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P1040298When you are not caught up in the hustle and bustle of a city and you pace your walk, you watch and collect your thoughts in a different way. Thinking about architecture and cities, especially European ones you cannot help but notice extraordinary signs both physically and spiritually of how people thought about their surroundings and ornamentation. Recently, I came across a very fascinating book about the correspondence of two great students of the last century’s architecture.

Lewis Mumford and Frank Lloyd Wright were two very erudite men from different backgrounds, one a critic and the other a practitioner of the building trade. One, who built icons of architecture and the other a historian of cities and their development. Having read a number of books by Lewis Mumford, I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy reading the exchange of thoughts between these two men in the book Frank LLoyd Wright + Lewis Mumford, Thirty Years of Correspondence.

P1030766Published 2001, Princeton Architectural Press, isbn 1-56898-291-7

Now back to being there! Who watches over the city? In the old days, churches had statues on them, sculptured saints or devils, angels and demons. It is not hard to find examples of this in any great city like Paris, Berlin or Rome.

Have a look here in the city of Amsterdam, the Netherlands of a statue of Baruch  Spinoza (AKA Benedict Spinoza) where the thinkers and philosophers are not on the buildings, but on the street. You hope in vain perhaps that someone cleans the plaque near the statue.

P1040287Think about Spinoza’s ethics all you want, but shown below is a very different type of ethic at work. It is truly amazing how these statues are always placed on or near bridges.

pragueBridge in Prague, photographed by Isidor Pollak from the book Kafka and Prague. published 1971 by Pall Mall Press London. (isbn  0269027998)

Mumford might have remarked something like, “Crossing a bridge might make you stop and reflect upon the imposing vestiges of perceived powers immortalized in stone or other material, keeping you company in your quest for an unimpeded view of the water and  of what lies to be discovered on the other side.” In fact, he did not, so the quote is entirely mine.

Back to Amsterdam, “Au bout du monde”, at the end of the world that is, before you set sail for the so called new spiritual world. At this spot you can admire this contemporary but wonderfully painted sign and where else could it be but along a canal advertising what else but a bookstore! Bookstores are rapidly declining in this city with the internet advancing into the field of bookselling.au bout du mondeP1040253Deeper into the real story and deeper into the proverbial heart of this city of unadulterated combinations of commercial instinct and vague references to the Calvinist cause (not to be confused with the activities of the flesh taking place along some canals in the red light district) I came across this view.

P1040225Watching over this part of the city is this blue and gold winged angel or mythological figure  standing on top of a building that  once must have belonged to an insurance company established in 1843.

I am not sure that this venture into strict commercial providence without divine intervention was appreciated by some in the neighborhood during that time, something we can conclude from the view below a mere stone throw away.

P1040226To the left, right on top of the building, there is no statue but

a simple slogan, put there only God knows when, of what the owner’s maxim was at the time, “God Is My Castle” (burg).

mijn burgLook at this most unusual sight with its simple lettering. What a contrast we notice between what the two buildings convey. Both buildings convey a certain power to the naked eye, but beyond we find a different message.

For some of us the world is about size and size only, no matter how ornate the exquisite architectural impediments are that we see on these buildings shown below. Look at the smaller one in the second photo with a similar architectural detail to the buildings next to it.

Now imagine that you could google God and your exact position in the universe, in the precise center of it, where would it be? In a city, in the country or in between your ears?

What if those coordinates were wrong? Would your God be in the details only, or only at that very center of the right coordinates? What if you are on an Iraqi mountain and you were waiting to be saved, or if you live in Palmyra in Syria? Perhaps you are waiting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya? Is it possible that in some cases the coordinates do not work and some things are better left to the intervention of higher powers?

P1040244P1040241Back to being there. Something of an entirely different nature takes place elsewhere in this city, in the newer part where God no longer is on the building in a picture.

Man has been relegated to living in what seems like an instrument of a different architectural fantasy. His place in this new  society becomes more uncertain as time goes on and he lives in  utter uniformity in these cages, hidden below a thin veneer of jagged architectural beauty.There is nothing organic here.

P1040221Is there another way of looking at this picture? Yes, I think there is.

P1040221In the end, I am glad that we can all escape that hustle and bustle to something closer to earth ,more real just by  looking carefully.

P1030991No place is too small for a nest in nature.

endless landscape twicemodernBeing There or Being Nowhere!