Monday, March 27, 2017

There Ain't Half Been More Clever Bastards!

Several times in the past few months I sat down to write about the political disaster that has engulfed my country, and every time I stopped halfway through because everything has been said and my own fear and despair is echoed by countless others who are more educated and better at writing than I am. But in a nutshell, lest there be any doubt:

-45 is an American tragedy;
-I am so deeply proud of New York (and Philly and LA and really all our cities) for fighting the good fight;
-I'm still a humanist and will remain so;
-Call yer damn senators and representatives! It takes five minutes and is especially important now as battle fatigue starts to set in. Resistbot is a good place to start if you are, like me, both lazy and shy.

But life goes on and I am of too cheerful a nature to maintain the level of gloom and anxiety that is probably rational. I moved my company out of my apartment into a great shared space where my desk is noticeably the only industrial designer's.

....because it's covered in prototypes. They're all NDA'd though so here is a penguin. 

With my usual name-related travel anxiety heightened by heavy national embarrassment I went to Cape Town for the Design Indaba Festival and watched carefully for the moment the little plane on the monitor crossed the equator but the equator wasn't marked on the map. How was I supposed to know when to dump a bucket of water over my head?*

Cape Town is so like Los Angeles visually that in my sleep deprived state I almost thought I had fetched up in the wrong city-- if it hadn't been for the giant flat topped mountain in the middle of it. I couldn't get used to seeing nice deco architecture in one direction and LA-like palm trees in another and the inevitable mountain in the other two. No matter where you were, there was the big but not huge rock looming over you without so much as a foothill. I climbed it later and it only took three-ish hours at my out-of-shape pace.

In the afternoon a cloud generally comes over the top. The first time I noticed, from a taxi, I said 'YOUR MOUNTAIN IS ON FIRE!' The driver stopped laughing eventually. 

Almost as odd as the LA look (the architecture, the car centric streets, the palm trees, the ocean, the visible income inequality) was the wildlife. One moment I would be frantically photographing a hadada ibis, and the next I would be shooing away a grey squirrel or a sparrow or a pigeon or a rat. Even the familiar beasts had a level of fearlessness and swagger that was instantly endearing. I bought street food I didn't want just so I could share it with the red winged starlings (they would have taken it anyway).

This patriotic ibis is eating a South African flag. 

Design Indaba has a reputation for treating its speakers well, and it does. I got chauffeured round town even when walking would have been faster and taken on a helicopter tour and generally made to feel very important indeed. I've never been in a helicopter before and I think when** I am really fancy bastard with time to spare I will learn how to fly one for the hell of it. The view was something else. 

I was hopping up and down in my seat thinking 'Holy smokes! Holy smokes!'

In addition to fancy cars and helicopters and excellent wine and long, sociable dinners Design Indaba is a really good conference. It's saying something that I spent a substantial part of three days sitting in a dark, warm, comfortable hall listening to people talk and didn't fall asleep once. A thread that ran throughout nearly all the presentations was a fierce opposition to nationalism and close mindedness. I am used to the design world skirting nervously around politics, but no one held back this time. It was so heartening to hear speakers from every corner of the world condemning Trump et al by name to a rapturously supportive hall. Design is a relatively small and fractious community but damned if its collective heart isn't in the right place. 

The program was really varied-- there were artists both performance and otherwise, graphic designers, architects, industrial designers, a freestyle improv hip-hop group and some other sorts who defied description. Some I really liked-- Olafur Eliasson, who debuted tiny solar powered suns, Lernert and Sander, who recorded and sent a choral apology to everyone who had ever ripped off their ideas, Kaki King who made a data-based piece of music sound passionate. 

Olafur Eliasson debuting his Little Sun lights. (Photo courtesy Design Indaba)

Every evening everyone sat round and talked shop late into the night and as at Dubai and other conferences I was struck by the generosity and open mindedness of designers. Back in the hotel I would google stalk people I’d just had epic complaining-about-clients sessions with, only to discover that they had massive wikipedia pages they hadn’t written themselves. I’m a very new designer and an even newer studio owner and I was honored to be treated as an equal and taken seriously. I suppose it was only a year ago that I was a harassed thesis student who no one took seriously at all. 

