Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The What in the Where?

I was watching (with subtitles) Godard and Gorin's cartoonish Marxist rant, Tout Va Bien. In it is this remarkable sequence of lines, as two voices conjure up a movie:

There'll be a country.
In the country, there will be a countryside.
In the countryside, there will be cities.

In most of human history, this last line probably seemed entirely natural. The great secular and spiritual centers, such as castles and temples, were built in part to dominate their surroundings, serving as an overpowering beacon to the visitor from the countryside. And yet, to an urban creature like me, cities are what there is; countrysides are what you obtain by subtraction. To hear of cities as the passive actors, planted into the countryside, is remarkable.

When I'm in Paris, I imagine what it must have been like to boat down the Seine, pass the exurbs of huts and fields, and then come upon the towering majesty of the Ile de Cite. (Likewise for Madern Gerthener's great cathedral alongside the Main in Frankfurt, or any number of other such monuments.) That's why the view of the Notre Dame that most impresses me is from the waterside on the embankment—from down below. Then we see the cathedral as its builders actually intended it to be seen.

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