A stranger in a strange place, you land on a snow-covered city and this suddenly feels as refreshing as being slapped without warning. Like sleep deprivation, you remember you need these abrupt changes to take you out of a lukewarm, pleasing state of hibernation. You feel privileged. You are part of an apparently disappearing sect: travelers of rare bliss, exchangers of precisely located, yet homeless knowledges – those yesteryear voyagers who have been slowly, but surely, substituted by passive tourists and predatory traders.
Anri Sala, Long Sorrow, 2005. Via Mousse Magazine.
Like if entering a proper nuit blanche, as soon as you arrive to the core of this city you find yourself visiting a contemporary art museum at 1.00 am – this hour still being your unquestionable biological time. And this museum is full of people, and you enjoyably rediscover the powerful work of Anri Sala, or come across artists like Young & Giroux. Mostly, you take in pieces that you’ve never seen before, and yet feel pleasantly close to home. A satisfying cultural acclimation, as it would be.
A few hours later, you will remember being in Tokyo on a reverse timetable. You will remember assaulting the streets for food at around 4.00 am, a harmless vampire looking out for the nearest 24/7. You will recall feeling sleepy at 7.00 pm and abandoning yourself to the same chronological cycle, over and over again. As it were, in this unexpected enclave of French language in America you find yourself reading Barthes between 4.00 and 8.00 am. You register the light coming in. Then you write. Just another way of getting lost – and found – in the delights of translation.
© Pedro Gadanho, “5.00 am (Hotel room with a view, #12)”, 2011
This one time you refuse to change the hour in you mobile phone. You stubbornly stick with your time zone. You will experience four days of a slightly dislocated timetable. As such, your panel conversation takes place at 11.00 pm, and by 1.30 am you are still discussing if and why architectural writing is undergoing a fictional turn. (A member of the audience suggests that maybe we are no longer interested in the truth. You counter that we may solely be bored or, even worse, giving in to the perverse logic that entertainment must take the lead in even pedagogical and disciplinary matters.) Dinner finishes at 5.00 am.
Two days after, you are still waking up at 4.00 am, local time. It is Saturday and four hours until breakfast. You make the usual morning skype call to your family. Then you head for Stereo, like a 12 year-old who skips Sunday school to join the after hours crowd. It turns out that Montreal has an interesting electronic scene and is twinned to your own city by a legendary sound system. And as they used to say, M.A.N.D.Y and Troy Pierce are in the house.
It’s a long time since you’ve been clubbing on your own. In this dance floor sunglasses after dark are obviously fashionable. A guy wears a T-shirt that says: “Egypt woke me up.” Did it really? Fortunately, at this stage social interaction is no longer required. As ever in the past, you are here exclusively for the acoustic engineering. As the sound involves you, your mind fills with words you will eventually write down. You reflect that bad techno is like any other form of porn, too lastingly engaged in some basic arrangement. Then again, the most layered electronica of post-Reich crop is the be-bop of our era.
Music is probably the clearest way to understand the fundamental play of novelty and obsolescence in our mental life. Novelty is an addiction. Even if it would be repetition that, as Barthes put it, “engendrerait elle-même la jouissance.” As architects like to believe in durability, they mostly reject novelty as a motor of their own doings. Nonetheless, architecture too is subject to rules of cultural consumption. And those dictate that we want our brain cells constantly rearranged by new arrangements of old and new fragments.
Three hours listening to music that you had never heard before and you are ready for the last, long day you will spend in town. The hypnotic beats have made you strangely apt to appreciate Buckminster Fuller’s Biosphere and Moshe Safdie’s still surprising Habitat 67 – even if you are walking from one to the other alone under a severe snow blizzard. The trance-like quality of those “rythmes obsessionels” have opened your mind to the Mile End’s graphic novel stores and the weird and wonderful ephemera shops of Boulevard St. Laurent – even if you are long past your regular dinnertime.
© Pedro Gadanho, “Ruins of the Future (Habitat 67)”, 2011
The morning you leave town you are woken up by the alarm clock at 5.30 am. Local time is catching up with your body. It is forcing you to conform. You timely escape into the airport. By 10.00 am you are in New York. One of those places, if not the place, which crisply illuminates how precious it is to breathe the air of the city. A few hours are enough.
Just before you definitely head home, five hours is what it takes to once again verify how a city can remain itself and yet retain an ever-unbelievable degree of new stimuli. Indeed, what Georg Simmel has once dubbed the mental life of the metropolis here translates in the peculiar feeling that the spur of the new it too can be enduringly inscribed into the flesh of stones.