24 January 2010

Findings in the city: books, names, questions

It's been a good month for the city giving me gifts. My lover always finds playing cards, one a week or so, with which he reads an urban tarot. Me? I've had a knack for street clothes, gathering bedraggled pieces of fabric and taking them home to wash. Last winter this got me a good warm hoody at a time I was too unemployed to turn the heating on much, though the elbow-length black velvet gloves won out for chic alongside warmth. Various hats, a couple of things that went straight to charity shops... And of course this scavenging isn't karma-free, so those scarves I've lost on buses and jackets I've left on trains? Call it tit-for-tat.

But what brought me to blog was a History of the City of Gaza, or, at the time I came across it, an anonymous brown-bound hardcover on a wall in Holloway. A 1966 edition of a 1907 book by Martin A. Meyer, a genuine bona fide time capsule telling of a Gaza city so far from the one we know today - as the frontispiece shows:

"The city of Gaza has not had the glamour thrown around it which has brought so many cities on the coasts of the Mediterranean into great prominence. But ... The importance of the city of Gaza will be more and more emphasized as the eastern shores of the Mediterranean are opened up to the commerce of the world, and as the projected railroads bring the inner parts of hither Asia into direct connection with the sea.

"Hither Asia"! What a term. How different the geography of the world - the knowledge of the world - the world itself in 1907. Though, too, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean have indeed been opened up to the commerce of the world, and Gaza certainly has an importance today - an importance that might be said to have a kind of glamour (in leftist circles at least), an evocative power and meaning beyond the bare facts. So perhaps Meyer is not so irrelevant now as all that, and perhaps that's why the book's been republished in June 2009 and apparently reprinted already.

But the story, the story - I tell you all this for the inscription on the inner leaf: "Abeer Abuwarda, 10/2008, London". Suddenly my street find conceivably had an owner, if they'd lost the book rather than put it out on the street like so much broken furniture. Now I may be an opportunist but I'm no thief, so I googled to see if I could find this person to whom to return the book. Who'd I find? A London Met doctoral student working on Architecture of Resistance During the Gaza Blockade, and the "permanent temporiness" of Palestinian refugee camps (Khan Unis Camp below).



(Following the Gaza line of enquiry into permanent temporary settlements, do read the ever-interesting Eyal Weizman on Ariel Sharon, the architect/general for whom war is politics and politics is space-making. But back to the story:)

Small world, you might think, if I could find the book's former owner so easily, and if s/he's an architectural theory postgrad just down the road. But within this visibility is deeper anonymity - "Abeer Abuwarda" has no google trail other than this one page; is presumably not their 'public' name but a personal one for writing in books & this one piece of work; is not to be contacted for bookish purposes after all.

Thus the found object remains mute, its history (lost or discarded?) unclear, its rightful owner (Abeer or me?) unknowable. Whatever the marvels of internet search technology, the city remains opaque.

1 comment:

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