Most of the cities of the world are ghosts of their former selves. For some there is good reason. Riot. War. General and undefined years of mayhem and wanton murder both individual and mass. I was in Stalingrad long ago, now as was then Volgograd, but for us students of history who can dismiss the million men who perished, the half million more Germans, the unknown quantity of civilians who were told, no ordered, actually, to remain in the fight least they give up a sacred inch of SOVIET soil. I am thinking of those blocks flattened by the war when I think of the city that has ceased to exist. I think of vast cement monuments to the dead. I think of places where people had to quickly fill in. That was a city that survived the worst part, of the worst world and in that city I walked from the ferry terminal to the hotel, to the monument garden, to the cafe, to the restaurant. Albeit, it wasn’t the most picturesque city.
These cities were reconstructed according to a Modern plan, rational post-war planning central SOVIET or planned Capitalism. Both systems in their extreme produced structures that can only be seen as some extension of fascism as the winner of the last world war. Bucharest was mostly cement avenues and ruined dreams, actually the nightmares of any sane individual. I am thinking of Harbin, People’s Republic of China a former SOVIET city state of Stalin gifted to Chairman Mou but not before having hundreds of cement boxes built for the People and this city was built upon with less and less ideology (fewer?) by the Capitalists with Chinese Faces (their term not mine) using ever more cement and glass and making the city a Blade Runner distopia, minus the hot sexbots. The streets of Frankfort. The lanes of Munich. The not so quaint parts of Europe where the dagger hand of death set down an hundred incendiary bombs.
War flattened the great cities of Europe and in their place bland concept structures at a loss to understand classical society replaced them the bastard children of Buckminster Fuller and Le Corbusier fucked until dawn in the back seat of a Le Car and gave birth to most of London and the fucktarded cement palaces of the Sudetenland and Greater Germany let along the lesser suburbs. There is a reason for each and every one of these disasters of the reinvented cityscape, the abandonment of all those squirrely curry cues that amassed over a few hundred years before being pummeled to dust by modernity and the eternal strife of us Man Apes.
Even the Third World… ahem.. Developing World has reason to be ugly… Build cement houses or face revolution. However, there is no apparent reason I can find for the condition of the cities of This Great American Land. I am thinking of Albany, New York where the state capital stands as a huge fuck you to the citizens and democracy itself. Same with Boston’s City Hall or Hall of Socialists or Central Police Command, or whatever it may actually be used for. The torn down avenues of Omaha where one could get a full night sleep in the middle of a main road and not worry about being run over by traffic. I am thinking of Birmingham a city that for the cost of unifying a bridge and desegregating a rail station, abandoned the entire endeavour. Just fuck it, limestone and all.
I am thinking of the eternal Detroit, a city rotting away to the point of desiccation. I am not aware of any plague, even London recovered from the Black Death, Civil War, Cholera, Maggie Thatcher, and WWII and here it is that Detroit appears as a mongrel dog starving and shivering in the cold wet dank corner of our nation. Downtown Tampa does no longer exist. It seems that life and good times is a thin veil describing as far as one can get from sniffing blow off of a hooker’s ass on a boat and wandering outside of the dock before needing to return to said boat, to perhaps said hooker, before another bump makes one right. The centers of our cities are lost, the outer rings usually crunching poverty and crime, and it takes some time to reach the areas you want to be… but you are not welcome there.
There is no city here. This could be any place. The rotten core of any middle American city turned to drugs any Southern Bell well past her prime but still slathering on the eyeshadow like a 14 year old girl, any part of the rusty dusty Bible Belt, the inner workings of a Sun Belt City, or just a few miles from where you live.
There is no city here. Walking about there is a series of parking garages. This is not a city at a human scale. Where most buildings are made for those small people, us little folks, to stand under and gawk, these buildings are meant to be seen from afar. The are the skyline of corporations and you will never interact with them but they will touch your life. If you work here you come in your car, get into an elevator, work, get in the elevator, and go home to hide behind a gate and yell at the TeeVee.
Outside is sweltering hot in the summertide. The homeless, the lost causes, the dead souls wander about. No one looks up. The cars leaving the parking garages each trigger a warning alarm for the scant few pedestrians and one can hear these bells all over. It is a city of bells and cars. Everyone escapes at once and the only sound is from the yucking-it-up junkies and far off police cars rushing to this or that emergency or terrorist plot as they do in all Amerikan cities, but here they are distinct sounds. When they pass, it is again quiet here. One can hear the birds. An acorn falling to the broken pavement is a distinct sound that I can hear. There is no city here. The eateries are closed or never where.
The sticky icky hot muggy uggy was overwhelming. I knew that outside of this collection of cement monuments to success there were comfortable parts of town, the outer rings. I had also seen places this morning where the wild dogs wandered, where houses collapsed about their occupants and mountains of trash piled up in the streets, with any luck for some future collection. An endless mile of dismal churches and unique sufferings. An elderly woman lay on a rotting plush chair that was clearly in the rain for some time. She stared endlessly, beyond me, beyond the day itself. The Food Store, named “Food Store” had bars on the doors and few windows and it was hard to know if it was open, a store, or a lock up. I stopped short not to hit a dog with blisters on its back.
In the city some of the people had a similar look. A woman wearing just socks walked past muttering to herself, but she still managed a “good day.” Another man, strangely also in socks, also greeted me in an aggressively friendly manner “Howyadoingtodayman?” I sputtered out a hullo, perhaps. The street with the trolly attracted all manner of similar beings, a collection of the lost who were clustered about. It seemed to hot to mug me, I was too hot to be afraid.
I dipped finally into a complex of some sort. There are complexes all over. Airodomehallcentershotels. This one I fell in to was about sports or such and there were several chain restaurants in the complex, fine establishments above Uncle Parrot’s Taco Monday and just below The Hard Rock Cafe of 1986 before it blew out its New York location and moved to LA and Moscow and the airport you catch your connection. The air conditioner was on hard and fast and I pulled up a stool to get some Corn Syrup with Grain Alcohol and Spun Suite con Monsanto or at least free crazy bread. The establishment was populated by the guys you see on sports TeeVee. They looked at sports TeeVees as they ate. I am sure a few of them are on sports TeeVees as I write this. Outside it sweltered and festered. The cameras hummed. A bird confused by the orange-yellow mercury lights made a call. The security guard watched one of the plasma screens in the window by the Sports Center recording studio. A man with just socks on walked down the street smoking a clipped cigarette that may or may not have been illegal drugs, or just something he found on the street. Is this socks only thing a thing?
There is little reason, given our wealth, that our cities should resemble what they are today, but I guess there are deep reasons, perhaps in a way we too have suffered a war of some sort that has wasted all that stone, all that polished marble, baked terracotta and finely tooled stone. The hardwood floors from thousand year old trees, the iron spikes, the Portland Cement, the brick baked from the finest sand tossed aside due to our war. All of that we have traded away and it is hard to know why. I walk back to the dismal hotel I am currently calling home and wonder at the history the series of choices that led to this and understand that I bring my own culture to this place and my eye, my love of a certain style, and that this place, looks the way it does for one simple reason. Because the people here want it to look this way.