action, and there was a “something” there, between sculpture, performance, and architecture. Long’s work is based in walking, the work set in “natural, timeless space”, where the artist’s presence is the symbolic act itself. Hamish Fulton, another artist who walked with Long, crafted a theme of celebrating the uncontaminated landscape via the walking act, his concern for the environment turning the walks into a protest (128). Both artists (Englishmen) saw mother earth as unbreakable, with the idea that walking, designing figures, and moving stones wouldn’t create any radical change. Long disliked the term “land art”, thinking of it as thoroughly American, meaning “bulldozers and big projects”, constructing large, permanent works on land purchased by the artists. Long doesn’t cut into the earth, and his transformations are temporary, using only his body. He makes the body into a measuring tool of time and space: only stones as heavy as he by himself can lift, only paths as long and far as his legs can bear to walk in a certain timeframe. Careri speaks of this method as being primordial, as using geometry as the measure of the world (129).

It seems my concerns were slightly exaggerated, and I have conflated Long’s works with the wrong movement. I agree with his sentiment, that creating permanent structures using the marvels of modern technology does more harm than good, and I most certainly agree with Fulton’s celebration of uncontaminated landscapes. I stand by what I have said, that Land Art, reaching into these uncontaminated places and altering them significantly, ends up just causing more contamination. Long seems to have taken a neolithic approach much more seriously than the “Land Art” does, truly limiting his impact to his own feet and hands. I do think his attempt to distance himself from land art by calling it american is a bit hypocritical- the american destruction of nature is not exactly a singular phenomenon, seemingly a pretty western way of doing things. And I don’t think moving stones is entirely harmless- it might seem that way, but as National Parks have explained in reference to”Stone Stacking”, it actually does cause damage to the ecosystem. To quote an article, “The movement of so many stones can cause erosion, damage animal ecosystems, disrupt river flow, and confuse hikers, who depend on sanctioned cairns for navigation in places without clear trails.” Sure, one singular cairn may not do all that, and maybe one individual moved stone doesn’t either, but if both men move a lot of stones, if they inspire other artists to do the same, then it will reflect the same alarming trend that scientists discovered when the stone stacking hashtag went viral. It’s a bit of a tangent, I know, but this is something I think about I suppose, and therefore, it is the something that I must write.

Now, Careri points out a main problem with the art of walking: how to communicate the experience in an aesthetic form (129). Long and Fulton both used the map as their expressive tool. For Fulton, the body was exclusively an instrument of perception. The map was an abstract representation of the places crossed, and the paths of those places were represented with images and texts to “bear witness” to the walking act, while remaining aware that the representation itself couldn’t compare to the actual experience. Fulton’s walking left no traces on the ground or on the paper. For Long, his body became a tool for drawing, with the walks as an action to leave a mark on the place. Long used cartographic representation to report the walking act, which draws a figure on the terrain. He also drew figures on a map as a way to create a future walk, making walking a sign that can be superimposed. The world became a canvas designed with historical and geographic layers, and drawing by walking added another layer (134).  The body of the walker registers the journey’s sensations, barriers, risks, and terrain changes. The physical structure of the territory is then reflected onto the body in motion (137).

Long and Fulton’s different ways of communicating the walking act using the map is interesting. Fulton’s method is very abstract, very much removed from something that can be concretely examined as any sort of art. Long’s method, on the other hand, seems not unfamiliar. In the modern context, with our easily accessed personal tracking devices embedded in our smartphones, people have taken to using apps that track their paths in order to “draw” shapes on the landscape using the virtual lines made by their crossing it. It is a popular niche for bikers, who are able to cover longer distances at more ease than a walker, and there are plenty of images online of these drawings: dinosaurs, people, and genitals are all popular images. People on the ground aren’t the only ones taking advantage of trackers either. Pilots, presumably of small, personal planes, have “drawn” using their flight paths: writing phrases like “i’m bored”, drawing planes, and of course, more genitals. While the pilots have a bit of leeway in creating their art, those on the ground know a thing or two about the canvas of historical and geographic layers. Planning a drawing through a crowded city requires familiarity with the buildings, roads, and no-trespassing zones already placed upon the “canvas”, not to mention accounting for the rivers, steep hills, and other aspects of the terrain. There is a digital gallery called stravart, dedicated to this very practice. While it may be removed from Long’s own art, with the participants unlikely to know of his “serious” creations, I like to think this modern community represents the best of art, the part that creates for the fun of it.

Careri returns to Artform , the October 1967 issue, when Robert Smithson wrote an ironic letter-to-the-editor, dismissing Fried’s article as being afraid of Smith’s ideas. Smithson had earlier written of remote places, with the idea of using the actual territory as a medium. Smithson compares Smith’s road to a sentence unwinding along the turnpike, with the physical territory as a surreal medium, letting us read and write on space like a text (137). Inspired by Smith, Smithson was shifting the emphasis to where the dark road passes and the quality of the where. Smithson felt that new spaces were being opened for experimentation, artists modifying viewers’ experience of these spaces, presenting hidden aesthetic values. Smithson’s work invited the viewer to go with him and explore “land that time forgot”. His Suburban Odyssey is a parody of travel diaries, as he explores the “virgin territories” on the edges of his hometown Passaic, celebrating the space in dissolution, soon to be a non-place (144). Smithson’s “work” is the fact that he made this journey, that he brought others with him, and the photos they all took. Even after he completed an earthwork, he extended it with photos, videos, and articles, postponing the completion for an eternal open-ending (145). His trips are fueled by an instinct to research and experience the reality of space. Urban exploration was a way for him to uncover aesthetic and philosophical categories that he could apply to the territory. Smithson combined physical description and aesthetic interpretation during his explorations, his “most extraordinary ability” (146). The “land that time forgot” was a place without past/present/future, suspended timeframes between science fiction and man’s beginning, placed in the “actuality” of suburbia. In suburbia he finds a new nature, territory in constant transformation. The urban periphery becomes the edges of the mind, discarded thought and culture. Here, new questions are created and new answers pondered. Smithson embraces the contradictions of the modern city, “halfway between the paleolithic hunter and the archeologist of abandoned futures” (152).

Smithson’s view of the territory as a medium is a new-but-old idea, almost circling back to the other, earlier artists. I don’t mean to discount his particular angle on the walking practice, it just seems to me that there are only so many ways you can reword and remake what are essentially the same few ideas. Was it not the Dadaists who went to a location and considered the “work” complete simply by virtue of being there and taking a photo of it? No matter, his work is still interesting, choosing the outskirts of a place he knows well and inviting the viewers to visit it with him, to explore a location that wouldn’t make it into a guidebook. It seems to fit into the anti-tourism ideas that inspired one of our walkshops, drawing attention to a location that cannot be easily commodified. I find it interesting that he “extends” his works after he completes them, continuously adding on to them so they never really seem finished. I wonder what that is supposed to say about the work, if it is a commentary on the fact that the landscapes he walks on and the earthworks he produces are forever changing, that time will reshape the view with weather and erosion. There are other artists who have left their works purposely “unfinished” – Keith Haring’s final work, a self portrait titled “Unfinished Painting”, was made to look incomplete as a commentary on the government’s poor handling of the AIDS epidemic, which he died of shortly after. Smithson’s open-endings do not stem from lack of opportunity, of course, seeming to reflect more on the endless ways he could choose to continue. Smithson’s land that time forgot is a reminder of liminal spaces, and I wonder if he would see the rotting docks near my home, slowly sinking into the sand and being covered in barnacles and plant life, as an example of “new nature”, being reclaimed by the elements on a shore now altered by human hands. They are the sort of thing that feel discarded, as often the owners of these docks, after seeing the damage caused by storm or neglect, simply choose to build a new one next to the old, abandoning the broken pieces rather than trying to repair it.

Smithson believed certain minimal objects celebrated “entropy”, the energy used when something is transformed. These objects resonated with Vladimir Nabokov’s quote, that “the future is inverted obsolescence”. Smithson claimed that new monuments try to make us forget the future rather than remind of the past (152). Empty spaces are a territory of forgetting, abandoned by those who inhabit it. He describes the territory without renouncing, accusing, or contemplating it, only judging via the aesthetic, and accepting the reality as it is. He reflects on the periphery as a place of scrap, producing a new landscape from the refuse and disruption. The monuments are an integral part of the new landscape, helping to create, transform, and destroy the entropic territory. As man wounds nature, nature accepts the wounds and transforms them (153). Long had crossed primitive, cold territories, which were less complex and produced less entropy, reliving a neolithic spatial situation to pursue art’s origins, going backward from the mehir to the path. Smithson was exploring industrial, warm territory, complex and producing more entropy, finding territory disrupted by nature and man, abandoned zones becoming entropic. Smithson was able to perceive the transient aspect of matter, time, and space, where nature took something altered by man and reabsorbed it into a hybrid wilderness (154).

This entropic landscape of Smithson feels like chaos, a force of swirling, unpredictable disorder, seeming almost like magic as it distorts the carefully planned and formerly-values pieces of civilization, twisting them into something new and strange. Metal rusts over, wood rots, cloth grows moldy, and stone crumbles, the temporary dominion of man over the land a little joke as the forces of nature reclaim what has always been, and always will be, belonging to it more than us. It reminds me of the animated movie Princess Mononoke, when the spirit of the forest lashes out against the mining town and overtakes the land with fresh growth, determined to undo the damage of industrialization. Hybrid wilderness brings me back to the water, to the abandoned shipwrecks that become the base of new reefs, while the microplastics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch promise to do catastrophic damage to the marine life. Plastics, unlike most materials, cannot degrade in the same way as other materials used by humanity, and nature has a much harder fight ahead when it comes to triumphing over them. It makes me worry that nature’s ability to recover is being damaged. In the meantime, our continued advancement into nature brings the fight to the suburbs, where deer stumble through gardens trying to find a safe meal, coyotes threaten to munch on house cats, and bears risk it all by diving headfirst into garbage cans, vehicles, and even peoples homes.

