Sunday, July 31, 2011

Topography questions - Vlaardingen Maassluis walk

The walk and the questions
Last spring my wife and I walked the Jeneverpad - a well documented walk from Rotterdam to Maasluis, with it's own walking guide. The booklet gives some background information about the places we visit. But more questions are raised during the walk than can be answered. Part 1, part 2, part 2b.
Roemer Visscherstraat - Standard residential area. High density housing on the left, high density education on the right. Nameless canal and default greenery in between. Pleasant narrow path along the water. Leaving the city, entering artificial nature.
Nivonpad towards Krabbeplas - Artificial nature from the 1990's. On the left Golf-Area Schinkelhoek, freegolf - smaller balls, shorter trajectories, saves valuable space. Buttercup, cow parsley, rapeseed. The beautiful spring highway colours: grey, green, yellow, white and blue.
Thinking about the Von Thünen model - concentric rings of: city, gardening, forest, grain, ranching, wilderness. Could it still work? He didn't include leisure spaces in his model. Remains of a bronze age man were found in this area. He was both 43 years old and 3300 years old. I wish I had known this during the walk, I would have looked with different eyes.
The view over the Krabbeplas - Maasland with it's obligatory Protestant church (on the right, 1400) and Catholic church (on the left, 1886). No trace anymore of the important, but mostly forgotten Battle of Vlaardingen (1018). Impossible now to imagine knights in armor. You could play a Marcel Proust game with the church towers.
Zuidbuurt - Looking toward the garbage incineration plant on the other side of the river. Heavy industry is closer that one would think. You could also play a Marcel Proust game with these industrial chimneys.
Zuidbuurt - Pollarded ash trees. It is quite rare to see those. Traditional and ancient creatures.
Zuidbuurt, Recreatiepad - Contrast between old and new landscapes. Old and new trees.
Binnenbospad - The nature reserve Oeverbos has been constructed on top of heavily polluted soil that was dredged from the Rotterdam harbor (drins - the now banned chlorinated insecticides). Nature does not mind and neither do the large groups of immigrants that enjoy the free weekend and their large-family barbecues.
Oeverbospad - The beautiful silver poplar (Populus Alba) was brought to The Netherlands in the 17th century. Even in summer the rustling leaves create an autumnal atmosphere.
Oeverbospad - The mysterious pipe storage. These are only the last remains. Where did the rest go?
Burgemeester van der Lelykade - Gemaal Mr. Dr. C.P. Zaayer, a beautiful art-deco pumping station from 1926. It was designed as a diesel pumping station. Today it has modern electric pumps that can transport 2.2 million liters per minute.
Maasluis harbor - A beautiful cityscape from around 1650. The town has a rich history but today it is mostly a commuter town for Rotterdam.

Most important lesson from the walks:

  • The sometimes bland landscape hides a rich prehistoric and medieval history.
  • The old history is mostly invisible. Only from the 1600's onward you really start to see it.
  • Today the landscape has been homogenized. In earlier times it was a more interesting mosaic of small towns with their industries and their struggles for influence.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Marcel Proust ignored by psychogeographers

I do not intend to read Marcel Proust, I have too many unread books as it is.

  • Of course I could fake it like Derrida: ... Have you read all the books in here? ... No, only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.

I'm surprised that I never read about this fragment of Proust in any of the psychogeographic books I have. I recognize the feeling. Everywhere I am, I try to see the "towers" of Rotterdam and to orient myself by them. Today the towers are not religious anymore, they are the towers of the financial markets. And they do not give "an obscure sense of pleasure" but a sense of dread and disgust.
The towers of Rotterdam
But one would expect to read more about the pleasures of observing the movement of landmarks on the horizon. It combines "spatiality" and "superior awareness of highbrow culture". And that's what every psychogeographer wants, or not?

Proust fragment
Intellectual showmanship aside, the Proust text is interesting and inspiring. It invites us to think hard about the feelings our surroundings arouse in us: 
At a bend in the road I experienced, suddenly, that special pleasure, which bore no resemblance to any other, when I caught sight of the twin steeples of Martinville, on which the setting sun was playing, while the movement of the carriage and the windings of the road seemed to keep them continually changing their position; and then of a third steeple, that of Vieuxvicq, which, although separated from them by a hill and a valley, and rising from rather higher ground in the distance, appeared none the less to be standing by their side.
In ascertaining and noting the shape of their spires, the changes of aspect, the sunny warmth of their surfaces, I felt that I was not penetrating to the full depth of my impression, that something more lay behind that mobility, that luminosity, something which they seemed at once to contain and to conceal.
The steeples appeared so distant, and we ourselves seemed to come so little nearer them, that I was astonished when, a few minutes later, we drew up outside the church of Martinville. I did not know the reason for the pleasure which I had found in seeing them upon the horizon, and the business of trying to find out what that reason was seemed to me irksome; I wished only to keep in reserve in my brain those converging lines, moving in the sunshine, and, for the time being, to think of them no more. And it is probable that, had I done so, those two steeples would have vanished for ever, in a great medley of trees and roofs and scents and sounds which I had noticed and set apart on account of the obscure sense of pleasure which they gave me, but without ever exploring them more fully.

