Wanderings Between Centre and Periphery

Looking for the “centre”

Belgrade has a single town centre. Berlin however, is a poly-centric city. Los Angeles has so many centres it’s not even funny.

Some people think that USA is the centre of the world, but I’d certainly rather live in Paris than in Paris, Texas. For the first Paris, I didn’t need to provide further explanation. I would certainly need to provide further explanation, were I to inform my family and friends that I intended to move to Paris, Texas.

The whole spectrum in a day’s walk

I went walking one day in the Hungarian capital. Walking from nowhere into a yawn-worthy periphery. My feet kept busy, and I entered the grey zone between centre and periphery. There were still some block buildings around, but they disappeared more and more behind me, as the original sprinkling of older buildings drew in strength and banded together. Next I found myself in the grey area between the first grey area and the centre. I could even argue that I was in the centre, although it still wasn’t downtown. Thanks to my quick pace, it wasn’t long before I left all grey fields behind me and landed smack dab in the downtown. In the centre now, in the busy, busy centre, I paused to consider where I was. I was in the heart of the centre of downtown. In the middle of somewhere.

Still,  I hadn’t arrived; I was only half-way. Before long I found myself in the grey area between the centre and the outer grey area. I’ll spare you any sense of déjà vu, and rush headlong through the heart of the grey area and on towards a decidedly peripheral part of town, and then out, out, out of it all, back to nowhere – a different nowhere –  having left centre and periphery gladly behind me. From nowhere to nowhere, passing through centre and periphery, all in five and a half hours.

Going in circles but never entering

Moscow has a circular metro line that avoids the centre at all costs. It sticks to the periphery and goes in circles. Vienna has a tram line that goes in circles. This line is numbered 0.

Some prefer the centre, as they would like to be in the heart of activity. I do think, however, that they would be unhappy if the periphery suddenly disappeared. They would lose their centre.

There is something refreshing about being in the non-centre. I can contemplate the centre just as well as I can contemplate the periphery. In the centre this is not so easy. You get sucked into a craziness that engulfs you. The centre demands your full attention.

Personal universal coordinates

I have a fond memory of sitting at a café on a sunny day just off a central square in a provincial town in Bulgaria. Contemplating my surroundings, I realised that what might be a non-centre for some just as surely could be a centre for me. If my identity, my sense of space, aesthetics and locality all mix up with my mission, my desires and my outlook on life, I find that I am at the centre of my universe. Somebody else’s periphery perhaps, but that way all the more my centre.

Thankfully my centre gets some respect. By respect I mean that most of humanity respectfully keeps its distance from my centre. Otherwise, things would be unbearable.

Yet what also reassured me that day while sunning at the café, was the thought that there is a superb elasticity to the felt notions of centre and periphery. A playful tethering of one to the other. Doubly reassuring to know that it is up to me to populate the spectrum with meaning. For on an equal playing field, I suppose every single point in the universe could be identified as both periphery and centre.

The best centre ever

This current paragraph is nothing other than a tribute to the best functioning centre of any city that I have ever been in: in the most non-peripheral part of Budapest imaginable, a magnificent public space carrying the name Gödör exists, with a pond, grassy surfaces, benches, and steps leading down to a top-notch multi-functional cultural establishment. Your friends, your friends’ bikes, other people’s friends, other people’s bikes, they’ve all arrived. Other cities can only hang their heads in shame at the thought of not having provided their citizens with a place like Gödör.

Text and pictures by Justin Hyatt



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