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Travelogue D10

May 20, 2015

On the fourth and final day in Lyon, I set out on foot for old Lugdunum and all that which arose from the smoking ashes of the city’s first century burning. This endeavor led me up a cobblestone street, generally northbound, with sidestreets and alleys, likewise bound in cobbles, branching off to either side. At the beginning of this historical stretch stand the CathĂ©drale St. Jean and the onetime Minstrel’s Hall. Although the former’s headless saints had earlier grabbed my attention, it was now held by the latter with its heterogeneous outside in which I could trace the conflicting shapes of Roman engineering, medieval dry stone work, and still later masonry, all in widely different shades of stone and mortar.

I found the explanation in a carefully positioned sign and its attempt to make sense of this architectural cobbling together. Originally, a Roman civil building, the structure came to house canons and minstrels, one of whom had seen fit during the Carolingian period to open an arch, in baked brick and cut stone, at the base of the southern face. In later centuries, still others windows into the wall and what appeared to be at least one ocher door frame. From the overlay of windows, I could guess that these first windows had then been bricked up, only to be followed by still others. These last of the windows cut across and through original wall and older apertures alike but met with the same brick-lined fate as the others.

On the whole, the sight left me with the distinct impression that the hall made half-visible across time what later urban planning tends to conceal: the diachronic overlapping of purpose and place and the various ways that a single space can be divided, subdivided and redivided in subsequent divvying to fall in line with different visions or perhaps merely discontinuous perception. All spaces are subject to divvying of this kind, and this hall has the merit of leaving industry’s marks available to the eye. Were it likewise possible within our self to follow the lines and fractures which have come to mark or to mar inner space, we might acknowledge at last the considerable industry that goes into opening up the doorways of new communities and cultures, the windows onto new practices and habits, even the cells where thought, speech and deed come to rest.

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