In a short post on MadRegale, Wired correspondent Alexis Madrigal suggests that we should open a series of “Chinese air bars” so that people around the world can temporarily experience what it’s like to breathe the polluted city air of China.
[Image: The “air” in Beijing on June 20, 2008, with the summer Olympics less than two months away. Photo by James Fallows].
China, home to some of the most polluted cities in the world, could thus capitalize on its newest export: vials of urban atmosphere. They’ll simply export the sky.
They do it already, in any case, with huge oily clouds of industrial particulates blowing halfway around the world to land as dust on the streets of California; this way they’d just make a little money from it. Athletes training for this summer’s Olympics could order it by the tankful.
It’d be like bottled water – or like Marcel Duchamp’s Paris Air, in which a 50cc phial of Paris air was exhibited as a readymade art object.
Take something; bottle it; bring it to market.
Leading me to wonder: if Marcel Duchamp had lived in a different historical era, would he perhaps have invented bottled water?
It’d be interesting, though, to open not only a Chinese air bar, but a Haitian air bar, and a Paris air bar, and an LA air bar – a whole series of air bars – or just one huge air bar in which all of these airs are served.
You could have even air flights: with a weird plastic mask attached to your face, staring deeply into the eyes of your date, you’d breathe in a succession of the rarest airs: Guangzhou followed by Cape Town followed by Rome is a particularly strong sequence. It brings out certain scents.
You could even wrap these up into complex, synesthetic packages – call it Café Synesthesia, and you’d appear on the evening news. While eating skirt steak you breathe packaged air from Sacramento. When you sip your wine, the air supply switches to a light southern Italian blend. Pasta dishes go well with air from the mountains of Colombia – and, in fifty years’ time, you can read Dave Eggers’s books while breathing air from San Francisco stored in 2008. It’s vintage. Stored under ideal conditions in steel tanks.
Or listen to Mozart while inhaling air from the streets of Vienna.
It’s the rise of the boutique air industry.
Cultural air archaeology.
Air harvesters – the preferred summer job for backpackers in 2050AD – are sent out to capture the sky in vast balloons. Air farms. The balloons are then kept in quarantine at international airports where stunned customs workers, earning minimum wage, look up at bulbous forms swaying inside hangars in semi-darkness.
The balloons are labeled: Singapore, Marrakech, São Paulo.
Next week your friends come round for a fish dinner – but it’s not complete till you seal off the room, twist a valve in the corner… and the air of central Tokyo wafts silently around you.
You’ve never eaten anything so good in your life.
Air rooms. Café Breathe.
Either way, Chinese air bars are just the start.