Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A new airport terminal in Marseille was in the news last week, as it is being dubbed Europe's first no-frills airport. The former freight warehouse has been minimally transformed into an airport, designed to cater for the burgeoning low-cost airline market. This article describes the airport - only minimal seating, very few mechanics with passengers carrying their own luggage to security, there are no carpets and passengers walk to the plane, rather than on ramps. The idea is that the airport cuts down on costs and time spent waiting.

I can't quite decide if this is a good idea or not. Cutting time and costs is to be commended, but it should be questioned what is being lost. Airports are strange spaces, devoid of any identification. One airport wall could almost be any another. If it were not for the shops, restaurants and other amenities, airports could be in any city, any country, anywhere.


I remember quite a few years ago, Cork airport unveiled a statue of the ex-Irish soccer manager Jack Charlton. This statue was located in the main hall of the airport. The statue is gone now, as is the sense of the space as being Irish. The new terminal is a very bland space - the most Irish aspect is its use of wood as a decorative material (an almost ubiquitous feature of contemporary Irish industrial architecture). In the run up to the launch of the airport's new terminal, Cork airport ran an ad campaign saying "Soon, you won't know where you are" referring to the great changes in the airport, but equally having a poignant double meaning.

An airport

San Francisco airport was the probably worst airport that I've been in. Nothing about it said "San Francisco". I arrived in the evening, the airport was relatively quiet. But more than that, it was dull. All I remember from the airport is grey - grey walls, grey carpets, grey atmosphere.

I quite like airports. I like knowing where I am. I'm always keen to find the large signs outside airports declaring the town or city, and disappointed when they're not there. I feel sad that airports are not more rooted in their cities. Maybe I'm overly sentimental, of course, as airports in the modern travel industry seem to have become nothing more than in-between spaces, out-of-place buffer zones.

Toulouse Airport

Edinburgh Airport

Tiny people, rule the world, and ocean waves

Friday, October 13, 2006

'Little people' is a tiny street art project by slinchaku. He creates tiny, little hand-painted people and leaves them on the streets of London, with photographs. I think this is ace, not alone because the images are very cute but it makes me think of seeing the city in a whole new way. The little people have an added vulnerability, or minute-ness - the city becomes massive, something huge to behold and negotiate with.

Slinchaku leaves the little people where he has placed them, to 'fend for themselves'. In his most recent photoset, I recognised the pub in the background. "That's the Perseverance on Lamb's Conduit Street!", I thought. So I trotted off to check it out. A long phonecall ("now go right, straight ahead, do you see the poles?") later to verify the location, and I had found the figurine. I took this photo, which does not do any justice to slinchaku's great work. The little person had fallen over, so I set her right and left her in situ.


Steele & Clairwil have a blog called The Postcard Manifestos. They ask people to send postcards with a mainfesto, their reasons why they should rule the world. I sent a postcard recently. I wrote what I would change if I ruled the world. So if I ruled the world...

1. House prices would be abolished.
2. Exercise would be fun and mandatory.
3. People would dance more.
4. People would draw more.
5. Everything would work correctly.


I love 'message in a bottle' stories. The idea of a bottle being thrown to sea and randomly ending up elsewhere is just ace. Artist Layla Curtis took this idea 2 years ago, throwing 50 bottles into the sea at Ramsgate. She hoped they would reach the south Pacific Ocean, but the bottles seem to have floundered, seeming to go only as far as the Netherlands.

So the news today that a bottle thrown into the North Sea by a young girl in Scotland has reached New Zealand is pretty amazing. Keely Reid threw a bottle into the waters of the Moray Firth, hoping that it would maybe reach Norway. She was completely surprised when a boy in New Zealand wrote to her saying he had found it. It reached there in 47 days, an astounding rate. "It is brilliant, this bottle travelled farther than I ever have," said Keely, which is rather poignant really.

Sadly, for Keely, experts say it's just not possible the bottle made it to New Zealand in such a short time because of global weather systems and ocean currents. "I don't like to shatter the poor girl's imaginings but there is no way it could happen," says an expert, pretty much does shattering such a wonderful idea.

Banking on Iceland

Thursday, October 12, 2006

As a relatively recent migrant to the UK, I have a pretty low credit score. I've never been in debt, nor have ever had any problems with my accounts and I moved flats a few times. This all means that banks don't trust me for credit (I won't rant about this but, frankly, it's ridiculous!). I spoke recently with someone who works for a bank. She advised me to open savings accounts as these help with the credit score.

I read yesterday about a new bank in the UK - a bank from Iceland. Landsbanki, Iceland's first and longest running financial institution, are breaking into the UK market with a savings account which offers a very healthy interest rate. A bank, from Iceland? How ace! The website is evocative - pictures of volcanic activity and blue lagoons.

Icelandic lagoons

So I applied. Everything was going well until I read that I would need a UK passport to confirm my identity (I didn't). I called to confirm. As I was awaiting a response, I hoped I'd talk to someone with a name like Gudmunsdottir, someone just like Björk, Selma, or Silvia Night.

These hopes were dashed when Nikki answered the phone with a thick Geordie accent, sounding for all the world like Ant + Dec's younger sister. So my exotic Icelander hopes were dashed.

Still, I can at least hope she was Cheryl Tweedy's cousin.

Map of Finland, by Kaarina

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I recently joined PostCrossing, a website for postcard swapping. I send postcards from London to random people, and random people send me postcards from their cities or countries. On my profile, I ask people to send me their country maps for my EuroGlobe map-of-Europe's-countries project.

To my delight, last week I received a map of Finland from Kaarina, who is 19, and lives in the town of Rauma.

Kaarina has drawn Finland and added her own touches, some of which had me searching for random facts about Finland. Along the base, she has drawn evergreen forests, which are an evocative image of Finland. She shows a Nokia phone: I never knew that there is town in Finland called Nokia. Along the side, there is wrapping from sweets called Salmiakki. These are a liquorice sweet, a Finnish delicacy.
Across the top, there is the wrapper from something which appears to be Gifu, but is in fact Sisu. Sisu are liquorice throat sweets, but also much more. Due to its cultural significance, sisu is a popular Finnish brand name. Sisu is a very Finnish concept, meaning 'to have balls'. Kaneli writes that "sisu means will and decisiveness to get the things done against impossible odds, or to succeed even when the chance is slim to make it." I can imagine why the Finnish have this mentality with their harsh weather. And, hey, they even won Eurovision this year after 45 years of entering - a victory for sisu!

This is an ace concept to bring to my project. I still have loads of countries to collect, but every time I see Kaarina's map of Finland, the spirit of sisu will inspire me to keep going.