TRANSURBANCE

Architects in the late 60s began to see something spontaneously growing in the territory, what seemed like a cancer invading the city with intent to destroy. It was an area around the city that was not a city, a “non-city” or “urban chaos”. It seemed like disorder without comprehension, random shards of order jammed within it. Some shards the architects made, some by speculators, others from regional, national, or multinational intervention. The architects were viewing the chaotic portion from inside the historic, and wanted to restore order (159). There was a need to fix things and impose quality. The architects also noticed that the periphery contained unused, large spaces, “urban voids” that could become new places for order and reconnect the shards, overwhelm the void with new order modeled on the historic city’s quality. They tried to understand why this was happening, discovering it stretched beyond the city’s limits, forming “the diffuse city”, a low-density suburban settlement sprawled over large territory. “Diffuse settlers” inhabited the private space of only home and car, considering only the mall, rest stop, gas station, and railroad as public space. Architects believed these “new barbarians” would destroy space for social life, replace it with single-family homes tied only to the highway and internet. The void itself had changed from the backdrop of urban landscape to the protagonist (160). The diffuse settlers actually spent time in the voids, open spaces that didn’t fit into the system, an autonomous life of growing vegetables without a permit, walking the dog, and shortcuts between urban structures. The void was a free space for children to socialize outside the traditional public spaces. The void was used and experienced in infinite ways, fundamental to the urban system, nomadic spaces dodging enforced order.These spaces grew outside modernity, which doesn’t understand their value, and is unable to experience it (161).

My first thought upon reading this, is that architects have too much time on their hands. Perhaps this is an uncharitable depiction, but frankly, they deserve it. It seems quite absurd that this was the most pressing concern on their minds, that this so-called urban chaos posed such a great threat to the historic portions of the city. What does it matter that new portions of the city were forming in their own way, without being meticulously designed to reflect the supposed “quality” of what is already there? I cannot understand it. Life is a messy thing, humans are messy creatures, and consistency is boring. Architecture changes throughout time for a reason, and it doesn’t devalue the modern stuff simply by virtue of not matching what is fifty or a hundred or three hundred years old. The historic part of a city doesn’t achieve infalible superiority, it’s just old! Why is it so important that single family homes were sprouting up in a low-density settlement, when the high-density city really just translates to overcrowded, loud, and claustrophobic? It’s almost laughable that the architects thought of the inhabitants of this diffuse city as barbarians, lacking the proper culture of city inhabitants. To find out that these empty spaces were actually full of use, that the diffuse settlers enjoyed the limitless application of spaces free of the system, only further heightens the absurdity of the architects. Their perfect system, with its traditional public spaces and enforced order, just wasn’t enjoyable to live in, so the diffuse settlers rejected it! The architects were too caught up in rigid conformity, and simply couldn’t understand the value of a space free of singular use, of void open to infinite interpretations. An order that requires a permit to grow your own sources of food isn’t an order that I respect or value, so I don’t see why the diffuse settlers should either.

Aerial photos of a city’s new growth seem like an organic fabric, a center of dense thread with lumps detaching near the edges, growing into their own centers (161). This is the archipelago pattern, a group of islands floating in a primordial sea, water seeping in to fill the voids, linking the large empty spaces with voids of different scales and types. Separating the full parts of the city from the empty creates a design in the “form” of complex geometries, and the “Without form” of accumulations of matter. As the “islands” expand, they leave behind voids within, creating irregular borders. While the original center is in stasis, changed only by the city’s control, the edges have continuous transformations, borders of warm entropic zones (162). These borders are an organism transforming itself in an out-of-control dynamism. The empty spaces are the civilization’s unconscious, holding their own meaning, not a “non-city”, just a parallel one that we do not yet understand. To find a geography in the chaos, we can use the aesthetic form of the erratic journey. The voids are the last place in the city you can still get lost, lacking surveillance and control, spontaneous public spaces of nomadic spirit that live and transform too fast for the administration. The void is the surrealist’s amniotic fluid, a sea with something submerged underneath it (163). The void is not empty, it is filled with different identities, heterogeneous territories positioned side-by-side. If you know how to cross the borders and get into these zones, the seas are easy to navigate, letting you follow the paths of the inhabitants to go around, but not inside, the city. The city becomes a space of staying, crisscrossed by the territories of going (164).

The imagery this brings to my mind is not one of islands, per say, but of cells, floating together, with organelles floating together inside of them. It is an interesting concept for sure, but I am having a hard time actually imagining what this looks like in real time, in a real place. Wilmington is considered a city, but other than the downtown area, most of it doesn’t really look like one, I think. When I think of a city I am caught up with the assumption of New York City, the imagery I’ve gleaned from 21 seasons of Law and Order, the depictions in books and movies. I’ve been to Raleigh, which is supposed to be a big city, but it seems we spend most of the time navigating it by traveling on highways, not exactly what the architects must have been thinking of. It all feels very conceptual, not something I can really apply to a particular place. Getting lost in a city is a foreign concept to me, as I just haven’t really been around one very much. It brings to mind a skit by John Mulaney, where he riffs “how do you get lost in New York? The streets are NUMBERED!” I know what Careri is trying to get at, sure, but all his talk of empty-but-not voids and spontaneous public spaces are simply too removed from my own experience to have any real meaning. What counts as a void in this context? How do you define the territories of going? What does a nomadic space really look like, and how can it transform? It is at this point that I begin to wonder what the heck is up with these artists, if they are actually tapping into some grand secret or simply throwing words at the ceiling like kids in middle school, hoping they’ll stick and fly over everyones head. So the city stays the same in the center and changes on the outskirts… but why does it matter? What’s the point?

Careri’s final few paragraphs opens with an Italian phrase: “andare a Zonzo”, which translates as “to waste time wandering aimlessly”. He calls this a good description for the flaneurs, avant-gardes, and lettrists. “Going to Zonzo” meant beginning in the denser center, then outwards to small buildings and villas, the suburbs, industrial zones, and finally the countryside. One could climb a lookout point and see a unitary image of the city and countryside. Today, the Zonzo cannot follow this sequence because it is gone, replaced with interruptions and reprises, alternating chunks of constructed city and unbuilt zone. The compact city is revealed to have holes, and when lost, the direction of outside and inside is hard to find (164). On a lookout, the city is unrecognizable, a leopard skin of empty spots in the city and full spots in the country. Dada discovered the banal city while inside the tourist-attracting heart of Zonzo, realizing the tourism industry’s entertainment system had turned the city into a simulation of itself and wanting to point out the cultural void and celebrate the lack of meaning. Surrealists realized Dada’s void had something hidden inside that could be filled with values. Demabulating in Zonzo’s banal places, they defined the void as the unconscious city. Situationists used psychogeography to analyze the spontaneous places inside Zonzo created by the lack of control (165). A city “in permanent transit of Constant”, the opposite of Zonzo, rose from combining concepts of psychogeography, derive and unitary urbanism with the values of the nomatic universe. New Babylon was a system of enormous empty corridors crossing the territory, but the empty wrinkles of modern Zonzo is New Babylon, finally fully realized. The Zonzo’s sea is a New Babylon without any mega-structure or hyper-technology, the empty corridors now penetrating into the consolidated city and becoming immersed in it. The nomadic city of modern day lives in osmosis with the settled city, creating a new nature out of the entropy of the settled refuse (170).

This is an interesting journey, taking us rapid-fire through the various walking art-movements of the past century. We again see the breakdown of the structured city, the way it used to be organized in neat bands of class and function, now unraveling into the chaotic mess of life, people trying their best to make do with what they have, until the city takes on a new, bizarre form, free of any structure or reason. Zonzo is the city, I suppose, with all that entails, but it is also the journey through the city, the aimless paths traced by these walking artists as they ponder the same structures through new eyes. New Babylon, an art project and a concept and a hope for the future, seems too large to be contained by the boundaries of a city, to be nestled comfortably within its “wrinkles”. But Careri’s tone when describing this seems optimistic,  that finding a New Babylon within the zones of Zonzo can be a useful method of both interpretation and transformation, a way to return to the playful past of Abel. This is the end of Careri’s book. I cannot claim to truly understand all parts of it, nor would I pretend to agree with it all. There are a lot of ideas that seem strange, counterintuitive, or downright silly. But there are also some parts that are intriguing, strange in a way that demands my attention, and lead me to believe that some of these folk are really onto something. Creativity is a driving force within us all, and exploration of the places we live, as well as the places where no-one lives, was bound to lead to some peculiar methods of expressing what they’ve learned, what they’ve experienced. Some of this might sink in later, might re-contextualize the next time I go on a long hike or travel to a big city. For now, I remain a polite spectator, nodding and smiling as I gently move aside the parts that remain unfathomable to me, giving myself time to focus and ponder on the ideas that strike a chord.

Categories
the journey

Walkshop 11: Going In Circles

This walkshop is about “circumambulation”, the act of walking in a circle around an object. For it, the act is simple: walk in a circle while listening to the mantra embedded in the podcast. The object to walk around would have to be either something revered or something I wished to investigate. By moving around it, I would place homage to it, showing a willingness to learn it and gain a connection. The object I chose to walk around would be my painting palette, a tool I never before had, but have come to use and understand while in my Panting 1 class this semester. I decided I would circle in my office, the space I work, read, and paint. To make the experience more interesting, I decided to put down newsprint to walk on, the pages used up on both sides, covered in sketches from my Drawing 1 and Life Drawing classes in previous years. Here is a photo of the floor, covered in newsprint. I had to stand on a chair to get the image:

Then came the fun idea: why not use the paint on the palette (which was left over from my previous painting and needed to be removed anyway), and the paint from an old tube or two I planned to toss out, to mark my walking. This, I felt, would really emphesis the connection I was making between my drawing and my painting, sealing them together with my bare flesh. I also, of course, put on strava, though as you can see, it pretty much flails around, unable to figure out where I am going, but sure I am moving.

It really overestimates the circumference of the space, which took about twelve steps to circle, but you get the picture. According to my Fitbit step counter, I took 1112 steps during this time, which translates to about 92 rotations around the circle. I am not entirely certain if this is true, but I lost count too quickly to refute my technology. The mantra was calm, a sort of lull that allowed me to focus simply on moving, on staying in the circle without a misstep onto the hardwood or a slip in a particularly thick patch of paint. When all was said and done, the circle was a colorful mess, and I put on my crocks and climbed back on my chair to take the after photo:

I went in from another angle, trying to view the layers of footprints straight on, wanting to capture every detail, every obscuring shape covering the sketches I forgot to throw away, that only existed as a teaching device. 

