I remember 9/11/2001 too as George W. Bush and Rudolf Giuliani’s “Reichstag moment” When they exploited terrorism to isolate their political opponents as enemies And opposition to their increasingly fascist politics became impossible. When we were asked to be quiet and consume for the good of the country While they mobilized for war against invisible enemies A war which was never paid for and became our public debt. When nonentity Trump retroactively conjured nonexistent Muslims celebrating in New Jersey And it became no longer acceptable to acknowledge that the World Trade Center had been a symbol of the predation of capital on the people. These towers planned by a cabal of bankers to capture state resources toward the consolidation of the Financial District as a center for global capitalist expansion. The financialization of Lower Manhattan that became a base for the financialization of the world. The towers designed by chairman David Rockefeller and the 55 bankers and insurance executives From the New York Chamber of Commerce’s Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment in 1956. The financialization that created the last mortgage-backed securities crisis Which caused a destruction of communities beyond repair Bankruptcies that stole the homes of untold numbers of poor and middle-class families Whose banking crimes Trump forgave, Whose leaders he gave a trillion dollar tax credit to Which is now our public debt. The financialization that is the principle reason why the nation’s wealth has been transferred from the middle class to the investment class, And why nowhere in the country is housing affordable for a middle-income household. The 1957 planning map of land valuations from Hugh Pomeroy and S.J. Shulman’s Program Study for the Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which the following year became reconstituted as the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (now the Downtown Alliance) tells you everything about the logic of development that followed, Which produced the Trumps and the Kushners, and continues to dominate the city and the state as we know it. This is what else was lost on 9/11.
Last year, filing through the David Rockefeller papers, I found one of the earliest documents of the post-war Lower Manhattan planning process, prepared by Hugh Pomeroy and S.J. Schulman, then-Westchester County planners who had been hired by the Rockefeller-chaired Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment to put together a scoping document for the 55 bank and insurance company executives whose creation of the Financial District reshaped the city after the war. In the map here (last image), you can see all of the other land uses that they eliminated in order to build office towers throughout the area, based on estimates of land value that showed office towers being worth at least six times more per square foot than everything else. Here was the ur-moment of planning, ironically beginning a monumental land grab using the tools of state planning, which the bankers were convinced by the new market fundamentalist economic thought was tantamount to National Socialism or Communism. They, the bankers, would decide the fate of all of this—and much more—through the algorithm of profit-taking, which economist Milton Friedman would claim was equal to the public good. Henceforth profit-taking would drive policymaking. It’s almost the 17-year anniversary of the fall of the World Trade Center towers, a turning point in the mystification of capital’s relation to freedom, when George W. Bush said that the best way to combat terrorism was to go shopping. The inverse of that formulation might be that the best way to be free is to reclaim state planning from the bankers.
Poster from a traveling series of information panels prepared by the U.S. Resettlement Administration, 1935. Library of Congress. Found this poster while searching for background information about the shift from the state-sponsored programs to boost the economy during the Great Depression to the so-called neo-liberal policies of the post-war period, especially as they were being pioneered in Lower Manhattan by Chase Manhattan Bank under the leadership of David Rockefeller. What I wanted to claim was that the Lower Manhattan plan designed by the bankers enabling them maximize the potential increase of land value through the build-up of the financial district represented a distinct shift from public policy focused on socialized benefits toward a policy of state-subsidized private profit. The truth is much more complicated: the New Deal policy was also being influenced by powerful business interests to capitalize on state investments. The poster is actually promoting a “green belt” initiative meant to address joblessness and homelessness during the Great Depression, encouraging people to move out of cities into rural communities to farm, but it wasn’t very widely implemented or funded by banks. Cited in “The New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression” John A. Garraty, The American Historical Review, Oct. 1973.
The skate park under the anchorage of the Manhattan Bridge in Two Bridges. Police officers showed up and surveyed the scene as I was shooting some video. Lots of mumbling and failed tricks.
Finally found on the streets an echo of the words repeated to myself, out loud to passersby, to friends, and at the Robot Citizens panel at the Venice Architecture Biennale about the collapse of public space into a tiny mobile device. In front of Katz’s Deli. @adamdare #dare2 #fuckyourphonekeepyourheadup #keepyourheadup
Support the GoFundMe for an exhibition I’m organizing that uses installations and performances in public space to explore relationships between nature and technology. The events are scheduled for October 6 in Callicoon, New York, a scenic hamlet in the Western Catskills. Thanks to Adrianne Wortzel for loaning this image from her Ex Situ Conservation: Colony Relocation for Electronic Detritus series. Clickable link in bio. https://www.gofundme.com/manage/h95rwp
Archiving late 70s files with Liza Béar. Green Corp. was the name used by the artist group that later became Collaborative Projects, aka Colab, in the original grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts, made through sponsor organization Center for New Art Activities, Inc. Colab is best know for its series of themed shows in lofts in 1979, the Real Estate Show, and the Times Square Show, and for its affiliation with the founding of ABC No Rio and support for Fashion Moda gallery in the Bronx, which reflected the egalitarian ethos and yearning for diversification in the art world among a new generation returning to the city during a period of massive white flight and suburbanization. With Willoughby Sharp, Béar co-founded the magazine Avalanche published from 1970-1976, an essential prism into the artistic avant-garde of the moment. She went on to pioneer many other electronic media, video, film, and technology-based art projects. Béar’s archive is a gold-mine of flyers, meeting notes, letters to funders, research materials, and other ephemera from the 1970s international avant-garde. Photo: Stephen Zacks.
