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.