Sunday, March 30, 2008

Covering the clichés


Through the airport in minutes, like clockwork.

Bought chocolates.

Took the train from the airport to where I was heading.

Train left exactly on time and arrived exactly on time.

Had my first appointment, with a colleague, opposite the train station. I had promised to be there at 9 pm and was there exactly on time. She didn't notice, took it for granted.

Breakfast: ate some (a lot) of cheese.

Some guilt at the large breakfast. Saw some steps leading up the side of the hill:

Climbed them (because they were there, naturally). Not a spectacular view, but did enjoy the clean air on top.

(And my calves still pinch when I walk after going down these stairs...)

Spend the day flugelbinding. Caught the train to my next destination.

Goodbye Switzerland.


P.S. I do love the Swiss railway clocks, which is what this is though it's hard to see...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Beautiful place, indifferent pictures

I really need to stop using my cellphone camera. But I was visiting a friend in Oxford when I wandered into St. Catherine's college, and I couldn't help myself. Well, wandered in isn't being quite honest. I knew it was there and I was going to go, even if meant sneaking into a conference.

Arne Jacobsen designed the college in the mid-1960s, and when I say designed the college I mean he designed it all: the buildings, the gardens, the door fixtures, the chairs, and the cutlery I believe he reused from designs for the SAS Palace Hotel in Copenhagen (lazy or what?)

(The above from an anonymous wiki picture -- it was not sunny when I was there.)

I am having some trouble adding more external images, so first go here and here and here to see the exterior of the college (thank you wiki friends...) Initially of course you just pick up the boxiness of the place. But then as you look closer you feel the beautiful sense of proportion. We all know it is easy to build a boxy building, but to build a well proportioned box is much harder. Then as you pass through the buildings you notice the basic shapes repeat. Lack of imagination? No. The repetition is like a theme and variations. Each reincarnation of the same theme makes you appreciate it more and admire how versatile the design is. Wish I had photographed the columns and (architects help me here!) horizontal supports. Like a concrete box. But then sometimes the box has a double-height lecture theatre or dining hall. Other times it has two levels of classrooms. In some of the buildings the first level is cantilevered over the footpath. In others he outlines the cantilever but it is empty space. There is a sense of harmony.

The building below is one of the dorms. Seems a bit like a modernistic canvas doesn't it? With reach room outlined in its box but the windows varied:

Then to go in, you put your hand on the best door handle ever designed:

I mean it. Think how often your hand fumbles to grasp a door handle. And if you haven't then after today you will always notice this. It's one of my pet peeves, and you will soon agree that most door handles in the world are badly designed. Not this one! It fits perfectly in the palm of your hand, and of course its shape beautifully expresses and underlines its purpose, looking a bit like a propeller.

Inside the dining hall:

I even sat in on a session of hydro-flugel-whatevery to get this picture:

I love how he screens the outside so that you can look out, light gets in, but you don't get distracted by stray movements outside. And of course you are sitting in ant chairs modified for a lecture theatre, with tear-drop tablet arms:

Finally, I slipped into the Senior Common Room unnoticed. And here is what it feels like to be there:

Magnificent! Even the place settings were designed by him:

The only disappointment was the salt and pepper mills - not Jacobsen's fault I know because he designed a set for the SAS in Copenhagen*:

Here are the swan chairs designed for St. Catz, that's right for St. Catz.

Or if you prefer you can always lounge in one of these:

Next trip... Copenhagen where I must stay in the SAS Palace...


* The original looks something like this.

So much nicer, no?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shocking Stroll on Wardour Street, March 15

It was probably my own fault. No it was definitely my own fault. I should have known better than to head home through Soho on the Saturday night before St. Patrick's Day and after some rugby match involving Ireland and England. The streets of Soho crowded and lively and boisterous and rowdy.

I've never wondered where the expression piss drunk comes from, and after Saturday I never will. Set up along the street were - how to describe them? - stand-up stalls. Not the portable loos you see near construction sites or at big events in the park. Imagine a corner, a ninety degree angle. Now imagine that four of these are arranged together around a central post, to form a single unit. Now imagine four men pissing into these corners, naturally with no door and you'll laugh at my even mentioning it but no way to wash your hands. Now imagine several of these horror machines set up in a row on the street.

I thought of taking a picture, but I'm glad I didn't. This is one memory that I'm hoping will fade.

In recovery,


Friday, March 14, 2008

New words, same guilt. Or The new carbs

Just read this phrase in the newspaper, "carbon indulgence".

referring to someone who was trying to design an environmentally
friendly home but allowed himself the indulgence
of importing the wind turbines from Finland
- saving electricity but using so much to transport them
to Chicago - are you following this?

What is next? Carbon guilt? Carbon envy?

I had just caught up with the idea of "carb indulgence" and "carb guilt", where carb refers to carbohydrates. When did the staples of my childhood, pasta and bread, become a guilty indulgence, to be savored like cake? I don't know, but it happened.

Of course I grew up on chapatis and vegetables ,
so for example the idea of eating chapatis
chapatis does seem rather odd.
Italian readers' opinions?
Would you call pasta and bread a staple,
or was this part of the Internationalization/ vulgarization
of Italian food where the concept of pasta as the primo
was lost and it became the main?

Perhaps it is our age. We are well intentioned, well informed, but utterly incapable of doing anything other than feeling guilty about our incapacity.

OK, I'm talking about myself.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Synecdoche: A form of metaphor in which the part stands for the whole, the whole for a part, the genus for the species, the species for the genus, the material for the thing made, or in short, any portion, section, or main quality for the whole thing itself (or vice versa).


P.S. In praise of Google. I remember I had learned the name of this literary device when I was 13 or so (even remembered the example given "All hands on deck"), but of course forgotten the name. Google be priased.

P.P.S. Do I need a better camera? These aren't great pictures as such, but the cell phone allows me to take them without anyone noticing.

P.P.P.S. I loved how these strollers stood silent, whereas with their occupants the room would be filled with all kinds voices, crying, laughing... I also liked how each stroller is personal - a toy in the undercarriage, a drinking bottle on top, a pair of gloves... By the way, this night the stroller parking was only half full!

Final P.S. I may have committed a horrible blunder... I believe this is metonymy, the use of a word for a concept with which the original concept behind this word is associated. I hope my high school English teacher is not reading this blog.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Silence

from Ingmar Bergman, The Silence*

I wouldn't accept my wretched role,
But now it's too damn lonely.
We try out attitudes and find them all worthless;
The forces are too strong.
I mean the forces... The horrible forces.

You need to watch your step
- among all the ghosts and memories.
All this talk--
There's no need to discuss loneliness.
It's a waste of time.


* I saw this film a few years ago, and had this little snippet stored in my drafts for the blog. But it's such a sunny day here that this cutting quote felt like an icicle on the beach, still sharp but not dangerous. It's not that existential worries don't exist in sunny climates; look no further than L'avventura to see the loneliness of a seaside holiday... But perhaps they are just a little bit weaker?

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Gentle readers,

While you are bored witless and looking for any escape from tedium
kind enough to drop by hoping for a little top up of the BB wit, I am gallivanting on a flugeldumplingbinding trip to NY.

I do miss you all, but I'll be back soonish!


Related Posts with Thumbnails