III : Enumerating

The drip coffee and the rain heightened my expectations.  These were both elemental to the Artevelde of old. 

I left the Zum Zum and headed out into light rain and grey skies to enumerate my findings:

1. My favorite little self-serve grocer, in my old neighborhood on Tiger Street, where the woman at the counter in the back would teach me the names of pastries like the Egg Horn and Little French Pan, had been converted to one of those corporate discount chains with metal turnstiles and miniature carts.

2. The urinals were not what they used to be. Just beyond the gangplank to the party boat was a gleaming new aluminum public urinal—it pulled at the eyes in a way that the old-school ones I remembered (concrete embankments cured by decades of good use) never did.  At the old urinals one almost disappeared into the grey cityscape, even though you’d be standing more or less out in the open, in plain sight, protected only by a low concrete wall on either side (an agreeable tradeoff, for while the user of the urinal could easily be seen, he also had the pleasure of taking in the city scene while he attended to his business.)  This new urinal shouted out at you, and what’s more, you actually had to stand nearly surrounded by a curvilinear sheet of metal, half of a tube almost like a giant food can (only much more shiny and reflective) and your view of the canal was blocked by a great sheet of industrial frosted glass embossed with the universal stick-man character indicating the male gender and an only slightly smaller insignia for the City of Artevelde.  The insignia itself was something I suspected to be new—clean lines and triangles evoking the city’s medieval towers hovering above double wavy lines suggestive of water, I suppose, although the waters of Artevelde’s many canals and its long since tamed river were always completely flat in my experience, never disturbed by a ripple of motion, well encapsulated and untouched by the currents of the outside world.  Perhaps the lines were meant to mimic the ripple of the uneven cobblestone streets.


3. I saw with my own eyes exactly how they did it.  A company called “Z-Systems” was ripping out the insides of buildings while leaving an inches-deep façade on the outside. This old skin of brick and plaster and ancient windows, through which the old Artevelde had been seen for generations, was propped up by heavy red scaffolding while the interior was being completely gutted and modernized.  This explained, in part, why nothing quite added up and even familiar sights seemed contextually wrong.


4. Back at the Forward! café, now open for lunch, the old socialist waiters in 1950’s uniforms were long gone; in fact, there were no waiters at all.  The place had been converted into some kind of self-serve organic cafeteria.  Nonetheless, I happily took a couple of coffees there to dry out for a bit.  As I was cataloging the unlikely changes in Artevelde, I was impressed by a familiar melody that comforted me.  I had to sweep away quite a lot of mental cobwebs to recall Horace Silver’s Calcutta Cutie, a long and dreamy composition that brought me back not to Artevelde but my days in Seattle and New Orleans.

5. Out in the rain again, at the Friday Market, another old café, a simple place with a raised floor of unfinished wooden planks, where one could get a cheap daily lunch special Stepping Stone had disappeared, replaced it seemed by purveyors of modernist furniture.  Bah.  Outside I could see that even the state of the city’s namesake, Artevelde himself, had received a face lift of sorts, all shined up and bracketed with new gold plating, albeit with a slightly protruding belly, as though middle-aged now, with a hand raised in the air as always, but this time with just a hint of newfound patronizing superiority.


On to Part III, Page 3
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