"I cleave the heavens, and soar to the infinite. What others see from afar, I leave far behind me." Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Shoot the Chutes!

From Chute Collection  I
Chute Collection I
From Chute Collection II
"The artist in me cries out for design."
Robert Frost
Bob Dylan - In A Basement Black as Coal
After living in Vienna for almost 8 years, it still fascinates me that there are always reminders of just how different this city is from Sydney. Of course it is older, but the reminders are often the most simplest of things as they never existed, or at least not in the same form, Downunder. This was generally due to different living conditions, environment, culture or building codes.  Many times I have small moments of enlightenment or discovery that can lead me on the path to a small, or sometimes a big, adventure of discovery.
Recently, doing a welcome favour for my ex-flatmates, I wandered between my apartment and theirs, with my iPhone in hand and the necessary culinary items to make two feline “friends” extremely satisfied. The setting, for both apartments, is the area of Gersthof, which is located in the 18th district of city. Gersthof has a colourful history, which is another story, and is an area where a large percentage of the dwellings and apartment blocks date back to the last quarter of the 19th century. Lovely ornate buildings with relief decorations, tiling, mosaics, friezes, of ornamented doors, ironwork, dotted with statues here & there and mostly always painted in a variety of subtle aged building colours typical to Austrian towns and villages.
On this particular day, in a pensive, melancholy mood, I decided to veer from my usual direct path. Underway on one of the buildings, I notice a series of metal coverings where cellar windows are generally located. So I decided to shoot a couple of pictures, figuring to do some research later to find out what they were.  Around the corner and a little way up the road, another build also had a similar series of coverings, so bring on another couple of shots.  Then to quote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes “the game was afoot”.  My curiosity having been peaked by these ornate and some not so ornate coverings, the walk took on a new purpose becoming an adventure.  All the way to see the felines, I searched for and shot metal coverings. All the way back I did the same.
By the time I got to my last few discoveries, I finally eliminated all possible uses for what the coverings would have been used for as most would have eliminated the ornate punched hole designs. So they weren't used to protect electric wiring, gas mains, water pipes or act as cellar windows. Suddenly in a flash of enlightenment while thinking of all the uses for cellars in an old city and remembering what was stored in my friends’ cellar from decades back, it dawned on me - COAL CHUTES.
Now for anyone living surrounded by the particular set of the conditions I described above, and in the Northern Hemisphere, coal chutes were not that uncommon a feature in the buildings of the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Having grown up in Australia and being raised in Sydney, for me a coal cute was not something I think I ever came across. So considering what I saw that afternoon, I saw their existence in a whole new light.
The coal chutes amaze me that while being so functional, they could be made so lovely with ornate design, and in some cases not so ornate. There was an artistic magic to something that was made for such a practical as well as boringly necessity. Even more fascinating, as they have now, more or less, outlived their usefulness, some have been preserved on the buildings they have adorned, albeit in a variety of conditions, but remaining ever lovely.
Like chunks of coal, even though these chutes have served their purpose, they are functional diamonds that have stuck to their job.  I hope they remain in existence. Maybe someone else, with a similar sense of curiosity and adventure, will one day feel compelled to “Shoot the Chutes!”
"Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs."
 Malcolm Forbes

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