Saturday, July 31, 2010


I need to put less latitude in my attitude.  And maybe accept how dirty I am.

I've been so focused on parallels...on knowing that my sweet spot lies right around 45...that it never occurred to me to pay attention to longitude.  After all, I've been pretty consistent across the sweep of my home country, which was not a width that seemed worthy of dismissing.

For the second time in my life, I completed a travel that involved crossing seven time zones.  This time, I moved beyond the all hallowed Greenwich.  Which was an increase of one time zone from the last trip, but meant skipping a day.  Moving forward in time.  Time travel.  Wow.

I was there for two weeks.  And never fully let go of my old clock.  Or, is it better to say, never fully adjusted to the new?  Essentially, I stayed up for two days every day...I started with the new, in the future day, but finished out with the old, behind the time day.  Good thing that daylight contributed to the phenomenon--I think--in providing light for most of both.

Maybe the truth is I need a couple of hours of non-daytime before I can go to sleep.  In which case, I should try traveling a fair distance in the other direction sometime.  As a noble experiment, of course.

But who wants to sleep through a stay in Hawaii??

In Paris, I visited the Dreamlands exhibit at the Pompidou.  The exhibit is constructed around the idea of utopias, or more specifically, in the museum's words, it
considers for the first time the question of how World's Fairs, international exhibitions, theme parks and kindred institutions have influenced ideas about the city and the way it is used. 
This has been a busy year for thinking about city construction in my life.  Last spring, when I visited the Phoenix area, I went to both Arcosanti and Taliesin West.  Arcosanti is one architect's vision of a perfectly designed community; Taliesin West is the same.  There's a heavier emphasis on the architect's digs at Taliesin West, but both consider home within the community, as well as the individual in the home.

It's also fair to point out that I visited Scottsdale and Sun City, a shopping/living complex called Westgate, and Phoenix itself.  Fully operating, contemporary expressions of communities with homes.  Oddly, sadly, interestingly, it would be Sun City and the shopping/living center that closest resemble the visions of Paolo Soleri's arcology and Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture.  There's a lot more emphasis on commerce in the real life applications.  I'm sure Stuart Brand would have something to say about that, if he applied the ideas he raises in How Buildings Learn to the greater community.

It's pretty clear that commodities are less present in utopian visions than in practical applications.  In one way, all of the places I've been in 2010 are at least as identifiable by their consumables as by the amount of time people spend in/with community.  The consumables, and their delivery apparatus, vary:  haute couture, omnipresent cuisine, temples of perfume, visions of art and culture (but don't touch...i.e. the museum)?  Paris, New York.  Umpteen stores of mid and low-range clothing, kebobs in the 48 pack (oh, Costco, you have changed American lives so), home goods?  Say hello, Phoenix and suburbs.  (Suburbs of any city, that is.)

How does this take me home?  I'm working it out.  I live outside a major city that I once resided soundly within.  I have a Costco within an easy drive, at least 5 low and high end grocery stores to choose from within the same driving radius, stores ranging from Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl's thru Neiman Marcus and Max Mara to buy clothes from (and a slew of mail order catalogs should I desire to "save gas").  The city offers temples of food (highest ranked restaurant experience in the country, by more than one opinion is here, and has plenty of similar tier compatriots), is denser, blah blah.  But I have to say, there's a heck of a lot more walking that goes on on the island Manhattan, and in Paris.  In fact, I'm not sure that any city other than NYC matches the walk factor of Paris.  Yes, San Francisco has the highest "walkability score," but honestly, I don't see a lot of people hoofing it further than a few blocks in their neighborhood.  Biking it, for sure.  Using urban public transit, you bet.  But relying on walking to do the bulk of their business, their getting from here to there?  I didn't see it.  Being "walkable" doesn't make a culture of walkers.

A few hundred years of practice seems to, however.

I haven't gotten down to the dirty yet.  I walked in Paris.  A lot.  In comfortable shoes.  And yes, a couple of days wearing a clothing item that led to me developing an amusing internal audio tape:
"Does this skort make me look too American?"  
The shoes, they were a bit nebulous in defining tourist factor (in terms of country of origin), especially on days I wore black dresses or skirts or pants and endeavored to look "chic, if a bit sporty."  "Arty" days were nebulous, too.  But skort days?  Totally American.

