Robert Balfour


In summer the city feels like a body swollen in the heat and thick with the oily grit of humid air. At night the swelling subsides; folds of flesh curve upon each other, and reveal the bones surprisingly near the surface. Thankfully, as far as I am concerned, much of this underside remains hidden. Shadows and the sea. Some nights a visible thick penumbral orange pall hangs with threatening dissolution around sulphur lamps and between buildings. It covers city obscenities for the visitor, dazzled momentarily by the lights. It is hard at night to feel the heaviness of the city's quirky neo-classical and art deco architecture. Powerful lamps set into flowerbeds vault upwards into a bruised sky. The beds themselves 'set' midst plains and contours of crazy paving. In the squares the lamp-stands hang with baskets of limp flowering plants that drip an oily moisture around midnight. On some pavements, especially near the Indian quarter, the air is heavy with smells of fruit pressed into cracked paving by passing footfalls. Not too far away, modem skyscrapers seem full of dull rectitude. The city, laid out as it is on one huge settled dune, resembles a wave, piling up at its height with hospitals, universities, schools and parks, sloping down into a gentle suburban plain of red tiled roofs and broad leafy tress, until breaking into clusters of flotsam and jetsam: the used car dealerships, the escort agencies, the bars, brothels, bakeries and flea-markets, before reaching the beachfront hotels. By day, when the heat rolls up this dune and settles again into its cusp to shrink everything into pinpoints of light, all of this seems unlikely.



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