This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Encounters- 21/9/11

On Wednesday 21/9/11 at 2:15pm I was sitting on the Westminster steps of the Arcade after creating the video walk. I realised that for the video walk I took almost exactly the same route as I did when I was down here last time- am I becoming habitual so quickly? Re-enacting the same bodily path is reassuring- it contains less unknowns. But at the Arcade, where the unknowns were fairly minimal for me, it is a telling indicator of how quickly we bodies like to fit ourselves into routines, habits, rituals. It seems I have already created an embodied practice for my visit to the Arcade and, to use a phrase coined by Paul Connerton, was drawing on my "habit-memory" to re-enact that practice (see Connerton, "How Societies Remember"around page 22).
There were a good number of people on the steps, and going into the tobacco shop. As I walked back through the alley, there had been a woman leaning against the railing, reading a book and smoking a cigarette (she had not been there a few minutes earlier when I walked through). As I sat on the steps, she emerged from the alley, crossed the street and went into the Bank of America building directly across from the Arcade.

While I was sitting observing the traffic in and around the Arcade, my attention was drawn to one person in particular who went into and, a little while later, came out of the shop. I approached him to ask him about his experiences with the site:


I went into the tobacco shop to talk to the owner. He was very willing to share his knowledge of the site, but asked that I did not record it. Anthony has owned the shop for the last six years, and is able to continue to lease the space in part because he does not use any of the utilities- heat, electric, air conditioning- of the Arcade. He has his own systems, which the owners do not have to be responsible for. I asked Anthony if he knew how long the shop would stay open. He said he didn't know how long he'd be there, and when I asked if that was in terms of next year, he said sometimes he wasn't even sure day to day. When the Arcade closed, the other corner space on the Westminster side also continued to be leased by a shoe shine man. However he closed up soon after of his own accord. Since the Arcade closed, Anthony's store has has much less traffic, unsurprisingly. He said in general, the whole of downtown has a lot less traffic because of all the empty retail spaces.

As I was making notes about my conversation with Anthony, a group of RISD students (I found out later they were in an illustration class) led by a professor filled the portico of the Arcade. The professor began giving a mini lecture about the building, which I of course sidled over to listen to, trying to blend in (not sure that I succeeded). The students then turned around to hear about the Bank of America building opposite, and then continued down Westminster on their classroom-outside-the-classroom tour that, for a brief time, had caused their paths to cross both my path and the path of the Arcade.

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