Friday, December 28, 2012

Spam likes me

Simple honest praise

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rotterdam - Places of pilgrimage - 3

Preliminary results
With 66 data points more patterns start to emerge. Most are very obvious:

  • Cartography and topography is hard work. Even with the modern tools.
  • The highest concentration is around the city center and the museums. That's because I come here most often. It's the area I know best.
  • The area is bounded by bicycle travel time. It's unusual to drive longer than 45 minutes to visit a place of pilgrimage.
  • Most places are in older areas of the city.
  • The southern part of Rotterdam is under represented. Most places are near to river crossings (bridges and tunnels).
  • I have exhausted the ready supply of places in memory. I will have to browse my picture archives for more. And I will have to redo some bicycle expeditions to remember forgotten places.
  • I will have to use the underground to explore more distant places.
  • It might be possible in future to make a map of boring and non-boring areas of Rotterdam.
  • I don't know if photographs of places would be better than the current text descriptions.

Third list and map
  1. View of the Erasmus bridge by night, Prins Hendrikkade, Noordereiland - A beautifully dystopian view of mechanical modern architecture, combined with 1950´s architecture behind your back.
  2. The Wilhelmina fountain, Burgemeester Hoffmanplein, Noordereiland - A beautiful old-style fountain from an undemocratic age when you still could build pompous monuments for queens. It should be done again.
  3. Half-life atmosphere at night, Burgemeester Hoffmanlaan, Noordereiland - At night the stairs at the back of this building have a surreal, half-life like atmosphere. Pleasantly dystopian.
  4. Unexpected long back alley, Sleephellingstraat, Noordereiland - A long back-alley running along city-gardens and backs of storage spaces. Look through one windows and you see blank monitors showing white noise.
  5. Semi-forgotten playground, Marinestraat, De Ruyterstraat, Noordereiland - A scruffy playground surrounded by strangely clipped poplars. Last time I was there it was full of sparrows. You don't see these often in Rotterdam. According to some maps this should be the exact location of Rotterdam at N 51.55 - E 4.30.
  6. Green man, Nieuwe Binnenweg - A Green Man sculpture has been rescued from a demolished building and has been attached to the facade of the modern apartment building. Such is the power of these mythological images.
  7. Green man, Gouvernestraat, Nieuwe Binnenweg - One of the few remaining green man sculptures in Rotterdam. You find these on late 1800 - early 1900 neo-renaissance buildings.
  8. Green man, Westersingel - Most beautiful green man sculptures in Rotterdam. Four classic green man faces. You find these on late 1800 - early 1900 neo-renaissance buildings.
  9. The Caland monument at the Veerkade - A spectacularly different place. It feels tropical, like Curacao or Suriname. A southern atmosphere with the ethnographic museum and the monument to the engineer who designed Rotterdam's harbor connection with the sea.
  10. Van 't Hoff monument, 's-Gravendijkwal. - Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff was a Dutch chemistry researcher and the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The monument is one of the few "industrial age" statues in Rotterdam. It's an interestingly strange location between 19th century luxury houses (housing several Scandinavian churches) and a busy, dirty car tunnel.
  11. The LaPlace restaurant, Oude Binnenweg, Karel Doormanstraat - I was surprised to find several commercial establishments on my list. But this one has passable coffee, great cakes and sandwiches and - most important - a great view of Rotterdam. It's always inspiring to sit there and look out over the rooftops. A great starting place for walks.
  12. The Bijenkorf cafetaria, Coolsingel, Van Oldenbarneveltplaats - Another commercial establishment on my list. But this one has good coffee, passable cakes and good sandwiches and - most important - a great view of Rotterdam through its high and broad windows. It's always inspiring to sit there and look out over the busy streets.
  13. The invisible city park, Karel Doormanhof - An unexpected oasis of silence inside the busy city center. A bit unkempt with old trees, neglected backsides of building, a playground and a parking lot. It's relaxing to be inside this unexciting space.
  14. The statue of Christ, Wijkpark Oude westen, West Kruiskade - An unexpectedly Catholic statue of the Sacred Heart of Christ. Impressive and moving even though it's very traditional. One would not expect such a statue in the mixed Chinese / Muslim / old (protestant) area of Rotterdam.
  15. Old wall, Wijkpark Oude Westen, West Kruiskade - On very urban looking old wall. A bit run-down, eroded and dirty. It's a pleasure to look at. Feels more like France than Holland.
  16. Old windmill, Noordschans, Mathenesserdijk, Delfshaven - The rump of an old windmill. It's an anomalous object between the modern buildings. But there are more old remains in this area, probably one of the most authentic old parts of Rotterdam.
  17. Poplar alley, Waalhaven Oostzijde - Especially impressive on a calm Sunday afternoon in autumn. The sound of the rustling leaves along the silent railroad tracks is very romantic.
  18. The monolith, Frederikstraat, 1e Crooswijksedwarsstraat - Clive Barker, Imajica: But its truest name was also perhaps its plainest: the Pivot. Controversy had raged for centuries about whether the Unbeheld had set it down in the smoky wastes of the Kwem to mark the midpoint between the perimeters of the Imajica, or whether a forest of such columns had once stood in the area, and some later hand (moved, perhaps, by Hapexamendios' wisdom) had leveled all but this one. Whatever the arguments about its origins, however, nobody had ever contested the power that it had accrued standing at the center of the Dominions. Lines of thought had passed across the Kwem for centuries, carrying a freight of force which the Pivot had drawn to itself with a magnetism that was virtually irresistible.
  19. Santos warehouse, Brede Hilledijk - Beautiful relic from the "real" harbour times. Massive stone and brick, very closed facade. Santos was a source of coffee in colonial times.
  20. Jewish cemetery, Toepad - Beautiful old trees near the entrance. Biblical inscriptions. Sad gravestones. Atmospheric buildings. You can go inside if you cover your head. I prefer to look through the gate, I don´t want to disturb this place, I´m just a random outsider.
  21. Jewish cemetery, Oostzeedijk - You can see the gravestones if you look over the wall. You cannot go inside. A wonderful and mysterious enclosed island, that has somehow survived history.
  22. Jewish cemetery, Vondelweg - A few gravestones are left in the lawn. Two angels have been placed on the roof of the appartment building.
  23. Paradise church, Nieuwe Binnenweg - A neo-baroque church of the Old-Catholic parish (a more sympathetic version of the Catholic faith). Beautiful on the inside and a surprising island of old-school religion in this shopping area.
  24. Eendrachtskerk, Eendrachtsstraat - A beautiful but somewhat austere church. I witnessed a very impressive Good Friday service here.
  25. Straight line view, Schiedamseweg - One of the longest straight streets in Rotterdam. You can look a long way towards Schiedam without any obstacles.
  26. Long view, Laan op Zuid - Another long and straight street. You can look a long way towards the South from here.
  27. "Punched card monument", Plein Loods 24 - A wall with a strange texture reminiscent of punched cards or punched tape. It is part of a WW-II monument commemorating the Jews who were deported from here.
Google map

