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Munamania #2: Invisible Cities

 
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Munan
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:30 am    Post subject: Munamania #2: Invisible Cities Reply with quote

Invisible Cities

In his brilliant book The Invisible Cities, Italian author Calvino writes about the city Olivia. Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan that he could describe this city as possessing the most beautiful palaces, fountains and parks. But then Khan would realise that Olivia is actually ugly, covered with smog and full of heavy traffic. If Polo would, on the other hand, describe Olivia’s ugliness, the Khan would immediately know of its splendidness. Never confuse places with the words that describe them, Calvino comments.

I live in two cities. Amsterdam, a metropole, with its buzzing nightlife, crawling with tourists and filled with big city noise. And Groningen, a quiet university town surrounded by farming fields and lakes. This, I tell people, is the ideal combination. I can frequent the many nightclubs of Amsterdam and live the life of a modern cosmopolitan – or retreat to peaceful Groningen with its almost medieval alleys. While the waters around Amsterdam are too polluted, I can go nightswimming in Groningen’s lakes, out in the nature, under a sky filled with stars.

Last year, however, a discotheque was build among the lakes of Groningen – my nightswimming is now accompanied by a disco beat. Does that mean there is no quietness in my life anymore? Well, there is the rooftop garden of my Amsterdam apartment. It boarders on a park in the middle of a circle of houses and is a true oasis of quietness. The only thing you hear is the rustling of the wind in our trees and plants and some children playing in the park. When we just moved in there, we couldn’t sleep because there was no noise, while in Groningen a nearby sugar factory sometimes keeps me awake. And the nightlife? I hardly venture into the centre of Amsterdam at night – too many tourists, the bars are too hip and trendy and you need a taxi to get around. In a smaller town like Groningen, it’s easier to go for a beer with friends.

A true story: when Iceland, actually quite green and lush, was discovered, it was mainly the Viking elite that moved there. They called it Iceland to keep the riff raff away. When, however, a desolate country covered with ice was discovered a while later, colonists were needed and to attract them it was called Greenland. Not much has changed since then: never confuse places with the words that describe them.


Last edited by Munan on Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:40 am; edited 2 times in total
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Munan
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Since the debate in Munamania #1 is still ongoing, I didn't feel the urge to bring up a new issue that could be equally hotly debated in my second column and just wrote about something that was on my mind.

I'd be interested, however, to hear something about the places you live(d) in. What are the words used to describe them and are they always true, or are there some fascinating (positive or negative) prejudices about them? Talking about cities has always interested me, the problem of giving the right representation of a place, which is why I love this episode of aLp so much: http://www.alienlovespredator.com/index.php?id=75
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I'd be interested, however, to hear something about the places you live(d) in."

Interesting topic. Here goes: My vision of suburban CT circa 1980-1990s

I'm from the school of early American writer, Thomas Wolfe (not to be confused with Tom Wolfe who wrote Bonfire of the Vanities). As such I firmly believe, "You Can't Go Home, Again".

I grew up in a small suburb of New Haven, Connecticut called Orange. For those on the Metro North, you'd get off at the Milford stop. Orange was a pleasant enough town to live in with raised ranch-style homes being dominant on my street. There were plenty of trees, 1.5 acre plots, rivers, access to the the Meritt Parkway (Wilbur Cross), shopping, beaches (Milford, West Haven) and of course Worchester street wasn't too far of a drive for pizza. Some ethnic food was available (read: chinese food) although a breakfast a the Lender's Bagel bakery wasn't to be passed up. Fresh, hot bagels and the smell of breakfast cooking... [Note: This is Orange in the 1980s-90s. During this time Lender's sold their restuarants (One of the Post Rd. and one in Hamden and they became S. Kinder) and I'm not sure if they still stand].

Growing up, most probably didn't pay any attention to the changing of the seasons or the amount of space in their yard. The leaves turn wonderful browns and oranges before being shed and I had a river in the back yard that was good for Bass and Perch. There were a few small hills and several twisty streets that were lined by trees and few really ever brought more than a glance. Though humid during the summers, you could lower the windows on your car for a nice breeze during the Spring and the Fall. During winter, the drive to school was always an adventure because most left their car outside and usually a sheet of ice would cover the windshield. We would not pre-start the car or the defrosters, rather enjoy a morning drive though about a 4 inch square in the middle of the car before the defroster would ramp up. As for bars, night clubs and night life... there was a movie theater or two and a mall. Not many bars or clubs, but neighboring towns, such as New Haven could boast of a few memorable spots like Toad's Place and, off course, tail-gating at Yale football games.

