Thursday, May 31, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 10 (Salzburg)

Another lovely day in Salzburg. Jenny and I visited the Festung - just before a brief period of torrential rainfall. Then came a productive set of sessions with the students, with some especially intriguing discussion about changing immigration policies in the U.S. Afterward, some fruitful one-on-ones about potential new Salzburg projects (more on that in coming months - hopefully - as things unfold). Tonight we're planning to enjoy dinner in the Great Hall of the Schloss, followed by chats throughout the evening.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 9 (Salzburg)

Leg's doing better, weather's pretty nice, conversation is sparkling: A great day in Salzburg. A highlight was the chance to ride with Jenny along the tree-covered Hellbrunner Allee on rented bikes. A great way to avoid the rain!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 8 (Salzburg)

Thank goodness for pain meds. The stuff I got yesterday has really worked to take the edge off. I still have to walk carefully, though, as pulling my calf the wrong way brings on the hurt. Otherwise I'm feeling much better. And here's the amazing part: While I walk like I'm stepping on hot coals, I can bike without even the slightest twinge.

Sick of staying in the Schloss, and hungry, I therefore hit the road on a rental and had a wonderful morning and early afternoon. I dropped by a nearby Billa for some grapefruit Stiegl-Radler and other necessities, grabbed some pizza at some swell chalet-looking place on the edge of the Altstadt, and then joined the other bikers picking meandering paths through town. Feeling so fine, I found a table on the upper deck at Café Tomaselli - and sampled a luscious tort and fine Austrian coffee. I kept waiting for my leg to act up, but as long as I was riding, my body said, "proceed!"

Now I'm back, elevating the calf and relaxing. I'm still hoping to go gently while walking, but, WOW, did that bike ride feel good. In terms of mobility, I'm going slow, but I'm still going. Yeah, I'm feeling nothing but gratitude today. Best of all, Jenny and the SJSU Salzburg crew are scheduled to arrive this evening. Can't wait to see 'em and get this adventure really started!

SJSU Salzburg Scholars (photo by Bill Reckmeyer)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 7 (Munich to Salzburg) Adventures in Austrian Health Care

Well, I got a chance to learn a little about Austria's health care system today. I woke up early today for a run and some street art photography along the Tumblingerstraße in Munich. Only I pivoted too quickly to avoid a speeding car and felt a stabbing pain in my right leg.

After trudging back about 1 1/2 miles to the hotel [today's a holiday, and I didn't see a single taxi], I went online and began the old RICE plan (rest, ice, compression, elevation). But hours later, after lugging my stuff to the train station and chugging south to Salzburg, I could still barely walk. At least I could hail a cab.

Checking in at the Schloss, the woman at the front desk heard my story and called another taxi. She said I'd be crazy not to get checked out at the nearby hospital. All my life I'd thought that these sorts of things are meant to be "walked off," but I just can't say no to an Austrian who means business. In this pleasantly efficient land of exclamation points [and honor-system newspaper stands too], there's little point in arguing.

So instead of tucking into some bratwurst at some cozy al fresco restaurant to celebrate my return to Salzburg, I found myself filling out forms at the hospital. My passport and insurance information were taken and I began to fret about the bill. The guy at the check-in desk assured me that the basic fee would be 187 EU - maybe more, but not likely a crazy amount. Almost reading my mind, someone nearby said, "You're not in America anymore."

I followed the blue line to the examination area where, after a couple questions, the nurse explained that I'd have to wait for an hour. She gestured to an old woman lying on a gurney in the hallway. I flashed back to that old Ringo Starr line: "I'm just happy to be here."

Assuring the nurse that I was in no rush, I asked if there was a restroom nearby. She replied, "no." Still smiling, I noted that, well, I'd have to pee sometime. I wondered how local folks manage this seemingly basic task. Luckily, an Australian visitor understood my plight. "He means the toilet." Oh, yeah... Once more my Puritan upbringing has jammed me up, inspiring me to select a pleasantly vague euphemism in a time calling for practicalities. "Cheers, mate!," said my new Aussie friend.