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The apparition of the Iron Duke

A few months ago I was sampling a thick volume of poems by Hans Faverey (1933-1990), a modern Dutch metaphysical poet that I like very much. Here I found one of his earlier poems, that I had never seen before:
Met lieslaarzen aan?

Met lieslaarzen aan.
De ijzeren hertog?

De ijzeren hertog.

Heeft hij de wind
in de rug? En roept
hij iets, hard?

Ja. De ijzeren hertog,
met de wind in de rug,
en met lieslaarzen aan,

riep iets heel hard.
Wearing waders?

Wearing waders.
The Iron Duke?

The Iron Duke.

Does he have the wind
at his back? And does he
shout something, very loudly?

Yes. The Iron Duke,
with the wind at his back,
and with waders on,

shouted something very loudly.
The moment I read this poem I had a vision of the "statue of the Iron Count". Really.
I saw the statue clearly. It was situated in Rotterdam. It was huge. It was invisible.
And it captured the essence of the city. It was a city god. An angel.

Since then I've been thinking about the Iron Count. Where is he exactly? I have found fragments of his enormous bulk and frame:
  • The cast-iron men of Antony Gormley had the correct material, weight and hardness. And they had the required feeling of mystery and slight menace. They were a good start. But they were too small.
  • The statue of the nationalist poet Hendrik Tollens has the right size if we include the pedestal. And the right proud and defiant posture. But the whiteness is all wrong. We need darkness for the Iron Count.
  • We even have a statue of a real count: William IV of Holland. And it is made of dark metal. And it has a menacing appearance because of the heavy helmet. But it is much too small. And the horse does not fit into the picture.
  • And then I saw the latest project of one of my favorite artists: Harmen de Hoop. This has the exact size, material, "look and feel" and placement. Wonderful. But it is not in the right place. In Rotterdam there are only two places suitable for the Iron Count: in the middle of the Kralingse Plas (our biggest artificial lake) or in the Nieuwe Waterweg (the harbour river).

Now I know where he is, I will greet him when I go by.

