14 February 2011

Tickets to Belfast, this way!

Hi everyone,
If you're just tuning in, Nija had a really awesome time in Belfast and took some beautiful pictures of what appears to me to be a very twinkly place. After enjoying that post thoroughly and realising how much I miss her (as if I needed reminding), I posted something stupid, with an ugly picture of myself to boot, because I took this whole blog-as-stream-of-consciousness thing way too far. I carelessly didn't consider the fact that now Nija's gorgeous story had been demoted in favour of something that was unfunny and unenlightening. I removed my story, but think her post deserves better.

So everyone, please get on board the ferry to Belfast by clicking on City Hall:














You won't be sorry!

Unlike me...

A desperate move

To get the ugly pictures of KRG that he keeps posting off the top of the blog, I present you with our current crop of blog title suggestions. Also there's some of my old art at the end. Am I right, reader? We don't need these images that make a handsome Boy Wonder look like a paedo.

We need more! What do YOU want our blog to be called?

From Stefan:
Wilhelmina the Conqueror.

From krg:

How about "South By Northwest"?
That or "Oy, with the poodles already!"
From Jeremy (note from the editor: some of these are a bit long and conceptual. Maybe something related, but punchier.)
1) The idea of you taking over peices of the British Empire since you have lived in or currently live in or are from the UK, US, Australia, and India. It is also a smooth transition from empires and Risk.
"Conquering the British Empire" or "Taking Over the British Empire" or something like that
"The Conquering Conquered" or "The Conquering Subjects"
"The Old Empire is Ours" or "The Old Empire is Our New Home"

2) You are moving into you second stage of the Risk Game and are spreading out
"Who Says You Should Conquer One Continent at a Time? "
"Controling Asia is Hard. We'll Sorround it First!"
"Blue and Purple"
3) Other ones
"We love islands and island like continents"
"We love being surrounded by water"
"He'll power your light and she'll tell you it's impact on society" (note from the editor: See what I mean? That's a snappy title.)

From the Editor:
"Bad Pennies: They'll come back as soon as they're ready." (which would force me to change my email signature as well)
And inspired by Jeremy's ideas and the Season 8 intro to Shameless–the best television show on Channel 4: "This is OUR empire now!"
or
"Stutter Stammer Stagger." The appeal here is that it's got nothing to do with nothing, which would really open up the remit on my blog posts.

This might be the best drawing I've ever ever done. In that it actually looks something like what I was looking at AND I didn't trace it at all. Why was I looking at something like this? Let me have some mystery, reader.


Just got my tickets for a Billy Bragg show on Saturday 12 March!! In celebration, I present a strange digital collage I made for the RISO machine, but never printed...

13 February 2011

Belfast, via MGMT

This is a call to arms to live and love and sleep together–

Emily has been living in Belfast for five years now. She says when she first got there, a lot of the buildings all looked like this one
















Nothing was open past 5pm, she said. The Peace Walls between Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods were closed all the time. The British Army still patrolled the streets.

Belfast, as we all know, went through some terrible times. The city still bears witness to those days, in the murals around town.








































Those days aren't completely over, either. The Peace Walls still close at 5pm every night. Most places still close around 5pm, too. But when I visited Emily in January, there were signs of new time: a charity cafe, charity clothes shops, cool music venues. Belfast now has beautiful little cafes.
















Truly wonderful bookstores, like No Alibis.

















Because Emily and I are such old friends, and I had never seen Belfast before, my visit to her town was 1) a little bit touristy, 2) a little bit hometown charm and 3) a little bit nerdy and 4) a little bit silly. As you might expect.

Touristy stuff included City Hall, wherein I once again prove my incredible skills at photographing a built environment

















Don't worry, I'm not really starting up that wherein bizzo again.
Touristy stuff also involved Belfast Castle, which is really more of just a really fancy house with an awesome staircase
























And lovely views:
















The hometown charm came courtesy of a visit to Belfast's beautiful weekend market, where I actually scored some Szechuan peppercorns! Someone tell me what to do with them!















Emily's beloved, Tom, is pictured above, but you can't really tell it's him. I'm the kind of silly girl who forgets to take proper pictures of her friend's boyfriend/husband.















I didn't forget to take a picture of Emily at the market with her two friends whose names I HAVE forgotten. But check out the taller one's belt buckle. It's huge!

Belfast is, of course, also where the Titanic was built. It seems no amount of tragedy in a town means James Cameron can't make it worse. Luckily Belfasters get irony better than most.














  A husband creche: everything the busy girl ever needed. Mine, sadly, seems to be Australia.

















The nerdy part of the visit was, naturally, a library: The Linen Hall One! They have an amazing collection of posters and tea towels and banners all about the Troubles, which is what they understatedly call the 30 or so years when Belfast was eating itself alive.















