Wednesday, October 12, 2011

London is not a grid.

That title...there is a screenprint hiding in that title. I'll find it. It's evading me yet.

Cities are forbidding when my attitude is forbidding. If I'm feeling receptive, then they are an enchanted, screwed up adventure. You know why I can navigate London well? It is flat. Chicago is confusing to me. There is no sense of area. It's too tall. too many skyscrapers. Too many corners with the same Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks on the corner underneath the same soot-stained skyscraper. This is not an accident. London has height restrictions on buildings, due to the historical nature of some of their sightlines: St. Paul's, for example. Also, the buildings and the sense or feel of the neighborhoods are distinct. You could also call that diversity, I guess.

The compounded layers of the history, the differences, the varied influences in each place, each region, make it easier to navigate. It nearly makes up for the lack of grid.

On that subject. London is intuitive, navigationally. If I've been somewhere only once before, I can almost always find it again by intuition. The curve of the streets, the landmarks, the buildings, the tube stations, imprint themselves on my mind, and when I am trying to find a place a second time, my mind recognizes the pattern and before I have time to truly think about it, I know where I am. And isn't that kind of what intuition is? The recognition of patterns, feelings, vibes, aura, all that stuff and how it interacts with you and the world.

I think that's what learning is. Both intuitive and logical. It is a scaffolding in your head, linking neuron to neuron, memory to facts to feelings to senses. And you know you've truly learned something when it fits in that neural scaffolding like a puzzle piece.

I remember the streets, but always in relation to other things. If I were to draw London, the streets would be there, but there would be other things in equal measure: tube lines, landmarks, neighborhoods.

I rarely get entirely lost. Rather, I lose my way. There is a difference. Losing my way is easy to remedy, usually. For several reasons,I've decided.

I like observing. If something is unusual or visually interesting or disturbing, I will remember it, and where it was.

I'm a designer. Doesn't seem to relate, does it? Well, it does.
An excellent drawing professor I once had told me that drawing was a constant flipping back and forth between your intuitive side and your logical side, between the left and the right brain. Design is the same. It requires you to express an aesthetic, an emotion, a feeling, a look, in an object while retaining its practical use.

So, I do that every day. I practice it, because I love it. Such that there is a decently strong connection between the left and right halves of my brain. When I'm trying to find my way, the pattern recognition of my intuition combines with the cold hard facts in my reason.

Also one should never be ashamed to ask directions. Courtesy is key.

The last thing: I like to know stuff for myself. I love to explore. I lose my way on purpose if I have the time.

It pays off.

Oh! and this is weirder yet. I hate highways. They confuse the living daylights out of me. Because I'm going too fast to observe, and because the threat of collision requires that I keep my eyes on the road. more so than walking, or even biking. Though biking in London, believe me, is a strange middle ground. You can be hit by a car, but you're not going so fast as you would on a highway.Neither truly pedestrian nor driver. Rider. You're a rider.

I think, actually, that in only one month and a week of living in London without a car (I've been in a car twice, and it was a cab both times.THE WAY THEY DRIVE....!!!)Anyway, in that time, I have a mental map of London that compares pretty favorably, to my mental map of Minneapolis, as well as Hudson/River Falls. Where, collectively, I've spent 20 years. That is strange.


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