There are two Iron Dukes and both fit the context of the poem:
  • Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1508-1583), duke of van Alva. Nicknamed "the Iron Duke" in the Low Countries because of his harsh and cruel rule there and his role in the execution of his political opponents and the massacre of several cities.
  • Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), duke of Wellington.  His name was given to Wellington boots, after the custom-made boots he wore instead of traditional Hessian boots.
And the boots also fit the context of the poem:
  • In his biography, it is reported that Wellington noted that many cavalry soldiers sustained crippling wounds by having been shot in the knee — a very vulnerable and exposed part of the body when one is mounted on a horse. He proposed a change in the design of the typical boot by having it cut so as to extend the front upward to cover the knee. This modification afforded some measure of protection in battle.
  • In World War II, Hunter Boot was requested to supply vast quantities of Wellington and thigh boots. In the Netherlands, the British forces were working in flooded conditions which demanded Wellingtons and thigh boots in vast supplies.
Hans Faverey was first pointed out to me by the Rotterdam artist Henri van Zanten. He has also shown met the beautiful rural poetry of Habakuk II de Balker.

Harmen de Hoop: -
Information on the The Iron Duke - Wikipedia

Friday, December 7, 2012

Churches on the horizon

Elements of the Dutch landscape - 8
After 1496 Erasmus visited Holland only on hasty journeys. There is no evidence that after 1501 he ever set foot on Dutch soil. He dissuaded his own compatriots abroad from returning to Holland. He spoke as a rule about Holland with a sort of apologetic contempt. 'I see that you are content with Dutch fame,' he writes to his old friend William Hermans, who like Cornelius Aurelius had begun to devote his best forces to the history of his native country.

"If they are somewhat sensual and excessive at meals, it results partly from their plentiful supply: nowhere is import so easy and fertility so great. What an extent of lush meadows, how many navigable rivers! Nowhere are so many towns crowded together within so small an area; not large towns, indeed, but excellently governed."
 "If a 'Batavian ear' means a horror of Martial's obscene jokes, I could wish that all Christians might have Dutch ears. When we consider their morals, no nation is more inclined to humanity and benevolence, less savage or cruel. Their mind is upright and void of cunning and all humbug."
 "Their cleanliness is praised by everybody. Nowhere are such large numbers of moderately learned persons found, though extraordinary and exquisite erudition is rather rare."
 "At that time I wrote not for Italians, but for Hollanders, that is to say, for the dullest ears. If the story is not very witty, remember it is a Dutch story."
"In Holland the air is good for me, but the extravagant carousals annoy me; add to this the vulgar uncultured character of the people, the violent contempt of study, no fruit of learning, the most egregious envy."
Dutch proverb:
Al ziet men kerk en toren staan, dan is de reis nog niet gedaan.
When you see the church and it's tower the trip is still not finished.
Huizinga's text was translated from the Dutch by F. Hopman and first published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1924. The section from the Letters of Erasmus was translated by Barbara Flower.
I found this informative and extremely readable book at the Rotterdam second-hand book market. It cost me only 1 euro!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The sacred in everyday life

During a walk through the city of Den Bosch - ancient and orthodox Catholic - I thought about the sacred in everyday life. A word of warning: I'm not qualified to think thoughts like this. I lack formal philosophical and theological training. I'm an amateur in all things metaphysical.

But I need to meet the sacred in my everyday life. I think it is very correct to meet Mary and Jesus during a city walk. However you think about Mary - as the Mother of Christ - as the Crowned Queen of the Cosmos - or as the reinvention of the Goddess Venus - it is good to meet and greet this mysterious Woman. It feels unfair that this meeting is easier in the Catholic South than in the Protestant North.

I can totally understand the idea of Eucharistic Prayer. Like the poster in the cathedral says: "Christ is really there, He is waiting for you." It is not necessary to understand - nor accept - orthodox Catholic theology to recognize the need for symbols of the Sacred. Signifiers that cannot be deciphered by logical thought. Signifiers that can be experienced but not understood. That must be approached with reverence and respect.

The Protestants banned most symbolism from daily life and what was left was later excommunicated by Science and Commerce. But we are just primitive metaphor processing machines and sometimes we just need to charge our magical batteries.

Somewhere - high up on the walls of the cathedral - stands an Angel with a mobile phone. He has his own telephone number. You can call the Angel and he can send you a message.

Should Angels be so predictable? Shouldn't they surprise you while being unrecognized? Shouldn't they watch over you while staying invisible and inaudible? Can we touch the Sacred through a mobile phone?
If we can meet Mary and Jesus on our daily walk, why not phone an Angel?
When Heidegger was asked at the end of his life by Max Mueller [1] why he stopped at churches and chapels to take holy-water and kneel before the altar, he seems to have answered: Where there has been so much praying, the divine is near in a very special way.

