Bridges to Cross / Ponti da Attraversare

“The current moment has no idea how to negotiate the coexistence of radical change and radical stasis that is our future.”

Five days ago, I recorded that quote while exploring OMA’s exhibit on architectural preservation at the Biennale. Sadly for me, Venezia is already on its way to assuming a dream-like status, it seems so long ago in my mind. Time bends so strangely sometimes – one minute stretches on for weeks or even a lifetime, whereas days begin to dissipate in a few hours.

However, upon leaving Il Nuovo for mass this morning, Tony and I were swallowed in such a deluge of pushy tourists and their unruly children –and pets– that I wondered if I wasn’t still in Venezia. The weather grows more temperate each day, and school is about to begin; naturally, weekends are perfect for family day trips to dreamy locales…

And there are indeed many dream-like qualities shared by Civita and Venezia: picturesque, pedestrian-only cities whose pure authenticity wears with time — and their dependence on tourism; their connectedness –and distance– formed by long man-made bridges; an otherworldly, remote spirit enhanced by very private resident populations; and tenuous supportive structures that either threaten to flood and sink, or erode and disintegrate down the mountainside.

In effect, Venezia and Civita are simply two poles of the same spectrum connected quite literally by a common road. I don’t find it inconsequential that my journey so far has consisted of two such dreamy places where the “outside world” carries little meaning, and where one’s focus is continually encouraged inward.

Even in cosmopolitan Venezia, host of the Biennale and the Venice film festival, which hearkens to visitors world-wide, the best times are to be had discovering secret places in the dark where there are no films, no exhibits, no red carpets.

With such focus, I return to the dilemma of that quote: how is it possible to reconcile the ever-static past with the ever-changing future and still remain cohesive? If you aren’t who you were, yet your identity is always evolving, who are you now…and who will you be in five minutes, or five years? It’s a question of survival in terms of authenticity and identity; how does one preserve the past and build toward the future without losing either in the process?

I ask myself these questions every day now. How is living in Civita –living as a foreigner, not merely a tourist, in a strange land– changing the way I experience life? Who was I when I left, and who will I be when I return? Is one sense of self more valid than the other — out with the old and in with the new?

People and cities share that struggle. If either refuses to adapt and change, they stagnate as a species and eventually decline; yet, when we evolve, we grow out of –and often forget– a rich, evolutionary identity by which we define our very existence. Some believe that the further we walk from that past –especially in terms of transforming cities– the more homogeneous we become: muddled, tasteless, and lacking in strong character or historical foundation. Yet, if that is the very nature of time –to move and shift– then why bother struggling to preserve anything?

A passage by Italo Calvino come to mind:

“Sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another, without communication amongst themselves. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old postcards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia like this one.”

When I reflect on what Venezia and Civita were –and are– perhaps the only answer for any of us is to transform with wisdom, knowing that the bridge between what was and what is simply grows longer rather than falling into ruin behind us. Rather than wholesale renovation or change, perhaps the point is more about concentrating on how to tap into that original potent identity –the radically static past– so that it can continue to inform the layers of our ever-changing future with intelligence, poetry, and authentic flavor.

Thankfully, Civita and Venezia are parts of that bridge for me, which makes the span between the world that came before and the one I create today quite desirable to cross again and again.

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