Freeze Frame Fragments
Three long weeks ago, I came down from the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. I came down from my home in the Jungfrau Region highlands–a place of large scale Alpine geography and small scale agricultural human life.
Why go to Brussels Amsterdam Paris?
Since the mid-1960s I have regularly passed through these cultural capitals of Western civilisation. But, not once over the past two decades. I have relied, instead, on the main stream media and WWW resources to describe these cities.
Those sources had frightened me. Terrorism. Inundation by other than Western cultures. Erosion of urban public realm quality. So, I went to look.
Used a ‘5 days in 15 days’ rail pass for country to country travel. Day passes for central city core public transit travel. Stayed in 100Euro or less digs at night–central city location, clean and newish beds, clean ensuite and free 24/7 wifi.
Before I share my observations, please for those reading flahertylandscape for the first time, note that I have lived and worked in North Africa and the Middle East for more than 25 years. In those years, I lived the expatriate cross-cultural life working with people from every continent on both the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth. To be clear, living and working means real life, five senses, emotional and intellectual exchanges. Dare I say, ‘been there, done that’–no, I won’t say it because it has a subtext overflowing with hubris. Among humans, every day, I always find something new to learn–except for the basics that the Greek philosphers covered a couple millennia ago.
The following observations could be classified under: urban landscape, or urban public realm, or cultural landscape of Western civilisation. Hey, I had fun…’kinda’! 🙂
It really is about the trip.
An American in Europe. An American auto-freak in Europe. Born in Detroit, Fisher Body, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, the steel industry, cities built for cars, long distances in the countryside, hours in a car, big comfortable, powerful cars. In my blood.
But something about European cities changed me. These cities were not made for cars. They were made for people. In other words they were human scale, not mechanical scale. They had a comfortable, a walkable feeling. Back in the US, when I was on foot in the city–it was always a battle with cars. Not comfortable. OK, enough of that.
In 2017 Brussels Amsterdam Paris, the public transit makes getting between cities and getting around cities a breeze. I really liked it. Minus one pickpocket I, the ‘mark’, caught in the act on a Paris Metro.
Among ‘graffiti artists’ there are some great conceptualists, colorists–some take me right back to R. Crumb and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; but…
In the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s I saw Detroit change from a city of proud hard working people to a fearful city with its own no-go areas and degraded housing. The neighbourhood I grew up in, the East Side near the old Detroit City Airport and the neighbourhood where my grandparents lived, eight blocks away (my grandfather worked 50 years for the City of Detroit) are now of city blocks without houses–burnt, looted, demolished–neighborhoods with no value and without potential home builder interest. And after 50 years of degradation, nobody knows when or if there will be recovery. These neighbourhoods decreased, declined, were degraded by the behaviour of people who did not respect others’ property, did not respect the urban public realm.
These days I see graffiti and tagging of others’ property and the urban public realm as the forewarnings that such degradation is on the way. It is a sad reality that is part of human nature, human life in the later 20th and early 21th centuries in the Western civilisations and unfortunately transferring to other cultures and civilisations. It is a sign of disrespect.
Arts, Architecture, Culture
In Brussels Amsterdam Paris in the architecture is the history of successful business, cultural pride and confidence. It is such a pleasure to leisurely examine these details. A real pleasure of visiting these centuries old cities and vicariously sampling their cultural, business, arts and artisan success.
New Folks/Old Folks
After my uncomfortable non-Germanic pause at the Koln Hauptbahnhof and Dom Cathedral plaza, I had much more enjoyable encounters with the new folks occupying the Brussels Amsterdam Paris urban public realms. That’s right–enjoyable encounters–as in walking around the city centres with out feeling threatened. As if there was no immediate threat of death–and I have been close to terror and war in the Middle East and North Africa for more than 25 years.
But…all of the above ‘pleasures’ were wrapped in a visceral, an inescapable package of stool, urine and excessive noise. I have to repeat it–stool, urine and excessive noise made up the inescapable reality of the street life of the urban public realm in central city Brussels Amsterdam Paris. Worry where you step–all the time. And no escaping the noise in the urban public realm above ground and underground. There are no safe places in the urban public realms of Brussels Amsterdam Paris. Is that civilisation? Is that desirable in the public realm?
So, we all just pretend it is not problematic? It is not a health problem? It is not a sensually repulsive reality? Is this not disrespectful of the public urban realm?
But that is not new for cities, George Orwell and Victor Hugo made that clear over the 19th and 20th centuries.
And for a recent local historical perspective, in the mid-1980s, in this Alpine highland region of about 25,000 permanent population, I could not find anyone who knew what a falafel was–what to speak of actually buying a falafel wrap for an anytime snack.
Now, thirty years later, about the same population, there are more than a dozen little shops selling kebabs and falafels.
Brussels Amsterdam Paris 2017 conclusions–go yourself to see–then draw your own.