Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing.

Munich.

The airport is a micro city, something you’d design back in the day on The Sims when you’d be sat in your jammies before the PC thinking yourself a Svengali creator. The airport design is pants, though, and the online maps a shambles, too. Why have low-resolution JPEGs all over the web airport guides? Even the official site is lacking in detail and shoddily put together. For someone as obsessed with airport preparation (I like to escape them upon arrival and not waltz/shuffle around like a penguin on Valium) as I am, a detailed exit plan is desired. Anyway, I tell myself it’s just an airport.

Straubing, Regensburg, and the Autobahn.

Upon arrival I think of Richard Wagner and mad King Ludwig in that period when Bavaria, under the Hohenzollern yoke, somehow in a rapidly modernising new Germany managed to bridge a link to a romantic past of myth and folklore. I think of Visconti’s Ludwig (1973) especially, this a half-baked banality of a movie.

I have a vision these days of a latter-day Julie Andrews doing her hills-are-alive thing, but only this time it’s now tainted with the image of a dreadlocked lady in a trackie clutching an alcopop in one hand and a boombox in the other. The Sound of Music (1965) scene was of course shot a fair bit away at Obersalzberg, but one can be forgiven for thinking this encapsulated all of Bavaria before time caught up with it.

I was expecting ‘Old Bavaria’ here – tradition, peace and quiet, a conservative(ish) enclave. It was this to an extent but such things are now fantasy. It’s this globalisation virus again – granted, the same virus which enabled me to stroll off a cheap easyJet flight for the price of two bottles of Jack Daniel’s. Every city feels the same for me, and I even reckon Venice will be anonymous by the end of the decade. Nevertheless, the bantz was top quality and taxi drivers aside (they refused to stop on countless occasions) I thought it a cracking wee adventure.

Booze?

Oh aye, the ethanol intake was high. This I figure is the reason mosquitos were nibbling me to smithereens in my sleep – I was a free drinking session.

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George Orwell on constitutional monarchy.

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As a lifelong ‘Republican’, I’ve always looked upon the so-called ‘Royal Family’ with scorn – how dare such unelected lizards enjoy a ridiculously vaunted position of prestige and privilege. I thought some more and figured the current inhabitants of this role shouldn’t really even be there, for they are the descendents of noble houses who’ve supplanted others from the Plantagenets up (see basic British history). Something else vexes me terribly – the flag-waving masses who quite simply have nothing else to do but congregate in gargantuan packs and kowtow to said lizards waving on a balcony. It’s quite pathetic, really. You live on a council estate. Why are you cheering someone who has a servant prepare the toothbrush? This may explain a lot of election results (the working classes voting against their own interests).

However, George Orwell completely blew my mind yesterday. I’d never before even considered what he put forth here, and his level of socio-political thought – written in 1944 just before Operation Overlord – shouldn’t be of any surprise considering his oeuvre. What he’s saying in totality is that people need syntax, a continuity of tradition (immovable objects) linking change. The British Monarchy exists as a living Mount Rushmore, an indexical *constant*. Perhaps I’m swayed easily, but Orwell seemed to make perfect sense.

‘The function of the King in promoting stability and acting as a sort of keystone in a non-democratic society is, of course, obvious. But he also has, or can have, the function of acting as an escape-valve for dangerous emotions. A French journalist said to me once that the monarchy was one of the things that have saved Britain from Fascism. What he meant was that modern people can’t, apparently, get along without drums, flags and loyalty parades, and that it is better that they should tie their leader-worship onto some figure who has no real power. In a dictatorship the power and the glory belong to the same person. In England the real power belongs to unprepossessing men in bowler hats: the creature who rides in a gilded coach behind soldiers in steel breast-plates is really a waxwork. It is at any rate possible that while this division of function exists a Hitler or a Stalin cannot come to power. On the whole the European countries which have most successfully avoided Fascism have been constitutional monarchies. The conditions seemingly are that the Royal Family shall be long-established and taken for granted, shall understand its own position and shall not produce strong characters with political ambitions. These have been fulfilled in Britain, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, but not in, say, Spain or Rumania [sic]. If you point these facts out to the average left-winger he gets very angry, but only because he has not examined the nature of his own feelings towards Stalin. I do not defend the institution of monarchy in an absolute sense, but I think that in an age like our own it may have an inoculating effect, and certainly it does far less harm than the existence of our so-called aristocracy. I have often advocated that a Labour government, i.e. one that meant business, would abolish titles while retaining the Royal Family.’ — George Orwell, Spring 1944 Partisan Review.

article-2657820-1EC1616700000578-507_964x517They are ghastly beings, but they do perhaps serve a noble purpose.

