Thursday, December 28, 2017

From a strange planet - 12

Road webcam fascination - The silent pictures of Scandinavian traffic-webcams have a strange fascination for me. My previous outpourings of webcam obsession are here: part_1, part_2, part_3, part_4, part_5, part_6, part_7, part_8, part_9, part_10 and part_11. I've used video, fiction, literary criticism, art, topography and surveillance technologies to think through this window on far-away places.
This is also: Particles of deep topography nr.28. 

While looking at the Norwegian webcams I cannot escape the accusation that I'm wasting my time. I'm just looking at a virtual reality - through the black rectangle of a webcam. I'm not participating. I'm waiting for something - something I cannot specify. Am I looking at beauty and mystery - I still think so - or am I looking at an extremely stupid landscape?

This is the atmosphere in The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati. Here a promising young officer spends his life waiting for an enemy attack that never comes. In the meantime he can only watch the empty desert from the ramparts and dream of heroic deeds. And even that view - through the black rectangle of the window - is highly regimented.

And beyond it, on the other side, what was there? What world opened up beyond that inhospitable building, beyond the ramparts, casemates and magazines which shut off the view? What did the northern kingdom look like, the stony desert no one had ever crossed?

It was at this point, as he turned his head a little to the left, that Drogo's glance fell on the window opening on to the inner courtyard. He could see the northern wall, yellowish like the others and sunbeaten like them, with here and there the black rectangle of a window.

There was a clock as well, pointing to two o'clock, and on the topmost terrace a sentry walking to and fro with his rifle at the slope. But over the ramparts, far, far away, in the glare of noon, there rose a rocky crest. Only its extreme tip could be seen and in itself it was nothing out of the ordinary. Yet for Giovanni Drogo that fragment of rock represented the first visible lure of the northern territory, the legendary kingdom whose existence hung heavily over the Fort. "What was the rest like?" he wondered. From it there came a drowsy light shining through slow-moving smoky wisps of mist.

But Drago was scarcely listening to Matti's explanations, for his attention was strangely attracted by the picture framed in the window with that tiny piece of crag showing above the wall. A vague feeling to which he did not have the key was gradually penetrating into his inmost being - a stupid and absurd feeling, a baseless fancy.

But first of all he asked: "Sir," his voice was apparently calm, "may I take a quick look to the north and see what there is beyond that wall?"
"Beyond the wall? I didn't know you were interested in views," -answered the major.
"Just a glance, sir, merely out of curiosity. I've heard there is a desert and I've never seen one."
"It isn't worth it. A monotonous landscape-no beauty in it. Take my advice-don't think about it."
"I won't insist, sir," said Drago. "I did not think there was anything against it."

Major Matti put the tips of his plump fingers together almost as if in prayer. "You have asked me.'' he said, "the one thing I can't grant you. Only personnel on duty may go on to the ramparts or into the guard rooms; you need to know the password."
"But not even as a special exception-not even for an officer?"
"Not even for an officer. Oh, I know-for you people from the city all these petty rules seem ridiculous. Besides down there the password is no great secret. But here it is different."
"Excuse me, if I keep on about it."
"Do please, do."

"I wanted to say-isn't there even a loophole, a window from which one can look?"
"Only one. Only one in the colonel's office. Unfortunately no one thought of a belvedere for the inquisitive. But it isn't worth it, I repeat, a landscape with nothing to recommend it. You will have plenty of that view if you decide to stay."
"Thank you, sir, will that be all?" And coming to attention, he saluted.
Matti made a friendly gesture with his hand. "Goodbye. Forget about it-a worthless landscape, I assure you, an extremely stupid landscape."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 14 - autumn 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 14 - Rotterdam, autumn 2017
I'm always looking for city mushrooms in nature and culture. Interesting how fungi take over the world.