The other nerdy part of the trip was that Emily was having some trouble intellectually negotiating the fact that she's not a nerd. Reader, I ask you: if you met a girl who wrote nothing but funny things down in a book, who wrote plays and once acted as a deranged barbie doll, who has written two novels about pirates, and who knows NOTHING about video games or search engine optimisation, would it not be clear as day to you? That girl is not a nerd. She is many things. Goofy, 1. A little taller than me, 2. A lover of goat's cheese, 3. She is not a nerd. Though you would be astonished at how surprised she was to have received the news only recently. She honestly thought she was a nerd. She didn't even know how to spell w00t, reader. w00t.

And the silly part of my visit was pretty much everything else. This made me laugh and think of Engrish.com, until I remembered that we were indeed in an English-speaking place, at which point everything suddenly felt very sober and sad.
















I mean, really! Who ever heard of standing in a saloon anyway??!
We took about a trillion pictures of ourselves. I was like, "No, it's okay, Pheebs. The economy lost, like, 3 times as many dollars. These pictures are as nothing!"























We tried valiantly to guess what the giant copper talons were supposed to mean, and then decided that we didn't really get them, but we liked them anyway. Pretty much exactly how we feel about men. I especially like how tall they are. We'll leave what I'm referring to there ambiguous, hey?















It really did seem like everywhere you looked, people are taking it into their own hands to change things. It felt like people were tired of the sadness and anger and regret and disappointment, and ready to live in an exciting lively city. Where those things will all still be around, but it won't be special just for its blood. Belfast could be a normal city, lovely and tiresome and special for normal reasons. The city that built the Titanic. The city that has five different banks printing different designs of the same currency. Okay. Not normal reasons. But not horrible reasons, either.

–The youth are starting to change oh, together, together, together–

Even the murals are changing. See? Already it could San Francisco or Sydney.
























And the buildings aren't all blown out anymore. Some of them are even growing new life now.
















It looked to me that Belfast is hearing a different call to arms than it had in a long long time.

The fog comes on little raccoon feet

Having put the conference and its lousy coffee (no biscuits on the side, mind you...what in the world is this uncivilised land?) behind me, I afforded myself two whole days to take in the parts of San Francisco that I had not seen during my first two days or the evenings during the conference. For purely geographical reasons, this was mostly the western part of the city, the famous parts being the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, Golden Gate Park and its little-known namesake Bridge.

On a rather overcast---but not cold---Friday, I set out to gawk at the ruins of the Hippy Empire in the Haight. I caught a bus from Market St at about 9 and got to the Haight about 15 minutes later, to find that nothing at all was open, with the exception of the grocery. I was truly the only person on the street. I grabbed some provisions from the grocer and headed toward the sea, through the Haight proper and into Golden Gate Park, where I was immediately offered "buds" from a solicitous but grubby youngster. Given his besmirched aspect I took him for a flower monger and assumed he was offering roses, but thought it was odd since Valentine's Day was another three weeks away. "Timing is everything, my good man," I chuckled, as I waggled my finger at him, tipped my cap and briskly trotted on my way.

The GGP, built in the last three decades of the 19th century, is the world's largest developed park (take that, Frederick Law Olmstead), at 1.59 square miles (412 hectares or 1017 acres), 20% bigger than Central Park. It has no physical relationship to the Golden Gate Bridge other than being on the west side of town. There's heaps of crap to see in this park, including an old windmill and a bison paddock, but I didn't know about either of those at the time, dammit. However, those things pale in comparison to the monument to reluctant US President, avid reader and strict recreationalist James Garfield, Nija's---if I may---spiritual hero:





















Near the science museum, I found this charming and weird monument to Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, aka the guy who wrote the book that the movie Lost in La Mancha was based on.




















The park also features a Japanese Tea Garden, which I hear is lovely, but is the kind of lovely that I didn't feel like paying for to take in. As a consolation, I did come across this gazebo on Stow Lake---



















---the mention of which allows me to segue into the continuation of my long-running photo series Water Fowl of the Northern Hemisphere:






























Have a gander at those cheeky fellows!

Ahem. So in the middle of the lake there's some kind of island/hill, so, you know, I climbed that thing, and it looked something like this:
















and it was good.

I had an otherwise unphotogenic, though pleasant, stroll around the park, but eventually decided that coffee sounded about right so I made the short, one-hour hike back to the Haight. The Haight was, supposedly, once the Mordor of the so-called Hippy movement, and I'm sure it was much more interesting and diverse than Ben & Jerry and the vile Deadheads with their stupid bears would have you believe. (I am aware that I might have just implied that the Grateful Dead were themselves better than the Deadheads would have us believe, and I might just keep that one an open question.) Ever since then the place has featured in the American imagination somewhere between Oz and imperial Rome. It's the kind of place my Dad says he should have gone instead of joining the Air Force in 1966, you know, to freak out and join the revolutionary youth army to take on the pigs. If only!