Soon enough I settled into a blue mesh chair in a long corridor. The guy next to me looked fine enough, until I noticed that his eyeball seemed ready to burst from his head. Maybe I'd overdone this whole thing. It was just a pulled muscle, after all. I could sit comfortably enough; I just couldn't, you know, walk. This guy's eyeball is pulsating out of its socket!

Still, I've got to admit, my situation felt scary. My research had confirmed that a really bad calf muscle injury could take weeks or even months to heal. Sometime (though rarely) these things require surgery. And I'm traveling all over Europe and China over the next two months. Still, sneaking a quick peek at the guy with that bloody, bulging orb staring back at me, I realized that I couldn't complain.

Almost exactly one hour later I heard an announcement in German that ended with "Mr. Wood." By this point, my leg had stiffened up pretty tight. I stepped slowly until a young woman gestured for me to quicken my pace.

Turns out, she would be my doctor this evening. She asked the basic questions, and then felt, prodded, and tugged her way around my leg. Little by little I became more certain that things would work out fine. Feeling a little silly, I said, "Really, I'll just be happy to know how should take care of this thing while it heals."

"You will have X-Ray," she explained. "Then I will tell you what to do."

Across the hall I endured a mild Pilates lesson. My X-Ray tech - all business - dragged my leg one way and then another to line up her shots. Looking up, grateful that she'd covered my genitals with a blue shield, I imagined myself back in the States, counting up the hundreds of dollars each minute in these rooms would cost.

Limping back to the hallway, I saw that old woman on the gurney once more. My X-Ray tech had slipped out another door and joined her. She still maintained her no-nonsense vibe, but I was happy to hear some kindness in her voice. I prayed that my visit had not wasted a single second that could have gone to that old woman's care. I remembered that I'd stammered a sheepish apology to the doctor during my initial consultation. "Better safe than sorry," I offered. Yes, she smiled.

Almost an hour later, the doc pronounced her verdict. My leg had good reason to hurt, she said, but there was no serious damage done. She gave me some pills and a reminder to walk slowly and calmly for the next few days. I thanked her and paid my fees. Cash only (due to a broken card reader machine). Exact amount too (no change available). I counted out each Euro, feeling nothing but gratitude. Now I'm back at the Schloss. My leg still hurts like hell, but at least I'm here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 6 (Weimar to Munich)

Travel day: After a quick changeover, I took a high speed train from Weimar to Munich, and got to stretch out in a comfy seat and a full-size table. With all this space and time, I started some detailed course prep for the three-week Comm and Culture class I'll soon teach in Beijing (starting in mid-June). Even a slight bobble ended up for the best. I arrived at my hostel, only to find that they'd sold my room. Happily, they'd already moved me to a nicer place (Motel One - don't let the name fool you). So I'm chilling tonight and deciding how early I want to leave tomorrow for Salzburg.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 5 (Munich)

Terrific day in Weimar! Getting a chance to help wrap things up, I joined two other folks to present a 'debate' on the proceedings. (Actually, their notion of debate is really a more of a 'response'). I was honored to have a chance to help conclude our adventures together. Many emails and FB handles were exchanged, and I feel like I made some good friends here. Afterward I rented a bike and really got to know this town. It took an hour for me to get used to riding in the streets with cars, but eventually I stopped stressing and just grooved on the cool breeze.Then it was time for bratwurst and some insane ice cream. Tomorrow I get to sleep in at last. Then it's time to pack and catch the train for Munich. Looking forward to greeting the SJSU Salzburg crew in a couple days. Most of all, I can't wait to see Jenny!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 4 (Weimar)

Crazy long conference day. Brilliant and complicated ideas, lots of pleasant but direct dispute, presentations that sometimes turn into book proposals (and an actual book proposal that I've accepted). I want to dinner with a new friend from Wayne State, sharing almost three hours of conversation at a biergarten. Then, after the final presentations, I hoped to go back to my hotel early for some much needed sleep. Instead I joined the happy throng at yet another restaurant for three more hours of conversation (and bier). I don't think I'll ever beat this jet lag, but I'm having a swell time!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 3 (Weimar)

