Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tales from the Shore Line: The Palimpsestuous City

Dear ---,

The nights are getting closer in Seaford. There are tales of lantern flames on the cliffs of the Head after midnight, and children are rushed home through grey light without a word. I saw a bat chasing unseen insects above the pond the other day, but mostly I only notice spiders.

If anything though, the threat of ghosts comes as relief. The wild, inanimate neon pulse of Brighton is a machine possessed, its dreams are now in the hands of hinted masters and subtle forces. The gears have been replaced with mirrors. The handles, with bones.
Recently I found time and spirit to lurk by the Kemptown shore. I spent my minutes walking the pier, scratching away at surfaces, keen to reveal truths laid out beneath others. Flickers of paint. Faded letters from half-dated posters. Pipes going nowhere.

I thought back over my time along this shore, those nights spent between these streets. Had Brighton changed more than I had? Or was I subjectively delusional? Certain spots triggered memories, but I couldn't always be sure what memories they were. Mine? Someone else's? Nothing but stories? Too much had changed for it to matter much, but it would be nice to know if I had been sent mad by it all.

Mostly the transformation had been complete. Shapes of buildings remained, but all trace of previous owners had been nuked. Naked paint pinkwashed hidden stains. Shiny signposts deflected any remaining attention. In a city built for attention, the layers were covered and ignored in equal measure.

Brighton seems unafraid to make its own history. It has its needs, and a sinister will of its own that somehow forces the population to meet those needs. On some days, in the winter, when the tourists and the students and even Jack and Linda have all headed home, it feels like the city is plotting its next move. The semi-gentle waves bring it ideas, and the yin-yang of the tides are all the technique it requires.

The Council is fooled into thinking it runs Brighton. In reality, far above the columns of the town hall, the Council is nothing but a medium for expressing the dreams of a restless city, a means to an endless journey. Another layer, a mirage of power. (And it knows that I know.)

Political games rage like circles of leaves being whisked into the air - all distractions from the vining schemes that the streets themselves are threading. Can't stop the rock, the rocks, the stones, the pebbles. Brighton needs more, needs to be fed.

It's not me, I'm not mad. The layers have told me that. The city itself is hiding its own pasts in a palimpsestuous continual reinvention, an ever-shifting attempt to wriggle free of an identity it wants to lose. Never happy, never resting. Each layer becomes a set of symbols on which the next reincarnation is built.

But Brighton is not progressive, not innovative - yet another urban myth (ha!) that the city has introduced as smoke. The layers do not lie, and the oldest layers lie the least. Their truths come out as mumbled ramblings, garbled, intoxicated, and confused. Best not to attract too much attention. The young layers might notice.

I say it again. The city knows that I know. I had no choice but to move.


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