That's me giving looking tiny while giving a presentation. I've never addressed 2500 people before! (Photo courtesy Grace Jun)

It was disconcerting how familiar everything was— the clever, shiny overeducated people, the American style food, the variety of accents, even the fashion***— it all could have existed in any other other slightly indolent coastal city. But then I would catch a glimpse of the mountain looking at me, or see a man sleeping in a rubber tree, and I would suddenly realize how very far from home I was. 

The last speaker on the last day unveiled a lovely prototype for a Peace Arch and ushered in a choir which in turn ushered in Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu himself. He gave a short speech and it was genuinely really emotional. Several people around me were in tears and even my grumpy atheist heart felt something. The giant vikingesque man next to me kept snuffling and saying ‘great man, great man’ in a thick Afrikaans accent. 

The Arch and an arch. 

Then they set off a bunch of glitter cannons with a bang and every American in the hall jumped out of their skin. 

The next day they drove all the speakers out to a vineyard for a farewell luncheon and we basked in the sun (the Londoners quickly turning purple) and wandered up and down the old world grapevines in the far older world landscape. But I was impatient, because my gentleman friend was arriving and the proper adventure was just starting. 

Grapes and mountains.

Which will have to be part two. 


*I had a vague notion that you're supposed to do that when you cross the equator-- but for once the real traditions are weirder than my imagination.


***Which I called completely wrong- I thought that in sunny Africa I should wear my bright colored clothing so I brought both pieces— but no, everyone was wearing designer black and I felt a bit gauche. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards (Also Camels)

I’m just now flying home from Dubai, watching sinisterly familiar names passing by on the map— Basra, Mosul, Aleppo, Baghdad. On the way out it was nighttime and I anxiously stared out the window looking for explosions, but I didn’t see any. 

It’s been a while- over a year! and that’s not because things have been boring but because everything that’s gone on has been about ME and MY life and writing about that in a public setting doesn’t feel quite right. So I think I’ll update mostly about travel and art and design and things that I would like to read about. One scruffball designer’s day-to-day is really only fascinating to said scruffball designer, or should be. 

Scruffball designers also sometimes find themselves in Kellogg's window displays. Don't ask.

So in the past year I have finished my degree of course, and started freelancing and then started a company around my freelance practice. It’s new and exciting and confusing and I fortunately don’t know enough to know what and when I am screwing things up. In any case, my clients seem to like me and I, like Harry (who you are NOT to call a human potato) am doing alright. And a week ago I found myself on a flight the largest graduate design show in the world in a city of superlatives. 

I hadn’t been out of the country since England, and even though the UAE was a bit low on my list of places to visit I was excited to see a new bit of the world. And even at 2 AM after 20+ hours of travel time and an unpromising view of skyscrapers and occasional palm trees I still found myself bouncing around in the (pink, women's only) cab from the airport saying OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY! and irritating my travelling companions. 

OH BOY!!!!!

Usually the first thing I do in a new place is dump out my suitcases and rush outside to see what I can see. This time I decorously hung up my professional looking clothing (miraculously unwrinkled after I watched a YouTube video on how to fold) and meekly slept until 8. This must be what it is like to grow old. 

When I was finally out the door of the bland hotel I immediately discovered that going out and having a wander does not happen in Dubai. It’s about 95 degrees at all times and humid and relentlessly sunny. I also discovered that the aggressively modest clothing I brought on the advice of the internet was both uncomfortable and unnecessary. While local people do wear lovely cool looking robes, your average foreign lady is exploding out of little bits of fabric that I wouldn’t attempt in a liberal country or a conservative country or any other country either. 

I also noticed that things seem to operate in blasts of activity with truly impressive results. For example, that first blazing morning when I went into the convention hall to set up my prototypes it was a mess of plastic and sawdust and armies of  workers running around with shiny new power tools. When I came back the next day everything was absolutely immaculate with not a speck of dust to be seen. Someone had even blown the sawdust out of the honeycomb cells of my helmet prototype which I appreciated very much. Over the course of the week I also watched a new canal fill up and a building rise two more stories. 

I didn't take many pictures in the hall because everyone else was-- picture courtesy GGS.