Back in 1966, Mayor John Lindsay hired Thomas Hoving as the New York City Parks Commissioner to bring new energy into the city's public spaces, which were regarded as dangerous and neglected. Phyllis Yampolsky had met Hoving on a steamship bound for Rome in her youth, and through Village Independent Democrats leader Carol Greitzer, a colleague approached Hoving with the idea of hiring Yampolsky to do a series of events in the parks. At that time, there was no Department of Cultural Affairs in the city, but Yampolsky, who had studied painting with Hans Hofmann in the mid-1950s, was married to the geometric sculptor Peter Forakis, and joined the first group of Judson Church Gallery artists in the early 60s alongside Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg, became an artist in residence in the Parks Department, organizing a series of Events in Open Air that became known as Hoving's Happenings. Hoving, who famously rode around the parks in his motorcycle with a dashing bright coat and scarf, soon moved on to become director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the initiative gave the birth to the Office of Cultural Affairs as a small bureau within the Parks Department run by Doris Freedman and Yampolsky’s former assistant Karin Bacon that eventually became its own independent department reporting directly to the mayor. These images are selections from Yampolsky's archive, which I'm helping organize, with drawings and paintings ranging from 1951 through the 1960s, and a letter addressed to Mayor David Dinkins in 1989 advocating for the renovation of McCarren Park Pool. Yampolsky is known in Greenpoint as the Joan of Arc of McCarren Park Pool (so named by Ethan Petit) for her work fighting to prevent the New Deal-era public pool's demolition and promoting its reopening. @jerrysaltz @nycparks @tomfinkelpearl @cityactivators @judsonchurchnyc
A friend kindly offered to take some new headshots for me recently. What do you think? Which one is better? A propos: A certain publication of some distinction in the field of architecture recently offered me a $150 honorarium to write a story that would have involved sitting for a day in a fashionable co-working space in the neighborhood and then writing 200 words about it. This could have been interesting, but I tried to negotiate for my minimum day rate of $250 and then had decline the offer when they didn’t budge, although I was honored to be invited and would have been happy otherwise to do it. I know we’re not supposed to talk about money these days, just advertise our glories, but it spurred me to want to quote the Carters’ Apeshit: “Give me my check. Put some respect on my check. Or pay me in equity.” What do you think? Do you have a minimum rate despite it being work you love, and when do you make exceptions?
Got a sneak peak at Leon Johnson's new Lodger space in Newburgh, NY...excited for further delightful meals cooked in ceramic tagines, engaging conversations about enlightenment, education, and healing through sense and sensuality, the lost category of melancholia, and lessons in the art of book-binding. @lodgernewburgh @deptford93
Such an unexpected and timely show, Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia is a great provocation to remember the soft socialism of Yugoslavia's past, consider the benefits and limits of mass housing, state planning, and one-party ideology, and learn from the good and the bad of the first socialist experiments at a time when we urgently need to rescue the welfare state from the party of criminals currently in power. Mostly this is a small window into a universe in Eastern Europe that is worlds more sophisticated, complex, and technologically savvy than our political cliches give it credit for. Fondly remember discovering Plecnik in Slovenia with friends in the 1990s, crossing the border into Croatia across my friend's uncles farm, swimming in Lake Ada and romance in the blocs of New Belgrade in the mid-2000s, and reporting on the poetry, revolutionary graphics, and social and political fractures of ex-Yugoslavia in the Milosevic and post-Milosevic years.
Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Sylvia Hardy collected archival images and other historical references and digitally printed them on thin IPhone-shaped aluminum sheets to interpret the abandoned pergola in Downing Park, Newburgh, NY, designed by local architect Frank Esterbrook in 1908. Another great installation organized by Diana Mangaser and curated by Kiyoto Koseki as part of the Newburgh Community Land Bank's Artist in Vacancy program to activate vacant spaces in the city. @newburghcommunitylandbank @syl_via_h #artistinvacancy
Another perspective on Greenpoint and the digesters of the sewage treatment plant from the slow-moving traffic of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway onto the Kosciusko Bridge. I got hooked on the summer's hip-hop hits cycled all day on Hot97. Drake's In My Feelings and Nice for What, Cardi B's I Like It and Be Careful, Childish Gambino's This is America, DJ Khaled, Ella Mai's Boo'd Up, and 6ix9ine's FEFE. It took a week before they started infiltrating my dreams, and I had to turn back to WBGO jazz. Anything but the news, the unending stream of Republican criminality and lies, and the chirpy, cloying sincerely of NPR.
The city was a noble cause, and it can be one again.
