I’ve never had any doubt about the truthfulness neither of Dante’s law of retaliation nor of the London’s law of retail. A couple of weeks ago I bought a copy of Iain Sinclair’s “Ghost Milk” about the olympic project and the redevelopment of Stratford. I’ve started reading it, fascinated by stories of the old east end, on the thin border between import export and black market, a wild pocket of chaos at the city’s doorstep, lunch-hours spent exploring the Lea valley and its hidden paths.
The day after my company called me to inform me that I was being relocated to work in Stratford. For Jesus and Mary’s sake. No excuses, no way to say no.
So now I’m wandering during the lunch-hours in the retail ziggurat of Westfield, strolling along the olympic fence and around the perimeter of the olympic village, looking at people passing by at the bus station, taking pictures that end-up being boring .. if you’re not into shopping there’s not much else the place can offer.
Let’s start from the Stratford Mall, linked with the Stratford City Shopping Centre by an iron gate. The first is something alike to a covered market: vegetables and fish stalls between fast-foods and retail chains, the free structure of a market place framed in a shopping centre: secure, monitored, organized. Outside the mall you can find the Stratford tube station, its polished mirrors reflecting the stripped plaza, toing and froing of shoppers and commuters, the bus station’s white circus tent, metallic parodies of trees growing from debris.
To reach the bridge you have to climb some stairs, slaloming through blond twins from Essex in matching black outfit and burka wearer with three kids. Then you can finally glimpse the solid shape of Westfield and the olympic melt Tour Eiffel rising from the railway sea, shiny like a a train crash. Huge LCDs and a few security guards belonging to different compaies (Westfield security, police, top dog .. Top Dog? Yes, Top Dog too) welcome the visitors. Just outside the overground station a notice inform me that the quickest way to the olympic park is finding my way through Westfield’s maze: OLYMPIC PARK: ENTER THE SHOPPING CENTRE GO UP TO THE NEXT FLOOR, WALK TO THE END OF THE SHOPPING CENTRE AND FOLLOW THE DIRECTION SIGNS”. Hell, be sure to bring an Ariadne’s bloody thread with you.
“Visit the street!” ” Taste the world” “Free massages!” Every sentence ending with an exclamationD mark.
Well, let’s visit “The Street”: M&S on the left, Westfield on the right, straight ahead a Samsung’s shop filled with LCD screens: will prove themselves helpful to watch the games less than 1/4 mile away from the stadium. Fake trees and flowing water’s sound from geometric black benches make a parody of the marshes they’re built on: ancient pagan rites, windmills and nuclear reactors. Prada, Tony & Guy, Fred Perry shops (FP’s advert feature a teenager in some abandoned tennis court relaxing under the sun: “tranquility is a natural cure”). An Holiday Inn provides shelter for the people who get lost in the mall, the street leaning on the stadium wears the colours of the olympic multiculturality: you can eat mexican, italian, japanese.
And then the stadium’s silhouette, and the Arcelormittar Orbit, the evil twin of the Tour Eiffel, already coloured in rusty red, respectfull with Albert Speer’s Ruinenwert theory: “a building should be designed such that if it eventually collapsed, it would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins”. Berlin, Summer 1936. The Arcelormittar is amazing: an aesthetically pleasing ruin straight from the box. It is a present from the ArcelorMittal company of the indian steel-tycoon Lakshmi Mittal: another brand in the olympus of the London topography in good company of O2 and Emirates Airline.
Behind the fence of the Olympic Park there is a land inhabited from men in high visibility jacket, the colour marks the tribe: shoking pink, bright orange, highlighter yellow. The Yellows do the dirty work, bricks and mortar, in the lunch break they roam the shopping centre, standing from the crowd, eating a sandwich on a bench or having a laugh with other Yellows. Than we have the pinks, the ones more involved with the events planning, the social hierarchy goes from managers with notebook and pen behind the ear to the human roadsign with chunky pink gloves “Olympic park this way”. There are some Oranges here and there but I still haven’t identified their function, anyway they give a nice touch of colour. Other tribes includes the “Reflectors” from the private army of Westfield and the Yellow-Pinks, half-bloods at the end of the food chain conceived in some obscure Safe and Security meeting in Canary Wharf and brought at the radiactive shadow of the Arcellormittar Orbit.
In the Westfield’s Darwin race the Yellows will be the first to succumb and I give to the Pinks another 6 months. The Reflectors are here to stay, hiding in sleazy offices filled with screens, sitting in car at the exit of multi-storey parking lots, free to multiply and waiting to outnumber the rest of the population.
One of the Yellow-Pinks tribe, a nice bloke, informs me that to see the park I need a ticket, the tickets are all sold-out but the access will be free after the games. At least the official restaurant of the olympics never closes: I think about drowning my disappointment there before to start my shift.