Like many small towns there was also a "Fireman's carnival" in July where a former elementary school/community center (High Plains) was transformed into a mini carnival that you went to until you were about 14-15 (afterwhich it was "uncool" to go to).

During the summer there would also be a jazz festival in New Haven. Though the festival would never rival the N'awlins festival, it was a nice enough evening. Food, drink, friends with IDs that could buy beer...

I left Orange in to attend college in 1990 and aside from a few summers here and there, but I haven't been back much. My parents relocated in '99 and I haven't found a reason to go back although there are times when I am nostolgic. After my parents recently visited the stomping gorunds I found out that my childhood home re-sold (third family since leaving) and was repainted (again). Many of the treelined streets (Meeting House Lane) now have homes sans trees. Chain-resturants abound.

After spending 9+ years in the South, I found out I missed seasons -- changing temperatures and colors of leaves. After leaving the South, I miss Popeye's chicken, real Tex-Mex and festivals like the parade on Bastille Day in the French Quarter (I left NOLA pre-Katrina). Should I move again, I'm sure to miss the moutains where I currently reside.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 2:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gosh, makes me wish I had quiet time too. Even though I live in a small university town, the discobeat is like a track on continuous playback.

Things are pretty quiet in my neighborhood back home, so I'm excited to go back in October if just for a weekend of pure R&R. Nice writing Munan, you have a way with words.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Talking about a way with words...

cfos, your post really reads like the beginning of a novel by, say for instance, Donna Tartt. I liked reading it, it's got sort of a rythm that makes it suitable to be read aloud. Very American in the best possible way, really loved it.

And Koko, do you live in a university town because you're in college? What's it like?
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 12:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"cfos, your post really reads like the beginning of a novel by, say for instance, Donna Tartt."

Thank you. I have to admit that I was going more for a feel like Kerouac from his "The Town and the City", but I appreciate the praise. I think many Americans have th concept of writing the "great American novel before age 30", but most wind up with about 7 different "starting" paragraphs and an ungodly amount of Simpsons and Seinfeld trivia mixed in with various lyrics and themes from shows like "Diff'rent Strokes".
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 5:28 pm    Post subject: Re: Munamania #2: Invisible Cities Reply with quote

Munan wrote:
A true story: when Iceland, actually quite green and lush, was discovered, it was mainly the Viking elite that moved there. They called it Iceland to keep the riff raff away. When, however, a desolate country covered with ice was discovered a while later, colonists were needed and to attract them it was called Greenland. Not much has changed since then: never confuse places with the words that describe them.

But were they "Iceland" and "Greenland" in the Viking language? Because that seems to me to be just an urban myth cooked up by clueless gooks.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2006 6:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Of course they were - I've got a minor in Old Norse language and literature, remember?

And no, it's not an urban myth, it's true. Well, true-ish, since you can't state with absolute certainty what happened over a thousand years ago.

In Norrœn, what you call 'the Viking language', Iceland was called Ísland and Greenland was called Grænland. Meaning exactly what their English names mean.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2006 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Munan wrote:
And Koko, do you live in a university town because you're in college? What's it like?


Everywhere you go, someone is there to say hi to or to say hi to you because the college is small. It gets really, really annoying.
Mainly, though, the 'town' is about feeding us college students, so in a way it's like a food court. There are three pizzerias, three bars, a coffeshop, and two sit-down restaurants. This town, Hamilton, would not exist if it weren't for Colgate.

The first time I got here I didn't actually think people lived in Hamilton. At first I kind of thought they were cute houses just to make the town look nice scenic and photogenic, or that they were leftover from some carnival passing through a long time ago. But, to my surprise, there are actually townfolk. The problem with being in a town is that the closest city (haha, not really), is Syracuse, and NYC is four hours away. But the good thing about our location is Indian Casinos. There's one just 30 minutes away and it's legal for me to gamble there.

Living in a college town has been great so far. I've been everywhere already, but it's still fun, especially when other colleges come over and add to the fun.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2006 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And it's really weird to see your mid 50's math professor who reminds you of a fish, biking around with his son, who also reminds you of a fish.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 13, 2006 5:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Your description of Hamilton really reminds me of our university town, although we've got the casino in the middle of the town and it has also always been something of a industrial town (but that has mostly gone now).

Anyway, it's a weird experience that everybody disappears after some time, because they graduate and stuff - I started to work for the university and I remember the first time I came to the library, or walked alongside the terraces of the pubs on a sunny day without there being anyone I knew to greet.