The Hovagimyan-Castleberry estate on a rainy morning. The barn architecture of the Catskills. The well-tended flowers and a pathway to the door cleared of roots. In the morning the birds chase each other through the flowers and tomatoes and herbs. I run electric through the walls and install plugs for video and a switch for the track light. Up the road a house for rent has chairs sitting on a decommissioned trailer hanging over the stream, which rolls over the rocks and the remnants of a mill. The water fills the verdant landscape and I am ready to be replenished.
At my favorite place, McCarren Park Pool, the reopening has been a huge success, but I was noticing these crowd control barriers are a fixture of the park rather than a designed fence system that recognizes that queues happen at least twice a day throughout the pool season, and the back side of the pool is permanently occupied by equipment storage in front of the school. Why?
At Open Source Gallery Paul Amenta of Site:Lab has a show with Chris Fox about the use of eminent domain to claim several buildings at the end of the Gowanus Canal for the Superfund cleanup. Site:Lab is doing great interim-use art installations in Grand Rapids, most recently in a closed high school with a troubled relationship to the white flight of the mid-to-late 20th century. Nonetheless cleanup of the Gowanus seems like a perfectly legitimate use of eminent domain for a good public purpose. The old Mr. Saturday and Mean Red dance place by the Gowanus is now a pretty tame barbecue place called Pig Beach that has mostly severed its physical connection to the water by building a big wooden terrace.
On Broadway I passed by @browdertown Amanda Browder's Electric Diner installation of a wild fabric tapestry mural above the old-school south side bistro.
At McCarren Park, they just finished installing barbecues on the grass, which utterly changed the neighborhood character of the park, bringing out large gatherings of Puerto Rican families where there used to be only young people lounging and tanning. The Montalvo family reunion was quite a scene, with five generations of cousins from around the region, some from as far away as North Carolina, gathered around a table of food and drinks, and the younger generation playing softball in the field, all wearing purple T-shirts, organized by one of the cousins who still lives on the south side of Williamsburg. #montalvofamilyreunion #montalvofamily
On the next corner, at Lafayette Grocery, three dudes were drinking beers at the picnic tables and listening to a live recording of Jimi Hendrix playing Are You Experienced? and singing out loud to the chorus. When the long solo ended one of them said, whatever acid trip he was on, I want to go there.
For all of the sturm und drang around neighborhood change, during a random bike ride around Brooklyn I couldn't help seeing abundant expressions of autonomous local culture, like Ralph's grocery in Fort Greene, proudly displaying this protest sign broadcasting opposition to the federal government's systematic terrorizing of immigrant families, with a bunch of older guys hanging out drinking on the benches out front.
Jacob Riis Park on Rockaway Beach is more popular than ever and kind of glorious, but the U.S. Park Police were riding around on horses like a federal occupying army handing out tickets for open alcohol containers on the beach, only a few hundred yards away from where licensed venders are selling drinks. Why?
In which I go to see Ginny Benson play and leave before she goes on because of the high-pitched guitar feedback of the lead-up player I'm so bored with Trump TV the only thing I am willing to watch is him setting himself on fire. Russia invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine And harassed gay people And the US is trying to get out of Afghanistan And wants to stop the refugees from Guatamala And Nicaragua And Venezuela Because it thinks they're Mexican And doesn't know it invaded all of them And let Syria drown in blood While millions fled to Europe As Russia bombed the terrorists Who came from Iraq Which the U.S. or IS Bombed to the Stone Age And now the President is standing with the other President And there is no equivalency And our best friend Israel is slowly committing genocide While espousing high ideals Like we used to. And Europe is our foe But what is Europe? Britain is our specialest relationship But also bloody annoying Having invaded everybody except the Romans And France won the World Cup But doesn't want its players And America is seeming more and more like a settler colony That erased its inhabitants And wants to be proud of its conquest Or self-righteous because it is no longer proud. And all I want to do is swim laps in McCarren Park Pool And remain ignorant Of world affairs Like Joschka Fischer said And win the second-place trophy Because the people who want first place are insane. Nobody knows how to get rid of the goddamned fool that got elected as a result. Music and visuals by #Octonomy
This is me at Steven Holl's T Space residency feeling pretty chuffed (as they say) about Holl's enthusiastic response to my cover story on the Ex of In house (pictured here in image # 8) in the April issue of Abitare. (He said, you should be the New York Times architecture critic. I said, that would be a fun job.) Tatiana Bilbao opened her show at T Space on Saturday, which plays with volumes, recesses, and projected views through her perspectival drawings, collaged with bright paintings, and the mounting of 2D work beyond the surface of the walls. Joined by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (standing among the lotuses) and ran into the amazing Juan Puntes and his group of White Box interns (pictured in Holl's painting cabin), along with Russian architect Grigori Fateyev and artist Anton Ginzburg (pictured with Richard Nonas's new land art sculpture), Eirini Tsachrelia of OIIO Architects, and the great architecture journalist and critic Fred Bernstein and Ben Prosky, director of the AIA-NY Center for Architecture. Congrats Dimitra Tsachrelia on organizing. @fabnyny @benprosky @antonginzburg @tspaceandsmhf @tabilbao @stevenhollarchitects @abitare_magazine @whiteboxny @oiiodesign
Mildred's Lane near Narrowsburg is a pretty idyllic place for a birthday dinner cooked by Coco Fusco (for the residency) beside a sculpture by Amy Yoes (ceremonially burned the next weekend) with a reading by Pablo Helguera. Belated thanks for all of the birthday wishes and love back to you all.
