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July 16, 2011

Maybe it’s my first time around
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:37 PM * 87 comments

face11

For me, going to a new city is like going to a bookstore. Consciously or not, I’m looking for a story—a coherent intellectual skeleton to hang my experiences on and give them some structure. Every city has its own range of stories, in all genres: comedy, tragedy, horror, SF, romance. Walking around and thinking about what I see is a means of trying out different narratives, the way readers leaf through several books before buying one. I’m not just reacting to what I see; I’m also figuring out whether I am more convinced by the story that the faces in the the architecture bespeak a deep humanism than the one where they’re unattainable abstractions, or the idea that the amount of makeup the women wear denotes pride rather than that they are judged by their appearance, or where streetcars are a sign of freedom instead of poverty.

Sometimes I only understand the story I’ve told myself about a city after years of living there. Sometimes I don’t identify it until long after I’ve left the place. But since our narratives not only give a coherent shape to our perceptions but filter them as well, I’m increasingly prone to consciously seeking them out, identifying them, and questioning their value.

One of the best tools for doing this is a camera. When I take pictures, I’m asking the lens to show me the story I’m telling myself about what I see. What is my eye drawn to? What themes and patterns emerge? What is essence and what is detail?

curtain

All of this is apropos of my recent business trip to Łódź, Poland1, where my team’s sister office is located. Although I spent a good deal of the two weeks there actually working, I did make some time for walking around and looking up2. And, very shortly, I began to be afraid.

You see, my life as a perpetual migrant3 is heavily dependent on my ability to find something wonderful, some sustaining joy, in every new place that I go. I’ve never been in Central Europe4 before, and my first impression was one of decay and loss. Łódź’s golden age was the century before the Second World War, and every aesthetic movement in that timespan is exuberantly displayed on its facades. But the buildings are crumbling and grubby, with peeling plaster and flaking ornamentation. Historic structures that would be the pride of another city stand gutted and abandoned, or worse yet, crumbling but still inhabited.

It was an awful few days. I didn’t want to see that narrative. Even my side-obsession of photographing the range of faces I was seeing on the buildings was no real comfort: they looked the sadder for the ruin they witnessed.

passage1

But then I noticed another persistent image, another feature that drew my lens. The buildings in central Łódź may vary in age and style, but most of their facades have one common characteristic: a central opening at street level, leading to a passageway into the back streets or open courtyards beyond. Many of them are gated, either at night or all of the time, but most are active thoroughfares. Each one is a glimpse into its own separate world5: garden spaces and industrial yards; restaurants and shops; places for children to play or cars to park.

I have no place in these worlds; I don’t speak the language or share the culture of the people who belong in them.

Still, unlike the bleak and ruined buildings, these are places I can understand people loving, quietly or passionately, the way Chesterton talks about such things:

The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it even more.
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton6

Seeing the place as lovable—even if I do not love it myself—gives me the closure I need for my narrative of the city. I can take this story home with me7.


  1. PNH: All the cool kids are going to Poland this year.
    Abi: Yes, and me, too!
  2. That’s how you tell a tourist from a local, of course. Tourists look up; locals look down.
  3. One day I will deliver my Expat Rant. But the short version is: I’m not one; I’m a migrant.
  4. The terminology is pretty fraught in this area. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining “Central Europe” as countries formerly under Soviet control, but not part of the USSR, and saving “Eastern Europe” for former Soviet Socialist Republics. The economic and cultural impact of the two conditions is what’s substantially relevant here.
  5. Were I to write genre fiction set in the city, it would be about characters stumbling on passages that were gateways to genuinely different worlds
  6. Thank you again, Brother Guy, for bringing that quote to my attention.
  7. Indeed, it is now a part of me. Suddenly the Dutch custom of building alleys between buildings, like something they are ashamed of, seems notably less welcoming than including them in the facade.
Comments on Maybe it's my first time around:
#1 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Thank you, Abi, for these thoughts on place and how we inhabit the world, and to you and Brother Guy for the link to the Chesterton, which I'd missed the earlier time around. Adding Orthodoxy to my reading list.

#2 ::: Henning Makholm ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 03:38 PM:

Ah, the wonder of seeing something with fresh eyes. Such passages are ubiquitous in the parts of Copenhagen dating from before the 1920s, but it never occurred to me to see them as something magical before. Thank you!

#3 ::: Henning Makholm ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 04:22 PM:

As a geographical aside, I'm not sure I can approve of any definition of "Central Europe" that fails to unambiguously include Vienna.

My intuitive sense of Central Europe is exclusion-based: it's the parts of Europe that are not far enough north to orient geographically towards the Baltic or North Sea, not far enough south to orient towards the Mediterranean, not far enough west to be French, and not far enough east to have been ruled by the czars. This gives a rough trichotomy between "north", "central" and "south", which is orthogonal to the crisp dichotomy between "west" and "east" defined by the late iron carpet.

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 04:30 PM:

Henning Mankholm @3:

I was mostly figuring out how to talk about Poland's economic history (prosperity followed by steamroller) without calling it Eastern European, which I gather the Poles find problematic.

Austria's economic history is very different, however much Vienna's culture places it in the Central circle of the complex Venn Diagram that is Europe.

(And re you @2: One of the great pleasures in traveling is showing people the places they already know. I was walking around Łódź with my camera out and my mouth open, and I kept seeing locals looking up to see what it was that had me so captivated.)

#5 ::: hawkwing-lb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 04:40 PM:

Łódź is the place where I ate the most interesting meal of my life. (A variety of different meats, none of which were easily identifiable as to species.)

I remember it fondly for that, for exuberant Orthodox church near the train station, and for the sense of lived community that seemed to exist in the interstices of every single tenement block.

Although riding the rattling elevator in the Hotel Centrum was perhaps one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

(I'm moved to share this because, well, when I passed through it, Łódź seemed pretty cool for a town with the highest unemployment rate in Poland.)

#6 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 05:28 PM:

Abi, have you been to Venice? If so, would you say something different about its decay than about Lodz, particularly if you s/century before the second world war/sixteenth century/ ?

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 05:37 PM:

joann @6:

I have never been to Venice, but I've spent a lot of time in Rome, which has its own fair share of decay after its various golden ages.

I think much of the impact is because the transition to wrack and ruin is more recent, and more pervasive, than what I've seen in Italy. There's a decent middle class in Poland, but I was seeing people with needle tracks sitting and staring into space one block off of Piotrkowska (the "showcase" street of the city).

