Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rooftops and human sacrifices

Recently I read the following sentence in The Savage Detectives (Los Detectives Salvajes) by  Roberto Bolaño:

Through the only window, as small as a porthole, you can see the neighboring rooftops, where human sacrifices are still performed, according to Ulises Lima, who got it from Monsiváis.
The sentence has no context. The sentences before and after do not help. It is a "one off" occurrence in the book and it raises a set of questions:
  • Which rooftops are most suitable for human sacrifice?
  • Have I seen roofs like that before?
  • Do we have roofs like this in Rotterdam?
  • Are human sacrifices still performed there?
Rooftops of the corporate domain - view from Groothandelsgebouw Rotterdam
But what the sentence really does - it opens a portal into alternative reality. Maybe we live in a reality where unspeakable acts happen on our own roofs - and we don't know about it. Maybe the reality we live in - capitalist, consumer oriented and controlled by corporations - is just a facade that hides unspeakable terrors.  Like the female homicides in Mexico, or the suicides in Apple factories. But:
  • Are the worst terrors out there in the corporate domain? Invisible because of their huge size? Like the devastating speculation in food commodities by Goldman Sachs or the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff.
  • Or are they hidden in the private domain? Invisible because they are below the radar? Like the murders committed by Marc Dutroux of the incest hidden by Josef Fritzl.
Rooftops of the private domain - view from parking garage rooftop, Witte de Withstraat
One is reminded of the famous Sherlock Holmes quote about the city being safer than the country in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches:
All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage. "Are they not fresh and beautiful?" I cried with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street. 
But Holmes shook his head gravely. "Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."
"Good heavens!" I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"
"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."
"You horrify me!"
"But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.
In the future I will always look at rooftops with suspicion. They are more uncanny than I ever suspected. But which are the most suitable for human sacrifice?

In my years of - quite unspectacular - urban exploration I have seen many rooftops in Rotterdam. The ones best suited for human sacrifices could be found in Delfshaven, a suitably Lovecraftian part of Rotterdam. But I know from practice how hard it is to climb these rooftops without shattering rooftiles and making a lot of noise. And in between the rooftops there is insufficient space for any kind of ritual.
Rooftops of Delfshaven - Catharina Beersmanstraat - now demolished
British roofs look much more suitable. They are more mysterious and inaccessible. The chimneys are more surreal and threatening. The house seem more awake and aware.

Without the picture below I would not have written this blog entry. The picture shows the rooftops of Bath and it was published by els1999 on the urban exploration forum You can see more pictures and a longer description here on forever-changes.

The last unanswered questions are:
This is more difficult than it seems. I don't have the fantasy and the talent to do it. I can only search the city and hope that it will give me the right ideas. And sometimes it does. For example: what did a huge, dangerous magnet do in a back alley of Rotterdam? What was going on in that nondescript building in 2005? And there are more mysterious magnetic places in Rotterdam. I have to dig in my archive.


  1. In 1976 I lived in a mid-rise apartment with a balcony overlooking rooftops of smaller buildings in San Francisco. One morning I saw two young men come through a door and onto a lower roof. They sat down, lighted a can of Sterno, cooked some drug, probably heroin. One tied off and injected himself, then tied off the other and injected him with the same needle. They saw me, then one held up the needle and waved for me to come join them. I declined. They looked happy and care free. A few years later the AIDS epidemic was discovered and I wondered if those two survived it. Or did an overdose, possibly a contaminated drug,get them first?

  2. poetic portal of anomie: a technician's frozen view

  3. anaglyph pictures see Rotterdam 3D

    1. Interesting: