So after stumbling out of the long flight from Taipei and finding my way to the hotel, I found I had this view (click to enlarge).
Spires ranging from gothic to baroque. A constant building height across the city, with me just a hair above it, signifying an intensely controlled urban form. And there in the middle, on that black tower immediately to the left of the crane, something that looked like a billboard, but much larger. It said, in English, in plain block letters
SMASHED TO PIECES (IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT).
This eruption seemed so out of place in this very self-satisfied city that I could only take it as expressing another kind of self-satisfaction, that of the avant-garde, as though it were there to ensure that I'd remember Vienna as "edgy" if I needed to check that box. In fact, with this photo, all the boxes seemed checked, so I smiled, fell into bed, and slept.
Quick hello from Taipei airport, where I'm en route from Sydney to Vienna for five weeks of semi-deductible flaneurie, mostly in Germany, Benelux, Switzerland, and a bit of France.
north over the Philippines. Not in a window seat; instead I have in front of me a
screen showing an image from a camera looking straight down from the plane. The effect is pretty much like Google
Earth, but with clouds.You could say it’s just
like looking out of the window, but without the plane in the way.But of course, that would be looking at the
real earth, while this is an artificial image, a real-time television show.I sometimes think I’ll be the last human to whom that distinction
height, shapes of the land are only vague hints.Was that long thin curving white band a river, or just a trick of the cloud?And what was that hard round thing, a white
dot, edged in black, with three smaller black dots around it, just touching it?I leaned forward, watched intently as it slid
past, but with no context at all, nothing but clouds on all sides, I finally
had to accept the first impression, that it must be an apparition of Mickey
Mouse. I could take
it as a miracle, a sign that I should quit my job and devote myself to founding a new Disney World here in the Philippines. If only I knew which Philippine this is.
(We are not
in the Philippines
of course, because it's an international flight.Yet a domestic flight, at
exactly these coordinates and altitude, would be. Where are we, exactly?)
To my left
and right, the same movie is playing on two
screens, but at different points in the film.On my left is development, on the right climax.The same characters doing different
things to each other, at the same time.
something among the clouds, just now:A
thin line across the screen, curving but very solid.A coastline, surely, but I couldn’t say which
side was land and which sea. It looked more like a membrane, a boundary between two fluids.
I like the
contrast between the view of the earth in front of me and the two
parts of the same movie blasting away on both sides.On my screen the clouds, vague landforms, and miraculous apparitions
all flow past an even pace, just as they do on Google Earth
when you give the mouse a little nudge. Compared to this, the emotional and visual turbulence of the movies looks like its own kind of
tedium.To my left the lead couple in the film are having a quiet romantic
moment over dinner, while to my right they're about to kill each other. And straight ahead, just the earth rolling past.Or maybe I have to say, a picture of it.
Last night, on the treadmill at the gym, I watched a bit of a National Geographic Special on the maglev train that connects Shanghai's airport with its city center. Most of it was about the engineering challenges of the project, and the many small dramas of solving them. At the end of the piece, we viewed the train from above as it rushed away on its elevated guideway, while the narrator said something like: "But the future of the maglev train is very much in doubt."
And I thought: "Like a cheetah."
That explained the déja vu I was feeling. At some point long ago I'd heard those words -- "its future is very much in doubt" -- in that same firm and resonant baritone, as I watched a cheetah -- the world's fastest land mammal -- running into the distance from exactly this camera angle.
And finally I saw what the show was about. We are meant to care for the maglev exactly as we'd care for a charismatic endangered species. We're to feel a specific motivating awe for the maglev because it's sleek, fast, muscular, intense and yet, for all that, endangered, just like the cheetah. We're to believe that because this fast-moving yet inanimate object is the product of human engineers, the sentience of those engineers is there in the endangered thing itself, vulnerable to our judgment, just like the cheetah.