The Seven Bridges of Königsberg is a historically notable problem in mathematics wherein the mathematician or walker was challenged to cross each of the aforementioned bridges once and only once. The problem can be ported to most other cities, but most cities are considerably more complicated than Königsberg in the seventeenth century.
For example there are a total of 39 bridges over the Seine in Paris. There are 8 bridges that simply carry Parisian streets over other streets. There are 10 bridges used by the RATP with their stupid logo. There are 133 bridges used by SUCF, 148 bridges over the périphérique, and 49 pedestrian bridges. Try to cross each one of those once and you'll likely jump off half way through.
I'm in Paris for a long weekend for work. When the plane lands I turn on my phone and I get a list of text messages and emails. Instead of reading them I read the Wikipedia about the Seine. Every day I plan to run by the Seine and think about the people who have thrown themselves in. I think it's miserable to have your own suicide overshadowed by Virginia Woolf.
The next morning I run through the Marais, past Hotel Carnavalet; the sun hasn't come up fully yet and the fog still sits over the bare trellises of the Tuileries. I jog around Les Invalides and turn around and wander back along the rivers. Paris is difficult to navigate by instinct, unless you're a native. There's no sense in the ways the streets go.
I've got to keep the Seine to one side and the Eiffel Tower in sight when possible.
Woolf didn't walk into the River Seine. She put on her overcoat, filled her pockets with stones, and walked into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. That afternoon I met Sophie at a cafe. Not the Parisian kind of cafe but the kind that's been digested and reconstituted. The kind with four-euro espresso and no liquor. I met Sophie while on a Fulbright a long time ago. I ask her why she lives in Paris.
She says, " Where else is there?"
I say I'm not sure.
She works for a small literary imprint of a large European publishing house. She says, "I get to spend all day in shoveling coal into the furnace of literature."
I tell her that's shitty.
She says that she, "Doesn't even get to see where the boat is going, but she knows that she's a on it."
I ask her if she's writing and she just kind of shakes her head and looks away.
Sophie invites me to go to a party that night out past the Peripherique at a rather vague conglomeration of gallery, anarchist collective, and commune. There's an opening of a gallery show and she knows the artist and some people. It should go without saying that no one who wants to make art can live in the city anymore.
The artist, Claude, kissed both of us on both cheeks when we walked in and said that we had just missed Rick Owens. He was ecstatic. Later by the cocaine table, he told me that he didn't appreciate visual art at all, but all of his paintings came directly from novels.
Claude insisted that we meet René, his Svengali, and owner of the gallery/commune. René shook our hands and said no more than "Bonjour, Enchanté, etc." for the rest of the night he seemed always to be in the room doing something but never talking to anyone. Every time I turned around I swear he would be staring at me from a different point in the room.
I joined a picnic table full of fashion goths. In my broken French I explained that I was here on business, and that I "do something in tech." They all said that they were artists. I asked them if they were painters like Claude.
They started laughing. It started as a chuckle, and then became loud and taunting. I almost got up to leave.
"No, not like Claude." One gasped, wiping his eyes.
Another paused long enough between laughing and weeping to roll a cigarette. They passed it around, and when it got to me, the fashion goth to my right smiled with a mouth full of tobacco stained teeth and said, "Fais gaffe."
A text from Sophie said, "Where the fuck are you, are you ok?"
It was three in the morning. I was somewhere in Paris. I was walking toward the Eiffel Tower. My feet hurt and the Seine was too my left. I did not recognize the neighborhood. It was around three in the morning. I considered throwing myself in the Seine as I crossed over the bridge to the other side, but a taxi pulled around the corner and I flagged it down.
A few hours later I'm in a cab headed for a meeting. There I propose some "goal oriented strategies of prioritization." I had to record the meeting so that I could remember later what I had proposed. At the end of the presentation the rest of the attendees clapped.
From the office I took a car to Charles du Gaulle. The Parisian suburbs metastasize with horrific architecture of the housing projects of the 80s. This is where burning cars became a national pastime. As the driver, whose name is also Charles, navigates northeast to the airport, I scroll through pictures of flaming cars. There are cars on fire in the dark, too bright for whatever else is around; there are overturned cars with crowds of people around them. There aren't very many pictures of burning cars with people trying to make them stop burning.
On the plane I wash down an Ambien with a scotch and wake up some twelve hours later when the doors open and humidity rushes in to the cabin. It's early morning in Bangkok, and by the time I take a car to my hotel toward the center of the city the sun is about to come up.
A receptionist gives me seemingly impossible directions to my room. I have to take two separate elevators and cross an endless courtyard.
From my balcony I can see ships trolling the Chao Phraya, some with blinking lights, some little fishing boats without. Some big dinner cruises are just shutting off their lights at dock. Staff are sweeping off the decks and smoking cigarettes with their white service coats and aprons draped over the railing.
There are some dozen bridges in Bangkok, some over the Chao Phraya, some over canals or other bodies of water.
I run along the river, toward the Rama VIII Bridge, and has a single inverted Y shaped pylon supporting its asymmetrical span. The cables that extend harp-like from the obelisk are yellow. This bridge isn't very tall. It sits only a few meters away from the water. The Chao Phraya is very broad but moves quickly, at least this time of year.
Later that day, after a tour of the office and some meetings, I was on one of the dinner cruise ships. The waiters buzzed around with bottles of champagne from France, refilling your glass even when you tried to stop them. The table was full of colleagues and important business people whose names I'd have to look up later.