Charlie Ahearn @twincharlie gave a deep lecture on the Afro-futurist graffiti legend Rammellzee at Red Bull Arts Space a few weeks ago. Ahearn has a unique perspective as a witness to Rammellzee's presence on the scene as a visual artist, b-boy, and rapper who created his own personal mythology, mathematical system, and extra-planetary worldview. The must-see show at Red Bull gathers together Ram's work by means of loans from collectors and work from his estate, programmed with weekly events like this one where Ahearn played selections from a radio interview, film and music clips, and a taxonomy of graffiti letter styles as they were emerging among the young mainly black, mixed-ethnicity, and Puerto Rican kids in the subculture at the time. What he recognized was that a new group was claiming the right to represent themselves in the physical space of the city. Rammellzee was the most far-out and beyond categorization among them. Big coup for Red Bull to put together such a significant show.
Tomorrow morning I will be cooking from the old menu at Sunview Lunchenette in Greenpoint with Dylan Gauthier as a part of a celebration of Bea Koutros, her diner, and the community social space she harbored in her building. From the Sunview: In memory of Demetra (Bea) Koutros, please join us at the Sunview Luncheonette on Sunday, July 22nd from 5 am - 11 pm for an all-day 'cook-in' and celebration of her life, as we cook from Bea and Lou's old menu (at pre-recession prices). Bea and Lou kept the Luncheonette open from 5 am - 11 pm every day of the year, and never missed a day in the 63 years they ran the diner (1945-2008). They kept their prices low, so up until they closed in 2008 you could still get a hamburger for $1.15 or a cheeseburger for .25 cents more. Our neighbor Peter tells us if you tried to give Bea a tip, she'd refill your milkshake or bring you more fries. As Bea put it in an oral history with DW Gibson a few years back, when asked how the neighborhood had changed in 63 years: I was in the diner every day, and every day was beautiful. As a memorial to Bea, we thought we would bring the old diner back for a day, invite in neighbors, and cook everything on the Sunview's original menu. The day will be punctuated by remembrances and music, projections by Bradley Eros and friends, poetry, risographed posters by Partner & Partners, healing rituals, a reverse stoop sale, and dancing, but the main thing is to be together, to prepare, share & eat together, as an active tribute and memorial to celebrate Bea together in the spirit that she & we helped create together in this wondrous space we all love. We hope you'll drop by. -> No need to RSVP, but if you want to sign up for a cooking shift, to play music, or to project/read something, please sign up for a time slot: https://goo.gl/forms/ieQjACEZYNIdZZnq1 Where -> Sunview Luncheonette: 221 Nassau Avenue, corner of N Henry Street, Brooklyn, NY (G to Nassau Ave/L to Graham or Bedford) -> Thanks to Lea Bertucci, Ed Bear, Bradley Eros, the Koutros Family, Greg Mihalko and Erik Riley at P&P, and all Sunview members for organizing.
Anyone looking for a place? Know someone searching? Looking to split large Red Hook loft and build out a couple of rooms.
This was the next to last stop on my Skid Row to Pritzker Row architecture tour of the Bowery. The 18th floor terrace bar of Herzog & de Meuron's Public Hotel, developed by Ian Schrager, with a picture-postcard view of Gotham, its new towers backlit by the sunset over New Jersey. We started at the Center for Architecture on La Guardia Place (formerly West Broadway) and walked through the urban renewal areas across the street, which the federal government paid to demolish and redevelop as modern housing in the late 1950s. It became the Washington Village and University Square apartment complexes, which destroyed many blocks of Greenwich Village. NYU now uses them as housing for faculty and grad students. Along Washington Square South, we passed Bobst and the Kimmel Center, where New York University defeated neighborhood activists and built several large buildings by Philip Johnson and Kevin Roche, and noted the Judson Church, an organizing center for the Village Independent Democrats and the Committee to Save the West Village, led by Jane Jacobs. We passed through the XYZ- redesigned Astor Place, pointing out the preserved Jim Powers mosaics and the restored Alamo cube by Tony Rosenthal. I turned it, which everyone enjoyed. And we had a gander at the Jeff Koons sculpture in the lobby of Fumihiko Maki's 51 Astor Place (where hedge-fund trading meets the birth of punk) and the Keith Haring Self-Portait in the plaza. Most of the Bowery was protected by community activists led by the Cooper Square Committee, reflected in the senior housing center and a new development for LGBT youth. It was developed more incrementally, with NYU building dorms, Cooper Union hiring Morphosis for its engineering school, and other parts using the 80/20 formula of condo bonuses to incentivize affordable housing. Further south you can see the knock-on effects of the New Museum's relocation with the Sperone Westwater gallery by Norman Foster. A strip of restaurant and kitchen supply stores remain, and a few homeless shelters. The YMCA building where William S. Burroughs lived is still there, but looks to be for sale, and CBGB is a designer clothing store. @centerforarch
One of the first things I did after returning to New York was go for a run around North Brooklyn and Long Island City to look at the new parks. Since I had gotten involved in the Domino development as a community advocate for better urban design in 2011 and Hunters Point South as a cultural producer through the Chance Ecologies project in 2015, I was particularly curious to see whether the idiosyncratic characteristics of the places that had provoked us were reflected in the results. I had the same thought as Dylan Gautier @dgoats to do a Render vs. Reality mock-up of Domino Park. Even though the park is filled with users, its elements are something of a theme-park of cliches of Brooklyn artisanal culture. In that way it is an accurate reflection of the place's growing artificiality. But I was thrilled to find that the taqueria serves beer, which felt like a victory from my days at Metropolis arguing for more places to drink along the waterfront. (Link in bio got widely circulated in the Parks Department by those arguing for more permitting of beer-and-wine venders in public space.)
Sunny's has the right post-protest, post-Red Hook-pool spirit...
Impose financial sanctions on this government.
Back in Montpellier, we drove to the beach at Sête to relax for the day and say a last goodbye. Frantz was off to visit another friend in the south, and I would return to New York soon to give critic's tours of the Bowery for the AIA and settle my own affairs. We collected seashells and pebbles smoothed by the shore, and dove into the sea. I swam butterfly, launching myself into the air as the waves rose and plunged beneath, once taking a mouthful of saltwater as a swell rose over my head. We had one last farewell to perform: the one photo I could remember of my mother from Montpellier was with her parents at the beach after the war. We had talked about bringing her ashes here before discovering a note among her papers: For tombstone. If he like a madman lived, at least he like wise one died. -Don Quixote. With the trip came a sense of closure, which we topped off with a few bottles from the Val de Pins. It's an incredible indulgence to participate in these aesthetic pleasures when everything else seems on the brink. In dark times, it's all the more necessary to fight for joys in life and maintain a sense of hopefulness in the face the assaulting negativity of public life. The last line of W. H. Auden's poem In Memory of W. B. Yeats is Teach the free man how to praise, and, well, I agree. Spread your joys as well as the bad news. And organize.
A few days later, Frantz drove down from Paris to get me. He needed help with some family business in Auvergne, where his parents had spent their summers in a tiny village in the Massif Central mountains. On the bookshelves of their stone house, I found a first edition of Claude Levi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques, the masterpiece of French anthropology published in 1955, when Levi-Strauss had been a peer of his mom during her early years as a pioneering scholar of African literature. Frantz had buried his mother in the village a few months earlier, and now he was back to plant trees around the grave and place a marker. When we arrived at the cemetery, a rainstorm broke out. We planted the trees in a heavy downpour. But as we finished, the clouds opened up and bathed us in sunlight through the surrounding clouds. I brought two rocks to place on the marker from the Languedoc. Back at the house, we dug out a bottle of wine from the cellar. We sat in front of the fireplace talking with a childhood friend who cares for the house in Lilyan's absence, and Frantz put some pork chops on the grill. Throughout the two days in Auvergne, friends and neighbors dropped by, noting the conditions at the grave. They had all been for a visit and nudged Frantz to place rocks around the soil to prevent erosion. Lilyan had said she didn't want a tombstone: What do you want me to suffocate? she told Frantz. The next morning was the spring festival of plants and gardens. Farmers set up stands of flowers, herbs, and produce along the squares, and sold live chickens, ducks, and rabbits out of a truck. We spent the afternoon on another adventure: searching for a symbolic momento Frantz's father had left him, hidden decades ago somewhere deep in the mountains, with a map to find its location. After hours of toil and many false detours, we began to doubt and lose hope. Then, hours into the search, there it was! We found it located in the exact place he had been told to search decades ago. We packed up, said goodbye to his mother's friends, and set off again for the south, dreaming of a new way of life that could be started closer to the sea.
This was the day lightning struck my wifi connection. It sent me on an adventure through uncertain pathways from the village through the countryside about three miles to Castries, where I could catch a bus to Montpellier, then take a streetcar to the Place de la Comédie, exploring my way to the Orange telecom shop in the mall to replace the router. The elements were telling me to quit the Internet and discover another path. Along the way I explored the water systems feeding the vineyards, and many muddy roads that were barely navigable, and met a donkey behind a fence that I didn't realize was electrified until too late. And I searched out this Sou Foujimoto biophilic housing and restaurant development, L'Arbre Blanc, just finishing construction, which will have trees growing on the balconies.
