Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

7. Orientation: living, traveling and strangers coming into town



7. Orientation – living, traveling and strangers coming into town

7.1 Streets (known, unknown)

7.2 Famous names and historical memory in places

7.3 Select traffic categories to separate heavy transport from pedestrians Arteries thick and thin – the route of things and persons – model of Chicago

7.4 Strangers coming into town – a measure of tasks ahead to realize a just society



North, South, West or East, all search for a helping hand to guide them and most apt to find their ways are the blind ones for they see and more so sense what lies ahead.


Small conversation in Paris:

“How do I get to the train station?”

“Which one?”

“Gare de Nord.”

“You are not far from that station. Just head down that street and at the third traffic light turn right; you will see then already Gare de Nord.”


Many people are not honest when they give orientation. Many pretend to know their city, streets, squares, places, where friends and other people live, but few wish to show their lack of knowledge. Hence they give often strangers wrong information and thereby contribute towards disorientation. It would have been better for them to say simply: “I don’t know”.

Another matter is the art to give orientation especially for a stranger trying to find the way in a city completely unknown to him. One student in a tutorial about ‘street experiences’ in a securalized state compared to one under Islamic rule as is Teheran would say Indians were excellent guides as they could read the signs and give practical orientations for finding the way. They would include such details as a tree under which they would love to sit and look at the water flowing past in the river running past that tree. They would say, when you come to that tree, where I love to sit for a while, then look for a soft slope on the other side of the river. Head towards that slope by crossing over at the next rapids you reach by going upstream.  Visual reminders will be remembered even if many details. Quite another is the abstract orientation given by geographers: two miles North-East and then straight towards the next juncture.

How then to go and finding your way through the maze of streets which every city has? There is a linkage between journeys like that of Odysseys and James Joyce repeating a similar journey but not lasting 22 years, but taking him in 24 hours through Dublin. Other ways to discover a city are linked much more to pressing needs for finding a place to stay, a job or an address given to one by a friend who lives in that city.

Living and traveling

There was a Japanese philosopher who taught once at the Institute Science of Religion at the Free University in Berlin (West – at that time, 1977-80). He considered going from one room to the next in a house as much as traveling from one country to the next. Crossing the threshold when walking from one to the other room meant in his Zen-sense also the importance before doing so to give an interpretation to the Zen poem fastened in the room; whenever about to step over the threshold, it was important to do so in accordance with the deeper sense flowing through that poem.

Another way to dream about traveling was evoked by the radio program of Ernst Schnabbel who traveled around the world in eighteen days and who recorded the voices en route whether an English speaking Indian or an American military man in Hawai. He did this program immediately after the war. Germans were yearning to see the world with their own eyes after so much suppression and repression during the times of National Socialism.

The German philosopher Ernst Bloch speaks about living and traveling in terms of understanding the self out of a double structure called in German ‘Entfremdung – Verfremdung’: by traveling abroad you alienate yourself from your original place of living and identity while coming back estranged by having made experiences abroad, this alienated – estranged sense allows for another reflection of the self understanding usually not questioned if staying put. Brecht had called that in terms of theatre as the ability of the actor to stand beside himself and observe what he is doing on stage.

There are writers like Christa Wolf found no where to travel to and no where to stay at: “Kein Ort! Nirgends”. No place nowhere. She meant in that novel the fact that once Troy was taken by the Athenians the women and children fled into caves to escape their fate but no historian would remember them. They were left with the choice of scratching into the cave’s wall their own history not recorded by anyone else.