Below is a gallery of close-ups of each panel, each distinct swirl of my acrylic-soaked feet. Not a single smudge ended up on the floor, my focus on the task keeping me steady even as the paper grew more wet. It was fun and silly, reminding me of the little white handprints hanging in the mudroom, relics from 2006 when my brother and I were young.

Categories
the journal

Reflection 8: Walking Back to Happiness

intro

Today’s reading is an essay by Keith Egan, called “Walking Back to Happiness? Modern pilgrimage and the expression of suffering on Spain’s Camino de Santiago“, which focuses on the meaning behind the modern resurgence in walking the famous Way of St. James, an ancient walking path leadings to Santiago de Compostela, a cathedral said to house St. James’ remains. In order to get a true sense of this revival, Egan took to the path himself, following along with other pilgrims as he conducted his research. Egan sorta sub-divides his essay, so I will take advantage of the “subheadings” for organization purposes.

Wanderlust

Egan begins with sharing a quote by Rebecca Solnit, the author of Wanderlust, who characterized walking as a way to create “productive wastefulness”, that this creation could be used to facilitate self-becoming. Egan then explains that the modern pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago echo that statement, that for them, walking is empowerment. The pilgrims are no small group, with hundreds of thousands taking the month-long trek each year, escaping modern life to immerse themselves in nature and history. The journey is a sort of “spiritual tourism” the pilgrims leaving their secular life to travel to a religious destination. Egan speaks of symbols as empty, and that humanity’s creativity and ability to form social bonds is what brings the symbols to life. For him to truly understand the symbol of the Camino, Egan decided to follow the pilgrims and take the walk himself. He found existential pilgrims, lacking spiritual motivation, trying to rediscover their sense of purpose by separating themselves from their home, identity, and obligations. Free of these ties, the pilgrims were able to meet strangers, forming the “communitas”, the unstructured community, sharing life experiences and troubles with a companion without needing to know their last name. Free of the surface problems from home, they can delve into the deep and existential, coming together with fellow pilgrims to celebrate and find hope, then taking to the open road for hours of the simple act of walking (page 1).

It’s interesting how such a famous path, with such deep roots in Catholicism, has been reborn as a way to find one’s own self rather than a god. I understand the feeling of stagnation, of feeling trapped in the rhythms of daily life. Humans need enrichment, need something to give them fresh perspective and pique their curiosity. The internet sometimes provides that, with people hidden behind anonymous screen names able to divulge their troubles to fellow travelers of the web, knowing the other person has no stake in the outcome and can simply give their honest opinion. That’s why reddit advice forums are so popular, people being able to ask “Am I The Asshole?” without making the other person feel they must choose a side in a personal relationship. But that isn’t for everyone, and some people feel the wrong sort of disconnect when it’s a screen separating them, so getting out onto a trail rich in history, making honest encounters with fellow pilgrims, has a certain sort of appeal.

Egan lays out the common themes for the modern pilgrim’s personal journey as follows: a break from an unsatisfying job or from family duty, searching for adventure, and for therapeutic reasons. He describes the idea of walking as a reaction to public space becoming privatized, the way that wanderers become labeled as loitering. Modern civilization produces an “existential inertia”, and being an authentic pedestrian allows you to counteract this feeling. Egan reiterates the ability of sharing personal stories with fellow travelers without ties to home, how the walk can help you respond to the crisis and the journey itself can birth thoughts as your body helps you to “walk” your thoughts through the mental landscape. Walking the Camino is a cultural activity, a historical relationship between each pilgrim’s physical body, the world they walk on, and the things they imagine. The path is a “social body”, using the pilgrim to revitalize their sense of being and stand fast against the forces trying to wear them down. The body makes tragedy accessible through the act of suffering (presumably the pain of this month of walking), turning it into “political performance and moral commentary”. To gain a feeling of control over this tragedy, sharing the story of it with other people while on this quest to this “other place” allows the pilgrim to follow and map the tragedy. The story breeds empathy in the listener, linking them to the teller into a social bond, and the bond strengthens when the listener shares a story of their own. The story may not be perfectly accurate, as the pilgrim alters it with each telling to emphasize the parts that matter to them, the real reason for telling it in this emphasis. The company shared between the pilgrims as they walk, relax, dine, and comfort each other, allows them to share this experience, pain and healing and the accommodation of suffering all at once. The camino has many functions in this way, and the pilgrim may not understand why they chose to walk it until it is over, when their wandering spirit is awake, the reason for home discontentment discovered, or the bond between those who planned to walk together tested (page 2). Egan realized that as he walked the camino with these pilgrims, each with their own assumed reason and goal to discover, that he could not stay objective, and he became an “observiant participant”, unable to simply ask questions without engaging in the expected exchange (page 3).

I think it’s sort of fitting that Egan was forced to become part of the camino in a real way, that his interactions with the pilgrims made him into one himself. There is a sort of implication that people with “shallow” reasons for the camino, walking it as a tourist, will find themselves discovering a secret torment and achieving a new understanding by the time they finish it, becoming a pilgrim anyway. It sounds a bit like Egan found that to be true. Many anthropologists, which I think Egan seems to be in this context, try to simply observe the rituals or events of a culture, but cannot engage with it in a meaningful way because of this distance. Egan could have simply interviewed pilgrims by hanging out at the popular starting point for the camino, then using transportation to get to the end point and re-interview them. But by walking the camino WITH these pilgrims, but participating in the social exchange that was happening organically around them anyway, he was able to share company with the pilgrims, to gain a deeper understanding of the special community, the comininstas.

WALKING TOWARD HAPPINESS: THOMAS AND HELENE

Egan thinks of the camino as a vague borderland between what is real and what is religious, and pilgrimage upon it both induces crisis via the long physical challenge and represents the crisis so the pilgrim can modify the experience of crisis. By entering this borderland, the pilgrim is able to inhabit their struggles and acknowledge them as real. Egan now introduces us to Thomas and Helene, an elderly Norwegian couple that he walked with for a few days. This was their third and final camino, and they treated it as a “gradual drunken revelry”, ambling towards old age and their eventual deaths. They were able to compare the phases of their lives, view the changes through the lense of the camino. They were rebellious too, breaking the “normative pilgrimage” rules with their indulgence and habit of ignoring curfew. They simultaneously acknowledged that they were not in control of their lives, and also asserted that they were not entirely at the will of the fates. The couple’s journey reflects the pilgrimage between our immediate lives, where we try to be “actors in our lives”, and the non-immediate, distant world where we can sense that the world is happening to us (page 3).

I think this final camino of Thomas and Helene a bit awe-inspiring. They have lived a long life, have been on this road before, and it is amazing to me that they felt enough connection to this path that it was the way they decided to celebrate the beginning of the end. It almost seems like, while some people travel the camino to cope with the loss of someone else, that they used this final camino to come to terms with the loss of their own self. They can’t escape their eventual deaths, but by walking the camino, retracing the steps of their younger selves, they are able to focus on the celebration of life, on how far they’ve come since they last walked this path.

Egan goes on to say that the pilgrimage is an in between feeling, that we reshape our sense of self while on it. For the pilgrim to get to the root of the loss that is interfering with their life, the healing has to first engage with the immediate experience. The experiences of “natural acts”- walking, breathing, sleeping- are taken for granted, and to rethink them the pilgrim must get away from their everyday life. Healing, Egan claims, is the intensified encounter between suffering and hope. The camino’s simple rules of following the yellow arrows makes it an alluring place for this pilgrimage. Walking it is better when shared with fellow pilgrims, traveling together and moving into a “contemplative social space”, guided by the rhythm of footsteps, walking stick, and breathing. In the quiet moments, this rhythm draws the pilgrim out, allowing the self to expand into the environment. When they do speak, the existential, fleeting nature of these friendships compresses meaning and worth into a both intense and relaxed contact (page 4).

This philosophy of removing yourself from your life, the idea that walking will let you rebuild your view of the simplest human actions, and only then can you fix your deeper issues, isn’t unheard of. Part of the methodology of an in-patient care facility for mental health involves establishing a regulated routine before trying to work on the “real” problem. Egan has emphasized repeatedly that a large part of the camino’s importance lies in the community formed between the pilgrims. It is a unique experience, bringing together individuals that have no reason to even know each other. This is a reminder that humans need social interaction, need to bond with others and share their experiences. Sometimes the people closest to home are just too close to confide in. The people you care about will carry that knowledge, will let it color their perception, even if they don’t mean to. That’s why the observant stranger- pilgrim, therapist, bartender- is so appealing.

THE LIMIts of words: michael

The next section opens with Egan’s explanation of suffering as being both exposure and confinement at once. Egan then reveals his next subject, the 40-ish American man Michael, who felt stagnant and believed that the camino would shake him free by giving him distance from his obligations and providing an extended trip of the “authentic” Spain. Though he started the pilgrimage with friends, he ended up walking alone when he ran into Egan (page 4). Egan ended up using his previous counseling experience to help Michael acknowledge the anonymous nature of the man’s depression by objectifying them into a imaginary black stone. Michael was then able to “throw away” the stone, a symbolic liberation. To Michael, Spain was a non-place, free of all the things he was getting away from, without any connection to him. This allowed Michael to experiment with his being, to become a new person as he met new people. Spain was a place for Michael to experience newness and creativity, to feel control. Michael’s experience of his life became fundamentally altered by this (page 5).

At this point, Egan is far from simply observing- he is actively using his knowledge to help guide his fellow pilgrim through  his personal journey. The visualization of Michael’s feelings as a stone to throw away is a bit whimsical, but in the setting of Spain the non-place, guided by a friendly stranger, in an environment where Michael was free to present a whole new version of himself? The atmosphere becomes magical, freeing, allowing Michael to achieve something in a day that he had struggled with for his whole life. It’s no wonder the camino is described so spiritually, with stories like this showing an almost miracle-like turn in the pilgrim’s life.