Around the 23 September 2017 there was a massive emergence of urban fungi. The first sighting was in a elfin shop in Dordrecht, where they sold pleasant Amanita Muscaria houses.
This clashes with fungal reality, where shapes can be fiendish, ugly and evil. I was pleasantly surprised by these monstrous mushrooms next to the bicycle lane in Rotterdam: Helvella crispa. No, they're not broken, they're intended to look like this. And they contain a spooky poison:
Some mushrooms contain a toxic chemical called gyromitrin which is converted to monomethylhydrazine after digestion. Mushroom species from this group include certain species of Gyromitra, Helvella, Sarcosphaera and Peziza. Poisoning may occur from inhaling fumes from cooking mushrooms. The amount of toxin varies amongst and within species but some are toxic enough to cause death.
On the other hand, there are edible and good mushrooms next to a parking lot. Still they look spooky when they ripen. The black ink is the ripe spore mass of this mushroom: Coprinus comatus. Recently this mushroom has become popular in alternative medicine. 
And there's also another species of Coprinus: Coprinus atramentaria in the local playground. This one is edible but becomes poisonous when combined with alcohol.
On 14 October I saw this mushroom again, now in the center of Rotterdam, between the bicycle path and the car lane. If you think of fungi as plants (they're not) then these must be the weeds of the fungal kingdom, the nettles and the thistles that thrive on fertile soil.
Finally there's the Agaricus bitorquis growing between the pavement cracks of our local shopping mall.
It grows from the tiniest cracks and reaches enormous sizes. They reached their biggest size around 3 October or in 10 days. The mushroom is edible, but I would be afraid of all the dog poo that feeds these mushrooms. I used to see this mushroom in Rotterdam in July-August but I must have missed it this year.
Finally there's the unavoidable mushroom that's impossible to determine. Most of them are and they will remain nameless. It could be Cyclocybe aegerita. It does not look like Panellus, Lyophyllum, Pholiota nor Psilocibe (Hypholoma fasciculare).

Urban mushroom diary:
1:Start of the obsession, books, lawns, 2:Dreams, lawns, books and newspapers, 3:Gouda shop windows, 4:Rotterdam lawn, 5:Hoek van Holland wood, 6:Autumn newspapers, 7:Switzerland to Rotterdam, 8: Warffemius mushroom paintings, 9: Münster, documenta14 and Rotterdam, 10: Spore prints, 11: Dead man's fingers, 12: The lower Rhine, 13: Oostvoorne, 14: Rotterdam.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

From a strange planet - 11

Road webcam fascination - The silent pictures of Scandinavian traffic-webcams have a strange fascination for me. My previous outpourings of webcam obsession are here: part_1, part_2, part_3, part_4, part_5, part_6, part_7, part_8, part_9 and part_10. I've used video, fiction, literary criticism, art, topography and surveillance technologies to think through this window on far-away places.

Several years now I've watched a streetlamp in Norway. It stands in the middle of a roundabout in Svortland. This place is fascinating. This is how it looks right now.
In the summer, with the sun high in the sky, the place is transparent. The house, high on the hill at the left is clearly visible. The Chirico-like arch structure, lower, to the right of the house draws your attention to itself and asks: "What am I?" The church steeple, in the middle of the picture shows the depth of field and draws you towards itself. The street signs are illuminated and nicely outlined.
In winter a white magic circle appears at the foot of the streetlight. It lasts through the first thin snows. Later everything turns white. In this light the house, the arches and the church all disappear and merge with the horizon.
Behind the streetlight there's the spectacle of many types of sky in different colors and patterns. Clouds appear and disappear. Storms come and go. Different directions of sunlight lead to different details in the landscape. Sometimes the water merges with the sky, at other times it merges with the land. The streetlight waits for the night.
At night the streetlight awakens. It unfolds itself carefully, first making vague copies of itself and then sending out thin feelers of light and creating ufo's. When the circumstances are good it grows and flowers. It becomes a bright supernova exploding in the night. Passers-by don't notice this mystery. The only way to see it is through the webcam of the Norwegian road institute.

