Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cities Keep Moving

One of the first things that struck me about Lisbon was the age of the city. It makes London look young. Which is ridiculous since everything in London is really old isn't it? Thinking about this, I remembered a friend talking about traditions at Oxford University. Why do they wear gowns to their exams and the like. The answer, he said, to most why questions was 'Because we have always done it that way'. South Africa is much 'younger' in that the only people around lived alongside nature rather than building stuff. Farmers and fighters came from the north and from the sea and started building stuff.


Lisbon has been a continually inhabited since around 1200BC and is the oldest city in Western Europe predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Have a look at the history and you will see that this isn't a case of the preservation of an old way. Cities are alive and continually changing. Lisbon has been touched by all sorts of cultures. There were pre-Celtic tribes. Then they were forced out. There were Celtic tribes. Then they were forced out. The sheltered harbour of the Tagus river was an attractive place to have a settlement. If you want to preserve a culture, it seems the way to do it is find somewhere unattractive. Step away from the dance. Lisbon has danced. Phoenicians, Romans, Sarmatians, Alans, Vandals, Seubi, Arabs and Berbers have come and gone. Lisbon only became the capital of the new Portuguese territory in 1255. That was only 242 years before Vasco Da Gama set sail. Things change.

After wandering around Lisbon yesterday, I sat in an incredible Library/Book shop called Ler Devagar in the LX Factory and did some wikiwalking. Looking at the history of Europe makes a bit of a joke of borders. People, and more particularly culture, have always been mobile. The older 'European' cultures were also on both sides of the mediterranean. Carthage (now in Tunisia) and Rome (now in Italy) were the belligerents of the Punic Wars. Trying to settle disputes through an essential connection to land is a fool's task. People have always moved.


Like the library walls filled with books, cultures evolve and grow - always adding. Ironically, perhaps it seems conservatives made the most likely migrants before the world ran out of 'unclaimed space'. If you want to preserve something, you have to cut yourself off from the outside world. Kerry Howley in 'Thrown' talks of how great martial artists are never still. Every position, every moment, is seen as a transition from something and to something, combined with complete presence.

The biggest universal conflict I can see is between those looking to preserve the past and those looking to let go of it. You can't really do either. Our creativity lets us see futures because we simplify things and with huge leaps, our minds see potential. We can't see the path's every step, and don't know what we will lose by changing. We also can't stay the same.

We keep moving. Cities keep moving.
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