Ralph L. Knowles
Professor Emeritus of Architecture
University of Southern California
"From far-northwest Greenland to the southernmost tip of Patagonia, people hail the new moon ---- a time for singing and praying, eating and drinking."
from The Discoverers by Danial J. Boorstin
Key Words: farm, place, rhythms, rituals, town, village
"We human beings, in all our practices, engage in rituals everywhere, in all parts of the globe and in all types of society" (Meyer and Smith 1994). Some rituals are construed as an attribute of culture, collective actions in common spaces. Other rituals seem to be personal inventions, carried out in private settings. Whether an attribute of culture or personal invention, rituals appear to conform with the rhythms of actual experience in a place. When the rhythms are complex rather than simple, natural rather than contrived, the corresponding rituals are more elaborate and tell an expanded story. Whatever the case, rituals impart special meaning to recurrent alternations in the flow of a place.
Each place has distinguishing rhythms that measure its identity. Family farms and rural villages are traditionally steady. Natural rhythms offer people endless chances to recite the same tasks, presumably making slightly different choices and learning slightly different lessons each time. On the other hand towns, and especially modern cities, are never settled. People are constantly being disconnected from where they were and must exercise reason to make sense of the changing and more artificial rhythms in their lives (Knowles 1992).
The connection between place and rhythm is here introduced by describing early settlements in Ashtabula County, Ohio. Since first surveyed along the shores of Lake Erie by the Connecticut Land Company in 1795, Ashtabula typifies the way American life has changed during the last two centuries. (Williams Bros. 1878) First there was the land which was inhabited by individuals then ordered by faraway companies (or the government) and sold to successive waves of settlers. Then villages emerged as complements to the rural life that surrounded them. Finally, in the words of Thomas Hardy, towns appeared "as foreign bodies set down, like boulders on a plain..." As people's circumstances changed around them, or as they moved from farm to village to town, they measured their possibilities by a succession of different rhythms.
Farm rhythms measure the possibilities of a single family. Daily chores are central to the life of the farm family and within these measured cadences most people expect to find their possibilities for self-fulfillment. Growth of the surrounding region may present new opportunities but they emerge at the circumference of established life, too remote for most people to understand.
A dairy farm in Ashtabula County, Ohio
The tempo of a farm is uncontrived. Clocks are used, but chores are more a function of sunrise and first frost than of wound springs and pendulum works. Basic patterns are the result of continuously repeated actions.
Accents in the rhythms of farm life coincide with the forward movement of nature. The morning of each day and the spring of each year mark not only the start of a natural cycle, but the beginning of canons. One round must be completed daily: cooking, collecting eggs, feeding pigs and sheep. Another round must be completed yearly: tilling the soil, harvesting the crops, grinding the corn into meal.
Shorter canons fit neatly within longer ones, each adjusting to variations in the other: Days repeat within seasons; seasons repeat within years; years repeat within variations too sluggish for people even to notice that things are changing around them.
Lillie Farm: Two houses for family succession.
The farm, when seen in the landscape, appears timeless, complete and independent. A new house might be added but only to provide for uninterrupted succession. A first-hand account by Evelyn Lillie Austin records how five generations of one Ashtabula farm family have occupied the same two houses:
"My story begins on October 3, 1883. My grandparents, Sidney and Phebe, were married that day ... and after completion [of a new house] spent their entire married life there.
"My father Harry was their first child ... [and when he] married Esther Carlson, another new home was constructed on the same property. I was their first child followed by my brother Maynard. [Maynard and I] grew up living very close to our grandparents and [to our] cousins up the road....
"When Maynard married Lois Hayes in 1944, Grandma, now widowed, moved in with [my parents] and Maynard took over the vacated house. Grandfather Sidney and my father Harry [had been] partners in farming this property. [Then it was] Harry and Maynard....
"Maynard is still farming the land. After Esther's death, Maynard [and Lois] moved in with Harry....
"Duane [their second child] married and moved into the original homestead [where the fifth generation is now growing up].
"Those families still live there."
