The Local and the Global: Urban Remains

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Globalization, according to philosopher and physicist Ursula Franklin, occurs in the space of struggle between two spheres – the bit sphere and the biosphere. Digital vs.analogue, technology vs. nature, private vs. public – we’re caught in between. At this point, she says, we can’t opt out of either. Still, the corporate/private/digital sphere is wily and opportunistic, seeking to manipulate time and space. It can seem to make a community’s history disappear, can relocate a ghetto.

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Last week I went to a conference called Migrating Media about globalization of media, at Ryerson University. Objects of research ranged from global film locations to Lord of the Rings. A pair of papers I particularly enjoyed, delivered by Jen VanderBurgh and Janine Marchessault, mused upon local neighbourhoods deeply familiar and beloved to me (Parkdale in Toronto, and le Plateau de Montreal, respectively) and the meanings of their filmic representations.

We’ve seen it on X-Files, The L Word, Men in Trees: Canadian cities and regions made over into American cities. In some recent films, as Vanderburgh and Marchessault pointed out, Queen Street West and the poetic spiral staircases of Montreal got to play themselves. What do those representations signify, and how do those signifiers feed back into the ways a community sees itself? Marchessault paraphrased a lyrical question, that she’d heard asked at a previous conference: what is left of the city after cinema?

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The next day, I strolled through the art fair (part of th weekend’s Queen West Art Crawl) in Trinity Bellwoods Park, with The Guitar Player. Stimulated by the previous day’s theoretical to-and-fro; I revelled in locality. Strangers and friends, strolling through a park alive with cultural production, from the pop stylings of an ensemble of lesbians in white and red robes (The Boychoir of Lesbos) to rugged black and white encaustic paintings of ships’ hulls – a meditation, according to the artist, on globalization.

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After some sustenance at Chippy’s Fish & Chips, we found ourselves at The Communist’s Daughter and chanced upon some lovely swing and jazz by Red Rhythm. There’s always something rather magical about the way that the bartender, Michael J, who is also in the band, takes up the trumpet, or sings, in-between serving beers and counting change.

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Through the lens of my camera, the scene was certainly cinematic: the gleam of a trumpet in the bar’s filtered light; the wry visage of the double bass player, framed by a window, the streetcar its occasional, fleeting backdrop. A guy next to me had his sketchbook in front of him – so 18th century Paris! The music was vintage 1940’s… we could have been in Chicago, or New York.

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Putting down my camera, returning to the bar, my drink, and short vignettes of conversation, I felt that nostalgia flow back into present-time: the corner of Ossington and Dundas; a distinctive neighbourhood scene. We’re in the biosphere, reinforcing habits, movements, ways of being that are rooted in time and space – not easily displaced for corporate expansion.

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It would seem that much remains of the city after cinema.

What local experiences have you had lately?

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