Still, I like to think I rocked the skort.  Wasn't any other streetwalker wearing denim like I did.


ANYWAY, I walked a lot.  So much so that I challenged my Achilles tendon, a new entry in the (still short) list of personal injuries.  Learned the metro, walked plenty of streets, parks, stairs, hills, etcetera.  And in all of those miles of walking cobblestones and concrete and park and metro and marble stairs of hallowed institutions, my nebulous comfortable but somewhat chic sandals never once collected dirt.

Not once.

Because in Paris, there is no dirt.  Unless it is in a pot, with a plant growing out of it.  Even in the parks, the area underneath the trees is generally a sandy mix, suitable for boules and heavy foot traffic.  There was dirt underneath the occasional grassy knoll, I am sure, but by the time I had passed the one week mark and ticked off at least five arrondissment on my generous perambulations, I realized I had seen no dirt.  I watered pots on the terrace of the apartment every day, and that was my only contact with dirt.

I learned that at 2'20° east, 48'50° north, I was sweating and getting grimy at times, but never getting dirty.  Not how I am used to.

Which is probably why when I returned to approximately 41'59° north, 87'54° west, one of the first things I did was go to my dirt.  It was weed infested, but present.

I'll need to go back and investigate those utopian communities with a sharp eye for the dirt angle.  Ironically, both Arcosanti and Taliesin West are going to lean Parisian, being in the desert and having to deal with non-loamy soil and all.  The Dreamlands exhibit consisted of a lot of artistic concepts on paper, and of World Exhibitions...I'll have to research.  Maybe I'll write the next World Expo-based bestselling fiction based on my findings; I'll call it "Dirt Haul in the White City."

So, I'm dirty.  And tired.  But happy.  And thinking.

Thinkings that will probably infiltrate my next post, a musing on things Mediterranean, prompted by an invitation from my blog correspondent Ines over at All I am - a Redhead.

Meanwhile, my "French manicure" (what I call it on the rare occasion I apply lacquer to my nails, which is almost always a color that is transparent and neutral) already has dirt under the nails.  Perhaps that is one of the best answers I can give at the moment to the question "What is home?"

"Home, end of July 2010"

image the first from the Basic Navigation page of Flight Simulator Navigation
image the second author's own

requisite music link which is inevitable but still, connections enough ... this


flittersniffer said...

Happy to learn you made it safely home! In view of your keen interest in longitude and latitude, I would suggest a detour some time to Bad Arolsen in Germany, a town bissected not once but twice by the 9th degree of longitude. (Twice, because the basis of its calculation recently changed.)

And I am sure you "rocked the skort" - in the sense of "streetwalker" as "pavement pounder", rather than the other kind. : - ) Though even the other kind need to be able to rock padded ski jackets in the depths of winter, as I noted in Hamburg last year.

And did I correctly infer that the skort was denim? I have only ever seen the skort principle applied to flimsy cottons and chino-type fabrics. Interesting - and definitely American, as you say.

The draw of dirt I can't quite relate to, but I would say that when it comes to plant care, you are clearly a safe pair of hands...

ScentScelf said...

Bad Arolsen, you say? {runs off to Google} Hmm...a now torn down nunnery...HQ for the International Tracing Service, which is NOT an outfit set up to copy maps on transparent paper, but rather to seek and find missing persons, particulary from WWII.

The intertubes are sorely lacking in detail on this re-calculation of longitude business, however. You have intrigued me and I've nowhere to go. Except, perhaps, for Bad Arolsen itself.

Yes indeedy, ma'am, that skort was denim. I was all about the reintroduction of the concept, and was getting a fun vibe out of the denim application. Looks like a modest short skirt. (Also comes in a flimsy chino-esque fabric, btw. Which I also snagged. When the papparazzi come chasing after me as I fall into my limousine, there'll be no fodder for Perez Hilton. No sirree.)

Dirt. Nothing like it. But, to be honest, I fell into full appreciation after I became an adult. Like perfume. Just earlier in my grown up journey. I'm telling you, good loamy humus smells really, really good.... :)

Rose said...

glad you had a good time in Paris- walking is my favourite way to see any city but Paris certainly asks for it more than most I completely agree