I know that one, Arun, was telling a story about Thai folklore, about a forest — a forest common to all folklores he insisted – but in this case, located in northern Thailand, the forest used to be the home of mythical creatures. Now that much of this forest has been clear-cut even city people are seeing the creatures elsewhere. The most common sighting is the Naga — King Snake.
As Arun introduced us to King Snake everyone on the boat seemed to scream in unison. Someone had jumped off the upper deck of the boat. As the diners rushed to the railing it became obvious that the jumper couldn't swim as he struggled against the current. One of the waiters stripped off his white jacket, laid it on the railing, and leapt into the river with a life preserver.
When he reached the jumper the whole dinner party clapped.
After landing in San Francisco, I took the train downtown and took a cab to my apartment. I set my luggage down without unpacking it and flipped through the mail. I threw it in the recycling bin without opening anything.
From my apartment it's an easy run into Presidio. I take the trail that goes from the bridge to the beach. I run by the abandoned batteries and imagine an invasion force washing up on the beach, piling out of boats, and swarming up the steep hill face, as those in the battery rain down shells.
From the battery you can see the Golden Gate Bridge. To date there have been more than 12,000 suicides from the bridge. A video artist managed to record 17 of these using a motion activated camera. I found little evidence that there were many suicides off the Rama VIII, probably because it's not tall. I did find one in the news: a man climbed the pylon and jumped off, decapitating himself.
After I finish my loop through the park I turn back into the city and the rain starts. It's cold and feels, I don't know, purifying. When I get home I take off my wet clothes and fall asleep for two days.
The foggy days are better — less people on the trail. The path through the park can be crowded when the fog burns off. I try to go through when I know no one will be there. I wake up around six to go out to run. The trail is muddy and slick. The bridge emerges from the fog.
I put in my appearance at the office downtown for no particular reason other than that I don't want anyone to forget that I'm on payroll. I excuse myself, saying that I have a lunch meeting with a client that I need to get to. I eat by myself and expense it.
The flight to Portland is as rough as any I've ever been on. The pilot never even turned the fasten seatbelts sign off. In a communal situation where everyone is at risk of the same violent sudden death it's hard not to imagine what everyone else is visualizing. It's easy to just sit and visualize flying into a mountain in the clouds. But it's more interesting to try to imagine how other people are feeling.
The turbulence was so bad that people started turning on their cell phones and texting or calling people. I can't imagine who I would want to talk to in that situation; who do you want to talk to in the moment of your death?
When we touched down in everyone clapped. The older man next to me started to cry. The fog was so close in to the windows that I couldn't see the lights of the airport. I turn on my phone and there are a dozen texts from some people I know and some people I don't know.
Portland is full of bridges. The Willamette River runs through the city, dividing it into awkward conjoined twins. The top mirrors the bottom in a kind of time lag. Despite all the bridges over the rivers, and their suicide prevention hotline signs posted on the pylons, people tend to jump from a bridge inland called Vista Bridge. That bridge is in the hills in the Goose Hollow neighborhood and crosses over a road and a light rail line.
These are some things that I learned while on the train into the city center. From the train stop I walk to the hotel; it's raining lightly and, I'm glad when I walk into the hotel bar to see Dennison and Mark waiting for me. They're working on a font for me. I criticize their ‘h' for being too voluptuous, and I recommend they take a look at some bridges. For the most part appreciated the direction they were heading. We have a very on trend dinner at the bar. I start getting texts from other people that I know in the city. I lie and tell them that I had to cancel the plans last minute.
There are a dozen bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland, but Portland is at the intersection of the Willamette and the Columbia River, so there are an additional three bridges crossing the Columbia into Washington. Up river from Portland on the Columbia is a bridge called the Bridge of the Gods. This takes the place of a historical and mythical Bridge of the Gods formed by a landslide that dammed the Columbia River and drowned 35 miles of forest.
I decide to go for a run in Forest Park. There's 11 miles of gravel road, much of it on the side of a ridge that sometimes drops several hundred feet nearly straight down. At the bottom of the hill is a section of the Willamette River designated a superfund site due to over a century of heavy industrial use.
In the park it's always dim due to a heavy canopy of trees and moss. The fog and the rain give it a horror movie feeling and the only thing you can hear is your own feet and dripping water.
I run with my eyes closed but instead of running off a cliff side I run into a tree. I lie on my back in the mud and let the rain fall on me until I get tired of that.
The next day I drive out to the suburbs to a large corporate campus to meet with some people. I can't even remember what their faces look like now. I again record the meeting, but I'm beginning to doubt that I'll even bother to listen to it.
Before I go back to San Francisco I run along the river. There are dozens of other runners out, mostly in high viz colors. The rain falls lightly and occasionally fish jump. The headlights stream over the bridges in the dark of mid afternoon.
I spend a couple days in San Francisco. I meet with Erica. We've known each other since college and we've always talked about quitting our corporate jobs and starting our own company. I tell her that I'm moving to Copenhagen.
She says, "Why Copenhagen."
And I say, "Why not?" and that's that really. We don't have much to talk about.
The next day I stop by the office. I tell everyone at the office that I'll be back in a couple days and that I'm meeting with a supplier in Copenhagen about some issues.
Before the plane takes off I look up Copenhagen. There are only nine bridges in Copenhagen: the Briggebroen, the Dronning Louises Bro, the Dyssebroen, the Højbro, the Knippelsbro, the Langebro, the Slotsholmen, the Strombro, and the Teglværksbroen.
The Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem was solved by Leonhard Euler in 1735. Euler proved that the problem had no solution. It is impossible to cross over every bridge only once.