A village may appear as complete and timeless in the landscape as a farm. One might see all or most of its parts just by standing in place and turning around. But while the parts are few, they are more varied and their linkages are not so rigid as on a farm. Still the rhythms of connection remain familiar, easily recognized from year to year.
Plan of Footville, Ashtabula Coounty, Ohio (Click to enlarge.)
Village rhythms, in addition to supporting the rural life around them, measure the possibilities of a few clustered households. Traditional bonds of kinship are somewhat loosened to include outside relationships. Still, people know one another by name and are acquainted with each other's histories. They have their quarrels and settle them. They help one another, and if anything unusual happens, come banding together.
Village Green. Kingsville, Ohio
There are accents in the forward movement of village life that do not appear on the farm. They are the result of collective enterprises, loops of attention and energy extending beyond the village itself. On Sundays or on holidays, families from surrounding farms flock to the village and stand around in the park with its maple trees. From here, they cross the road to the church or to the store where they peep through the windows at shoes or cloth from New York. Election day marks not the beginning of a natural cycle but the exchange or affirmation of ideas that might affect unseen others.
The repeating patterns of village life have multiple layers. There are household chores, small and private activities by which a house and garden are occupied. And there are public actions, shared with more people doing the same things at the same time.
Contrived variations are felt in the movement of village life. Most days are sluggish, apparently lacking momentum even to carry through the week. But the pace regularly picks up. There are even times, the 4th of July for example, that exhaust people. Then they are glad to fall back to a slower tempo.
A village grows only as necessary to maintain the rural life around it; since that life is fairly steady, there is no need for indefinite expansion, although there can be hopes for it. Houses appear one at a time, usually built by the families who will occupy them. But occasionally a village family will build a larger house than it needs, or even a hotel to accommodate travelers.
Village School. Denmark, Ohio
A young schoolhouse assistant usually comes from a village family, but the teacher might have arrived from a distant town. Lacking a family, she takes room and board in the village, perhaps with a widow trying to make ends meet as seamstress and landlady. The widow and teacher together make a new kind of household, not a traditional farm family, but a fellowship of mutual need just the same.
Village Church. Kellogsville, Ohio
Like the teacher, a preacher might come from a distant place. It is recorded that in 1824 Elder Lane of the Erie Methodist Conference arrived to preach only once every four weeks. Then in 1844, a proper church was built at the village of Sheffield Corners (now Gageville in Sheffield Twp). Here the membership grew and by 1875, the "Rev. E.S. Baker, who resided in Kellogsville, arrived nearly every Sunday to preach to a flock of forty." The record does not show where the reverend stayed on those occasions, but a comfortable night in the village would have served him best. And here he might have shared news of the road with another traveler or two.
It is finally the number of dwellings, more than their size, that tells us about a village. The farm means a single and continuous ancestry. The twenty or so village houses represent multiple histories. Most of these are complete stories including family, friends and village occupation. A very few, like those of the teacher and preacher, are incomplete and glimpsed only in passing. These fleeting instances leave the character of the village essentially unchanged.
Town rhythms, unlike those in rural settings, measure possibilities of an expanding population. Everybody still has household chores, perhaps even a garden to keep. People still go forth every day to work, to shop, to meet friends and to be reminded of a world beyond. But while the rhythms outside a village house remain familiar, the rhythms beyond a town house may not. The forward movement of town life is measured in continually changing rhythms. The way this happens can be explained by describing the growth of Ashtabula Harbor.
Plan of Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio (Click to enlarge.)
The story begins with a single cabin, alone in the wilderness. Then a village (with its log tavern, blazing fireplace, and whiskey toddy) forms attractions "peculiar to the time." Finally a town rises to meet the challenge of Great Lakes trade. The growth is not of mere numbers but of levels of possibilities carried on increasingly complex rhythms.
The possibilities of an isolated cabin conform to wilderness rhythms. In 1803, a settler named George Beckwith was the first to bring his family to the mouth of the Ashtabula River. The following year he perished in the January snow while carrying on his back salt and provisions from Austinburg, twelve miles to the south. His wife remained in their cabin, supporting her children by assisting travelers across the stream in her canoe.