#8 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 06:19 PM:

Have you been to the Vieux Carre in New Orleans? Its architecture shares the same tendency to having an archway thru the facade into a rear or internal courtyard. I don't know whether or not it's for the same reasons, though.

#9 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 07:14 PM:

This is similar to my experience of Mérida, the capital of Yucatán in Mexico. It was certainly colored heavily by my feelings of my trip to that point, which was the first time I'd traveled internationally without some sort of guide or supervising older person. Which is to say, everything was a little frightening.

But I walked around this colonial city bewildered by its facelessness. All the buildings seemed windowless or shuttered. Towards the end of our time there, I discovered that the city is full of lush, busy courtyards. Once I learned that, I began noticing the signs -- trees appearing to grow out of the middles of buildings, alleys leading in.

#10 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 08:50 PM:

the story I’ve told myself about a city

When I went to Washington DC in 1990, I thought of the SF movies that were set there, especially "The Day The Earth Stood Still".

#11 ::: Jim Flannery ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 08:52 PM:

Were I to write genre fiction set in the city, it would be about characters stumbling on passages that were gateways to genuinely different worlds

Have you seen Inland Empire?

#12 ::: Kee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 08:57 PM:

We were overtaken by a zombie walk on Piotrkowska street during my own brief visit to Łódź last month.* I think that spilling onto the streets of whimsy and geekdom was a lovely addition to my version of the city's narrative. A lot of what I saw was a deep pride in the heritage of the city, and a stubborn sense of survival in hard times.

*Didn't expect to be a cool kid. :)

#13 ::: Henning Makholm ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2011, 10:56 PM:

#4 abi: I don't object to the erection of a geographic category that includes Łódź and excludes Vienna (here: territory of Warsaw Pact members, except USSR). I do object to using a name for that category that usually means something quite different. And while I haven't discussed the matter with any actual Pole, I'd wager than if they find it problematic to be called "eastern Europe", what they actually object to is being thought of as "just one of those places east of the iron curtain", rather than to any particular use of compass directions. In other words, the geographic category you speak of is the problem, no matter what you choose to call it. (Which really cannot be helped because it is still too useful a mental category to discard just because feelings might get hurt. It has now been more than half as long since Communism fell as the time it actually reigned, but the economic ramifications are still there. More in some places than in others).

When Poles in 2011 insist on being central Europeans, they do so exactly to claim a shared cultural heritage with places such as Vienna or Nuremberg. This cultural heritage really exists, though events in the mid-late 1900s have blurred it quite a bit. But go back to the 1800s, and you'll find a distinctly Central European cultural sphere, with Vienna and Prague as the dominant cities, but really stretching from the Rhine to the East Carpathians, vibrant with tension between the German-speaking cultural elite and slavic/magyar masses in the east, and in turn a dialogue between those areas and the purely German west. That's what many in those countries aspire to be again (minus the German-speaking overlords, of course), instead of merely post-communist wastelands.

Evidently, the city itself failed to convince you that it is part of that story. Which is OK -- perhaps it isn't, or perhaps the story is only a dream. But when you redefine "Central Europe" to only include its ex-Communist parts, you're only paying lip service to the story -- but really not even that, for your redefinition amounts to denying that the dream of restoring the 1800s Central Europe is even relevant today. Which perhaps it isn't, and you're certainly entitled to saying it's not. Just don't think that pointing this out will endear you to the Poles.

#14 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:30 AM:

Oh jeez, Abi. You should come to Richmond, Indiana if you want to see crumbling glory. Our glory days ended roughly 1930, with the death blow in the late 90's. It's not quite Detroit (not big enough or recent enough money) but it's more or less what you read about. Living here has made me more obsessive than any other city I've lived in about the idea of time travel. I'd really love to see what it was like here in 1895.

The pictures you've taken look astoundingly like any of the several thousand I have of Budapest. Budapest is economically better off, sounds like.

Beth@9 - that's not uncommon in Spanish colonial countries. Puerto Rico has some older places like that (the United States influence from 1950 on make it different in a lot of ways, but you see the effects).

Ponce, Puerto Rico is another place where you can sense the glory days just under the surface. There, it was the oil money leaving town in the mid-70's. There's a truly fascinating hotel ruin up on the hill, the Hotel Intercontinental. Paintball is popular there.

Henning@13 - yes. Hungarians consider themselves solidly Central European, and I agree that it goes back further than the Warsaw Pact.

#15 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:32 AM:

Henning Makholm @ 13... I don't object to the erection

"I'm going to Iowa for an award. Then I'm appearing at Carnegie Hall, it's sold out. Then I'm sailing to France to be honored by the French government. I'd give it all up for one erection."
- Groucho Marx in his old age.

:-)

#16 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 01:30 AM:

Henning Makholm @ 3 & 13: I'm not sure that "My intuitive sense of Central Europe is exclusion-based" and "But go back to the 1800s, and you'll find a distinctly Central European cultural sphere" are entirely compatible. It seems to me that a distinct cultural sphere is a more coherent thing than "doesn't easily fit into other, functional, categories."

#17 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 01:49 AM:

abi: A wonderful post--a lot of things you address here seem to that, with a little twist, are very much about world-building. Perhaps your trip will also inspire a post over at Noise2Signal?

I haven't, in my adult life, ever spent much time in a city where the majority of the built environment is over a century old. The closest I've come is Kyoto, but the old buildings (temples mostly) are scattered and tucked away--a pleasure in its own right, but a different thing that Lodz or Edinburgh. I cannot say how the entirety of the city would strike me (needle tracks and all), but I find the exquisite dilapidation shown in your photographs deeply appealing.

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 04:03 AM:

I would suppose that "central European" has a strong cultural link to the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and its predecessors. Modern boundaries don't always agree with the history, but the mix of languages within that Empire, and the political solutions to some of the internal divisions, distinguish it from Germany, France, Russia, or Italy.

Pre-1866 some parts of modern Germany were part of that Empire. Perhaps they have had rather too much history imposed on them since then.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 04:34 AM:

Henning Mankholm @13:

As it happens, being entirely innocent of Polish (I can say "good day", "please", and "thank you", all with a terrible accent), I don't have a very good insight into the local culture. Certainly not enough to discuss how its roots are or are not congruent with those of Vienna.

Remember that for all of my supposed cultural sophistication and wide travels, I'm still American by birth and upbringing. The last time I put serious thought and devotion into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I was sixteen and doing my one and only course in the details of European history. And it was an optional class.

I can tell you that Łódź is the blending-point of four populations: Russian, German, Polish and Jewish. It's part of the locals' own narrative of their city, and was explained to me two or three times. I can't really speak to its accuracy, but I did find the dinner in an explicitly Jewish restaurant quite odd. Delicious, but odd. People climbing to high perches and playing "If I Were A Rich Man" on the violin level of odd. People sitting in a corner of the restaurant painting to be part of the ambiance odd.

#20 ::: Reinder Dijkhuis ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 06:04 AM:

I very much want to hear the expat rant. I always figured that an expat is a migrant who isn't one of those people, and spending some time at Expatica's forums has definitely bolstered that opinion.

#21 ::: DawnOfMinstrel ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 06:40 AM:

Abi @16:

I agree wholeheartedly with Henning @13. Geographically speaking, Poland qualifies as Central AND Eastern Europe (haha, overlapping confusing categories), but we consider ourselves Central European or even Western European, though it has more to do with us being Catholic than us trying to claim a common cultural heritage with Vienna and Prague.

To us, Eastern Europe is countries that are traditionally Orthodox, like Ukraine and Russia.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 07:04 AM:

DawnofMinstrel @21:

I put the footnote in there when I was going somewhere else with the post (I was going to quote a Serbian colleague, but decided it was a distraction to what I was really talking about.)

I'm reading the various distinctions and reasons for Poland's categorization with great interest, but for me, the main impact is something that Poland has in common with East Germany, for instance, but not West Germany: the damaging effects of the Warsaw Pact, only now being slowly recovered from.

Eventually, one can't really classify any country. Poland is Poland, with its own position in history, economics and geography. It's people have their own character, their own tensions between history and modernity, pride and anxious care, authority and rebellion. It's not like anywhere else. Even its Catholicism is unlike the Irish- and Italian-descended Catholicism I grew up with.

Since I don't speak Polish, and haven't had time to research the place (I'm busy trying to assimilate into a completely different foreign-to-me country, in addition to raising a family, holding down a job, and writing the occasional blog post), I wrote that article as an outsider looking in.

Because, as we say around here, for that is what I am doing.

#23 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 09:20 AM:

Abi @ 19... being entirely innocent of Polish

I thought you shone plenty when we last met.
Meanwhile, Evolution must have had a sense of humor that Magneto was a Pole.

#24 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 10:18 AM:

This conversation draws more than perhaps it knows on Milan Kundera's 1984 NYRB essay, 'The Tragedy of Central Europe'. Still well worth reading - and available as a pdf here.

#25 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:13 PM:

May I ask why this thread, right from the start, has almost completely ignored what it was originally about, and instead focused on a minor point of it and has been parsing it around and around? Yes, I know, fans do that. I hope I'm not the only one who'd like to hear about Cities as seen thru their Tales, whether it's San Francisco thru Dashiel Hammett's eyes, or London thru the promo film for the 2014 worldcon. (Goodness, Big Ben has been trashed many time thru its long history, hasn't it?)

#26 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Abi

Love the photographs. The "central opening at street level shots." I'm terrible at judging sizes of things—but I wonder if they were originally meant as shortcuts for horse-and-carriages? They look about the right size.

#27 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:39 PM:

Serge @25 : Because we do that? A lot? And sometimes eventually get back around to the point? (Sometimes with prodding, admittedy...)

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Lisa @26:

They would fit carriages. And many of them have stone kerbs or metal ornaments at the bottom corners of the opening, which would reduce the damage of wheels bumping against the buildings.

And that would make sense, if the stables were inside those blocks of buildings.

Good thinking.

#29 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:51 PM:

abi, Lisa--that's what they're for in the hôtels particuliers in Paris. Most of them have been broken up into apartments, but one of them has become a dance studio. Taking a tap class, in French, in a seventeenth-century room, was definitely one of the cool-but-weird-but-cool moments of my life.

About Mérida, in the Yucatan: I went there after spending a month in Dijon, a French city of similar vintage. I was amazed at how similar they were.

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 12:56 PM:

On the subject of the stories that cities tell, what I find fascinating is what different stories different people derive from the same urban images. Abi writes, "Historic structures that would be the pride of another city stand gutted and abandoned, or worse yet, crumbling but still inhabited." But to me it's the first image that tells a sadder story than the second. The second one, showing the continuing inhabitation of a once-grand building now in decay, seems to me an image of persistence. People still live here. Maybe there's still a neighborhood here, a network of relationships. Derelict buildings are a waste; continued habitation carries with it the potential of a better day.

Understand, these are my personal gut reactions to a couple of photographs--obviously, to a great extent, they're a story I made up. And we all react out of our own experience. One of the storylines of my life has been watching the physical changes to New York City since I first lived here in the summer of 1977. Which was an exciting time in some ways, full of a kind of crazy artistic ferment that's unlikely to happen in the Manhattan of 2011, but it has to be said, that version of New York City was in many ways a deeply ugly and uncomfortable physical place to be. In the decades since, I've watched as innumerable crumbling old buildings have emerged from the murk of grime and decay, suddenly made visible with a little attention and cleaning and restoration. It's striking to me what a difference it makes, how low a point a city can come back from under the right circumstances.

And by the way that was a lovely post. Anyone who didn't bother to click through and look at all the photographs--go back and do it! Very much worth your time.

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 01:10 PM:

PNH @30:

The second building, the still-inhabited one, was in the area where I walked past people who looked to be either drunk or on some fairly non-trivial drugs. (I saw other people who had been drinking as I walked around, but only in that area were they sleeping in doorways in the early evening.)

I suspect that colors my association with that building, as opposed to the gutted one, which I actually expect was on its way to being refitted.

The story I had hoped to see when I first arrived was the one you tell about New York; my discouragement was substantially made up of how little hope I could see in the faces and walks of the people, how few were the children on the streets, and a certain pinched feeling about the whole place.

And thank you for the kind comment about the post and the photos. I was hoping they would be of interest.

#32 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 03:43 PM:

"Poland: Central or Middle?" --these brangles tend to be a little bit boring the umpteenth time they happen. Edge cases are great, except when that's all we ever talk about.