In the days after this experience, Michael cognitively addressed how his life had been shaped by this sense of dread, how it guided his moods and decisions. This was not the goal of his walk, but experiencing life in a different way triggered this result. After facing this, the reality of his life became obtainable again. Egen explains that the anonymous and ephemeral context of pilgrimage is what led Michael to confide in him. The imagined culture of the camino eclipsed the relationship with Michael’s friends, and it wasn’t until he worked through his burden in the unstructured communitas, that Michael was able to depart from the author and rejoin those friends (page 5).

Once again we see this recurring emphasis on the way the camino changes people, that simply experiencing the camino lifestyle and engaging with fellow pilgrims in a safe anonymity can change a person’s life. The reality of Michael’s life became obtainable again, revealing that the secret trick to regaining the will to strive was as simple as leaving life behind for a bit. The need for someone who does not know you is clear, Michael only hanging around with Egan until he feels he has accomplished his goal, finding his friends again afterwards. It seems that the fear of judgement runs deep, the worry of being perceived while vulnerable making itself known when Michael stopped walking with his friends in the first place. There’s a hint of sadness to that, this idea that our friends cannot be trusted with our woes.

coping with wounds: john

The third “case study” is an Irish man from England named John. Exactly a year before Egan met John, the man’s sister Myra was traveling the Camino as a cheap vacation. She had just arrived to Santiago de Compostela when she died in her bed of an undiagnosed tumor, so John was following her footsteps to mourn her, staying in the same refuges that she did and spreading her story to his fellow pilgrims. Myra’s motivation had been to escape from work, and it is emblematic of the modern pilgrim’s rejection of modernity. John’s use of the camino to engage in a deep sense of loss is the other main motivation for the modern pilgrim. Traveling the camino has the prospect of pain and uncertainty, but pilgrims accept that in exchange for the chance to reconnect to simple pleasures. Pilgrims search for wild places filled with raw meaning just waiting to be discovered, where words fail- but aren’t needed (page 5). The camino is, it seems, a frontier experience filled with moral significance. It calls to pilgrims who seek new understandings of failing lives, livelyhoods, and lifeworlds caused by recent or fast-approaching loss (page 6).

conclusions: walking as healing

Walking the camino is a social act that traces the lines of many stories in an attempt to uncover the truth and the right response. In the past, pain was a moral failing rooted in our sense of place in a cosmic order, urging pilgrims to seek god on the route. Now, pain is medical, and the pilgrimage is a way to find nature or ourself. Pilgrims yearn for “a world less plastic”, and walking helped them to think in the rhythms of the day.  John found evidence of his sister in messages of hostel registers, and he was able to share these with other pilgrims, walking into his helplessness at her loss, creating a story of her life and spreading it down the camino. Egan asserts that the physical pain of wounds allows pilgrims to experience magical thinking and recover “the possibility of possibility itself”. Pain opens a space between worlds, as life outstrips our ability to describe and categorize it, requiring us to use magical thinking to make meaning from our lives and compensate for lack of control. Getting too caught up in our everyday lives removes us from ourselves, and pilgrimage allows us to embrace alienation and reinvigorate the everyday, leaving behind the person we are so we may modify ourselves. This modification’s permanence doesn’t matter, but the memory and possibility of our ability to change does. Serendipity is key, and it appears between the pilgrims as they interact. Egan found that when following the pilgrims he had no choice but to become one and explore his own deeper reason for being on the camino. The act of pilgrimage embodies life, showing us a positive freedom and presenting the very human image of the walker (page 6). Pilgrims create a loose network formed from chance, their trajectories merging to inscribe their combined will to complete the camino and feel better when they finish together. Egan references the wounds of the road as similar to psychogenic pain- pain created by the brain to assign our suffering a physical location- and says the wounds stand in for “unspeakable” wounds. Each step through the pain, reaching into the numb, signifies triumph, and the pilgrims share smiles and glances to acknowledge this triumph as they reach the end of the day’s walk (page 7).

Our society is influenced by christian values and misconceptions, and our view of suffering is certainly evidence of that. People, even those who claim atheism or have converted away from christianity later in life, have this unshakable view of suffering as being some sort of necessity, of being deserved by the sufferer or a tool to build character and make you stronger. It’s the reason the camino was a path of penance, and it influences the way our youth feels about misfortune, placing the blame on themselves or assuming there is some hidden meaning in tragedy. I think that is sort of dangerous, that it contributes to our growing culture of depression and anxiety. But the camino is so much more than that now. Egan’s account of three different pilgrimages, entertwined with his firsthand observations of the camino culture, helps illuminate the nature of the camino as a personal becoming, as pilgrims achieving new understanding of their lives by sharing their story with someone whose only conception of them is from their time together on the open road. The journey is twofold, the physical exertion over distance and time emphasizing the internal effort as the pilgrim works to achieve a greater sense of self and cope with the darkness maring their minds.

Categories
the journey

Walkshop 10: Arriving With Every Step

intro

This week the walkshop is two-fold, that I will be going on a physical walk while listening to the professor’s podcast, but at the same time, I will be planning for a second walk, a sort of pilgrimage, as I am completing the physical walk. It appears we are to take advantage of the fact that the physical movement of our bodies will circulate the blood, helping to rev up the brain for more productive thought.

PLANNING PHASE

As always, I begin my walk with the podcast playing, and strava running on my phone. For this walk, I decided to cross the street and wander through the variously connected neighborhoods of Anchors Bend, Middle Point, and Southpoint, with my bike in tow to make my return home swift. I alternated between walking and slowly riding, and used the handlebars to keep my sketchbook steady when I went to write or draw. I wrote notes as I went, but you will not seem them handwritten. I will instead be typing and expanding on them, as my handwriting is shoddy and taking photos of my sketchbook is hit-and-miss as it is. These notes begin below.

As I began my journey, I looked at the list of answers to the question “why do people go on pilgrimage?”, wondering which applied to me. I decided that for each answer, I would try to think about why not, rather than just deciding no. This was to be a process of elimination, giving me time to ruminate on my options before the podcast began to actually prompt me. Also, as I walked, I would take pictures of things that interested me, just for fun.

this neighbor does an all-starwars christmas decoration, but i like his halloween better

The first answer was “to go see the place where something happened”. I briefly turned the idea over in my head, trying to think of important happenings that would make me want to go there. Honestly, it didn’t ring a bell- I may know a good number of facts about history, but I care more about the fictional contexts that made me want to learn them than the actual location where some piece of history hails from.

exiting the neighborhood

The next reason on the list is “to come close to something sacred”. This one doesn’t fit me either- I don’t really believe in the sacred as a religious concept, don’t ascribe to any one in particular. Greek mythology fascinates me, I am intrigued by the reasons cults appeal to people, and I always like to learn about the more esoteric aspects of a belief, but I wouldn’t want to travel just to visit somewhere like the Vatican, the ruins of a Greek temple, or even Spahn Movie Ranch (the former home of the Manson cult). I consider the environment sacred, but it is all around me, not a singular place I must travel to.

the color composition on this is very nice and pretty, also the vibes of the sidewalk disappearing into nothing

What about “to seek forgiveness”? This one doesn’t track. I have no-one that I need to forgive me, no guilt weighing heavy on my shoulders. I imagine this reason appealed to certain walkers of the Camino, as it was used as an alternative to prison time. I try not to hold on to things too long. If a person is displeased at me, I either deal with it, or move on. People have strong opinions of me, it’s something I’ve always known.  I assume the appeal of this would be directed at a higher power, but that certainly isn’t my style.

If I wasn’t planning to appeal to a higher power, then I certainly wouldn’t plan a pilgrimage “to hope and ask for a miracle”! I enjoy the idea of wishes and luck and good-natured coincidences as much as the next fellow, but if there was a large problem dominating my life in that way, I would be working to solve it, not trying to connect with a grand solver. If the problem was something I couldn’t fix, I would turn still rather turn to a support system than take a sacred journey…. hm. It seems I am a bit too literal for the pilgrim’s taste.

i just think it’s pretty! the sun’s glow, the wispy clouds, the ray of light cutting a diagonal down the image, the curve of the road, the bright color of the grass and the flowers…

The next one falls into a similar vein, it is “to give thanks”. I just cannot get behind this one, for what is turning into a repetitive reason. I am thankful for many things, it is true, but they do not result from a gift. They are the product of my parents hard work and my own decisions, so I have no need to travel to express this.

i cannot help it, this bright red spider is too fun to not photograph

“To express love of a higher power” is a tried and true reason for a pilgrimage of course, but that does not make it mine. Nature itself is a higher power I suppose, the great mover and shaker that humankind has tried so hard to escape the grasp of. I’ve always wanted to see Yellowstone, which boasts a supervolcano that, upon erupting, would have apocalyptic repercussions for large swaths of North America. That certainly counts as a higher power! But, I reason, I wouldn’t want to perform a pilgrimage for it. I’ve been campaigning its location as a family summer vacation, and the thought of planning a pilgrimage would break my little optimistic heart. My wheels are turning a bit better now, so that’s promising at least.

I love this: the cat’s head moves back and forth, the inflatable pumpkin, the beautiful blue of the house

Well, “to answer an inner call to go” does speak to me. Sometimes I just get the urge to do something, feel a curious pull without a real explanation of it. I find myself thinking of the Boston area in this way- both my parents grew up around there, and when I was young, we lived there too. But now, the house my dad grew up in is an empty lot, bought and bulldozed after grandpa Mondello (the family conspiracy theorist) died. As for the house my mom grew up in, grandma Salines sold it recently, and now lives in Florida with her husband. Both grandmas still visit with their husbands of course, and grandpa would op by with his girlfriend when he was alive, but those homes were important too, that whole area important to the history of the families. I feel like I am on to something here.

this barn building was here a decade and a half ago… didn’t have stairs then either

The next answer is “curiosity- to see why others go there”. That is a disappointing type of curiosity in my opinion. If I was curious about a place, wanting to see it, I would want to know more about the place itself, or to really see a place I had already learned about. It’s not that I don’t “care” why others go to a place, it’s just that the why of me going there shouldn’t be wrapped up in someone else’s.

there are plenty of flowers on this walk, but there is something extra beautiful about a flourishing patch of “weeds”, something wild and uncultivated

The next one is “to get outside the normal routine of life so something new can happen”, and I don’t disagree. I think that is part of everyone’s answer: that as soon as you get up and choose to go, you are deciding to walk away from the normal swing of things, hoping something different will occur during the course of their pilgrimage. I don’t really think it is *enough* of a reason, however. I feel that it only exists as part of a larger whole, that we are multifaceted beings that have the capacity to rationalize a dozen different angles for the thing we wish to do, if we felt like it.

i just think these little ghosts are neat!