It's remarkable how strong the pull of place is on the sense of urgency. Despite the gravity of the present state of crisis, I want to linger for a moment in this vineyard in the Languedoc. The wine produced here is called Val de Pins because geographically it falls within the valley, as opposed to the better-known Pic Saint Loup grown up in the mountain a few kilometers away. They say it only lacks one of the grapes that doesn't grow well in the lower climate. Nearby there's the Domain de L'Arbousier, a centuries-old vineyard with tree-houses for rent and a cave for tasting. But the nearest cave to Sussarges is called Celliers de Val de Pins. It's a cooperative that gathers small batches of grapes from hundreds of different vineyards and manufactures a handful of consistent wines from them influenced by the Pic Saint Loup. What's fascinating about this are the many particularities of economic organization. The cooperative is a very old form of farming collective that is being adopted increasingly by cultural producers and entrepreneurs. As I met with architecture collectives in Montpellier, you could see that there's a significant difference in the forms of commercial exchange made possible by an economic system that is, by comparison with the US, much more socialized. It makes possible types of survivals and innovations that do not exist and in many cases may not be possible for us without greater federal support for regional economies and provision of free space to experiment. It seems to be a hopeful avenue of research that could allow a vision for softer forms of commercial exchange--forms obviated by the disappearance of place in the production and marketing of mass consumer products. Here you can see the strength of regional character providing an affirmative identity. Wine is not crushed by global competition because no one else can produce a wine named for this place. Even a GM engine block is marked with numbers indicating its place of production. Instead of an obscure marking on the underside of a vehicle called Touareg, it should be the particularized brand on the hood that says, this was proudly made someplace.
After the panel in Venice and a talk at the University of Birmingham, I stayed in the village of Sussarges about 10 miles northwest of Montpellier at Ken and Liz Harrow's place. Ken was my professor of African film and literature at Michigan State, and a great teacher and friend over the years. Living for two weeks in a village in the Languedoc was not only pretty close to pure bliss, but it was an extraordinary learning experience about French regionalism and sociability, a great writing retreat, and an opportunity to discover where my mother's family lived during World War II. The Fountain of the Three Graces, pictured here, located in the Place de la Comédie in Montpellier, is the symbol of the city. In Greek mythology, the three graces symbolize the joy of life, the three figures representing fullness of enjoyment, beauty, and fecundity. This one is by Etiénne D'Antoine, but it has been rendered by many famous artists. In any case, I was gobsmacked by the beauty of Montpellier, and the size and complexity of what I knew to be a small city of less than 100,000, where my grandparents fled the Nazi invasion of Paris in 1940, and thus where my mom was born and grew up, in effect, a Jewish refugee, though blissfully unaware until later. It was very important to my mom that I remember that her father worked for the Comité juif d’action sociale et de reconstruction (Cojasor) resettling Jewish refugees after the war, and that's how they were reunited with my great aunt Laina, whose son was taken from her in the Stutthof concentration camp, never to be found again. Having left for Detroit in 1952 out of mistrust for the lingering anti-semitism in France after the war, how shocked would they be at the state of our country today? How in disbelief would they be that anyone believes the forcible separation of children from parents is ever morally defensible?
In her book A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid had the last word on the subject of why tourism is such a grating and damaging problem everywhere. That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go—so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself. But it doesn't address why having no tourism can be much, much worse for a place.
The panel on Robot Citizens: Architecture and Social Responsibility Now at the US Pavilion went off well, with good energy generated by a lot of passionate disagreements that had the audience building and sticking around in the courtyard. Instead of presentations, it was structured around reactions of Liam Young, Charles Renfro, Marrikka Trotter, and Jeremy Lecompte to the rant I've been rehearsing for several months having to do with the extent to which we have become, in effect, robots already, programmed by our devices in ways we have no awareness or control over, with no rights except to accept a user agreement that is coded in ways we have no access to or choice about. My question is: what are its implications are for our assumptions about public space as a redeeming place for democratic speech and participation. My position was: we may be being turned into disembodied robots by our phones, and there may be opportunities for liberation in disassociating from nationality and participating in subcultures and improvised activities, but ultimately governments, traders, and corporations are actively creating a hegemonic world that we ignore at our peril. While the discourse of human rights may be antiquated given the changing reality brought about by transnational movement of capital and information, it remains a core principle that enables each individual and each culture to exercise moral claims on power. And we need to take power, as soon as possible. Much more to say about it, but I hope to transcribe the whole conversation and share it later. The possibility for this panel was all engineered in large part by @erikghenoiu who is leading a new research program at @sciarc, and @mimizeiger mimizeiger whose co-curation of the US Pavilion @uspavilion18 balanced intellectual curiosity with important positions about the role of architecture in relation to ecology and power. Grateful to participate in this experience and cross paths with people like @kurganl @benjaminbratton Jeanne Gang @studiogang , and Kate Orff @scape_studio who I've reported on over the years, and special thanks to Hernan Diaz Alonzo for making the introduction. (Part 2)
