The Weeping Wall

An audio uplink from excavator Kiernan Mumchance, transcribed here, was received on March 19 at 1837 hours:

“We finished unearthing the Wall a week ago. Now that’s ‘Wall’ with a capital W, the one Thero mentioned at the Sputnik 2 toast, and I think the color of it was mentioned elsewhere. (Why the keeper of the blog has to write about crap other than what we’re actually doing, I have no idea.)

“The Wall’s gigantic. Titanic. When you sit at its base and look up, you see that it has a slight curve to it. It’s convex. It has that color. We’re not sure what it’s made of, but it’s perfectly smooth, like plastic.

“We call it the Weeping Wall. We think it’s some kind of water-capturing system, useful in the desert here. Toward the end of the day, when the sun is about halfway down, all these water droplets start cascading down it, like it’s raining on it. It must be condensation. There’s so much that water trickles all over it. The Wall’s so high, it’s probably blocking the weather, too. The water goes into this little grate that stretches all along the base.

“I was very tired today, and sat at the foot of the Wall. No one else was around. The sun was low in the sky, a blue sky, and was sparkling off the waterdrops on the Wall and on puddles that had collected in the concrete blocks around its base. The sun was low, but not setting yet, still bright. The Wall blocks all wind, so everything was completely silent, except for the trickling of the water.

It was beautiful and peaceful, but … I got this overwhelming feeling. It felt like — I just felt so homesick. I don’t know — it was just the saddest thing in the world.

“Heliopoli makes you homesick, yeah. But … it doesn’t make you homesick for home. It makes you homesick for Heliopoli.

“It’s the most awful thing. How can it be like that? It’s the damnest thing. Is this what it’s like to sit at the base of the pyramids? You’re witness to this crazy exuberance that built the thing, but you’re completely cut off from what drove it. It’s not the how, but the why. All this effort. All this trying. All this longing. These buildings just loom over you, beautiful, but … empty.

“I sat there, unable to return to the others for a while.

“We named the wall after a David Bowie song, but for more than one reason.”

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The Sun Disk Monolith

Heliopoli is a circular city. Along its outer edge lies the monorail system. At the city’s center lies the Central Plaza and in the center of the plaza sits the Sun Disk Monolith.

The Sun Disk Monolith is of indeterminate height. If one stands at its base and looks up, one gets dizzy. It is a little too small or a little too big than it should be, but that’s because one assumes it should be sized in some relation to human scale. It is not. One should never underestimate the effects the architects of Heliopoli seek to produce.

The monolith itself is made of some kind of clear crystal. Near its top, the Sun Disk — which is made, one assumes, of bronze — floats in a circular cutout. If one looks closely one can just make out tiny wires radiating out from the disk that anchor it in the cutout space. One is free to imagine these as sun rays.

Sunlight hits the Sun Disk full on in the morning and the evening. One is free to imagine that the monolith rotates ever so slowly throughout the year.

As sunlight heats the disk throughout the day and it cools at night, temperature changes cause expansions and contractions and make it chime. Sometimes it sounds like a gong. One hears this music at odd periods of the day, sometimes seconds apart, or hours. Some insist that the Sun Disk is a clock, and the tones mark increments of time, but the increments are never regular — or they are never perceived as such.

Heliopoli_Full_EX49White lines stretch out from the base of the monolith, radiating outward through the plaza, leading to clumps of trees and marvelous buildings, far away, because the plaza is so large. The plaza is the perfect gathering place for conversation. Its flat, open expanse makes one feel expansive in turn.

The radiating white lines pose a problem, however. They are perfectly straight. Whether one stands at the base of the monolith or at the edge of the plaza, the lines of perspective are true and straight. But can they really be so?

One then recalls learning about how the ancient Greeks compensated for optical illusion when building the Parthenon. If they made all its lines straight, optical illusion would make them seemed curved. So the base of the Parthenon is curved so that it will appear straight; its middle is a few centimeters higher than its sides. In fact, there is hardly a straight line in any part of the Parthenon.

The ancient Greeks introduced imperfection in their structure in order that it may appear perfect. Could the architects of Heliopoli have done the same?

