David Byrne – Bicycle Diaries

Byrne, David (2009). Bicycle Diaries. London: Penguin. 2010. ISBN 9781101347942. Pagine 328. 18,71 $

Bicycle Diaries

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Darei per scontato che tutti, o almeno tutti i miei lettori, sappiano chi è David Byrne. Chi non lo sapesse vada a leggere la biografia di questo mio coetaneo scozzese trapiantato a New York su Wikipedia. E poi provi a immaginare il piacevole shock che provammo noi, 35 anni fa, quando sentimmo questo brano:

David Byrne è ancora un ottimo musicista, anche se i Talking Heads non esistono più da tempo. Qualche anno fa, il 20 luglio 2009, è venuto alla cavea dell’Auditorium di Roma a presentare lo spettacolo Songs of David Byrne e Brian Eno (superfluo dire che io c’ero). Dato che David Byrne consente l’uso di macchine fotografiche e telecamere durante i suoi concerti, c’è una bella documentazione di quella tournée italiana su YouTube:

Questo libro documenta un’altra attività di David Byrne, quella di ciclista, a Manhattan e nelle città in cui va per lavoro o diletto (portando con sé una bicicletta pieghevole). E poiché la bicicletta è un mezzo che consente di guardare, vedere e pensare a proprio agio, e poiché ha studiato (un po’) architettura, il libro – senza essere impegnativo – è interessante.

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Anche perché il libro l’ho letto un paio d’anni fa, anche se lo recensisco soltanto ora, e perché non è strutturato se non sulla base delle città descritte e percorse in bici, la cosa più onesta che posso fare mi sembra quella di inanellare le citazioni che mi ero appuntato durante la lettura.

Non inalberatevi subito e andate avanti a leggere: alcune delle riflessioni di David Byrne, ve l’assicuro, sono veramente profonde e stimolanti. Il riferimento è come di consueto alle posizioni sul Kindle:

“He Got What He Wanted but Lost What He Had” [273: è una citazione di Little Richard]

They are beautifully spartan and purely functional—in their austerity they are in perfect keeping with nineteenth-century architect Louis Sullivan’s dictum “form follows function.” He claimed, “It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical.” The implication was that this was not just a style or aesthetic guideline. This was a moral code. This was how God, the supreme architect, works. [385]

The two biggest self-deceptions of all are that life has a “meaning” and that each of us is unique. [930]

In the morning I decide to bike out to Tierra Santa (the Holy Land) in hopes of some photo opportunities. It’s a theme park located close to the river out past the domestic airport that advertises “a day in Jerusalem in Buenos Aires.” I find that it is closed today, but from outside the gate I can see “Calvary” with its three crosses poking out of the top of an artificial desert hill. [1250]

It’s often said that proximity doesn’t matter so much now—that we have virtual offices and online communities and social networks, so it doesn’t matter where we are physically. But I’m skeptical. I think online communities tend to group like with like, which is fine and perfect for some tasks, but sometimes inspiration comes from accidental meetings and encounters with people outside one’s own demographic, and that’s less likely if you only communicate with your “friends.” [1608]

One wonders if the things that people do to relax—after work and after-hours—is a mirror of their inner state, and therefore a way to see unspoken hopes, fears, and desires. Views and expressions kept bottled up in public, in the daytime, and kept hidden in typical political discourse. Nightlife might be a truer and deeper view into specific historical and political moments than the usual maneuverings of politicians and oligarchs that make it into the record. Or at least they might be a parallel world, another side of the coin. [1632]

The palace in the end became a miasma of schemes, intrigues, paranoia, and backstabbing. [1879: a proposito del palazzo di Marcos a Manila]

Impermanence is an accepted part of life in the tropics. There’s a permanence embodied in the continuity of patterns and relationships, but not in physical buildings or things. [2027]

Any kind of taxonomy might be as good or valid as any other, though we might not know for sure until some time in the future when a scientific paper “discovers” that hexagonal or bulbous shapes, or similar colors or textures are functions that in some way determine content, in the way that the form of a DNA molecule defines and is its function. Form doesn’t follow function in that case—form is function. I wonder to myself if genetics might be on the verge of some such wider revelation, beyond our understanding of DNA, based on molecular structures that are common across life-forms and species. Temple Grandin, in her book Animals in Translation, proposes that all animals with a white patch of fur on their bodies are less likely to be shy than their cousins. On the surface such an idea might seem completely irrational. As if my hair color could be an indication or even a determinant of my personality. But if such ideas can be proven then we’re not that far from pointy things and bulbous things as legitimate classifications. [2411]

I suspect that to imagine, and thus to create, one has to envision something that doesn’t exist yet. Fictionalizing is thus very close to lying—it’s imagining the existence of something that isn’t literally true, and writing or speaking about it as if it is real. Most fiction aims to tell us a story in a way that leads us to believe it is happening or has happened. The motivations behind storytelling and lying are different, but the creative process behind them is the same. [2828]

The city is a 3-D manifestation of the social, and personal—and I’m suggesting that, in turn, a city, its physical being, reinforces those ethics and re-creates them in successive generations and in those who have immigrated to the city. Cities self-perpetuate the mind-set that made them. [3064]

Here are more of Peñalosa’s thoughts, from a piece he wrote called “The Politics of Happiness”:

One common measure of how clean a mountain stream is is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It’s the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people…
All this pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We’re telling people, “You are important—not because you’re rich or because you have a Ph.D., but because you are human.” If people are treated as special, as sacred even, they behave that way. This creates a different kind of society. [3534]

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Qualche altra recensione (in inglese) la trovate a partire dalla pagina del sito di David Byrne dedicata al libro.

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