Things I do
I ask people to draw maps...
· Draw the World
· Draw Europe's nations
· Continental multi-maps
I make map cards:
· See map cards
· Buy map cards
And other things I write about:
· Little moments from travel
· London art & museums
· Football with foreign fans
· London shop geography
About this blog
I may have asked you to draw me a map - have a look around, they're all here somewhere.
One of my favourite things about Brazil is the way they use humble plastic chairs. I see it as very Brazilian.
To us, they're simple garden furniture. In Brazil, these plastic chairs come in all sorts of colours, sometimes branded with company logos.
They're at bars, restaurants, a party can be pitched up anywhere. They're arranged haphazardly. It's not important to be neat, to be formal, what matters is somewhere to sit, to eat, to drink, to talk, to joke, to see what's going on around you, to be together with friends or family.
So for all the wonderful symbols of Brazil - landmarks, caipirinhas, flags, flora and fauna - the simple plastic chair looms large for me.
While it might seem like Rio's beaches are the hub of all energy, there is still lots of life and activity to please people-watchers in Rio. As I walked around the city, here's what I saw...
- A poodle wearing four bright blue socks
- A thin hipster-ish man wearing skinny jeans and a smock shirt playing a picalillo in middle of traffic
- A middle-aged man fainting on the street, with people crowding around trying to help
- A young dude working the door of a restaurant checking out every guy that passed him by
- A mother calming her truculent little boy, saying "tranqui, tranqui!"
- A good-looking man walking along a busy street wearing only a skimpy sunga. Only in Rio!
- A young teenage boy pleading through tears and wails with a shop security guard
- A tiny old lady clutching her phone to her face and conspiratorially covering her mouth
- Guys carrying used drinks cans in fishing nets, a modern update on a traditional economy.
- A man selling books in the middle of traffic while wearing a bright grass green suit and carrying a huge sign.
Every city has its zones: the political quarter, business quarter, entertainment district.
One of the first things I'll do in a new city is head for the main shopping street to watch the comings and goings.
In Buenos Aires, that main street is the Calle Florida, which has been partly pedestrianised for more than a hundred years.
As I walked along, here's what I saw.
- A man furiously spraying the air with an aerosol
- A woman with a full head brace
- People positioned every few yards along the street saying "cambi cambi cambio" in every manner of refrain.
- Adverts for the McTriple, meat-obsessed Argentina's answer to the Big Mac (three burgers in one)
- A woman carrying a 7 foot tall lampstand and shade wrapped entirely in bright lime green plastic
- A man playfully tussling his girlfriend's long blonde hair, so much so that it ends up splayed across the ice cream cone she's eating.
- A group of Orthodox Jews handing out boxes of Channukah lights
- A blonde woman in a bright baby blue dress walking two pink painted poodles
- A woman walking hand-in-hand with her two young daughters, all three of them wearing the same sparkly silver shoes
- A big burly black man carrying 15 flashy handbags on one arm.
- A man power-walking to work wearing a tracksuit, football shirt and carrying a formal leather briefcase
I recently spent Christmas and New Year in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
Christmas in hot climates is pretty surreal, seeing decorations in sweltering sunshine or against bright blue skies.
Christmas lights and decorations vary from pretty and good to ridiculous and tacky. Overall though, for us in Europe, they light or cheer up the darkest time of the year and bring a little glitter to the gloom.
Not so in the southern summer, but they were rather entertaining and fun for me to see how Christmas traditions translate in different climates.
My favourite sight - which I saw from a car so no time to photograph - was of a Christmas tree on a beach, made of clear and green discarded plastic bottles.
Whenever I sit in a window seat in a flight, I always think of a scene in the TV miniseries of the play Angels in America (first broadcast 11 years ago today!) in which a character - Harper - sits in a window seat (go watch it, it's brilliant!).
And as one of my recent flight was to New York, this led to remember more scenes from the play set in and around Manhattan - including the memorable final scene set at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park.
This led me to go in search of more Angels in America, dotted around New York.
This small angel - perhaps more a cherub or maybe just a little baby - is one of a pair perched on a lamppost on Grand Army Plaza right by Central Park. Take a look: https://goo.gl/maps/sjyrL
New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
These two angels are upon the Federal Office Building at 90 Church Street, just near Ground Zero.
But many angels I thought I had found actually turned out to be eagles - the symbol of the United States - like this above Grand Central Terminus.
You don't see much land on a flight from London to New York (especially if it's a cloudy day in the UK Ireland) - otherwise, it's the Atlantic Ocean all the way.
But, as you descend along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the USA, there are lovely views of islands, coasts and cities like these.
(This is Plum Island - I saw this on my last flight to New York too.)
I stayed overnight in Buffalo, New York after my trip to Niagara Falls.
There isn't a huge amount to do in Buffalo, but I did enjoy walking around and finding lots of ghost signs - a sign or painting kept on a building for longer than needed. Wikipedia helpfully says that "the signage may be kept for its nostalgic appeal, or simply indifference by the owner".