Now that I've had three years of students, of course, it's different again, but (also regarding what you said about your math professor) I'm happy that I live half of the time in another city, so that there is never a student around when I'm having a heated argument with my girlfriend, or make a fool out of myself on the dancefloor.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 13, 2006 9:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Anyway, it's a weird experience that everybody disappears after some time, because they graduate and stuff - I started to work for the university and I remember the first time I came to the library, or walked alongside the terraces of the pubs on a sunny day without there being anyone I knew to greet. "

True. As a personal note, I find that an academic's life is oft like the life of a gypsy. Because of my chosen vocation (academic research), I find I live in a state for 4-5 years and then move to another for 4-5 years, then another.... etc. Now, everyone you know (in your cohort) has the same schedule, just with a different starting point. So, you figure you have a good 2 years or so with the people you know before you have to set up shop and recruit new people.

I can also relate to some of what Koko said:

"Mainly, though, the 'town' is about feeding us college students, so in a way it's like a food court. "

having spent my college days in nearby Ithaca. "College towns" have a unique feel and most will have at least one outstanding diner.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 13, 2006 12:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, talking about college and all, I'm almost certainly going to get a bid at Phi Delta Theta, but my roomate and I are so tight, and he keeps telling me don't be a fratboy, don't be a fratboy. What do I do? These life decisions are coming at me so fast and I haven't really had to think ahead as much as I have to now.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 13, 2006 1:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Well, talking about college and all, I'm almost certainly going to get a bid at Phi Delta Theta, but my roomate and I are so tight, and he keeps telling me don't be a fratboy, don't be a fratboy. What do I do? These life decisions are coming at me so fast and I haven't really had to think ahead as much as I have to now."

Tough call. I did a frat (TKE) back in the day. It depends on the community of the college and how prevalent the frats are, social clicks and what you want to get out of college. Twelve years out of college, I don't talk to anyone from the frat. Then again, I only email one guy from college -- and that's mostly about football picks and Yankees-Red Sox debates. Point being, you are going to continue to talk to whomever you want after you graduate. College may become something you simply "did". Not to be fatalistic or jaded, but eventually, you are going to drift apart (or move away) from most people and make new friends wherever you wind up or wherever you find a job and have like schedules. You'll keep in touch for the first few years, sure, but soon other things occupy your time like car payments (if you don't have them already), rent (again, if you don't have already), mortgage, income tax(es) and having a boss that you think is dumber than you or working for a company that makes choices you think are stupid. Should you get married, you now have to plan your holidays across two families and if you opt for kids, you no longer have much input in vacations. Of course, you don't get much input on other things -- marriage is compromise: "She gets what she wants and you compromise". (just kidding... well, maybe...)

If your parents retire and move out of state, you really will lose touch with the high school crowd who may have already moved away. In my opinion, the nuclear family is dead and people have jobs until they can find a better one.

My opinion: College is like a job. You spend 4 years working at it, unless you are on the 5 year plan. Frats can be good, but you will wind up doing silly/stupid things. Psychologically speaking, you will attribute more to the frat experience to justify the silly/stupid/disgusting/etc., things you do as a pledge/member. At some universitys, frats are very big and it is a mechanism to meet people, get a beer (quickly) at parties and provides an instant friend pool. You may loose some friends who, like your roomate, seem to think them poor. Likewise, frat people will think less of your non-frat friends, unless they are hot chicks. It's a choice.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2006 4:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Really? My experience in the Netherlands (where I have many frat-friends) and Sweden (where I've been in a frat) is that frats are actually more interested in and friendly towards non-frats than vice versa, since there are so many prejudices etc.

But it might be different in the States.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2006 9:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I live in Enschede, which apparently used to be mostly just a town where the working class lived but now it's more of a student city. I've heard that it's one of the better places to study. Which is true, because there are many places to go to. On "De Oude Markt" (the old market) there is not a single, non-bar type thingy. It's either a restaurant, a bar or a snackbar place thing...

Uhh... yeah...

It's cool.
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cfos



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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2006 9:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, don't take what I posted as a blanket statement as it will vary from university to university and peoples' experience will vary. But, I don't think I'm entirely unaccurate in my perception of frats. I do think there are probably cultural differences overseas concerning fraternities, much like everything else (i.e. I can't understand the European fascination with Orangina).
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2006 7:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anybody seen the movies SuperTroopers, Beerfest, and The Dukes of Hazzard? The guys who wrote that, know as Broken Lizard, went to my university, but I don't think they were in the frat I'm rushing.

And in terms of European frats and all . . . Europeans have fraternities? Interesting . . .
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