A village emerges to relieve the terrible isolation but wilderness rhythms may not be entirely forgotten. By 1812 a scattering of log houses marked Ashtabula Harbor. Forests still covered the land. Roads were only paths broken through the wilderness. The harbor was a mere opening into the creek. But starting in 1836, "407 steamboats and 156 other vessels entered the harbor loaded with coal, iron ore, limestone, salt and pine lumber." Meanwhile, the snows that killed George Beckwith now regularly locked vessels within the piers each winter, setting them free to ply their trade anew each spring.
Typical Housing: Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio
An outer challenge turns the village into a town where rhythms are more contrived, less natural. By 1837, framed dwellings had replaced log houses. There was still the river with its seasons, but the old village of 1812 had extended up the street two or three blocks. The period 1837-61 saw the building of an east-west railroad accompanied by slow but steady growth. Then the Civil War generated a burst of activity based on two new rail lines to the south. Everybody still had household chores, perhaps even a garden to keep. They still went forth every day to work, shop, and meet friends. But wartime connections to an outside world added independent rhythms of manufacture, trade and travel on top of the older, natural ones.
Commercial Street: Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio
The growth of Ashtabula Harbor recapitulates the developing rhythms and settings around the region. But here, all the stages can be seen in one place. First, wilderness life recites the secret rhythms of nature. Then village rites demonstrate an emerging public life. Finally, the repeated acts of a town are planned to make the fact of countless lives intelligible.
Bascule Bridge: Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio
Rituals of place are elaborations of the rhythms we experience. Their development can range from the spiritual to the material, from the hidden to the obvious. Whatever the case, rituals impart special meaning to recurrent alternations in the flow of a place.
The relation between rhythm and ritual is presented by describing two contrasting examples: The ceremonies of monastic life in medieval Europe and the eating habits of my family on our back porch in Los Angeles. The first example is highly formalized, based on traditional church values. The second example is relaxed and, as far as I know, unique to our family. Both cases illustrate rites of the passing sun.
The Middle Ages provides an elaborate example of ritual that represents organized and repeated activity with symbolic reference to the spiritual. Monks divided each day into eight ceremonial periods corresponding to the liturgical phases of monastic life: Matins, the darkness of early morning; Lauds, the graying before dawn; Prime, daybreak; Terce, midmorning; Sext, noon; Nones, midafternoon; Vespers, sunset; Compline, late evening, twilight.
The Cloister of Salsbury Cathedral, A.D. 1263.
Religious practices corresponding to these canonical hours are generally seen as more dependent on traditional church values than on place; still, their exact meaning and time varied with location and season. The length of the same day was not equal in northern England and southern Italy. Summer days were different in each place, as were those of winter. Changing place made time different; changing time made the qualities of a place different. Changing either changed meaning. (Collins and Davis 1992)
The most common references to ritual, as the foregoing, are to religious law or social custom but more personal examples are everywhere evident. For instance, my family sits down every day to eat. But instead of sitting in the same location, we sit at different tables. (Knowles 1992) Almost every day we eat at least one of our meals at a table on the back porch. The meals that we do not carry out to the porch we eat at the dining-room table, separated from the porch by glass doors. In and out, beginning at dawn and ending after sundown, we may carry food and utensils through the doors.
Backporch shadows (Click to enlarge.)
More than a thoughtless habit, these migrations have gradually expanded our family's awareness of natural rhythms, especially our feelings about the seasons. The way this happens has been gently guided by recurrent alternations of sunlight and shadow on our back porch.
Two independent sunlight cycles provide multiple combinations of places to sit down. In winter we are likely to eat breakfast and dinner in the dining room. But for lunch we have the choice of sitting on the sunny part of our back porch. In summer we are more likely to eat breakfast behind sun screens in the dining room. But for lunch and dinner, we have the choice of sitting on the shady part of the back porch. The texture of possibilities is rich and rewarding.