[1] Note: Wikipedia says: Falling foul of Nazi educational policies, Müller was dismissed by Heidegger from research positions. Did they stay friends, did they become enemies? I have not researched this any further.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Festival of not surviving - Heath Bunting

I received the following e-mail from heath bunting

festival of not surviving
2012 nov dec 2013 jan

the meaning of life for individual human beings can be defined as: 'compulsory individual survival, with optional social reproduction'

currently, humanity is faced with three simultaneous challenges, each of which alone is enough to end life as we know it:

1. energy crisis

since 1950's, our societies have been based on cheap oil

this oil took 120 million years to create and 60 years to deplete

we reached peak cheap oil production in 2007 and (with careful management) will now return towards 1900 energy consumption levels (a contraction of a factor of 20)

careful management doesn't appear to be in action though

2. economy

since the 1950's, our societies have been based on cheap money

this money took thousands of years to create and 60 years to debase

we reached peak money value in 2007 and (with careful management) will now return towards 1960's money value levels (a contraction of a factor of 25)

careful management doesn't appear to be in action though

3. ecology

since 1950's, our societies have been based on unsustainable resource extraction

if we ignore climate change, for us to return to sustainable relationship with nature (with careful management), the extinction rate should drop from 50,000 species to 5,000 species (a contraction of a factor of 10)

careful management doesn't appear to be in action though

if we consider climate change, then we are facing an species extinction event (a contraction of a factor of at minimum 6)

extinction events occur in factors of roughly 60 million years

with these challenges combined, we are facing the extinction of the human species and any land mammal larger than a squirrel

individually, we generally die alone, but we are now facing the prospect of dying with our species

the death of our species should be a moment of reflection and peace instead of delusion and panic

without a firm link to nature, our descent will be far from graceful

festival of not surviving intends to equip participants with the knowledge and skills to fully experience the death of themselves and their species

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sonification - sound of sand - 11

This is the most musical result to date.
Sonification sound files - be careful with the sound volume:
The Audacity spectrum plot is quite beautiful:

 The software cuts the X- and Y-components of the shape in
randomly sized segments. Each segment is repeated to make
the sound and timbre of the segment more explicit.
I use Python-XY and Nsound. It works very well.
You can find the Python script here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Rotterdam - Places of pilgrimage - 2

Preliminary results
I am continuing my list of places of pilgrimage. It is an interesting experiment with memory and topography. What are my first results:
  • The definition of place of pilgrimage as "a place that is worth returning to" is useful. It separates niceties and curiosities from places with real meaning.
  • The sites naturally overlap with monuments and places of cultural interest that you find in the city guides. But there are many that don't fit the city-guide category like: interesting views, random places with "atmosphere" and even a McDonalds.
  • Most places are relatively old. It is difficult to find modern places with "atmosphere". Is that because there are less of them or have I not found them yet?
  • There are less places stored in my memory than I expected. I had thought I would write down a list of 100 places easily. But at the moment I'm stuck at 70 or so.
  • It's a stimulating exercise. I've started to read Rotterdam books again and I'm going through my photo archives to find more relevant places. But this does not add much, most of it is already in my head.
Second map
With mixed feelings I've started using Google Maps. It is very easy to mark and document places in Google Maps, much easier than on a physical map. Still I would prefer OpenStreetMap, but I have not found a similar function in OSM yet. In Google Maps you can add pins to the map, but the numbers and captions are not shown on the map. So I added these by hand:

  1. The Hoflaankerk. - This sober and geometric church always feels mysterious and overpowering.
  2. The war memorial under the Oostzeedijk. - This place looks un-Dutch with its height difference, the use of natural stone and the old shadowy trees.
  3. The angel of the apocalypse above the portal of the cemetery at the Nieuwe Crooswijkseweg. - A beautiful patient angel. It is silently holding its trumpet awaiting the sign to raise and blow it.
  4. The Heineken brewery and the brewery face. - The tower of the brewery is one of those geometric towers that seem to radiate a kind of urban energy. This energy keeps the city functioning. There is a strange Mayan-like face staring from the symbolic artwork above the door.
  5. The 16th century houses that survived the bombardment, Vriendenlaan, Rechter Rottekade. - Old houses that magically survived the bombardment of Rotterdam. They must have been protected by spells laid by ancient heretics.
  6. The Paris-like bench in Katendrecht overlooking the river, Buizenpark, Linker Veerdam. - This is a very un-Dutch place. It feels like a bigger, more urban and imperial city here.
  7. The weird door sculpture in Katendrecht. - Strange mermaid-like sculpture above a door in Katendrecht. Approximate location - have to check my picture collection.
  8. The brick chimneys of Rotterdam, several of them. - These remains from the industrial era are getting rarer and rarer.
  9. The walking path behind the airport, Bovendijk. - Notice the radio antennas and the training airplane for the firemen.
  10. The airport lights as seen of the Vliegveldweg. - Try to catch this in the evening when a plane is landing and the lights are on.
  11. The landing path towards Zestienhoven (ERDH) airport, seeing the huge descending airplanes.
  12. The dark church with the high tower and the somber Christ mosaic, Adriaan Paauwlaan. - A dark brick geometric church with an imposing square tower. An unwelcoming mosaic of Christ above the entrance door. Fascinating. Probably I'm doing it injustice.
Psychogeographer: alchemist or geographer?
A thin book about The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer set me thinking about my own practice. The book contrasts two practitioners of science: the alchemist and the geographer. Which of the two is my model?
There are a lot of paintings with scientific subjects in 17th century Dutch art. And here the alchemist is presented as a solitary figure who loses himself in the labyrinth of knowledge. He sits in dark, badly maintained laboratories, fills his head with irrelevant knowledge and spends his money on unprofitable research. He is a tragic figure. His extensive research only generates chaos. Sometimes he is presented as an easily duped believer or - conversely - as a fraud who exploits the easy belief of others.

