Thesis Snippets: place is an archive

I’m still close enough to my parked car to press the keypad to double-check it is locked, and already history is inscribed and readable in the landscape.

Of course, it isn’t readable in the open-a-book-in-your-native-tongue-and-effortlessly-read sense of the word. Rather, it is readable in the way that makes history such a richly engaging discipline, where stories and meaning are pieced together in every way you can find, where arguments land as defensible when enough good evidence can be assembled behind your claim.

I reach the river bank, check for cyclists to my right and left – it can be like an expressway here – and cross over. Shimmying through a steel-bar fence and then sidestepping my way down the steep trapezoidal bank is all that stands between the river bed and me. There’s a syringe, discarded on top of a spill of paint that happens to be blood red. The syringe I read as a historical inscription about marginalisation of people to the river and unsafe drug use, the blood-coloured paint I read as clumsy and coincidental.

I walk, taking photos. I get absorbed in looking at the plants which are growing in the river bed. It is a strange stretch where water flows under heavy layers of sand and vegetation, you have to keep remembering it is in fact a flowing river. There has been some rain, so tall grasses are swept uniformly in one direction – like a pageboy’s combover –  and you can walk, bouncing slightly, on the pillowy surface the grass creates. I’m doing just that, when a rough looking man I’ve been half keeping an eye on, up at the bike path, yells out to me. His hair is matted and wet, he’s carrying a laden plastic shopping bag – when discarded shopping bags lodge in the trees here as high as thirty feet up after a flood they call them Los Angeles Moss[1] – and he has a lot of baggy clothes on.

He’s far enough away that his shout is hardly audible. The only word I hear is “shots”. This area is known to be gang territory and as a visiting Australian, the United States’ approach to gun ownership has always startled me. The only word is “shots” and I wonder if it might be a threat or warning. I think that if my life is about to end, it’s been a pretty wonderful final afternoon, and I start to walk towards him, to find out the rest of that sentence. The story continues, the shots Tim spoke of were photographs not firearms, but let me leave it there for now, hoping I have shared enough to illustrate both the power and practice of place as an archive.

[1] Kazys Varnelis, The Infrastructural City : Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles (Barcelona; New York; [Los Angeles]; [New York]: Actar ; The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design ; The Network Architecture Lab, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University, 2008), 42.

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