(and makes his own illustration)
Every great classic must obligatorily contain a chapter in which the hero travels out to the limit of the known world and peers beyond. (If it doesn't, it fails; ask Camoes and Mickiewicz why they are not taught in the Dead White Men courses in America).
The epic chapter of my life took place this morning.
I went to a certain suburb to look for shoes in a certain large shopping mall. This expedition necessitated a departure from the quaint city center, with its seven hills, its aqueducts, its triumphant arches, its mosaicked side-walks, its cute wooden trams and the levitating clouds of blooming jacaranda everywhere, its tiny retail shops and minuscule family owned eateries, its mainly pedestrian traffic -- and into the wholesale mass-market world of modernity.
The impression this created was so overwhelming that upon returning I immediately set out on a massive substance abuse program, carefully blending uppers and downers for that so very much needed knock-out blow.
Over there there had been broad freeways down which endless chains of motor vehicles tore with a roar; and square honey-comb towers -- factories for living -- in which people somehow managed to live cheek-by-jowl without going on a wild shooting spree too oft; gigantic shopping malls, convoluted architecturally, full of absolutely worthless, shockingly ugly stuff; and proferring in their feederies (deemed "restaurants") what looked like mold-injected, polymer-based artificially colored sugar pulp. Everything was fast and noisy and there was not a single pretty thing upon which to rest one's soul.
A huge tower full of apartments with head-bashing low ceilings (but central vacuum-cleaning, I am sure) was being marketed at a site overlooking a major snarling freeway traffic exchange. "Lux living" said the copy, but it should have said "Luxury living easy to get away from" (that is -- if you buy this place, you needn't really be here).
A hard thought struck me: goodness gracious, people live like that.
My god, I thought to myself, these suburbs have grown in the last fifty years; but how did they grow? Where must one come from to find this kind of life sufficiently bearable to choose it over wherever it is one comes from?
Later, a glance at the real-estate magazine revealed a puzzling fact: the housing there, in the middle of all that, is hardly less expensive than it is here; 20-30% discount on average over this -- which is, I grant you, a theme-park life, but a cute theme park life all the same, agreeable in the extreme, easy on the senses, and pretty well laid back.
Which means that the quality/price curve is here extremely shallow -- as it is in the rest of the world: as one travels down the curve, one gives up a tremendous amount of quality to gain a little in price advantage -- an apartment which costs 10% less to rent is a lot worse than its 10% more expensive brother.
But try to go up from the middle and the opposite seems true: to generate a 10% improvement in quality from here -- the place where I am -- one must be prepared to double the price one pays. The price-to-quality curve seems therefore to look like this:
Where the axis cross is the "middle" of the market (me, and almost certainly -- you). If we go down from here (look for a cheaper apartment, for instance), any saving will come at a huge cost to quality; but going up from here we pay through our nose for even a small improvement.
I am not sure why the curve should look like this, though suspect it has something to do with income distribution.
How steeply prices rise as one tries to go up from the middle was confirmed for me in the afternoon when I visited an oriental carpet dealer -- in my own quaint and laid-back neighborhood of course (my much abused soul had needed to look at pretty things to recover from the morning's rude shock). The friendly Iranian man took me through the back, up some regal stairs and into a cavernous apartment hung and laid with delicious carpets (it was like entering the Ali-Baba cave). And there they were, beautiful, restful and silent: mamluks, tekkes, herazes, sardes, qoms reposing in total and absolute silence, not rushing anywhere, not making a sound. There I sat on a snow-white silk qom, all 40,000 euros of it, and slowly my soul calmed down.