In this week’s New Yorker there is a short blurb about “Richard Wiese, the president of the Explorers Club,” who is getting ready “to climb a pair of volcanoes in Mexico.”
The real challenge, it seems, will be in preparing his body for substantial changes in altitude – and so Wiese has installed an altitude chamber back home, in the center of his office.
An altitude chamber? “The air inside simulates that which you would breathe high in the mountains: it contains less oxygen” – which prepares your body for the trip ahead. (There are, in fact, whole university training courses in this).
The chamber, in other words, is hypoxic.
[Image: David Blaine, in a transparent box over the Thames – totally irrelevant to this post, but it looks hypoxic, so…]
What’s fascinating here, aside from the levels of metaphor at work – the president of a prestigious Club in New York City, whose office is “on the third floor of a Tudor-style mansion on the Upper East Side,” steps into his own private atmosphere everyday, a rarefied chamber of unearthly reserve, at one remove from the polluted ruins of Manhattan outside, a man of Olympus, breathing only the best oxygen his money could buy, etc. – but the terrestrial implications.
The geographic implications of an altitude chamber.
Much has been made of the so-called “horizontal” networks in which we now supposedly exist – I can phone someone in Adelaide, for instance, or order machine parts to be fabricated in Guangdong; it’s all part of advanced globalization.
But an altitude chamber raises the intellectual stakes: this is the vertical linking of different, unconnected levels of the earth’s atmosphere. The altitude chamber, as The New Yorker says, “simulates” other vertical levels of the planet. Sitting inside of one, you could talk down to what the article calls “a sea-level visitor” even while resting high and mighty – at the exact same level of altitude.
One could, in fact, very easily imagine the next trend in restaurant design: rather than decorate with a Thai theme, or Japanese decor, a Roman ambience, you’d have a 15,000-foot foyer, or an exclusive, 22,500-foot back room. It would be the literal depressurization of the social environment.
Who cares if you can eat in a restaurant that feels like Paris? When you could eat at a restaurant that feels like it’s at 65,000 feet?
But I think I would prefer a hyperoxic chamber, in fact, because the more oxygen the better. Unless I burst into flame. But I could sit there, behind glass walls, like Lance Armstrong or the Oracle at Delphi, making elliptical pronouncements on a steady flow of pure oxygen about the virtuality of altitude, the simulational abilities of air itself – and I could impart upon legions of sealevel dwellers this vision of a new city, circular, utopian, made entirely of hyperoxic architecture, Euclidian, cubic, cylindrical, gleaming glass like crystal in every wall, people breathing, breathing, a city of nothing but ageless people breathing.
And the sun would set over a world of pressurized geometry.
[Image: Human-Rated Altitude Chambers.]