I can spin “to reclaim lost or abandoned or forgotten parts of oneself” however I like. I think I will spin it in the direction of “the Boston area” once again, thinking about those homes I only visited once or twice in the past decade- places now lost, unable to go inside and experience them. There are other places in that area that are forgotten too- when we went to Marblehead, my dad would point out the window and say “this is where _____”, excitedly referencing an event from his youth. My mom did it too, taking us to a restaurant that she favored back then, making sure we got to see her friend Diane, the goddaughter of my grandmother. If I had grown up in this area, around my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather and my great uncle Alex who sends me money for my birthday without fail even as he misspells my name, and the great-grandmother from Italy whose face is sharper in photographs than my 2008 memories….  I would like the chance to visit these places, I think. This feeling is calling me much stronger now.

this house has solar panels on the roof! what a cool thing

There are only a few more reasons, and my mind is nearly made up, but I still think through the remaining answers. The next is “to admire something beautiful”, and is a reason I have used before. When my family went to Hawaii, we went on hiking and snorkeling trips every day, taking in the flora, fauna, and its stunning natural features: waterfalls, mountains, and beaches made of black, volcanic sand. To be fair, many of my family vacations have exercise and beauty in mind- they just usually take place on a bike. The appeal of seeking out something beautiful has taken us to see manatees in crystal clear waters in the everglades, coral reefs in the Florida keys, redwood trees in California, waterfalls and deep woods in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and more. But I am starting to formulate an idea, and it is more personal history than nature oriented.

i really like the distorted and driftwood-esque shapes of this… decoration?

The next answer is “to make a vacation more interesting”, and this plan certainly would. I have been to the Boston area before, but we stayed in Marblehead with my dad’s brother and sister, their families, and my paternal grandmother and her husband. It turned into a large family reunion party for both my paternal grandmother’s family and the Mondello clan, but the activities for the rest of the vacation tended to stay in Marblehead and downtown Boston, neither of which places have actually been their hometowns. The tidbits I had managed to learn were interesting on their own, and I have a vase full of seaglass from the Marblehead beaches… but I can’t help but feeling the large number of people, and the tourism angles of things like an all-day whale watching event, prevented my parents from being able to take us down their personal memory lanes, especially my mom, given the nature of the reunion being all dad’s side.

i just think the colors of the door and flowers is neat! blue makes me happy, and the yellow looks nice beside it

The last two items, “to honor a vow made in response to an extreme event” and “to prepare for death”, simply don’t apply. I will not humor them, as the first sounds a bit too much like a quest, and the second doesn’t fit the way I see the world, nor how death exists in this perspective.

i don’t know what these flowers are called, but i love them. the little individual flower-shapes within each bulb are so pretty, and they come in so many color variations

So now, I have an idea. I want to go to the Boston area (not the same thing as Boston itself) to the area where my parents grew up, this time with their histories specifically in mind. I am still walking, still thinking about the family. Sometimes, I wonder if the history of my family is actually as rich as I think it is, or if it is colored by my parents telling.

modern cinderella… if i can find the face that fits the mask, i will find the woman of my dreams

Grandpa Mondello lived in his home in Stoneham until his death in 2016, long after dad’s mother left with the younger kids, long after dad himself grew up and moved out. He was a conspiracy theorist, believing a small fringe church in Georgia could perform healing rituals, while simultaneously distrusting doctors so much he avoided them for so long that they didn’t catch his colon cancer until it was in his lungs. He was a musician, his lungs so powerful from the saxophone that he didn’t even notice they were under attack. I remember the Mondello family heirloom, a banjo gifted to grandpa’s father, being found by my dad in a secret compartment in one of the many vehicles behind grandpa’s house. Dad also described the finding of grandpa’s apocalypse go-bag packed with silver bars- and a flute. The headstone, which grandpa with his father, has a banjo on one side and a saxaphone on the other.

the wispy nature of these clouds just looks so ethereal, ephemerial, fleeting in their beauty, a beauty that feels more holy than any man-made god

6.6 miles away, in Saugus, is the former home of Grandma Salines. She is from Italy, and I vaguely remember that house being the place of “sleepovers”, me staying with her while my parents were packing to move. The last time I saw that house had to be in 2008, when we came to see her, and her own mother, who had dementia and ended up passing away soon after. I recall my great-grandmother had a boyfriend when she was young, but he quickly pulled away when her father decided a local fisherman was a better match. My great-grandfather would die by landmine, searching for food with his eldest son, and great-grandma would be the one to raise her 8 children and get them all (plus the wife of that son) to America. It would be my grandma, only 12, who learned english and taught the rest of the family, as well as a community of fellow immigrants. My mom, all growing up and into adulthood, would run into elderly italians who are still grateful for my grandma teaching them. Years and decades later, my great-grandmother would run into the man that was her boyfriend while shopping for groceries, a man she hadn’t seen from her youth. My mom says great-grandma felt she had already lost that chance, and didn’t try to reconnect. I am thinking about all of this as I walk, how her first lost chance created my existence, but still mourning the fact that she didn’t feel she would be able to have a second chance.

the sun lit this up in such a delightful way I had to capture it twice

I know both my grandmothers were (are?) friends, that my parents grew up knowing each other, that my dad got in trouble when he was a kid for throwing rocks at my mom’s window- apparently her father wasn’t pleased by the racket. Mom’s father is another figure from the past, dead for too many decades to know I would even exist. I was born in a hospital in Melrose, which, when I look on a map, seems to be right between the two towns. But I’ve never seen the place I was born, just as I’ve never seen this grandfather-I-never-knew’s headstone. So now what?

action phase

I want to take this pilgrimage to reconnect to the history of both sides of my family, to see the places where important events and fond memories occured in a real way, so I may touch these sites and exist within them for a moment. This will take place in the “Boston area”, starting from the empty lot where my Grandpa’s house was: 44 Oak Street, Stoneham, and going on a meandering route to the former home of my Grandma: 26 Susan Street, Saugus. Both the sites are important, but they are not going to be directly walked between. I plan to have my parents each make a list of places around their homes and the general area: schools, ice cream shops, live-music venues, cemeteries, movie theaters, or anything else of importance in the first few decades of their lives. I will take these lists, find their locations on a map, and with the two homes as a start and end, attempt to draw a fluid shape between the various locations. I will carry this list with me, with the addresses and the reasons why these locations matter. When I arrive to each stop, I will attempt to recreate a moment: if the ice-cream shop still exists, I will certain get some! If recreation is impossible, I will simply examine the site. I will be sure to photograph before moving on to the next one. I may not do this as a solo act- if I can convince my brother, he should experience these places too. The special clothing of this pilgrimage will be simple: I have a shirt from the town of Mondello, Italy, courtesy of my well-traveled paternal grandmother, and so does my brother. It has a bikini-clad woman on what might be a motorcycle or jetski, and is probably advertising an auto shop, but it’s an informal family shirt, and would carry the spirit of searching for family and history with us. Rest of the outfit would be my usual sneakers and exercise shorts and my trusty bag, not to mention my lucky jewelry- a necklace I gifted to myself when I was 10 of blue goldstone (a glass that sparkles like the stars), a ring gifted by my parents of blue crystal, and ring of blue goldstone gifted by my boyfriend. Wearing the rings carries my loved ones with me, and the necklace reminds me how far I’ve come. When I arrive at each site, I will read over the reason for its significance outloud, as the “speech” ritual aspect. Depending on the sites, touch may be involved: I might take a trinket from each place as a souvenir, a way to signify I have successfully found each site. I cannot quite think of a reason for a water ritual aspect, but I might bring some seawater from Wilmington to sprinkle at each site, a way to leave something there that shows how far I came.

Categories
the journal

Reflection 7: The Art of Pilgrimage

The art of pilgrimage

This reflection focuses on a very small excerpt from The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Sacred Travel, by Phil Cousineau. In this one-page excerpt, Cousineau describes the journey as an epic poem about discovery, that all travelers are searching for answers they think can be found away from home, only to realize physical travel is easier than a life-altering discovery. He draws our attention to the latin origins for the word travel, how he traced it all the way back to tripalium, a medieval torture rack. Cousineau claims, with full seriousness, that torture is travel. For the ancient Greeks, he says, obstacles on the journey were literal tests sent from olympus, while medieval Japan felt the bad parts of a journey were challenges to face, overcome, and remake into poetry. Any form of modern travel, therefore, becomes a moment of torment or a chance to “stretch” ourselves, whenever we encounter difficulty.  Cousineau then asks, what do we do when we need more than the travel, when the search for something new isn’t enough anymore? He points to the history of travel lore for the answer: when we no longer know where to go, the real journey is finally here. On the precipice of decision, we will hear a voice calling to our pilgrim soul, summoning us to the sacred: awe-inspiring geography, places of worship, the homeland of our ancestors. These sacred places will return the sense of wonder to our hearts, the destination at the end of the path of the deeply real, a journey we must take. The final words of the excerpt, advice to avoid straying from this sacred path, are as follows: “Listen. The old hermit along the side of the road whispers, Stranger, pass by that which you do not love.

