The Spy Who Loved Architecture
If 'Necessity' and 'Culture' are the parents that conceive cities, than 'Location' and 'geography' are its genes. Like people, cities have souls, personalities, memories, perks and quirks... Some cities treasure that by holding on with their life to the physical evidence that are their temples or cathedrals, their squares and more bitsy remnants that become a city's collective pride.
These snippets of history, imagery and perspectives are reminiscences of 'good and bad times' reaffirming our connection with our larger selves which is never more obvious then when shared with total strangers who are determined to dig up our heritage (i.e. tourists) .To know a city one needs to know its stories so we can understand its sensibilities. This is the mindset with which I travel, eat and write : undigging stories.
Some cities are less sentimental and let the beast of commerce slash its hammers to make bid after bid towards 'Guinness' 'tallest towers', a record that has proven itself to be more attainable than it is retain-able. Like it or not, that too, is part of its personality even though it seems to erode its 'being', choosing rebirth over nostalgia...
To take the analogy to the end, cities within a country are like siblings with their differences as striking as their sameness, each affecting the other like few others can. And like siblings a city's taste in food may differ.
Take Thailand for instance: if Phuket is fusion, Chang Mai is high tea, then Bangkok is its most popular hotpot restaurant with an all-you-can-eat-Buffet thrown in for the sake of it. A good rub in a chic spa with incense to reawaken your senses and an all-you-can-buy- dash across town to its hundreds of malls will no doubt seal a weekend well spent.
What put an unforgettable cherry on the cake for me was a visit to one of its past inhabitant's personal house... The most intriguing story in Bangkok could well be Jim Thompson's. An architect turned Thai silk merchant - who revived and saved the craft of an indigenous community in Bangkok - this man went around Thailand, bought a few Thai style traditional houses which he took apart and used to rebuilt his adapted version. All the components and every element are authentic Thai, but it's the way he put it together to suit his bachelor lifestyle, which gave away the modern architect in him who believed in the maxim that 'If you want the money that the beast of commerce promises, go into business... If you love architecture, express the love in your own house...'
I tend to think he got it right. A pity he disappeared though, evaporated in thin air after going for a walk on a Sunday afternoon in1967. A rumor still unproven till this day is that he was a spy who was abducted. That actually makes the story and the house better, built by a spy who loves architecture...