The funny thing about the Haight is that, while it was most likely a unique and possibly inspiring place in its heyday, a quick swoop through was enough to convince me that it was more or less the same thing that you can now find in almost every big American city: a bohemian district with coffeeshops, record stores, drug paraphernalia, souvenir crap, arts and crafts, heroin, crusty street kids, and nice, charming houses. Nothing to write home about (though, apparently something to blog about). The corner of Haight and Ashbury is now graced by Ben & Jerry's flagship store, as much a part of mainstream American culture as California rolls, New Belgium Fat Tire and adho mukha svanasana. I wondered what it would take for the Haight to be astounding to outsiders again. Then I wondered if we can even be astounded anymore.

Down the hill from the Haight is the Lower Haight (which technically makes the aforementioned the Upper Haight), the edge of which is graced by a street art gallery not unlike the one I saw in the Mission:





































































How excellent is that last one? (You can see more of this stuff, as well as lots of other SF photos, and more still, on our Picasa page: just click on that picture of me and Nija staring off into the Jamison Valley at the top right of this page.)

Down Haight and onto Market I sallied, and cut through the Civic Center district, a highlight of which is this massive Vishnu in front of the Asian Art Museum:
















Given that awesomeness, I was very disappointed I didn't manage to visit the museum itself. Just caddy-corner to the Civic Center is the Tenderloin People's Garden, which I feels bears mention simply for pulling off a community garden in an unlikely spot, like my fellow Alexandria gardeners half a world away:

















































Afterward I headed back to the hostel for another evening of socializing with my fellow backpackers at one of the fine $5 dinners they put on (may I recommend the Hotel Adelaide to any potential travellers to San Francisco? Tell Nick I say hello!)

The next day my plan was to hire a bike and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. A sign on a bike outside the hostel advertised all-day rentals for $15 from another hostel nearby. I found the place, went in the front door and knocked on the door to Room 1, which had a sign reading "Bike rentals please knock". A big, middle-aged guy in a tie-dyed shirt was pulling his pants on as he opened the door. "Hey, man! Need a bike?" he said, extremely gregarious-like. I confirmed his suspicion and he kindly set me up with a bike suited to my stature. I told him where I wanted to go and he suggested a route, and after some minor adjustments to the bike I was off, reminding myself to ride on the right side of the street and trying to find the bike's...shall we say...idiosyncrasies, before I got to the climb to the Bridge. Nothing worse than trying to go up a steep hill and having a gear slip under your weight: face-planting is a sure thing when that happens.

The route took me down to the Embarcadero and around the eastern side of the city, retracing my route from Day 2, through Fisherman's Wharf and up to the foot of the Bridge. This was a fool-proof and relatively flat approach and I was glad to have been counterintuitively pointed in this direction. The long stretch of the Bridge lay before me, awaiting my conquerization, but agenda point 1 was to hit the Exploratorium, the world-renowned hands-on science museum opened by Frank Oppenheimer, Robert's little brother, whose personal story would be as tragic as his older brother's if it weren't for this museum, a successful elaboration of the idea that kids can learn more about science if they're engaged in it in a direct and involving way than if they're just subjected to a bunch of rules and equations. I was excited about this museum ever since Nija told me about it way back when, and I was waiting for the doors to open with a bunch of families that morning, trying to look cool and not creepy.

When opening time came and I made my way in, I was almost confused by the simplicity of it. The Exploratorium is little more than a bunch of stations that you can visit, sampling scientific concepts. Here's a super-strong permanent magnet and iron filings. Here's a piece of heat-sensitive film and a lightbulb. Here's some cornstarch solution in a rubber diaphragm on top of an acoustic transducer:

video

Some stations are better than others, but taken together they add up to a thrilling wander through almost all realms of science. Statistical mechanics? Got it. Automotive engineering? Check. Biology and genetics? Affirmative. Electric power conversion? Yes. The demonstrations are simple and artful, without much explanation; the idea here is that kids are guided to their own explanations based on what they observe, given a few basic presented facts. Or they demonstrate an application of some principle from another display. I was riveted, but after four hours in the place I realized it was time to move on.