#33 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 04:22 PM:

Henning Mankholm @3:
The most exhausting history I've ever read (I've gotten through 2 of the 3 volumes of Fernand Braudel's The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II) gave me one of my favorite meaningful epigrams.
In discussing "The Mediterranean" we first need a definition of the area: "The Mediterranean extends from the northernmost olive grove to the northernmost date palm grove."

#34 ::: Henning Makholm ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 05:03 PM:

Sorry for derailing the thread.

#16 heresiarch, I'm pretty sure Central Europe is there, it's just exactly where it is that becomes a bit fuzzy at the edges.

#19 Abi, the history you sketch does sound like a classical Central European condition. Again, my point was not to dispute Poland's classification (certainly at least the Wrocław and Kraków areas would be included in even the narrowest sense of "Central Europe", but depending on purpose and temperament one might prefer to think of Gdańsk, with its Hanseatic past, more as a northern than a central city), only that restricting "Central Europe" to mean only the part east of the curtain helps nobody.

... well, in fact I think it's also a geographical stretch to define a "central" Europe that includes Bulgaria, but that's a different story entirely.

Back on topic. #26 Lisa Spangenberg, they are certainly designed for vehicular access, but I don't think "shortcuts" is the right way to think about them. In this tradition, a "standard" city block consists of an uninterrupted, solid row of buildings lining the streets, with the only access to the central open space being these gateways through the buildings. The central space may be subdivided by fences so each lot has its own part of it, or shared between several streetfront properties. Sometimes the center of the block contains additional buildings that have no street facades, thus the signs directing you through the gateway to business located in the backhouses.

The last of Abi's photos show a (not uncommon) variation of the theme, where there's apparently a gap in the buildings at the opposite side of the block. Still, the gateway through the front building will have been designed as a main access; it would be foolish for its builder to depend on the opposite lot owner for access.

Some regional variation? Abi's pictures show many of the gateways being closed by metal grids. In Copenhagen it's more common to have solid wooden doors in the gateways when one desires to keep them closed. On the other hand, perhaps Abi just didn't recognize closed wooden gates as hiding a courtyard gateway ...

#35 ::: Henning Makholm ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 05:07 PM:

Um, spelling reference? Makholm. No n.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 05:19 PM:

Henning Makholm @34:

I saw one or two closed with wooden doors -- more often at the inner side of the passageway than the outer. I didn't photograph them because what fascinated me was the vision inward.

But the vast majority of the passageways were either entirely open or had openwork metal for their gates.

#37 ::: Henning Makholm ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 05:31 PM:

After reading through marek (#24)'s link to Milan Kundera, I stand corrected and concede that Abi's sense of "Central Europe" does have some pedigree. I still think it's confusing, but cannot maintain a claim that it is categorically wrong.

#38 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 07:15 PM:

I have occasionally wished that architecture was taught the same way music was in my elementary school, because there are times when I'd really like the same basic technical vocabulary for describing what's giving rise to a particular sense of a location. But instead I sort of wave my arms around and end up going, well, there were buildings, and some of them were very tall and pointy, and there were windows, and...and...

Because sense of place is the sort of thing that I'm keenly aware of in a miasma sort of way--the general impression one gets from being in a place--but which I find very difficult to describe. It's like trying to talk about music without having any words for tempo or time signatures or even the beats, and just being able to say, well, sometimes the music gets louder or softer, and sometimes the notes go up and sometimes down.

And so the idea of describing the sort of story a city tells--or what sort of stories we tell about a city--makes a great deal of sense in my head, because it gives me a set of vocabulary I can use, without having the technical bits for talking about what's going on physically, to describe the place around me. There's a particular peculiarity for me that comes of drifting to sleep in a car, and waking up again, looking outside, and being quite sure I'm in a place I've never been before, at just a glance. And some of it is very much like having just walked into a movie theater that's in the middle of a story I don't know, seeing people on the screen with all the passion and conviction of the plot they're in, and having no idea what led up to that point or where it's going to go next.

#39 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 07:48 PM:

abi #36: I saw many buildings and villages in China that were clearly built with some idea of defense. If you could lock out the thieves, bandits, etc., you were better off. In small rural villages a lot of the compounds (family/multi-generational/including livestock) were behind closed doors and surrounded by walls. The outside was shabby, the inside was often beautiful. I noticed the same thing in the Vieux Carre in New Orleans.

Perhaps a lot of what you are seeing has to do with the frequency of invasion and conquest, or at least the memory of such?

ObSFF: Avram Davidson's "The Adventures of Dr. Esterhazy" is nearly required here to understand the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the mind: the story we tell each other, as you put it in the OP.

#40 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 08:13 PM:

Fade #38:

You may be looking for Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language. A lot of people miss the point and think it's prescriptive; what it actually is is a grammar of architecture and place-ness, from micro- to grand scale.

(A student of one of my committee members had written a diss on using the book to help describe elements of various dwelling types (specifically multi-family) at Ostia. Very useful, and not followed up, at least during the years in which I was paying attention.)

#41 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 08:31 PM:

Part of what makes Woodge (I can't figure out how to type a crossed L) so odd is that it's a border town that lost its border. Remember, Poland is in the wrong place; historically, Pomerania is German.

That's one reason the Museum-whose-name-I-can't-remember in Warsaw, with the voting records, is so interesting; you can look at the map, and see town-by-town how many people spoke/were German* and how many Polish. The interwar boundaries were intended to give everything Polish to Poland.

I think of Central Europe as defined by the Prussian and Austrian spheres of influence, and Eastern Europe as defined by the Russian and Turkish spheres.

*I can't remember if it was a language question, a "which country do you want to be part of" question, or both.

#42 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 08:44 PM:

joann @38: Oo! That book sounds interesting, and it's going on my (sadly vast) to-read list. Even more so once I parsed "diss" as "dissertation" rather than a nouning of the verb.

#43 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 09:38 PM:

PNH #30 - "...what I find fascinating is what different stories different people derive from the same urban images ... Derelict buildings are a waste; continued habitation carries with it the potential of a better day."