Now compare the alchemist with the geographer. The geographer is a well-kept, aristocratic, well-off figure. He has his feet on the ground and is producing useful knowledge. He is practicing real, modern science and is serving real human progress (and commerce and imperialism). He is presented in rooms with sober, modern and practical scientific utensils: maps, compasses and measuring devices.

I would like to be the geographer. But maybe I'm just the alchemist. Or somewhere in between, a chaotic reporter of topography?

  • Johannes Vermeer, Der Geograph, Thorsten Smidt, 2004, Staatliche Museen Kassel
  • The Geographer, Johannes Vermeer - Wikipedia
  • Le Docteur Alchimiste, D. Teniers pinx. J. Tardieu Filius Sculp. - Images from the History of Medicine

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rotterdam - Places of pilgrimage

Rotterdam is the ultimate unromantic city. It has always been an industrial city. It was bombed in the war. And it was disastrously rebuilt afterwards. It is very difficult to find places with atmosphere where you can charge your internal batteries with "unmediated cosmic energy" (see: Nick Papadimitriou).

But I'm making an effort to find and map them. This is a work in progress. Many places are missing from the list. Some places maybe don't deserve a place on the list. The list with change with time.

It is an experiment. See if I can become friends with a difficult city. I'm partly friends with it already, but maybe we can formalize the relationship.

What are the places in Rotterdam that are worth visiting many times. Places that you should invest time in. Places that will return the energy you invest in them.

I have photographs of all of them and I will post these in due course. But first I will leave it to your imagination:
  1. The air-traffic beacon and the strange UFO-like appliance at the Wildersekade.
  2. The hill, church and graveyard of Hillegersberg, dating back to prehistory.
  3. The Melanchton city park, that looks and feels like a London park.
  4. The modern abstract observatorium along the highway.
  5. The surreal sculpture in the Alexanderpark.
  6. The back-entrance gate to the Crooswijk graveyard.
  7. The book-window in the Rodenrijselaan.
  8. The 19th century jail at the Noordsingel.
  9. The catholic Maria chapel in De Steiger at De Hang.
  10. The pool at the Vijverweg surrounded by old buildings and a church.
  11. The modern buildings enclosing a strange space along an old harbour at the Buizenwerf.
  12. The doomed area at the Oude Plantage that someone had a dream about.
  13. The arch and park benches overlooking the river at the Buitenbassinweg.
  14. The semi wetland wilderness along the river beneath the Nesserdijk.
  15. The semi wetland wilderness of the Island of Brienenoord and the concrete basin.
  16. The old church of Overschie at the Kasteelweg, with the grave and urn.
  17. The view from the Stadionviaduct.
  18. The whole island of the Noordereiland, but especially the area around the old bridges.
  19. The strange "witch hat" building in the Joubertstraat and the old dyke nearby along the Brede Hilledijk.
  20. The last remaining scrap iron yards and ship repair shops around Maashaven Zuidzijde.
  21. The children's home from 1880 and the adjoining "Lovecraftian" church.
  22. The Veerkade and the square in front of the anthropology museum.
  23. The Parklaan with the trees lanes and the fountain with the inscription "The mushrooms".
  24. The Zocher park beneath the Euromast.
  25. The ventilation buildings of the Maastunnel.
  26. The whole of old Delfshaven.
  27. The old village square of Oud-Charlois left in the middle of industry.
Not included in the map, to be included in a future edition:
  • The Hoflaankerk.
  • The memorial under the Oostzeedijk.
  • The angel of the apocalypse.
  • The brewery face.
  • The 16th century houses that survived the bombardment.
  • The Paris-like bench in Katendrecht overlooking the river.
  • The weird door sculpture in Katendrecht.
  • The brick chimneys, several of them.
  • Behind the airport.
  • The dark church with somber Christ mosaic.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Elements of the Dutch landscape - 7

Recently I started noticing sheep. My wife likes sheep. She thinks they're cute and she likes the feeling of nature they bring to the city.
Hitland - Capelle aan den IJssel

I never noticed sheep. I only noticed cows. Cows belong to the Dutch landscape. Sheep belong in Australia.
I was wrong. Sheep have been here since the neolithic. There exist Dutch indigenous sheep species (the Dutch Texel) that were bred in the 1890's.