It was a great pleasure to see old friends from Keio and RCA, lovely familiar faces which I had not really thought to see again (which in retrospect is silly. There aren’t THAT many industrial designers in the world). It was nice to sit up late and argue design and politics, and pick apart the way everything looked. Its rare to be with such a large and international group who understands each others’ thought processes so easily, even if there is nothing else in common. Even across literally dozens of countries and cultures we do speak a common language, and if that sounds pretentious and sentimental, it is- and it’s also true. 

Like all trade shows it was a long and tiring experience, explaining our projects again and again and again till the words blended together. Once a day whispers would go round— The Sheikh is coming! The Sheikh is coming!— and everyone would rush to their places and smooth their hair and wait for His Highness to roll in. He came the last day and I missed him- I had stepped out for lunch- and apparently he walked in with his retinue, looked around, said ‘hrm,’ and walked right out again. I talked to several Dubai residents and was surprised how affectionately they spoke of him. Apparently he is a genuinely cultured, warm hearted man with multiple PhDs and a fondness for animals, which is not what one expects from an absolute ruler. All week other lesser grandees would walk through with their giant retinues and observe the designs through their aviators. 

A retinue--whose I couldn't say.

I had a generally warm response, but I don’t think that intentionally inexpensive design for urban commuting makes much sense to someone from a hot country where everyone drives everywhere and everything is about displaying huge fortunes. I did meet a wiry little burnt British guy who informed me that he cycles everywhere all year round, but I sensed he was an outlier. 

Speaking of huge fortunes….


Glassy vastness getting yanked out of the desert

Every building seems to be a fantasy of opulence. The skyscrapers have toppers on them that serve no purpose beyond looks but must cost half as much as the skyscraper itself; there is a massive fountain display every night that is a paragon of unnecessary desalination; there are malls the size of…. several malls? It’s hard to talk about the malls because I avoid malls like the plague normally. These are not just places to shop though; they are meeting places, dining places (fancy and not) and destinations. I suppose if being outside isn’t an option and you are not at home or at work it’s good to have a giant indoor world where everything may be fake but goddamnit the air conditioning works. It makes for a sense of unreality that is not dreamlike, but aggravating. Everything gleams with gold and glass, there are attractions everywhere, waterwalls, aquariums, skating rinks, ski slopes, giant chocolate fountains. Even with the relentless air conditioning I always left feeling sticky. 

Light up blue mall dinosaur!

The other option to go in the daytime is the beach, also an experience, but nicer. I’ve never felt such warm water, such soft sand. The latter is imported, the former is so clear because the desalination plants dump excessive salt into it which kills everything. It was delightful to float around though, and with the heaviest sunscreen I could find plus sunglasses I only wound up with a bad sunburn, not a terrible one. Looking out to sea at the huge tankers and inland to the crazy towers I had a sense that Dubai has been thunked down on the desert with no sense of place, time or history and it could easily just float away. 

Portsmouth, amiright?

I like to always go to the oldest part of a city because I think that’s where a place’s soul lives, though if Dubai has a soul it’s probably in a mall. Still I went to the gold souk and the spice souk and the fabric souk in search of souvenirs and magic and found almost none of the former (everything can be got in the US, better quality too) and only a little of the latter.

Party dhown, party dhow!*

A friend and I went one evening just as everything was closing and the touristy veneer melted away a little. We had a long talk with an Iranian Persian in a spice shop who told us what was probably a lot of nonsense about smugglers and meth; took a boat up and down a creek (we just flagged down a boatman, jumped a railing and hopped in— it was great) and fetched up in a deserted and deeply unconvincing ‘old city’ that was supposed to look like a crusader era village complete with surveillance cameras and fake torchlight. 

Derelict pearler boat

'Historic' Al Bastakiya district

Inexplicably deserted square

Still, it was pleasantly disorienting to wander up and down the empty narrow streets and stop in the carpeted squares, quite lost- and we agreed that it was the best part of the city (later I went back in the daytime and met a British bookseller in an airy rooftop shop who told us all about the area history in a captivating accent and sold me a so far excellent book called ‘The Siege of Mecca). 

Every city needs a Philately House.