In 1980, some friends and I got lost in the most run-down part of Chicago's South Side. Block after block of crumbled buildings and storefronts all advertising ownership by a shady-sounding church (I forget the name). It was scary for a bunch of sheltered teens from Minneapolis (where we really don't have large, truly desperate slums) with the archetypal crowds loitering at every corner, but there was an almost detached air of, "Oh, so this is a real slum," almost a study in cultural anthropology. Then we saw the 4-story tenement that was half collapsed after a fire. The remaining half had no glazing left in the windows, but there was a clothes-line full of fresh laundry running between two windows. Fresh laundry. Lather, rinse, repeat several times over the next mile of Roosevelt Avenue.

Rather than seeing hope or the potential of a better day, I was horror-struck, and way more than a little ashamed of feeling fear instead of some sort of empathy for the people forced to live there. Then I got mad, feeling betrayed that no one had ever really told us that this shit still existed in modern America.

I found nothing good, positive or hopeful to take away from there, but today I realize that it was one of the three key events that led to my conversion to Liberalism later on.

Not being familiar with Poland, I don't know if the two situations are really comparable, and it's really only tangentially related to your comment, but abi's description brought the memory back hard, so I thought I'd toss it out there...

#44 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 11:09 PM:

PNH: , what I find fascinating is what different stories different people derive from the same urban images.

Not just urban images -- consider the different reactions toward "wilderness" images and sights, ranging from "sacred place" to "unused space to build something." People's reactions will depend not only on "where they sit", but more complexly on their own various backgrounds and histories.

#45 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2011, 11:29 PM:

I visited Wrocław last year (before going to Poland became what the cool kids were doing, I guess), and got a very different impression of the place from what you saw in Łódź. The country was in mourning at the time, having just lost a shocking number of its public figures, including the president and his wife, in a plane crash. Black ribbons were hung on flagpoles, and an area of the main square was covered with candles in small lanterns or in jars, and handwritten notes, and flowers. At the same time, though, the city seemed fundamentally healthy and vibrant. Most of the baroque-era buildings I saw were in good repair, and painted in all sorts of light colours. There was a certain shabbiness in places, particularly in the parts of the city that I saw where more of the buildings were from the post-war period, and some of the trains were notably old. (I like old trains, though. The little two-car affair I rode in from Dresden on was quite new, but that was run by DB.) On the whole, my impression was of a place that had suffered a very recent trauma, but one from which it would recover; older tragedies (like the Katyn massacre, which the people on the plane had been on their way to commemorate) were clearly remembered, but did not seem like still-open wounds.

I was there for only a few days, and my language resources were limited to a Nederlands–Pools phrasebook and whatever cognates I could recognize from my nodding acquaintance with Czech, so I'm sure that I missed far more than I picked up. Still, I hope that some of the resilience that Wrocław seemed to have will become more evident in Łódź soon, and that the beautiful crumbling buildings that you saw will be restored.

#46 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 03:18 AM:

Pictures tell stories, when I was managing to write a blog on photography I did a post on how photos can tell stories, from the single frame, to the photo essay.

I know that when I travel, I do much of what abi does. I shoot tons of frames, as much to capture context as to crystalise memory. Kiev, is wonderful, a glorious riot of old and new, bustling with people. L'viv, more subdued, less is being replaced, and the old walls of the 16th century are still there, and they speak to the history of being an outpost. Both of them have statues to Taras Shevchenko: L'viv a huge fountain of characters from his works, rising up in bronze to populate a mental landscape and shape Ukrainian literature to this day.

Kiev has one, huge... Towering over an open plaza, 30 feet tall if he's an inch, on plith no shorter, resting on a stepped pediment. He has an overcoat in his arm, and he stares, brooding, over the expanse.

In narrower street, running down from Sofiskaya Ploshad, toward the church of St. Michael, in the marketplace which is Andreiskispusk, is a more intimate statue which had a painting showing that he's still a known figure. The sense of history... is everywhere, from the statue of, "the rus" near Levra P'Chersk; itself both historic, and vibrantly alive in the present day, and or the statue of Hetman, in plaza before Sofiskaya, rallying people to come together in some common struggle.

The streets were full of wedding parties, and the bustle of people, and taxis. Everywhere there were people strolling, and sitting. And, in the midst of all this, was the ever present sight of building cranes, putting up new buildings, cheek by jowl with the older ones.

People looking to the past, and moving in the present was my sense of Ukraine, across four visits, twice to L'viv (where I was almost exclusively with the Ukrainian Army for most of my stay) and twice to Kiev, where the Army was my days, and the city was mine for the evenings.

Thanks abi, for sharing Lodz with me. It's not as good as going, but when if I do go, I will end up looking to see how it is, and isn't, as you saw it.

(for anyone who wants to look at more of my images from Ukraine, go here

#47 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 09:01 AM:

As the cool kids go to, or return from, Poland, they should one and all at least make a start into Henryk Sienkiewicz's Trilogy (With Fire & Sword, The Deluge, Fire in the Steppe; be sure to get the modern translation by W.S. Kuniczak). It's never been properly sold to its natural English-speaking audience. Perhaps one or two people here might know something about how that ought to be done.

#48 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 09:28 AM:

My apologies, Thena...

#49 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 11:26 AM:

I had a wee bit of gooseflesh when I saw that first "central opening" photo: I dreamed about that, some while back. No recollection of the context in the dream, but very recognizable. Grounds for gooseflesh because I'm pretty sure I've never been in a place that had those.

#50 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 12:26 PM:

I visited Budapest briefly last year and had a similar experience - could not find a way to parse the sights into any story that included hope.

Thank you marek, for the Kundera essay.

The story of Budapest continues to be well told at Poemas del rio Wang.
In particular I was moved by these songs and pictures.

#51 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 01:09 PM:

SamChevre #41, 'Remember, Poland is in the wrong place; historically, Pomerania is German.'

To say Pomerania was historically German, is not exactly wrong, but it's not exactly right either. Like many parts of central and eastern Europe, it is has been many things at different times (and that's why China Mieville's The City and The City feels uncannily more guidebook than fiction - you can visit the Olympic Stadium in Wroclaw, to take but one tiny example of the mental gear crashing involved).

Part of the difficulty of getting our heads round this is that the idea that there is or should be a one to one mapping between nation and language is a very modern one. My grandmother was Polish, brought up in a predominantly Ukrainian speaking area of Tsarist Russia, and as a result of that and a couple of other complications, grew up speaking five languages, each of them right in their context. Nothing about that struck her as in any way odd.

