Tag Archives: New York City

Global Pizza?

The Google Doodle reminds us that the Pizza Margherita of cheese, tomatoes, and basil remains the If the “most popular topping variation” in Neapolitan style pizza, and indeed tat the universally accessible status of the pizza in fact had a local origin. The balance between the global significance that pizza has gained as a sign of satisfaction confirmed by how a Google Doodle of a circular pizza was divided by a pizza wheel, its slices grabbed as soon as they were cut from a basil-laden pie of melted mozzarella cheese. The doodle, as if product tested by Google, was both local but global, a recognizable sight and site of comfort that as clickbait triggered Pavlovian associations in one’s mouth, even as cut slices vanished off the screen, the taste of a tangy warm pizza sauce eerily triggering sense-baed responses even if no melted cheese was in one’s mouth. And so it was the only response to the global reach of Google, and something of an inevitable sign of pizza’s new global reach as food of specific provenance, that the margherita pie became, in the midst of its growing consumption of take out in the pandemic, a pleasant graphic interface that attracted heightened attention if not some joy.

In an era of sheltering in place, the social and most demotic of street foods was presented on our screens as a hope of good cheer, if not pizza and beer. The GIF was a year-end gift of a tiring year, one we wouldn’t have, we hoped, to repeat, but feared we might,–even if we wanted to think that, the first Pfitzer COVID vaccine having been approved by a few months previous, we were emerging, even. if we suspected the virus continued even after issuance of bivalent boosters. Would the pizza, the warm pizza emerging from the oven, offer needed meaning, and a surrogate for sociability, in lettering made of bubbling cheese set atop a rich tomato-based foundation?

Google Doodle GIF, December 6, 2021

But for many who lived behind screens, the arrival of pizza was a promised respite of comfort in the day. Long before the increased currency of pizza delivery in the current pandemic, pizza was the classic to-go food, born for the street: the global server reminded us that the comforts of the pizza has been recognized for its origins in Naples, home of the ancient and timeless festival of gluttonous festival of the Piedigrotta, whose ancient Roman fertility festival is preserved in the eating of roast meat, wine, and cheese–as well as pizza! If “Piedigrotta” now lends its name not only to local festival but pizzerie across the peninsula, the Google Doodle invited us in the midst of winter to ponder the pizza’s unmistakable comfort, a comfort nourished over the pandemic that even in a cartoon rendering of the slices that disappear quickly as soon as they are virtually cut, or indeed before we “cut” the pie by a virtual wheel, placed in proximity to a brightly colored avatar to “celebrate pizza” on our screens, in an intimate act of feeding ourselves, cutting slices from a wooden sheet covered with tasty toppings.

Cutting into the pizza we could almost imagine as fresh from the oven, mozzarella melted, was almost sure to stimulate a Pavlovian reaction of salivation, as anticipation for the melted mozzarella dripped into umami seas of tomato paste. The undeniable umami of pizza is translated as comfort, instant gratification of melted cheese and tangy tomato sauce. As its status as a food of urban resistance and survival under duress has dulled, what was the cheap city snack, hardly a meal, became the food of choice for creating a sense of domestic contentment even as global insecurity and fear grows.

I saw the remaking of pizza, something now of a barometer of urban sociability and gemütlichkeit, has gained a mobility that seems, so long as on a paddle that resembles being fresh from the oven, the pleasure of being an edible mad lib of its own, infinitely personalized, and the lovely luxury of cheap eats. The availability of pizza even in the pandemic a way of finding some contentment in a comfort food, a respite from the visually eerily similar coronavirus that so dominated our minds, with spikes and not toppings, that it seemed to augr a new era or period of humanity, and had made us scour the internet for historical precedents. Was not the pizza also affording a tie to a material, comforting human past?

The diffusion of pizza in frozen form, ready delivery, and instant gratification even before the pandemic. The conferral of a status of intangibility as a global heritage–and a global heritage site in Naples, site where the Margherita is the preferred pizza, transformed this most material of food craft to local arts amidst a globalization of pizza so unprecedented to blur cultural boundaries and render the world’s surface as flat as a pizza pie, as pizza, once described as a food of sailors in the port of Naples who made pizza marinara the classic to-go food before disembarking on Mediterranean travels. Yet it was in the New World, in the immigrant communities in New York and Staten Island, and after the Great Depression, when many Italian-American family matriarchs regularly cut off part of the dough prepared for bread-making to provide the basis for pizzas, that pizza emerged. If with origins as a special family treat, garnished with leftover tomato sauce, the rise of economic immigrant prosperity introduced at the first parlors that life blood of culinary preparation, anchovies, pecorino romano, and sliced mozzarella, to meld in a pre-heated oven, a magical transformation of melted cheese unlike the magic filler of bread.

The expansion of chains of pizza parlors, pizza cutters, pizza toppings, and pizza sauce, grew on both coasts of America, first in prosperous immigrant centers, but soon in Depression era America. Even though current pizza shops per capita are greatest in northeastern states New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, parsing pizzerie per capita by state “density” somewhat misleadingly skews the spatial distribution from those dense urban hot-spots of pizza ovens like New York or Chicago–true hotspots, of course. Among the oldest pizzerie are found in New Jersey, dating back to 1912 and 1917, if the oldest shop still functioning resides in New York City; the expansion of the stores in economic downturn reflected the birth site of a transplanted food set to Americanize, with a pizzeria opening in San Francisco in 1935, as well as Boston, New Haven, and, outside New Jersey, that early site of Italian American immigrants’ upward mobility. (It may be New Jersey afforded beefsteak tomatoes perfect for saucing, an agrarian epicenter of prepared foods, intensified by the truckloads of fresh tomatoes that arrived at Campbell Soup’s Camden factory, that had a role–true story–in making Campbell’s Tomato Soup the favorite lunch of the young Andrew Warhola in Philadelphia, who by 1968 silk-screened the label of its can to make it a visual icon of twentieth-century American art.). But the emergence of “Pizza alla napolitana” in an American cookbook printed in Boston by 1936 cemented its place in the home-cooking repertoire, mandating hand-stretched dough, smoked mozzarella, and dried oregano, but advising readers they can skimp as dough “can be purchased in any Italian bake shop.”

Density per capita of Pizzerie in Northeastern United States/ Estately (2016)

This is perhaps to speak nothing of quality. The mobility of pizza seems to have everything to do with the license to eat, as much as its readiness of preparation. But perhaps because of the market driven expansion of pizza globally, the placement of pizza as a cultural artifact becomes problematic, if not entirely lost to memory, and removed from place. The pizza became a classic immigrant food in the United States and American cities from New York to other east coast metropoles, its warmness transforming the crowded tables or expanded family-style restaurants to an expansive immigrant sense of home, as the arrival of rotating wheels, akin to lazy Susans, those elegant dining trays dating from the eighteenth century in mahogany wood, were diffused in mass eating booths of the 1950s and 1960s, offered a model for the rotating ovens bearing the circular pizza by ball bearings able to withstand the 500°F heat needed to create the perfect setting for the pizza crust’s rise, and the transformation of the raw layers of a pizza to meld together in an umami taste. The melding of pizza seems to be able to be made wherever there is an oven–wherever one can impart a blast of needed heat for the alchemy of pizza dough that distinguished it from bread–that the place of pizza is difficult to establish, and the place of pizza in memory difficult to separate from an actual map.

The certification of the local roots of spinning and stretching was restored to Neapolitan pizzaiuoli in 2017–not five years ago–after being petitioned to throw its international weight behind the local certification of provenance. The attempt to push back on the globalization of what they insisted was not a national but a “native” food, demanding to be seen and recognized as born nowhere else but Naples, and from DOC ingredients often reserved for classy wines, suggested a desperate defense of the prestige of the local amidst an age of globalization, a defense that in the midst of a global pandemic only grew.

The announcement led to a collective skeptical raising of eyebrows worldwide. Despite the need to protect endangered cultural goods, might it be compromised to apply the modifier “intangible” to one of the most pedestrian of hand-held foods, the treasured urban delight of those opting out of multi-course meals, long conveyed in “to-go” in cardboard containers if not readily grasped in one hand for easy eating, as a folded slice for added convenience, newspaper-style? If globalization has produced an untold range of appropriations of “variations” of the pizza qua pie, the UNESCO certification seemed a reminder that allowed future variations to proliferation, but also to anchor the mobile food–famously mapped in proximities to subway stations in New York, as if to prove this was the basic food on the go–in a site of origin as a sit-down food. To be sure, the pizza was a bit of a celebration of the long-denigrated southern identity,

The sense of accessibility of pizza was altered as the combinatorial nature of the pie created a sense of plentitude from a shifting cast of characters of local resources and add ons. The simple combination of fresh tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and tangy mozzarella cheese was reduced in the Doodle to a holy trinity–“cheese, tomatoes, basil”–and not the globally available substitutes or processed cheese long used in American pizza flourishing in the post-war period across the processed mozzarella-rich midwest.

Google Doodle GIF, Dec 6 2021

Rather, a rather recherché fresh basil, perhaps familiar in Silicon Valley, was but one of the many “topping variations” on hand. Promoting the ease of translation seemed one of the major tasks that Google–or Alphabet–made to its users, as if the letters might be as legible as in a bowl of minestrone, reconfigured to result in the same meaning in any tongue.

“Pizza” was a bit of a universal signifier, by the new millennium, universally recognizable from Holland to Brazil to Croatia to Russia, to Japan, Korea, to Turkish, to Vietnamese. Its global presence that didn’t demand translation, not even from Google Translate: but the local origin Google gave the ubiquitous “pizza” only confirmed the ease of drawing relations between any space on the globe in the age of globalization. The optional add-ons from pineapple to bacon to chicken pieces betrayed its global appeal, apart from slightly more particular local salumi or meatballs. The pie, seemingly created to promote gastro-intestinal challenges with quasi-operatic bravado, might be seen as corruptions or appropriations and claims of ownership, given the near-universality of pizza’s umami appeal, and the sprezzatura of the pizzaiolo able to fashion a pizza’s surface with a fistful of olives, mushrooms, or oregano, if not green onions, squid, baby clams, red peppers, garlic, even nettles or pine nuts.

Before the pandemic, pizza’s diffusion was paralleled by the rise of the art of pizza-making as a visible sign if not tool of gentrification, and distinction, far from the Italian-American import of past or the frozen pizza that I was apprenticed to prepare with a thread of olive oil across its still-frozen surface to add elusive freshness. The recent rebirth of pizza as artisanal food that was prepared by a consummate chef–marketed to home cooks by Wolfgang Puck as an “Italian favorite” that in 1991 nailed the coffin on the “watershed decade” of 1974-1984 starting from Jeremiah Towers’ embrace of “gourmet pizza” of 1974 promised yeast-based crusts adorned with fresh toppings, reflected the return of wood-fired stone ovens. The recent hipster slice, evoking early gas ovens, recoups the pizza’s Italian-American origins to promise a nostalgic specificity, down to the glistening rings of pepperoni, as if to champion the pizza’s authenticity–even if this pizza was born in the era of mobile food consumption, whose promise of mobility indeed prepared for the food’s globalization. From the return. of pizza to artisanal roots as a home-made dish of something other than gas or electric ovens, the pizza as a rite of barbeque and a heat-blasted melding of cheese and tomatoes, the attraction to the dish became in demand to pin on a place, if only to distinguish it from its global appeal, and to create “pins” for, least the dish circulate as a disk on the frictionless world, situating it on a map with more precision than ancient mosaics of the brick oven.

Removing Bread from an Oven. Mosaic (1st half 3rd CE) from a Seasonal Cycle of Farming, from Saint Romain-en-Gal, France.

But this pizza, one must remind readers, if one wants to find its “birth certificate” among Italian-American communities, was itself of course a hybrid breed apart, made not for an eat-in restaurant but for eat-out delivery in a restless world. The easy materialization of pizza from go-to ingredients led to the proliferation of “local” pizzas not only in Oakland, where I live–“Chicago” style; “Detroit” pizza, as if on an auto grill; Roman pizza; Neapolitan style; California pizza; slow food pizza, most very unlike the Margherita–each of which seemed variations on the umami of melted cheese and hearty tomato, with the addition, in the most American versions, of the rich and richly non-“Italian” pepperoni slices atop “New York” and “Detroit” slices, using beef pepperoni of midwestern German-American immigrants, to approximate the more finely sliced prosciutto of Italian forbears, profiting from the ready supply of cheap meat in ethnic neighborhoods, in a culinary improvisation of the New World. Personally, it was the addition of rings of pineapple in “Hawai’ian style” pizza, profiting from the rings that Dole Co. canned supplies at the ready, that suggested a globalization of what seemed local variaties.

New York Pizza Pie

Detroit-style pepperoni pizza resting on a cutting board

Detroit-Style Pizza

–or the recent hybrids of bespoke slices with actual or faux artisanal–or retro–toppings, that increasingly seem to approximate “Italian” styles of pizza, inflected by global tourism. The days when I babysat for the grandchildren of a noted Italian historian, who ran a center of study from a villa outside Florence, might let me in on the secret that in Italy, pizza was “truly horrible” were long past. The high-style pizza of more fresh-tasting ingredients not only drew less from the canned tomatoes, but suggested a sense of a refreshening of American pizza tastes, recuperating a distinctly European feel that might be more easily paired with a rich or a crisp red wine.