Though, on reflection, maybe some of these aren't Ghost Signs, and are still thriving businesses - much like the signs in my Words on Walls post.
As a fan of graphic design and typography, I particularly love seeing words painted on walls, signs, billboards and elsewhere.
So much so that I started a Words on Walls Pinterest board to collect my favourites.
To me, typography on walls, signs etc is an equivalent to public art and sculpture. You can get a sense of a city or country through them.
There's something about words painted on brick or metal which strikes me as very American. I took these examples on my trip to New York and Chicago.
When I was in America, I took a long train journey - 9 hours - from New York City all the way upstate to Niagara Falls. A few days later, I then took a Greyhound Bus from Buffalo, NY all the way to Chicago, a drive of 14 hours!
During both journeys, I looked out the window as America went passed. I had expected vast landscapes: forests of huge autumn trees, huge, wide open fields full of corn and maize, great lake vistas.
In truth, the road was miles in land from the lakes, and there really wasn't that many huge fields.
Instead, we passed through lots of sprawling landscapes; towns appeared, and stayed around in fits and starts. We rarely went through totally empty landscapes, but equally didn't go through huge cities or towns very much.
They were landscapes filled with nothing in particular.
I made these 7 videos along the way.
One evening, in New York, I starting walking from Central Park to my hotel in West 48th Street. It was a short walk of 11 blocks. I walked along Fifth Avenue, and became intrigued by all the voices passing me by. So much so, that I stayed walking for a lot longer, listening, listening, listening.
I heard short snippets of conversations, people passing - some zipping, some sauntering, some on their phones.
I've already got that ...... You've got to go for it when you can ...... I dunno ...... Pretty sure he just drives around ...... Are you excited? I don't think it's open ...... See the grid, Lady Gaga walked out there at midnight ...... T-Mobile's good for the most part ...... I've never been to the top of New York ...... I'll take it back with me, I'll take it back with me ...... You want me to come with you when you get your licence? ...... I mean what's the purpose of that? To make sure everyone knows how to do everything - is that it? ...... Thank you for helping. I know that's the last thing you wanna do ...... And whoever they're with, they're not right ...... So I don't intend to lose it ...... But they never actually do it ...... "Oh because of the cut?" "They cut the pay?" "Yeah" ...... We hadda sweet-talk one of the security guards ...... I'm so slow, everything's so slow ...... I told him I'd buy him a ...... There's nothing to do; it's like there's always something to do ...... Hot as hell. Tall, big old man's man ...... Confidence and cockiness are just totally different ...... I think she's tired ...... He's such a dawg, he's such a this, such a that ...... I didn't wanna go ...... I typically work at home ...... I was, like, so hoping she would call me out ...... I need to get some basic pants ...... I was teaching and the kids were sitting ...... It wouldn't have happened and it wouldn't have been fine ...... None of them will get married ...... Are New York girls like that too? ...... My boyfriend, when he comes to pick me up, he walks from 34th ...... Right. Where are you working? ...... So come for anything and everything, you can sleep over ...... When I was sitting in the precinct ...... The one at the bottom has pistachios ...... Two days off! I have a big job ...... No, I step on it and it moves ...... I'm just walking around a lot cos I'm playing cards in a couple of hours ...... I wish we could call Maurice ...... What kind of food are you in the mood for? ...... That, like, makes me crazy ...... Help me out today! ...... Gourmet doesn't have to be expensive to be gourmet ...... We're going to walk to 50th and here we are ...... Yay give me a hug!
The last time I went to New York, I looked up a lot and took hundreds of photographs of skyscrapers.
This time around, I looked more to street level and listened at all the teeming life around me on the streets of Manhattan.
A woman on a bus re-telling her love life story to a stranger, specifically her second husband: "He was strong and tall and handsome and shit so I had to marry him."
A young Asian-American man sitting in a park answers his phone: "Hey, I'm good. I'm sitting in Union Square writing in my journal, I've had a soy latte and I'm enjoying this beautiful fall day in New York."
On the subway, a labourer with hard hat and clothes stained with paint and cement wearing three large rings on one hand, one silver and chunky, one like Darth Vader's head, one polka-dot and glittering.
Two men in Central Park discussing where to park their cart.
"I'll go in the middle lane."
"But you can't clog up the middle lane"
"Well, you're funny as hell!"
A man outside a courthouse trying to be restrained, but jumping up and down shaking his fists above his head saying "yeeeeaah man I can't believe I got that lucky!!"
Two fire engines and a police car trundle along 9th Avenue with their sirens set to a low plaintive wail (like you'd imagine a banshee to have), prompting a dog to howl with them, prompting its owner to straddle the dog and try to calm him, prompting a German couple to look and enthuse "beautiful dog".
An elderly woman with her little granddaughter are transfixed watching a man play a Chinese musical instrument. A wobbly old dude cones along and starts doing a silly dance. It's all taken in good humour. (He'd get a slap in London.)