By serendipitous coincidence, The Browser had a link yesterday to a Language Hat post from a couple of years ago reviewing a book on The Politics of Language in Central Europe:

In the second half of the 19th century, European scholars and statisticians, confronted with the non-national character of Central and Eastern Europe, believed that the nations, which ‘had to exist there,’ could be brought out from the ‘ambiguity of multiethnic populaces’ using statistics. In the subsequent censuses, one had to declare one’s language, variously interpreted as mother tongue, family language, or language of everyday communication. The declaration of more than one language per person was not permitted, which by default excluded the phenomenon of bi- and multilingualism from official scrutiny. The logic of this exclusion stemmed from the conviction that a person can belong to one nation only.

My grandmother would unhesitatingly have answered such a question by identifying herself as Polish, but on another view, the situation was a great deal more complicated. And to add further to the confusion, her home before 1917 was near Kiev - so geographically she was unarguably in Eastern Europe; culturally she was and would always remain a Central European.

abi: The pictures and your perceptions are rich and thought provoking - apologies for being party to and perpetuating the distraction from them in the comments.

#52 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 01:18 PM:

And I suppose the non-fiction equivalent of The City and The City is Norman Davies' Microcosm, the history of a city known as Wrotizla, Vretslav, Presslaw, Breslau or Wroclaw, depending on time and temprament. Davies is the leading English language historian of Poland, and one of his key themes is that the question of whether that city is 'really' German or Polish or anything else is not one which can be answered outside the context in which it is asked.

#53 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 01:25 PM:

My German grandfather grew up before World War I in what was at the time Germany, on land confiscated from the estate of a Polish nobleman after the then-recent partition of Poland. His parents had moved from Pomerania, lured by the promise of free land to Germans who would settle said confiscated estates. After WWI, that area became Poland again. The town my great-grandparents helped found still exists, but it has a different name now and (as far as I know) is entirely Polish. (My relatives moved west, into still-Germany, but not far enough; most of them wound up in East Germany after WWII.)

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 02:11 PM:

My experience of cities is that the hidden places are the most interesting. Some of my favorite memories of Philadelphia and New York, where I grew up, are the underground and interstitial places (the pedestrian tunnels under Philly's City Hall and New York's Grand Central Station, the mazes of underground connections between subway stations in both cities and the abandoned stations as well). Also, the enclosed courtyards and gardens, and the little neighborhoods accidentally created by diverted streets and overpasses.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 02:57 PM:

Doug K @50:

An excellent write-up; thank you for the insight. I had a particularly glad moment at the Tokaj, of which we are very fond*.

I like the tone you take in the essay. But I was bemused by the old black and white images at the end -- something in their order in the blog post made me feel like it was all chronological, and a real downward trend into decay.

(This may be partly affected by the conversation I had with my Serbian colleague while I was there. I cut my account of it from the blog post because it was mostly irrelevant, but his verbal sketch of how much worse post-war Belgrade is than post-Soviet Poland continues to influence my thinking.)

-----
* Fond enough to track some down and serve it to Patrick and Teresa for their anniversary when they were here. Which turned out to be appropriate, because apparently they drank it at their wedding. I hope, though, that all the bottles under discussion were better than the one we served them, which was disappointing.

#56 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 03:07 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 54... the mazes of underground connections between subway stations

...frequented by Ron Perlman as HellBoy and as Vincent.

#57 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 03:35 PM:

I love Tokaj, which was the celebratory wine in Russia until Catherine the Great introduced champagne.

I have a couple of decent bottle I really need to find a reason to drink.

#58 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 03:59 PM:

I'm working on an article for our real estate newsletter, semi-inspired by this. Because it's not only cities that tell stories, we can dial it down to neighborhoods and streets and specific homes that tell their stories in quiet voices, in murmurs of detail, architecture, spacing...in color and style and age. For whom was I built? Was I built as one, or one of many? Have I lived long enough to become an individual, or am I still indistinguishable from my neighbors? Who loved me, lived in me, worked on me, changed me? Not only do houses tell their own stories, and they also tell our stories as we live in them, in our choice of home, in our furniture or color choices, in our clutter and pictures. Sometimes it tells the story of who we wish we were, or who we wish we weren't, of our choices...or our lack thereof.

And now I get to go expand and edit that into something coherent and vaguely professional sounding.

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 04:08 PM:

sisule @58:

Would that be an online newsletter? Or one that would be willing to have the text reproduced here, by any chance?

#60 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 04:22 PM:

Abi @ 59 Sure. I'll pull it over when I'm done. It's not going to be nearly as much fun or as whimsical as the above, for obvious reasons. I may do a philosophical post on the narrative of homes over on g+ afterwards.

#61 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 04:45 PM:

I also understand a lot better than I used to my spouse's unceasing anger over the destruction of the Triangle here in Austin.

Two major streets join together, and there was a triangle of land there that was left undeveloped for years. It turned into a sort of unofficial secondary park, with grass and trees growing wild. But it wasn't an official park, and so eventually it was sold, and developed. Now it's tidy condos of a particular pseudo-historical style that wants to say "Community!" but mostly says "Look at how very artificial this is!" over expensive shops, and a lot of parking. And because everyone had been calling that space the Triangle for years, they named the complex The Triangle, complete with a cute little triangular logo.

Austin still has plenty of official parks, lots of trees, all sorts of greenbelts, enormous grassy fields just across the street from that place. But it wasn't the loss of that particular space that made him angry: it was that there had been something organic and part of the community that was picked up by something corporate, and paved over, and then slapped with the same name, like community is something you can make from a kit.

Every time I drive past that complex, with its logo slapped over signs, I think about Austin as a historical thing that keeps changing, instead of just thinking about it as the city it is now.

#62 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 05:04 PM:

Oh, the Triangle. Yes. At least they stopped the giant movie theater that was designed to have three times as many seats as parking places.

#63 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 05:15 PM:

This is just Tokay

I have drunk the
Aszú
That was in
the icebox

And which
You were possessively
Drinking
for everything

Forgive me
It was stunning
So sweet
and so strong.

(Tokaji Aszú, my favorite, tastes like plums to me.)

#64 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 05:17 PM:

TexAnne, I wish they had at least called it something else. It's like that old joke about apartment complexes being named after whatever they bulldozed to put the buildings up, except the joke isn't so funny anymore.