Gourmet “New York” Style with Artisanal Blend

Pollara Pizzeria/Berkeley, CA

It was as if the pizza was a sign of globalization in that had spread from New York, in my imagination, but migrated globally in ways that any city could appropriate and imprint with its own stamp, to be exchanged in any site as a lingua franca of the street, perhaps furthered by the easy bake oven that once served as an incubator of english muffin pizzas in the not distant past that had already appropriated the pizza to a food easy to cook “under adult supervision” even for the eight-and-over crowd. Did the development of the oven lie at the heart, as it were, of the transformation of the pizza slice?

Unlike shops for single slices to national franchises, the audience for the ‘craft’ pizza in tonier urban areas, promising the restoration of an artisan like practice as pizza has joined the broad category of craft foods, nurtured in the capacious definition of “whenever a skilled person makes something using their hands, that’s craft.” Within this broad umbrella, one must place not only the rise of gentrified pizzeria and hand-thrown crusts, but the recent decision by UNESCO to affirm the dough thrown by Neapolitan pizzaiuoli as an intangible heritage of humanity, as Google reminds us, is in ways the final arbiter of the global: global recognition that the primary comfort food of globalization began from local roots, and from a glorious tricolore of simplicity–cheese, tomatoes, and basil–which is the hidden standard in the global currency of pizza-making, and, by coincidence, echoes the colors of the national flag it was long proclaimed in a rebus.

1. Situating or mapping the “art” of pizza-making obscured the ubiquity pizza had gained of providing a sense of plenty or satiety, at low overhead; the food industry had helped remove pizza-making from the place of growing tomatoes, whose historic hearth of the pizza oven had been reproduced first in the 1940s in America, but iconically lingered as an designation of the fresh-baked, if not an atavistic survival in the food industry. The push-back of the local origins of pizza-making as an art, and a traditional one, transcends the currents of Italian out-migration, but seeks to affirm a touchstone of global craft and cuisine.

The survival of the aura of the hearth disguised its ready mobility, across oceans and indeed to any site, to be sure, affording temperatures far higher than a baking oven, conjured usually in brick, if developed as a site for warming up slices that tasted fresh, and for defrosting disks of frozen dough; the diffusion of pizza globally had threatened a sense of alienation, and the rapid recession of any sense of pizza as a local food in the mirror of global memory. If Walter Benjamin was so intrigued by Naples’ relation to food to suggest that families in the million residents of the city saved money for the yearly Piedigrotta festival with the dedication with which Germans would buy life insurance policies, or against accidents, the consumption of pizza provides more than a restorative ritual but a sense of communing with deep traditions, and indeed affirming national ties. And so nineteenth century admirers of Italy turned to the pizza, with a sense of recognition, to celebrate the sprezzatura and elegance of the food produced at high temperatures and the satisfaction that it brought as a genius specific to the place.

We can already see some continuity in the certification with the pride of place pizza-making occupied a place of prominence in Francesco de Bourcardo’s lavishly printed work of Neapolitan customs of 1857 that, several years before his far more ascetic cousin from Basel, Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, canonized the univeral man and corpus of Renaissance art as a product of a new individualistic political geography of city states of “Italy,” a region he contrasted to the mass culture of mid-nineteenth century Europe. And yet, the mass appeal of pizza has provided the taste that perhaps won out in the end, a victory of southern Italian tastes whose blend of rustic tomatoes and hearty spices lie far from the connoisseurship the trained observer would be able to study its art or to “detect the modern political spirit of Europe,” or the foods of Renato Guttoso or Elizabeth David, but a populism the Swiss art historian was less interested to include in his account of a Renaissance.

The status pizza holds as a cultural monument to culinary immigration or as a crowd-pleaser endures. And it will endure: the improvised pies long seen as a sign of bravado in conditions of duress at southern sea ports, the satisfaction of a simple pasto for those on the run without time for a full meal service, was difficult to see as a cultural monument by many, but a street food that migrated a tavola in the twentieth century. In ways, the elevation of the pizza-maker as a monument of Italian cooking, and of Italian culture, rewrote not only the global currency of pizza, but the restored pizza to pride of place among national monuments of a sort that Francesco de Bourcard, unlike his cousin, was able to appreciate. The Swiss cultural historian whose work had channelled the idea of a Renaissance to scholarship, the Basel patrician Jacob Burckhardt, had condensed from three moths in central and northern Italy in 1838, studiously avoiding the south, with a diligence continued in returns below the Alps in his long life as a historian and public figure, as well as an intellectual; Naples remained conspicuous by its absence from the fierce passions he aw in the cradle of modernity, effecting art–sculpture and painting, and architecture–in an ennoblement of mind prominently associated with kultur or cultural formation, a transcendent effect of the subjectivity of the universal man.”

It was not that the uomo universale, overcoming the constraints of place, time and nation, did not eat; universality was imagined to tap a vein of inspiration far removed from the material world. In contrast, his fellow Basilean Francesco de Bourcard willingly indulged in the pastries, food, and varieties of sweets available in his adopted city. De Bourcard, if a northern gourmand by family lineage, celebrated the Neapolitan theater as a true ex-pat gone native: among the customs that catalogued in encyclopedic fashion, the trusty pizzaiuolo braving the cold in his warming capotto was almost a counterpart to the Renaissance Man. The pizza seller was poised, stolidly, offering to use a sharpened knife above a stack of freshly baked pies. No doubt de Bourcard himself readily indulged in piazza, and even esteemed erudite Neapolitans as Giambattista Vico partook.

Although the Swiss emigre Francesco had in fact been born in Naples, he was no immigrant. If cast as from a distinct non-native elite, he hardly occupied the margins of Neapolitan society as the grandson of the Marshall of the Spanish King in Naples. But seeking to define himself as a local, or boost his adopted home to deserved status, he poured his journalistic efforts into this work of local history, following Vico much more than Jacob’s esteemed teacher, Ranke. If Jacob Bucrkhardt’s work was known for its collation of photographs of artworks in its later editions, Francesco refused to spare cost or attention to a work he saw as “useful in its literary expression, beautiful in artistic appearance, or the luxury of its binding.” What Benedetto Croce saw as a neglected if authoritative work of local cultural history that promoted the local color of a city Jacob B. had rather unconscionably omitted, with deep effects on the cultural imagination and tourist trade, and did so in striking colors that were designed to stimulate interest by aquatints.

Francesco de Bourcard had crafted a compendious and colorfully illustrated catalogue of local professions after the maxim of a model of Jacob’s cultural history–the dictum of independence of the Florentine historian and second chancellor Niccolò Machiavelli, “scrivete i vostri costumi, se volete la vostra storia.” He affirmed a return to local color, which was emblematized by pizza. Did Croce’s attention recognize how de Bourcard seeks to engage, consciously or unconsciously, Jakob’s conviction of the contribution of northern cities as the sources of transcendental art with an aesthetic purchase that could not be rooted in space or time, but belonged to the global civilization and seemed the ursprung of the modern? Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilization was famously unkind to Naples, and Francesco inverted the very claims of historical modernity by the historical validity of custom; he didn’t need to cite Giambattista Vico’s identity of what humans made and historical truth–the “factum” was the “verum”–and among the factum included the baked, in his own affirmation of pizza-making, long before Glenn Adamson wrote, as a craft.

F. Pallizzi, “Pizzaiuolo ambulante” in Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti (1853-1866, 2 vol.)

The “world-spirit” that historian Jacob Burckhardt detected in the political independence of city life was confined for the most part to Northern Italy, perhaps replicating the prejudices of Italians he encountered in Milan, Florence, and Ravenna, not to mention Geneva. But his focus on the northern “city states” h a deep if less known counterpart in the local flourishing of Neapolitan culture even under Spanish dominance of the Bourbon monarchs, who Francesco de Bourcard’s uncle had so proudly served as a military officer. The Neapolitan pizzauolo provided a prominent place in the hundred color watercolored lithographs of the book of “colore locale,” but also a hinge from the city that hinted its ties to a globalized world that lay at the intersection with global trade.

If the image was local, it featured food salesmen hawking “fichi d’India” (prickly pears), juicy fibrous fruits native to Mexico now grown across Sicily and Catania, and peanuts (“nocelle americane“). Such local trades placed Naples at the center of a network of global food trade, if not an early globalization, the first testimonies to pizza being tied to the sailors who devoured it without cheese–marinara, or with anchovies–at Naples’ Mediterranean port, where the early arrival of cultivated tomatoes–even if naturalist Costanzo Felice admitted, in a terse confession of a work of alleged objectivity, that the yellow and red fruit are “to my taste, look much better than they taste” [al mio gusto, è pui’ presto bello che buono]; tomato sauce was first elevated to a recipe book for modern cooking in the 1690s in Naples, alla Spagnuola–Spanish style. The tomatoes that would become regulated to protect regional growth guaranteed as “DOC”–“denominazione di origine controllata e garantita“–in the region were imports.

Yet pizza became a pre-eminently Neapolitan food by the mid-nineteenth century, as vineyards of tomatoes dominated the Vesuvian plain. The ambulatory “pizza -man” was soon replaced at the cusp of modernity in a newly motorized form in postwar Naples as navigating the local streets atop a motorino

aucharbon on Twitter: "Pizzaiolo ambulante motorizzato della Pizzeria Salvo  di S.Giorgio a Cremano, Italy 1940s… "

–but was perhaps, we fear, only a prototype of an ever-widening scope of delivery–recently rolled out in drone delivery–in the ever-expanding space of fast-furious commercial transactions where all sold melts to air, unmanned drones being the ultimate sublimation of the urban face-to-face gemeinschaft, in a widening scope of delivery whose IS interfaces provide new records of fresh delivery places pizza in a cash nexus of the increased uncertainty and agitation of social relations, stretched so thin to be alienated from proprietary recipes let alone any sense of the local, as the pizza was accepted, embraced, and reprocessed within first the American and then the global food-industry, with the translation and transformation of the pizza to a food of machine-cut vegetables linked by the glue of processed cheese, that has shifted the “arts” of pizza-making to a Taylorist assembly line of food prep, removed from the kitchen or hearth, but assembled by folks working in what might be rather mechanized unskilled jobs.

The globalization of the prepared food is dissolved in money relations in markets expanding on the smooth surface by promising geolocated drops of customized orders of comfort food, fresh from the oven, the interfaces of unmanned drones guarantee to break record delivery times of piping hot “artisan” pies. The drone-delivery services, improbably named after the fossilized non-flying bird, in 2015 promised a new frontier of franchising unmanned pizza delivery systems, its software capturing the contradictions of globalized personal pie.

Drone Pizza Delivery/Business Insider

2. The global and domestic popularity of pizza has been greatly accentuated during the recent pandemic and the expansion of order-in foods to counteract isolation and working from home. But integrated delivery platforms and food preparation assembly-lines of multi-nationals dilute all proprietary relations to pizza promising global access: in modern riff on bread and circuses, is this proof the market met contentment in a promise of umami satisfaction? The unmanned drones, leaving the not-so-Italian-anyway Dodo Pizza’s Syktyvkar shop in northwestern Russia, have set record delivery times across Eurasia, breaking a frontier of “local” pizza delivery and redefining ‘pie in the sky; pizza is an apt business model to engineer incentivized IS interfaces far removed from the face-to-face, in a profaning of the local.

The praise Croce reserved for the “magnificence” of Francesco de Bourcard’s elegantly illustrated tomes responded to the omission of Naples from the other Burckhardt’s near-omission of Naples from his own richly illustrated study of book on Renaissance civilization, in which the cultural historian whose shadow must have laid across de Bourcard’s life had expanded his popular Cicerone–a work on the geography of Renaissance art that would later be used to track a sense of cultural expression–“Der kunst aber will ewig sein“–that emphasized values of universality and everlasting endurance in its common ideals and forms of expression. The centrality of “costumi” radically shifted from the written records on which Burckhardt devoted so many hours in Basel’s library to privilege the sense of the fleeting as uncovering the local meaning and truths that Burckhardt believed he could assemble from historical fragments sense of Italy. The city-states of the Renaissance were intellectually severed from food, for Burckhardt, who sought a higher form of kultur in their eager exit from medieval corporatism and individual freedom in the floating of a treasured sense of individuality that wafted far above the material in the enjoyment of artworks able to communicate passionate intensity and “open a world of intense feeling, beauty, strength, and happiness”–as a second level of creation, akin to the theological creation, a tradition of tranquil transcendence removed from the messiness of. the material marketplace. If Jakob had, at the start of his career, left Basel to work as the Parisian correspondent for the Basler Zeitung, in the 1840s, before pursuing the study of history, that may have left a deep imprint on his aesthetic tastes, in his attack on the salon as arbiter of aesthetic tastes, de Boucard developed his sense as a native information of Naples in his much longer journalistic career for the Corriere del Mattino. The later enterprise to include a hundred watercolor vignettes within the urban compendium was an ethnography of the local, rooted in the city, even if the sales of pizza have since spread not only elsewhere in Italy, but across the globe, to the extent that pizza might constitute a universal food of globalization.