Further reading:

https://www.indy100.com/article/george-orwell-explains-why-leftwingers-should-actually-be-grateful-for-the-monarchy–WyYcUGaDbZ

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Gordon Gekko had the best phone ever.

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When someone says the 1980s to me this is the visual I conjure: corporate raider Gordon Gekko just chilling on his wee private beach, making plans at dawn to change the world with Bud Fox. Those were the days when the mobile phone could be utilised as a weapon. I need this in my life.

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Patrick Batemans are among us.

I was on an Edinburgh bus the other day (it’s a twice-daily slice of masochistic trauma) and overheard two geeky types talking about their mobile phones for 30 fucking minutes in the most detailed and scripted way imaginable, emphasising every nook and cranny of their devices. Two thoughts popped into my noggin: 1. These semi-hipsters really adore their smartphones. 2. This sounds like something Straight Outta American Psycho (book and film).

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Bateman talks with such gusto about his suits, haircuts, business cards, and other trivialities of the material world in a way which seems completely manufactured, as if he’s reading verbatim from a magazine spread. And it really is how many people converse these days. It’s a mass regurgitation of accepted gospel strewn over the pages of lifestyle mags or celebrity endorsements through visual media. In recent conversation I’ve seen a person’s eyes flicker to their top-left to recall key lines of a Guardian newspaper review of a hit movie. They essentially parroted the critique word for word.

It’s why Bret Easton Ellis’s magnum opus satire continues to be relevent. It’s not the murders that captivate decades on, but the novel’s spot-on depiction of how much of our everyday language is fed to us on a consumer basis. And how we use it without even realising.

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Here’s a Pat Bateman belter:

‘“Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. Ensure a strong national defense, prevent the spread of communism in Central America, work for a Middle East peace settlement, prevent U.S. military involvement overseas. We have to ensure that America is a respected world power. Now that’s not to belittle our domestic problems, which are equally important, if not more. Better and more affordable long-term care for the elderly, control and find a cure for the AIDS epidemic, clean up environmental damage from toxic waste and pollution, improve the quality of primary and secondary education, strengthen laws to crack down on crime and illegal drugs. We also have to ensure that college education is affordable for the middle class and protect Social Security for senior citizens plus conserve natural resources and wilderness areas and reduce the influence of political action committees.” The table stares at me uncomfortably, even Stash, but I’m on a roll.’
― Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho.

There’s a lot of poetry in that.

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Wee Boris.

I’m not sure of his exact birthday but Wee Boris will be coming up for five years now. I find it amusing that the world has gone completely mental over the past half decade, yet Wee Boris has been just essentially chilling, and has no conception of human affairs. He shits in a box and we clean it up. It must be great being a pampered animal. Ignorance is bliss.10572218_10154883189215691_2741298944905012204_o

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Dunkirk (2017) – a brief appraisal.

Dunkirk (2017) is a new kind of war movie.

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There are no gratuitous blood-and-guts sequences, nor are there any overtly saccharine attempts to sentimentalise the drama (think Spielberg). It was wound like a spring, and shot with such precision and clarity of vision. The film is a non-linear impressionist snapshot of the evacuation, and it was so refreshing to see a picture made of that great escape bereft of nonsensical German accents or extended scenes of generals and statesmen at conference tables. It’s the anti-genre constraints war movie, more akin to a peak Michael Mann picture – Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) – than your generic battle flick.

Operation Dynamo - men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued.

Fear predominates – fear of being smothered by a relentless enemy, this claustrophobia reflected in sometimes mere facial expression and the economy with which Nolan employs the classic close up. And in small acts of heroism characters occasionally perform, the film explodes with such unexpected emotion that it occasionally reaches the cinematic heights of the transcendental. The last twenty minutes of Dunkirk (2017) are among some of the most prolongedly intense in modern cinema, hope (and home) the against-all-odds outcome. Masterpiece.

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.historytoday.com/patrick-wilson/dunkirk-victory-or-defeat

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/23/dunkirk-review-terrifyingly-immersive-christopher-nolan

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Architectural determinism and airports.

“There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” – Winston Churchill addressing the English Architectural Association in 1924.

