October 6

1973, 1887

The purple star marks my kibbutz

In terms of my personal history, there is scarcely a date or an event in the calendar more significant than: "outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, today in 1973". I had spent that first summer out of school in Israel, and thought that six weeks of my life in that pursuit was quite enough, with an entire planet of countries waiting to be seen, Judaism an uninteresting obsolescence, and this usurped homeland been and done. But on the Saturday following the Syrian and Egyptian invasion, when Israel's survival was still very much in the balance, and two of my friends from the summer announced that they were going back as civilian volunteers, like Hemingway volunteering for war correspondent duties in Spain in 1936, the wannabe writer in me recognised the potential, and signed up as well. The rest of that story is told in my memoir, "Along The Briny Beach", due for publication... eventually.

But today is also personally significant, if rather less intensely so, for "Le Corbusier, or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret on his birth certificate, born today in 1887 at La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland", because he was responsible, by inspiration if not actually by design, for the school in which I had my first professional teaching experience, in 1976 and '77, a ship-on-a-cliff named L'Ecole de la Marine Marchande, in Le Havre, literally down the road from where André Gide once lived (his "Nourritures Terrestres" was one of the reasons I had started writing, and seeded "The Hourglass" in particular), just a short velomoteur ride too from Etretat, where the Impressionists - Monet, Delacroix, Courbet, Boudin - painted so many of their pictures, and which got me started on trying to make some of my own... a splendid illustrated page on them and it here if you are interested.

But Le Corbusier. In "La Ville Radieuse", in 1935, he defined his vision, and I am afraid I cannot copy it in here without needing to include comments in the form of footnotes:

The Plan: totalitarian [1]

The death of the street [2]

Classification of simple speeds and complex speeds

Arrangements made to come to an agreement on imminent LAWS 
            of machine civilisation,
                       laws which can halt the menace of modern times

The mobilisation of the soil, in both cities and rural areas

Housing considered as an extension of the public services

The green city

The civilisation of the road replacing the civilisation of the railway [3]

Landscaping the countryside [4]

The radiant city [5]

The radiant country [6]

The twilight of money [7]

The essential joys, satisfaction of psycho-physiological needs,
            collective participation,
                        and individual liberty [8]

The renaissance of the human body.

[1] My God, did he actually use that word to intend something positive!

[2] How does that work? Out-of-town shopping malls, accessible only by motor-car and all-indoors? Hopefully it will never catch on.

[3] America did that - and what a bloody disaster! Mind you, there was never anything terribly civilised about the railway either - and most of the great cities grew up on the civilisation of the river or the sea (Jerusalem an exception, not many others)

[4] Yes, he really did suggest that. Can you just imagine the armies of lawn-mower enthusiasts, out cropping Snowdonia on a Sunday afternoon, before trimming the leaves on Wyndcliffe!

[5] Neon lights. Times Square and Piccadilly. Lovely

[6] Neon lights. Windermere Square and Pick A Dilly. Lovely

[7] Bitcoins, or the Euro?

[8] A fitness room and a psychoanalytic couch in every apartment building, next to the multi-faith chapel. All must participate to make it collective. All are free to refuse, on the grounds of individual liberty. Can’t we just couch-potato in front of the TV? 

The worst calumny in all this is not the false-pastoral nor the eco-friendly kibbutz idealism, but the theft of the poetic form for what is a concrete sterility. Interesting to compare it, though, with the "Cities of the Sun" envisaged by Thomas Campanella a little over three hundred years earlier - my piece about him can be found here

Amber pages

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, published today in 1847

Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian ethnologist and archaeologist, born today in 1914

Hafez Assad, equally monstrous father of the current Syrian President, born today in 1930; though probably he should move to June 10, and have his GER day...

Except that the symmetries of the Yom Kippur war date make it a requirement here. Assad's partner in planning and launching the invasion of Israel that autumn was the barely less monstrous dictator of Egypt, Anwar El-Sadat, who was assassinated by one of his own army officers, for the crime of trying to make peace with Israel at Camp David, deliberately on the date of the war's anniversary so no one should miss the point, today in 1981.

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