A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
— John Augustus Shedd (1859 – ?), Salt from My Attic (1928)
Cities, more and more, represent waste, inefficiency and indentured servitude within an unnatural and unhealthful setting that is inhospitable to humans. But what can you do? You were likely born in one, raised and currently live and work in one, and probably see no problem at all with this situation. You have been brainwashed by police dramas on cable television and fashion magazines and 24-hour news cycles that need and fear are the primary human emotions. Indeed you most definitely enjoy being surrounded by the Energy of the City, the buzz of traffic and hum of electrical lines criss-crossing the grid, beneath which strangers just like you search out on their smart phones the newest restaurants and bars, go to 3D movies and shop at miniature stores in shopping malls nested atop concrete parking lots, where you chomp on foodlike substances and slurp down overly sugared coffee drinks before getting into whatever vehicle the carsalesman convinced you you couldn’t live another day without to drive back to the apartment/condo/townhouse/duplex/highrise/brownstone you live in to unpack your new gear before adding another nth of unbiodegradable rubbish to the invisible pile of garbage on which our foundations founder.
But this is a must for most. We don’t know any better. And if we do it doesn’t matter. We have to work to survive, to pay the bills, to afford some little comforts and conveniences in otherwise unexciting stomp to the grave. As Emily Haines of Metric disdainfully sings in Handshakes, “Buy This Car To Drive To Work / Drive To Work To Pay For This Car.”
Start a farm and grow your own vegetables? Impossible! Buy a boat and sail around the world – HA – Pipedream!
Watts Towers – Nuestro Pueblo
Andy Warhol may have asserted that everything has been done and there is nothing original left, and all of life’s new days are full of government regulation and legalese, but within the life of duty to work and family and country and local football team and softdrink, there are chances to aspire to more. Between each breath there is the specter of death, driving us to grasp the manic and surreal images from within our dreams and blow life into them. The effort to create something from nothing but your only slightly intelligible mindscape is called visualization and one of the things that make humans special.
Simon Rodia, the diminutive Italian immigrant who constructed the Watts Towers by hand —alone— out of steel rods looped with spoked circular hoops rising to over 100 feet, who had no formal architectural training, once said, “I had it in mind to do something big and I did it.” Yet the towers, under construction from 1921 until 1954 and often the target of civic demolition campaign, have been proven more structurally sound than many modern edifices. The towers are more than the sum of their structurally sound steel reinforced rods. Artistically composed of a mosaic of blue and green glass bottles, various kinds of seashells, shards of pottery, multicolored tile and other locally found materials, remarkably, they are not merely towers at all. Viewed from within, one can see that the towers that poke into the often blue sky of south central Los Angeles are instead the masts that stem from the hull of an unsailable ship, one supposedly pointing toward Rodia’s homeland. in a way the towers represent both a dream come to fruition as well as a dream unfulfilled. From the mind of one man sprang one of the only culturally profound sites in the southland (other than the La Brea Tar Pits, which perhaps represent the yin to Rodia’s yang–the inward breath of life rather than outward aspiration–the sucking in rather than the blowing out), and yet it’s very shape and meaning are one that will never come to pass for Mr. Rodia, who passed away in the mid-60s. It is symbolic that to get to Watts Towers, the brave traveler must venture through some unsavory and potentially dangerous terrain, but what trip that means anything is not fraught with peril? What ship is meant to stay in harbor?