Backporch table (Click to enlarge)
A neighbor's tree spreads over the south end of our porch, casting a shifting shadow northward. To catch the warm winter sun, we move our table northward. To sit in the cool summer shade, we move the table southward. Back and forth, once each spring and again each fall, we carry the table across a shadow line. The moment we know it is spring is not exact. But more often than not, on a warm and sunny morning, somebody will say, "Let's move the table." And then it is spring, no matter what the calendar says.
The daily acts, carrying food and utensils in and out of the house, are forgotten. Like dusting the furniture, it's only a knowing about it, not a real remembering. But somehow we are always astonished at the seasonal changes and the possibilities they evoke.
Moving the table shifts all our connections to the house, the view and to each other. Our table is oblong. And because the porch is narrower at the north end than at the south, the table must seasonally change orientation as well as location. After 30 years, we are still imagining new ways of arranging things.
Ritual instills and bequeaths a sense of who we are, of where and when we exist in a continuously repeating cycle of life. The transmittal may occur through story-telling, dance, or shared community action. It may engage a room or a region. Regardless of means or scale, ritual is a way to sustain an essential oneness: ourselves-in-a-place.
The connection between ritual and identity is described in native settlements of the American Southwest. (Knowles 1974) The first example is a hunter-gatherer society that occupied an entire river valley. The next two examples are both permanent settlements, one inside a cave and the other free-standing in a canyon. Despite these contrasts of setting, all had strong patterns of action that totally engaged a place, leaving no part unused or without special meaning.
One-hundred and twenty miles northeast of Los Angeles lies Owens Valley, the source of 80% of the city's water. The valley is contained on the west by the giant blue cliffs of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Twenty miles to the east, across the perambulations and ox bows of Owens River, rises the gentler Inyo-White range. Within this dramatic setting, that is until the westward migrations of hunters, trappers, and miners during the 18th and 19th centuries, there evolved a relatively dense and stable population of Piute Indians.
The Piute lived in village groups, each exclusively occupying an oblong territory that stretched east-west across the width of the valley. It is unlikely that all such territories were established simultaneously. More likely, their number increased over some period of time, eventually filling up the valley from north to south. Within each territory, a village group migrated yearly to obtain sustenance from a rich variety of plant and animal communities ranging from alpine to high desert. An account of these yearly travels remains today in an old man's recollections. He speaks to his grandchildren:
"I was thinking of how we moved three times a year. During the winter it is a time of ease because we have prepared and stored our food supply and the wood for our fires, but it is also a time of inactivity because the ground gets so soft and muddy, and it is difficult and disagreeable to hunt or fish or move about. It is also a time when people cannot get away from each other and difficulties arise. The growling always seems to be worse at this time of year. When things happen it is generally during this restless time of year.
"By the end of that period, we are glad when it is time for us to move to the river where it is easier to be together. People live further apart along river banks under trees. They are content and busy and don't bother one another and they stop growling at one another.
"In fall we move away from the river and into the hills, and everyone roams in search of food. But as this season goes on, the hard work tires the old ones. After spending the autumn at work, the husbands and wives are suspicious because it is so easy to meet others in the bush.
"Then, it is winter again." (Chalfant 1933)
The old man's story implies more than a search for survival. It recreates the alternations of sound and silence in the life of the valley. Similar stories, though at smaller scales, can be found in historic settlements throughout the Southwest. Consider the example of Longhouse, a cave settlement at Mesa Verde, Colorado.
The location and form of Longhouse Pueblo provided ancient residents with year-round comfort. The settlement (c.1100 AD) is sited in a large, south-facing cave, 500 feet across, 130 feet deep, and 200 feet high. The brow of the cave admits warming rays of the low winter sun but shields the interior of the cave from the rays of the more northern summer sun.
Lounghouse, Mesa Verde, Colorado.
