"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City
one. journey to Mumbai.
bittersweet excitement. they make them as monumentally neutral as possible: gleaming white walls and waxy-shined floors, cavernous beneath a precipitous truss. the ladies are all dressed in red, the men in blue -- soldiers of hospitality to welcome you to nothing -- what are you leaving? what are you going to? these sterile bellies are beautiful, the wombs of the world's well-to-do's crying goodbyes and smiling hellos. you never want to stare at the the bawling kissing couple being wrenched from each others' arms, but you do. you never want to stare at the family reunited for the funeral, but you do. you never want to turn to look at the bitter passenger grumbling about how "there's no first class cuz we're all one class!" but you do. because we're not. because it's a heartbreaking luxury to leave the saline smell of a california coast in winter. it's a luxury, once again, to throw what you think you know to the wind.
the trip from San Francisco to Mumbai : talk about space compression. I leave out the time aspect, as it was one of the longest journeys, with a 10 hour layover in london. my feet left California soil with a little sand on them – the last afternoon at pacifica beach bright blue and full of surf. you could see the swells rolling in from miles away, & again I am always amazed by the similar forms that wind creates regardless of its medium. what would it be like to live in a fog-drenched town like pacifica, and how much longer until the developers buy out every salt-weathered shack down there?
the international terminal at SFO empty and pristine, a vaulted cathedral space. SOM did a good job announcing the unspoken capital of the Vast & Open coast. I could hear my footfalls on the immaculate floor as I headed to the ticket counter, where bright-red clad virgin atlantic staff announced their “flair.” I did not realize that virgin atlantic was so ferociously touting to a lifestyle niche of the population (trendy hipsters). every seat has a screen connected to a handset, with several dozen movies/show/music to choose from (plus character-typed combination suggestions : the romantic? the daredevil? etc. etc.) and a plethora of technology to keep you connected to people not only on the ground but in the friendly skies. it’s the nerve at 35,000 feet: “text the cutie in aisle 43!” ironically, the tech doesn’t work very well, as per the 5 second lag between the control handset and the registration on the screen. regardless of inner-cabin social dynamics, watching the west roll away beneath me was breathtaking. this is the most patriotic thing you'll ever hear me say, but america is truly stunning.
the layover in heathrow – 11 hours long. I was surprised by how unglamorous the world’s busiest airport is, ceilings low, terminals disjointed and stuffed with bad stores. wandering around in a daze I noticed how the various methods of travel into downtown London all have their unique departure corridors from the terminals, depending on the prospective clientele the mode anticipates servicing. the $30 heathrow express hallway is covered with spiritual bank advertisements against a well-designed backdrop of opaque glass and metal. the bus station, to which I made my cash-strapped way, is disconnected via parking lots and gray rain, and had that ubiquitous, stale aura so well-practiced by greyhound: you are now.here going no.where, wait outside in the exhaust. anyway, a trip to kew gardens via Victoria station (no pics allowed!) gave me the chance to see the national archives, the gardens themselves, and most memorably, a sample of pristine London suburbia: near-miniature nostalgic cottages with raw building materials you want to run your hands over -- rough brick, smooth pebbles, clean plates of glass expressing the new mods moving in. the storefronts look like medieval england, except the signs say 'wineshoppe' instead of 'blacksmith.' it's pretty lovely actually, plasma screen TV's and all.
much needed sleep on the plane to Mumbai. getting off the plane wasn't as jarring as i had assumed it would be. the cab ride was fascinating, ugly glass towers, sewage rivers, mini cars and all. although the smell of this city is indescribable (as is the yellow dust which hangs incessantly in the air and makes my throat feel raw) there is something close-to-familiar about it. it is athens on coke, panama city on speed. i found myself feeling thankful for my time in greece, and while the kineticism and poverty were of a different magnitude the experience of being brought out of my missouri self into a realm where things worked differently was valuable.
airplane over california. it's like watching a movie, full of cuts -- the land changes so quickly from this distance, at this speed -- snaking suburban cul-de-sacs give way to the gridded urban density of a city (and always the hills and rivers that interfere with the orthogonal); the blank watery canvas of blue; ridges of the east bay stretch & swell until the become, quite suddenly, snowy peaks in the fading light. domesticity gone, except in a few scattered fireflies of warmth nestled in the topographic cradle of where three peaks meet: the safety of a valley. now, night, and the hermetically sealed life of this cabin. we're backpackers in a metal pill. they've given us toothbrush, sleepy-eyes, headphones. kick back, sedate yourself with the deafening roar of this fragile shell of steel. like a lullaby it always puts me to sleep. that, and the knowledge of movement barely perceptible except in the quake of turbulence, the occasional arcing sway of a directional adjustment. i am traveling at 600 mph -- the earth shamed to a miniature toy -- yet i am still enough to be dying to move.