Start from the monolith base and walk along one of the lines, placing your shoes carefully on it to walk to the edge of the plaza. Eventually you come back to the monolith. But isn’t that because you met a friend and chatted? Isn’t it because you spotted a particularly lovely museum or house and stopped to wonder at it? Isn’t it because the clouds, reflected in the blue tiles of the plaza, made you look up and wonder at how close or far away, or how big or small, is that particular cloud, its shape reminding you of …. Isn’t that how you wound up back at the monolith, because it is beautiful here, and not because the plaza really has no edge and no center?

With its whispering chimes and playful perspective, one could say that the Sun Disk Monolith distorts time and space. It’s not so puzzling then that every attempt to draw a map of Heliopoli results in three words being placed at its center point:

You Are Here.

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The Cinema

Heliopoli_Full_EX91Very few can resist the wonders that can be found in the cinema of Heliopoli. But it is a curious thing that in a city of so many amazing sights one would walk into a darkened space to see a projection on a screen — an imitation, a fake.

And what is on the marquee today? It is none other than adventure yarns that just so happen to depict wondrous cities of the future, such as Rocket Men of the Moon, The Saturn Enigma, The Glass Towers of Mongo, Futurescape, If Tomorrow Were Today, Martian Walkabout, and Neptune 7.

Why, when we have such wonders in our city, do we enter the cinema to see them on a screen? Because we realize that we do not walk around with soundtracks in our heads, nor editing, nor tints that bring objects into sharp focus; and all that is larger-than-life is not always made larger-than life as we walk and talk and shop and sigh. Sometimes we need to see such things through another’s eyes, with techniques such as Surround-o-Sound, Cinemascopitron, Prismafilm, Technicoloration, Scent-o-Scene, Auraldilation, Optitrix, Tactitillation, and Sensarama.

With our emotions strung to a high pitch at the end of the show, we exit the cave-like warren of the cinema with its bright candle flame to walk outside, where the sunshine makes tears start from our eyes.

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The Metro

Heliopoli_Full_EX115Riding the monorail in Heliopoli is a giddy experience. One floats — not above — but alongside the city; and the car in which you ride, with its crystal-clear windows and swept-back seats, glides so silently and smoothly that you are not distracted from enjoying the views of the Sun Disk, the Central Plaza, the Botanical Geodesic, the Museum of Futoria, and any of the other wondrous sights that sparkle in the bright sunshine.

But aside from the monorail and the pedways and the unipeds, there is another form of transportation in the city that, while not overlooked, is regarded in opposition to the monorail, for it is below ground and does not observe the weather, and the views from it are most times the strobic ticking of passing tube lights.

Riding the Metro of Heliopoli is a timeless experience. When you observe two people on the station platform shake hands, it is not clear whether they are greeting or saying goodbye. The train that speeds toward you on one side is identical to the one rushing away from you on the other. It does not matter what the weather is above ground; it is always the same in the Metro.

Each station enjoys slight variations in design from the other, but the elements of design are consistent, as are the well-lit cars, the rush of air from the tube tunnel as a train arrives, the tones of greeting as the doors slide open, the hum of the rails, the sussurant warble of voices echoing from the archways, and the smooth translation from one point to another, so that it seems that every station is the same, and each is only distinguished by the pylons that, though they are located in the same positions, have written on them your destination. At some point it will appear that riding from one station to another takes no time at all.

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It is said that some ride the Metro not to go to a specific destination, but only for the experience of riding it. In this way, they are not using it to visit another location, but are visiting the Metro itself. It is said that using the Metro in this way is a meditative experience; the riders enter a fugue state — visiting many stations, riding many trains — until all sense of traveling is lost, and the center of the city is no longer the Sun Disk in the Central Plaza, but rather this station, and then this one, this waylay and that one, so that you are not on your way to here, but are already there.

Riding the Metro of Heliopoli is a comforting experience, but also somewhat frightening. One can get out of the weather into a cool, dry environment, familiar from past experience. There is safety in the Metro. One enters, however, an underground world, a Campbellian cave that will transform you once you have descended the escalator and then ascended back into the light. It is always the same in the underground world, but the world of the surface is always different once you leave a station — and so, perhaps, are you.