#65 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 06:10 PM:

I think I've mentioned this before, but there's a block that was built right near one of the stations on the Portland West Side light rail, in the standard configuration of bottom floor shops and upper floors living spaces. I guess they couldn't find any trees to cut down, so they named it the "Q Condominium". I think they were trying to attract engineers and managers from Intel, whose plants and offices are a few stops further west on the line.

#66 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 06:28 PM:

Thank you Abi. I'm trying to get a firm hold on an elusive story involving the histories of cities, and this helps. I think.

Landscape and climate and culture and transport and history and... Like trees, cities respond to their environment and lay down strata in three dimensions, but not nearly so neatly as even the most heavily branched tree.

#67 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 07:34 PM:

Fade @ #64, "apartment complexes being named after whatever they bulldozed to put the buildings up"

I lived in a subdivision called "Tall Oaks" in northern Virginia for six years. Fortunately, the developer left quite a few of the trees standing, including my neighbors' entire back yard.

#68 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 08:12 PM:

Fade, #61: "They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot"? And yes, I can see how putting that name on it would be adding insult to injury.

Bruce, #65: If they'd named it the "Q Continuum", it would have attracted Trekkies. :-)

#69 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 08:54 PM:

Fade Manley @64: It's like that old joke about apartment complexes being named after whatever they bulldozed to put the buildings up, except the joke isn't so funny anymore.

In the 'I wish I took the photo' category, I saw a sign announcing 'The Woods', next to an industrial wood-chipper where they were taking down the actual woods on the site.

#70 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 09:06 PM:

(For those who want to spell Łodz, the HTML is "& # 321 ;" without the spaces or quotation marks.)

#71 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 09:24 PM:

When I was young, my parents had a mania for driving through the crappy parts of town. If there was a slum within 50 miles, they would unerringly take a tour of it. It creeped me out bigtime, and I still avoid those parts if I can. I really caught a bad vibe from the old brick buildings, low terrain and general dirtiness. I think I felt that some contagion would make me poor too, even though in our car we were supposedly safe. I to this day cannot get a clear answer on why they like to drive through bad parts of town, but Dad isn't driving any more and Mom seems to have grown out of that predilection, which she might not have had as much as he did in the first place.
Here in Renton, someone denuded a huge swath of forested hillside to make utterly phony-looking grassy terraces supposedly in aid of a freeway access. To the west, an even bigger chunk of woods was cut away, leaving the remaining trees susceptible to wind, and nothing has been built there except for fences and signs that the area is under video surveillance (somebody must be awfully bored.) A pasture nearby was filled with tightly packed condos. What's worst is that it doesn't look like places people like me could afford to stay in--those keep being scarce.
And then there's the matter of names--a city's summer festival got the name of a local retailer slapped onto it because they put so many bucks into it or something, and it seems to me that it still belongs to us, not them. There are stadiums not that far away named after sponsoring companies rather than the teams playing in them, and that somehow feels just a bit wrong to me. It might be because I sometimes feel like big corporations have more power than they should; I am not sure. Anyway I know something of places' "vibes".

#72 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 09:45 PM:

Abi @ 59 Rough Draft of that article, the philosopical post is up at g+

As our friends and customers, you may have noticed that we tend to be storytellers...and hopefully story-hearers. It's somewhat fanciful to say that neighborhoods and houses tell stories too, just a bit more quietly. We like trying to hear those stories, because it helps us help you. The questions we ask of neighborhoods and homes are the same type of thing you would get in any interview, just tailored to the interviewee.
For whom were you built? we might ask. A single person? A family? Different family groups tend to have different preferences in room sizes, layouts, and emphasizes.
Were you built as one of a kind or as one of many? The larger, more expensive homes tend to be built with some things in common, but as one of a kind homes, being impressive with size, style, and exclusivity. Smaller and less expensive homes were built as individuals because they were houses tailored to the needs of their builders, which may not have been the needs of anyone else. There are subdivisions in the older parts of St. Louis, built in the 1880s and 1890s, where there were 3 or 4 basic floor plans, much like the subdivisions in the county being built today. That similarity extends to things like _this_ part of the street being better than _that_ part of the street, because of access to schools, road noise, lot size, what the house is facing or what it backs to.
If you were not built as an individual, have you become one? Many houses are shifted from the builder standard in little ways during the construction process, in the details chosen by the purchaser or the whim of the builder in order to make every house at least a little different. After completion, people change out hardware, redo kitchens and bathrooms, move walls and doors, add on rooms, finish basements, and change all sorts of small and large details in their home, and from that point it's not just like every other home built to it's floorplan.
Who loves you, who lives in you? Many of those changes tell us something about the people who made them, whether that's the current owner or a previous one. They liked big kitchens, or they have small children, or they probably didn't have children when they bought this house but do now. Or they had children who grew up here, but who have moved on with their lives. If we listen, we can usually hear part of what is important to the people who live here now, what rooms are most important and most used, and that tells us something.
Our goal as buyer's agents is to help you see what your story could be in a space, and find the home that is right for the story you want to tell. Our goal as seller's agents is to turn the volume up on the story of the house so buyers can hear it more clearly and match it to the one they're carrying inside.

#73 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 10:29 PM:

abi @ 55, sorry for the discombobulating blog post.. I had finished it when Poemas posted a set of post-apocalyptic pictures of the siege aftermath; could not resist adding some of them, the whole experience was dizzying in just that way.

Tokaj.. I have drunk Sauternes with pate de fois gras, in a war memorial garden in Gironde; also a similar wine, Vin de Constance, under the oaks of Klein Constantia. This is the latterday version of the Constantia wine that Jane Austen mentions and Napoleon drank in exile. So I was very happy with my nourishing gulp of Tokaj in Hungary, to complete the set.

marek @ 51: indeed so. My ancestors are Pomeranian/German on father's side, Danish and Dutch with an admixture of Scots on mother's. So in fact they were all within a couple hundred miles of each other, before moving thousands of miles to Africa, meeting and marrying.

#74 ::: Dave DuPlantis ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2011, 11:59 PM:

Angiportus @ 71, I remember several years ago (which probably means 10-12, now), driving on the northeast side of Indianapolis, following a relatively busy road around a curve, and suddenly noticing brightness. There was a nice wooded area along the road that was in the way of a strip mall, and then one day it was no longer in the way ... but the fact that you could see the sun at that hour when before you could not was something I couldn't miss, even though it took me a while to figure out what the problem was. (Not far away, there is another area that has been deforested in preparation for another strip mall. The trees have been gone for over a decade and there has been little development so far.)