At last! After months of planning, practice, and stress, my Weimar keynote is history. It's been an amazing day, beginning with an early-morning trek through town, crashing until mid-afternoon, some rushed last-minute practice, hearing speeches in French and sharing conversation that'd drift from to English to German and Scottish, and presenting my little opus (Yuck. that suddenly sounds kinda gross). I'm thrilled and relieved that the speech went well. I knew when a largely German audience laughed at my jokes that I'd survive this thing. Then we went to a lovely dinner in a tiny garden restaurant. Much bier and conversation ensued. Hours later I'm massively jet-lagged, and I don't care. Two more days at the conference (including a post-conference 'debate' in which I'm a participant) - then it's off to Munich and Salzburg!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 2 (Düsseldorf to Weimar)

Leisurely morning, lounging on white sheets with the window open to cool breeze. After yesterday's redeye flight and meandering tour of Dusseldorf, I was happy let my body catch up the local timezone. Eventually I hopped a cab to the train station, tossed my travel stuff in a locker, and wondered around a bit more. Even downtown, there is so much green space, so many people riding bikes, and such a sense of calm and relaxation. I even found some OK street art, only to learn on the train out of town that I'd missed the really good stuff - colorful, building-sized murals - between the station and the airport. Five hours later I arrived in Weimar. Lovely walk on cobblestone roads, pizza and cola-weizen on a platz, and a relaxing bath back at the hotel. Tomorrow's the keynote!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 1 (Düsseldorf)

Arrived in Düsseldorf, got cab to Hotel Ashley's Garden, and slept for an hour or so (outside, it was mid-afternoon, but my body was sure it was 2 a.m.). Couldn't wait long, though, so I took a walk along the the Rheine to the Altstadt. Such a lovely afternoon, with folks sleeping and reading on the tall grass. I looked for some street art, but was mostly entranced by statues of - just regular folks.

A mom holding her child, a guy carrying a briefcase to work, another guy heading for the beach. I hope to learn more about these artworks. Toured some local biers and set down for some al fresco bratwurst at Ham Ham bei Josef. Figured I'd have no problem getting back (just follow the Rheine, right?) but I ended up taking an impromptu journey across town. Zigzag'd my way back on local trams and somehow picked up a bottle of Tormore 12 year single malt along the way. Finally got back to my room and crashed. Today I'm heading to Weimar, getting ready for my keynote.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Heading for Europe and Asia - Summer Hiatus

Woodland Shoppers Paradise is on summer hiatus as I head for Europe and Asia.

I'll post from time to time, but regular entries won't return until fall.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Omnitopia as Urban Epistemology

Preparing for my Weimar presentation, I found myself bumping up against the idea of "urban epistemology," wondering is contemporary knowledge doesn't merely arise in the city but also through the city. Naturally it didn't take me long to then wonder what an omnitopian urban epistemology might be.

Generally I approach omnitopia from a critical perspective (not as a "critical scholar," of course - though that's a slightly different issue). At the same time I find pleasure and relevance to the omnitopian performance.

I therefore wonder: Can the same principles that produce a structural and perceptual enclave whose apparently distinct locales convey inhabitants to a singular place convey us also to some truth about the world? To explore this idea, I offer these notes:

1. Omnitopia is not a fact; it is a framework. Its value lies less in what it is than what it reveals.

2. We might imagine omnitopia as a sort of urban epistemology: a way of knowing that yields potentially useful insights.

3. Omnitopia-as-urban-epistemology does not promise a grand narrative; there is no one-size-fits-all producer of universal meaning.

4. Omnitopia-as-urban-epistemology instead offers a way of seeing - a layer of augmented reality that highlights some phenomena (while admittedly obscuring others).

5. From this perspective [and employing the framework that appears in my book City Ubiquitous] an omnitopian urban epistemology would reflect five principles:

Dislocation: Knowledge should be unfixed from its authors and origins; it should be easily shared. To borrow from Stewart Brand: "Information wants to be free." This does not suppose that we abandon a literal marketplace of ideas any more than we should abandon our obligations to act ethically. Yet when knowledge is easily shared, (freed, as it were, from all but the most necessary constraints) meaningful insight can grow. In contrast, knowledge without broad access (illustrated but not limited by the principle of peer review) may possess only a passing similarity to anything that resembles truth.