One afternoon I went to the desert, which was also a new one on me. Like everything else it was very regulated and controlled— you get collected by a jovial non-Emirati** guy in a land rover, driven out of the city past the Sheikh’s beautiful green gardens and the grayish landscape everywhere else, past the industrial looking, sandy roadside settlements (with malls) to a souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere, past an underground prison and then right into the sand. 

Cars all around but THAT COLOR.

The package included ‘dune bashing’ which means driving rather quickly up and over and around the soft red dunes while everyone in the land rover shrieks and laughs. There are designated photo stops, where, running barefoot up and down the dunes I had a glimpse, half real and half willed to be real, of a vast emptiness. The long, red view was unlike anything I had seen before, and I can see why deserts have captivated writer after writer. My hair streamed back in the sandy wind and for the first and only time in Dubai I felt like I was on the actual land. 

Looking one way...

Looking the other way.

Then there was a deeply unconvincing ‘Beduin camp’ with dancers and 90s hip hop and so many floodlights you couldn’t see the stars. I was thinking about the desert though, and how I would like to go back for longer with less cars and more camels and more stars. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d like to go back to the Middle East one day and see the landscape properly. Maybe in the winter. 

I also want to chill with these weirdos more.

One thing I found very encouraging is the graciousness and altruism on display at the Global Grad Show. Nearly everything was meant to solve a real problem or help people or the world at large. I've noticed design shows in general these days have a lot of design for design’s sake— more chairs, more plates, more hubless wheels (designers dearly love removing hubs from things) that might look nice, but doesn’t really DO anything. These projects, however, were almost without exception practical and functional and drew their beauty from that. There were solar ovens, quarantine beds, hand powered clothes washers, improved bee hives. The more abstract designs were done extremely well, like a virtual reality suit from Keio that created a world so beautiful I went back to experience it twice. I was honored to be there. 

And now, back in my dear, green, cool country, I can go back to work with the sense that the world is both vast and small and full of clever, curious, ambitious designers who are committed to making it better- or at least a good deal more interesting. 

And I am too jet lagged to edit so that’s that. 


*Courtesy Bart. I never sink to boat puns. 

**I only met a handful of people who identified themselves as being from Dubai. Everyone else is quick to tell you they are from Iran or India or Russia or wherever, and everyone’s English is perfect. It was disorientingly like New York in that way. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Clever Trevor

The other day I went to the Heatherwick Studios exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt and I give it a solid A-.  There was some really great expanding furniture and a goofy rolly chair I spent way too much time rolling around in a design show last summer, and some rather fussy and overthought architecture. There was also MY FAVORITE BUS (there was the tail end of one on display, looking a bit out of place in the grand building):

Literally the best bus in the history of ever

I'd love to work in a studio like that, and I really admire the work as a whole. But it did strike me that some of it was just too clever for its own good. It is really necessary to see if a building can be hairy? 

Yes, buildings can be hairy. This is a Sitooterie, where you go an sit oot if you happen to be Scottish and not feel like being indoors, but not quite outdoors either.

I want my work to justify its own existence in the world, and not just be clever. There are so many things in the world, so much needless stuff, one of my concerns as a designer is to not add to the mountains of clever effluvia. 

Does the world really need another concept boat? I really do not know. 

A lot of people are designing intangibles now, systems and apps and things, and I don't know if that's quite my wheelhouse. I'm bad at thinking abstractly, good at thinking 3-dimensionally, and just vain enough to think I might have a few good ideas buried under all the clever and dash. 

Also, seeing all the Heatherwick stuff made me miss London a whole lot. I wish there was a New York equivalent studio, but we seem to specialize a bit more here. 

Greenwich, off a non-concept boat. Sigh....

My thesis is gonna be about getting around cities, I think, though it will have to narrow down dramatically. I've always been happiest rolling out of wherever I happen to be, and there are plenty of obstructions and annoyances to be smoothed down and made better. I wonder, though, if an unobstructed city is desirable. We thrive on mild adversity I think, and goodness knows I gather substantial energy from a good loud shouting match with the odd delivery guy in the bike lane. Japan had almost no visible obstructions between here and there, yet people seemed more stressed than New Yorkers. I could be underestimating New Yorkers though; even with, say, a functional transit system we will always find a reason to blow off steam in all directions. 

