Monday, August 31, 2009

a 1000 wells

Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.

"Isaura, city of the thousand wells, is said to rise over a deep, subterranean lake. On all sides, wherever the inhabitants dig long vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as far as the city extends, and no farther. Its green border repeats the dark outline of the buried lake; an invisible landscape conditions the visible one; everything that moves in the sunlight is driven by the lapping wave enclosed beneath the rock's calcareous sky.
Consequently two forms of religion exist in Isaura. The city's gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that feeds the underground streams. According to others, the gods live in the buckets that rise, suspended from a cable, as they appear over the edge of the wells, in the revolving pullyes, in the windlasses of the norias, in the pump handles, in the blades of the windmills that draw the water up from the drillings, in the trestles that support the twisting probes, in the reservoirs perched on stilts over the roofs, in the slender arches of the aquducts, in all the columns of water, the verticle pipes, the plungers, the drains, all the way up to the weathercrocks that surmount the airy scaffoldings of Isaura, a city that movesentirely upward."

From: Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino

Venice, Italy

While I am well aware that 'Invisible Cities' has been quoted to death, in any imaginable context, this excerpt seems so relevant to the Wadi condition, I just couldn't resist, so bear with me while I get it out of my system.

As Marco Polo is describing the wonders of Venice to Kublai Khan, each time as if it were an entirely different city, I can't help but remembering the wonder I felt sitting in a Venetian Piazza, wondering if it would have been such a great public place if it weren't for the fountains in the center. Since most of them are today out of use, thanks to modern sanitation systems, one is kept wondering, what could replace these ancient wells. What would be a current necessity of the urban infrastructural kind, that doubles as a mechanism for the creation of a public realm. It has to do with need. Of course, the necessity preceded the emergence of a public space, I imagine these places became Piazzas because people congregated there to draw water from the well. Nevertheless, the symbiosis works tremendously well. With regards to the two gods of Isaura- one of them is the natural system; the lake or the wadi. The other is the man-made infrastructure that enables the use of the natural resource. One can not exist without the other. Both combined enable the prosperous life in Isaura. A depleted lake would not sustain a city, no matter how ingenious its infrastructure may be. The wadi alone, without a mechanism to manage its flows, can bring loss and devastation, with proper flood management and water harvesting it could be a source of desert livelihood.

Neve Tzedek, Tel-Aviv, Israel

Ein-Karem, Jerusalem, Israel