Are you coming? Are you going? These questions have no meaning in the Metro.

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The Asylum

The Asylum is one of the most cheerful places in Heliopoli, second only to the Solarium. It resides in the upper levels of the Chromotower and faces east. In the morning, it floods with sunlight, brightening the orange carpeting and the objects arrayed upon it, including teddy bears; board games; and common implements of the day, such as cereal bowls and spoons. It is a large but ordinary room, and that is precisely the point.

This is the place for those to which Heliopoli is a failure.

Heliopoli was built to prevent future shock. For some, Heliopoli causes exactly what it is trying to prevent. There are many who cannot cope with the future.

How do people immediately transported to the future react to it? Take, for instance, those who recover from comas after several years. In one instance, a patient was handed a cell phone, something he had never seen before and for which he had no associational links. He stared at it, smiling, turning it over and over in his hands. He couldn’t process what it was. What did it look like to him? What analog in his world did it come close to?

Is it possible that we in our own time undergo the same conditions, because of rapid change? Are we ever-wakening from coma-like states because of technological advances? Perhaps there are many things in the world that we do not see because we cannot cope with such rapid change.

Perhaps the new cell phone in your hand is not what you think. Perhaps it is much more technologically advanced, but you are stuck in perceiving it as less so. Maybe it is an everything-in-one device that contains the entire contents of the Library of Congress and all the movies ever made and has the ability to communicate with your doppelganger construct in orbit around the moon, if only as an amplifier for the telethreads woven into your brain.

Perhaps, in reality, it is a squid. You do not see it as a squid, because the shock would be (or has been) too great.

And what happens when a population expects a certain future, as reflected in Heliopoli, and find another one? How would the builders of Heliopoli feel if transported to our present? What would they see? How would they react?

But in the case of Heliopoli it is an imagined future. Many of the technologies employed by Heliopoli were, to say the least, inaccurate in their predictions. If the predictions were accurate, would the shock be prevented? And yet, the future is always imaginary.

The Asylum in Heliopoli is a simulation of the real world within a simulation of the future. It is for us to decide within what Heliopoli resides.

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The Solarium

Heliopoli_Full_EX38The Solarium is the most cheerful structure found in Heliopoli thus far. In it, you may take a sun bath.

The Solarium has no roof. Its structure, however, is nevertheless engaged in what those who are involved in architecture refer to as “defining space” or “creating space.” It is, in itself, a “space.” When people come to the Solarium, they use the phrase “this space” — “Look at this space” and “What we would like to do for this space….”

Often, weather forecasters will say, “We have sunshine on tap for tomorrow.” This is nonsense. How can sunshine be “on tap”? One imagines pulling a beer tap in a bar to release an oozing blob of brilliant golden light. But in the Solarium it is understood. One can very well imagine sunshine being “on tap” in the Solarium. Isn’t that its purpose, after all? It is always sunny and bright in the Solarium.

The way in which the Solarium defines space is through a series of nested staircases. There is no space there defined by four walls. There are, at most, three. One walks down a set of stairs, turns, looks, notices an alcove created between two flights, and then a third, the walls of the staircases defining but not limiting, and there one sees a bench of concrete nestled in a corner. The white granite floor and walls of this space glow with sunlight. It is warm, but not overly so. One sits. One is now engaged in a sun bath.

Heliopoli_Full_EX34It is very quiet here, but not enclosed, not cut off, and one can turn again to see someone and talk, or not. It is peaceful here, like a Japanese sand garden, because like the frozen ripples of sand in such a space, with rocks at their centers, the Solarium is made of stone, and the water that is not water is sunlight, and held cupped in these peaceful spaces. Whenever one feels the need to stop time, one goes to the Solarium.

Could you not just sit outside anywhere and take in the sun in the same way? In Heliopoli, this may be true, but it wouldn’t be the same. Because you are not in this space. You are not here, among this going-up stair, this granite bench, this bright light, this view, this corner, this glance, this aesthetic, with sunlight spilling down to fill up this space.

The Solarium, though it is not located in the Central Plaza, is nevertheless central to Heliopoli.

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