Friday, May 4, 2012

Paul Mathers on Earth

First, let me state I am not just woefully late to the party.  I downloaded the Google Earth program a long time ago on one of my earlier computers (one in which I would have to work the clutch and throttle after Laurie wound up the crank to get it going), but it made my computer slower than the Second Coming.  Nonetheless, I loved the idea of the program and so, soon after getting my new laptop, I downloaded Google Earth again.

The reason I was so fascinated by the program is that one can look at any place in the world and oftentimes find photographs that individual users have taken of that place.  For example, I have a friend I met online several years ago who lives in India, and I have found that I can see the town where my friend lives through this service.  It is a place I earnestly desire to visit one day, but now, while means forbid, I am able to view the place in my own home.

In 2012, this should not be news or any great revelation to anyone out there.  What was a shock, to me, was when I then turned my Google Earth eye upon myself and found sparsity in the photographs representative of the town in which I live.  Some major local landmarks had no photographic representation while (sigh) some pictures of shoes on telephone wires and people's backyards were, in fact, represented.  Well aware of the crowd source model and one's personal responsibility when discouraged by what others have elected to represent, I have become a contributor.

I am under no illusions of the permanence of this particular contribution to the furtherance of human understanding, I would add that I am also under no illusion of the permanence of even the Aztec Pyramids in the face of eternity.  However, seemingly fixed as we are in the temporal, I see it is an act of good to establish a sense of place for the global community to share.

I have been fascinated with senses of place my entire life.  I fall deeply in love with some places and am haunted by the memory of others.  I seek to describe place in painstaking detail (something that as a writer I have had to force myself to reign in.)  Many of my dreams revolve around architecture.  A right angle can send me into ecstasies.  First there is the desire to "stuff my eyes with wonder" and see all of the blessed miracles this world has in store.  When I was a child, we had a computer game, an adventure game in a sort of Dungeons & Dragons-knock-off universe, in which you could access a map that showed all of the places where you had traveled thus far.  The areas of play where you had not yet trod were black on the map until you you went there.  This left a powerful impression on me and I still think of my life in terms of that map at times.  There is also the wonder of space-time and the horror of the great unknowable, sort of a panicked desire to preserve everything you possibly can if even for one moment beyond your own death in hopes that it will help humankind in some way.

In establishing a sense of place, one can choose the beautiful and iconic:
Here is one I took of Bidwell Presbyterian Church.  I was amazed that such a noted part of Chico was not represented on Google Earth.  It towers over downtown, sort of like a spiritual pillar jutting out of the lugubrious, sulfurous fissure of Downtown Chico.  A reminder of the higher aspirations of humankind in full view of anyone who stumbles out of the myriad of bars otherwise comprising the area.

Or the oddities one might observe on a walking tour:
Across the street and around a corner from the church is Celestino's pizzeria.  I've known a remarkable number of people who walk past it, even dine there, daily who have never noticed the stools in front of the establishment which I believe are a collage of heads of Michelangelo's David.

Or the mundane:
If I were to stand up, walk out of my front door, and walk about 20 paces up the street, I could see this bar by inclining my head slightly to the right.  Every weekend (I anticipate tonight, in fact) we can hear whatever band is playing at The Maltese in the distance if we keep our front door open (sometimes even if we don't.)  It appears to be a decidedly proletariat bar, catering to the bluer of collar.  One notes the iron cross in the logo which is often associated with fire fighters although I am given to understand that those of less noble life-choices are also known to frequent the place.  If you came to visit, we could walk to the Maltese, enjoy some drinks, and walk home. We would not.

I bring it up because it is something I pass every day, as are so many of the places I find myself painting a portrait of Chico with in this venue.

I think everyone should take a camera around with them for a while and snap photos of the places surrounding them.  It is a way of waking up one's eyes to one's daily environment in an entirely new way.  If you were to come visit me, I would take you around this charming and flawed little town that I love and show you many of the places that I've photographed, giving stories and facts of interest as we toured.  In doing so, your sense of newness would rub off on me vicariously.  That is the sensation I've felt from this hobby, except that the invisible tourist walking beside me is, at least potentially, the entire world.

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