Sam Diamond 💎

01.01.2020

Iceland, New York, Los Angeles

When we landed in Iceland the sun was already low and within the forty-five minutes between disembarking from the first plane and boarding the second it had all but disappeared over the horizon, leaving the snow and rock with a tangerine glow. In 2010, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, its dust and ash blown down towards Europe. Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team were forced to travel by coach for their Champion's League fixture against Inter Milan. A cloud of ash hung over London, lending the final days of the general election campaign an atmosphere of doom which compounded the Tories' minority victory over the incumbent Labour government, the last Labour government, an element of pathetic fallacy that would not be out of place in a Don DeLillo novel.



New York was freezing cold. A thin veneer of damp snow covered Brooklyn, buffeted by freezing rain. I walked around in a thin jacket with a scarf pulled over my face that left a thin opening for my eyes. Most people I met seemed unhappy in the same way, although for vastly different reasons. C told me that someone in his class had pulled him aside to ask if he was ok, and he had responded with a question: had they not seen the state of the world? There were so many homeless people. Some waited for the subway attendants to finish their shifts and then slept by the side of the turnstyles, others slept under bridges or in doorways, identifiable only as bodies in sleeping bags, their belongings spread around them, handwritten cardboard signs with novelty phrases or desperate pleas leaning against them.

One fun thing about New York is you can really feel it crumbling. The egregious displays of wealth are no longer convincing; Wall Street seems a ghost of its former self, continuing to act as a weather vane of capital, no doubt raking in as much money as its ever done. But the real money, the real potential, is elsewhere. It's in California, Shenzhen, Singapore. Occupy Wall Street? In this economy!?

I met T and we went for a field trip to Hudson Yards to take a walk around and see The Vessel. There's a conspicuous lack of these non-spaces in New York, I suppose because of the price of real estate. London has seen multiple 'regeneration' projects and shown the rest of the world the way: find a dilapidated area where land is cheap (it helps if it’s the early '90s and property prices haven't yet spiked, or you can use the Olympic Games as an excuse to bulldoze communities), build high-rise glass buildings in the middle of empty concrete squares and lease them to developers and big corporates. Build a gym, an unpalatable yet headline-grabbing work of public art, and a shopping mall.



Hudson Yards fits this model perfectly. Being so new, it's a great way to check the pulse of capital by seeing it embodied in the physical world. In London developers built The Shard, an egregious show of domination in the post-crash city. Globally, glass became the de-facto building material, symbolising transparency and openess, finance professionals visible and accountable to the public when in reality they were anything but. The Kevin Spacey financial crash movie Margin Call gets this right: the financiers are frequently pictured in huge office spaces open to the city, they look out over what they once dominated in accelerating states of trauma, knowing it will now seep through the glass and reenter their lives, holding them to account. In the real world, not much changed.

Or did it? The Vessel is very different to these buildings. You have to book a ticket at the cost of $0, and are then issued an hour slot in which to explore it. It's not glass--it's done away with material altogether, a hollow space surrounded by a series of staircases. T noted that it was like watching Michael Bay's Transformers movies, where the CGI has advanced in sophistication to a the point where the camera can explore space in impossible sequences, the audience having taken an omnipresent observational role, able to shift perspective, see round corners, alter the fabric of reality, no one required to point a camera.

It struck me that The Vessel is the endpoint of an aggressive and insistent aesthetic of transparency. After all, what could be more transparent than air? The outside of the structure looks like a lush honeycomb painted chrome Nespresso brown, or a perfectly formed shit coated in syrup. Inside, there’s nothing.

After wandering round the nearby shopping mall, where we walked laps and talked, I made my way slowly back to Brooklyn. I felt very nauseous and coughed phlegm into the sink of two Starbucks bathrooms. The next day, I flew to Los Angeles.

LA had even more homeless people than New York. At least they’re not freezing to death, I thought, before finding out that the death rate for homeless people due to exposure is in fact higher in LA due to its severe lack of shelters.

I sat in my downtown hotel room and watched an NFL game and scrolled my phone. It was clear something very strange was happening back in the UK. We were losing the election, but everyone on social media seemed upbeat or angry. We’d turn it around. I felt very angry and not upbeat. I tried to stop myself from entering cycles of pure hate directed at media figures who made obvious public mistakes and refused to apologize, choosing instead to put the spotlight on how irrational the public had become, how it was a shame how angry people were. I fell into these cycles repeatedly.

I also felt increasingly isolated. I’ve lived outside the UK for almost five years now and my attempts to understand people there are now fruitless, although I don’t think things made more sense when I did live there. Home is not the place you love the most but the place you’re most ashamed of. The average voter seemed to be a Green Party supporter who voted Labour at the last election but had since switched to the Tories because they were worried about antisemitism and thought Boris would send all the Muslims back to where they came from (Poland, apparently). The British public are not stupid, but they have developed an incredible capacity to believe utterly contradictory things at the same time. My grandad, who spent one freezing winter in the ‘80s sleeping in a tent on a picket line of fire workers as he and his comrades tried to negotiate better conditions was planning to vote Tory until I convinced him not to vote at all. He couldn’t bring himself to support the Labour candidate because she once borrowed his spade for a photo opportunity and forgot to thank him. I suspect odd factors such as these are common, and there’s no way they could be picked up by the polling wonks’ attempts to read the tea leaves of demography.

I took many rideshare trips around the city. One of my Uber drivers owned a house on the same street I used to live on in Peckham. He also owned a flat in Williamsburg, the value of which had multiplied several times since he bought it ten years ago. But he was driving an Uber. He told me he liked it. 


I walked around Silver Lake and Echo Park with S. We found a kitsch, faux-German biergarten so out of place it actually felt homely. Then we went to a party where everyone was extremely calm and a few people worked for venture capital firms focused on the marijuana sector. They explained how the key to unlocking true value was building an offering from that spanned the entire supply chain, from growing to packaging to branding to distribution. LA felt cursed but it was also very beautiful. I walked along leylines that spanned parks and lakes and all the while had a view of the downtown skyline, blurred in heat haze.

I got home on the night of the election and made the mistake of staying up for the exit poll and then felt so bad and angry I couldn’t sleep and scrolled Twitter all night. The next day it was sunny and cold and I felt glad to be back in Europe.