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I travel only to cities. I am not interested in the bits in between. I am interested in the present; but I am a time traveller too; time travel, that is, into the future, again like the German architect Schinkel, who, when he came to Britain between May and August 1826 eschewed the normal locations of the picturesque or sublime traveller for the industrial cities. There is a fascinating sketch of Manchester, densely packed factories, bare and repetitive, a canal. Schinkel was of course shocked at the starkness of the industrial buildings he saw but was seeking a glimpse of the future. We may make fun of Sidney and Beatrice Webb touring the promised land of the Soviet Union in the 1930s; but at least they were looking forward, visiting factories, power stations. I can identify with that.

We, the aesthetes and travellers, can move on, benefit from the innovations of the twentieth and twenty-first century; but the peoples of the Mediterranean (for Foster) or for us of the third world are, for the most part, expected to live in the past, in a world where things are "still" done.

We are all hip to the irony that tourism destroys the very places that tourists want to see. But perhaps we aren't aware of how embedded these ideas are in the discourse of tourism. Simple-minded guides opt for a National Geographic style: "Against a backdrop of new housing Don Goncales still (still; that is the word to look out for) burns incense/drinks snake's blood/carves walking stick handles." (This is a made up one but fairly accurate.)

For "still" is a key word here: the villagers still do this or still wear that. "Less than one kilometre from a computer central Cairo there are mud brick houses where goats still wander through living rooms." (Rough Guide: Cairo. My emphasis) Let us try Bangkok, in the same series:

"Although"..(here we go again) "the city is incredibly urbanised (tut, an urbanised city) "beneath its modern veneer lies an uncompromised Thai-ness". "Veneer"? "beneath"? "uncompromised"? The whole sentence dooms Thailand to the past. We are allowed the privileges of modernity but Thailand isn't.


need these streets
city sublime
seismic city
chopper shot
perfect city
dark city
global flaneur
shanghai and seoul
city tourist
loathsome centres
krung thep
sex city
hong kong
nightmares dreams
new sublime
dickens in la

  verybigcity: e-Book by Rodney Blakeston
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