The prominence of pizza as a signifier of imaginative invention, from the simplest of local produce, cultivation, pressing of oil, and milled flour, remediated the absence of attention to the pizza at its site of ‘birth,’ against the growing global currency of the pizza as a heavily subsidized and engineered food “product,” using part-skim shredded mozzarella devised in America, mass-produced tomato puree posing as a “vegetable” in school lunches, and assembly of frozen pies at a fraction of cost. The redesign of frozen pizzas as a global commodity, blurring borders, seems to affirm the absence of the local and the growth of a global flattening of sorts across borders or local foods, the food of the global that leads local cognoscenti to reveal sophistication in prizing redoubts where pizza is still hand made.

For in this context, as frozen pizza totaled a full tenth of all frozen food sales in the United States by 2010, topping $3.2 billion, a share forecast to surpass $20 billion by 2025, the non-local pizza shipped, sold, and favored across the world that has subtracted fantasy or creativity from our collective culinary horizons has brought us to remap the pizza within the Italian peninsula, and to champion the tradition of blending tomato sauce on bread as a birthplace of a global food. For the expanding consumption of pizza seemed to have proved that the world was indeed flat, delivered not only from a flat box, but reducing the globe to a pie chart of slices of global revenue, less inspired by invention than the marketing strategies that had allowed profits to grow along global “regions,” stripped of much local variation in fresh foods or fantasy of the arranging freshly cooked ingredients on a pie.

Placing pizza-making as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Naples may provoke whimsical smiles from Americans habituated to pizza as a go-to to-go food arriving in large cardboard boxes. And in the context of the globalization of pizza as a food delivered to markets worldwide, the reclaiming of a stolen identity comes late in the game indeed, akin to the restoration of the wealth and prosperity actively transferred from Palermo and Naples to Turin after their invasion joined them to the Kingdom of Victor Emanuele in 1860–recasting of the violence and backwardness, violence, and immorality of the south framed during Italy’s unification. Recognizing the local contribution of pizza-making, Italians were reminded, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in the shadow of its globalization was a national affair, rebuking the food’s global ubiquity, and pinning this most consumed food to one place on the map.

The nation got behind what was a point of local pride for the 3,000 pizzaiuoli who had declared themselves part of the “True Pizza-Makers of Naples” (Pizzaiuoli Veraci di Napoli) in local terms, as if longstanding lack of recognition remedied–affirming the global organization’s role and importance in defending pizza-making as an institution of truly global export of global import.

The Ten Best Pizzerias in Naples, Italy- possibly the best pizza in the  world

Yet the economic need to assert the centrality of the city of Naples as a sort of fons et origo for the orgy of global consumption of pizza is above all a reaction to the extent to which global consumption has transformed pizza-making as an art; while pizza is questionably able to inculcate moral virtue, the virtue of preserving the traditions of pizza making as an art was what UNESCO affirmed: not the ingredients but transmission of a pie made by the “hands, heart and soul of the pizzaiuolo,” in the words of one Neapolitan, as an alchemical stretching and turning of dough as much as its garnishing with cheese, arising from humble beginnings of feeding that morphed to satisfying a demand for the readiness whose reach, feed by food delivery apps during the global pandemic.

Has not the globalization of pizza perforce only further displaced it from its geographic origins or the locally produced foods it once expressed, so that the multiple origins of different varieties of pizza are now entertained, and the economic need to affirm the cultural capital of pizza in the depressed south becomes a real demand for the local food industry in a city whose appeals in part revolves on the perfection of pizza that is ordered in its pizzerie and restaurants? The demand to identify pizza as a patrimony of humanity responded to the remaking of pizza, long after the food’s outmigration from the Campagna or region of Naples, to affirm the artisanal traditions of pizza-making as a local tradition. The acknowledgement of pizza-making as a local craft that belonged to humanity–rather than a globalized food able to move, as if frictionlessly, across the globe, on networks of food-distribution by -engineering–claimed a sense of meaning as if pizza demanded reclaiming as a form of Intellectual Property, as if this would boost the lagging economy of the mezzogiorno, and canonically affirm the patrimony of pizza as a local good, now that it had gained global popularity as able to be discovered anywhere on the map.

The range of comments that tourists of Anglophone persuasions now bring to Neapolitan pizzas even as they make pilgrimages of quasi-spiritual zeal–“You can’t pick really it up”; “Can’t they just make it crisper?”–provokes frequent back-and forth from the locals who don’t understand the reluctance of visitors to use silverware, or to order a personal pie, but the entitled ownership of the pizza as American–or a recognized version of what was an Italian-American food–has become almost a cultural tussle over expectations about what is called a pizza, and what one wants to find in a pie: a meal, or a rush of super-refined flour coated with a dispersion of cheese and healthy toppings, often assembled in industrial terms en masse.

The taste that had become associated with the local For the pizza was long ago elevated as a new sign of the local, a slow food that had origins in the eighteenth century, if not long earlier, as a from of making meaning, whose preparation was privileged as a sign of the local customs if not moral economy of bread–if the copiously illustrated 1832 treatise on Neapolitan gesture preferred describing the gluttony of Neapolitans for food foregrounded roasted “Indian corn,” alluringly sold from boiling cauldrons for a soldo, and mimed for barter by the ear by female street vendors, or the macaroni eaters devouring platefuls of pasta removed directly from cauldrons of water, suspending six pounds pasta “twisting and writing . . . as if they were descending from heaven” above their open throats “in the correct perpendicular position,” that entered the open esophagus without an interval between mouthfuls, pizza was not featured as so gesturally rich. Pizza was less theatrically eaten, but the absence of the dance of selling pizza reserved to ambulatory vendors, by balancing cylindrical coal stoves on their heads with shelves that warmed round bread boasting the appetizing nature of the tomatoes Europe had largely disdained as inedible led the Neapolitan by adoption, Francesco de Bourcard, to describe the variety of pizzas sold on Naples’s streets by 1853 as nonetheless a central part of everyday Neapolitan life. The Swiss patrician transplant from Basel’s patrician families was not slumming when he boasted his adopted city to sell pizzas from tomatoes increasingly used for cooking, garlic, oil, and oregano, in varieties as well as anchovies, lard, grated cheese, and basil, or thinly sliced mozzarella, prosciutto, or clams, whose base was not only tomato–a resilience and some sprezzatura predating pizza rossa or preparing a rich tomato base. Tossing pizza dough demanded skill, was less a gestural dialogue, and indeed far less a transatlantic import than a remaking of the meaning and preparation of pizza as a pie.

The distance of these appetizing pies marketed in the pizza chains and stores that dot New York streets are not only different from the pies made in Italy (or born in Naples), but a food that celebrate the upscale indulgence pizza continues to provide as a gigantic confection of pleasurable indulgence, even with the illusion of healthy vegetables.

3. The distance of such upscale chains from Neapolitan pizzas is of course not only geographic, but suggests a new land of pizza, as much as a new pizza for a New World of food consumption. The Basel patrician transplant Francesco de Bourcard, who loved his adopted city of Naples, respected by local historians, including Croce, for his fluency with local manners–no doubt in contrast with the uncle who had idolized northern Italy as a sight of the transmission of a vital classical heritage of civic independence, by tapping into the street life and customs of Naples to fill a copious catalogue of encomiastic character that speaks tot he modern pizza lover in unique ways. The prominent place Bourcard gave to the popularity of pizza-making is one of the first references to a custom Vico may himself have appreciated and knew well, even if it fell beneath Jacob’s wide ranging purview–for Francesco, the streets of Naples offered an important alternative to Basel’s library. In keeping with its focus on the customs of his adopted city of Napes, the younger de Bourcard quite prominently featured a pizza seller as central part of Naples’ fabric and local economy, broadcasting the figure of the pizzaiuolo to a lettered tradition that prefigured the inclusion of pizza-sellers among the images of street scenes that were widely sold in nineteenth century Naples to portray the repertory of urban profession so distinctive to the south, long before pizza was widely consumed outside the Campania, and before many Europeans ate tomatoes or viewed the nightshades as an edible fruit.

Francesco Pallizzi, in de Bourcard, Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti (1853), Vol. II British Library

The inexpensive production of tomatoes on the volcanic plains of Campania may have allowed them to produce a satisfactory meal or tasty treat. The third generation of Swiss Burckhardts residing in Naples, since his grandfather Emmanuele (1744-1820) had arrived in service to Ferdinand IV, founding a line of Burckhardts never to return to the old Basel manse, would have despaired at the apparent provincialism with which Jacob looked down his nose at Norman Italy in his account of “rediscovery” of classical culture and modern politics. For Jacob Burckhardt, the inhabitants of Naples remained in another age, “destitute of will” and stuck in Spanish ways, less economically or commercially adroit, without elegance of movement, and diminished by criminality and impiety arising from the “cheapness of human life”: Francesco’s celebration of the democracy of everyday Naples as if a rapprochement of Naples to cultural history, if not Renaissance art, citing the three variety of Neapolitan pizza, as a cicerone of the local than connoisseur of”high” art Jacob saw as fundamental to an individual’s cultural formation.

The place of pizza as a cultural monument was in other words long contested, and up for debate. Francesco de Bourcard did not praise pizza was as a democratic food of sailors who preferred marinara, but a sense of deep democracy comes through in his discussion of the pizzaiuolo who serves this peasant bread as the needed snack for working Neapolitans, even if he hawked his wares with few gestures. Is the pizza man who hawks several varieties of pizza a figure of modernity avant la lettre? De Bourcard’s pizza-man is wistfully rooted in place with no ken of coming global appeal: a ruddy pizzaiuolo hawks wares on the side of the street, almost a tragic figure offering slices of pizza and calzone by a gas lamp, well-insulated in a cappotto, not surrounded by crowds. Behind his wooden table from which he sold pizza, his apparent melancholy stands in sharp contrast and is unlike the remaking of pizza as a global commodity, at the intersection of food markets and space, driven by the comfort food or the pleasures offered by a marginal trade. De Boucard elevated the cultural figure of the pizza maker on Neapolitan streets, as part of the local social fabric of Naples, in a book on “customs” of Naples and Neapolitans echoing Vico in its insistence on telling the history of the usi e costumi. Perhaps the theatricality of the pizza-maker who spins, throws, and tosses dough was so concealed in its gestures that they hardly bore revealing as a social type.

The resulting urban anthropology of the city that his removed cousin, the historian Jacob Burckhardt, conspicuously omitted from his study of the Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy–or indeed cited Naples often in his panoramic purview of the arts and sciences in Die Cultur. While the streets of Naples that the local erudite de Bourcard sketched as populated by pizzaiuoli and other merchants were eviscerated in the 1880s, in large part by public health fears of cholera, by Italy’s first monarch, as if the preference for pizza by his consort, Queen Margherita, compensated for emptying the city’s hold heart–vico delle Campane, vico Rotto San Carlo, vico Sant’Antonio Abate–that were replaced by large boulevards by the 1890s, destroying many of the houses of pizzeria founded since 1850. The pizza was a form of one’s orientation to Naples’ streets, and street life, after all, sold by vendors who carried coal ovens wrapped in balanced under coils of wet towels; pizza was a local variation on Mediterranean round bread. The prized pizza was heir to the bread all Roman subjects were all entitled, a democratic food of Naples unlike those Romans graded breads by social rank, from the panis civilis to which all citizens, panis plebeius of plebs and panis sordidus of slaves, to the panis palatius of the Caesars; pizza was a step above the panis gradilis distributed for free on the steps of Rome’s Coliseum.

Even without cheese, pizza was as sort of social glue, a food of the piazza, its making no doubt as important as the collective nature of its consumption, and the common street scene of pizza-sellers eagerly hawking their edible wares and freshly baked foods, still warm from the oven. Was pizza the glue of a silent social compact, born of a sense of the dignity of the consumption of local foods, long before it was sold in multiple variations for upscale Americans at Whole Foods, trying to address consumers seeking the low-calorie satisfying dinner fix?

Perhaps no gestures were required for the Neapolitan hawking pizza to passersby for ready consumption in the 1830s was sold as one of the picturesque “street-views” of professions in Naples, in a precursor to the pizza slice, chef’s hat, and long white apron, occupying a clear social role held in an urban environment–and conducting a quintessential face-to-face encounter on a Neapolitan street promising a populist mini-meal, prepared with pride even if served on a improvised wooden stand.

As the most democratic form of food, the spread of pizza seemed a sort of social equivalence, and a social glue even if the binding agent is shredded low-fat mozzarella coated with vegetable oil. Pizza has become far flatter as pizza chains have gained increasing profits, artisanal shops claiming an imaginary pedigree of the local and the fresh, or promising a reduced sense of fresh, as if the pie has come to be a platform of tomatoey tang from the oven provides a basis to promote savoring freshness in a world already inundated with fast food, an industry that runs on recognizability of flavors and tastes.