Later ... I couldn't resist looking up the features I see in the background. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. Maybe I should left the mystery untouched. But the Chirico-like arch structures in the background prove to be the windows of an office building. It's clear how the optical effect arises.
The church looks exactly as I had imagined it. White, old, Lovecraftian, a bit like I imagine New England to look like.
There is no good picture of the houses. The Google car did no go that way. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 13 - summer 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 13 - summer 2017
Particles of deep topography - 28 - mushrooms

I'm always looking for city mushrooms in nature and culture. Interesting how fungi take over the world.
I've collected many place descriptions through the years. I publish them from time to time. I add pictures when suitable.
Links to previous chapters are listed at the end of this post.

Text: A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Text: Gateways to Abomination (Matthew M. Bartlett)

At first I thought I had seen a young death-cap, Amanita Phalloides, but it does not fit the description so well. Maybe Amanita vaginata. It grows under beech trees but maybe it's just growing from the wood chips. I give up on this one. It's simply too difficult.

31 July 2017 - Oostvoorne - As mentioned in the previous post, it's strange, and frustrating, that a mushroom with a definite name and species, can still be so elusive. Somewhere, someone knows its name, but that's not me:
This applied to everything. If I saw an insect I hadn’t come across, I knew that someone must have seen it before and categorised it. If I saw a shiny object in the sky I knew that it was either a rare meteorological phenomenon or a plane of some kind, perhaps a weather balloon, and if it was important it would be in the newspaper the following day. If I had forgotten something that happened in my childhood it was probably due to repression; if I became really furious about something it was probably due to projection, and the fact that I always tried to please people I met had something to do with my father and my relationship with him. There is no one who does not understand their own world.
In the old park leading up to the dunes and the seaside. Most likely an Agaricus and probably edible. All these mushrooms are pleasant and friendly, totally different from the mushrooms in horror stories:
The tree trunks were sprawled, glistening, mottled with black lichen in intricate patterns, looking for all the world like malignantly eschatological graffiti. The ground around them was thick with varicose roots twining through, around, and over soft mushrooms the size of chair cushions. Some of them were partially collapsed or split with gaping fault lines, revealing their inner craggy textures. They seemed to breathe out a pulsing fog, fetid, fusty.
14 August 2017 - Rotterdam - More of the beautiful and edible Leccinum duriusculum, both young and mature. A day later someone had picked these beautiful mushrooms. It's atypical of the Dutch to pick wild mushrooms, they have a mycophobic culture.
And, in the same spot, a mushroom that does not look like a Russula. It could be Agrocybe cylindracea.
18 August 2017 - Rotterdam - At the Rotterdam train station. I give up on this one too. But I'm happy with having caught a mushroom in such a cultural, urban space.
19 August 2017 - Rotterdam - The first signs of the cultural mushroom season. Friendly plastic mushroom, made in China. I'll never put something like this in my house, but I like to see them in shopping window displays.
27 August 2017 - Rotterdam - Armillaria mellea in the city park. A ubiquitous weed of the mushroom kingdom. I should check if they give light in the dark. Note: That's no irony, they really seem to do this.
This could be some Lactarius or Panellus or Lentinus. As always, impossible to determine for sure:
In the green light, I felt my eyes sliced open and drained, and new eyes grew like mushrooms in their place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Particles of deep topography - 25


Text: The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
Text: The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
Text: Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality (Edward Frenkel)
Pictures: Broken glass at the metro station, January 2012

