June 3: my hols or the polyphony of place

At this time of year minds turn to holidays. Does everyone really like holidays? They tell us that we do.   We have to decide if we want the familiar or the alien; if we need stimulation or respite from stimulation. Do you need to forget yourself or find yourself?  Sometimes the alien turns out to be too familiar: overly resourceful agents of exotic venues can sometimes spend energies making the exotic familiar; do we want coca cola and dominos pizza in Cairo?  But would we rather venture into a dark doorway and eat something we do not know amongst strangers speaking in an alien tongue? Or we might end up spending too much time with the ones we thought we wanted to spend more time with. Holidays teach the value of moderation. And anyway, as the man at Total Recall tells Arnold Scwarzennegger: the real holiday we all need is a holiday from ourselves.

There are places I find it hard to go to. Places where the wash of the past is too insistent. These are often places where I have spent a lot of time, where ghosts have been created by past life. When you go back there things have changed. Where once there was a charming cafe, now there is a Starbucks; where once you knew someone, now there is a stranger; people go on with their own lives and you play no role in this city anymore.

There are other places where a city has so many layers of history, so many palimpsests emerging one from beneath the other that it is difficult to deal with the polyphony. In Berlin it is hard to accept what is happening in Mitte now at the spot where the wall ran between east and west, which itself was the spot where Hitler sat in his bunker contemplating the end. Now there is a drum and bass party going on there.

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