Conflation: Knowledge should value synthesis over analysis. To be sure, one may dwell deeply in the particulars of the world, just as one grows attached to a particular cafe or pub or diner. Yet when the production of knowledge works simply to strip away extraneous elements from a supposedly elemental truth, the outcome almost invariably produces little more than the sum of one's limitations. Expanding our intellectual maps, connecting seemingly disparate nodes, need not turn us into dilettantes. [And even if we face such scorn, we might prefer that pejorative to the risk of becoming pedants.]

Fragmentation: Knowledge frequently arises when apparently complete narratives are breached, broken, and cut against the grain. As an urban phenomenon and a necessary counterpoint to conflation, fragmentation often reveals itself as the destruction of communities who have been split by broad boulevards or managed as imperial categories. At the same time, individuals and groups possess an emancipatory tool when they seize that same power, acting to fragment otherwise overwhelming urban narratives. Truth tends to form in the cracks of previously impenetrable facades.

Mobility: Knowledge accrues less in stasis than in motion. Its truth is best measured when subject to the jostles and jolts of transmission. As such, knowledge can hardly be delineated from communication. Indeed, it can't exist without discourse. From another perspective, consider the knowledge of the metro, and compare its insights to the knowledge of the easy chair. From that latter position, one may easily reflect and refine on what is known. Yet the process of moving from place to place enables a cascade of momentary, partial (and, yes, sometimes distracting) utterances. Signs, sounds, objects: each provoke new connections. Knowledge that results from such mobility brings us closer to understanding.

Mutability: Knowledge must be twisted from its comforting alignments to be useful. Again we learn from the city. The planner's perspective may allow for coming and going, to-ing and fro-ing, but the purpose of most design is to fix meaning upon place. Few visionaries of the urban milieu genuinely build change into their plans. Growth, repair, renewal, yes. But change that may transform one place into another? Such is rare. At the same time, the power to produce an illusion of mutability is a frequent component of most efforts at command and control. This is the projection of "nimble force," of "rapid deployment," of "shock and awe." Such mutability must be practiced by anyone who would seek to know the world and to challenge its would-be authors. This is the stolen moment of the impromptu concert, the flash mob, the unscripted conversation. In these moments, knowledge takes root and may grow wild.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wandering the Parisian Arcade

Preparing for my Weimar talk I came across Émile Zola's description [in his 1880 Nana] of the Passage des Panoramas in Paris. Hard to explain why, but this "passage" strikes me as being especially lovely
A shower had just driven a crowd of people into the Passage. There was quite a mob, and it was a slow and difficult task to pass along between the shops on either side. Beneath the glass roof, brightened by the reflection, there was a most fierce illumination, consisting of an endless string of lights white globes, red and blue lamps, rows of flaring gas-jets, and monstrous watches and fans formed of flames of fire burning without any protection whatsoever; and the medley of colours in the various shop windows the gold of the jewellers, the crystal vases of the confectioners, the pale silks of the milliners blazed behind the spotless plate-glass, in the strong light cast by the reflectors; whilst among the chaos of gaudily painted signs, an enormous red glove in the distance looked like a bleeding hand, cut off and fixed to a yellow cuff.  
Count Muffat had strolled leisurely as far as the Boulevard. He cast a glance on the pavement, then slowly retraced his footsteps, keeping close to the shops. A damp and warm air filled the narrow thoroughfare with a kind of luminous vapour. Along the flagstones, wet from the drippings of umbrellas, footsteps reverberated continuously, without the sound of a single voice. The passers-by, elbowing the count at each turn, gazed at his impassive face, rendered paler than usual by the glare of the gas. So, to escape from their curiosity, he went and stood in front of a stationer's shop, where he inspected, apparently with profound attention, a display of glass paper-weights, containing coloured representations of landscapes and flowers. 
But in reality he saw nothing. 
Bonus! I took some pictures of the Passage des Panoramas last year.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Google Glasses

Photo by Sebastian Thrun
I had an "aha" moment when I saw this picture and read Annalee Newitz's accompanying story. It's just a kid being swung around by his dad, right? Yeah, but there's more. Because the dad took this picture using his Google glasses, that much-hyped (and sometimes mocked) Next-New-Thing in Augmented Reality. Imagine being able to record everything you see from your glasses. Cool, huh? Yep. And it's coming.

