Globalopolis

From: The Prison Series, Giovanni Piranesi (1761)

I used to have a recurring dream in which I was trapped inside a city.  I would be walking through the back alleys of my old neighborhood in east Amsterdam, all the way to the harbor. As I reached the edge of the water, I’d see Hong Kong on the other side of the bay and realize everything was one enormous connected city.

In my dreams, I’d board a tram in Amsterdam and get off at the next stop in New York. Trying to cross the tracks to the opposite platform, I’d find myself in a meadow in France where, through a gap in a fence, I could sneak into Tibet. The Tibetan highlands and the French countryside were just parks inside the city.

Sometimes I’d be driving on a bypass road around the city, trying to get away, but whichever exit I took, it would lead me to another bypass road that got me entangled even further in the city’s network of highways.

I would explore New York skyscrapers – climb along the steel framework behind the walls, or crawl through air-conditioning ducts – and I'd discover that all the skyscrapers in the world are connected through secret passages.

Every time I went to sleep I would find myself in different places: Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Beijing, Tel Aviv… But they were all actually just one big dream city.

I have a whole shelf of journals in which I recorded those dreams. I thought that if I carefully documented them all, I could map the city and find a way out.

But for the past ten years or so I haven’t dreamed of the city, and I no longer write down my dreams. In fact, I barely remember them at all. When I do remember them, they are often just confused reruns of mundane daytime events. Often, my waking life itself seems as unreal as a dream: for hours on end I stare at a screen through which I connect with a world created in other people’s minds. I have given up trying to find my way out of the city.

But the dream has caught up with me in real life.

Last week, I read in the news that the Chinese government is considering to build a railroad that would connect Beijing to the United States. The railroad would stretch from Beijing through eastern Siberia, would traverse the Bering Strait to Alaska via a 125-mile-long underwater tunnel, and would then cut through Alaska and Canada to reach the US.

The city is closing in.