Urban Sketch 1. East end corner.

east end cornerThere is a quiet little corner in the city of Adelaide which is incongruous because it is not beautified, it does not really contain anything, it is empty and blandly urban. Nearby are shops that are so fashionable that the fronts of them are behind bars, the signs are graffitied, the clothes are current, but nobody ever walks in; and yet they’ve been there so long that they must actually sell something. Much of the Adelaide city is different from many others because of the long lengths that people appear to have gone to in order to beautify every corner that they can touch. Not this one. This corner is all squares, all hard and unforgiving.

The ground is paved with square pavers, the coloured pattern is of squares within squares. A flat concrete wall rises on the left, erupting from the pavers, blank and grey. Beyond that is a set of apartments whose blue-reflecting glass balcony barriers are all square, behind each of which is a square window or a square door. The doors in the bottom of the building are rectangular. And the building that looks like it used to be something, but isn’t something any more, has rectangular edges, rectangular bricks, and rectangular doors. Even the little posts whose only purpose appears to be to keep cars out of the corner are rectangular instead of round. Nearly all other such posts in the city are round. Edges, edges everywhere, and no relief in sight. It’s so man-made, so urban, so ordered.

There is some sign of life. A few dead leaves from the disenfranchised tree behind me scatter themselves disconsolately over the paving, hiding pieces of chewing gum, little bits of plastic and other wrappers that have somehow found their way to this out-of-the-way corner of the world, instead of a drain. Some half-hearted attempts at graffiti tags splotch the grey wall, vapid in their colour, bland and unskilled in their execution. A sprayed-on stencil proclaims Midwest Trader further up the wall, with an arrow pointing to the right, and if one looks immediately to the right of the arrow one can see the rectangular edge of an unremarkable verandah with a square Midwest Trader sign hanging from it at an angle, like it was caught in a strong wind once, just before the screws rusted into place.

Despite the fact that the corner is out-of-the-way, it does get a bit of traffic, mostly youths on foot. Almost every person that I see passing this corner is female, and every one of them walk on past as though the corner itself does not exist. There are those shops that you see on one side of the road proclaiming their wares on one day, and the next day are over on the opposite side of the street, apparently nothing else about them changed. But this corner doesn’t change, people’s eyes just glance over it, through it. They don’t seem to see it even though their proximity to it would suggest that they need to. Or maybe the corner is just so bland that they can’t bear to alight their eyes upon it, lest the torpid falsity of it infects their soul. All there is in this corner to vary the monotony is a tree. It’s not even a native tree, just a plain European plane tree, the type that clogs the guttering with its falling leaves. And most of the leaves that it does have are dead. The tree itself appears to be on its way out, the unremitting harshness of its surroundings probably contributing to its demise.

The girls walking past all carry bags of shopping that they’ve done, and even though they’ve obviously been buying clothes for themselves, they all look unimpressed. All of them. As though they’ve done it under pain of unpopularity only, and not because they wanted to. Each girl is dressed after an unflattering fashion, though no doubt each and every one of them believes that they look hip, chic, or cool. The colours vary: blue, pink, green, black. Shoes are tan, black, red; they’re boots, thongs, slip-ons, sandals, crocs. They wear skirts, shorts, long shorts, short pants, overalls, t-shirts, fluffy blouses. In short, they wear just about anything.

The bags that they carry are square or rectangular, just like the environment they’re passing through on their way to anywhere else, and when they disappear around the corner near the Midwest Trader the rigid environment is undisturbed, doesn’t even notice their passing. Blink and you won’t even see them go; the squareness of the edges reclaim their sharpness, unsullied by the varied shapes of humanity that pass them by.

The corner is almost untouchable, timeless. It is not beautified. It is not clean, or lovely, or pleasant. But it is quiet and distant, though it’s but metres from a core shopping and eating strip. And that is where its man-made, harsh, bland charm comes from.

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