my thoughts

I really like this excerpt actually! I think it cuts to heart of why we travel, what makes us want to pick up and set out from our home, our loved ones, our lives. Humans are a deeply curious species, we have been hard-wired with the need to seek knowledge, no matter the cost.We use this knowledge to take us beyond mere survival, to help us manipulate our surroundings- and ourselves- in order to thrive. It makes sense that a person lacking satisfaction for some reason, but not knowing why, would drive them to venture out so that they can find the why, to interact with people and places beyond their home, to interact with nature and their self in a hope of figuring it out.  The literal idea of travel springing from a word uses to describe a device that holds people in place for torture is a bit crazy, and I’m not sure I buy that etymology. If I did, I would find it either highly ironic or overly metaphorical- ironic in the sense that travel is freedom and movement, while this device was meant to prevent the victim’s escape, and metaphorical in the sense that one cannot avoid some version of misfortune when traveling, simply because they cannot control all aspects of the situation, and that loss of control is pretty central to being subjected to torture. I’m not a super fan of being at the mercy of some higher power, nor am I of fate-type thinking. I do not see obstacles as tests, laid out before me to measure my worth. I view them as opportunities, as instruments allowing me to change the direction of my future and forge a destiny of my own making based on my choices as I react. I do like the idea of a sacred journey though, of a place you find significant for some reason and feeling drawn to it. There are three “realms”, so to speak- that of nature, that of the gods, and that of man. Depending on the kind of person you are, will determine what sacred place calls to you. If you are more deeply rooted in the physical world, it makes sense to be called to a mountain, or the desert, or redwood trees. If you fully embrace the spiritual world, then why not go to a spiritual center or place of worship, somewhere with religious leaders and fellow-minded followers? If you enjoy learning about human history, about the social realm of your people in generations past, getting to view the place they called home- fifty years ago or five hundred- can anchor you firmly into your identity. But you must be called to something, and you must respect the call. I would find no sense of wonder in a place of religion, it is that which I do not love. But I do love this world that we live in, love the amazing and coincidental ways that the land has been shaped over millennia, the intricate evolutionary lines that led to my favorite reptile or the most peculiar fungi. And I do love my history, love hearing stories of how my parents grew up, the (in)famous stories of the community of their youth, the heritage passed down from Italy in the form of handwritten recipes measuring in pinches and handfuls. A pilgrimage to one of these places, to the crocodilian-filled Everglades or the Blue Ridge Mountains of lush fungi, to the streets of Boston and Swampscott or the vineyards of Italy, a pilgrimage like that would be art to me, would paint a glorious memory across my heart and soul.

Categories
the journey

Walkshop 9: Counter-Tourism

Intro

Hello all! Today we are going on a bit of a journey, you and me. I will be your tour guide, and I am going to take you on a tour of a “historic” neighborhood someone very famous grew up in- ME! I will take you through different sites, describing for you their sacred significance in my youth.Why? Because tourism focuses on commodifying spaces without caring about the people who actually live, work, or pray in them. There are tours in hollywood where you get bused around to all the famous people’s houses, areas that only matter because someone “important” once lived there. I am not “important”, I am just a person. This place, Demarest Village, was my home from the age of 5 to 15, and now a new generation of kids lives there. The neighborhood only matters in my memory, and in the hearts and minds of those who spent a fond part of their lives living there. I took a long walk through the neighborhood, viewing the places I haven’t seen in five years as if they were a spectacle. I took plenty of pictures, and of course had Strava running in the background while I listened to the podcast. Now it’s your turn to view this place. Let’s begin, shall we?

counter-tourism

Hello dear tourists, and welcome to Demarest Village! Before we begin, please take a look at the map I handed out, and make note of the pins on the map. This is but a few of the fascinating places we will be exploring, so you should try to get your bearings now.

As you can see, we have just entered the quaint neighborhood of Demarest Village. When the Mondello family moved here in 2005, they were not the only ones just discovering this patch of suburbs. Other young families were eager to move to the brand-new neighborhood, and the young Sam would find herself starting kindergarten with a half dozen other kids.

This gazebo, located at the front edge of Demarest Village, would become the Ogden Elementary School bus stop for the neighborhood, where every morning a gaggle of kids would congregate with their parents to wait for the bus. It was here, on the first day of school when Sam was a first-grader, that a fellow kid would upset a hornet nest. Sam would end up spending that whole day with a pinky more swollen than her thumb!

If we walk down the neighborhood sidewalk a little bit from the gazebo and cross the street, you can see an empty lot, full of pegs and plastic fencing, covered in weeds. When the Mondello’s first moved here, they came with the promise of a soon-to-be-built country club. There would be a pool, a clubhouse, and other amenities. Fifteen years later, and the lot remains empty- but someone keeps replacing the “no trespassing” fence.

Slightly further in, there is a place when the sidewalk presses into the street, and a chain prevents any interloper from driving onto this empty lot. But in the Spring of 2015, this chain did not exist. It was here that Sam’s father would bring her first car, hidden away from the house so he could surprise her when they went to walk the dog. Sam had only just gotten her permit, and it was her father who was surprised when he realized she couldn’t actually drive her new car- a 2005 BMW x3- without his supervision.

Let’s continue on! As you can see, up ahead is the Village Park. When Sam was young, this was a favorite place of hers. The park contained a rundown playset, while the pond teemed with fish and frogs. She would come here with her brother, working together to catch tadpoles in little nets, or swinging around on the old tire swing.

Unfortunately, the playground was not meant to last. After some number of years, the HOA decided it was too old, too weathered, and not attractive enough to keep so close to the neighborhood entrance. Now, only an empty expanse of pine straw and fallen leaves remain, an eerie hole where childhood joy had once been stored. 

Here is the pond itself. Not much has changed since the first time Sam saw it. The area around it is lined with pine trees, and a few bushes dot the shoreline. The slope down to the water is steep in some places, gentle in others. The water is quiet, but bugs dance across it, and turtles lurk under the surface.

To the right of the bridge is the most gentle spot, a flat area at the waterline worn down by years of use. It is here that Sam would stand, little net in hand, staring intently at the murky waters. When she caught one, she had a container ready, an old berry-bucket from the local strawberry farm, filled with pond water for her to display her catch. She usually put them back, but sometimes she would try to convince her parents to let her keep one, an overly-optimistic battle without any chance of her succeeding.

Sam wasn’t the only one, of course. Her brother would often come with a fishing rod,  hoping to catch one of the calico-colored fish that the pond was stocked with. They grew to be huge, about a foot long, and when he hooked one, he would drag it towards the shore so Sam could help him get the hook out.

the pond’s fountain lights up in the evenings

One day, he brought some friends with him, and they caught several of these pretty fish, kidnapping them for someone’s backyard pond. To their surprise, an otter would eat the captured treasures, then somehow find its way back here, glutting itself on the tasty fish.

As we step back out of the trees and away from the pond, you can see a few homes lined up on the right side of a one-way street. One, a pale yellow, was the rental home of Sam’s childhood friend- for a single school-year. Her name was Trinity, and in fifth grade, she moved to the neighborhood and became fast friends with Sam. The girls shared a fascination for Bratz and Monster High Dolls, and both were avid readers of the Warriors series, a collection of children’s books about a secret civilization of wild house cats. The girls would play with their dolls together after school, and at recess they orchestrated the whole fifth grade class into playing as Warriors on the playground.

Our next point of interest is a little paper sign you will see all over the neighborhood. During October, the Demarest Village community would engage in a tradition known as “booing”. The premise is simple: To “boo” someone, you make a little gift basket of sweets and treats, print out a “we’ve been booed” sign, and find a neighbor not sporting the sign. Then, the children would sneak up to the door, put down the gift, ring the bell, and run! The person being booed would then have to put up the sign and make a gift basket of their own, ready to boo an unsuspecting neighbor. It was a delightful tradition for Sam, and she remembers fondly the yearly tradition of hand-dipping pretzel sticks in chocolate to place in the boo bag.

Let’s keep walking. To your left, between the one-way street going deeper into the neighborhood, and its twin leading out, is another gazebo, brown and weathered. This is the home of the neighborhood’s mailbox, the place every family would go to collect their mail. Sam would often get the mail while walking her dog, carrying the little key in her pocket and bringing back the mail in a plastic grocery bag.

Now that we are back on the sidewalk, here comes another important house. This sunny home was inhabited by the Conjura twins, Alexis and Jessica. The (not-so-identical) twins were also Sam’s friends, and had been close to Trinity when she was there. The twins seemed super cool to Sam: they had a dog AND a cat, plus they had parakeets and mice. They were the only kids she knew that had been scuba diving. It was Alex who introduced Sam to her favorite comedy show: Psych! The girls would binge-watch the episodes on netflix together, amazed by the main character’s almost-magical ability to find clues. They shared books too, trading recommendations and getting excited about the latest Warriors or Rick Riordan book. One of the last homes on this section of the neighborhood has changed hands a few times. But the first owner that lived in the home, or at least the first that Sam knew, was a special person, a nature goddess in her young eyes. The woman has cultivated her backyard into a beautiful greenspace, complete with a source of freshwater. She kept chickens, Sam remembers, but the rest is hazy with time. What she is sure of is the quality of the space, a certified “Backyard Wildlife Habitat”. Walking by this sign, which felt like the highest of accolades, is what sparked Sam’s early interest in the environment, in how to protect it and what was happening to the endangered species. This would shape her for the rest of her life, turning her into the person we know and love today.

If you’ve been paying attention as we walked, you might have noticed these little foam darts, Nerf bullets. These darts, shot from large, clunky, bright orange plastic Nerf guns, are a favored toy from the neighborhood’s culture. Nerf guns were well-loved by Sam, her brother, their cousins, and their childhood friends. They were far less dangerous than airsoft, far less messy than paintball, and far less wet than a water-gun. Consider these bullets evidence of childhood spirit, of long afternoons spent chasing each-other through the neighborhood, trying to hit her companions with the little foam darts, desperately dodging the bullets shot at her, then scrambling in the aftermath to scoop up more ammo from the ground before her opponent did. If you walk quietly enough, you’ll probably hear the boisterous laughter of the new generation of Demarest kids, hiding behind the same trees and cutting through the same backyards as Sam’s generation once did.

Turning left onto Dever Court, we are going to ignore the prime attraction and walk straight to the end of the street. Hidden behind the foliage of a front-yard tree was the home of another elementary school friend, Olivia. Olivia and her mother would throw a “mom and daughter tea party” in late December each year. Sam and her mother, as well as many of the other girls their age in the neighborhood and surrounding area. They would dress up in red and green, velvet and bows, hair curled or straightened, and spend the day at a private clubhouse on Figure 8 Island. Sam remembers those little parties fondly, though admits she never had been quite comfortable in a fancy dress.