The open-mouthed winsome pizzaiuolo seeking customers hardly suggests a high art, but as a food of transience, for those on the run, before the back door of a bakery, emerged from an unseen kitchen, ready to cut slices on his wooden plank from freshly cooked calzoni to all passersby, an egalitarian food in a city of pretensions to upper class elegance in the early nineteenth century, in an unintentionally mournful image that seems, when viewed through the lens of history, to be read as a cry for pizza’s lost soul given the current remove of pizza not only from history but from localized production.

Neapolitan “Venditore di Pizza” with Apron, Gaetano Dura 1825

It is hard to tell what the distinctively garbed yellow vested pizzaiolo is serving up, but it is definitely by slice–“New York” style–and ready for quick consumption, probably ferried right out of the oven lying behind the door before which he stands, hawking his wears as loudly as his choker allows without loosing decorum. I’d venture it was bearing anchovy fillets and onions, two conspicuous toppings, and it doesn’t seem to show any of the distinctive tomato sauce that we most always tie to pizza today. The important thing is that it is hot, fresh from the oven, and good.

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Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

Effigies of stability are, at times, the closest that one can hope for the manufacture of a sense of stability in the nation. When Donald J. Trump used the White House as a backdrop from which to accept the Republican Party’s nomination as presidential candidate in 2020, he noted that the seat of executive power “has been the home of larger-than-life figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson, who rallied Americans to bold visions of a bigger and brighter future,” in ways that reveal his own aspirations to monumentality, and their proximity to his decision to enter political life. As Trump had once confided in 1990 that he regarded Trump Tower as but a “prop” to create the show that was Donald Trump to sold-out performances,the border wall had afforded a prop of Presidential authority.

The readiness with which Trump used Mt Rushmore as a prop to speak to the nation on Independence Day, 2020, or the White House to address the Republican Convention, revealed an interest in the preservation of statues as loci of authority–and his enmity of identifying as Cancel Culture the criticism of monuments of Confederates, or of Columbus, John Wayne, or of the Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee. Donald Trump’s cultivation of the monumental may have led to a readiness as a candidate for President to seek out the Border Wall. If it is almost a chicken-and-egg question whether the demand for the wall drove his candidacy or he conjured the spatial imaginary of the wall, the proposal was seized on during the dark years of the Trump presidency as a prop to reveal his commitment to national security far beyond tariffs, trade conventions, and trade wars and revive his presidency or lagging candidacy in what seemed a six year campaign. If the border wall was the marquis event of the Trump Presidency, a site to burnish his legacy and his commitment to ideals, it was by no means the sole prominent he tried to insert in the landscape.

Although the addition of a statue of Columbus to the Manhattan skyline was focussed on the microcosm of Manhattan, the first theater of Trump’s public fortunes, the case of the towering bronze statue to an imperious Christopher Columbus, that one-time icon of Italian-American identity, already attacked from the early 1990s, when Trump first floated the possibility of its erection on his properties as a gift from the Russian Federation in 1997. The statue that Boris Yeltsin had proposed Bill Clinton accept as a gift for the Columbian quincentennial was seized upon by Trump in the years that he sought to revive his flagging fortunes in Manhattan as a monument to place his stamp on the urban skyline he identified, regularly drawing on cocktail napkins, with a sharpie, as if he was coveting its gleaming buildings as a young realtor from Queens.

Donald Trump, 2008

The addition of the planned statue of the Genoese navigator had been routinely rejected as a part of the American imaginary by many groups as early as 1997–the year Honduran indigenous destroyed a statue of Columbus to condemn the project of Spanish colonization, five hundred and five years after the fact, beheading the monument, painting it red to recognize the blood it bore, and throwing it into the ocean, in what had become a ritual desecration of monuments to Columbus since the quincentenary of 1992. The fabrication of the statue in Moscow may have predated the protest movements to remove statues in Britain of Topple the Racists, but reached for a discredited iconography of supremacy at the moment Columbus had been widely questioned as a figure of American identity–but when Trump felt that he might make a deal for the acceptance of a monument that would appeal to the recently elected Italian American mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. The monument he offered to plant on his properties he was developing on the Hudson River estuary, above Upper New York Bay, near midtown, Harbor, above the Statue of Liberty that rises in the Upper Bay from Beddoes’ Island, would hardly have been precedented for a private residence. But Trump’s sense of combining territoriality of the lands of the old train yards on the expanded west side of Manhattan with a demand for glitz seems to have led him to agree to the deal for erecting a statue, some fifteen feet taller would have provided an improbably gigantic statuary, even if the landfill of his new housing development could probably not sustain its massive weight–yet the image of the massive statue promoting a performative icon of global rule, not long before the first time Roger Stone openly fashoned Donald Trump’s candidacy for President.

Roger Stone holding a Trump 2000 campaign poster

The ill-fated story of the attempted transatlantic voyage of this perversion of a Modern Colossus, a triumphant image of the fifteenth century navigator’s imperious gaze, glorified the imperious form of the navigator without a map or compass, but shows him atop a small caravel, behind three massive billowing flags bearing crosses that concretize his claims to have brought Christianity to the New World, glorifying the man who began the slave trade from the Americas, desperate to turn a profit on his second voyage–who never set foot on the continental United States, let alone approached New York harbor. The imperious view of this statue’s grim visage, an assemblage of sorts, first designed to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ expedition made out of 2,500 pieces of bronze and steel manufactured in Russia, cast in 3 different foundries, was assembled in 2016, just after Trump’s election, some 25 years after its first conception, but at a towering two hundred and sixty-eight feet would tower over the sixty meter iron column on which Columbus stood in Barcelona, erected for the 1888 University Exposition, shortly after the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor in 1885, or the seventy-six foot column on which Columbus stands in midtown Manhattan, adorned with bronze miniatures of the three ships of the Genoese navigator’s first voyage, the Nino Pinto and Santa Maria, planned in 1890 and unveiled in 1892. Unlike the image of the Genoese navigator holding nautical charts and pointing to the Atlantic in Barcelona, or the image of Columbus with a compass or globe, in period costume, this Columbus stares over the land, saluting imagined inhabitants akin to a Caesar. More than encountering natives, as the bas-relief in Manhattan or Barcelona, Columbus in “Birth of the New World” evokes a figure with aspirations to global dominance, removed from time or space, a thoroughly post-modern figure of the discoverer who lacks maps, as if he followed inborn GPS.

His gaze is imperious, but does not scan the seas, or shore, but seems to ahve arrived with a new sense of entitlement, inflected by three royal crosses behind him, and in the relative immobility of his posture and weight, facts that Trump must have noticed or seen in a mock-up when it was suggested as a gift to the realtor who was negotiating the placement of Trump Tower in Moscow, and saw fit to place on the lot of the planned luxury apartments he had been promoting in Manhattan, as another second act to Trump Tower, when his fortunes and global capital were in decline, having just declared a loss in 1995 of $916 billion desperate to relieve some of his debt devised a deal forgiving half of the $110 million he owed, per Wall Street Journal, escaping his creditors in ways Fortune called truly “Houdini-like” and was eager to create a needed simulacrum of monumentality for the Trump brand that would magnify his own personal wealth in Manhattan and on the global playing field, as he aimed to $916 million loss he posted for 1995, or the millions he had been hemorrhaging of the value of Trump International that was rolled out in 1997, in an attempt to eclipse the filing for bankruptcy of Trump Taj Mahal in 1991, by securing a new monument of global conquest.

‘Birth of a New World’ by Zurab Tsereteli/ Arecibo, Puerto Rico -John Alex Maguire/REX/Shutterstock

This giant statue was the first time in the final months of his Presidency, Donald Trump seemed to bond again with the symbolic status of statues as patriotic memorial, so that by May, 2020, during the social justice riots after George Floyd’s killing, he felt oddly impelled to affirm, almost repeatedly, the litany of statues, memorials, commemorations, or neoclassical monuments. From May of that year, he linked the eulogizing of statuary was paired with the end of the “downsizing of America’s identity” to the national wealth “soaring” an additional twelve trillion, concealed in increasing wealth inequality, describing funds “pouring into neglected neighborhoods,” presenting the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, and “reaffirming our heritage” by in the State of the Union, lionizing the heroism of Americans as if a casting call for the Garden of National Heroes he suggested on July 4, 2020: Generals–Pershing, Patton, and MacArthur–and noble frontier figures like Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett, and other heroes of the Alamo, or the Pilgrims from Plymouth Rock, largely white men, lamenting the lack of heroic statues, rather than affirming a commitment to living humans, and expressing shock and dismay at the attacks on neoclassical statues. Trump had returned as soon as he was elected President to reassert the place the Genoese navigator occupied in a proclamation celebrating Columbus Day the second Monday of October, praising his “commitment to continuing . . . quest to discover . . . the wonders of our Nation,” and, in fact, the “wonders of our nation, world, and beyond,” as if the navigator was indeed a basis for the proclamation of the future vision of the nation, as if replacing the vision of the nation in that other Modern Colossus of the Statue of Liberty, modernizing Manifest Destiny by praising the navigator for having “tamed a continent,” if he had barely arrived at one.

The planned monument was never built. But it evoked a mythos of manifest destiny many found a surprising embrace as a way to “reaffirm our values and affirm our manifest destiny” in the early days of the Trump Presidency. But Trump seemed to affirm his mysterious attachment to global transit of profits in the allegedly cost-free transport of a massive piece of statuary to be built on the Hudson River’s shores as a new way to claim public prominence for his lagging fortunes, jsut years before he first put his hat into a Presidential primary and declared his interest and possible intention to be United States President, as if to familiarize the nation with an idea that was striking by its improbability. The Hudson River, Donald Trump announced to the American press, was in fact the very site where “The mayor of Moscow . . . would like to make a gift to the American people,” a site to erect the massive statuary entitled “Birth of the New World.” He eagerly let it leak to the press after his return from Russia in 1997 that he would be instrumental in the arrival of a new monument for the city’s skyline, based on his negotiations with Russian oligarchs, and that the project hard to imagine as an extension of his own interests to immediately raise eyebrows of a tie: “It would be my honor if we could work it out with the City of New York!” While Trump International was a chain of luxury residences, the elevation of the statue as an image that confirmed his luxury residences as a global attraction were no doubt far closer in his mind than the consensus the new public statuary would imply. Did he realize that the gift was already rejected by two sitting presidents, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, who were approached by what was an ostensible gift of friendship for the quincentenary of Columbus? His image of a new logo for Trump International to show its global ambitions, unveiled in 1997, at Columbus Circle, has an eery parallel to the interest in adopting Columbus as a mascot for his new luxury housing chain, oblivious to the impropriety of placing a triumphant statuary of Christopher Columbus at his own other midtown properties, as if to personalize the contested icon of what had become a disputed and quite loaded figure of global triumphalism–a figure that was almost literally from another time.

4118-NYC-Columbus Circle.JPG

Trump bemoaned desecration of the monumental on the eve of leaving office addressing in his final rally, on January 6, 2021, bemoaning what he saw as rage against monuments, not a re-questioning of their significance, and cultivating an eery silence on escalating police violence. The danger of disturbance of monuments was only stopped by a law and order affirmation, lest, he taunted, “they’ll knock out Lincoln too,” necessitating the sentences for desecrating statues–“You hurt our monuments, you hurt our heroes, you go to jail“–to restrain the beheading, toppling, or besmirching with red paint of public monuments of confederates, slave holders, and colonizers in all fifty states, including the 1,749 statues of confederates that the Southern Poverty Law Center estimate were standing in the United States in 2019, 1,500 supported by the US government grounds; a sixth of monuments to confederates erected mostly in the Jim Crow era lie in black-majority counties, totems of a past white supremacist culture President Trump had found much support. As the call for the removal of statues that natauralize if not celebrate racism as part of the American social fabric, the reconsideration of confederate statues long prominent in many cities seems to have provoked Trump’s outspoken support for the very same statues as a sign of patriotism.

The statue of the instigator of the slave trade, Christopher Columbus, had claimed a special place in the political emergence of Donald Trump, and in the revaluation of public monuments, form the the civic fraying of debate about the status of Columbus that dates from the early 1991, when indigenous protests against the commemoration of Columbus began, and the proclamation in some cities by 1992 of Indigenous People’s Day. Trump’s attachment to the monumental an an emergence that seemed deeply tied to his desire for the monumental placement of an icon that might command statement was long tied to an aspiration for recognition: Trump claims to have long dreamed he might appear on Mt. Rushmore, perhaps explaining the ubiquity of his name on his buildings, and the satisfaction he drew from that. But the escalation of his drive for the monumental–and, indeed, his hopes for a border wall that might bear his name– may have began, not with his inauguration, but just after Trump Tower, in 1990, when Trump was flailing around for attention and for ways to escape his debtors, and negotiated the arrival from Russia of a monumental statue he imagined would stand in New York harbor–which Trump probably argued was the apt location for “Birth of the New World,” a monument two past Presidents of the United States had turned down, but Donald Trump, eager to please Russians, promised he would erect.

While Columbus was Genoese, and long a confirmation of Italian American pride, the image of a monumental figure of male Christian government that the Tsereteli statue, removed from time and space, staked an over the top monument of an image of the white, male figure of state we might long associate with Trump, a figure numerous American cities would rebuff in the 1990s, before it was relocated to Puerto Rico. The proposed statue marked Trump’s first flirtation with a statement of political monumentalism, inspired by ties to Russian oligarchs who patronized the deeply orthodox Georgian sculptor who had designed the towering neoclassical figure of a heroic navigator for “Birth of the New World.”