Such leaders did at one point uniformally think that society could be shaped by its physical constructs – that us peasants would be awed into a mode of thinking and behaving. How else could one explain Albert Speer’s infamous Cathedral of Light at Nuremberg from 1933 onwards, this perhaps *the* apotheosis of architecture as both symbolism and distraction, imbued with the ‘ideals’ of that regime and as, to speak plainly, something nice to look at.

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The sometimes hideous effects of what Maurice Broady termed ‘architectural determinism’ in his 1966 paper Social theory in Architectural Design can be evidenced in the case of the Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments, or Pruitt–Igoe, surely the most striking example of authoritarian utopia ending in a right fucking mess.

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Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect behind the World Trade Center towers and the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport main terminal, the Pruitt–Igoe was demolished a mere two decades after its completion in 1956, such were the levels of crime and racial discord within the complex. It’s now the archetypal failure of social engineering through architectural design.

It’s our airports today – our temporary living quarters – that perhaps more than any other constructs are so obviously designed to regulate human behaviour, and with good reason.

It’s only when I’m in an airport that I consider how much has consciously informed the design of the building to as calmly as possible guide the passenger from security to plane, that the best of them are an intricately sculpted conveyor belt. I’ve had the feeling many times: “I’m being controlled here.” A Panopticon-like transportation hub, I am not sure whether I am being watched in my every movement, but I behave as if I am and follow the orthodoxy, my surface deindividuation process complete. In airports we are powerless and deferential to authority, a uniform more powerful than words. In some cases, though, you will be in a horror show – Bratislava and Faro’s airports come to mind. This is when you witness the collective lose their proverbial shit.

You can ease someone into serenity, relieve the stress, but there have been times in some stinker airports where I must confess I have sweated spinal fluid. It’s being around confused people that does it. A microcosm of society, the airport is where the traumatised go to annoy the rest of us. You can see them actively struggling to comprehend what is going on, like headless hens on hallucinogens (accidental alliteration). I don’t want to know what it would be like were the busiest airports not the realisation of total design. We are even given the illusion of choice, with the range of shops on offer mostly all selling the exact same water or snack product, the selection of overpriced bars, to the option of speedy or priority boarding (as if the flight will be departing more quickly when choosing this option).

Some of the very best:

Munich Airport.

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Apparently (according to the *internets*), the Munich Airport Centre has the only supermarket in Bavaria; a passenger can shop from 5.30 a.m. to midnight every day. Enter every cliche about Germany and its efficiency and cleanliness.

Haneda Airport (Tokyo Haneda Airport).

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I was here in 2015. Fuck me, it was almost like I had ventured into another world. I could have been anywhere but an airport. Then I sat next to a fat bastard from Missouri who smelled like blue cheese.

Singapore Changi Airport.

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135,000 passengers a day but one doesn’t even feel like they have even approached the building. Omniscient greenery, a rooftop pool, movie theatres. Scenes.

Further reading:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/design/how-architecture-uses-space-light-and-material-to-affect-your-mood-american-institute-architects-a6985986.html

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/22/pruitt-igoe-high-rise-urban-america-history-cities

http://theconversation.com/building-a-better-world-can-architecture-shape-behaviour-21541

https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa16/2016/09/05/can-architecture-affect-human-behavior/

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Miracle on Princes Street.

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Every once in a while something miraculous occurs on Princes Street. The traffic momentarily vanishes and the bus speeds beyond 5 mph. I thought I’d wandered into an alternate reality this morning. Incredible.

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D-Day – then and now.

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I love these concoctions. What do you call them? I think this is Omaha Beach, 6 June, 1944 (though I could be wrong). It’s stuff like this that gives these historical photos real reverence. The record almost comes alive here.

Further reading:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/06/d-day-landing-sites-pictures_n_5458026.html

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Alain de Botton knows best.

It’s been fashionable of late to slag off Alain de Botton. He does indeed look a bit funny, and has been accused by his accessibility of being a bit of a lightweight. His The Art of Travel, though, hits so many notes. Everything I’ve ever pondered about travelling is summed up in the book’s pages in the most pinpoint eloquent way. The following passage is a belter, and it reminds me of this enduring image from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995). And this movie will hit you right in the feels:

‘Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.

At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestice setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.

If we find poetry in the service station and motel, if we are drawn to the airport or train carriage, it is perhaps because, in spite of their architectural compromises and discomforts, in spite of their garish colours and harsh lighting, we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world.’

I like the sound of that.

Further reading/viewing:

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