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November 7, 2013 / Leo Hollis

a Street in Paris-what is a city?

I am very pleased to be part of the first edition of UNMAPPED magazine. The rest of the article can be found here: It is a beautifully put together site and I wish it the best of luck!

What makes a city? Can we judge it just by its physical shape alone, or is there some other undefineable nature that emerges beyond the brick and asphalt? The question of the anatomy of the city itself is one of the most misunderstood questions of our times. Over the previous centuries, thinkers, architects, scientists and politicians have come up with their own definitions of a city. For many, the DNA of the city can be found in its moment of creation and it is through looking at how the first cities were formed that the essential urban characteristics are revealed. For others, the city is a physical place and should be measured by its size, volume, or shape. Yet, beyond the traditional definitions, perhaps there is a more dynamic way of describing the metropolis. Sometimes it is the simplest moments that allow one to remember this. This is what I found out on my last trip to Paris.

Everyone had been given directions in advance and the numerical passcode for the security gate in advance. It was a short walk from the metro down, Rue Acacia and then a few metres to the large, green iron doors that blocked off the entrance to the mews behind. Already one could hear the murmur of activity on the other side as I punched the number into the touch pad and waited for the ‘click’ of the releasing lock. With a push the gate opened; and as I stepped through I felt as if I were passing from the city into a new, unfamiliar place.

Every Sunday evening for the last 30 years, 38 Rue de la Tombe Issoire, Paris, has been a city within a city; for here Jim Haynes has held an endless supper party, the door open to anyone who wants to enter, the table ready for all who wish to eat, the conversation a babble of different langauges, accents, generations and sensibilities – by reputation this is a place where once everything, and anything, was permitted. But it was Thanksgiving and after hanging up my coat and with a plastic glass of red wine thrust into my hand, I made my way into the main room where 40 or so people were already bumping into each other, introducing themselves, finding connections and listening to each other’s stories.

[to continue ]


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