The monumental size of the statue of the navigator long deemed an icon of national genius was to upstage the monumental Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, at the end of the estuary, celebrating in monumental form the heroism of the navigator, more a symbol of rapaciousness and plunder but recast in bronze in monumental size as a liberator and conquistador of new lands that, before Trump appeared on Reality TV, would broadcast his achievement and Trump’s munificence on the skyline of New York to all its residents. Columbus would be cast in a new level of monumentality, and even aspire to the new language and logic of monumentality to which Donald Trump had aspired. While it is not clear why the monument did not advance, one suspects that Trump’s eagerness to accept the monumental statue of the Genoese navigator forged in Moscow’s oldest smelting furnaces, founded by Catherine the Great, and designed by the Georgian Zurab Tseretelli, would have been placed on landfill in a Trump project in the landfill of the trainyards in the Hudson estuary, unable to support the ponderous bronze assemblage weighing 660 tons–the ballpark figure Trump cited that oddly hovered near the number of the beast.

Sheet of 1916 map of New York City Freight Yard Trump Desired to Situate Gifted Monument, “Birth of the New World”

Did the negotiation of a figure of rapaciousness as a symbol of the nation find its way to the sponsorship of Donald Trump only by chance? The image of a white conqueror that Russian elites offered to Donald Trump at the same time as he pursued ways to export his brand to the post-Soviet oligarchs in a gambit for greater monumentality was a moment when Trump’s language of monumentality–the expansion of Trump Properties to Trump International and the expansion of Trump Tower in Manhattan to a possible chain of Trump Towers in global capitals–suggested a stagecraft of hotel promoting that was met by a triumphalism of staking his foray into national politics by rehabilitating the figure of Columbus as a hero of globalism and economic conquest that would dwarf the figure of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, as if to cement the gift of Russian oligarchs beyond the French Republicans.

The timing of such an encomia to the rapaciousness of the Genoese navigator as an emblem of global economic ties was perfect. At the very time that Columbus’ celebration as a national hero was being questioned, that the post-Soviet government of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had once offered a sitting American president–and attempted to offer to a second–that Trump, during a visit to Moscow ostensibly to plan a new residential tower on Red Square, acceded to being amenable to erect on shorefront properties he was developing. But perhaps the biggest irony of Donald Trump’s attempt to promote this monumental statue was that it was a way of selling his own success to an American public, at a time when he was in fact surrounded by mounting debt, having trafficked in debts for most of the 1980s, and in need of an illustration of triumphalism to promote his own pet project of a new West Side development, that would be the site where he proposed the statue of the navigator who had claimed to “discover the New World” was planned to be erected.

If Trump had argued that Trump Tower demanded recognition as “the eight wonder of the world,” the statue of Columbus that he sought to importing to the banks of the Hudson River, or the landfill of the former railway yards where he projected an exclusive new luxury complex, provided a possible basis to erect the monumental bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, designed by Soviet sculptor Zurab Tseretelli, a Georgian member of the Orthodox church, far larger than the statue of Columbus in the act of sighting land from atop a column in Barcelona, in 1997, before two sails billowing with wind, each decorated with a cross, in the act of bearing Christianity to the New Wold as an agent of the Royal Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella. This invocation of the myth of transatlantic travel–Columbus had never visited New York, sailed in the Hudson, or on North America, save Caribbean islands, had grown in 1892 as part of an American decision to stake claim to the theater of Central American islands as a province of hegemony. As the monarchs were storing all maps of routes to the New World as tools of global power, the throwback image of a Columbus offered a basis for Trump to set his sites on global markets, by 1997, far outside New York, and provided one of the strongest ties between Trump and Russia, as Donald was hoping to build an outpost for a newly branded Trump International, by an actual monument that would have been the tallest statue in the western hemisphere to affirm the global scale of his enterprise.

But the image of this immense statue of a robed Columbus who would be saluting Mnhatttan Island, would be a theatrical addition to the six luxury towers he was planning on the West Side, at a time when Trump was all but crumbling under debt. Would the image of Columbus, shown saluting Manhattan Island and perhaps hailing the towers of Trump and the foreign capital that had funded their construction, as the Russian-made statue that Trump brokered was billed as arriving in New York fully paid for, with oligarchs covering the cost of its transport and construction, aside from the installation of the behemoth on the landfill where Trump planned to build. How the monumental statue would appear on the New York skyline, or be integrated with Trump residences, was never apparently discussed let alone described, so much did Trump trust the sense of theatricality that the erection of the statue would immediately add to his image in the city, which was in need of considerable rehabilitation.

The statue met Trump’s insatiable taste for monumentality, even if the image of Columbus as an elitist mariner and royal emissary was about as out o step with the histroical image of Columbus or his place in a democratic tradition. Columbus stood as if arriving and claiming possession over a nation, echoed a belief in manifest destiny that was more than out of step with the times. It idealized a sense of conquest and of rapaciousness as American, if the recalibration of the legacy of Columbus as a national hero had been percolating across the nation for some years, as many questioned whether the navigator who had been heroized by Italian immigrants as an icon of their ties to the nation of America and an image of their own whiteness, was now reclaimed as a logic of the capitalism of plunder, materialism, and enrichment, rather than the social and civic order that the image of Lady Liberty, standing atop the chains of enslavement, was intended to communicate.

Unlike the stoic monuments of Columbus as a world traveller, the statue of the emissary who arrived in classical robes was an odd appeal to a type of classical statuary, togaed and raising his right hand in a gesture of imperial salute, to exchange for the entry of Trump Properties to Moscow, Is this triumphal image of Columbus not an image of enrichment, as much as Christianization, and image of neoclassical monumentality who masks the violence of disenfranchisement and conquest! In raising one hand worthy of Mussolini more than Augustus, the sttue all but invoked a “Doctrine of Discovery” to lay claims to the New World, unlike Liberty,. For the figure of Columbus lays claim to the ownership of the land and its rulership by a sort of Christian militarism, without a book of laws or declaration, or respect for laws, viewing the nation from atop a small symbolic caravel. It did not make a difference that this figure was so dramatically ahistorical, with his hand on an anachronistic rotary wheel, without a compass, sighting device, or indeed a map.to navigate or to conquer and stake his claim.

The monument did not have need of either–if all are the tools included in Columbus statuary, for it was actively rewriting history and memory alike. In the service of a banal monumentality, closely recalling the cartoonish monuments that Zurab Tseretelli had helped erect across Moscow, and send to different posts in the world including Paris and New York, the oddly cartoonish navigator is ostensibly a new map of the nation, as well as a new image of global power that had been offered to American Presidents as a gift of the post-Soviet, but that Presidents Bush and Clinton had alike demurred, perhaps seeing something unsavory in selecting a gift form a Russian President as an image of the American nation. This image famously appealed to Donald Trump, who savored its monumentality, the reputation of the lauded Russian Georgian sculptor Zurab Konstantinovitch Tsereteli, and his reputation for controversial monumental art. Trump had a high tolerance for what might be called kitsch of opaque monumentalism. The frozen figure of Columbus removed from time and place is an assertion in empty air, a floating signifier that only seemed to float, standing on a ship in triumph, a made-in-Moscow massive icon of unheard of magnitude, that would be destined to the largest in the western hemisphere. This project to re-monumentalize the image of Columbus in the act of magisterially surveying a continent on which he had barely set foot, as if to justify claiming the conversion of the New World’s inhabitants, offered a claim for Trump’s own arrival on a global stage, funded by underwater financial currents, laundered funds, and foreign backers–many of whom seem to have continued to support his candidacy in a bid to be US President in 2016 and 2020, often through the same contact that Trump wanted Russian oligarchs to talk about the statue’s arrival, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Donald Trump was more familiar with identifying himself with a monument–witness how he became identified with the “prop” of Trump Tower that maps that became a primary residence, a site of his corporation, and a studio set for his Reality TV shows, Trump wanted a monument that would announce his status on a global stage, allowed him to rehabilitate him as he emerged from a mountain of debt, and solidify the claims for a new monument in Moscow, a new Trump Tower a decade later, for which the agreement was to be greased in transactional fashion by the acceptance of an odd statue of Columbus that would effectively remap the nation for Trump’s personal gain. The first second act after Trump Tower, first announced in 1980 as a triumph of the urban skyline, would be erection of an image of Columbus that would similarly dominate the urban skyline, sacrificing debate about an icon of the nation and indeed national identity to meet an undying thirst for monumentalism.

And if Trump repeatedly staked his later Presidential candidacy on his ability to provide the nation with a new monument, a monument to inspire renewed faith in the “sacred bonds of state and its citizens,” as he promised when he unveiled a plan to cut e legal immigration by half soon after his election in 2017, he announced he would run for U.S. President from the atrium of Trump Tower, the nerve center of Trump International, by staking his bonds to television viewers across. the nation by the promise “I would build a great wall,” as a concrete barrier along the United States’ southern border, winking acknowledging “nobody builds walls better than me, believe me” as if referring to the monumental atrium where he spoke. If Trump repeated the claim “I know how to build” and “I am a builder” in an upbeat optimism of the nation, as if the talismanic power of Trump Tower established the legitimacy of his ability to deliver on global wealth to deliver fantastic power, if not a personal fantasy, as he consciously deployed the Tower as an image of power, making good on the promise to deliver a building of unprecedented desirability to Americans and height to the New York skyline as he navigated its construction from 1979 to 1983, the potential addition of a statue of Columbus, the colonizer converted to a heroic figure and White Christian Man, int he 1990s provided perhaps more than a road not taken.

The entrance of this monumental Columbus, proposed for the estuary of the Hudson River, where Henry Hudson, himself in fact once an agent, as it happened, for the Muscovy Company, arrived in New York Harbor in 1609, but Columbus never approached or sailed, would be the first great international showpiece Trump would have promoted as his realty company was pivoting global, by rebranding and expanding as Trump International, on a global stage, as a showman seeking the least modest image of grandiosity able to be imagined. If Robert Musil, the Austrian novelist and critic, had in 1925 imagined that one often passes urban monuments “without [having] the slightest notion of whom they are supposed to represent, except maybe knowing they are men or women,” as you walk around the pedestals of statues that in their remove from the urban environment almost repel attention, leading our glance to roll off, and repelling the very thing they are meant to attract as water drops off an oilcloth, the showpiece that Trump was aspiring to bring to his Hudson River properties would cast Donald Trump as presenting a new image of the nation. The fantasy that Moscow fed Donald Trump to Americans was modeled, like the Statue of Liberty, after the Wonder of the World of the Colossus of Rhodes, was difficult to deny for a man who had declared Trump Tower a Wonder of the World, and attempted to replicate a second global wonder in Atlantic City in Trump Taj Mahal, recently built for $1.2 billion as “the eighth wonder of the world,” but the 360-foot bronze statue of Columbus Russian oligarchs had promised to deliver was. a monument he seems to have siezed on to promote his own public prominence in Manhattan.

Trump’s promise of the size of the statue and its ostensible value–$40 million!–would be a sort of windfall that would serve as a small downpayment on the $916 million loss he posted for 1995, or the millions he had been hemorrhaging of the value of Trump International as Trump Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy in 1991, or the deals he had cut with banks that unloaded his personal debt for about $55 million–half of what he owed, in what Fortune had marveled was a  “Houdini-like escape” from his creditors, having walked away from personal debts to relaunch his hopes for a real estate empire without the encumbrance of any federal tax claims at all. The monument to Columbus would relaunch his brand, Its size concealing that Trump’s increased search attracted illicit flows of Russian money in hard times to puff up his grandeur and indulge his vanity, in the guise of promoting patriotism, even if the image of Columbus it would advance. At the same time as Giuliani proclaimed Trump’s “genius” during his later Presidential run was revealed in his ability to financially rebound from the devastating indebtedness of 1995, the statue of Columbus would be a similar dissimulation. The massive statue–taller than the Statue of Liberty!–would be an illustration of his ability to create a “comeback,” and to reburnish his public citizenship. The statue transposed from a register of patriotism to promoting a residence would have been the fulfillment of Trump’s past plans to create on the same site the very tallest building in the world of seventy-six stories– complimented by a statue the tallest in the western hemisphere, whose maquette Trump had already presented publicly with paternal pride. The spire of the newly planned central tower would dance in dialogue with a statue of the discoverer, a sort of grotesque dialogue of monumentality commanding global attention, demanding that the world recognize Trump’s return to the top of his game and reclaiming his status as a global real estate developer.

Trump with Murphy/Jahn Model for Television City, 1985/1988

Hopes for marking the complex to be named Riverside South on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City of a monumental bronze statue of the fifteenth-century navigator Christopher Columbus cast in Russia–“Look on my works, ye might, and despair!“–adopted colossal statuary of a figure Trump has affirmed as central to the nation–and preparing for its settlement by Europeans as President as a promotional illustration of his latest property’s value and its status as a global destination. in a new language of architectural monumentality, unsurpassed world wide, a showpiece that would be a credible second act for Trump Tower that would supersede the tower Trump had planted in the New York skyline with an even more monumental eyesore that no one in Manhattan could ignore.

