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Phantom limb syndrome

My footsteps are lost in the streets of a city without a name, of any city: the city of passage, the native city, the city of adoption.

Real or invented. Anonymous.

Yours, mine, everyone’s.

It’s already closed night of what has been a busy Friday, so I decide, without giving it too much thought, to take a detour home. I need to think, clarify ideas, tidy my head a bit, and I can’t find a better way to do it than letting myself get lost in the streets of the city centre.

I wander through areas I don’t usually go through if not out of necessity. Life, the urgencies of the day to day, force me to go always just in time moving in my inseparable bicycle of which I have got off today, because it is not convenient to go by the road when thoughts are far from reality.

I go from here to there, with no fixed course, twisting at random crossings, like a tourist lost in a city that is totally alien to him. I come across buildings that I haven’t seen in a long time, parks whose trees have grown a lot in recent years, with façades that have aged or that have been filled with vindictive graffiti. In the background, in the distance, an eternal work still in progress continues. I approach, intrigued, to lean out among the slits of the green canvas that limits its perimeter. “It takes so long that it seems like it’s never going to be finished,” I think, “The works in this city are always overdue.

When I raise my gaze to undertake the return journey there is something around me that forces me to stop. At first I can’t identify what it is, but the atmosphere, the atmosphere of the neighborhood, is perceived differently than I remembered it. I have a sensation similar to the one you have when, when you get home, there is a coat rack that has moved or a book that is not in place. A certain strange discomfort that, little by little, I end up recognizing: the enormous building abandoned on the corner is no longer there and in its place there is only a gigantic void, a barren plot that looks like an open wound in the urban fabric.

Guided by my irremediably curious personality, I ask myself what has happened and the obvious answer quickly emerges: “There was a block which, for as long as I can remember, has been left by the hand of time“, I say to myself, “they will have sold it and now they will want to make a new one; this is the very centre of the city, from here a lot of money can be made“. However, it is only a fleeting thought, a supposition, not in vain, I do not know anything for sure. So I decide to put prejudices aside and avoid taking things for granted, to let myself be guided only by feelings, by the most spontaneous sensations, and from ponderings to memories.

It was a massive, robust, dense building. I don’t know if it was grayish naturally or forcibly forced by the dirt and patina generated by the passing of the years. A work of its time, without boasts, common, almost vulgar. By its shape and size, I sense that it was a residential block. And, if in origin it was not, it did end up serving this use: very vividly in my memory appear images, like flashes from another era, of the enormous windows that furtive occupants ended up painting in striking tonalities. A smile appears on my face as I recall that vision, because it is still tender, almost childish, even sacralising the space in which one resides – albeit on the verge of legality – transforming windows into improvised stained glass windows that fill rooms full of colour, full of dust.

And to what extent do buildings, however dilapidated they may be, belong to their real owners and not to the citizens who, as a whole, have internalised them and understand them as the backdrop and backdrop to their day-to-day routines? This annoying question, which appears suddenly, which comes out of nowhere, settles in my head and, without my being able to do anything to avoid it, captures all my attention. I try to answer and, to do so, I momentarily forget how much or how little I know about legislation, about competences and about urban planning and, thus, I let myself be carried away in a theoretical game that tries to reason an answer that, very surely, I do not know how to find. Logic opposes feelings, reason opposes impulses, time and permanence as intrinsic values of the constructed work, the economy and the established order.

I don’t know how to position myself, I can’t position myself. I still have a growing discomfort every time I look at the immense emptiness in front of me. I remember reading somewhere that those who have suffered an amputation, even after years, can still have real physical sensations of the limb that has been removed. Phantom Limb Syndrome, I think it’s called. It is possible that I, now, am experiencing a sensation similar to understanding that, perhaps unnecessarily, an urban appendix has been uprooted. A volume that had an imprint, that made a city, that generated street and plot.

“The city is a living organism,” a professor often said, “and as such, it is subject to constant change and transformation. Even so, you have to be very careful about what you plan, because not all changes are for the better and every organism is liable to fall hopelessly ill.

Trying to clarify my concerns, I have ended up incorporating a new one and, not being able to resolve any of them, I decide to return home. I ride my bike, I don’t need to think anymore today. The saddle cracks, the chain jumps from time to time. I should buy a new one, but this one has been with me for so long, it has taken me to so many places, that it would be too hard for me to get rid of it.

I turn the corner and look back, a blurred and diffuse image of the building that was appears in the empty lot. The windows are illuminated and the interior light is projected, colored, on the sidewalks. Laughter is heard and the neighbourhood suddenly recovers the cheerful atmosphere of past years. It is the Phantom Building Syndrome.

I look straight ahead, dive into the nooks and crannies of the centre. I go home.

My pedals get lost in the streets of a city without a name, of any city: the city of passage, the native city, the city of adoption.

Real or invented. Anonymous.

Yours, mine, everyone’s.

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