Thinking up something that is clever, useful, universal, clever, sustainable, attractive, clever, and philosophically sound is hard. I should quit fretting and start doing. I think it's important not to lose a sense of delight and whimsey and beauty in design, and if it winds up being clever that's better than being dull. 

Heatherwick's rolly chair-- there is room for the goofy.

Finally, here is a great poem by W H Auden that starts out being clever and ends by giving me cold shivers. I'd forgotten about Auden until the other day, I used to be really into him. 

Who's Who

A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day.
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea;
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints, like you and me.

With all his honors on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvelous letters but kept none. 

Right, now back to work. 


Sunday, August 16, 2015

So We'll Go No More a-Roving

I've been meaning to update for ages but nothing was coming out in any sense of order. Hence the disorder below. 

Everyone said that spending a year away changes one, makes you better, deeper, keener or some other vague attribute. I'm old enough to feel as if I don't need really dramatic revision, and when I look in the mirror and see the same person I always did (with slightly worse fitting clothes due to London's on-point cheese game). I'm not distressed, just a bit baffled. Surely some visible mark has been made, or should have been. I can't have alighted in Newark the same absent minded dreamer that slipped off to Japan yesterday.

Off Iceland. I love airplanes. 

And now I am back in my dear, grimy oversized New York City, which has exactly one year to convince me that it is the best city in the world and I should stay put. The past year is a lovely long dream from which the waking, while a bit wistful, is neither jarring nor unwelcome.

 Hello, native skyline

My resolute and patient gentleman friend came to London as school ended and we spent a vigorous week sightseeing, and in my case, saying goodbye to the city and art and architecture I love and loved and will always love. We went to Portsmouth and looked at the boats.

The- hrm!- Twilight of British Naval Power (hrm)

We went to Dorset and looked at a hill fort.

Maiden Castle, complete with lurky sheep.

We gaped and admired a (recorded) history so much longer than our own. 

Burnt out church, and I am not making any references to how I feel about religion right now!

Like New York, the solidity of London makes leaving easier. It will, barring something really dramatic, be there the rest of my life and I can return whenever funds and time let me. It's nice to think of Marianna safe in the Tate, always stretching by the window, of the great heavy houses along Regents Park, white and kind of horrible, of generations of obstreperous coots around the narrowboats in the tangled canals.

Au revoir.

But I am home and it is wonderful to see my family and my friends (so calm! So settled! So mature!) and my cat, who is so embedded in my parents' house and friendship with their
fancy abyssinian that I can't take him back to my apartment. I miss his derpy face, crazed meeping and all. I had a burst of domestication and sewed two shirts and made tomato sauce. Which I then spilt on the lighter colored one.

Best friends with not a shred of manners between them

And now I need to find a job that pays me, and get my nifty paper helmet into production (I can finally talk about it! Provisional patent filed, suckaaaaas!)

                             photo HelmetGif1_zpsbs4rgr7x.gif

I signed up to volunteer once a week, fixed my hair, pitched a bunch of too-young clothing, grubbed out my apartment, and made the grudging, final decision that it's time to grow up just a little bit. The next year is going to be devoted to thesis, job hunting, portfolio building, and trying to get my careless, haphazard self into some form of self-sufficient order.

Today I went to the Queens Museum, which is remote but consistently great. I looked at the giant model of New York City, which looks like this:

1/1200 scale.

It's nice to be reminded that my home is big and varied, familiar or not. It's good to think of the world in terms of topography, of cities in terms of the underlying land. I forget, with the grandeur and beauty of human made things, that the most constant and fundamental attribute of a place it the land it stands over. 

And it was good to return to the landscapes I know well- the missed and familiar Hudson Highlands,  the hazy overlooks and un curated rock formations, the comparatively warm Atlantic. I expected everything to look pale and brown compared to the fantasy of Japanese mountains the fairytale of English countryside, but no- it is beautiful and I feel peaceful here. 

And in one week school will start and I will not be peaceful at all.

About time.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Flaneur Dispatch 5--- Longer Boats

I wrote the following bit ages ago and apparently forgot to post it. I'm a doof. Oh well, coots!

