Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Man in Munich - Part IV

My friend Mike Tierney, an American expat in Munich, on growing up outside New York and sensory deprivation/activation:

Engaging all of the senses, and observations otherwise missed
3rd Ave Elevated over Cross Bronx Expressway, c. 1974, photo by Jack E. Boucher, via Wikimedia Commons

First, an autobiographical note.  I was born in the Bronx in the early 1960s, but I have no memories of the place.  My family was among the thousands who fled the boroughs of the City for the surrounding countryside.  By that time, Robert Moses and his acolytes had lacerated New York City with highways to make way for the new higher-order life form and left the Bronx drawn and quartered.  The new Cross Bronx Expressway became the evacuation route for those of sufficient means to create a better life as grass farmers and quarter-acre landed gentry in Westchester and Putnam Counties.  It was not long before the neighborhoods of the Bronx died like a drained swamp, all non-auto human life left to die of asphyxiation and UV exposure.  The swamp is an apt metaphor: a carbon sink, a wealth of biodiversity, and a source of nutrients and oxygen for the surrounding area.  

Hudson River Valley, © 2009 James G. Howes
And so I was deposited in the highlands above the Hudson River Valley, around 70 miles north of Manhattan, along with a bunch of other kids from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.  For a young boy it was the perfect Huck Finn life.  For years I explored miles of former farm fields that were growing into new forests, looking for caves and downed airplanes.  But we were city people: the winding country roads were called "blocks," and many evenings were spent hanging out on "the stoop" and listening to tales of milkmen, horse-drawn produce carts, and epic street stick-ball tournaments.

In my section of the woods ("our block") I was always outside, but that was it.  Otherwise, all I knew of my hometown was experienced from a car.  With the exception of a few parking lots and school playgrounds, my feet never touched the ground.  As a small child, the rest of my hometown was seen from the side window of the family Detroit land yacht, and later as an adolescent it was seen through the front windshield.  No better than High Definition TV, but with an 8-track tape deck and ash trays for everybody.  Had I not regularly hand-cranked the window open, I would never have known the smell of burning leaves (legal then), Indian Summer humidity, and melting snow.

Here endeth the historical note.

Biking through Munich offers sensory activation every kilometer, and it changes with the season.  Crossing the Isar by Rosenheimer Platz, twice a year you are hit with a sweet smell of fermentation from the industrial breweries that provide all the 6-7 million liters of beer consumed at Oktoberfest - with my help, of course.  Apparently, by law, all of the beer consumed must be brewed within the city boundary.

By Giesing (southeast of the city) I pass the Dallmayr coffee plant, where I get several hundred meters of the smell of roasting coffee.

In the fall a morning fog sets in between Giesing and Fasanenpark.  The temperature suddenly drops and only the nearby trees are visible, serving as both landmarks and speedometer.

One particular night offered something otherwise missed.  I was crossing the Isar coming home when I heard a strange splashing sound below the bridge.  I stopped to look.  My first reaction was that someone was driving a Fiat Cinquacento into the Isar.  I looked harder.  It was a beaver.  I swear you could throw a saddle over this thing.  Apparently there are a few of them living around the river, with no natural predators.  I realized then that this beast must be the basis of the Bavarian legend of the "Wolpertinger," a mischievous chimeric monster of the forest, similar to North America's Sasquatch and Mexico's dreaded Goat Sucker.  It submerged in to the blackness, leaving an eerie silence.  I checked my headlight and continued on.

Integration into the urban landscape and culture

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