Spaces between Places

“Space seems to be either tamer or more inoffensive than time; we’re forever meeting people who have watches, very seldom people who have compasses. We always need to know what time it is (who still knows how to deduce it from the position of the sun?) but we never ask ourselves where we are. We think we know: we are at home, at our office, in the Métro, in the street.”

Georges Perec, ‘Space’, from Especes d’espaces, translated by John Sturrock as Species of Spaces, Penguin 1997. (Google Books)

I read these words on a plane, at an altitude of somewhere round 37,000 feet, somewhere over Denmark or Germany, perhaps even Sweden or Holland. I had my phone with me – who wears watches these days? – but it firmly stated it could not locate my position.

At that very moment, when technology had uncoupled, when the view was restricted by a small window and a fixed chair, when only glimpses of land could be made between the clouds, when that land offered only unfamiliar landmarks, I truly did not know where I was.

But I wouldn’t have noticed if I had not been reading this piece by Perec.

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