Recently sheep have been grazing in the city parks. It's an experiment in natural grass management because  sheep are much better than lawnmowers. And more interesting to observe.
They seem to eat everything, but it's interesting to see which plants they prefer. They don't seem to like nettles and sorrel (rumex) but they eat them anyway. I heard they like the poisonous giant hogweed because it's rich in protein.
The sheep is a powerful Christian symbol. I should have a lot to say about it, but it never resonated with me strongly. I prefer: the cross, the all-seeing-eye, the dove the halo, water, wine and the mustard plant. Not sheep. Lions maybe. Or cats, but cats are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
Christ was a farmer. He knew a lot about sheep.
I would never have thought that sheep could be interesting. Then I read "A Wild Sheep Chase" by Haruki Murakami:
Most of the afternoons I would pass looking out at the pasture. I soon began seeing things. A figure emerging from the birch woods and running straight in my direction. Usually it was the Sheep Man, but sometimes it was the Rat, sometimes my girlfriend. Other times it was the sheep with the star on it's back.
And the most disgusting literary sheep-quote is probably from Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. You will never eat mutton with a clear conscience after reading this:
Thus bickering they pass into the Dining-Room. After the Cape custom, the Dutchman has lock'd his front door for the evening meal, which he now regards, smoldering, less predictable than an Italian Volcano.
Another volcanickal Emission, whilst he grimly attacks his slice of the evening's mutton in Tail-fat. Over the course of its late owner's life, the Tail has grown not merely larger and more fatty, but also, having absorbed years of ovine Flatulence ever blowing by, to exhibit a distinct Taste, perhaps priz'd by cognoscenti somewhere, though where cannot readily be imagin'd.

Sheep and goats in the Netherlands - more interesting than you would expect!
Low Countries time line
List of Murakami quotes
Mason & Dixon text online - don't know it it's legit

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What dust will rise?

For me the most impressive artwork of the Documenta in Kassel 2012 was What dust will rise? by Michael Rakowitz. The sad litany of culture destruction and erasure.
It is said that artists are like canaries in the mine, predicting the future. Is this what awaits us? A cultural apocalypse?
Or is this just a slightly enlarged example of what Marx called the gnawing criticism of mice ? The standard fate of most cultural artifacts?

Stone fragment dropped by the Royal Air Force over Essen, Germany, 1942. British bombers released the rubble of English buildings destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain on German cities as a prelude to actual bombs.
For us it is a matter of special pride to destroy the Talmudic Library which has been known as the greatest in Poland...we threw out of the building the great Talmudic Library and carted it to market. There we set fire to the books. The fire lasted for twenty hours. The Jews of Lublin were assembled around and cried bitterly. The cries almost silenced us. Then we summoned a military band, and joyful shouts of the soldiers silenced the sounds of Jewish cries. - Frankfurter Zeitung, March 28 ,1941

Shrapnel from ammunition rounds used to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan, March, 2001.

Samples of clay fragments with paint from outer layers of the western Buddha of Bamyian. Traces of red and blue - made from pulverized lapis lazuli - suggest the sangesti or c eremonial robes of the Buddha were colored.

Books damaged by fire and deemed too unimportant to restore after the bombing of the Fridericianum, 1941.
The Tironian notes contain the oldest lexicon of classical and early medieval abbreviations, a shorthand used to record the great speeches of antiquity. It was developed by Marcus Tullius Tiro, a Roman who lived in the first century B.C., and written down in Carolingian miniature in France around 800 A.D. It
survived the air raid on Kassel in the Fridericianum's vault, but the tremendous heat scorched its leather binding, charred its woorden cover, and liquified the fat in its parchments pages, gluing them together.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Great War battlefield at nightfall

In August 2012 we visited several World War One battlefields and monuments in Northern France. We did not go ghost hunting, we just wanted to see as much as we could cram into each day. So some sites were visited at nightfall.

These sites can be overpowering at nightfall. The nature looks peaceful but you are always aware of the horrific suffering that took place here. So there is silence, but also tension. Strange and unexpected sounds can be very startling.

Especially at this site, the Bois Brûlé, where Jacques Péricard shouted: "Rise you dead!" (Debout les morts!) The same person who said: "He who hasn't fought at Verdun does not know what misery is."

The voices on the video say:
A: Oh fuck!
B: What's the matter?
A: Don't you hear it?

