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  • A Tribute to Larry Ford
  • Maurizio Antoninetti, Sarah Champion, Zia Salim, Brenda Kayzar, Daniel D. Arreola, and Norman Carter (bio)
Maurizio Antoninetti, Sarah Champion, and Zia Salim
San Diego State University
Brenda Kayzar
University of Minnesota
Daniel D. Arreola
Arizona State University
Norman Carter
California State University, Long Beach
  • [Maurizio Antoninetti] Larry Ford: A Round Geographer Who Walked the Streets of the World
  • Maurizio Antoninetti

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[End Page 74]

“The descriptions of cities Marco Polo visited had this virtue: you could wander through them in thought, become lost, stop and enjoy the cool air, or run off ”

—Italo Calvino (1974), Invisible Cities, 38

When the news of Larry’s death reached me, I was rereading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. I had not chosen the book thinking of Larry. It was only one of the many works I discovered during my dissertation and that I have been using since. It’s one of those phenomenological studies Larry hesitatingly approved only after I finished a substantial paper that explained how a phenomenological approach would have worked in my research. “You must write it so that everybody can understand it,” he cautioned. “Do not use words or concepts I would not use.” His strategy was clear. The paper was not to explain phenomenology to him. He knew enough of it not to like it completely. The goal was to force me to arrive at the essence of the matter by removing the convoluted discourses often associated with such an approach. A true phenomenological exercise.

The e-mail announcing Larry’s death was not completely unexpected, but still it arrived too soon. Its gravity immediately brought thousands of memories flooding in. In one of those strange coincidences in life, some of Bachelard’s thoughts suddenly started speaking of Larry. Oddly enough, phenomenology was once again linking my world to his.

I first met Larry when I interviewed for the SDSU/UCSB joint doctoral program. On that warm San Diego day, I went to the Geography Department [End Page 75] to see if there were advisors I could comfortably work with during the next few years. That first meeting was brief, and when it was over I knew I had my main advisor. During that first meeting, Larry was where I would subsequently find him countless other times: sitting at an improbably small desk on which lay a much bigger Mac computer. He was typing something or reading from a book, I do not remember. Either way, I am sure he was performing what, I soon realized, was one of the things he did so well: translating into words what he had previously observed, assimilated, and elaborated. Just as Bachelard wrote, Larry was doing what real poets of space do. He was in the process of communicating the reverberations he had collected while doing another thing he had mastered: walking streets.

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Walking, observing, and reporting came naturally to Larry. I think such activities constituted his “élan vital” (Bachelard 1964, xvi), the vital impulse at the core of his understanding of the world. Unfortunately, I am not one of the many who spent hours walking with Larry. The fact is that I am, just like him, “an avid ogler of the urban scene” (Ford 2000, xi) but one that moves at his own pace and time. Together we took pleasure in contemplating both ordinary things and extraordinary things. An alley was for Larry as important as one of his beloved skyscrapers; St. Peter Square as monumentally interesting as a little trattoria. In his view, any thing constituted the nooks and crannies of everyday life. And, because of this, they deserved his attention.

Although walking together was rare for us, there were many times we visited places virtually by talking about things we had seen, people we had observed, places we wanted to explore. In this he was always miles ahead of me. Most of the time I discovered he had already experienced and, most likely, written of places I was simply wondering about. The only opportunities I had of giving something back were when our conversation gravitated to Italy...


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pp. 74-75
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