Whether we want or not we're always making stories. Being somewhere and walking around is a narrative experience. We tell this story to ourselves and we long to tell it to others.
This story is without doubt the strangest thing I’ve ever read. It is as if the text is a reflection of my own thoughts. No—that’s wrong. It is as if my thoughts are only a reflection of the story. While I read I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page and I forgot all about the outside world. It seemed as if my mind was becoming a part of the text. It was horrible and irresistible at the same time. And the really bizarre thing is that, on the surface, it appeared only to be a confused jumble of disconnected words!’ ‘It’s an experiment,’ I told her, ‘a new technique I’m trying to perfect.’
When we succeed the sum of place and tale is more than its components:
‘You succeeded,’ she said finally. ‘The story’s like an incantation. There’s some mysterious power in it that words can’t explain.
Unfortunately, the enjoyment of topography is a very elitist pastime. Place appreciation is just as rare as enjoyment of mathematics. It needs hard work and maybe some talent and predisposition:
It has become, in the words of poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “a blind spot in our culture – alien territory, in which only the elite, the initiated few have managed to entrench themselves.”
This view of the world contains some postmodern thinking. And this can be irritating:
The merits of a writer’s work were of no interest to them and they viewed the existence of literary work as a proliferation of vermin, being only too willing to act as pest controllers in this regard. All texts were without a centre of meaning. Their interpretation rested with the reader, not the author. There could be no agreed purpose to a text. All was chaos. The text was an autonomous entity. In short, without the reader the text did not even exist save as a cipher.
We run the risk of saying things that are just meaningless words:
The Collective was putting tenets into action that few dared even to consider. Unlike the book-burning Nazis or the censorious communists, it was not selective. It did not destroy because it thought works corrupt or dangerous. It destroyed works because it believed none had meaning or significance, because words only mean other words and chase each other, in a linguistic game of tag, to a void.

About this series Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Particles of deep topography - 24

Secret urban drift

Text: Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring (Pete Earley)
Illustrations: A walk through south Rotterdam, 2011, Google maps, Bing maps

A dreary walk along through the southern shore of Rotterdam resonates with these cold walks through wintry Vienna. Next time you walk the city imagine that you're following secret instructions. That everything you do has a secret meaning. That you're being watched to see if you're not followed. Remember to act inconspicuously!
The Vienna Procedure was written on a single sheet of white typing paper, and the first time that John saw it, he thought it had been typed. But when he looked carefully at the document, he realized each letter had been printed by hand across the page in incredibly small and neat lines. A bird’s-eye view of the course would show that John had walked in a series of circles all near city parks or small plazas where a KGB agent could sit unnoticed and see both the beginning and end of his jaunts.
The Vienna procedure - At 18:15 p.m. come up to the “Komet Küchen” store (kitchen cabinets and appliances) on the corner of Schönbrunner Strasse and Rückergasse. To get there walk from Schönbrunn palace and park grounds; on Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse and its continuation Schönbrunner Strasse to Rückergasse. Turn left on the latter and stop at the window of the “Komet Küchen” store, which is looking on Rückergasse, just a couple of yards away from the corner. For easy identification please carry your camera bag on your left shoulder and hold a small paper bag in your right hand. Pause by that window for about two minutes from 18:15p.m. To 18:17 p.m., Drifting slowly along it away from Schönbrunner Strasse toward the other corner of the building ...
He walked around the corner of the store as instructed, paused, and then returned to the front of the building. As he was walking back, John noticed that there was a public park diagonally across the street from the store. A KGB agent could easily and unobtrusively watch him from the park benches there and also tell if he was being followed. Following the instructions, John crossed the street and stood in front of another display window. He was now standing parallel to the park.
He walked down the sidewalk and turned right at the next corner into a narrow side street lined with cars. The instructions called for him to walk one block and turn left, then walk another block and turn left again. This brought him back to the main thoroughfare, and he found himself once again facing the public park. Had anyone been following John, he would have been easily apparent to a watcher sitting in the park. There would be no reason for someone to take such an indirect route unless he was shadowing someone.

About this series Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dream topography

After posting this on the Fortean Times forum I received this reply from Ermintruder:
GPS is often weird in dreams. As is can never get a decent bloody signal, no matter how hard you try. Perhaps 5G will work better (or maybe a cup of coffee before bed-time will do the trick)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Harmen de Hoop - Retrospective #3

Today I went to see a public intervention by Harmen de Hoop. This season the artist re-enacts some of his earlier performances and this was RETROSPECTIVE #3.
Come and photograph Harmen de Hoop in Rotterdam!
Saturday 30 September, 11.00 am, Kralingse Bos, Rotterdam.
In the coming months, Harmen de Hoop will be working on a RETROSPECTIVE. He will perform interventions and actions in several locations in Rotterdam that he made long ago anonymously and without permission in other cities and countries. As Marina Abramovic wondered how you can show performances in a retrospective, so Harmen de Hoop wants to see how the meaning of a temporary, location-bound work changes when you perform it again. A new location, a different context, and this time he invites you to attend. Come, take photos and videos of the action and place those on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest etc.
I arrived a few minutes after the announced time (11.00) and saw the finished installation but no retrospective in progress. I was not alone in wondering what had happened, there was one other appreciative visitor who was puzzled by the absence. It's a fun installation and I wonder how long it will last in the wild.

Note: My wife commented that by installing these tools, you move the picnic table from the domain of recreation to the domain of work. People will be dissuaded to relax here.
I speculated that the artist had done the installation at night, in the dark, to prevent any mishaps. But in the afternoon the absence was explained by the artist himself:
Because of the rainy weather forecast I decided to do the action at an earlier time. And indeed, at 11:05 it really started to rain. But you saw the result. Nice photographs! I was leaving when you arrived. 
And this is the original installation that was re-enacted today. It still has the same look-and-feel:
Two bench vices bolted to a picnic bench on a highway parking lot.
For practical / recreational use.

Urban mushroom diary - 12 - summer 2017

About this series:

A chapter wherein the author gets a case of "determination depression". And he is not alone as a Polish survey demonstrates:
The primary source of knowledge on mushrooms ... are parents. There was no correlation between the source of information about mushrooms and belief in the myths about them. Knowledge of mushrooms of medical students is not greater than that of other students.
27 July 2017 - Walking uphill from the botanical garden in Duisburg brought us to the Kaiserberg war cemetery. As always I walked around and read the names and ages on the gravestones. I want to show the fallen soldiers that people still care about them, even after 100 years.
In a shady corner I saw a group of small mushrooms. These are notoriously difficult to determine. I can only guess. Maybe Mycena or Inocybe.
28 July 2017 - Along an asphalt path through the fields around Kalkar I again saw a difficult mushroom. This could be a Marasmius. Or a Mycena or Cystolepiota. And I'm starting to suffer from "determination depression". The pressure to give names to the mushrooms is destroying my enjoyment of them. Now I see what a monumental work Adam did when he named the animals:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
And as far as I could determine mushrooms are not mentioned in the Bible. And this could be Inocybe, Pluteus or Marasmius.
As an inhabitant of a big city I'm predestined to be bad at mushrooming:
Residents of large cities have more difficulties in distinguishing between edible and poisonous mushrooms than those living in villages and small towns. People practicing mushrooming regularly, retain proper habits during the harvesting and processing of mushrooms. Irrational ways of distinguishing edible mushrooms from poisonous are less often rejected by inexperienced people than by those frequently gathering mushrooms.
27 July 2017 - The newspaper I read in the hotel writes:
The academic hospital in Hannover has received five patients with Amanita Phalloides (death cap) poisoning. The came from east European countries and thought the mushroom was edible. Last year the hospital accepted refugees with mushroom poisoning who mistook the mushroom for an edible one, common in their home countries.
This was a very bad year for mushroom poisonings in Northern Germany. And many people are predestined to accidents with mushroom consumption:
Nearly 20% of respondents, regardless of their own experience and self-assessment of their competence in discriminating mushrooms believe that after culinary preparation they can safely consume even deadly poisonous species.
But even I can see that this is not an Amanita but a species of button mushroom, Agaricus. This mushroom has black spores, not white. But which one is it? Agaricus augustus, Agaricus bitorquis or something else?
28 July 2017 - While burning a candle in Grieth, in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul I noticed that the box of matches was decorated by a mushroom design.
Along the bicycle path from Kalkar to Wissel there we lots of mushrooms growing from the wood chips. I'll not even try to determine these.
29 July 2017 - In the woods of Kleve we saw these beautiful geometric patterns. Probably Trametes hirsuta.