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NEED THESE STREETS


I am twelve, in Paris. My father has rented a flat near the Parc Montsouris in the south of the city. My parents let us (two brothers, sister and me) go for a walk the first day. My elder brother leads us purposefully down the Avenue Reille. "No! This way, this way!" I shout (knowing intuitively, as I have always known) "You're going away from the centre!" "So what? says my brother, "we're only going for a walk!"

I trail behind, almost tearful at this wilful neglect of what is, for me, an imperative, the urban imperative.

It has always mattered. Twenty six years later I go to Budapest for a month's work. My kind hosts meet me at the airport to take me to my hotel. They speed me, tantalisingly, into the centre and then, horror! out, God knows how far out, to a Holiday Inn type edifice; no harm in that per se; but it is practically in the country. I stick it there two nights. As I have dinner alone over a book, serenaded at my very table by a "gypsy" trio, I decide enough! Tactfully I enquire about alternatives. "But", say my hosts, "we thought English people liked the country". Not this one, I mutter.

Within the day I am installed in a creaky flat where Nepkoztarsasag meets (what was) Lenin Boulevard. Hot water is erratic; the lift is a mantrap, an advertising hoarding floods the bedroom with a sickly light. Trams clank and splutter outside the window. I am content.

This craving for metropolis may not require the services of an Oliver Sachs; but I do wonder sometimes why it matters, casting about in vaguely psychoanalytical way for the source for my metrophilia. I know, for example, that I always fear being not quite at the centre of a circle of peers. I have always had an anxiety that I may be, fatally, just removed, in time, in space, from an imagined focus of human warmth and complicity. Am I seeking an urban analogy for this imagined 'centre'? Or (later note) is it simpler? After my father's death I found a photograph of him walking purposefully, indeed voraciously, along a city street, a map in hand (Barcelona; immediately identifiable to me, even in this little napshot; that dense grid of streets contradictorily struck through by the great Avenida Diagonal.)

   
 

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