Trump declared himself considering a Presidential run in 1988 to Oprah, offhand, and was perhaps destined to intersect with the boondoggle of a statue offered to President Clinton and President Bush in 1990 and 1994, respectively, who seem to have demurred or declined the grotesque statue that they saw mostly in models, one of which was brought to the White House by Boris Yeltsin in 1990. If the prototype was sent to the Knights of Columbus in Maryland, destined for the harbor, the small model that was on offer at an auction house in Florida suggests the circulation that the proposal for this statue of a man on a boat, the very incarnation of individual agency in relation to the New World, removed from any networks of power or of funding, was intended to make: the odd figurine foregrounding the navigator’s agency unsurprisingly fell on deaf ears, but the token of globalism appealed to Trump, so delusionally sure of his own genius as a realtor to win a statue to take home to New York.

The megalomaniac sculptor Tsereteli fashions himself as a builder for new global emperors, and invested Columbus in a roman toga, as he would Peter the Great, in the colossal monument that finally appeared in Puerto Rico near San Juan off the shore in Arecibo, far closer to the Genoese navigator’s actual itinerary, after the megalomaniac sculptor had shopped it around the globe, hoping the ridiculous sculpture would be realized.

Trump, laden with debt at this point in his life, would have seen in the statue the opportunity for global symbolism, able to restore his public reputation and image of public citizenship in New York, and balance the exclusivity of dwellings destined to be removed from the city and for the superrich with a front of civic generosity and showmanship. While the maquette of Tseretelli’s statue was probably glimpsed while he was in Moscow, Trump was quick to adopt the monument of Columbus as something of a pet project that he might advance his hopes for a Moscow hotel and tower to Moscow’s corrupt mayor and other post-Soviet oligarchs, promoting a gigantic statue of the Genoese navigator in 1997 he imagined might benefit from an assist from then newly-elected mayor Rudy Giuliani, who Trump must have imagined would comply with the role of past mayors in acceding to the bending of local regulations and zoning requirements to arrange sites for his Manhattan buildings. Trump was for his part happy to promote the arrival of the monumental statue as if it was imminently impending, as a true showman, telling Michael Gordon of the New York Times with satisfaction that “[the deal]’s already been made,” while not mentioning the Russian offer had been rejected by two American presidents, allowing “it would be my honor if we could work it out [that the statue be erected] with the City of New York,” on a stretch of landfill he promoted for his properties, as if he had brokered a deal on behalf of the city, only requiring the Mayor to sign off. The Master of the Art of the Deal boasted a done deal, anticipating approval of Giuliani to erect the 660 tons of bronze that he claimed valued at $40 million, on the development site where Tseretelli ostensibly desired it be located, in anticipation of the completion of the stalled construction project that he hoped would be a display of super-wealth for residential towers to be built, in hopes that they would find their counterpart in a monumental prop of global kitsch.

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Sculptor Zurab Tsereteli Showing Possible Situation of Columbus Monument in 1999

It is apt the monument was relocated to Puerto Rico, on whose shores the historical Columbus actually set foot, and renamed from anisland known by Taíno inhabitants as Borikén (Spanish Boriquen), “land of the brave lord,” to a city named after Saint John the Baptist. The commemoration of Columbus in San Juan occurred only in 1893, to be mirrored in the new centennial by the 2016 outsized statue largely visible to luxury liners arriving at or departing San Juan.

Although the “Birth of the New World” was never built near New York, the promise of the arrival of the statue, first planned to coincide with the quincentenary of the Columbian voyage, but long languishing in storage lockers on both sides of the Atlantic, demands exploration as a moment to examine the trust Trump placed on a monument albeit a second-hand one forged in Moscow, for staging his own triumphant return to a global stage. No one had ever seen so large a statue of Columbus–the figurine that survives which the sculptor seems to have made to shop around the discarded project–but the idea of redeeming an image of pompous grandiosity from the dustbin of history on the properties he sought to developed on the West Side in the mid-1990s, when he was clawing himself back to a place on the global stage, was a new fantasy project that Trump had hoped to sell the the nation. The plans to erect the monumental statue, double the height of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro, preceded his project to run as a candidate for President with the Reform Party, a fledgling renegade party begun by former Television Star and World Wrestler Jesse Ventura, later placed in Puerto Rico in all its 6,500 tons of bronze, on the port city of Arecibo, shortly before Trump was elected U.S. President, was a fantasy project that

Birth of a New World’ byZurab Tsereteli in Arecibo, Puerto Rico/ John Alex Maguire/REX/Shutterstock (5736251i)

1. The triumphalism of the statue of Columbus he boasted to bring to his properties on the Hudson had been proposed to three earlier U.S. Presidents as a gift for the Columban centenary that would cement the post-Soviet friendship between the United States and Russia, but the odd arrangement that emerged from protracted real estate negotiations in Moscow had Trump promising the deliverable of a site for the statue of Columbus on his Hudson river properties. Trump’s boasting of Trump Tower as a wonder recalls the huge attention he assigned recreating a modernized version of an actual global wonder–the ancient Colossus of Rhodes–in a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, taller even than the Statue of Liberty that dominates New York Harbor, gifted to the American government as a “Modern Colossus” that claimed to celebrate freedom of the same height as the ancient wonder of the world, all but intended to be situated on the Hudson to contrast with the slightly smaller Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The “white monument”–proclaiming the truth in a Dead White Man History–aligned Trump not with conservatism but a transactional story of glitz, grandiosity and power that provided both a telling warning, touchstone, and recapitulation for Trump’s entrance into a political career, which while never built provided a deeply comic and incredible image of Trump’s tie to the figure of the navigator, “Behind [whom] the Gates of Hercules;/Before him not the ghost of shores,/Before him only shoreless seas.”

The monument would have been impossible to not entertain as a prop of global power, as much as of his own sense of import, and offers a model of the sort of monument he sought–and the deeply transactional nature of Trump’s notion of global power that is important to recall. As Donald Trump had ridden the monument of the border wall to the office of the Presidency in 2015, as a sign of his ability to contest the political status quo, he indulged himself in imagining the monument that symbolized the scale of efforts to curtail immigration Trump would pursue as President by Executive Orders and diktat, days after inauguration, the border wall perhaps demands to be seen as a “prop”–as Trump the realtor admitted he considered Trump Tower a prop for his promotion of real estate worldwide with Trump Properties during the 1990 interview, as if the hundred room triplex he kept for himself in the building were secondary to the public status the building afforded him. To be sure, the penthouse he shared with then-wife Ivana were sites of almost regal lifestyle, importing a version of Versailles to Fifth Avenue, but as “props” created a lifestyle and a global status–he confessed Playboy with some facetiousness, be as happy in a one bedroom apartment–but valued the “gaudy excess” of the building to “create an aura that seems to work.”

The projected tower attracted Trump to a new language of monumentality of truly hubristic size, but he believed he could pull it off. The lines of Joaquin Miller of the navigator who both “gained a world; [and] gave that world/Its grandest lesson–“On! sail on!“–parallels Trump’s own approach to political power, and suggests the deep ties to Russians that led to the homes to entertain the Presidency as an occasion to create a monument to himself. Trump’s hubris in claiming Trump Tower as global wonder lay in promoting his real estate of returns that must have seemed to Trump akin to a Midas’ touch. Yet if the “Modern Colossus” was, as the monumental statue at Rhodes that spanned the city’s harbor with a stride of unprecedented size, was a celebration of freedom, as the Liberty statue, but upstaging it, standing the same height from toe to head as the modern colossus, not to extend freedoms to all races or subjects, but to stand as a symbol of glorification, which Trump imagined he might accept in place of the United States Presidents who had demurred on accepting the monumental cast statue of the Genoese sailor. Trump promoted the arrival of the odd monument to the Genoese navigator as a servant of the Spanish crown as an agent of colonization and conversion for unknown Russian oligarchs as a present to New York, as much as to the nation, but used his ties to Mayor Rudy Giuliani to promote a statue of a figure who was in 1990 emblematic of disenfranchisement and a figure emphasizing the unity of European racial descent by rehabilitated the place of the navigator in the mythology of the nation.

The figure of Columbus wold have been a monument to racial hierarchy, echoing Trump’s championing of statues of confederate generals as part of America’s common history as President of the United States. The appeal to these larger than life figures create a new discourse on monumentality across the nation, as if hoped to bridge national and partisan divides, that seemed an attempt to elevate the loss of statues with the dismantling of many icons of the Civil War, posing a threat to the increased nationalization of white supremacy during the Trump Era. Even as images of Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis were removed–with statues of Christopher Columbus–to question their speaking for America, the need for a new monumentality was felt acutely by Donald Trump, as if in search for his won monument.

To celebrate the Fourth of July a month previous, President Trump had emphasized the place of honoring statues of racists before Mount Rushmore, which proclaimed plans to create his own statuary garden, a “National Garden of American Heroes” in a campaign stunt that sought to paint his defense of “standards” and non-threatening images of authority to many members of his base. Before the massive statuary of past Presidents of European descent, he called for the need for a Garden that featured more monuments of the “greatest Americans who ever lived”–as if to compensate for the loss of Columbus monuments in many cities over the previous years. Trump hoped that the Heroes would prominently feature not only Christopher Columbus and Junípero Serra, as honorary Americans, blurring church and state, but stake out a divisive vision of the past, that echoed Trump’s forgotten plans, shortly before he first hinted at a Presidential run, proclaimed plans to erect a statue of the very same fifteenth century navigator whose place in the nation’s memory is increasingly queried.

The Fourth of July Speech provided a vision of his second term by announcing the National Garden would open in 2024, but makes us turn back to the involvement of the realtor in the scheme to bring a monumental statue of Christopher Columbus to the Hudson River estuary where he had been long planning an exclusive real estate development. Calling for heroic monuments in an era divided by racial tensions used the faces of four white Presidents to call for honoring authority, promoting a renewed monument of the national identity, as the nation’s identity was being questioned.

Donald Trump on Juily 3, 2020, near Keystone, S.D. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Mt. Rushmore–four faces that are the primary national shrine of white, male authority–became the place to do so, as if adding, beneath those impassive faces hewn into granite on Black Elk Peak whose steadfast gazes communicate timelessness, the odd compliment of his own somewhat stilted smile of brash over-confidence. Trump took delight in the speech before a site of national memory where he admitted to having long had the “dream to have my face on Mt. Rushmore”—a dream may have seen no obstacles in a lack of space in the granite outcropping in which immigrant sculptor Gurzon Borglum crammed four visages, whose friable rock could not accommodate another. Perhaps Trump measured the office of the Presidency by monumentality, and hoped shortly after being sworn in to hope for a fitting monument, ignorant of the structural problems whose sculptor had been forced to alter plans and shift Thomas Jefferson from Washington’s wing man, until finding the granite face, due to constraints of space on the rock’s face.

Mt. Rushmore Memorial in fieri
Borglum’s Model for Mt. Rushmore Memorial: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln

–Trump had long hoped, in a fantasy the South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem, long humored, to be included, if a planned photo op might associate him, as he had long dreamed, leading her to gift a $1,100 bust in the past that included Trump among granite visages, a piece of kitsch he was hoped to keep in the Oval Office. If President Trump had already confessed to Noem a longstanding hope to have his face carved in the granite hillside, on July 4, 2020, a photo op would have to suffice to meet his unquenched thirst for monumentality.

President Trump on July 4, 2020/Anna Moneymaker, New York Times

Trump’s attraction to the monument remained so deep that the newly elected Republican governor Kristi Noem presented Trump a version, four feet tall. Noem sought to accommodate Trump in ways Rushmore could not, hoping the model fit for display the Oval Office. But the concrete embodiment of his megalomania was projected on the idea of a Garden of Heroes, as if the scenic park might eventually accommodate a figure of himself, beside his heroes General McArthur, Antonin Scalia, and Daniel Boone. While entertaining the crowd assembled July 3, 2020, profiting from the lack of social distancing policy in South Dakota Governor–who has continued to refused to depart from refusing to issue a mandate for mask-wearing as COVID cases surged in the state–early decreed that social distancing was not a need for South Dakotans during the pandemic. Trump entertained his own taste for monumentality, profiting from Noem’s lack of interest in public safety precautions to stage a public occasion to suggest a new set of patriotic statues, updating Mt Rushmore’s national heroes, and imagining his own place on a new monument that might rival it provided a chance to model how that might look, as infection rates of the novel coronavirus was spinning far beyond his control.

This post focusses on the transactional basis for Trump’s hopes to erect a Columbus statuary on his property, as a new symbol of his place in global finance A sense of the malleability of local politics was evidenced in how he had in 1990 avidly promoted plans to a erect a monumental bronze Columbus near New York Harbor to New York authorities, overlooking and even boasting that it would be more impressive in height than the Statue of Liberty, eager to apply the transactional nature of local politics that he had gained in years of real estate promotion, regularly gaining permission for sweetening deals by working around city regulations or gaining exemptions for buildings’ size, in ways that must have made him learn the plastic sense of politics, by entertaining the promise to Moscow’s mayor to bring an effigy of Christopher Columbus to New York Harbor, whose placement, size, and sense of theatrics seem pregnant with Trump’s sense of showmanship and his desire for a new “WOnder of the World” that might join Trump Tower on a global stage.