If this were a buttoned-up short story, it would end there, finding freedom, to an extent, from media or mediation and embracing being there. But I continued to travel for another three weeks, and therefore I want to continue, though I am now back in New York with my dear kitty and my plants that mostly survived my absence. In Venice, I had the pleasure of staying with some great friends, Jerome and Ginger, and meeting up with an old friend Steven Varni, a colleague from my days as a clerk at the famous long-gone Books & Co. next to the Whitney Museum, where Susan Sontag and Julia Kristeva did readings, Wally Shawn and Woody Allen would drop by, everyone who worked there was at some stage of Remembrance of Things Past, and William Gaddis was a fetishized name. Steven has been living in Venice for the last seven years, and he believes this is the last generation that will survive the effects of tourism. The classic gondola rides are the Venice version of those uncanny frozen moments of time in Paris where you cannot see it without seeing it through its repetition over a lifetime of other representations, and you need to also repeat it, like stumbling into the original portrait of King George in London, or the feeling of visitors to New York that they haven't been there until they've been to Times Square. (Part 1)
What I'm going to say now is going to surprise absolutely no one, but I never fully grokked it until I spent four days in Venice. Venice is a city composed of nothing but islands. The water is everywhere. There are no cars. At all. All transport happens by various kinds of boats. No cars. Nothing but boats. That means that everywhere you go, you are visibly and physically on the water. At the end of every street, in the backyard, through the windows, in front of the museum, at the end of the plaza. I have lived on islands in New York for the last 23 years, but rarely have I felt it, except those magical moments on Rockaway Beach, Coney Island, Long Island City, Staten Island, and Governors Island where I intentionally sought out the water. To a large extent the water is restrained, kept at bay, landfilled, or hidden behind industrial canals. Here, water flows through the city everywhere. Everywhere one is either walking across stone bridges or hopping onto vaporetti boats to get to the other end of the city. Apart from that, Venice is swarming with tourists. When I say swarming, I mean, there's a sense in which the city appears to be so overwhelmed with tourists they are squeezing out any possibility of its residents to live there at all. This too is astonishing in the context of the struggles of every place I passed through to adapt to the radical uneven global distribution of wealth, how it freely circulates through the local economy, squeezing the life out of the place. Upon arriving in Venice, I instantly had to take a few photographs. But I took surprisingly few after that, and none that capture the glorious marvel that is Venice. Because everyone, everywhere is always taking pictures. The city is endlessly captivating. I would barely be able to take two steps without feeling the need to photograph it. So I resisted the urge and just absorbed being there, the wind in my face on the vaporetti, meandering through the narrow streets, absorbed in the exhibitions of the architecture biennale, engrossed in the cinematic beauty everywhere around me. (Part 2)
So I continue. In Milan I take the bus from the airport to the train station and buy a ticket to Venice, with changes of trains in Rovato, Lombardy and Verona to my destination in Spinea, where I rented an AirBNB somewhere along the way. For large parts of the journey from Milan to Venice, I see only people of African descent, which is remarkable for a place that has been relatively stable culturally at least since after World War II. But most people with two nickels to rub together seem to have their own cars. As we get closer to Venice, I start to see a few groups of tourists. In Mestre I take a cab to Spinea, then a train to Venice for an art opening as a part of the US Pavilion events. (Part 1)
Pardon the interruption of this journal for some brief publicity for myself. In the new issue of Oculus @centerforarch released for the start of the American Institute of Architects @aianational convention in New York, editor Molly Heintz @heintzmm commissioned me to report on the historical changes to the New York waterfront since the last AIA convention in the city in 1988. The creation of thousands of acres of parks, construction of dozens of defamiliarizing towers, and formation of new guidelines for protecting against storm surges and sea level rise are among the changes illuminated through interviews with Alex Cooper, Kevin Bone @bonelevine Linda Starr @starrwhitehouse Kate Boicourt of Waterfront Alliance @waterfrontalliance and Robert Freudenberg of the Regional Plan Association @regional_plan . Also in the issue are articles by Michael Sorkin @terreformur Karrie Jacobs, and Clifford Pearson. Grab a copy!
The next day I worked on a New York project in the Maghreb Cafe and walked around the souk and the médina by myself. As the sun set, Abdul arrived and took me to the leather-making district, where his friend was feeding chicken entrails to a gathering of cats and dogs. After dinner, Amir and Hakim showed up to drive me to the airport. It was a chance for everyone to seek extra payment, with heavy protests of personal injury for the little I had to give. The entreaties didn't stop until all the dirhams and dollars in my pockets were gone. Then they wanted to drive to a cash machine so I could take out more. I refused, and said I would get another taxi, which might have left me stranded with empty pockets, and I was in danger of missing my flight. They relented and dropped me off, but I was upset at the scene, which I had tried to preclude by negotiating in advance. Yet I understood it was a probable outcome of going along with a guide. The worst part was the realization at the airport that the flight to Venice I had purchased in Madrid hadn't gone through. It was 11 pm, and there were no more airplanes flying out of Marrakesh that night. In a panic, I looked at the board for the morning flights. With a slow airport wifi, I booked the earliest plane to Milan at 5:50 am. From there I could take a train and make it to Venice in time for the evening events of the US Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale.