The seasonal adaptation at Longhouse is complemented by the pueblo's response to a daily rhythm as the sun moves from the eastern to the western sky, casting morning rays inside the west end of the cave and twilight rays inside the east end. The thermal mass of the cave itself, as well as the structure of buildings within, helped to mitigate extreme daily variations, but a main adaptation for comfort may be best understood in the customary actions of people's lives. (Knowles 1984)
It is reasonably well documented that the cave dwellers of Mesa Verde tended to migrate in and out of the cave in response to the north-south seasonal migration of the sun. The way they worked suggests that they moved deeper into the cave for shelter during summer and spread further to the south in winter, using their terraces for work and play with full exposure to the warm solar rays. This north-south migration coincided with the shadows and thus the thermal variations of exactly one year's duration. It is possible to imagine a contrapuntal migration.
There is not much documentation of the tempo of daily life at Longhouse, but a transverse migration of a much shorter duration might very well have occurred in response to the daily, rather than the seasonal, rhythm of the sun's movement . During much of the year, morning light entered the dark cave from the east and outlined those buildings at the western end. All families in the pueblo kept turkeys, but only the turkeys first struck by the morning rays of sunlight would awake and become noisy. The turkeys roused the children who, in turn, disturbed the parents. Those first pulses of activity would then echo 500 feet against the eastern walls of the cave.
The day passed with fairly general activity distributed throughout the cave; then, as late afternoon approached, twilight first came to the western end of the cave and subdued the turkeys, then the children. Their parents could breathe those last sighs of relief while parents in the eastern end of the cave still had time to go before their day was done. As their light disappeared, the last turkeys uttered a quiet gobble and the children of the eastern cave let that day finally go.
The foregoing sequences are imaginary but not without historical foundation. The fact is that such a scene could very well have taken place. And what is more to my point, it would have occurred every day with seasonal variations. The strong implication is that an initial strategy for achieving thermal comfort eventually developed into ceremonial actions that occupied the entire cave and gave form to life.
Longhouse depends for its adaptation to climate on a south-facing natural formation but other pueblos, also south-facing, are standing in the open. Some of these, like the living pueblo in Taos, New Mexico, are irregular and appear to be randomly assembled. Others, like the nearly square ruins at Aztec National Monument, are symmetrical and clearly planned. One of the most impressive of the planned type, 300 feet across its south edge and 3-5 stories high, is the semicircular Pueblo Bonito.
Bonito (c.919-1080 AD) was built in two phases, eventually resembling an amphitheater with a stage surrounded by curving rows of seats too big for people -- the Greek theater of Epidauros, transplanted and scaled for gods. Even today, standing among the silent debris of Chaco Canyon, people often express deep feelings after experiencing the passage of sunlight over the powerful half forms of Bonito's ruins.
Pueblo Bonito Ruins, Chaco Canyon, NM (Click to enlarge.)
In earlier times these forms helped mitigate the extreme temperatures of summer and winter. Not only the plan but the structure of the buildings adapted to solar rhythms. The summer sun falls primarily on horizontal surfaces comprised of timber, reeds, and clay mixed with straw with low heat-storage capacity. The winter sun falls more on vertical surfaces of stone with heat retention characteristics, allowing stored heat to re-radiate to the interior of the dwellings during cold winter days.
There is much evidence for seeing Bonito as more than shelter for the body; it was also conceived as an astronomical observatory and perhaps a temple to honor the sun. (Aveni 1975) Daily and seasonal rhythms were not only a condition of pueblo life, they were a cause for sacred celebration.
Some sense of this can be conveyed by simulating changes in shadow patterns within the original pueblo courtyards. The result of the sun's daily passage is a shift in the patterns of dark and light in the great courtyards: west to east by day; north-south by year. In the shifting spot-lighted areas, it is easy to imagine ceremonial dances taking place at different locations in the courts at different times of the day and year. Such dances occur today on the terraces and in the courtyards of modern pueblos. (Scully 1975)
The foregoing accounts are mostly based on historical and laboratory research but in the last section I will recount direct observations made in the Slovak Republic. My wife and I spent six months on a Fulbright Fellowship working with architecture students and faculty of the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava. We arrived in the bitter cold of January 1993. We left in the stiffling heat of the following July. Between our arrival and departure, we experienced the joy of an explosive spring. And throughout the six months we stayed there, I kept a daily account of what we saw and did and how we felt about it all. With the previous three steps of this paper as background, and drawing from my journal entries, I will now compare the rhythms and rituals of two quite different places: one an established village and the other a recent creation.
