Metropolitan Trails Academy 2020

MTA Meeting 1. How to Design a Trail Athens (6-9 February 2020)

InspiralLondon ontological perambulations: In search of the ‘beautiful’ Attic omphalos.

“Walking, a practice of on the ground mapping, allows us to imagine together other cities, different times and other worlds as we confront the reality of our ever-changing metropoles.”

 

 

This movement in the city, as a ripple – the practice of Metropolitan walking –to go together as a group, through the city and to explore right out into the very fringes of this urban sprawl. You can see “these Metropolitan Trails are just a tool to know our cities”; an invitation to explore together using the apparently simple practice of walking, by tracing on a map, then by following on the ground, a pathway.

 

Yet every time we go out into our cities together, like this, we are surprised, perhaps even a little overwhelmed. That utter embodied exhaustion that Walter Benjamin describes, at the end of a long hike, almost hallucinatory, echoes the marvellous, of being ‘waylaid’, as you walk by the unexpected appears. Whatever it is, this encounter with a specific time/place, with a person, an odour, sounds and sights that jolts, excites, arrests us in our track. A small urban excursion through our sense that opens us up, out again to an other; wonder that reaffirms our belief in life’s complex but sudden beauty, the marvellous so beloved by the surrealists. How simple yet decentering this sense of being reunited with place – our feet on the ground – to be able again to renew our sense of what is real and what possible.

 

 

But who decides what is beautiful? What is valuable? What worth contemplating or experiencing with eyes, ears, nose, hand? To share with others? We touch the city and our touched by it. We are a body of people ,and the city, the embodiment of other people. See us now, a ribbon of footfalls in boots and trainers, as we scramble up to the omphalos ridge, urban mountaineers for an instant, the views ahead stretched out eastwards across North East Athens. Attica is now a sea of concrete, from where we look down, gathered then at this sacred turning point, at the very centre of the ‘western’ world, at an imaginary omphalos of democracy. The city pulses here and below, and we share our exhalations. We are leaving the heights now, returning homebound, touched by the place, barefoot, foraging ,crawling, and rolling. Somehow, we have been an Other City in the simple beautifying act of being ‘on the ground’, traversing it together – sorting, sifting and gathering in our collective memory– being a part of a place again, re-connecting, re-cognising, re-discovering. And later, we too can recount our meeting with Helen of Athens, in all her everyday beauty, her generosity, how we were so suddenly struck by her evident charms. (Charlie Fox 16.2.2020)