Following are the Preface and the ten Episodes’ summaries from Crystal Vision, Beta 02 Edition, 31Oct2014.
This story intrigued me. In this story, the protagonist, a designer and prolific journal keeper named George Moleson was a person just like you and me–struggling with the same issues of life, like we do.
Normally designers’ notes and their journals do not interest me–they are the overelaborated microscopic views of narcissists–the stuff of ethereal ephemera–but this one was different.
Our protagonist’s design journals were like a well structured and well detailed beautiful garden, a series of garden rooms that had unfortunately been neglected, had become overgrown. When I looked closely at them, pulled out a few weeds, cut back overgrown others–the careful cleaning revealed beautiful plants with the spark of life, with the kernels of good health. I found inspirational portals of excellence waiting for discovery, waiting for enjoyment, waiting for exploration. Polished up pretty well…damn well!…almost.
The story was about an American professional, an expatriate American professional. Expatriates are not tourists, they are not part time consultants. Tourists and part time consultants are like seagulls, they swoop in, eat, relieve themselves and swoop out.
Expatriates on the other hand are people who have left behind home, family and culture to work and live full time in foreign places, surrounded by foreign languages and foreign cultures. They drop anchor. They stay. They struggle.
These kinds of professionals include engineers, architects, landscape architects…and a bunch of other highly educated and experienced people. These expatriate American professionals, less than 1% of the American population, represent a very thin sample. They are in high demand in wealthy, developing countries–countries intent on improving the quality of life for their native residents.
Myself, I am an American writer. I travel to foreign places for conferences as a speaker. I am not an expatriate. I am a glorified tourist. Like tourists and many part time consultants, I, too, fly in, give my two cents worth and I fly out.
In Dubai, 2007, at an International Design Forum held at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah Conference Center, I met W. Curt Mulligan. We were both invited speakers in panel discussions. He was a practicing landscape architect from Los Angeles. As happens at these venues, we chatted during one conference break and found we had plenty in common–specifically, I was a writer, and he had a story. After the day’s events, we went for dinner at the Eau Zone, a casual dining restaurant in a nearby hotel.
While sitting on the restaurant’s outdoor water terrace, over looking a beautiful date palm lined swimming pool, Curt began the story. I was more interested in the sun in the distant background, just setting over the Gulf. But Curt persisted until the strangeness of the story overwhelmed me.
Our protagonist was an expatriate American professional landscape architect named George Moleson. He and Curt had worked together for five years in Los Angeles and had built a strong professional relationship. According to Curt, George was approaching the sweet spot of his career, his early 30s, and very successful–an award winner in Los Angeles–when he up and left to work in Saudi Arabia.
Curt warned me that George had some baggage–calling it baggage…a gross understatement. Despite his awards, George had professional design insecurities that had erupted in heated arguments with colleagues in the office. He had deep uncertainties that undermined his professional relationships. All that, according to Curt, had added up to encourage George, apparently with some strange attraction already to Araby, to take the job in Saudi Arabia. He turned his back on his problems and looked instead forward to larger management responsibilities and the arid culture of the Arabian Peninsula.
Additionally, George had serious personal family problems related to his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, which in turn had prompted him to ask Curt to become his Executor. Curt had agreed. Then, as Curt told me, the whole six year Saudi Arabian thing recently had come unravelled, setting in motion a most unusual series of events.
Throughout his professional career, George Moleson had kept design journals, very detailed, diary like, but in fragments, and often in disarray. Curt had brought them with him and reviewed them with me after dinner. He showed me some of the hidden nooks, some of the gems. I was hooked. I was surprised to read of Moleson’s total disagreement with popular, contemporary memes in landscape architecture such as:
- The Digital Meme: faster is better;
- The Social Meme: consensus solves all; and,
- The Environmental Meme: sustainability is the secular supreme.
These were the very things developing over the past twenty five years, that I, too, had suspected were undermining the original, solid foundational core of landscape architecture.
When Curt asked if I would like to bring these design journals to literary life, I was pleased to accept the challenge. Herewith, I submit the following story of George Moleson’s events in Saudi Arabia and their peculiar aftermath.
Devoid of cultural cues, George must engage the Bangkok urban realm. It damn nearly suffocates him. In a desperate phone call to a landscape industry colleague, he makes a connection, quickly leaving the urban labyrinth behind to encounter…the old school landscape labyrinths of the Golden Triangle.
Lost in the mists of his own passion, George encounters a yogi–a yogi who is responsible for organic gardens with ethnobotanic roots. She opens doors of perception through which George discovers that, of all places, in the Swiss landscape he may learn about the roots of mysteries from both the West and the East.
On his eccentric scavenger hunt, George must visit Geneva. In Geneva, he encounters the grandson of John Ashenden, the playwright and famous WWI spy, written of extensively by Somerset Maugham. Young Ashenden provides the link to bring about an essential resolution to Geo’s strange and hitherto fruitless race around Geneva.
In Ban Muang, George made a deal with the yogi, Vrndadevi, to visit a temple in Zurich. He fulfills that obligation and is then overwhelmed–by the Zurich public realm–and by a peculiar character–an ageless character George can only describe as funnily gnomelike.
The lyrics from Anton Bruckner’s motet Locus Iste are:
This place was made by God,
A priceless mystery,
It is beyond reproach.
And this Bruckner motet language speaks directly to George’s processional experience as he enters the landscape of the Bernese Alps…an experience that pulsates in every corner of George’s heart…a real life designer’s dream…and he is left…beyond…above…without…
In Grindelwald, Switzerland, so mesmerized has been George in these Alps that he is impelled to meet as many residents as he can. He wants to understand this landscape’s mysterious, positive powers–which are gradually forcing him to look inward, to solve his own problems.
Throughout George’s expatriate life, he has kept diaries and design journals as he grew his career and his personal approach to all things design and landscape.
George learns how important work is to his life–and the unknowns work brings.
Two years after publishing this story, the author discovers a few more details from George’s most recent job in Cairo–details that impact George’s explorations of design and landscape.