Stephen Brandes

2016

 

21st October 2068:

The first things I encountered on entering the cabin this morning, were the spent shells of woodlice forming small piles across the floor. It resembled a playing field littered with empty beer cans, or those burnt-out tanks preserved in the Dukla Pass.

As I swept them up, I noticed what had put them there. In every possible corner, where ceiling meets beam above my head, there are spiders. The kind that make disorderly nests. Thin spiders. Daddy-long-legs.

They are beneath the furniture too, the tables and chairs and in recesses…

 

 

Albert Sitzfleisch; failed architect, amateur historian of everything and nothing and a minor clerk in the Council of Europe is on furlough in the southwest of Ireland. Throughout a career of travelling this currently beleaguered continent, he has gathered a collection, rather old-fashionedly, of written notes, diaries, drawings and photos, books and ephemera which he has stuffed into several supermarket 'bags-for-life' and carried with him.

He has rented a cabin, constructed in the 1950s from crates used for shipping tractor parts from the USA to Cork. Willy-nilly, he empties the contents of his shopping bags onto a table.  A disorderly past and an incomplete present.

 

November 2032:

My first visit to Edinburgh, as a student of architecture.

Our brief; to consider how we might hypothetically transform/continue the unfinished Parthenon upon Calton Hill. Needless to say, my proposed plan (now thankfully lost) for a concrete extension of a euthanasia clinic has been subsequently met with mild derision.

Aside of my studies, I am fascinated by some local gossip. Innis Tuathanan in the Firth of Forth, previously owned by a family of enthusiastic supporters of Scottish independence, has been ‘acquired’ by an international investment group, itself co-headed by a pro-unionist and returned to its former name of Inchkeith. A new harbour on the island is being constructed, ostensibly by Polish engineers from Gdańsk and Gdynia. 

 

 

12th August 2045, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges:

A morning spent with R., visiting what once had been a sizeable aviary, the private collection of a Kievan builders’ merchant. Empty cages bar one.  Four years ago, after becoming bankrupt, he returned home. Rumour has it that he just opened the cages before he departed. Many of the birds remained where they were for days after and some locals helped themselves. One bird remains. A snowy owl called Timoshenko, its nameplate remains on the cage door. The local council has placed security cameras around the site to protect it.

R. tells me the Kievan also possessed a taxidermied dodo, though its authenticity was always in doubt. This he took with him.

 

6th March 2056, Venice:

Another three-day conference on ethical tourism.

This is the first week after the winter flooding has subsided.  A  few puddles here and there.  It's still cold.

Earlier this morning, as I meandered through the Campo del Sant' Angelo, I saw a boy of eleven or twelve in a motorised wheelchair and decided to follow him, fascinated to know how he navigated the stepped bridges over the canals. I managed to keep a measured distance as far as the end of the square, but as he turned into the Calle del Christo, he suddenly picked up tremendous speed. One more corner and I'd lost him.

 

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12th September 2047, Edinburgh:

Having spent most of the day at a better than average symposium on the subject of city skylines, my colleagues and I had the good fortune to be taken to a building adjacent to the castle which houses a camera obscura. A Norwegian (whose ancestry tapped his country’s waterfalls for electricity) now owns this building.

Seated within a small darkened chamber we are guided through a 360˚ panorama of the city and its environs, projected onto a circular concave dish, while our host manipulated the lens in the apex of the roof. The Pentland Hills to the South, Fife to the North and the full stretch of the Firth of Forth both East and West… from the distant forests to the discount stores and bars on the Royal Mile immediately below.

The third owner of this building apparently was a gentleman by the name of Geddes. He used this equipment to study the city like a forensic scientist through a microscope… I’d never before heard of him. A biologist, a sociologist, a city planner… note to myself: research Patrick Geddes.

Only when we got outside onto the roof was I mildly disappointed not to see what had once been called the Cables Wynd House, poking out of the Leith skyline directly North East. Built around ninety-odd years ago as social housing, an example of international modernism and two-fingers up to the paternal authority of the architecture of both New and Old Towns. It is now a complex of apartments marketed towards middle-class creatives, with an art-house cinema and restaurants. Likewise the building that now obscures it, a black neo-brutalist hearse of concrete, recently built to replace the glass shopping mall that had stood there on my last visit fifteen years ago.

 

 

18th May 2055, Prague:

I am in a bar in the Mala Strana, near the American embassy, with H and O. I order two coffees and a brandy. 

The proprietor's mobile rings and he answers it. Moments later, he calmly walks outside and pulls the shutters closed. On returning inside, the front doors are bolted and the lights turned off, save for two dim lamps on the counter. The drinks arrive.

Then forty minutes of night.

When the doors are unlocked and the shutters re-opened again, we walk out onto the street, side-stepping bricks and debris. The last of several parked cars is being extinguished.

We discuss the idea of returning to the hotel for a nap before dinner, but return to the bar for more coffee.

 

13th September 2047, Edinburgh:

Thankfully we have the day to ourselves. Our travel back to Strasbourg has been delayed due to bomb scare a CDG. I found Geddes’s “Cities in Evolution” online and even managed to read a substantial portion of it. The language is somewhat florid, however his ideas of looking at the planning of our towns and cities as a sociological and ecological matter seem nonetheless revolutionary for the time.

I also spent some moments thinking about the previous evening at the Outlook Tower, high above the city; the view and quiet, the camera obscura and what Geddes referred to as an enclosed, painterly and magical prospect of the city.  Alternatively from the terrace, the direct view, weather and all. Different perceptual experiences, but nonetheless looking at the patient from above; "diagnosis before treatment". I couldn’t help but think of the things that couldn’t be seen: the tunnels and vaults beneath the city that have been reclaimed by the bars and hotels that stand over them - or otherwise converted into tourist infotainment spectacles.

 

9th May 2052, Gdańsk:

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This is my first time in Gdańsk. K gave me a copy of The Tin Drum to read while I’m here, though it’s unlikely I’ll get much time.  Our rooms are two blocks away from the scorched remains of Hotel Shushashin. On a side wall written in red spray-can graffito: 'For the gold-digging in-laws'.

On the way from the airport earlier, my taxi driver pointed out various buildings of interest in faultless English, which I remarked on. He himself had learned the language while working for a company that supplied sub-Saharan Africa with pizza-dough and cake mix. The factory has since been mothballed.

There has been much talk recently about resurrecting the Hanseatic League,  a trading consortium operating outside of the European system, linking the main ports of the Baltic Sea with other cities on the Northern crust of Europe as far as Aberdeen. The taxi driver enthuses. I admit it is beyond my comprehension.

 

27th October 2049, Strasbourg:

I have now been in the employment of the Council of Europe for a couple of months. This is the centenary anniversary of its foundation and the celebrations have been continually overshadowed by much internal soul-searching. Fervent nationalism, militarized borders and pandemic human-rights abuses across the member states have all contributed to mounting criticisms as to the Councils ability to maintain its original mission. I've been told, as long ago as 2013, British journalists were questioning its credibility.

The department to which I am attached is called The European Cultural Observatory, a re-branding of the original Culture Watch Europe. "Strengthening democracy through culture, we are value-based, responsive and aware!" I keep my skepticism well under wraps.

The very title 'Observatory', to me recalls a Geddes perspective, yet only one of my interviewers showed any hint of recognition of the name.

 

3rd February 2061, Hamburg:

The headline on the second page of Der Spiegel International reads, "Resurrected Dodo successfully hatched in Leiden Laboratory".