At the end of our trip to the mountains, the three of them suggested it would be nicer for me to spend the night with a family rather than stay alone in the mountains. Abdul invited me back to his family's home in the médina. We drove back down to Marrakesh, and they dropped us off at the far eastern edge of the Médina. It was still light out, and I followed Abdul through the narrow alleys to his family's home, where we ducked into a low doorway. Inside the family compound, his mother and father lived with his brother and sister-in-law in rooms oriented around a courtyard partly shaded by an advertising banner strung up for shade and rain protection. He brought me to a traditional Arab living room on the second floor with a red-patterned divan along the walls, where I left my belongings. He made coffee, and we climbed a ladder made of tree branches to drink on the rooftop while his brother swept with a straw handbroom after the cats he feeds. After the 7:35 call to prayer, we ate flatbread, bean soup, hard boiled eggs, a mixture of honey, nuts, and spices, and lemon cake at a small table in the court beneath the strung-up banner, while his family ate in front of the TV in the adjacent living room. He introduced me, and I sat with the mother, sister-in-law and father, thanking them in French for having me, and for the dinner. They offered me another piece of lemon cake, which reminded me of my grandmother's moist lemony cake made for Jewish holidays. After dinner, I walked with Abdul back to the Maghreb cafe facing the mosque. We had mint tea, and I again connected to the wifi. Hakim showed up and went off with Abdul to the mosque for the evening prayer. The day's separation from news of loved ones had been difficult, and I felt strained by the distance. Yet even in New York, most of my connection to loved ones is mediated by a computer rather than physical presence. It didn't matter if I was in Marrakesh or Lisbon or Auvergne. Back in the médina, far from wifi, deep in the built structures of the congested city, I was grateful to experience life in the médina during Ramadan. I was not at peace, but I had a clearer idea of where I wanted to be.
In the mountains, I was fascinated with the water pouring down into the oasis of Marrakesh and the overwhelming abundance of plant life. Improvised bridges are built everywhere across the gorges, and domestic economies of gathering, growing, and making are established by each family, with little shops, cafes, tents, and hotels all along the road. Abdul walked with me up the built-up side of the mountain, through the warren of cement structures wedged into the mountainside, the home-made concrete stairs, the cabanas in wait for the start of the tourist season. How to kindly say that the informal economy of nonstop haggling over prices is exhausting? While being shown Berber carpets by a young man selling local woven goods, I felt sadness at the nature of the exchange: I wanted someone to just tell me what it was worth. Yet this haggling makes sense when you consider that prices are abstract values attributed to materials, labor, and craftsmanship. Haggling is a person-to-person auction trading on the attribution of value to an individual's creativity and the authentic value of a thing, its sentimental meaning to them. How do you compare that to a value determined by mass manufacturing and distribution of IKEA furniture, the products of which I see everywhere, as opposed to personalized rugs crafted as the expression of individual artists, which they say of the kilims? The craftspeople and family enterprises seem to have little help from any government or organization of any kind to distribute their goods or build infrastructure, and therefore heaps of ceramics and carpets are piled up everywhere with no way of getting to a bigger market. Instead they depend on seasonal tourists arriving each summer, haggling in the hope of getting two to ten times more than any local would ever pay. For this exchange, they rely on the outsider's search for an authentic experience of a place and a people. But I had not come as a tourist to buy carpets, however beautiful, and however important to people's lives to sell them. The only way I could end the conversation was to give them the insultingly low IKEA price.
In 1993 at Michigan State, I read Paul Rabinow's Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, an ethnography of the Berbers of the Atlas Mountains, in which he made himself a part of the research as much as the culture he was observing. Anthropology has often confronted the problem of how to get beyond the self-presentation of people to outsiders in order to learn the true habits, lives, and ways of thinking of others. The idea was to become embedded in the place and culture through participant observation. Anthropology has also been conscious at times of the uneven power dynamics between observer and observed. But in his Reflections, Rabinow was also aware that his presence was implicated in the culture he was observing and that both he and his subjects were grasping for ways to reconcile traditional customs with contemporary realities. One of the most distressing aspects of our current political moment is the difficulty of separating psychologically from the daily barrage of shameful actions of the US president. One is constantly implicated by extension in the failure of humanity. Even if we did not elect him and do not support him, the cruelty and destruction personally wounds us, doing harm in our name. As we powerlessly look on, our lizard brains react. We are dragged down, the sentiments themselves furthering the spectacle of reproach and humiliation. I don't relish seeing friends participate in the latest rituals public humiliations of individuals, however deserving of reproach; I would rather we organize a movement to recapture the state, and we are doing that, too. In any case, it was probably due to the memory of Rabinow and the Berber literature I read in college that I was persuaded to take a trip to the Atlas Mountains with Hakim for a day and a night, after which I was assured I would be deposited at the airport for a fee agreed upon in advance. Not to do fieldwork or organize a movement, but to investigate my own experience and human predicament through contact with the ways and lives of others. So the next day I set off with Hakim, Abdul, and Hakim's cousin who drives a taxi to the mountains surrounding Marrakesh.
Whether I was better off with or without Hakim is an open question, but he bought me a mint tea at Cafe Maghreb, which is standard in every place of business at the start of a negotiation. Hakim wanted to show me the videos of places he took strangers on YouTube, the desert, the Berber country, etc. Since I hadn't eaten, I ordered a tajine and listened, though all I wanted was to take a stroll through the médina. Hakim was anxious from fasting, and he was in a hurry to get to the mosque for the evening prayer. Without saying anything he put his handbag on my shoulder, asked me to wait, and rushed across the street for the call to prayer. (Part 3 of 3)