Everyone knows there are invisible cities. Sure, there are the obvious one with street corners and steps and shopfronts. But then there are the spots and the patterns only some people know.
Somehow drug people know that the corner of Church St. and Market St. works well for them.
Johns know where to find hookers to their particular tastes.
Gang members know where they can safely go and where they can’t.
Cops know where they can pick off speeders.
And there are the cities that live only in memory. When I go to neighborhoods I lived in I can feel the ghosts, remember the parties.
Out my office window now I overlook where I flew off a motorcycle and broke my collarbone, about 25 years ago. Nobody would know but me.
In front of my old apartment in North Beach an old man, Peter Macchiarini, once showed me where he was standing when he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and he told me the curse he’d said. To this day when I walk by that spot I too remember Pearl Harbor and I remember Peter.
Here’s a spot with a past: A banal parking lot for a banal apartment complex in Berlin.
Underneath: the site of the bunker where Adolph Hitler hid for the last two weeks of the war before marrying Eva Braun and killing himself.
Under our feet, a world of wonders.
“Is it possible, after all, that in spite of bricks and shaven faces this world we live in is brimmed with wonders, and I and all mankind, beneath our garbs of commonplaceness, conceal enigmas that the stars themselves, and perhaps the seraphim, cannot resolve?”
Herman Melville, Pierre, 1852
William S Burroughs described that sensation ” Ghost Roads- the streets you don’t go down anymore”.
I know what you mean. I was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, an old industrial city that in the mid 1950’s, when I first experienced it, was still the bustling hub of a surrounding area that had not yet experienced its first shopping mall or interstate highway. Ten years later, Interstate 195 would rip through the heart of the city.
Fall River’s Main Street had 4 movie theaters, McWhirr’s (a dead ringer for The Big Store in the Marx Bros. movie by the same name), dozens of restaurants and small businesses and traffic, traffic, traffic along Main Street from 6AM to 10PM.
Today, it is a shell of its former self, but when I walk down those streets today I still hear my grandfather’s voice greeting his friends, I can see the cop standing in the middle of intersection directing traffic, I can hear the newsboys hawking papers in front of the movie theaters as people come out. It reminds me of what places like Fall River once were and, with a little help and imagination, could be again.
I also know what you mean. The block of Stockton between Union St. and Filbert was so different 45 years ago: Drug stores on either end where Cafe Divine and Washington Square Inn now sit. Figone Furniture where former Moose’s and now Joey and Eddie’s is. And the ladies’ dress shop where the current hat emporium stands. Who’s to say these changes are bad, just different uses as the neighborhood ages.