Slovakia, as a separate country, was only one month old when we arrived. For a thousand years the people were ruled by a series of outside forces including the Hungarians, Turks, Austrians, Germans, and finally the Soviets. When the Soviets pulled out in 1990, there followed a period of adjustment in which Czechoslovakia, as a fabrication of WW I, began to unravel. There are now two countries: The Czech Republic with its capitol in Prague and the Slovak Republic (Slovakia) with its capitol in Bratislava on the Danube River just 35 miles downstream from Vienna.
Slovakia is more eastward-looking than the Czech Republic. First, it is historically more rural and agrarian, less industrialized. And second, it is nearly surrounded by three eastern-block countries: Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine. Thus, it was more heavily impacted by the 40-year Soviet occupation with its forced industrialization, collectivization of family farms and mass-housing policies. The consequence is a kind of schizophrenic landscape comprised of antagonistic parts and qualities.
The climate of Slovakia is continental. There are no maritime influences to moderate thermal extremes. Cold winter winds catch one's coat like a sail on an icy sidewalk. Hot summer afternoons leave people gasping for a breath of air near an open window. But the stunning beauty of spring renews the soul depleted by seasonal excesses.
In the six months we lived there, we learned about Bratislava not only in parts but in layers of time. One part, the most recent product of urban planning, is Petrzalka. Another part, a remnant of older village life now woven into the city's fabric, is Prievoz. There are other important parts of the city corresponding to different eras of construction. But I have chosen to compare just these two places because their contrasts of rhythm and ritual are so stark. The following journal entries have been selected to include the three seasons we spent in Bratislava.
Typical village houses.
Sat. 2/6: Our rented apartment overlooks an older settlement to the east that has a different scale. Our own street is lined with other apartments, office buildings, and commercial structures. But in the older place, people live mostly in bungalows with clay tile roofs and stuccoed walls close to the sidewalk. The houses are surrounded by gardens, now covered by snow. Nearly all families seem to keep chickens, ducks, and dogs. We hear them, especially the early cocks crowing, through our windows.
Village street in February.
Sun. 2/21: I walked through the snow for an hour today in the old place that we have dubbed "the village." Bare trees line nearly all the streets, now cramped pathways through the snow shared by cars and people alike. Where I passed in front of one house, a young couple was building a snowman and decorating it with a hat and scarf. Children are everywhere pulling each other on sleds, throwing snowballs and sliding in the icy streets.
Sun. 3/14: We now know the name of "the village." It is called Prievoz, meaning "ferry" or "ferry boat." The name is left over from a time when the Danube, or a tributary, meandered further to the north than it now does and Prievoz really was an isolated settlement along its banks. Now, surrounded by the growing city, Prievoz retains a village atmosphere. It is centered by a convent that, now in the snow and cold, appears isolated and uninhabited on a large plot behind wrought-iron fences. Attached to the convent is a hospital to serve the larger community and a church whose bells we hear from our apartment every Sunday. We now walk to Prievoz daily to shop and to take refuge in its tree-lined streets and ancient cemetery.
Bridge crossing Danube to Petrzalka.
Sun. 3/21: Today I walked through the oldest part of Bratislava, up to the Hrad or fortress-palace, and looked southward and down over the Danube to Petrzalka. This newly created part of the city is approached only by a modern suspension bridge. One end slices through the fabric of the old city, separating the Hrad from the cathedral, St. Martins. The other end connects, in the misty distance, to a continuous and uniformly high landscape of pale gray buildings that reach to the horizon. I have not yet visited this place but have been told that all the buildings are multiple housing. People who live there must commute daily across the bridge to work because there is no commerce or industry in Petrzalka.
Uniform, 13-story buildings of Petrzalka.
