Saturday, May 28, 2011

Evil guidebooks

I found the following paragraphs in the book Presence of mind by Dirk van Weelden. It is interesting to speculate on the interaction between physical reality and its description in a guidebook. Are guidebooks evil? Or is it true what Goethe says: We only see what we know. - I translate that into: We do not notice things unless we are shown what to look at. Without the guidance of Marcel Minnaert many things would have stayed invisible for me!

Tourists do leave their country, but they never arrive in the country of destination. The plane lands and the tourist disembarks with his guidebook under his arm. This document contains maps and all sorts of useful information about transport, hotels and local legislation.

But a guidebook offers more: it exorcises one danger that threatens the tourist. Because his presence is defined by non-involvement and not-taking-part the tourist might be overwhelmed by the void, the futility of his presence so far from his normal involved and participatory existence. Thanks to the guidebook the tourist has something to do and his stay is given a goal.

The travel book guides the tourist through an imaginary country, that exists only on paper and in the minds of tourists and tour guides. This imaginary country is densely populated with trivia from history and folklore. Enough facts, stories and fabrications to smother the painful absurdity of the tourist status.

The travel guide cushions the tourists against the shock of physical arrival at his destination. This shock could destroy his tourist status and could have far-reaching consequences: suddenly he has emigrated and has been deprived of his job, his friends and his normal place of residence!

Something one must avoid at all costs is to start believing the guidebook during the trip. An ideal guidebook should feel like a satire of its own presence with its abundance of surreal detail, ludicrous legends, simplifications and exaggerations. The proper use of a guidebook should cause constant misunderstandings and should force the tourist into conversations with local residents through its transparent and hysterical misrepresentation of facts. A guidebook should make one's meaningless presence in other people's countries bearable and enjoyable through amusing idle stories.

Someone who uses a guidebook in this manner has ceased to be a tourist and has become a traveller. He has become someone who has temporarily emigrated, has temporarily exiled himself and has become unemployed without a fixed place of residence - while travelling through a foreign land. A traveller has no goal other than the endpoint of his trip - if there is an endpoint. Travelling is a movement and this movement is an end in itself. A traveller is someone who surrenders to his journey, with or without a travel guide in his pocket.

Dirk van Weelden - Tegenwoordigheid van geest - De bezige bij - 1989

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Yet another parallel world

I discovered this great biography in the Rotterdam library. There is lot of inspiring material in this short - just 179 page - book. Below a few inspiring quotes from The verbal and visual art of Alfred Kubin by Phillip H. Rhein. They are material for further research. As always: the professional artist finished his project with success, the amateur (me) is forever stuck in doing research.

Kubin himself once explained his creative insight into the fantasies of this world, "I do not see the world, just like that. In moments of strange half-wakefulness I am astounded to behold its transmutations which are often almost imperceptible, so that in my first stage of awareness they are seldom clearly seen, but must be groped for and gradually hunted out." 

"I felt the common bond between everything. Colours, smells, sounds, and tastes became interchangeable. And then I understood: the world is the power of imagination, imagination is power. Wherever I went and whatever I did, I was intent on increasing my joys and my sorrows, and secretly I laughed at both."

He realized that "it is not only in the bizarre, exalted, or comic moments of our existence that the highest values lie, but that the painful, the indifferent, and the incidental-commonplace contain these same mysteries. He was now moved by "universal life that mysteriously intermingles in men, animals, and plants, in every stone, in every created or uncreated thing".

"Diligently I studied the poetry of mossy court yards, hidden attics, shadowy back rooms, dusty spiral staircases; gardens gone to seed and overgrown with nettles; the wan colours of tile and parquet floors; blackened chimney-pots and the world of bizarre fireplaces. I played constant improvisations on a single melancholy, underlying theme - the misery of bereavement and the struggle against the incomprehensible.

I attempted the direct creation of new forms according to mysterious rhythms that I had begun to feel; they writhed, coiled, and burst against one another. Then I went even further by giving up everything but line, and developed a peculiar linear system, a fragmentary style that was closer to writing than to drawing. Like a sensitive meteorological instrument, it expressed the tiniest variation in my moods. 'Psycho-graphics' is what I called this style, and I intended some day to write a commentary on it".

