Sunday, May 06, 2007

walking around Cornell right now is like playing Myst. except that instead of solving puzzles, you’re waiting for construction to finish

Yes, this is meant to parallel my description of Marseille as being like Labyrinth. Myst is pleasanter than Labyrinth; even greater is the difference in niceness between Ithaca and Marseille. Normally I don’t approve of describing things in real life as being like virtual things (e.g., “Hey, this is just like that time in that movie!”), or natural things as being like artificial things (big example, one that has occurred more than once: “Oooh, those fireflies look just like Christmas lights!” Huh? Fireflies have been around a lot longer, so shouldn’t the comparison go the other way? Wouldn’t it be terribly poetic to think of Christmas lights as fireflies decorating our trees?) This is possibly something I need to get over. After all, we use our experiences, even those with virtual or artificial origins, to make sense of life. Books have played this role for centuries. I just think we need to pay attention to what piece gives meaning to the other. The Orion Nebula does look like something out of a Star Trek sequence. But the reason Star Trek backgrounds are so evocative is that they have copied the heavens, not the other way around. Perhaps this Myst analogy will help me overcome this aversion. The worlds of Myst really are beautiful; construction sites are not.

Okay, didn’t really mean to get onto that rant. This topic came up because of my walking to campus one morning last week. I had dropped off Hannah’s car to get an oil change and decided it was nice enough weather to walk in from Community Corners to Malott. When I got to North Campus, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice, instead of just taking the footbridge across the falls, to take the path behind the observatory and walk along Beebe Lake for a while?” So I did. And it was nice. I like the wooden staircases. But then I started walking along the road, and quickly found it closed, including the sidewalk. There is a staircase down to the lake, but at the time it was sealed off by gates and by the lack of the remaining steps at the bottom. I walked past it and started down Forest Home Drive, which should lead back to the stairs at the near the bridge, and quickly discovered that the whole thing, sidewalk and all, was closed off. So I walked back to the as yet unusable stairs. A grounds worker was in the process of removing the gates and told me that it would be ready in about an hour. I was perplexed, however, because I had seen people walking towards us down by the lake, and despite the lack of stairs they had somehow joined us on the road. I looked a little to the side of the stairs and saw—aha!—a somewhat steep but definitely well-established path. Entirely not obvious from when I first walked past.

On the very first island one encounters while playing Myst, there is a generator that powers the door to a spaceship. You have to get just the right amount of current running to the door. And if you run too much, you trip the breaker switch and the current no longer runs out. Of course, none of this is clear at first, like anything in Myst, and you’re bound to trip the switch several times before you figure out what to do. But the very first time you trip it, suddenly all hope of getting the power to go out again seems lost, because the switch is nowhere to be found. So you poke around the island some more, and eventually come back, and find a small, barely visible path beside the door to the generator controls. That path is exactly what this path beside the gated off staircase reminded me of. If I had actually been playing Myst, however, I would have gotten to the bottom and had to put together the staircase myself to make future ascending and descending easier.

The parking lot in front of Malott is being turned into a pedestrian area, so the sidewalk and which entrances are accessible from which directions are thoroughly in flux. Certain routes which were closed when I left due to construction on the Thurston bridge have opened up, but the bridge itself (now completely naked and skeletal) remains an unsolved problem. Maybe if we can get the rocks in the gorge below to spell out the right word, it’ll open. Or perhaps the solution is entirely somewhere else in Ithaca. Pull that lever beside the Dewitt Mall and the bridge will return?

After being in Marseille, I will no longer complain about certain features of Ithaca. Construction is a perennial mocking point, however. The beauty of the surroundings makes it totally worth living here.

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