The sound recordings have not been staged. They are authentic and have been made at this memorable spot.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A ship adrift - erasure poetry

A ship adrift
I'm a fan and admirer of the internet artwork "A ship adrift" made by James Bridle. I return to its webpages regularly. I immerse myself in its aimless voyage and the ghostly chattering of its language bots.
The virtual ship is connected to a London weather station and it drifts around the world randomly. It travels the (lost) imperial periphery, being blown by wind from the (now powerless) governing center. But a much better description by the artist can be found here and here.

During its drift it collects random snippets of local data, ghost whispers of the internet. With its robot intelligence it tries to tell a story of the places it visits. It fails, but it's a very poetic failure. You can read its dream-like texts here.

Erasure poetry
Today I discovered the concept of "erasure poetry" on another blog I follow. This is how the concept is described by the writer Justin Taylor:

Erasure is a method of delving into the depths of a text to see what can be found there. But the eraser is liberated—as well as made anxious—by the knowledge that said findings are not discoveries but creations. The erasure-text is not a salvage: it has no reality independent of the search for it, the searching is in fact what made it real.

Somehow I started without consciously thinking. I copied a few "ship adrift" logfiles into notepad and started deleting. To my surprise something coherent started to appear. There was some vague shape. I deleted more and more text. I left the order and spelling intact. I added some punctuation. This is what was left at 00:17 AM. The text is culled from the logs of 27 July to 15 July 2012.

A ship adrift - erased

I released my grip and a spiritless ship in the shade of years should fail me.
I behaved with beautiful earth, flowed something Buddha.

I had light myself, belonging of a minute.
I day the sword and stared a man, ship of the names.
I held up foot, stamped here like the air.

Tell me, pray, tell me, and, indistinct, like a pair of shadow.
Do you know.
Some to endure, even beyond.

Villa Total in the rocky Monteresting.
Devil was the hammock, groans, blankets, horrors.
But into the path, with wooden loads, for meaning by expanding.
And the same upkeep with the pointinuous night.

Annoying I stave coming for him once.
He wastepec Maravines, miles farm and festive.
I felt gone people, August, sixty profound of them.
To kill something sides, nobody had end you.

Their loads inclosed three world to each others.
In Chiapas, chap with body of eyes.
Beforesting sunlight the men would get into.
Catching habited in the big river.

Wrecked over we came upkeep, is coming you, sir?
And in the interesting, at last bit of course.

Only too old, your unbuttoned uniform, catching that is to hear, he.
I came upon the paths, perhaps on the los.
Retrieved August, I know that you projected devil was.
Through burnt grass near, why did it in the cabin?

A steady glimmer of dange narcotic effectly.
Payton Bomb that brace you, white change narcotic, an effect of water.
I'm ready and the shielo name to explain bring over.

Very well, I am guilty.
Thou art my hiding over, I woke up each this.
But this become my communication:
"We arent and rise black, flat, over place The Funny Teens."

If you to smuggle your place and throom.
Monotonous frenzy, imperceptible order, so as me?
Speak Marijuana Drama! Amp a go water.

I'm real enough to give straight in fantation room.
God dare for kids!

I believed good offered, word in the fitfully droning.
Dance and really wanna say, some best to a nothing place.

I'm feelinger the ivory; but the hill dads kill me now.
In love with End, original fastened us in favor.
The black to easier forgot this, of many means even.

God Is Faithful, and had he came today.
And rise blackorean boring white.
Altamirano, he was haste to, and in beacon glimpse: Equator.
Some, perfectly here, yet.
Exploring perfectly ... well, we won't.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Night sounds and morning birds - Berlin

In June I visited a congress in Berlin. When visiting a large metropolis I try to make a night sound recording from my hotel widow. It's interesting to analyse the daily and nightly patterns of the city. I especially like the most silent period, usually somewhere between 02:00 and 04:00. This is the Berlin night in Audacity:
The spikes are cars driving below the hotel windows at the Anhalterstrasse. The solid dark area is the background hum of the city. Like William Gibson writes in Zero History:
“Good night,” Milgrim said ... He ... climbed into bed in his underwear, and pulled the covers to his chin. He turned out the light. Lay there running his tongue over the backs of his teeth. ... And listened to, or at any rate sensed, the background frequency that was London. A different white noise.
To filter out that background noise I edited the most silent part of the recording. I cut away all the car sounds leaving only the silent background. And then I cut away all the parts where "nothing" can be heard. This is the result:

It was a wonderful experience to listen to the recording and work with these sounds. I did it in my inexperienced way, but it deserves a better recording and better editing. I was surprised by two things:

  1. How early the birds start singing. Almost in the middle of the night.
  2. How the birdsong echoes through urban space. How wide and mysterious this space sounds.