He recaptured what G. K. Chesterton referred to as "spiritual wonder." "Everything," Chesterton wrote, "has another side to it ... Viewed from that other side a bird is a blossom broken loose from its chain of stalk, a man a quadruped begging on its hind legs, a house a giantesque hat to cover a man from the sun, a chair an apparatus of four wooden legs for a cripple with only two. This is the side of things which tends most truly to spiritual wonder.
In the art of his mature period his chimerical allusions are restrained and are held in careful relationship to the known and plausible facets of life. In these drawings total fantasy is rejected so that the credibility of the piece is not destroyed. Even if the events or the characters in the drawing are unrealistic or fantastic, the setting in which they are placed is often realistic. At his best he succeeded in what might be called the unnerving - rather than the negating - of reality.

Phillip H. Rhein, Ariadne Press, Riverside, California 1989
Amazon link
The pictures: `Die andere seite p. 87- Zwickeldt 1936 - Das Fabeltier 1903/1905

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

William Gibson trousers

Strange how much my life is influenced by literature. This time reading William Gibson's Zero History influenced my choice of trousers. Because my old jeans were falling apart I needed new ones. And William Gibson showed me the way with his prose. I had never noticed fashion before - it had always been invisible to me - but now I was alert and awake.

“We advertised. On fashion fora, mainly. Eventually we found a dealer, in Amsterdam, and met his price. He ordinarily deals in unworn examples of anonymously designed mid-twentieth-century workwear.”

“How it feels, to the touch. Someone had suggested I talk to this couple in Nagoya. They had an atelier there, above a little warehouse on the outskirts of a place called Ichinomiya. I can tell you that because they’re no longer there.

They were making jeans there, in deadstock fabric from a mill in Okayama. Depending on the length of the roll, they might get three pairs of jeans, they might get twenty, and once the roll was gone, it was gone. I’d heard they’d also been buying canvas from that same mill, Sixties stuff. I wanted to see it and, if it was good, talk them into selling me a few rolls. They’d tried it for jeans, but it was too heavy.

They were lovely people. There were stacks of samples of their jeans. Old photographs of American men in workwear. All of their machines were vintage, except the one they used for riveting. They had a German Union Special chain-stitching machine. A 1920s belt-loop machine.” She smiled. “Designers become machine nerds. Machines define what you can do. That and finding the right operators for them.” 

“I saw that an American cotton shirt that had cost twenty cents in 1935 will often be better made than almost anything you can buy today. But if you re-create that shirt, and you might have to go to Japan to do that, you wind up with something that needs to retail for around three hundred dollars. I started bumping into people who remembered how to make things. And I knew that how I dressed had always attracted some attention. There were people who wanted what I wore. What I curated.”

I am very happy with my new anonymous and functional  trousers from the workwear store. The cloth feels stiff and heavy. The color is dark and unbleached. And they have an extra pocket, meant for a hammer, but very suitable for an mp3 player.

My only critique is that they are not really anonymous. They belong to a design-line of workwear. And although they are called Brams Paris they are really a Dutch brand. But it's a funny coincidence that they have a model called Gibson. Did they read the novel?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seedlings 2

As I stated in a previous post it can be quite difficult to determine the species of seedlings. I had to wait a long time before I was sure what these were.
30 march 2011 - photographed
4 april 2011 - photographed
Next time I should remember to put something in the picture for scale. Now it's not possible to see that the older seedlings are much bigger than the young ones.
11 april 2011 - scanned
28 april 2011 - scanned
It took me almost a month to be sure that this seedling was a maple tree, most likely Acer Pseudoplatanus. This is how it looks in it's natural environment at the train station. If the gardeners wouldn't weed them we would get a nice (crypto-) forest here in a few years:
26 april 2011 - notice the cigarette butt for scale
Maple - Wikipedia
The location - Google Maps

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Support your local occultist

Reading the Handlexikon der magischen Künste  by Hans Biedermann I discovered a few occultists living in my neighborhood. It could be an interesting project to find the places where they lived and to visit these locations. Most likely no trace remains and these events have been totally forgotten.
Local occultists and early rationalists:

 Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698) was a preacher from Amsterdam. In 1690 he published Die Betooverde Wereld (The World Bewitched) in which he denied the existence of phenomena generally ascribed to the devil. He attacked the belief in sorcery, evil spirits, possession by the devil and pacts with the devil. Indeed he questioned the devil's very existence. The book had a sensational effect and was one of the key works of the Early Enlightenment in Europe.
All pictures are from The Hague, surroundings of the Prinsenmarkt.
Giuseppe Francesco Borri (1602 - 1681) moved to Amsterdam in 1660 after being accused of heresy by the Inquisition in Rome. From all over Europe, princes and merchants came to the physician-alchemist to be cured of syphilis. He extended his interests, and his fame, besides medicine and alchemy, to magic, cosmetics and engineering. The Amsterdam city senate conferred on him honorary citizenship but just at the height of his fame, indebted for his luxurious life and probably forced by the obscure manoeuvres of other physicians envious of his fame, he was forced to flee to avoid arrest.
Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604–1670) built up a business in Amsterdam manufacturing pharmaceuticals. This led to both great financial success and to bankruptcy in 1649. In 1660 he became seriously ill, which has been attributed to poisoning from the various heavy metals used in his work. He died on 16 March 1670 in Amsterdam. The hydrate of sodium sulfate is known as Glauber's Salt. He named it sal mirabilis (miraculous salt), because of its medicinal properties: the crystals were used as a general purpose laxative.
The famous alchemical book Mutus Liber (The silent book) might have been written by the Dutch philologist, physician and alchemist Jacobus Tollius (Rhenen 1633 – Utrecht 1696). He was rector of the Latin school in Gouda (1665) and Leiden (1672) but was dismissed because of his liberal views.
In 1760 the Comte de Saint Germain (1710 - 1784) was sent to The Hague on a diplomatic mission to arrange peace between Prussia and Austria. He made enemies in France and had to flee to London. The adventurer Casanova was in The Hague at the same time and he gives some details of this escape. Casanova also reports how Sain Germain transmuted silver into gold in The Hague using "Athoeter" - a white mercurial liquid contained in a white glass phial. But Casanova suspects the transmutration was a trick.
From 1612 to 1617 Angelo Sala (1576 - 1637) lived in The Hague and worked there as physician and alchemist. In 1614, he reported that silver nitrate (lapis lunearis) will turn black in sunlight. He published his findings in a pamphlet entitled Septem Planetarum Terrestrium Spagricia Recensio. He is one of the forefathers of photography.
Local occult editions:
  • Astrologia Gallica by Jean-Baptiste Morinus was published poshumously in 1661 in The Hague.
  • A French translation of Occulta Philosophia by Agrippa von Nettesheim was published in The Hague in 1727.
  • Theatrum Fati Sive Notitia Scriptorum De Providentia Fortuna Et Fato by Peter Friedrich Arpe was published in Rotterdam in 1712.

Handlexikon der magischen Künste, Hans Biedermann

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Edible landscapes

After writing about real estate landscapes and abstract landscapes I was inspired to explore my kitchen for edible landscapes. I only found six. A small sample, but maybe we can learn something from it:

Camomilla tea - Kneipp Werke - Würzburg - Germany
English tea blend - Douwe Egberts Nederland - Utrecht - The Netherlands
Oatmeal - Quaker Oats - Leicester - United Kingdom
Weetabix original - Weetabix - Kettering - United Kingdom

Ricola LemonMint - Ricola - Laufen - Switzerland
Boerenland Custard - Friesland Campina - Veenendaal  - The Netherlands
What do they have in common:
  • Sunny landscapes - Hills and wide views - Blue skies with a few white clouds
  • Trees - Small-scale natural farming - A lot of green
  • Pleasing to look at - Peaceful - Relaxing
The landscapes are idealized and they present an innocent (?) escape from daily (mostly urban) reality. They create a holiday-like atmosphere. Their modernness is surprising, one would expect more explicit references to the good-old times, before mass-production and industrialization. Probably the message of cleanness, naturalness and ecology is more important that sentimental memories.

Also interesting is that relatively few packages contain landscapes. Most packages just show the product itself or its ingredients.

References: Kneipp - Pickwick - Quaker Oats - Weetabix - Ricola - Campina

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Abstract landscapes - Lovecraft index

During a walk through Waddinxveen I saw a small Chinese vase standing on a windowsill. An object without artistic value but the illustration caught my eye. A simple landscape - reeds in the background, birds in the sky and a tiny man in a tiny boat on a lake.

It brought back a stream of childhood memories. You could dream yourself away in those tiny landscapes on vases, plates and playing cards. These schematic, abstracted landscapes had more power than photographs.

Chateau Ventenac
Chateau Coulon
You can find the same landscapes on wine bottles. Dreamy hills and castles overlooking the vineyards. Quiet and static. Their stories are slow and grounded to the spot - spanning millennia - consistent with the views of Fernand Braudel.
Piatnik - Salzburger Einfachdeutsche - 36 Blatt - Nr. 32
Piatnik - Doppeldeutsche - 33 Blatt - Nr. 1884
Piatnik - Tarock - 54 Blatt - Nr. 34
For some reason Central European playing cards contain many of these strange landscapes. Gravestones, statues, castles and enigmatic scenes. The scenes look folkloric and historical. There must be some scientific explanation of the iconography. I guess they date back to the 1800 Rococo or Biedermeier styles. But I have not researched this.
AGM Urania - Rider Tarot - Art. No. 12.387
The famous Rider-Waite tarot deck from 1909 contains many abstracted landscapes in it's backgrounds. These tiny landscapes enhance the mysterious effect of these symbolic images.

