March 27, 2023

Urban Pilgrims

Sunday 13d of May

Third day of consequent Sun.
As I stepped out of my house, my skin already started feeling its healing powers, while my heart was trying to recover from a long gloomy winter, slightly leaving some slots for the light to enter. My feet felt stiff, as if I haven’t walked for years, as if I was transforming from a crawling baby to a ­walking child, challenging my stability in every step that I took. It isn’t summer yet, though I am dreaming of it every night, when I can hear the sea carters again, somewhere near the sea at a garden in an island, a hot and quiet noon.

But there I am, walking fast through Regent’s Park, observing people wearing fewer clothes, smiling more, chilling on the grass or moving in a natural flow, with peaceful faces, so into their moments. I love the first flourish of spring; it reminds me that there is a universal law in seasons and time, that whatever your mood is, it is not affected and nothing remains stable or frozen. How comforting is that…

My feet were getting warm as I traversed the central area, drifted through big groups of tourists while the shopping windows flashed as a colourful film at the side of my view point. Lost in my thoughts, I found myself in Southbank having crossed the city in a diagonal. A whole culture of street shows was there, people of the streets, people that use their own bodies as an exhibit, sometimes ignoring the weather, urban sculptures by the river, funny spectacles for the tourists who stop to take pictures with them. Sad sculptures, I though, products of the urban life and kept walking by the river seeking for some blue in the horizon. I passed from a second hand book market, as I asked myself what is the notion of second hand if you still have to pay for that and you still collect items that will be consumed or just stored on a shelve and grow older and dustier there.

The only place that managed to draw my attention was the skate park, under the Southbank bridge. Kids with skates, rollers and BMX bikes were performing their skills in a space that is perfectly fitted for their practice. Dark, concrete, with many levels, slides, stairs and benches, with thick concrete columns open to the public eye but still restricted for people that don’t know how to use it. I was excited with the multi layering of the graffiti on the walls, that looked like complex murals, remnants of the people who have used this space, it seems that every new artist used the old ones as a canvas for their tags and the Municipality lets them play there as if it is an urban play ground for adolescents. I started filming them, as I was fascinated by the sound of the skates and the creaks of the bicycle’s wheels as well as the speed and the mixture of their movements and techniques. One of them, a very experienced BMX driver realized that I was filming him and started showing off his extreme manoeuvers as he run in front of me and glanced at my camera. Was this a kind of urban flirt or just a chance for a great performance? I guess I’ll never know…

According to Michel Foucault “…there are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously representes, contested, and inverted….I shall call them , by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias. I believe that between utopias and these quite other sits these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, jointed experienced, which would be the mirror. The mirror is after all a utopia…”1 . That skate park is a heterotopia for me, a place outside of all places in London, which actes like a mirror of the urban life, as a mirror of me. Actually, I could see myself on these adolescents trying to move fast, take control of their own movements be confident fly with whatever vehicle they have, break the walls of the city, create their own identity in an environment that sometimes is cruel or seems soulless.  It is how I see myself in the cities I have lived in, trying to form myself regain my identity,  dream outside of what is expected and what is “real” or  countable in this society.

As I left the skate park, I crossed the bridge to take the tube from Embankment, where I noticed lots of used scates and shoes thrown on the concrete base of the bridge surrounded by Thames, an installation of used accessories something like a memoria, an urban altar, to remind you that this is their place, to tribute their Art. We, as “flaneurs”, as pilgrims of the urban we know that cities can be sacred and mystical full of hidden treasures and memories, but sometimes they seem cruel and dark, memories of darkest nightmares.

1. Michel Foucault (1967) “Of other Spaces, Heterotopias”

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