The original French comic book
Source of the English translation - and another
Weblog about reading Marcel Proust - in Dutch
The wonderful lectures on Marcel Proust - in Dutch
One of the church towers (?) - implies they don't really exist

Friday, July 22, 2011

Another hopeless project

All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett - Worstward Ho

I'm sure I will not be able to finish nor understand this book. Not even with the accompanying guidebook and the - quite good - podcasts I found on the Internet. But I'm intrigued by the "shock and awe" that surrounds this book and I want to get a taste of it. Most likely I will fail. No matter ...

Some references:
Podcasts - Caputo on Derrida. Looks very interesting.
Podcasts - Paul Fry on Deconstruction by Jacques Derrida. Great series of lectures.
Derrida’s Of Grammatology in Ten Weeks - Maybe another failed project? Only 2 weeks got written.
Erik Oger on Derrida - Quite a nice book, but does not help in reading Grammatology.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Topography questions - Schiedam Vlaardingen walk

The walk and the questions
Last spring my wife and I walked the Jeneverpad - a well documented walk from Rotterdam to Maasluis, with it's own walking guide. The booklet gives some background information about the places we visit. But more questions are raised during the walk than can be answered.  Part 1part 2part 2b.
Schiedam train station -  Looking towards the center of Rotterdam. I was her illegally, many years ago, while the metro viaduct was under construction. Somewhere inside the overhanging roof my name is still written. See here. Why are there so few new targets for urban adventure and exploration? Is the urban infrastructure finished at last?
Broersvest - The beautiful Art Deco shopping arcade built in 1932. Unfortunately several shops are empty. Does it have too much competition from the - very boring - modern shopping arcade nearby? Why are there so few old shopping arcades in The Netherlands?
Lange Haven - Warehouses and factory buildings belonging to the gin distilleries. These have a long and complex history that connects agricultural, technological. social, economic and political trends. Summaries in Dutch can be found here and here.
Schiedam has a strange dilapidated air - that is very uncharacteristic of the Netherlands. It scores high on my "Lovecraft index". It has a lot of cheap lower-quality shops. Why is this? Is it such a poor municipality? Was it much richer in the recent past? What has happened?
Vlaardingerdijk - Former Roman Catholic graveyard with a chapel from 1853. Nowadays the graveyard is not active anymore and the chapel has been restored and is used by the Romanian Orthodox Church. How does a graveyard become "unused"? When it is full?
Simon Rijnbendepad - The futuristic emergency exits of the underground. I have been inside there illegally during the construction. Great memories. See here. Notice the rich car - is this a transplant of expensive houses and rich people into a poor neighborhood? Does this approach work?
Piet van Gentstraat - A novel and voluminous redesign of the garden shed. Most are used as shops or galleries. Interesting idea, but I could not find anything about this on the Internet.
Unnamed paths between Simon Rijnbendepad and Schiedamsedijk - An abrupt boundary between suburb, industry and transport. An interesting undefined area. Why are these "liminal zones" so interesting?
Sportlaan - Why are sport fields always located in in-between areas, in no-man's land? Why do they often go together with allotment gardens? Simply because of lower ground prices?
The A4 highway looking north. A nameless overpass. Why have some urban objects names, and some not? What determines this?
Hargapad - The standard water and greenery that is always located at the borders of semi-suburban area's from the 1960's. The pond - is it just for natural beauty or does it have a hydrologic function?
Hargapad - A fortress-like underpass under the railway. A totally modern landscape, but this has a medieval feeling. Why making such an expensive conenction between two random bodies of water? Does this have a hydrological function? Water management?
Westlandseweg as seen from the Parkweg - A huge difference in height and atmosphere. Why is such a high dike / dam is necessary here? How old is it? Some of the old dikes in the Netherlands date from the 10th century.
Oranjepark - A private estate from the 17th century converted to a public city park in 1870. The labyrinth. Vlaardingen has a strange atmosphere - some parts feel very old and others have a very European big-city atmosphere.
Westhavenkade - Looking north. The harbour has been in use since the 15th century. The history of all these small cities with their own harbours must be fascinating. How and when did they lose their independence? When did they lose their function? Was this caused by the rise of the Rotterdam harbour?
Maassluisedijk - I still know too little about the hydrology that makes such high dams necessary. The Internet is useless for such local details.
Marnixlaan - I do not know if this is an artwork or not. I have not been able to find any information on this non-functional church tower. In theory it would be climbable and it is reachable by rubber boat.
Heemtuinpad - Standard suburban architecture and nature. Since when do all Dutch places look the same? Since the 1960's? Or do all Dutch places look the same - even the old ones like Delft and Dordrecht?
Vlaardingen West train station - Looking west.