Vast, unattended open spaces of Petrzalka
Sat. 4/3: This morning we took the trolley and two different busses to Petrzalka for a close-up look. The place is made completely on the Soviet models of architecture and planning. Thirteen-story buildings are of uniform height and aspect made of pre-cast panels covered with graffiti on the ground floor. Randomly oriented to sun and wind, the buildings stand featureless monoliths floating in a vast and unattended landscape where we saw people picking their way across spaces without structure or boundaries. There are no gardens. Where spaces are occupied at all, it is with cars that are required for the daily commute.
Sun. 4/4: We have found much peace in the cemetery of Prievoz. The outside world is barely visible through its trees. Sounds hardly intrude. There is a central path, crooked and uprooted, lined by old trees on either side. Many of the trees are splitting open with age but are constantly repaired with cement. Through their dark branches and decaying trunks can be glimpsed the graves, many with small lanterns to protect candles that are regularly replaced, lighted and left to flicker in the twilight like fireflies. Tiny gardens surround each headstone. The gardens are now being cleared and prepared for spring planting.
Sat. 4/24: The wind has been blowing hard from the south all week. It started again this morning and continued pretty steadily all day, quieting only in the evening. It is wonderful to imagine that the spring winds here come from Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea, the Adriatic, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and finally to us in Bratislava. The air is very warm and dry, so different from wintertime when the winds came out of the north across Germany and Poland from the North Sea and the Baltic. I wore a scarf until this past week when I finally didn't need it anymore.
Sun. 4/25: Prievoz has been transformed. Cherry trees that line nearly every street are now heavy with white blossoms. Individual gardens are all sprouting new crops of sweet peas, tulips and a little blue flower. The favorite color of the tulips is bright red. The red, white, and blue landscape looks quite gay. The cemetery is also filled with new color. It has all happened quite suddenly within the past week of warm breezes.
Mon. 4/26: This evening we went for a walk in Prievoz. The bird sounds were everywhere and continuous. So were the white cherry blossoms. But on one street the trees were bigger and appeared older with pink blossoms. There were many people in the streets this evening and of all ages. Some were riding bicycles or noisily playing ball. Others were clustered in quiet conversation on street corners. But most, like us, were just strolling.
Prievoz street in June.
Wed. 6/9: Roses are in bloom. Every village garden holds an incredible array of berries, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, and cabbages mixed together and often growing under fruit trees to save space. Street pavements that were narrowed by piles of winter snow are now wider but the space is more confined by cherry trees in full leaf and heavy with ripe fruit. Whole families are out in the evenings and on weekends climbing trees to pick the harvest. Some of the fruit is consumed fresh. More, we are told, is preserved for cooking and baking throughout the year. This week, friends and neighbors brought us great bowls of fresh cherries five or six times. We have had cherry compote nearly every night for dessert.
Thur. 6/10: We passed the convent on our walk this evening and in the garden saw a crowd. They were celebrating first communion with all the little girls in white and the nuns in black kneeling behind the crowd . The streets bordering the convent garden were strewn with rose petals where people, lining the route, had showered an earlier parade.
Wed. 6/16: Each evening now, when we pass by the convent around sunset, we see nuns walking one by one. They follow a curving path that wanders in the tall grass between the convent buildings and the outer fence. Their heads are slightly bowed. Their gaze is straight ahead along the path. Their hands are clasped in front of their belted waists.
Thur. 6/17: The linden trees are in bloom and have been for two or three weeks. Their flowers give off a fresh, sweet scent that fills the village streets and attracts the buzzing bees, especially in the cemetery where we hear them in the quiet evenings. The linden blossoms are used here to make a soothing, medicinal tea.
Sat. 6/19: This evening, as I sat on a bench in the cemetery, an old man rode his bicycle up the path and stopped at a grave just opposite me. He pulled out a rag, wet it from a flower pot and washed the dust and tree litter from the headstone. To avoid intruding, I walked on down the path where I saw others also dusting and cleaning headstones to make things tidy, I suppose, for Sunday's visits.
We were powerfully drawn to village life in Prievoz and just as powerfully repelled by the prospect of Petrzalka. One explanation, of course, is that we spent more time in the village. It is older, more settled, smaller, and easier to understand. But even if we had occupied an apartment for six months in Petrzalka, gotten to know the place better, I'm convinced it would not have made a difference in our feelings about the two places. The reason can be drawn from my earlier descriptions of rhythm and ritual in traditional North American environments.