Walking down the street next to the Olivia house, then back towards Whisper Park Drive, and we will soon come upon the Village Green itself. When Sam was here last, this pivotal park, located in the center of the neighborhood, had a sturdy gate. On days when no-one else was at the park, Sam would bring her dog here during his walk, shutting the gate and taking off his leash so he could scamper around the bushes to his heart’s content, while Sam could sit on the swingset and read a little bit of her latest e-book.

The swingset she remembers is no longer there of course. The neighborhood has been changing things, and this swingset, complete with monkey bars and a slide, is long gone. Her brother used to intentionally antagonize the dog here until he chased him, then the boy would leap onto the swingset and climb up to the top, the dog barking and spinning in circles below, trying and failing to figure out a way to climb it himself.

There is a swingset, of course, jammed in the corner and different than what Sam would remember. This one used to be located at the very end of the neighborhood, at a place I haven’t taken us yet. But this spot used to have a stone birdbath, old and cracked and strangely fitting. The picnic tables have always been here, of course, and there used to be a little grill too, a place for neighborhood get-togethers.

Between this empty space and the location of the new-but-old playground, the sidewalk continues, taking us to the crown jewel of Demarest Village: the neighborhood pool. This pool has long been a favored place in the community, and the Mondello family in particular enjoyed the access in the hot summer months. The family made up their own little ritual, called a “Mondello Jump”, when, after walking or biking had tired them out, they would swing by the pool and jump in real quick, just to cool down before they headed home.

The pool itself is off limits to us tourists of course, protected from interlopers by a password protected gate. But if you get up on your toes, you can peak over the fence, spot the inviting cool water and the relaxing deck chairs. One memorable anecdote with this pool came when Sam and her father stopped by while walking the dog. They had heard shouting, and when the went to investigate, found a neighbor trying to use the pool net to snag something. When they got closer, they realized that something was a snapping turtle! How it got past the fence and why it stayed in the chlorine filled water, no-one knows. But for the massive reptile, it had no intention of leaving, and Sam’s father and the neighbor spent a good long while getting it out of the pool.

http://

Backtracking out of the Village Green and making our way around the area along the street, we come down to the lower section of the neighborhood, where many of the homes were built after Sam’s arrival. On the right, we have houses and sidewalk, but on the left lies a stretch of woods. The trees come right up against the street, it’s true, but if you know where to look, you can find the gap between them. Once you cross the threshold, it’s easy to imagine how Sam and her friends felt: that they were in the wilderness. If you, dear tourist, don’t watch your step, you could fall into that ravine, hidden by the monotony of the pine-straw but deep all the same, deep enough that the current group of explorers uses a rope swing to traverse it. It was back here that Sam and her friends made hidden fortresses, fueling their imaginations with an endless stream of fantasy content, lovingly repeated from favorite books and movies.

Stepping out of the trees and crossing back to the sidewalk, we will soon see the fountain as we continue down the street. When Sam was young, this was a wishing-fountain, a sacred place where the children could whisper their hopes and dreams to the spirit of the fountain, then sacrifice a copper coin in hopes of the fountain granting their wish. Toss in a penny as we go by, and maybe this place will grant your wish too!

As we approach the loop in the road at the end of the neighborhood, we have finally reached The Pomade, the third and final “park” of the neighborhood. This one is the newest of the three, built after the loop began to fill in with homes. This is a large area, and quickly became a family favorite with the community. Let’s go inside!

To our left, a beat-up section of grass, framed by the fan-favorite white picket fence. This area, which sported more picnic tables back in Sam’s day, became the go-to spot for Sam’s brother, who would organize his friends to come down to the spot to hang out and play games in the field. Several years of his birthday parties, which were a few months fashionably late to be near the superbowl, took place in this spot. The parties consisted of barbeque and football, picnic tables crowded with snacks and drinks.

To the right, a playground stands, shiny and new, and certainly not the one Sam remembers. But the spirit of childhood joy remains, bolstered by the benches dragged nearby, evidence of the new generation’s parents watching their kids play for hours at a time. 

Beyond the fenced in area is the field itself, the source of many games of sport. It was here that Sam’s brother spent so many hours, dedicated to practicing whatever athletics he was wrapped up in. According to Sam’s recollections, it wasn’t uncommon for her to start walking the dog with her brother, but not return with him until after going on a second walk with the dog a few hours later, her brother busy with his friends and a football.

After we walk back through the Pomade and back to the loop, we can survey the other item taking up the space in the middle of this circle of road. This pond, which wraps around the park and field, is much larger than the other, and sports a fountain to match. This pond is lighter on the fish, heavier on the frogs, and full of cattails, the fuzzy-topped freshwater plant that looks like nature’s version of a corndog.

This pond’s waterline relies heavily on the rainfall, its narrow, steep topography filling up quickly with the rain, and looking like a gorge when it dried out. Sam used to climb down in it, avoiding the mud in an attempt to gather cattails on windy days, then spending the walk home spreading its fuzzy seeds on the wind.

At the far end of the pond lies the drainage area, a mysterious hole and a tunnel leading who-knows-where. When the pond was more dried out, Sam and her friends had speculated, wondering what was down there and whether it could be safe to explore. Secure in their knowledge that cartoons did not lie, and knowing alligators hung out in the Wilmington golf courses, the group had decided a “sewer gator” was too dangerous to risk.

Beyond the pond, at the “back tip” of the neighborhood, is a secret exit. It is much better maintained now, with the boards and the ladder, but it has always been there. On the other side lies Anchors Bend, another neighborhood. But in Sam’s early years in Demarest, there was no Anchors Bend. There was a dirt road, a house sized pile of gravel, and the promise of a neighborhood that would take a decade to actually come to fruition. But that didn’t matter to Sam and her young peers. The gravel pile would quickly transform into something new: Shark Tooth Mountain. The gravel, as it turns out, came out of the ocean, scooped from the seafloor to form what would eventually be the roads of Anchors Bend. Sam and the other children were delighted to discover that the pile contained more than just rocks, not just little broken shells, but dozens and hundreds of shiny little shark teeth, black and grey and white, broken and cracked and perfect, just waiting to be discovered. This would be their goldmine, and the hunger in the children to find the best tooth, the biggest specimen, was overwhelming. It truly is a pity that the gravel is long gone, buried under the asphalt of Anchors Bend, out of our reach forever.

We should now head back, away from the loop. There’s a few more places to view, and as we walk up the street, around the backside of the pool, we find our next spot. This black fence separates Demarest Village from the next neighborhood, Middle Point. But its significance comes from its use as a hiding spot, as a shield between a person and the street: as long as they don’t fall down into the ravine. Every year for Christmas Eve, the Mondello family would throw a party, inviting friends and their families in a massive celebration of food and drink and music. Sam and her brother were tasked to entertain the other kids, to make sure the house survived them. So they organized a traditional game of manhunt: a massive, team game of tag, with one team hunting while the other tried to make it into the goal base without being caught. One year, someone did fall down the ravine during manhunt, getting cut and bloody from the fall. But the tradition persisted, as kids are more resilient, less worried by a little injury.

The street behind Dever Court is lined with more homes, but this one in particular stands out. The day the Mondellos moved in, they were not the only ones. The Linger family was moving into their home, and the space between the two properties consisted of an alleyway and the driveways to each home’s garage. The Mondello and Linger family would become fast friends, the older son taking Sam’s brother under his wing while Sam attempted to understand the middle daughter, who would be starting kindergarten at the same time as Sam. Even now, so many years later, and the mothers are still close, as are the sons.

Behind the strip of homes where the twins lived, where the wildlife habitat was awarded, is an alleyway that opens into Middle Point. This spot became the bus stop for Sam’s middle and high school years, all the way until her family moved in summer 2016 and she said goodbye to Demarest forever. Often, her dad would walk with her, dog in toe, to ensure he would be aware if the bus was late, and to let the dog see her off for the day. Many fond and not-so-fond memories start in this spot, the unofficial beginning of Sam’s day for so many years. The memory of another youth swinging his violin case too close to her dog, and being surprised when the dog attempted to defend himself, is a stark one.

We can now approach Dever Court with intent, having thoroughly investigated the various facets of the surrounding area. Sam’s former home is not yet visible, hidden by trees until our approach.

As we stand here, just shy of the front yard, we can now appreciate the home Sam grew up in. All the plants you see- the flowerless daffodils, the sickly roses, the neat double lines of bushes and shrubs- were all chosen with care by Sam’s mother. Many of them were planted by her, with some degree of Sam and her brother’s help. The home was unfinished when the Mondello’s decided they wanted it, so while they had limited say in the planning, they were the first owners of the home. The window to the left of the door had originally been a guest bedroom, but at some point was swapped out and became the office, a place for Sam’s father to do work, and eventually a place for her own homework. To the right of the door, the window leads to the living room, where a brown leather couch curved against the front wall, while a secondary area beyond the couch and tv hosted a dining table for special occasions.  A small, screened in porch trails off to the side of the living room, only accessible via the outside with no door from the porch itself into the home. Upstairs, the center and right window lead to the master bedroom, the master bathroom being behind it, above the dining room area. The master bedroom and the hallway had medium color, medium width floorboards, which were chosen when the carpet- for the whole upstairs began carpeted- was removed from those areas. The left window led to Sam’s brother’s room, which sported narrow, dark wooden floorboards, his personal choice when the carpet was removed from his bedroom floor at some later time. His room was red, but only on the wall of the door, unseen until you entered. The rest of the walls were blue, the dark color of the Patriots, the team which his room was a shrine to.