Read more: (IO9) "Could this photograph change the future?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Which Detroit Future?

Preparing for my Weimar keynote, I came across a swell American Prospect article that details two possible futures for Detroit: one illustrated by my YouTube video [below] called Detroit Dirge, and another that is much more hopeful.

Once the fourth-largest city in America, with a peak population about 1.85 million in the 1950s, Detroit's population has now dropped to 713,777 residents - roughly the same number of residents as lived there 100 years ago. But as the article describes, Detroit is more than a city of vacant lots. There's also plenty of hardscrabble start-up spirit transforming the Motor City into a center of U.S. post-industrialization.

The changes sweeping across Detroit stretch from new lifestyles to new industries. The city is no longer composed mostly of single-family homes; a complex assortment of hybrid types is replacing the old model. And as grass grows through the cracks of crumbling boulevards, farming abandoned city blocks is a fast growing industry. This new Detroit offers hope to a population shellshocked from decades of declining fortunes.

This new future requires a balance of unbuilding, rebuilding, and new-building. Thus a process of triage is underway, saving some neighborhoods and razing others. Understandably, many community members are fearful about being forced from their homes. They hear Mayor David Bing announce, “We will repopulate some neighborhoods. We will depopulate some neighborhoods," and they prepare to fight back.

Following community outcry about Bing's initial plans, the city’s Detroit Works program appears to have revamped its approach, opting for short-term ground-up projects over central planning. Still, Detroiters question whether Mayor Bing has caught the bootstrapping vision or whether he’s still determined to control things from city hall. Right now the future is uncertain, but one local organizer offers a philosophical summary of the situation: “Mayors come and go. Detroiters stay and stick.”

Read moreAmerican Prospect The Death and Life of Detroit

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mind the Map

Image from BBC:

Humans Invent recently posted an interesting piece on a London Transport Museum exhibition called "Mind the Map," which examines evolving depictions of the Tube. The article explains how Harry Beck's 1933 design represents a transformation in the portrayal of the Underground from a geographic to diagrammatic style. Turns out, this seemingly sensible approach was considered quite revolutionary back then.

Responding to those critics who complain that diagrammatic maps are misleading, London Transport Museum curator Claire Dobbin explains, "A good map caters specifically for its usage, in the best possible way…. Beck’s diagrammatic map embodied the very essence of modern functionalism that underpinned the Underground’s design philosophy."

While appreciating this insight on how London's Underground map conveys a modernist sensibility, I am fascinated by how this article illustrates a nuance about omnitopia that is often lost is discussions about the topic. Reflecting on omnitopia, many folks say, "Oh, yeah. You mean homogeneity," when, in fact, omnitopia contains many heterogeneous elements.

Consider how London's Underground map connects to perception rather than particulars: "Other cities across the world have been inspired by Beck’s design, most notably Sydney whose map, despite the overall course the lines take, looks almost identical to the London one." Yet no one would confuse London for Sydney.

The maps we use may be omnitopian, yet our locations remain precisely local.

Read more: Breaking the rules: Harry Beck and the London tube map

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fresno Street Art (Part 2 of 2)

Here's a second helping of Fresno Street Art. [Details in yesterday's post.]

3735 East Ventura Avenue [GMap]
2254 South Railroad Avenue [GMap]
1416 Broadway St [GMap]
1416 Broadway St [GMap]
1416 Broadway St [GMap]
1416 Broadway St [GMap
1416 Broadway St [GMap]
1416 Broadway St [GMap]

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fresno Street Art (Part 1 of 2)

Broadway St and San Joaquin St [GMap]
A couple days ago I drove to Fresno in search of street art. I'd spotted a couple clusters on Street Art View and figured I'd have no problem finding my way around. I've visited before - somewhat notoriously back in '01 - yet this place always seems so convoluted to me.

