Grey Brussels

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The day I arrived in Brussels was very grey. It didn't rain but slate, granite and charcoal clouds filled the sky.

While I was wandering around looking for colourful Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the grey above inspired me to find very below.

Brussels' Buildings

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I went to Brussels a few months ago.
There, I spent some time wandering around the city looking for the Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture that the city is famous for.

My two favourite places were the tucked away remains of the Gresham Hotel (part of the Royal Museums complex) and the Horta Museum (which sadly does not allow photography).

It's maybe an obvious point but much of the architectural features are high up on the buildings and cannot be seen in detail from the ground, loosing some of the finesse.

Equally many of the buildings are not always publicly accessible so their interiors remain unseen.

Nonetheless, many marvellous mosaics, wonderful windows, swirly sinowy steel railings and more can be seen.

Manchester Mosiac

Saturday, November 14, 2015

I visited Manchester recently.

While there, I followed a Royal Geographical Society audio tour on Victorian Manchester.

It started at the newly refurbished Manchester Victoria station, with its marvellous tiles, and brought me to see buildings relating to how newly industrial Manchester cared for its poor and destitute.

Outside one brick building, I felt a surge of emotion about that institution helping those who were being left behind in the Victorian industrial metropolis.

Each brick, to me, symbolised all the small kind acts taken place there.

My fanciful notion aside, Manchester is a place full of brickwork and tiles, a city made of mosaics, the many making the whole.

Crowdsourced Continents: The World

Friday, October 30, 2015

Crowdsourced Continents: The World
For the past few years, I've been going to events in London asking people to draw maps of continents.

I went to a Latin American festival, Canada Day and USA Independence Day events, a UK / Australia cricket match, a European folk music festival, an African Craft Fair and a variety of Asian events.

At each, I asked people at the event to draw a map of that event's continent. Some people came from the continent, some from elsewhere.

I then took all these maps and laid them on top of each other to create a jumbly mind-memory-map of these continents. And here are all those maps, as the world.

Some were clear - Africa, Australia, South America - and some much less so - Europe and Asia.

In all, we can see that maps are made by drawing, constructs in the moment, made from memory which is patchy and personal, familiar and fascinating.

I've had really interesting conversations with the 87 people who drew these maps, and hopefully, you enjoy them too.

Crowdsourced Continents: Asia

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Since 2009, I have been (on-and-off) asking people to draw maps of continents which I then overlay on each other.

I've asked people to draw South America, Australia, North America, Europe and Africa.

But I've waited a long while to 'do' Asia. Mainly as I didn't know how to approach Asia.

I had previously asked people at a SouthEast Asian festival to draw some maps, could I follow that idea with more regions. Should I divide Asia into regions and, if so, which regions?

The answer had been staring me in the face rather obviously: ask people to draw 'Asia' - a seemingly simple but complex challenge.

In August and September, I went to a variety of events where I asked people to draw Asia:

I met people at these events who I asked to draw Asia. And I also asked a few friends who have connections to Asia. So here is the result.

Sketched Asia
It's quite a tangle of lines, shapes, places. Asia seemed to be a difficult concept for the people I asked: where does it start and end? where does it include? 

Many people only drew their own country. 

Thanks to: Phuong, Alex, Darren, Aaron, Kris, Koa, Ekta, Hang Catie, Shuk Kwan, Raj, Suraj, Mohammad, Tina, Jeff, Sultan, Keejung, Niie, Dana, Chris and Taemin for humouring me and drawing a map.

Here are their maps individually.

And that is my last crowdsourced continent map: in my next blog, I'll show all the continents together.

Chicano Chicago

Sunday, September 13, 2015

In Chicago, this day last year, I visited the Pilsen neighbourhood to see some murals painted on its walls.

Coincidentally, a Mexican Independence Day parade was taking place.

The parade was a very festive occasion, with floats, trucks, vintage cars, motorbikes and riders on horseback making their way along a long, straight street.

Along the way I saw...

  • Comedy with a man pushing a trolley-like cart with three female mannequin heads wearing sunglasses perched on top. (Sadly he went past me too quickly for a photograph.)
  • After the parade, lots of families gathered in a park for a picnic and an American football game amid shouts of "these ladies need water ASAP" and "double bubble, double bubble!"
  • It was interesting to see these Mexican and American traditions mix and mingle, which on a sunny day in Chicago felt like the American dream coming true.

Dublin: St Stephen's Green

Monday, July 27, 2015

I visited Dublin a few months ago. I hadn't been to Dublin for more than 12 years (my trips back to Ireland take me to Cork instead).

Dublin felt like an invigorated city to me, lively and exciting. My visit coincided with excellent sunny weather (rare for Ireland), so I took the opportunity to sit in the sun and people-watch.

I wandered around and sat in Stephen's Green for an afternoon, one of the main garden squares in the centre of Dublin.

I saw and heard the following microcosms of Dublin:

  • Lots of teenage girls queuing up to meet a boyband with no name that hadn't made any music.
  • Two young guys talking about women (and magpies) with every sentence filled with swearwords.
  • A woman saying to another, "You were gone up like a tomato!"
  • A young woman playing the ukelele (badly) to raise money for a charity trip to Uganda. An older woman passed her, commenting with a disdainful Dublin drawl, "Don't give up yer day job!"
  • 3 young women having a picnic. One had (evidently) just married. They were catching up, in the most insincere tones I've maybe ever heard. Cork accents, like.

