London, Potemkin city….

Potëmkin, a portly man, of some considerable social and physical stature in Russia, was rumoured to have courted Catherine the Great… He wanted to fool her or, perhaps more innocently, to greatly impress the Empress by erecting rows of fake façades along a river front to the effect of having her believe that he was responsible for the prosperity of the town. A turn of phrase sprung from this seemingly innocent act of deception that unashamedly uses his name and refers to the intersection of the appearance of an object and its actuality beyond the appearance of the façade. The Potëmkin Village. It speaks of façades that are assumed to have some substance, or rather a measurable spatial depth, beyond their ‘face’, beyond their façade, just because they usually do, confusing appearance with reality.

Edging west into Fitzrovia from Goodge Street station, down past the Victorian and Georgian era façades of Dickensian buildings with heaving bodies attached to those dirty but somewhat pretty, and almost symmetrical, faces that line the streets. You would be forgiven by the local Mr Toppers, whose well dressed, top-hatted, toad boasts hair cuts at £7, for thinking that they were the faces of the little-bit-forgotten and little-bit-unloved. If you make it down passed Charlotte Street, passed the array of random shop fronts, you will come across a large gaping hole in the constantly and accumulatively dense city landscape that is central London. The unusual opening of intense bright light prompts you to look up, such a rare sight in that part of town. So you crane your neck, New York City tourist style, to see what is missing, and as you do your eyes expecting to meet a skyscraper meet a forgotten little white sign. Only it’s no longer white anymore, you just imagine it was, layered with the once vapourous contents of the exhausts of the moving parts of city. This sign reads ‘The Middlesex Hospital Patients Library’, over a backdrop of cranes one suspects it won’t be for much longer. Not even a trace. Like the sign itself, it is only an allusion to what was once there. The Middlesex Hospital.

It is no longer there, of course. Demolition began during the Spring of 2008 to make way for a complex of apartments that the average Londoner will never be able to afford, and that includes the “affordable” ones. But aside from the sign, there is one remnant left of this monumental place that nursed the sick since the late 1700’s, a place where all of life played out – births, deaths, and everything in-between. The entire façade of the entrance on Nassau Street has been preserved, to be sewn into the new building. ‘Place’ is not fixed, nor is it permanent, it is rather more like a temporary stage. It is a “backdrop” like my friend rather eloquently said, when we first began our conversations about this ‘place’ that was once a hospital. The backdrop for where the performance of medical life was acted out.

 

 

 

 

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