The deeply transactional nature of Trump’s understanding of the Presidency, for what it is worth, is nowhere more illustrated than in planning the place in the Garden of Heroes of the figure of Antonin Scalia, whose death may have helped usher in the radical obstructionism whose logic prepared for a Trump presidency and energized his base, and whose juridical ideals he understood as the mission of his Presidency to enshrine both in the news, in the American courts, and “among the greatest Americans to ever live” in a Garden of Heroes, itself echoing the national celebration in Russia of Heroes of the Fatherland or “Heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad.” The posthumous elevation of the totemic Justice of the Supreme Court, Scalia, in such a Garden of Heroes was a reminder of the benefits of Trump Presidency to the Heritage Foundation and to the Right, as the affirmation of the he “greatest Americans who ever lived” offered a legacy to rival Mt. Rushmore, of his Presidency. Was it a coincidence that the very search for a monumentality Trump regarded as inseparable from his own Presidency–the personal project of the construction of a Border Wall, or “new Great Wall” projected in 2015–was eclipsed at the same time that statues of the heroes of the Confederate States of America, that long-lasting alternative America preserved in monuments, was also threatened? The need to affirm these monuments of the Confederacy, whose destruction he criminalized as a federal crime, and assault on national memory, would be composed of an “incredible group” of figures without Native Americans, Hispanic or Latino, or Asian-Americans, even if the figures he mentioned were but “a few of the people” considered in the group of statues of those whose “great names are going to be up there and they’re never, ever coming down.”

Trump’s fantasy memorial is not far from his own initial aspirations to engage in international discussions that placed him on an international stage and an unexpected level of political prestige at the end of the Cold War era, as money was exiting Russian Federation on which he wanted in. A new search for monumental building was indeed in the grain of Trump’s presidency and his hopes. The setting of Trump’s announcement made no mention of COVID-19. Indeed, the lack of social distancing in South Dakota, if it created a full audience on July 4, without social distancing or masks, even if the plans for such a massive celebration would, we could reasonably expect, set the stage for terrifying escalations of new cases of COVID-19, a continued tragic spiking of weekly averages of ne infections, after the eclipse of social distancing tied to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally–

North Dakota COVID-19 Count, September 1, 2020

–before South Dakota seemed a site to flout social distancing before the founding fathers.

The need for such a spectacle had eclipsed public safety needs or the obligation of the President to ensure national health by a “Salute for America” that used Independence Day as the occasion to promise a Garden including not civil rights figures, or legist, but Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Billy Graham, Douglas MacArthur, and Orville and Wilbur Wright, a pantheon of childhood books, perhaps, embarrassingly dated in origin. The spectacle by allowing fireworks for the July 4 address without social distancing guardrails to advance a corrupt vision of monumentalism that reminds us all that “America First” places Donald Trump First.

The plans affirmed Trump’s cognitive inability to separate politics from public persona, and indeed sacrificed the public good. Trump viewed Governor Kristi Noem was complicit in the promotion of monumentality to ingratiate herself in a Grand Old Party now a Party of Trump, in a run-through for the coronation of the 2020 Convention: Noem had bonded with Trump in presenting the President with the Mt Rushmore replica adjusted to include his face among past Presidents as he finished his speech, hoping it might be displayed in the Oval Office. Perhaps the speech was difficult to perform without expecting his own face somehow be included in its triumphal display that he saw as the correct reward for his performance of the office of Presidency, and long fantasized his visage might be placed.

Mt. Rushmore Memorial
President Trump’s Visit on July 4, 2020/Anna Moneymaker, New York Times

Trump described the need to honor past heroes excluding indigenous, which in itself was a desecrated sacred space. Borghlum had planned the spectacular construction promoted in the early twentieth century include pioneer figures–Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody and Crazy Horse–according to plans of the klansman and anti-indigenous sculptor, who sought to sculpt American Presidents in an American “skyline,” and visages that, by 1941, as emerging from the sacred rock, in a national monument that met the new articulation of patriotism and westward expansion, by effacing the sacred space of indigenous tribes with a new vision that enshrined the expropriation of national lands.

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Global Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani, more than anyone else, evokes the national trauma of September 11, 2001. If the trauma 9/11 has been a poster for increased federal powers, an excuse for violating civil rights, and a remaking of the New World Order, it is striking how much recent resurgent if hoary myths of the national values of 9/11 contributed significant spin to the careers of members of the Trump administration. Indeed, the trauma of 9/11 has been recycled in ways that have affirmed nationalist credentials and pride.

It is especially striking how the former New York mayor, and and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was able to successfully pivot from being a figure of local fame and prestige–indeed, a defender of the hope of returning New York to a lost time he seemed to embody as the locally schooled tough-talking upright son of a family composed of cops and firefighters, who seemed to tap a tradition of legal-minded public service of which he posed as champion. But 9/11 provided the optic by which Giuliani acquired a resonance and career that became wierdly global–and hardly local–as if by the alchemy of the global need for security. The miracle of the alchemical transformation of Giuliani from a local figure–imbued in a sense of neighborhood that was incarnated in the tavern his father ran in Brooklyn–became not a guarantor of a local past, which may not have ever existed, but was transmuted into a global career of posing as a strongman.

In many ways, the position that Giuliani occupied after 9/11 allowed him to claim the almost fantasy position of a warrior for good on a global stage. The transformation of the former public attorney and lawman who seemed to stand as a stalwart defendant of local values as a global figure was not quick, but endured over decades, in ways that have not been fully traced, as Giuliani converted his prestige in the global media after 9/11, as he seemed to carry the nation through trauma, into a global mercenary of something like the New World Order. For after the terrifying punctuating event of 9/11, and after he left office, the former New York Mayor rode the surface of the global media to promote his brand as a means of guaranteeing security, desalination projects, police reform, judicial reform, and even unrelated areas as investment banking.

Giuliani toured the world with an expense account, speaking for broad Neo-nationalist audiences across the world that manufactured greater credibility for a ridiculously globally broadened sense of his license, capacities, and legal expertise, in ways that his actual career as mayor or attorney would hardly have predicted or confirmed. After years of being rooted in the defense of a local moral economy, and tough-guy persona rooted in Brooklyn as well as New York City, and the NYPD, the vey mediatization of 9/11 improbably shot Giuliani to the global in ways that we are still coming to terms with in our national trajectory: emboldening Giuliani to hoc his newfound fame on a global marketplace in truly mercenary fashion, coasting on the publicity that global media platforms had generated, and surrounding Giuliani with more wealth than he had ever enjoyed–its dark backdrop catapulting the mayor to the global stage as a “tower of strength” that replaced the global status the Twin Towers had once occupied. Over the devastated New York skyline, Giuliani towered, proclaimed a true “tower of Strength” no longer a Mayor, but an advocate for global calm before menacing darkened nocturnal skies.

The New York poet Michael Brownstein–no relation!–conjured a vision of a gypsy that the very hijackers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, men who had famously fashioned themselves as martyrs, accompanied the souls of many men, women, and children who died as a result of their actions into the afterlife, somehow acting as agents of peace as much as visiting a traumatic vision of mortality. The diabolical vision Brownstein described in the years after 9/11 must have shocked his readers, but presented what he wanted to be a healing poetic image of devastation. The Angel of Death himself must have accompanied Giuliani, a former altar boy himself who had recast himself in global media as selected to fulfill his role as a defender of the city, expanding his narcissism as he promoted himself as a symbol of security on a global stage, able to advise on crime rates, manage security, and maintain peace on a global stage that had not ever existed before with any comparable concreteness.

The searing image of a redemption after the destruction visited on New York became a means for Giuliani to be turned to as a figure of trust, a center of stability, that the world seemed to need–but on which his own. Rudy Giluiani’s huge sense of himself saw magnified on a global stage, and able to cast in global terms, a a spokesperson, lobbyist, agitator, instigator and legitimizer who could hector, yell, and barge his way onto any global stage, and command total attention for any agenda that would pay his way. Did the unweildly narcissism that Giuliani promoted in America and on such a global stage prepare the way for Trump?

When we ponder how Giuliani emerged–indeed remade himself–as an unregistered agent of other governments, allied with a law office (Greenberg Traurig, most recently, or a partner at Bracewell & Harrison, in Houston, then transformed to capitalize on his name as Bracewell & Giuliani), he skirted the law while capitalizing on his image as a hardened lawman; the contradictions were not contradictions for a man whose media image was so impressive and had gained such global currency to be hard to question. The bonds of trust that seemed forge in the years after 9/11, and the sense of cathecting with Giuliani as “America’s Mayor” truly seemed exploited, as his own historical narcissism led to a thirst for further attention, and to remove all limits from his own propriety. He extended this credibility in a failed bid for the Presidency in 2008 and after it folded sought to keep alive his image of himself as a global fix-it man.

In this post, I want to sketch the map of the bizarre global travels of Giuliani as a man who promised to accommodate any interest, promote a vision of global security who parlayed his status to a talking head on any media. He should have been far less assuring than we were willing to accord: but Giuliani’s skill at exploiting an endless reserve of symbolic capital seemed endless, allowing him to stake Presidential campaigns, and earn massive retaining fees, without much attention to what credibility the ex-Mayor ever merited. The very transnationality of the commemoration of 9/11 transformed it into a global event, and not a local one, offered a means for Rudy to travel through the looking glass, and for Giuliani to gain a global credibility that was eerily universal. We didn’t pay much attention. We discounted Giuliani’s neediness for attention as self-generated, and not itself of global impact, but it increasingly exercised influence that mirrored the very trans-nationality of the commemoration of 9/11. Their trans-nationality Rudy a truly unprecedented global carte blanche of unprecedented character.

This credibitliy was a carte blanche appealing to foreign strongmen, to be sure, who sought to fashion themselves as comparable “good guys” in a global stage demanding a way to map security in the face of terrorists, and seek a figure of calm in the swirling fears of insecurity, even if that very figure would continue to do his best to provoke our deepest fears.

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Filed under 9/11, American Politics, global terror, globalization, September 11, World Trade Center

Mapping Our Shrinking Shores

Coasts have provided the primary cartographical invention to understand the risks that erosion pose to property:  the coast-line is the boundary of the known land, and determines the outer bound of the real estate.  But the coastal fixation of the landlubber privileges the illusion of the fixity of the shore.  More than ever, assumptions about the fixity of shorelines must fall away.  Perhaps the most haunting take away from the Surging Seas web-based map of global shorelines forces us to take into account the inevitable mutability that must be accepted with the rising of ocean-level associated with climate change.

The web-map presents itself as a set of tools of analysis, as much as cartographical techniques, by which the rise of sea-level that has already risen globally some eight inches since 1880 stands to accelerate–emphasizing the alternate scenarios that the acceleration of sea-level rise stands to bring over the next hundred years, introducing a new concept of risk due to coastal flooding.  The availability of accurate GPS images of the elevations of homes have provided the possibility of sketching scenarios of sea-level rise to create readily zoomable maps of elevated ocean levels that confront us with at least the image of the options which we still theoretically have.  The contrasting futures created in this cartographical comparison shocks viewers with a salutary sort of operational paranoia only increased as one fiddles with a slider bar to grant greater specificity to the disastrous local consequences of rising sea-levels world-wide.


In ways quite unlike the wonderfully detailed old NOAA Topographic Surveys which map shorelines at regular transects, or T-Sheets, recording the high waterline of tides across 95,000 coastal miles and 3.4 million square miles of open sea, the coastline is less the subject of these web maps than levels of potential inundation.  In a negative-mapping of possibilities of human habitation, blue hues invade the landscape in a monitory metric emphasizing the regions at risk of being underwater in a century.  Whereas scanned T-Sheets can now be viewed by a historical time-bar slider, the fixity of space or time are less relevant to the web maps than the gradients of possible sea-level rise caused by carbon emissions might force us to confront.

Surging Seas forces us to confront the possibilities of the future underwater world.  The infiltration of a deep shade of blue commands the eye by its intensity, deeper shades signifying greater depth, in ways that eerily underscore the deep connection that all land has to the sea that we are apt to turn our backs upon in most land maps, showing the extent to which a changing world will have to familiarize itself to water-level rise in the not-distant future.  It’s almost paradoxical that the national frontiers we have inscribed on maps has until recently effectually made impossible such a global view, but the attraction of imagining the somewhat apocalyptic possibility of sea-level rise seems almost to map a forbidden future we are not usually allowed to see, and has a weirdly pleasurable (if also terrifying) aspect of viewing the extensive consequences of what might be with a stunning level of specific and zoomable local detail we would not otherwise be able to imagine, in what almost seems a fantasia of the possibilities of mapping an otherwise unforeseen loss, not to speak of the apparent lack of coherence of a post-modern world.