After visiting the Wave Organ (for pictures see the Picasa page), which wasn't functioning since it was low tide, I headed toward the Bridge, but for the first time in my time in San Francisco the weather was turning in a foul direction:
















The climb up to the bridge was brief but sharp, and as I spun in a high gear, I had visions of myself walking my fixed-gear bike up the nasty little hills. Riding across the bridge with the spray on my face was a blissful experience:
















When I reached the other side and began the descent into Marin County, a glance back at the bridge confirmed that I had been inside a cloud:
















Sausalito---something like Sydney's Manly without the beach and, as far as I know, the gangs of nationalist thugs---is a little upscale village retreat surrounded by marinas, with lower-profile fishing villages beyond. When I got there, I met a guy with a medical marijuana prescription and an affinity for boats who recommended I ride up the shore a bit to check out the marinas and said there was a village up the way that would make a good destination. I headed out of town, stopping at a marina up the highway where a bunch of houseboats and skiffs were hunkered down in the unceasing drizzle and sulfur stink of low tide. Here's yours truly at the dock with my gallant steed:
















Nice as the marina was, the weather dispelled any interest I had in exploring the coast. I wanted to sit in a cozy bar with a beer and wait for the ferry that would take me back to the city. So I headed back to town and found the bar after a long trudge in what can only be described as rain. Eventually the ferry came, and I stood in the cold, wet wind and watched the city across the bay glisten and grow in the distance.

12 February 2011

I drop my defenses

I join the horde.

I give up.

I raise my hands.

I have never been so disappointed in myself.

I am now on Facebook and Twitter.

Rally round my aching heart.

See logos to the right. Be my friend. Be my follower. Tweet with me and make this whole thing worth it.

And send me blog title ideas!

Flowing off the top of our esophagi

Blog Title Ideas Submitted Thus Far:

From krg:
How about "South By Northwest"?

That or "Oy, with the poodles already!"

From Jeremy (note from the editor: some of these are a bit long and conceptual. Maybe something related, but punchier.)
Oh man, I forgot about the competition.

So I think there are two good trains of thought and them some other ones:

1) The idea of you taking over peices of the British Empire since you have lived in or currently live in or are from the UK, US, Australia, and India. It is also a smooth transition from empires and Risk.

"Conquering the British Empire" or "Taking Over the British Empire" or something like that
"The Conquering Conquered" or "The Conquering Subjects"
"The Old Empire is Ours" or "The Old Empire is Our New Home"

2) You are moving into you second stage of the Risk Game and are spreading out

"Who Says You Should Conquer One Continent at a Time? "
"Controling Asia is Hard. We'll Sorround it First!"
"Blue and Purple"

3) Other ones

"We love islands and island like continents"
"We love being surrounded by water"
"He'll power your light and she'll tell you it's impact on society" (note from the editor: See what I mean? That's a snappy title.)

From the Editor:
"Bad Pennies: They'll come back as soon as they're ready." (which would force me to change my email signature as well)
And inspired by Jeremy's ideas and the Season 8 intro to Shameless–the best television show on Channel 4: "This is OUR empire now!"
or
"Stutter Stammer Stagger." The appeal here is that it's got nothing to do with nothing, which would really open up the remit on my blog posts.

More suggestions, please!! Voting opens soon!

08 February 2011

Yes, google. Yes.

Just more proof that Google is irresistibly lovable. Go on, then. Move the joystick around. You know you want to.

But you have to do it today. Might already be too late in Australia!!

http://www.google.co.uk/webhp?hl=en

07 February 2011

Something Ain't Right.

This past week, Manchester's been hovering around 7 or 8 Celsius. A few weeks ago, it was more like -2 to 0 C. So, I've actually been walking outside lately (in 7 degree weather) and thinking, "Oh, good, it's pretty warm today." Seriously, I've just been wearing a light jacket, a loose scarf, no hat. Fingerless gloves!

Today was also 7-8 degrees, but really windy for most of the morning. When I left school and was walking home from a truly interesting seminar this evening, the wind had died down, so I feeling quite chuffed with the weather. It was dark, so a little cooler, maybe 5 degrees, but not windy.

"Fabulous!" I thought, "Warmish and not windy at all!"

It started sprinkling a bit, as it tends to in Manchester, so I pulled out my umbrella, and still, my thoughts on the weather were along these lines: "Well, sure a little rain, but at least it's warm and not windy! It's not bad at all!"

Then the rain turned to hail, pinging off my umbrella's taut fabric and bouncing around on the street before quickly melting. I thought, happily, "Wow! I can't believe it's hailing, even though it's so warm!"

Hmm. Yes. In Atlanta or Sydney, if it was hailing and I was outdoors, I'm pretty sure I would have been freezing and totally miserable. I would definitely not have been happy to continue walking along with only my cheap umbrella for protection from the elements-- in fact, I can't even imagine how out of joint my nose would have been over being in a situation like this. There's no way I would think 7-8 degree weather was remotely warm.

Something is definitely not right.