Could we enhance this effect and translate it to our daily surroundings? Remodel the daily walk to the supermarket into a dangerous adventure. Decompile the suburban parking lot into unexplored alien terrain. Some people have tried it before. It has been done by the surrealists - in the paranoiac-critical method:

 ... by simulating paranoia one can systematically undermine one's rational view of the world, which becomes continually subjected to associative transformations, "For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in this manner ... The point is to persuade oneself or others of the authenticity of these transformations ... The mad logic of Dali's method leads to a world seen in continuous flux ... in which objects dissolve from one state into another, solid things become transparent, and things of no substance assume form. 

My aim is not so brutal. I do not search for obvious transformations but for unexpected layers of imagination projected on top of reality "as is". For example ... it is possible to give a "Lovecraft index" to any place you find yourself in:
  • Rotterdam - Lovecraft index = 6
  • Delft - Lovecraft index = 7.5
  • Dordrecht - Lovecraft index = 8
  • Schiedam - Lovecraft index = 9

I will provide evidence in future blog posts. Of course the index is fractal. There always exist high-index regions inside of low-index regions. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Real estate landscapes

There is unexpected beauty in the landscapes from the Property Gallery of the Financial Times. These tiny pictures - 7 x 5 cm - were never intended as artworks. Their goal is to entice a potential buyer.

But if you look at them closely they reveal a dream-world of mystery and beauty. Postcards from another world and time. Far removed from earthly commercial intentions. Somehow they resonate with pictures in our minds - should we call them meme-landscapes?

It is interesting that a minority of real estate advertisements shows the view. Most show a photograph of the object for sale. Doest that mean that there is no photograph of the object? Or that the object is not enticing enough? Or that the view is the most important selling point - like it is with Central Park in New York?

There is a whole Flickr group dedicated to this kind of photography: Photography for Real Estate. It is fascinating to look at the pictures and read the comments.

Financial Times - April 9/April 10 2011 - House and Home - pages 5, 6, 7, 8

From top to bottom:
Mayaquadras - Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
Savills - Western Cyprus
Winkworth - Cologny Geneva Switzerland
John Taylor - Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
Knight Frank - Lake Geneva Switzerland
Berry & Quinti - Var Provence France

Monday, May 2, 2011

Minor bioterror

 At the moment - May 2011 - the elm trees are dropping their seeds. The air is full of little coin-shaped projectiles. Like snowflakes, featherlight, they traverse long distances and form huge heaps out of the wind.

Today I gathered a shopping bag full of these seeds. At least 5 liters but they weighed almost nothing. The plastic bag looked and felt like a pillow filled with down.

I had a devilish plan. According to some gardening websites elm trees are a noxious weed:

It will be a blizzard of seeds, and they will drift in the yard just like snow. I observe that the seeds have a 100% germination rate, or damn near it. They will even germinate out of a pile of nothing but themselves, given a little moisture. I have never encountered a plant so prolific.

Aaargh, these things are the bane of our gardening! The "snow" is pretty, I'll give you that, but then picking the sprouts all summer lest they take root, oh I hate it. Because once they get established they are truly a bitch to get out.

There are 3 mature elm trees across the back lane from me. Every spring at least some of those seeds fly into my yard. I try to remove them as they sprout but there are always some that start growing underneath a shrub or perennial and go unnoticed until next spring.

Definitely tough little trees, they often start growing in any crack in the cement that has soil exposed.

At the train station there is a nice little forest with planted trees (many oaks, a few maples) and trees that grew spontaneously from seeds (oak, maple, elder). But no elm trees yet. Today I've emptied my bag of seeds there. We'll see if the seeds are as lively as the websites say.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Urban wind study

Usually the urban atmosphere is invisible. Periodically it becomes visible. This happens in spring and in autumn. In spring the petals of the fruit trees fall and are blown by the wind. In autumn the leaves fall. In quiet corners they overwinter and can last far into spring.

But the best wind indicator is the fruit of the elm tree. Light and numerous - just like natural confetti. These little "coins" reveal the lightest eddies and dust devils.

Notice how the individual particles move over long distances, but how the large-scale pattern stays constant.

Elm tree - Wikipedia
Dust_devil - Wikipedia
Eddy - fluid dynamics - Wikipedia