There is a district in London called Little Venice where the long, painted narrowboats tie up for free, so long as they move two locks up or down every fourteen days. They look like this:

There's dozens and dozens, up and down Regent's Canal.

The people who live on them tend to wear tattered waistcoats and hats with hawk feathers and have long hair and fancy mustaches. I don't know how much of this raffishness is studied (I would guess a lot) and how long of the romantic appeal of living on a narrowboat lasts (I would guess not long) but it's still enchanting. There are herb gardens and bicycles on the roofs and beautiful wooden rooms inside. The painted detailing gleams and you can almost completely ignore that they are sitting in a nasty stagnant canal with trash and mean looking coot families bobbing around. 

Zoom out

Zoom in!

I went to a boat festival there a few weeks ago and hung out on a boat that did classes for kids by day (probably--hopefully-- involving the six or so large, exotic reptiles and amphibians roaming freely around) and was a bar by night. The proprietors were tan, grimy and cheerful. Boats had come from all the canals in London and were blazing with light; they tied up three abreast and chugged by in a procession to the sound of a really unconvincing bluegrass band. It was magic and a bit sad, because while living on a boat connotes freedom and detachment from the world, they are all bundled into canals they can't even turn around in. About 40% of me wants to drop everything and live on a narrowboat, and the rest of me sensibly points out that I like long showers and high ceilings and not living with only an inch or two of wood between me and belligerent coots. I also like open water and long sight lines. 

There's only a month left of school, which is depressing. I am learning so much here, and my brain is full, oiled, and pleased. I am not entirely happy with the quality of some projects, but I am making the sort of mistakes I can learn a lot from and it is worthwhile. I started the long, excruciatingly boring process of patenting one of my designs and it's terrible and I hate it and I'd better not think of anything else that is clever until I can afford a minion to do all this nonsense for me. 

I really want to put up a picture of the design in question but I can't so here is a really confused heron.

Today I went to Ford's UK HQ, which I can't write about much because they make all visitors sign NDAs before even reaching the gates. There was a modest little statue of Henry Ford, that Great American Entrepreneur, standing in a rigidly controlled garden next to the car park. He looked confused. They zoomed us round the test track in some silent electric cars, which was oddly placid. I'd never thought about it before, but the fast car experience is very much tied into a good loud roar. Apparently electric cars in the EU will be required to make noise, which makes sense but seems a shame. I was about to say that I like to ride silently, but I have incredibly loud pawls on my two favorite bikes so never mind that. 

You know what else is loud? Sheep. They actually say 'baa'. With the 'B' sound and everything.

I had another long ramble over the weekend in the endlessly lovely, nonthreatening empty countryside. As I get older and more boring it seems I need more and more time alone, to have nice uninterrupted thinks. I walk along the Monarch's Way, which the route Charles II took while running away from Cromwell. I looked in all the oak trees and climbed a few myself and didn't see any ghosts or even reenactors which was a real shame. 

Resumed 20/06

I've spent today trying to design an interface for a self driving car that I can't post due to NDA nonsense but you're not missing much. Despite my very best efforts, I am beginning to be a bit dazed with England. Maybe it's seeing the sun so rarely or maybe it's always being a bit cold, but my usually boundless energy is flagging a bit. For the first time since I got here I am almost (almost!) ready to go home. I swooned over the Elgin Marbles, I saw the Oldest Known Socks in the World, I learnt a few new programmes and saw my first and probably only penny farthing pace line:

Most of them were taking it seriously! An Austrian won. I wonder how he transported his bike?

I went to cold, windy, slightly creepy Brighton that had so many allusions rolling round in my brain I could barely keep my eras straight. 

Can you see the REAL me, can you? CAN YOU??

I did go in the freezing ocean up to my knees because that's The Rules, but I can see why the act of bathing is seen as a character former rather than something one does for fun. I was hoping to see a bathing machine, but there weren't any. Just some truly ridiculous cakes. 

Because when I think of fancy shindigs I think of military sheep.

Tomorrow I shall go to Canterbury and damned if I'm not gonna make a pilgrimage out of it. I'm trying to approach western religion with the same respectful incomprehension and sense of sanctity that I attached to Shinto and Buddhism, but it's not working at all. I will get a pilgrim badge, but it will not feel lovely in the way that all my Japanese badges and charms do. 