The rhythm of Prievoz is complex. People work daily outside the village, most commuting by bus to other parts of the surrounding city. But in the evenings, on holidays, and on weekends, they also have an intense village life. Partly it centers on collective actions in public places like streets, shops, the church and cemetery. Another part of village life focuses on individual actions in personal spaces, especially the ubiquitous private garden. No single rhythm seems completely to dominate life. Seasons, of course, assert a very strong influence; but really it is a combination of natural and contrived beats that offers manifold chances to develop ritual expressions of self and group.
The rhythm of Petrzalka, by comparison, is simple. Unlike Prievoz, there is no gathered life in the place: no church, cemetery, or streets lined with cherry trees to focus attention and energy on tradition. As in Prievoz, people work daily outside the place. But many commute by car because the location is so remote and poorly connected to the rest of the city. A single daily rhythm dominates Petrzalka: To work and back. Otherwise, life is lived pretty much inside a flat like a thousand other flats. There are no gardens or cherry harvest in Petrzalka to remind people of the passing seasons. There is little evidence of ritual in the lives of people.
Slovaks, of course, understand the forfeitures of life in Petrzalka and, those who can afford it, take traditional actions to make up for them. It is estimated that 40% of Bratislava's apartment dwellers, including those in Petrzalka, migrate to dachas in foothills north of the city. These cottages, often only one room, are nearly always sited in a garden. Here, the Slovak habit of planting, tending, and gathering their own produce, is sustained and bestowed upon children.
It is the ritual connection to nature, especially to seasons, that has always identified traditional environments and that is missing in most urban settings. This is clear from my earlier examples of historical settlements in North America and now the instance of Prievoz. It is equally clear that modern places like Petrzalka are lacking that coherence. I don't mean to imply that modern urban experiences totally lack essential cadence. Rather, the things people keep on doing in urban places are forgettable. They follow either contrived or monotonous daily rhythms, too simple to excite the imagination. If people don't evolve complex celebrations of both time and season, they cannot fully occupy an environment. They cannot find themselves nor can they pass on the truth of a place to future generations.
All quotes and anecdotes in the discussion of Ashtabula County, unless otherwise noted, are drawn from A History of Ashtabula County, Ohio (Philadelphia: Williams Brothers, 1798-1878).
Aveni, Anthony F. ed. Archaeoastronomy in Pre-Columbian America (Austin, Texas and London, England: University of Texas Press, 1975)
Chalfant, W.A. The Story of Inyo (Stanford, CA: Stanford Unviersity Press, 1933); also, J.H. Steward, Ethnography of the Owens Valley Piute (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1933)
Collins, Marie and Virginia Davis, A Medieval Book of Seasons (NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992)
Knowles, Ralph L. Energy and Form (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1974),11-45.
------- Sun Rhythm Form (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1981) 11-14.
------- "Rhythms of Perception," PLACES 8:2 (Fall, 1992): 72-81.
------- "For Those Who Spend Time In a Place," PLACES 8:2 (FALL, 1992): 42-43.
Meyer, Marvin and Richard Smith, ed. Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994), 4.
Scully, Vincent J. Mountain, Village, Dance (New York: Viking Press, 1975)
3 and 4: Redrawn by Dr. Lauren Chattegre (Lauren A. Knowles) from Atlas of Ashtabula County, Ohio (Titus, Simmons and Titus 1874).
8 and 9: Drawn by Gary S. Shigemura for Energy and Form (Knowles 1974)
10: Drawn in 1967 by USC architecture students S. Jhono, R. MacDonald and R. McMahonand from field notes of anthropologist Douglas Osborne. California State College, Long Beach, California.
11: Redrawn by USC architecture students from the Architecture of Pueblo Bonito (Judd 1964)
12: Drawn by Gary S. Shigemura for Energy and Form (Knowles 1974)
Note: All figures, except those listed above, are drawn by the author.
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