H Street and El Dorado [GMap]
H Street and El Dorado [GMap]
H Street and El Dorado [GMap]
Once I again I found myself cruising Fresno's streets, trying to make sense of a place I barely know. I worked a few main boulevards, finding lots of walls whose graffiti had been whitewashed away. Fresno is clearly struggling to contain its taggers. And who can blame them? The difference between street art and vandalism can be difficult to discern. 

727 Broadway Street [GMap]
Kings Canyon Road and Sierra Vista Avenue [GMap]
4696 East Kings Canyon Road [GMap]
Eventually I turned to Fresno's southern outskirts. Hourly-rate motels, rusting storage lock-ups, weedy lots, and train tracks led me to my first discoveries. From there the streets seemed to draw me back northward through the optimistically named Mural District.

2254 South Railroad Avenue [GMap]
2203 South Van Ness Avenue [GMap]
2203 South Van Ness Avenue [GMap]
2254 South Railroad Avenue [GMap]
I only spent a few hours on this most recent Fresno Street Art search, which means there's much more to explore. [In the meantime, I'll post more pix tomorrow.]

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Route 66 Tiny Town in Lebanon, MO

While visiting Lebanon, Missouri's outstanding Route 66 museum a few weeks ago (in the Lebanon-Laclede County Library), I came across this tiny town: a miniature version of the Route 66/MO Highway 5 crossroads as it appeared in the 1940s.

Quoting from the description: "Principal features were Nelson Tavern and Service Station (with adjoining gardens) built in 1930, Nelson's Dream Village, constructed in 1934, and the Union Bus Station, built in 1941. Like all too many important Route 66 locations, none of these survive today." 

Thanks to Willem and Monique Bor for creating this amazing diorama!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Yes… But is it Art?

[I know this is old. It comes from my overflowing collection of articles I've read and wanted to post during my recent blogging hiatus. Better late than never!]

While preparing for my lecture on 20th century modern art (delivered last month), I came across Morley Safer's 1993 60 Minutes story in my "blog ideas" file. In his exposé, Safer poked some fun at the state of contemporary art (at least, "contemporary" as folks back then defined the term).


• An auctioneer trying to figure out whether one painting - a majestic sheet of flat color - is actually horizontal or vertical.

• An interview with former commodities broker-turned-art-phenom Jeff Koons explaining the difference between his off-the-shelf vacuum cleaner and one bought at the local Sears: "This work would be a signed work by myself, or would have a letter of authenticity."

• An art collector explaining the value of monochrome painter Robert Ryman's white canvas: "He's a 'minimal artist.'" Safer's droll reply: "I would say so."

According to 60 Minutes, "Yes… But is it Art?" is one of their most controversial stories. Why? Well, because Safer so clearly identifies with the clucks of American philistines. He makes no effort to understand the trajectory of ideas that led to some of these pieces. Not even a hat-tip to Duchamp during the "urinals" portion of the story. Moreover, his interviews with "I-don't-get-it" museum-goers have all the insight of a Campbell's soup label ("I could have done that!" "I don't understand it all!" etc.). Really? Are we so surprised? And, of course, one can exclaim that the emperor is wearing no clothes only so many times, not that Safer has any problem repeating himself to make his point. Still… it's hard not to grasp his larger thesis, that contemporary art - having little to do with "modern art," one might add - is less about aesthetics and mostly about commerce.

Check it out: Morley Safer's infamous 1993 art story: Yes… But is it Art?

Want more Safer cynicism? Morley Safer's 2012 return to the scene of the crime: Art Market

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Route 66 Relic: Bowlin's Old Crater Trading Post

During the Route 66 portion of my recent three-week solo trip I came across the ruins of Bowlin’s Old Crater Trading Post. The weather was lousy and my schedule was packed, but I had to sojourn here a while, listening to the whistling wind.