The City

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The term urban grit, like most labels, functions as a kind of cognitive shorthand, a free admission pass to the claim of understanding what it describes. It has a faint ring of the inevitable, but it mostly conveys the notion of an evil that can be avoided through a careful routing of our experiences, should we be so fortunate.

The city resists this idea. From the loose debris unevenly coating the streets—a debris that includes human lives—to the steel and glass cages poised like great vessels in the sky, the city unfolds as a continuum, a tapestry with no clear edges. Urban grit as a realm is the result of a process, and it becomes integral to the world that cradles it. There will always be something occupying that space, and that something will always escape the boundaries of notion.

Like an interplanetary spacecraft, cutting across orbits, I traverse the city periodically and gather more data with each pass. Returning from each harvest, in the late hours of the night, I compare the readings in my memory with those captured by the lens. Rather than matching, they complement each other. A different picture emerges each time. It is like observing from the inside the ceaseless inner workings of a giant, undying organism, sprawled over the land. The city is far more than a structure: it is a living process… Its nature reveals the basic traits of the creatures that give rise to it and sustain it, and which it in turn sustains and consumes. The city is nature, in a different guise.

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I also find it useful to think of the city as a weather system. Here, currents meet and coalesce, sometimes becoming storms, sometimes merely dissipating in the night’s breeze. At any moment, a tenuous string may suggest itself between two entities, threading its way through the links between others.

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He’s following me, I think. Three blocks, four galleries, perusing some of the same artworks. Our eyes meet a few times. His are blue, intense or just cold I can’t say… No smile. Faces and voices around us become transparency and silence.

Strange alchemy.

I start to envision possible outcomes; including, why not, my lifeless remains in a body bag.

I recall a similar scenario, a lifetime ago it seems… It began in the desert , under a merciless sun, amidst a dense ocean of people. I think of that story and all that it meant.

I walk on.

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