Naming of stadiums has always, I think, leaned toward corporations. For every Yankee Stadium, there was a Wrigley Field (or two); for every Fenway Park, a Briggs Stadium (or a Tiger Stadium replaced by a Whosyourbanktoday Park). At one point, there was some kind of charade involving naming rights and the promise of lower ticket prices (or perhaps non-rising ticket prices), but I've not noticed an actual effect in any sport. As near as I can tell, it's money for the owner and advertising for the company, that and nothing more.

It's easier, though, when it's an "older" stadium, so we can talk about New Comiskey instead of US Cellular or whatever it is this week ... it doesn't make sense to call Lucas Oil Stadium anything else, except maybe "the new stadium named for that company that frankly none of us had ever heard of before."

#75 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 06:37 AM:

Theophylact #70 (For those who want to spell Łodz, the HTML is "& # 321 ;" without the spaces or quotation marks.)

It is, alas, not quite so simple: the o and z are both accented as well (the o to lengthen it and the z to soften it): Łódź is the correct Polish spelling. If writing in English the simple options are either to drop the accents altogether (but use all of them or none of them) or to google 'Lodz' and then cut and paste the accented version from the results.

#76 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 09:35 AM:

Or, of course, copy and paste from someone who got it right upthread.

#77 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 11:38 AM:

Hm. "& # 321 ;" + "& oacute ;" + d + "& # 378 ;" produces Łódź

My highschool buddy and I developed this theory that around 1970 a meteorite crashed to Earth, and spewed out alien spores. Where ever those spores landed, condo complexes would spring up.

Sometime around 1983, they spontaneously mutated, and now the spores are producing housing developments.

Ghu only knows what the next mutation will bring.

#78 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 11:54 AM:

Dave DuPlantis @74--Mr. Wrigley owned the Cubs back when Wrigley Field was named. So maybe not so much corporate as self-aggrandizing.

The Tennessee Titans play at a stadium that was once Adelphia Coliseum before that bankruptcy; then it was known as just the Coliseum, or the Nashville Coliseum, which was pleasantly old-school and much enjoyed by those of us who weren't expecting to make any money off the naming rights. Now it's named LP Field, for the locally-based Louisiana-Pacific Company (no, Nashville is neither in Lousiana nor anywhere near the Pacific Ocean); this name keeps me at least awake wondering if they've installed massive storage tanks for liquified propane under the playing field.

Some of the corporate names do result in good nicknames; fans of the Houston Astros have renamed Minute Maid Park the Juice Box.

#79 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 12:25 PM:

Rob Rusick @ #69, my favorite photo I wish I'd taken was of a giant inflatable advertising gorilla, mouth open and arms extended overhead, right in front of a billboard that said only "JESUS" in huge caps.

It was perfect, but could be seen only from a busy multilane highway.

#80 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 12:27 PM:

I wish I had taken a photo of the manicure place that advertised its opening with an inflatable Godzilla on the roof.

#81 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 09:54 PM:

Sisuile at # 72: Thanks for this. I am house shopping these days, and I have been looking for a house with character... "an individual" in your terms. I want one that's been added on to or extensively remodeled so that it's not just like the other houses in the neighborhood.

#82 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 11:06 AM:

Alley @ 81 - different people want different things. I have customers who really *do* want the exact same house as all their neighbors, or who don't care. Heck, my house started out the same as many of her neighbors...115 years ago. There have been some changes internally and externally since. Some of our customers are about stories, some are about checklists, some don't really care as long as it fits and doesn't fall down. This article was hopefully phrasing things so a different subset of people can understand either what to think about when they buy, or what buyers are thinking about as they try to sell.

for those on g+, here's the other one: https://plus.google.com/u/0/101360327364389560846/posts/BhazzCkLGVR?hl=en-US I'm going to probably end up expanding on the people-make-cities side when I can afford the brain power.

#83 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 02:39 PM:

And we are trying to figure out how to make our place both what we want, not not lose value when we sell it.

So we are renting a wall.

#84 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 06:05 PM:

I can't help but turn left at heresiarch @17's mention of world-building and pull forward an old post from this very blog, Jim McDonald's To the Artist's Eye, Everything is Beautiful". Something I've meditated on, from time to time. Model-building is all about the stories.

I've lived in Boston for years now, and my eye is still drawn to the beautiful decay of the buildings, and the ways they're patched and repaired. We didn't have old buildings where I grew up, very suburban, plastic-feeling town, like living in one of those model railroads done mostly from a kit without too much thought put into it. I love weathered wood and the faded painted signs on the sides of buildings and the old industrial architecture which is slowly being repurposed as condos and office buildings.

At the same time the disrepair of the house I'm renting frustrates me -- the peeling paint (how long ago was that put on?), the overgrown front yard, the grape vines slowly eating the house from the foundation upwards. And for all that there are some beautiful things, the original hardwood floors gleaming in the sunlight of a spring afternoon with the windows open and the breezes blowing through.

There's a story fighting within me; I'm not quite sure how it goes or what its ending is, yet.

#85 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 06:20 AM:

Angiportus@71:
>To the west, an even bigger chunk of woods was cut away, leaving the remaining trees susceptible to wind, and nothing has been built there except for fences and signs that the area is under video surveillance (somebody must be awfully bored.)

The latter pinpoint it, for me, as The Police Want To Stop Either Drugselling, Or Men Having Sex, On The Plot Of Land Formerly Known As Woods. With about 9 to 1 it's the latter.

--Dave

#86 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 09:06 PM:

David DeLaney@85, it may still be one of those Malice-vs-Incompetence things. About a decade ago, the people who owned some nearby land and buildings that housed a mailbox store*, an icecream shop, an adequate hairdresser, and a truly appallingly bad restaurant decided that they should tear it all down and build something bigger and cooler and more profitable. So they tore down the buildings, and put a fence around it with lots of No Trespassing signs, Guarded by blah-blah Security Company signs, and such. It's been growing weeds long enough that I've occasionally wondered whether to plant flowers on it. This is Silicon Valley, the land's presumably worth a lot, and nearby residentially-zoned parcels have been tearing down old apartment buildings and building taller ones.

(*One of the reasons my address has changed three times since I've lived here, without me actually moving.)

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