And on a final note, I cannot believe the messes that are unfolding in my own terrible, loved, backwards and beautiful country. It feels wrong to be swanning around abroad and fixating on making things when there is so much horror going on at home. I just spent forever trying to say more, but there aren't really words. It's not been a good year at home; when I get back I want to do something to help but damned if I know what. 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flaneur Dispatch 4-- Long Views

Yesterday I went to an after hours drawing session in RCA's art department. It was strange to be covered in charcoal, drawing a dumpy middle aged guy splayed out over a box. It was strange to be under grimy skylights again, after what, almost five years? Wrestling with a tippy easel and insufficient clips and a surprisingly unforgotten skill set, I thought about how deeply entwined my art training is in my better designs. I like things to be beautiful, and for better or worse I know what looks good to me and what doesn't. I really do need to practice, I used to be a lot better.

Putting this up to shame myself into going back next week and doing a better one. 

School remains time consuming and interesting, though there are always strange cultural blips to remind me that I am far from home. The hyper focused work ethic I am used to is almost gauche. Today a prof actually said 'I would never expect you to work on the weekend' which is unheard of in New York. They still expect super good work, just done faster, I suppose. I work comparatively slowly, and do wind up putting in weekend hours, though now I don't talk about them.  

Still, I keep running off to the heaths and hills and parks, and they are amazing. A week or two ago I and had a ramble in Surrey, which looks like this:

Green how I love you green!

I didn't have a map and the written instructions I brought were outdated and said things like 'Pass by the kissing gate on your left and then go through the kissing gate on your left but not that one' so I got  pleasurably (and thoroughly) lost. I ran up a hill to get a better view of where I was trying to go, and came upon an RAF memorial, all solemn and quiet. 

They hacked down the trees on the back of it pretty messily, but it's out of sight so it doesn't matter.

I walked through the silent loggia with my boots ringing too loud, and read the names and the notes and looked at the grainy pictures of the young, square headed men and felt stirred. The place hit the exact right note of martial glory paired with 'don't let's do this again'. 

It was also completely deserted

And I ran up the wonderful spiral stair and got reoriented at once. 

Crap photo, but you can see London.

I had the worst lunch of my life in Runnymede, looked at the Magna Carta memorial which is so boring I didn't even photograph it, and lay in the grass under the ancient pollarded willows and watched the sky and felt slightly ill, but glad. I will never grow tired of these fields and old trees, this sense of civilization running back so far that I don't feel an interloper as I do in the woods at home. I thought that in Japan I was running into the mountains all the time to seek a respite from a culture I didn't understand or feel a part of; apparently I just like being outside. I always come back feeling shining and saturated, like a freshly shed lizard. 

Also the trees have incredible presence

I'm too wrapped up in school to really shatter my romantic conceptions of England properly. It's easy to smile at the yellow brick houses in Battersea and revel in the boats in Greenwich and be slightly condescending about the (really genuinely bad) food. Doesn't help that my new classmates are from every corner of the world but England. I am starting to become immune to the accent though; more and more I can identify nonsense, even if it presented on a beautifully articulated verbal salver. 

I've been to the Tate twice to see the Pre-Raphaelites, and while the paintings make me tingle and sigh, they are quite small and perhaps just a bit overwrought. I saw the REAL Death of Chatterton and just about fell over. They had sensationalistic stereoscopic tableaux of it to look into, too. The actor being Chatterton had a nicer face and worse hair. 

I'm assuming my gentle readers have a accurate mental image of the real one. And if not, I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 holes in my art historical knowledge but Chatterton... 

I'm still not sure whether or not I miss New York. I miss my loved ones of course, always and persistently, and I miss everything not costing double and tasting soggy. But home means staying put and writing a thesis and growing up just a bit more and that's scarier than the most exotic country. 

I'm listening to all kinds of things these days, but here is what was in my head when I was tromping over the fields in Surrey. I thought of the dead airmen and the long hedgerows and the new houses just in sight. I thought of the poppy wreaths in the quiet memorial, and the school children I saw bouncing round a maypole on May Day. I put a forget-me-not in my lapel and went back to the town.