Jeneverpad - Wikipedia
Jeneverpad - Booklet

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Topography questions - Rotterdam Schiedam walk

The walk and the questions

Last spring my wife and I walked the Jeneverpad - a well documented walk from Rotterdam to Maasluis, with it's own walking guide. The booklet gives some background information about the places we visit. But more questions are raised during the walk than can be answered.  Part 1part 2part 2b.
Diergaardesingel - How is it possible that no trace of the Rotterdam zoological garden remains? That only the name of the street "Zoo Canal Street" remembers the ornamental gate, the animal cages and the hat-wearing Victorian gentlemen? In the background one of the ugliest buildings in Rotterdam.
Essenburgsingel - What is the link between luxury quarters form early 1900 and the edge-lands of Dutch cities? Here the edge-land is formed by the railway, in other places by water of the boundary between city and country. Some buildings look like Prague.
G.W. Burgerplein - Are city parks more beautiful because they are surrounded by a wall of housefronts? Because of the extreme contrast? The park is a legacy - the city is not allowed to build there. In the background the house of Pim Fortuyn - the murdered Dutch politician.
Heemraadsingel - A street from the 1900's with notaries and lawyers. Had a bad reputation with drug addicts and other small criminals. It seems the situation is better now. How did poor immigrant workers come to live next to rich urban professionals?

Coolhaven - A strange in-between district. It combines old, new, poor, rich, urban, industrial and maritime elements. Lots of empty and unused space. People live here but it feels like no one lives here. How did that happen?
Delfshaven - An abrupt transition from 1950's architecture to 1600's history. This is where the Pilgrim Fathers left from. What causes this transition? (I saw an article about this in the library today, it is very complicated.)

Hudsonstraat - There used to be a train yard at the left with beautiful vague industry - secondhand car dealers, ceramic tile dealers, carpet-shops. Later prostitution settled here. Now the area has been sanitized. Where have the prostitutes gone now that they are invisible? Now a homeless man and his huge pile of garbage live beneath the wall on the left.
Marconistraat - A fruit-themed artwork in front of the Rotterdam fruit exchange. Fruit exchange? How did that work? What did it do? Why is the building now used as a party center? Do "fruit speculators" still exist and where do they work now?
Buitenhavenweg - The impressive and unexpected glass factory. It started as N.V. Glasfabriek "De Schie" in 1897 and was closely linked to the gin factory De Kuyper. Now it's part of Owens-Illinois, Inc., the world’s largest glass container manufacturer.
Buitenhaven - The port was dug in the 15th century. The warehouses might be anything between 16th and 19th century. What is their history? Do they hide Lovecraftian monsters?
Buitenhaven - For maximum contrast these are followed by a supermarket, a standard parking place and an enclosing ring of early 1900 housing. This looks like unused space. Why has nothing been built here yet? Do parking lots raise so much money?
Broersveld - The new shopping arcade. Why do they all look the same? Why do they all contain the sme boring shops? What has happened to local diversity? (It's the economy stupid.)
Schiedamsedijk - Taking the streetcar home.

The failure

I think this blog entry is a failure. The walk itself was very interesting and it is higly recommended. The pictures are a good illustration of the variety of cityscapes that one encounters. But it is almost impossible to write anything intelligent about the walk. The walk raises so many questions that all focus is lost. We might summarize it like this:
  1. The city is an extremely complex system.
  2. Life is too short to understand it in all details.
  3. There is no hope for the amateur.
  4. An amateur must focus on even smaller details. Like Umberto Eco writes in his manual Come si fa una tesi di laurea (1977) it is impossible to write a thesis about "Geology". You have to limit yourself. For example:
  • "Volcanology" - is too big a subject
  • "The volcanoes of Mexico" - could be used, but it wil be a very shallow study
  • "The history of the Popocatepetl" - would be a more interesting study
  • "The birth and the seeming extinction of the Parutin volcano 1943 to 1952" - would produce the best study and it could contain all that is known about the volcano in question. This would be Umberto Eco's choice.
I still have two thirds of this walk to document. How can I do it?
Jeneverpad - Wikipedia
Jeneverpad - Booklet

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Just two sketches. Trying to visualize the enormous amount of information that is encoded in everyone's  standard surroundings. But is "encoded" the correct word? I'm reading a book on semiotics, maybe I'll know better soon.
Layers of meaning - sketch 2
Layers of meaning - sketch 1

Imagination - Art - Literature - Religion - Culture - Sociology - Economy - Law - History - Biology - Botany - Geology - Aerodynamics - Meteorology - Physics

There are many taxonomies of sciences but I have not researched them yet.