    "Hoooow's married life?"
    "Noooo different"
    "So, how was the wedding?"
    "Did you have a great time?"
    "Great time!"
    "Wassss it fabliss?"
    "And you'd definitely go back?"
    "Definitely go back!"
    "And how was the hotel?"
    "And the food?"
    "Out of this world!"

Circle Lines | Glasgow Subway

Monday, June 01, 2015

Deep in the cold and damp of Saturday morning in January in Scotland, I took a trip on the Glasgow subway - a one-line railway which loops around the city.

But while Glasgow is a mainly grey city architecture-wise, its subway was a more colourful experience 

The train itself: three cute bright orange carriages - like an oversized Berocca tube - bolting, barrelling, zipping through the tunnels.

A woman (who looks like Hayley from Coronation Street) wearing bright turquoise coat, a man in a bright orange hi-vis vest, a station with pastel pink walls, a girl with a bright pink bobble hat, coat and shopping bag, a man with a bright red scarf, a lady's bright purple handbag, a bright green hat, and a cerise beret.

And then there was the colourful scenes all around me:
  • Someone telling a long story to her mother about Amy and Lindsay and the job they both applied for.
  • An old lady rolling her shopping trolley onto the carriage with a sigh.
  • A woman entering and grimacing, "Something smells, doesn't it man? They should put air freshener."
  • A woman asking her child, "Did you bring toilet roll? No? We'll need to get hankies."
  • A police officer asking a little girl, "Have you been to the shops? Did you buy any knick knacks?"
  • A teenage girl admonishing her little sister, "Stop acting so smart!"
  • Someone saying," Every time the council's used it makes the case complex."
  • A man loosing his footing, tripping on top of another man, says "Aye, we're close now!"

Circle Lines | On the Loop in Chicago

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chicago's L train doesn't actually have a circular line, but a group of lines which come together in a circle line effect in a part of the city called The Loop.

So with a few strategic station changes, it's the next best thing.

I rode around, amid lots of people on their phones, and saw and heard:

  • A middle-aged woman speaking into a walkie-talkie: "OK, I'm on!"
  • A young Woman pulling on a baseball cap like armour
  • A woman pursing her lips and momentarily bopping in her seat twirling her hands around
  • Two girls with bright pink coats, with white, blue and red beads braided into their hair.
  • "It's going be alright. It is going be all right," says a woman into her phone.
  • A boy in a purple hoodie looks derisively at a woman's bright pink phone holder.
  • Young woman cheerfully declaring, "I noticed it! I noticed it!"
  • A middle-aged lady with resplendent red accessories (shoes, spectacles, handbag and shoulder bag) intently reading the Bloomingdales' catalogue.
  • A woman sketches a large drawing with dashed lines and arrows into her sketchbook.
  • A doleful man slumped against the train wall while carrying a book of torts and laws.
  • A woman wearing a bright peach and yellow blouse chewing and popping luminous green gum
  • A cheeky young boy propping his feet up on a seat between two men, both of whom studiously ignore him and his feet.

Circle Lines | Yamanote Line, Tokyo

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Sometimes when I'm travelling, I like to simply sit on a train and watch people near me, places passing by. And what better way to do this than on a circular, loop line.

I like to think that a circular line brings you a 360° view of a place (it's not always the case, but it's a nice idea).

This is the first in a semi-regular series of posts on circular travelling -so if there's a circular loop line where I am, I'll get on board!

Years ago when I visited Tokyo, I spent a few hours travelling around on the Yamanote line.

It's a circular line travelling through most of the major stations in Tokyo, including Ginza, Shibuya and Shinjuku.

As I sat on the train, I took notes of sights I saw and sounds I heard and revelled in the people-watching.

I saw:
  • Green stripes on platform to show where to stand
  • A girl with purple and gold bag and gold shoes
  • The five people opposite me lined up, all asleep
  • A chorus of polyphonic music greeted us at every station
  • Outside offices, and lots of them
  • Huge concrete faceless skyscraper structures at Akihabara
  • A MUJI warehouse
  • A pyramid covered in sparkling lights at Yurakucho
  • Passengers reading books with non-descriptmd plain covers: beige or plain white, some with very simple patterns.
  • The station Mamamatsucho pronunced differently in English and Japanese
  • The monorail to Haneda airport flying over the metro line 
  • A tiny dog in a woman's handbag. She's been on the train for 6 stops ago, before I had noticed
  • Nobody else seems to noticed the dog
  • A grown man reading a comic, showing the words "Here's the world War 1 flying ace returning to the aerodrome"
  • Lots of snorting and sniffing sounds
  • At Ebisu station, the man next to me sleeps and slumps against me
  • A guy whispering into his phone
  • As the train continues around, the dog starts to bark lightly. The woman holds its mouth.
  • The man next to me then notices the dog and pets it
  • A poster in station declares: "Never stop the explaining!"
  • At Osuka station, a man tucks his (dry) umbrella into his trousers. It's half genius, half weird.

Modern Brasília

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I took a trip to Brasília on my recent holiday to Brazil.

Brasília is Brazil's capital city, deep in the interior of the country.

But Brasília is barely 50 years old, all built between 1957 and 1960.

The whole city is built in the superbly modern shape of an airplane. Its central fuselage is a long ceremonial boulevard surrounded by amazing modernist buildings like these in the photos.

Brazil's Humble Plastic Chair

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

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.

Rio de Janeiro streets

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Rio de Janeiro does not have one main shopping street - unlike Buenos Aires or Istanbul.

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. 

Bustling Buenos Aires

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

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 

Hot Xmas

Monday, February 02, 2015

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.