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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, March 21, 2003
    At an urban hub considering the death of cities
    I'm living at a hub. A pivotal physical point in history. While bombs fall ruthlessly on Baghdad tonight, there's anticipation in the air that tomorrow's anti-war march here in London will be very large. And it's due to begin on Gower Street, just below me in my digs at the Quaker International Centre. I could wave the marchers off from my elevated third-floor position. But I think I'd rather be down on the ground sharing in the latest people's statement against this illegal and unjustifiable act of brutality.

    At a time of war, and at a hub of activity, what does one do? Well, this evening I've been to church. I've just emerged from the gorgeous, bright white meeting space of the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. Didn't share communal prayer, however, well, not so's you'd notice. It was a meeting organised by the Socialist Workers Party, with Lyndsey German of the Stop the War Coalition. The main speaker was Mike Davis, author of Dead Cities, his latest in-depth exploration of how politics impacts the social geography of places we live, especially (him being American) U.S. cities.

    I've read quite a bit of his stuff before, so wanted to hear what he had to say on his chosen topic The Empire of Fear: Bush's war at home. His thesis, in essence, is that U.S government policy committment to resource the 'war on terrorism' is causing "a meltdown of the urban public structures". As Washington diverts resources away from state budgets, so states begin to suffer and eventually local budgets diminish to the extent that infrastructures - physical and human - begin to crumble. In many places this is at an advanced stage.

    He demonstrated this by showing how education was struggling badly in many states while the USA spends as much on arms as the rest of the world put together. He told us about recent protests where young people have taken to the streets to oppose war and try to save their schools, and I was struck by this, in the light of the recent protests here by young people. While the tired old politico heads, like those in church tonight, chew over these trends, it's the mouths of children that are beginning to find a radical voice.

    The word 'awe' has sadly lost its holy beauty this week so I shall use the word 'amazement' to describe the impression made on me earlier in the day by Anish Kapoor's Marsyas. Amazement and a smile, at that massive blood-red membrane which literally fills the enormous inner space of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. You walk round it, under it, you're engulfed by it, it takes a good ten minutes to walk from one end to the other of it, at least half an hour more to get from top to bottom via the lifts, escalators and stairs. The building was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was also the architect of Liverpool's Anglican cathedral. And because he went for BIG STATEMENTS I'm sure he'd love Kapoor's monster creation which is flesh writ large: ‘I want to make body into sky', the artist said. He has.

    But I spent the bulk of my day at another exhibition: Sebastio Salgado's Exodus at The Barbican. I've featured Salgado in my Pic of the Month collection in the past, because his documentary photographs of the teeming masses of humanity on the move are profound and without any hint of sentiment, nevertheless deeply moving. The photographer spent most of the nineties on the move himself, capturing on film people in over forty countries forced to uproot themselves to escape poverty and / or war or other deprivations. His book Migrations holds most of the pictures I saw today. But it's sixty-five quid and I'm still meant to be on the minimum wage, so that's out.

    It may be out of your pocket too, but there's a very good taster on his website, where pictures are worth any words I could add to his great, and of course very timely work, as we hold in our minds eye all those Iraqis on the move today. Salgado, there with Rwandans on the run, on the road with Croatians and Serbs and Kurds at key moments in their recent histories: there's a man who knows what it means to live at a hub of history.