http://

After walking around the Olivia house and into the alleyway, we can now view another angle. The fence was built to contain the dog, as well as give a measure of privacy. Sam’s aunt had gifted the family the playset from her home, and that had crowned the backyard, only removed and gifted to another family when the Mondellos moved. The white door leads from the backyard to the garage. The little window half-hidden behind the bulk of the garage led to the “mudroom”, where the dog slept and the second fridge was stored. The windowed door nestled to its right led to what was the playroom. It had been planned as a screened in porch originally, but was incorporated into the home to give Sam and her brother a place to play, to keep their toys and watch their burned copies of blockbusters. Further in the home, an open space sandwiched between the playroom and office doors, was a “game room”, a beach themed room with a comfy couch, a table, and floor to ceiling cabinets of games, puzzles, and crafts. The stairs are in the center of the home, but are accessible from this spot, the type that goes half up one way and doubles back the for the other half. When they moved in, there were simply stairs, leading from the playroom down to the grass. At some point, a back deck was installed, a raised wooden platform with an outdoor table and a place for the grill, a place for the potted plants. It appears the new owners have reverted the yard to its original state- but the two dark green trees reaching above the fence are another relic, like the fence itself, placed there to bring an illusion of privacy. The two windows above the playroom door, on the second floor (to the “right” of the garage from this vantage) peak at the laundry room (center) and the guest bathroom (right)- though this bathroom became Sam and her brother’s after they started taking up too much space in the master bathroom.

http://

Above the playroom is the most important window of all: Sam’s bedroom. It had started with carpet, and pale pink walls, and the bed had a pink comforter to match. Then she got the chance to choose her wall color, in late elementary school, and she chose Dragonfruit for its name, a bold and bright pink color. She had a little box tv on her dresser, and every few years they would swap the location of the bed and dresser just to shake things up. When the carpet finally came up, she chose pale, broad wooden floorboards, and the walls were repainted a blue-green, with new sheets to match, a seashell lamp, two fuzzy blue rugs, a big blue shag pillow, and a dangling shell decoration resembling a jellyfish. She acquired bookshelves, dedicated to her love of literature, and stored her collection of webkinz in a drawer under her bed.

Above the garage is the room known as the “frog” by people who live in Demarest. The Mondello’s frog had started as an office, but ended up swapping, becoming a guest bedroom instead. It was the only upstairs room to keep its carpet, and also became the music room for Sam’s father, a dedicated space for him to practice his saxophone- which was so loud that even with the doors all shut, he could be heard down the street. The garage itself had been cluttered back then, full of bikes and more of an active workspace than it should’ve been, tools everywhere. Walking inside from the garage would show a short hallway with the bathroom on the left, the mudroom on the right, and opening up into the kitchen just beyond.

Around the side of the house is the window to the kitchen: oven, microwave, gas burners, fridge, various built in cabinets and pantry, a granite island counter with four high chairs, and a low table further from the window to serve as a “casual” dining table. The area was darker than was enjoyable, the windows unable to catch much sunlight no matter what time of day. Towards the middle of the house, a granite desk was built into the wall, the space that Sam’s mother would use, and where mail would get stored. It’s hard to imagine any of this without a look inside, but I think we’ve powered through the best we can. Thank you for completing this tour with me, and don’t forget to take a selfie with the house itself!

Above is my souvenir bag, containing items from the neighborhood: a nerf bullet to remind me of childhood fun, a rock from the alleyway behind my old home, a little spiky sweet-gum ball from the home’s front yard, and a rose from the bush I helped my mom plant, so long ago I no longer remember when.

Categories
Responses the journal

Reflection 6: The London Perambulator

Intro

This reflection is not to something written this time. Today it is to be a response to The London Perambulator, a documentary by John Rogers. I have been given a series of potential Responses, and am to choose two of them as I see fit.

The London Perambulator

The documentary is a mixture of interviews and footage surrounding the life and philosophy of a man named Nick Papadimitriou. This documentary is a bit bizarre, a bit hard to follow, and seems to wander from topic to topic without much organization or linearity. This is what I know: Papadimitriou is a British writer who focuses on the topography of London and the surrounding areas. He provided materials and inspiration for Will Self’s The Book of Dave, which features something called The Knowledge, an intimate familiarity with London that is a required tool of cabbies and which Self likely drew from Papadimitriou. The footage of Papadimitriou shows his unique introspection about the city, including his belief that when an individual arrives at a place, they are passing through a portal to fuse with the landscape. Papadimitriou has deep knowledge of London, which the documentary refers to as the “city of disappearances”. Self and other writers viewed Papadimitriou as a source of inspiration, as he was both “so obviously a character”, and the creator of an archive of London composed of bits of the city. Papadimitriou takes issue with the idea that all walking counts as psychogeography, and challenged the notion by bringing in the practice of “deep topography”, which this website quotes Papadimitriou as referring to “an acknowledgement of the magnitude of response to landscape”. It seems to refer to immersing yourself in the history behind the landscape, which he embodies with his extensive knowledge of the history of London’s places, and his intimate familiarity with those places. Papadimitriou still acknowledges psychogeography, at least in the context of memories that come alive when revisiting places from your past, the idea that these memories are embedded in the place itself, laying dormant until you returned to the location and caused them to awaken. One of the individuals interviewed for the documentary referred to Papadimitriou as not merely a flaneur or local historian, but as being more than the sum of his parts. Papadimitriou seems to have a particular fascination with a “purification center”, which I’m pretty sure is part of the sewage system, as he refers to “the bit that we deny in ourselves” as dirt/shit, and the “end result of years of therapy” as molten purification.  He also refers to the purification center as “The huff of the landscape”, explaining that everything terminates at this spot. One of the interviewees referred to Papadimitriou as kind of like an arsonist, saying something along the lines of “imagine you meet an arsonist” and you ask them why they set fires, and the arsonist says there was a fire within me and I wanted to express the fire by seeing it. This same interviewee refers to Papadimitriou / his work as “lucid confusion”. The rest of the documentary continues to delve into its subject, touching on his journey as a way for him to gain power over something, to gain a powerful ally in his struggling against something that roughly handled him. Papadimitriou wants “21st century urban dwellers to see what’s on the end of their fork”, and believes the suburbs are fleeting while the landscape is eternal.

initial reaction

This whole documentary is, frankly speaking, a bit baffling. I understand that Papadimitriou has spent years, decades, roaming the landscape and has a rich repertoire of knowledge regarding London, but I don’t quite know what to make of it. Some of these individuals we have discussed, which I internally refer to as “Artist Philosophers”, have ideas that are easy for me to follow and dissect. Others, like Papadimitriou, seem to think in such a uniquely bizarre way that it is difficult for me to comprehend where he is going with all this. The lack of linearity or conscious narrative in the documentary seems to reflect the aimless wanderings of its subject, but it does me no favors when trying to grasp the core thesis of his ideas.

Response 2: The London Perambulator

Question D: Dada and Surrealism had interrupted and subverted the language with which they worked, invoking a wider world of meanings which challenged conventional arrangements of reality.  Based on Papadimitriou theories on urbanism, what stands out as real? How and why? How do landscapes have a memory in this context?

In the documentary, Papadimitriou refers to the suburbs as a “momentary dream of a mushroom god, stating that the streets and houses can all be blown away, but it would take a cataclysm to to change the landscape. Suburbia, to him, is eerie, simply a place where a person lives and dies, then another takes their place. with the way he describes the suburbs as being temporary and easily destroyed when compared to the landscape, it seems clear to me that it is only the landscape itself that counts as real to him at all. His other thoughts about the landscape, as a powerful force and a place where memories are stored, gives more context to this idea. It seems to me that the landscape itself is alive, that it has the power to take your memories and store them in its physicality until you get close enough to stir them up again. Walking is breathing to him, walking is memory. By walking to a place, which he describes as a way to fuse with the landscape, it seems he is seeking spiritual union with the landscape, whose realness stands fast against the vaporous nature of the things built upon it.

Question E: The nature writer Robert Macfarlane called them “edgelands”, the philosopher Sigmund Freud called them “unconscious” parts of the city. How would you characterize the “overlooked” spaces of the landscape— the liminal yet interactive zones between man and nature in our societies? Ponder about these based on Papadimitriou observations of them and create your own definition of them, complete with examples.

Liminal spaces are, to me, the in between places, the space between coming and going, the interlocked fingers connecting the two everlasting beings of “here” and “elsewhere”. They are the blurred places between the familiar and the unknown, the spot when you realize you truly aim to be away from home. There is an inherent unreality of these places, places just enough obscure that one might look to them and imagine a portal to the fae nestled in the weeds growing in the abandoned parking lot, or peering out through the cracks of the run down gas station. Liminal spaces, when I imagine them, are just this sort of thing. Liminal space is a gas station on the edge of town, barely held together as its weathered facade becomes worn down, blurring on the edges as it blends into the landscape. I find liminal space in an abandoned mall that remains in the style of the decade it was built, a broken down time capsule mouldering in the past. Liminal space is a long-lost playground, overgrown with the wild until it no longer resembles a place of childhood joy, the memory of youth strangled in the weeds. These places are all between: the gas station is between the town and the open road, the mall between us and the collective past, the play ground between your adult self and your inner child. I find liminal space looks best bathed in the sunset, in the blurred, unreal colors of the dying day, the softness between day and night. Even the dock at the edge of my neighborhood, well tended though it may be, serves as liminal- no one goes there for the purpose of being on the dock, it is merely the jumping-off point, the place where you say farewell to land and hello to the sea. There is a mountain-bike park called Blue Clay in my area that I think of as liminal- its existence is born from unreality, a series of steep hills and false mini-mountains sprouting from the flat landscape of the coastal plains, built upon an old landfill, decades of detritus made to resemble pristine nature. Hospitals are liminal too, our interactions within their sterile walls a brief stop, a temporary crossroads between recovery and death. There is a reason, I think, that the descriptions of the fae resemble that of the sickly- the too-narrow fingers, the protruding bones, the glazed look in their eyes that speaks of numbing drugs or overwhelming pain. Humanity is both overwhelmed and intrigued in what they see as “not-right”, what they see as “strange”. There’s a reason we have a subculture dedicated to exploring abandoned buildings, a reason we see places as haunted. Memories of a vibrant past blend with the wilted present, a place once full of life reduced to a rotting structure. All of this is liminal. All of this is territory of the mushroom god, the living, plant-like creature with alien intelligence that creeps over the dead and rotting and consumes it, the beings that signal the presence of fae. Liminal space belongs to the changeling, the this-is-not-my-loved-one, the imposter being that haunts our nightmares. There is dangerous magic in the liminal, I strongly believe, in the rot and the overgrowth and the crumbling and the blurry.