This project isn’t an epistemological response to Todd Presner's HyperCities but something rather more sentimental. I call it Romantic Mapping (RM), while fully mindful of the deeply personal, subjective nature of the Romantic movement. Romantic Mapping is a record of an individual’s personal journey through the streets of a city; it utilizes digital maps, street views, historical information, related images, and more. More importantly, the mapping is to be shared with others.


In August of 2014, my girlfriend, Suejin, moved to Rome for personal reasons, without any intention to return to New York. Our relationship was up in the air, as we tried to make it work long distance. Thanks to modern technology, we've been doing fine, talking to each other whenever we have a chance, via e-mail, text, and video chat. On October 13, I was reading HyperCities to her via video chat, and my girlfriend's bored face made me think, “Why don’t we take a virtual ‘walk’ through the streets of Rome on Google Maps?” Suejin and I are not the most gregarious human beings: our favorite activity (at least, my favorite) is strolling the streets of New York like two flaneurs, critiquing the art, design, and architecture. We also talked about psychological, philosophical, and political topics. We created nonsensical stories about the random people who passed us. I was missing our walks so much. I was missing her.


I suggested we find the Italian language institute she’d been going to in Rome on Google Maps. I located the area, shared my (Google Hangouts) window with her, and then turned on Google map’s panoramic street view. As she saw the street view, she shouted, "Oh my god, that's the cafe that I always go to! It's Caffè Giò!" She told me to “walk” straight ahead until we got to a square. I navigated on the street view and found the school. Again she shouted, “Oh my god, you see that guy in the blue shirt? He's the security guy of the building of my school!” I could tell she was quite thrilled by the experience. I was too. I sensed the contiguity between  the actual and the virtual. She wanted to take me to her favorite restaurants and cafés in the area. She started to guide me, saying, “Make a left. Make a right. Go straight. Oh no, now I'm lost.” She took me to her favorite piazza and then to her favorite street, Via Giulia, the location of the church of Saint Mary of the Prayer and Death (of which she’d previously texted me photos). At that moment, it really felt as if we were strolling around the city just like in New York. Even the weather in the photos was great (although it “rained” when we got to the piazza). For me, it was indeed a critical moment of “eversion” in Steven Jones’ term. It felt surreal because we were in different geo-spatial positions and time zones, but we were sharing the same simultaneous experience. It would have felt differently if we were sitting next to each other, looking at the same monitor because we would be conscious about the fact we’re in the same time and space.


After our first stroll, I decided to take her to Florence, in order to share my memories of a walk I took in the early morning of July 3, 2010. Every once in a while, I dream about my days in Italy, but  my waking memories of Florence were dim.* However, as soon as I found online the front of the hotel where I stayed almost five years ago, my repressed fractured memories of Firenze were recomposed into a vivid visual entity once again. I felt quite confident of my visual memory, so I began to guide her through all the places I enjoyed in the summer of 2010.  First, I took her to the back alley, on the south of the Arno river, that I liked the most. I showed her the spots where I took photos with my rangefinder camera. I even explained to her my path through the street on that day, how I got from here to there. Out of the blue, she shouted again, "Oh my god, I think I went to this street with my father a couple weeks ago. We were there to attend an event at a school." I experienced the enigmatic feeling that different times and spaces are indeed intertwined. We kept strolling along streets that were covered in a sentimental patina. As we got to the end of the alley, I said, "There should be a small café on the left side where I had a coffee in 2010." It was still there. Then I added, "Now, we'll see the Ponte Vecchio, when we turn right." She asked, "How do you know?" I said, "Because I remember." We turned, and there was the Ponte Vecchio. I had to kept going even after Suejin had to stop owing to vertigo. I was experiencing a (almost tangible) memory transformation; an oblivious memory to a clear memory. It was a linear visualization of memories brought about through maps and street views. Psychologically, I’d retrieved the repressed memory in my unconscious to the conscious realm of my waking life (as I said, I’d had clear visual images of Florence only in my dreams or threshold stages). I felt the urge to create a “map” of this memory in order to record it as a memoir. I wanted to share it with Suejin and with friends who had been or might go to Florence. I took a number of photos while there. However, this was something completely different because of its linearity; it’s not a single image or multiple separate images of your travel but a tool of recording and reinvigorating your memories from the travel. I’m not attempting to diminish the nostalgic quality of reminiscing the past through photography. I’m a photography fanatic. Yet, I’m suggesting this tool as an efficient “perpetual” way to keep your memories, not to mention you could integrate the photos you took to the map.


In his book, HyperCities, Presner writes, "HyperCities essentially allows users to examine the historical layers of the city spaces and tell stories in an interactive, hypermedia environment."(51) Although I first thought of this project in simple documentary terms as a psychological apparatus, I now have a broader conception. Fundamentally (if I can make the application), RM would function similarly to HyperCities; interacting and sharing stories and histories with others. The main difference would be the contexts. RM is driven by personal desire; it is an accumulation of subjective memories. I created maps of my time as a tourist in Rome and Florence, but if other maps were created by locals, they could become a great medium for understanding a city’s characteristics, culture, and history. In my opinion, because of today’s consumerist and spectator culture, the general public’s attitude toward social-media platforms is passive. People might believe they are being “active” by posting and commenting, but what we see are selfies, the celebrities people follow, the commodities they’ve purchased, and the commodities they hope to purchase.


Today’s general public has become a group of “the badauds” rather than “flaneurs.” Walter Benjamin writes about the difference between the two in his book, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelair, “In the flâneur, the joy of watching is triumphant. It can concentrate on observation; the result is the amateur detective. Or it can stagnate in the gaper; then the flâneur has turned into the badaud.”(62) Their gaze  has become hollow and spectatorial, lacking interpretation or autonomous expression and observation. In last week’s class, Chris mentioned the idea of a new social media platform for individuals who want to document their lives in a more progressive way, kind of reinforced Foursquare. RM is a progressive tool for people to utilize their imaginations, memories and emotions. RM is sharing among “flaneurs.;” the people will offer their own insights and stories with each other. This accumulation of the stories and memories of “flaneurs” could be utilized and interpreted in a variety of ways.


I created  a website and the maps merely out of a sentimental desire to share them with my girlfriend. However, when I realized such documentation and mapping could overlapped with last week’s topic, I decided to write about it.  I’d like to throw this idea out to my classmates simply because I’m curious about their hermeneutic and creative views. I wish I could build the whole application, but I'm simply not capable.  I’ve made a more basic mimesis of what I'm actually imagining (though, I’ve learned how to integrate API on the pages).  Who knows I might actually team up with my programmer friends and figure out a way to make this project happen.




* Since childhood, I’ve had an extremely strong visual memory. The oldest memories I have date from when I was two years old. I happen to have keen and observant eyes, so images form the core of my memories and unconscious. During the threshold stage of sleep, my unconscious pushes buried images to the front of my mind, through a process that is unfathomable to me. (I’ve quite often seen images of Florence in this state.) My sleep is entirely REM, meaning, I never sleep without dreaming. I've created a whole alternative “city” through my dreams. The people in my dream city, such as taxi drivers and store owners, recognize me and talk to me in a casual manner. I recognize the buildings and know my way around. (I think I get “situated” in the city almost every other day.) I once drew a map of the dream city while I was awake. I could say I practically live in two different worlds. My psychiatrist has strongly suggested I see a neurologist to get a sleep exam, but I’ve refused. It’s another type of eversion that I usually undergo.

Comments