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NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 10

QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER OF THE LANDSCAPE OBSERVATORY - 26

THE OBSERVER

Foto

Peripheral Landscape

Toni Sala
Writer, National Literature Award of Catalonia

The first landscapes were reportedly painted in the Middle Ages, generally portraying walled-in gardens. The outside world, however, was hidden behind those walls, horrible and unknown. The periphery was limited, as such, to those impenetrable walls.

From the constant assembly and disassembly of cranes over the last few years to the painful reports of underage prostitutes on Catalan roads, the periphery has been portrayed with little hypocrisy. We lack all criteria to define the exact line separating civilisation from abandonment. There is a no man's land between both, and it's impossible to say where the city begins and where it ends. This open wound, with all the ugliness amidst the chaos, is a part of today's world, a time in which cities have been walled in once more though now with asphalt beltways, making the periphery equally inaccessible. I can't imagine how a Renaissance painter would portray today's city outskirts.

If we succeed in crossing over these asphalt beltways, however, we find ourselves with a confusion of accumulated presences, each using its own particular language. I refer not only to the language spoken by Moroccans or Gambians working the fields around the city. Rather, I refer to the different languages used by a bell tower on an hermitage wall and the yellow McDonald's "M" consisting of two thin chips on top of a dizzyingly high metallic pole. And what about the plastic over-illuminated bulk of a petrol station and a centuries-old farmhouse? What would the Medieval remains of a castle be able to say to a cement factory? An old road to a motorway? The windmill to the roads of an as of yet un-built housing complex? The hole of an abandoned quarry to an industrial warehouse? And a vegetable garden to a shopping centre or a tourist establishment? There is no communication between all of these and, as such, no balance.

The construction of a waste treatment plant coexists alongside the ruins of a Roman aqueduct and a completely restored church. Time itself -past, present and future- is confused and mixed up, with the presence of recently built things alongside others which are being taken down or others that have been fossilised.

In my work, I have always stopped to reflect on this periphery, whether inside the person or outside; literature works well with peripheral spaces. Travelling around any city, the chaos and accumulation give an idea not so much of abandonment but of little faith in any type of value. In the case of a Catalan writer, perhaps they more aptly represent the consciousness of a world or a crumbling language.

All landscapes are cultural and, as such, moral, and any representation is symbolic. Perhaps the periphery seems so inaccessible to us precisely because it describes the very reality it surrounds, the same reality it is descended from, describing it better than all the fixed and static centres that, without doubt, are hypocritical showcases. If we live in times of change, if we are aware of a crisis in values -a paradoxically perennial feeling-, the periphery's ambiguous territory, which moves at its own rhythm, is an ideal place worth exploring.

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