The emptiness of urban space at night is breathtaking. I'm a bourgeois individual who goes to sleep at 23:00 so I never experience the spaces of deep night. But I'm tempted to try the very early morning.
But when I talked about this with my son, who is living a student life with occasional partying, he told me he had noticed the early birds and the echoes many times.
I don't know how far the birds were from my hotel window. Maybe they were quite near in the trees. But in the recording they sound very far away. And what kind of birds were they? I did some research on German websites and it could be this:

  • The earliest night singing bird is the nightingale. But the song of the earliest birds is much too simple to be nightingales.
  • Another early bird is the Robin. But the song of the early birds does not sound like that. It sound much simpler.
  • The earliest bird might also be the "Hausrotschwanz" the "Black Redstart". This is the most likely candidate, but I still think the sound on the recording is simpler than the song examples in the Internet.
  • The blackbirds are early singers but they start much later. And they are very easy to recognize. In the recording you can hear the first blackbird at 3:13.

Berlin recording - Freesound
German early birds
Robin song sample
Black redstart song sample
Early birdsong - podcast in Swiss language, with song samples
Distribution of "Black Redstart" in the Netherlands

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Anhalter Bahnhof - Tris Vonna Michel

A performance by Tris Vona-Michell has charged the area around the Anhalter Bahnhof with spy novel suspense. While in Berlin I explored the area and was transported into a pseudo-historical space by the mysterious ruins. I put a few quotes below, but to get the whole atmosphere you have to listen to the performance yourselves.
My father says: Tris, I've got this wonderful story. In Berlin 1945 imagine, the Anhalter Bahnhof, the biggest station in history. Huge. The idea was, in the 19th century, this tunnel could go to the Noth Pole, the South Pole. And in 1945 Hitler arrived and he said: "Lets make this idea a reality!"
It was bombed, and again and again. In 1945 the Russians entered the tunnels. And they called it "the expansive", "the never ending." And my father said: Tris, go there  and look for Ronald Hahn. And I said: Who is Ronald Hahn? Ronald Hahn was one of these four men probably. The Russians go into the tunnels and ... whoosh ... don't return.
Warfare ... nuclear, no ... biological. And the Russians, Americans said: we don't understand. And basically they say ... stop. No more lives. No more humans going through the tunnels and never returning.
They said to the Germans ... tell me ... or to what was left of Germany in 1945 ... why did you build these tunnels? And the Germans said: I'm sorry, that's a part of our history ... a legacy we have no access to. What do you mean? I'm sorry, this is actually biological warfare experimentation. I mean this is very deadly, do not go through these tunnels. Our only recommendation is to board off the tunnels, and place men with guns and masks at the entrance who say: Zurückbleiben bitte! And Ronald Hanh runs through and he dies. Depleted uranium. End of history. Over.

Now first listen to the performance by Tris Vonna-Michell. Then go to the site with the ruin at sunset with Les barricades mysterieuses by Francois Couperin playing on your iPhone. You will get an explosive mix of mystery, melancholy and melodrama that might be just as deadly as the mysterious tunnels.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spiritual power stations - China Mieville

Each city has buildings that radiate power, a special aura. Take away the building and something dies, some lifeform disappears forever. Some of the building are inconspicuous, hidden in sidestreets behind curtains of trees. But others are beacons of energy. If they fail the city fails.

China Mieville has made this tangible, in his book Looking for Jake, in the opening story with the same title:
I saw a guard, as alone as all the others. What's happened? I asked him. He was confused, shaking his head. He would not look at me. Something's happened, he said. Something there was a collapse ... nothing works properly ... there's been a a breakdown ... He was being very inexact. That wasn't his fault. It was a very inexact apocalypse.
Between the time I had dosed my eyes on the train and the time I had opened them again, some organising principle had failed. 
I've always imagined the occurrence in very literal terms. I have always envisaged a vast impossible building, a spiritual power station with an unstable core shitting out the world's energy and connectivity. I've always envisaged the cogs and wheels of that unthinkable machinery overheating, some critical mass being reached ... the mechanisms faltering and seizing up as the core explodes soundlessly and spews its poisonous fuel across the city and beyond. ...
Since I read this story I've become sensitized to these buildings and I see them regularly. Some were built in the 1920's as constructivist art-deco. Others are modern. It's good we're building such spiritual power-stations again ... but is it really good? Is the energy really positive?

The Gaumont State is a beacon, a lighthouse, a warning we missed. It jags impassive into the clouds as the city founders on rocks. ... The Gaumont State exerts its own gravity over the changed city. I suspect all compasses point to it now. I suspect that in the magnificent entrance, framed by those wide stairs, something is waiting. The Gaumont State is the generator of the dirty entropy that has taken London. I suspect there are many fascinating things inside. I'm going to let it reel me in.

Looking for Jake and other stories, China Miéville, 2005 - wikipedia article - I have bought the book and I can recommend it. Other books by China Mieville are relevant too, especially Kraken and The City & the City. They change the way you see the city.