For the variety of potential consequences of disastrous scenarios of sea-level rise posed can be readily compared with surprisingly effective and accurate degrees of precision, in maps that illustrate the depths at which specific regions stand to be submerged underwater should sea-level rise continue or accelerate:  zooming into neighborhoods one knows, or cities with which one is familiar, the rapid alteration of two to seven feet in sea-level can be imagined–as can the fates of the some 5 million people worldwide who live less than four feet above sea-level.  For if the shores have long been among the most crowded and popular sites of human habitation–from New York to London to Hong Kong to Mumbai to Jakarta to Venice–the increasing rapidity of polar melting due to climate change stands to produce up to a seven feet rise in sea-level if current rates of carbon emissions, and a mere four degree centigrade rise in global temperature stands to put the homes of over 450 million underwater, which even the most aggressive cutting in carbon emissions might lower to only 130 million, if rates of warming are limited to but 2°C.   (If things continues as they stand, the homes of some 145 million who currently dwell on land in China alone are threatened with inundation.)

The recent review of the disastrous consequences of a rise of two degrees Centigrade on the land-sea boundary of the United States led Climate Central to plot the effects of a-level rise of at least 20 feet on the country–and foreground those regions that were most at risk.   The webmap serves as something like a window into the possible futures of climate change, whose slider allows us to create elevations in sea-level that the ongoing melting of the polar ice-cap seems poised to create.  As much as offer compare and contrast catastrophes, the immediacy of recognizing the degree to which places of particular familiarity may soon stand to lie underwater performs a neat trick: for whereas a map might be said to bring closer the regions from which one is spatially removed or stands apart, making present the far-off by allowing one to navigate its spatial disposition in systematic fashion, the opacity of those light blue layers of rising seas obscures and subtracts potentially once-familiar site of settlement, effectively removing land from one’s ken as it is subtracted from the content of the map, and charting land losses as much as allowing its observation.

The result is dependably eery.  The encroachment of the oceans consequent to rising sea-level propose a future worthy of disaster films.  But the risks can be viewed in a more measured ways in the maps of sea-level on the shores of the United States calculated and mapped by Stamen design in the Surging Seas project that allows us to imagine different scenarios of sea-level rise on actual neighborhoods–the set of interactive maps, now aptly retitled Mapping Choices, will not only cause us to rethink different scenarios of shifting shorelines by revisiting our favorite low-lying regions, or allow us to create our own videos of Google Earth Flyovers of different areas of the world.  Mapping Choices provides a way to view the risks and vulnerabilities to climate change made particularly graphic in centers of population particularly low-lying, where they testify to the clarity with which web maps can create a vision of imagined experience as we imagine the actual losses that global warming is poised to create.  And although the recent expansion of the map to a global research report, allowing us to examine possible global futures that are otherwise difficult to comprehend or process the potential risks posed by the inundation of low-lying inhabited regions for a stretch of thirty meters, the potential risk of inundation is perhaps most metaphorically powerful for that region that one best knows, where the efficacy of a simple side-by-side juxtaposition of alternate potential realities has the unexpected effect of hitting one in one’s gut:  for debates about the possibilities of climate change suddenly gain a specificity that command a level of attention one can only wonder why one never before confronted as an actual reality.

Alternate Scenarios

Maps are rarely seen as surrogates for observation, and web maps often offer something like a set of directions, or way finding tools.  But the predicted scenarios of sea-levle rise allows one to grasp the local levels of inundation with a specificity that allow risk to be seen in terms of actual buildings–block by block–and wrestle with the risks that climate change portends.  The lack of defenses of populations in many regions are definitely also at great risk, but to envision the loss of property and known space seems oddly more affecting in such an iconic map of Manhattan–and somewhat more poetic as an illustration of the fungibility of its hypertrophied real estate and property values.

Of course, the data of Climate Change allows a terrifying view of the future of four degrees centigrade warming on low-lying Boston and the shores of the Charles, as the city is reduced to a rump of an archipelago–


or the disastrous scenarios for the populations in the lower lying areas of Jakarta–


or, indeed, in Mumbai–


Viewers are encouraged to imagine the risks of the possible alternate futures of just two degrees with an immediacy that worms into one’s mind.  The possibilities that GPS offers of instantaneous calculations of shoreline position and elevations allow one to view a potential reality where one can focus on individual streets with inspirational urgency.

But such scenarios seem somehow particularly graphic illustrations of risk for those regions where there has been a huge investment of human capital, as New York City, where it might seem credible enough to be mapped that they are poised to melt not into air but vanish beneath ocean waves.  For if Marx predicted with spirited apocalypticism at the very start of the Communist Manifesto that capitalism would destroy value to money as it expanded into future markets, as market forces abstracted all things into money–and “all that is solid melts into air”–the twentieth-century expansion of possibilities of environmental and human destruction have lent unprecedented urgency.  While for Marx the metaphor of melting of inherent value was the product of the capitalist system, the capitalist system bodes a strikingly similar image of sinking into the seas.  For huge expanses of the old industrial city–the piers and the old manufacturing zones, most all of the Jersey shore and area around Newark, Long Island City and the Gowanus canal seem sink apart from the shoreline in the future New York that Surging Seas creates, in ways that seem the consequence of industrial production and carbon surging far beyond 400 parts per million (ppm), with the addition of some 2 ppm per year, in ways that make it a challenge to return to the levels deemed healthy–let alone the levels of 275 ppm which the planet long held through the mid-eighteenth century.

That drought, hurricanes, disappearance of arctic ice (up to 80% in summertime) and rising sea levels are tied to the growth of greenhouse gasses hint how global capital might be closely linked to the sinking into the seas, and suggest the surpassing of a tipping point of climate change that is the counterpart to melting into air might be viewed, in New York City’s economic geography, as if to offer a poetic reflection of the migration of capital into the financial centers of the city downtown from its piers or areas of industry–


–although half-hearted joking references to Marxist maxims (or geographers) is hardly the topic of this post, and the island of high finance that would be created in downtown Manhattan would hardly have ever been planned as an island.

Lower Manhattan Island?

What one might someday see as the lopping off of much of lower Manhattan might be far better tied to the runaway markets of a free-trade economy, rather than rational planning, and has no clear correspondence to property values.

lopped off lower Manhattan

Indeed, the mapping of the prospective loss of those residential parts of the city “where poor people dwell” (as do minorities) is undeniable, if one looks at the 2010 American Community Survey, regarding either in the city’s distribution of ethnic groups or households earning below $30,000, who remain the most vulnerable to the danger of rising ocean levels.

ACS 2005?

Income under 30,000American Community Survey (2010)/New York Times

But the disappearance of the Eastern Parkway and the Jersey shore are a blunt reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the built environment that lies close to sea-level–

Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue above the seas

–and an actually not-too-apocalyptic reminder, but the mapping of consequences of man-made change that goes under the rubric of anthropocene, and is most apparent in the increasing quotient of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the warming that this may bring.  For if it has been approximated that there has already been a rise of sea-levels by some eight inches since 1880, the unprecedented acceleration of that rate, which will increase the dangers of floods from storms and place many of the some three thousand coastal towns at risk, are likely to increase as the sea level may rise from two to over seven feet during the new century.


The distribution is by no means uniform, and more industrialized countries, like the United States, are producing far more particulate matter, although they have been recently overtaken by China from 2007, and have atmospheres above 380 ppm in the Spring, making them more responsible for rendering higher temperatures–although the lower-lying lands below the equator may be most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.20.11 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.21.44 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.22.35 PMVox– A visual tour of the world’s CO2 emissions

The increasing levels of particulate matter are attempted to be more locally mapped in Surging Seas.

The changes extend, in a nice dramatic detail, into the Central Park Meer rejoining the East River with the predicted inundation of much of the posh residential area of Manhattan’s East Side, all the way to Fifth Avenue.

Truncated NJ and absent upper East side

It is difficult not to compare the scenarios sketched in Surging Seas maps to some of the maps of those future islands of New York that Map Box and others allowed Sarah Levine to create maps of the heights of buildings from open data after the pioneering maps of Bill Rankin’s 2006 “Building Heights.”   When Rankin remapped Manhattan by taking building height as an indirect index of land value, he saw the island as clustered in distinct islands of elevation above 600 feet:


Radical Cartography (2006)

Levine used similar data to chart the fruits of Mammon in buildings above sixty stories.  Maps of skyscrapers beside the gloom of Surging Seas suggest those towers able to withstand the rising seas brought by global temperatures jumping by just two degrees Centigrade.  If one moves from the map of the bulk of lowest sections of lower Manhattan–

Two Inches in Lower Manhattan

with reference to Levine’s brilliantly colored carmine mapping of the highest buildings in the Big Apple, above forty-seven or fifty-nine stories, which one imagines might provide the best vantage points that rise above the rising waves, especially when located on the island’s shores.

Mapping NYC by Sarah

Sarah Levine Maps Manhattan

There’s a mashup begging to be made, in which the tallest buildings of over fifty stories at the tip of the island peak up above the cresting waves, and the rump of buildings in lower Manhattan offer contrasting vistas of the city’s contracting shores.  The buildings that create the canyons of urban life, the buildings of elevation surpassing sixty stories might suggest the true islands of Manhattan’s future, as much as the points that punctuate its skyline.

Sarah's Lower Manhattan

The realization of this possible apocalypse of property made present in these maps offer the ability to visit impending disasters that await our shorelines and coasts, and imagine the consuming of property long considered the most valuable on the shore–as rising seas threaten to render a whispy shoreline of the past, lying under some six meters of rising seas.  The prospect of this curtailing of the ecumene, if it would bring an expansion of our nation’s estuaries, presents an image of the shrinking of the shores that suggests, with the authority of a map, just how far underwater we soon stand to be.

Eastern USASurging Seas: sea level rise after 2 degrees centigrade warming

All actual maps, including Levine’s, provide authoritative reporting of accurate measures with a promise of minimal distortions.  But visualizations such Surging Seas offer frightening windows into a future not yet arrived, using spatial modeling to predict the effects of a rise in sea-level of just five feet, and the potentially disastrous scale such a limited sea-level change would bring:  the coasts are accurate, but their inundation is a conservative guess, on the lower spectrum of possibilities.  For in a country in which 2.6 million homes are less than four feet above current sea-levels, the spectral outlines of chilly blue former coastlines peak at a future world are still terrifying and seem all too possible, as much as potential cautionary tale.  The concretization of likely scenarios of climate change remind us that however much we really don’t want to get there, how potentially destructive the possibility of a several degree rise in ocean temperatures would be.

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Filed under Climate Change, coastal flooding, data visualization, Global Warming

Urban Modernity, RIP: Mapping Marshall Berman Mapping Modernism

The meaning of place seems especially difficult to retain in an age of increased mobility, when information flows are increasingly removed from any site, and offer multiplying perspectives.  The work of cultural critic Marshall Berman (1940-2013) provides a clear eyed way to recuperate modernism through the inhabitation of place.  Berman, a long-time New York City resident and echt urbanite, created rich qualitative maps of literary modernism that rhapsodized cities as places–as privileged and vital sites of generating meanings that were rooted in place.  Even after his recent death, it’s hard not to be struck by the vitality that he mapped as rooted in cities, and whose existence he never stopped reminding us about and celebrating.  A native New Yorker, Berman wrote from committed engagement in New York’s space and shifting fluidity, and in his works mapped the sense of fluidity or perpetual permutability of urban life.  He showed us, in so doing, that maps are not only imposition from above, or Olympian views, but can map daily encounters best registered on city streets.  Even when I best knew Marshall in the 1970s and 1980s, he was one of the inveterate street-walker of the Upper West Side and Broadway who exulted in most everything he noticed on the street.  Marshall maybe increasingly became an inveterate street-walker who took pleasure in public space, and enjoyed claiming for himself a spot on the street, finding a sort of release and liberation on the night-time sidewalks, in Times Square, or at the diners where he so loved to sit.

In retrospect, I imagine his championing of the street’s energy came from the magnum opus he was then completing, All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982)–but that his love of street-life also shaped his voracious exploration of the space of literary modernism through the act of being in public.  For Berman quickly recognized that the depersonalization of urban life was not only the trauma and drama of modernity, but, transfigured by literary expression, also a privileged site for individuality.  In ways that are still resonant, his generous mapping of the modernity among cities extended from the city that he loved to the modern urbanism.  R.I.P., Marshall.

Berman’s sudden and unexpected death in a booth at the Metro Diner, at the heart of the Manhattan Upper West Side, can’t but provoke a reflection on his relation to the concept of urban space, from the sense of public space he lived and explored relentlessly as an observer and city-dweller to that which he read so very widely to excavate and explore with a canny sense of the personalized human geography.  For Marshall loved the lived urban environments and continued a life-long fascination he had with the living nature of a streetscape illuminated by electric lights, as if an ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, whose deeply modern possibilities he always felt beckoned and invited and which he was eager to explore.  Marshall’s recent death has prompted several emotional reflections that note the inescapably autobiographical aspects of his work, some of which he would himself, surely, be the first not to hesitate to note.  Marshall’s work was, first and foremost, that of a public intellectual who bridged personal criticism with urbanism.  For Berman often described his engaged writing on modernism and modernist projects of urban space as part of the creative projects of his life.

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November 22, 2013 · 4:02 pm