Friday 21 September 2012

Thought Picnic: A sense of space

Riding is ingrained
When I visited Germany for the first time in November 1995, I went to visit an old friend of mine who had returned to Germany and was living in what was then a changing East Berlin.
The strangest thing we did was to get on bicycles at night and ride for hours considering I had not ridden a bike for at least 9 years and that was just for an evening, before which I was probably just a teenager when I did have a functioning bicycle.
A sense of space
I was amazed not so much about the buildings that looked grey or brown as if they were time capsules of sepia that reminded you of a bygone age but the sense of space, the public spaces as in roads, parks, public buildings and the grandiloquent monuments usually exemplified in statues dotted all around the place.
I formed a theory in my mind that the leadership of closed societies where expression is not free had perfected a form of social engineering where this sense of space appeared to offer a kind of freedom by repressing dissent but opening up spaces as if that availability of space is the substitute for openness of the mind.
A town boy in the country
Now, I have always been a city dweller most of my adult life to compensate for my inability to drive and sometimes to cater for my single status – the former makes sense because public transport has quite catered for my needs but the latter has simply confirmed a truism; you can both be alone and lonely even in a crowd.
When I left Amsterdam for Almere and then a week in Breukelen is when I realised that space did exist in the Netherlands, lots of it, especially in Almere which had been planned out to such detail to have lakes, farms, bicycle paths, parks, greens and much else.
The conurbations could look busy but the layout in general seemed to make you want to breathe and feel that you could be at one with nature just outside your door.
Much space in France
Now, in France and just about 30 kilometres east of Paris at Bussy-Saint-Georges I also find this sense of space, it is obvious from the roads that seem to be long wide stretch into a vanishing point, real avenues and by that, I mean roads lined by trees and these roads are central main roads with less busy parallel roads that feed the offices and houses.
The love for space suggests that between 1999 and 2006 there was a year on year 30% increase in population  and not only have I noticed lots of Far-East Asian tourists at my hotel, there are quite a few restaurants and businesses run by them suggesting there is a sizeable population of that ethnicity here too.
Nature is given a chance to show up with parks and lakes dotted about that place, it is commuter-belt country, just 30 minutes by train into Paris and two train stops on before Paris Disneyland.
In all the time I have visited Paris, I have never really had a good look at the outskirts to see if there was life outside of Paris – there is and not every place is caught up in the stereotype of the restless and riotous banlieues.
I hope to upload pictures soon.

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