‘No Place’: a comment on airports and malls

Suppose that you are on the plane without knowing (or remembering) where the plane is going. It may be absurd, but this often happens to regular travelers, and increasingly to all in urban life. When the plane lands and you enter the airport from the air-bridge, how can you recognize where you are? Are you in No Place?

 

It is very difficult and sometime it seems, initially, virtually impossible. All the information is in English or in pictorial form, you pass through duty free champagne, whiskey and perfumes, big brands stores and last the electric and electronic equipment corner – arrivals are just the reverse of departures. On one hand the familiarity of these places is useful for travellers who have to understand quickly how to behave and what to do, but on the other hand these places don’t belong anymore to the country where they are.

A French sociologist named Marc Augè has defined those places as “No Places” to underline that their identity is disconnected from the local identity, community and tradition. They have their own lives.

This is what has happened in globalisation. There are many such No Places – quality shops such as Intimissimi, Yamaguchi, Marks and Spencer, Zara? Wherever you are in the ‘big world’ you are just a number to be processed through a system. Golden Arches (MacDonalds), Caffe Nero, Starbucks and their equals and followers in taste and design mediocrity, control and condemn us to feel comfortable in nowhere land – No Place.

Did this start with the airline industry where all airplanes are the same (yes, English language)? The same except for colours of hostess uniforms, uniformly un-feminine to ensure that male interest is minimized to a level of brotherly acceptance. Any airline that has tried to introduce variety has failed and any hostess who has become interested in a passenger is summarily dismissed and humiliated for what? – being human, expressing real emotion or desire and creating a relationship in No Place. We have been trained to accept this emotionless, asexual mediocrity, where the only purpose is to maximize the rate of exchange of cash – for goods that are uniformly the same worldwide –and usually too expensive.

So the business traveller has become uncomfortable when he wanders into a piazza in a small Tuscan town (in Italy), but he can be rescued by seeking a chain hotel, of utter uniform design, shoebox shaped with the same style of visually atrocious wall hangings, and even the layout of the rooms remains unchanged from city to city.

For those fortunate enough to travel in Italy and stay in 4 star AC hotels, this image will be a reality – No Place – from room to room, town to town, clean, comfortable, but all the same. Maybe you have travelled north of London and stayed at Marriott Hotels from Manchester to Aberdeen and noticed that the wine-lists are identical – but that isn’t all – at least they may be excused by the unfortunate fact that UK does not produce many potable wines. Energitismo abhors any No Place.

We cringe when our training allows us to accept the comfort zone of a No Place. We seek out old towns and friendly piazzas where real people sit and talk about nothing in particular (unless they are Italian when the subject will inevitably turn to politics). They drink normal espresso, local wine and grappa, eat local pastries, and never stop to listen. Their town is fed and built by artisanal industries that also produce special delights, such as jewellery or ceramic art, all unique, and much of high quality and excellent design.

Energitismo people making products for themselves, their towns and now, you -for your place.