Monday, July 8th, 2002 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/canada-obscura
his being North America the hotel room window won’t open, so I hear the view only through the air conditioner. Unlike in movies there’s no squeal of rubber as the airplanes land. The flitting motion of a lone seagull that’s been flying around breaks the hypnotic monotony of the masses of cars. The landscape is of course utterly still but there is linear motion everywhere as three highways bend around this composition. Everything as far as the eye can see, and it can see quite far from here on the 7th floor on this clear summer’s day, is man-made. Even the grass which serves as the backdrop for the concrete ribbons may have been planted; it’s likely that there were trees here before.
I’m not lamenting, I don’t think; these scenes near airports are remarkable. They are the working innards, not the beauty spots. But today we are privileged enough to appreciate luster and perfection when we come across it, and sprawl and blight otherwise.
There’s something utterly seductive about watching planes land to the orchestral support of traffic. Trains too are captivating among traffic, but whereas they succeed in becoming a grandfatherly aspect of the setting, it’s hard to let a landing airplane be part of the backdrop, to let it pass without refocusing on it. There is reward though in letting airplanes be simply part of the landscape: it’s the only way to see their iconic and therefore symbolic scale. They are so much larger that they seem, so large as to seem unreal, like toys.
Perhaps this madly dashing traffic stretching off slowly in different directions to the horizon is an inevitable and understandable feeling of a triumph of the species; I am bearing witness at this window to—if not exactly a culmination, as it is obviously a work in progress—a statement of workaday grandeur surely. Despite the sense-defying muted sound, it is unmistakeably real—how strange to say such a thing, but special effects in movies, particularly the many scenes outside windows in the recent Star Wars Episode II, seem to get in the way; we are getting used to dissing grand vistas. Smack dap stationary in the middle of all this motion, sitting forlornly alone in the almost empty Park’n‘Fly parking lot that dominates the foreground, is a little speedboat on a trailer. But there’s not a patch of water to be seen—the most liquid thing is the word “Coffee” on one of the low-slung strip-mall buildings. It’s a scene more artful than art.
Years ago I stumbled across a mind-altering technique. I would sit in my room and stare at the keyhole without blinking, and within a few minutes the room would change into a pulsating warm-coloured place, accompanied by a pulsating warm-coloured feeling in my head. Later I read that some Buddhist meditation techniques involve not blinking. I also read about a method of standing called the horse-stand. Combining the two has allowed me to look at an interesting view sort of like a picture; without moving my eyes I focus attention on various parts of what’s visible. The rich movement in this particular scene makes staying concentrated a little harder, but more rewarding. The point is not to be distracted by any one movement but to remain fixated on the whole. Give attention, yes, but move, no. What’s the point? It helps create a bit of space in the mind: Rather than what one sees being immediate, one can see it as it anatomically is, a vision projected onto a screen, akin to looking at a camera obscura, but with all the more pleasure because no outside technology is used, only the mode of one’s attention.
But now it’s time to use the hotel room’s coffee machine.