Thursday, 28 March 2013

Inside your own skin - and what if that is made of glass?

I find it very odd walking into my own house after being away for a while - even just a few days.  However irrational, I think I feel relief - for various reasons - that it's all still there, it hasn't burned down or been ransacked. Then there's a wave of familiarity, recognition, and a silly sense of discovery - remembering what things looks like.  If we've been staying in a small space - camping, perhaps, then the house seems very spacious.  If we've been in an open kind of place then it can seem dark and constricted.  I don't know what this set of sensations amounts to, but I guess it's been written about somewhere, by someone.   

That's because while we were away I snatched bits of reading - a book called 'The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking' - very funny and interesting too, but one thing I've discovered is that psychologists have created truly mind-boggling names for reactions to things, or behaviours, detailed down to the last dot. Nominal realism, substance dualism, the false consensus effect, the mere ownership effect, existence bias, the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, and so on.... Of this little list, the last is the most interesting. Someone shot up the side of a barn and then painted bull's eyes round the bullet holes to make it look as if they were very accurate in their shooting.  Anyway, the book is full of catches - gathering together accounts of superstition and wishful thinking of many kinds, from 'touching wood' to religions.  So coming home I was tuned into the psychology of my own house, or my reactions to coming home - though these are feelings I have each time, I have to say.

Journeys like this one just completed leave little time for reading. We were on the road, or at the conference, or detouring to see something interesting, and if you're half of a couple and the other one isn't reading too, it's a bit lopsided.  So we have the back to reality sensations now - new resolutions, new ideas. I realise that travelling - or even just looking at maps in detail - is tremendously inspiring. Place names are so evocative - we passed Socx and Bra which set me to searching the place-name index. I could not find Knyckers, sadly, or Veste, or Pants, but we did find a Choux.  I find I can't stop myself dreaming up wild romances about the places in the landscape - the bullied child, the too-young wife, the harried farmer, the vicious old lady, etc etc.

Driving along all these new roads, seeing the faded and dusty impasses and tracks of the old roads shows we really are in an age of massive change. The old slow ways of doing things are being ripped away. But we still have our inner worlds.

Our main wonder of yesterday was to get into the new Louvre-Lens Museum - opened last December, free entry for the first year - and I urge you to go there as soon as you can. Lens is the city of slagheaps, and not until now a place for tourists. But they levelled a massive area of slag (behind the football stadium), and after an international competition gave the design contract to SANAA, a Japanese architectural/philosophy team. They have created an astonishing glass single-story space, where the inside and outside merge into wondrous  dissolutions. The huge foyer contains inner glass spaces with designated and flexible purposes - picnic area, salle de receptions, bookshop, cafe, media, etc.  Then the main display rooms are utterly alluring - with very-slightly curving walls, fantastic light, and a treasury of items on display. Breath-taking.  Such beauties, and so brilliantly displayed and explained. A hand-held iPad style guide allows you to see and hear and explore the objects, via an interactive map.  It's all astonishing.  There is a thread of 'time' to the present display - taking you through the ages, showing representations of humans - being, doing, holding - and some of what we were thinking about - the universe, material, power.

We bought a couple of books there. One is about the Art Déco buildings of Lens, full of beautiful photos, and the other is a tacky-looking rather expensive thing published by Princeton University about the SANAA group, showing how they helped some of their students work through the real needs of communities to produce building designs which take us forward. Japan has a rapidly declining and aging population, and 'new' suburbs are already subject to decay and abandonment. At the same time, the young are the new poor, and the old are the new lonely. So communities are creating weekend residential/allotment projects to lure city-dwellers out to nearby towns, or they are deconstructing buildings to create free recycling walls where people can come and take the materials for re-use (and incorporating memory niches inside the walls), or clearing areas and creating secret gardens which contain 'nothing', or making big cubic glass-ended buildings which are for multiple art uses which will remain when the communities around them have shrunk back to nothing. So energising. It makes the architecture in the other book we bought look rather ponderous and out of date, because however beautifully ornamented, the buildings themselves are the same as 'the old days' and not capable of being used in any new ways.

The old ways of doing things were basically local, and are now organised on a really huge scale and liable to strip away the sense of community or even individuality. The conference we went to in Munich was a highly organised grouping of a sense of individual worth and purpose - partly for business, and partly emanating from the ethical origins of its founder. We were there to learn how to help other people get healthy and make money - despite the economy, as it happens.  The Louvre-Lens lesson is that things change but that people are intensely creative. The horrible news I had while I was away - that a friend is very ill in hospital - has been modified to some extent in that she is awake, can sit up, her pneumonia is receding, and writes what she wants though she cannot speak at the moment; modern medicine can work miracles.  My own house is filled, overfilled, with things I have loved or needed - but I do not need them all now. I can let them go.  Outside in the little greenhouse, our seedling were tended by our neighbour and are doing ok.  Even the sun is shining this morning - after so many dark and bitterly cold days in Germany and France, it's wonderful to see it.

In my own skin - I am me. I loved the glass walls of the Louvre. Their curves. The mad garden outside.

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