"the tour is not a study of buildings, dates, and statistics. it is a study of ourselves." ~timothy "speed" levitch
timothy speed levitch is my newest hero. i watched bennett miller's (now almost ten-year-old) documentary "the cruise" about levitch when he was living in manhattan and guiding tours of the city with the most quirky and celebratory candor and i was instantly smitten. his take on the significance of the landmarks of a city is in stark contrast to the spectacle of tourism as we know it, and reminded me of guy debord's definition of tourism as being "the act of going to see what has already become banal." the glazed-over expressions of many of his passengers do not change a whit all the while that he is saying the funniest and most brilliant of things (though in this particular still of the film, the general blankness of the tourists is not apparent). at times his mannerisms bring to mind other free-spirited characters: willy wonka, charlie chaplin, and his unruly hair brought my affections for georges perec and einstein also into the influence he had on me. though his voice bears a similar peculiarity to woody allen's, i think he is more the antithesis of woody allen than anything else. proof in point:
levitch: "you are better than any party you've ever been to."
allen: "i wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."
and now, in the last twenty-four hours, i have managed to finish reading levitch's book "speedology: speed on new york on speed." published in 2002, i'd say it was time another edition was released, because it is a very hard [read expensive] book to get into one's hot little hands. the observations of levitch have some of that jouissance of whitman's poems combined with just enough humor, ironic distance and purely interesting factual information, so that reading him bears some resemblance to having someone play really good pinball with your brain. a couple of sentences scoring high:
"Common sense is the department store of the mind."
"the feeling of arrival, that feeling of being grand and central simultaneously, is the sensation of an adventure coming just as you in turn become the adventure's discovery."
"if you're a woman you can consider your whole body a jet engine."
"i completely identify with [magellan]. the major decision of his life was whether to go with or against the wind."