To have no place to become concrete in terms of certainty of senses, that has a meaning in philosophical history. First of all, Ort or place was considered to be vital in terms of knowing not merely where human beings are more open but also where should be located temples. Secondly, places at which the senses could experience the real world, they were more often linked to childhood years when unusually receptive to everything that was happening around you when born into the world. Thirdly, after philosophy has negated the senses a source of truth, only space and time mattered as prime coordinates. Kant made that explicit by saying a scientific experiment can be demonstrated no matter where one was located on this earth for the law of gravity holds independently from where a particular individual stands and makes that observation that the law of gravity exists. Fourthly, philosophy tends to deny poetry as having any valid claim to being able to contribute to a truthful knowledge about this world we live in. That denial is most unfortunate and has made as a result the system more abstract while people have to come to terms independent of any validated knowledge. It leaves the place at the mercy of so many arbitrary interactions best to be noticed at a specific location in any city. While trucks and buses rumble past, a pigeon searches for a crumb at the wayside of the street filled by cars making their way with great impatience. There are forgotten newspaper strips floating in puddles left behind by the rain fall of the previous night while some woman is cleaning the window of the bakery across the street on the other side. There is so much going on simultaneously that only a love can unify at different levels what the senses attempt to say at this particular location.

Strangers coming into town

How do you know who is a stranger and who is not? People can become strangers to themselves when transgressing ethical borders and therefore change so much that they become unrecognizable on how they were before that deed. It is a fiction to divide between those who have a recognized identity by the others who live at the same place and those who have apparently another identity not conforming readily and at first sight to rules, conventions and even rituals in place to safeguard the kind of society which has come into its own being at that location. It seems that people step outside that society by traveling or else strangers can be recognized immediately they step into this often called local society.


7.1 Streets (known, unknown)

During the American Presidential elections with the global crisis hitting banks, it became indicative of how catch phrases caught up with developments by pitting ‘Wall Street’ against ‘Main Street’ as if society was polarized not so much between the rich and the poor, but between bankers and stock market speculators against house owners, the latter at risk to loose their homes due to the overall credit crisis.

If streets are the arteries of cities, then there are small, large, crooked, noble, poor ones etc. while their reputations would reflect who lives and works there or else has a shop along that street. Since living in streets has become less and less a probable outcome of life in urban centers due to cars taking over the streets, even when merely parked, that quality of space has been altered and curtailed since the coming of motorized vehicles. There is the famous photo of East Berlin prior to the Berlin wall coming down. There could be depicted endless streets nearly empty of cars and only sparse gas fueled bulbs would spend a yellowish type of light. It would not be enough to elongate the shadows of those who would walk there at night.

Pedro Mateo, a Spanish poet living in Athens, writing about the ‘reality of streets’:

The street is a place of passing by, of meeting, of acquaintance. We do not know how the people of Phaistos expressed themselves or if they wanted to be understood, when they walked, or walked past each other, when they gathered to hear the news or to negotiate, when they were just talking and a laughter could be heard…Maybe, apart from the language they didn’t differ so much from us. It is rare that when two or more people meet, they don’t strike a conversation or that they don’t go through the ritual of shaking hands and smiling. This happens even in Athens, a warm and human city which resists the invasion of uniformity.”


In Athens there are many types of streets: The wide, old style boulevards, lined with trees and stately buildings, narrow streets with steps, climbing, because of the morphology of the soil, wary with rocky hills…Athens does not have a monumental character because it was built piece by piece; at one place the commercial center, at another the new town, somewhere else a little insufficient park. Streets dipped in light, alleys lost in the shade, covered passages and markets. Busy streets, deserted streets, practically useless but with a unique charm. The street: a concrete space observed by the vigilant eyes of the windows of the houses.” [1]


7.2 Famous names and historical memories in places



Cultures of special knowledge and unique memories

Special cultures are developed around special activities e.g. ship building industry as long as they build schooners or wooden ships. The elongation of that is navigation and various skills needed to sail such ships. They ended up in different categories: discovery ships like those of Christopher Columbus, pirate ships, part of the armada and nowadays due to commercialization more and more racing ships.

The metaphor of wind and sail relates to knowing all the seas with the turning at the Cap of Capricorn where there was the risk of doldrums as much a special spot on the map as sailing ships by tradition meant pride especially when they appeared on the horizon. The life on board had an entity of itself as was the linkage to the shipping companies.

Marine life and history of shipping became visible with the slave trade now in discussion in various museums as there is a museum made by Peter Higgins and landdesign studio about various types of sailing ships or boats using sail.

Learning to sail is a dream of every boy and on the island of Chios it is interesting to watch how the first lessons are given in small dingy boats staying safely inside of the harbor. Cutting or more precisely plowing through the waves is a feeling with the gush of water in the face an experience not comparable to anything else.

Coming back to the more general question but what has this to do with cultural planning, if affinity to the sea by fishermen and sailors is akin to a certain culture which may die out as soon as the schooners are gone. It had certainly an impact in Nova Scotia where these ships were built. Once no longer in demand a specific type of ship as the three mast schooner, then that building industry died down and with it a specific culture vanished.

Consequently this observation reminds about two important aspects: culture contains memories of how things are done as these narratives and wisdoms are based on real experiences retold many a times sometimes like a myth, at other time as cut and dry observation but always such knowledge was bounded by the love for the sea and the adventures which go with the sea; and cultural planning may include the revival of such a ship building industry by focusing on the reconstruction of such schooners or special boats as used in the ancient past for with the revival goes nowadays high leveled research and a way to keep not only a tradition but certain skills alive, skills important enough to be passed on to the next generations on how to treat the wood, how to put planks together without using any metal and how to reconstruct something out of literal descriptions but precise enough to indicate the practical wisdom needed to build such boats.

On the island of Spetses the different ship building shops do have that inclination to keep a balance between safeguarding the tradition while adapting to newer needs such as tourism and interior luxury cabins demanding more than just building a ship as specialized carpenters deal with the interior as if a luxury home.

Modern life brings with it a different wealth and cultural demand for exemplifying such wealth. It is a material culture which manifests itself alongside technological developments leading to GIS systems and quite a different way to find your way not only through the oceans but at home also through the streets.


7.3 Select traffic categories to separate heavy transports from pedestrians – the model of Chicago


Volos – main street congested during peak hours with cars

and pedestrians pushed aside (2006)


7.4 Strangers coming into town – the tasks ahead to realize a just society

Who is this man who cometh?

Who are his companions?

Like a great host under arms,

Or wandering alone with slaves,

A wayfarer from far-off lands,

Mighty and valiant is he,

With strength which has slain so many!

Surely a god must speed him,

Who topples the unjust down.

No light task ever it was

To be free of all mortal ills.

All things end in the drift of time.



taken from the fragmentary Theseus

In a text written for a train exhibition travelling around Greece, this poem was taken to indicate that a stranger is viewed with ambivalence. On the one hand, he is feared of bringing with him new things; on the other hand, he may be the stranger who can finally do away with all injustices and bring about a just society.

“Such descriptions of ongoing life in the community of man seem to find no end. It reflects what people feel and see, think they can do. Confronting the strangeness not only in others, but in themselves, is, however, not the rule. Many uncertainties have to be overcome first.

There is first a lack of self-knowledge as to what is freedom, then differences have to be sorted out as to what is good despite being foreign rule and injustice despite own rulership dominating over oneself.

There is also a need to bridge the gap between experiencing life as something familiar and 'rules' people feel are needed to live by once life becomes more complicated.

People get into difficulties if these rules are not of their own making, hence not rooted in their self-understanding, but rather dictated from above or by some outside forces.

This makes the definition of freedom into a freedom of self-governance according to rules which are understandable as opposed to causing 'estrangement'.

The dilemma of having to live according to just rules, but difficult to find, this creates tension which can explode especially when confronted by the otherness of the stranger. For he might be a carrier of other rules making the outcome uncertain if abided by.

Usually the confrontation is justified only if it leads towards a 'toppling of unjust laws/rulership', while it is acknowledged that this is no easy task, hence a measure of things to come.”



[1] Pedro Mateo, The reality of the street, (1995) Athens: unpublished materials of the ‘Myth of the City’ conference in the archive of POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN

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