Category Archives: Travel

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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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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Air travel #throwbackSundays.

A Braniff airliner in the 1960s.

It’s something out of Mad Men.00-00-braniff-airliner-in-the-1960s

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It was all kicking off in Albufeira.

Albufeira in the southern Algarve is more or less a cliche, one of those tourist resorts you see on postcards. There are lots of things for the kids to do, yet mummy and daddy can still get pished and look respectable.

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Albufeira was funny. It wasn’t funny in a Jerry Lewis sense or a so-weird-it’s-funny sense. I found it amusing because it’s exactly how I pictured the standard ‘Brits abroad’ retreat. And boy was there a retreat (more on that shortly).

The early flight in and subsequent shuttle from Faro to our cheeky hotel (the Muthu Oura Praia) was the only experience one could deem as ‘fresh’. Booze-free, I envisaged the adventures ahead, and the accompanying snappage.

Mateus.

It kind of descended into carnage shortly afterwards, the sweet taste of Mateus hitting my lips like the forbidden fruit in the garden. It’s not a complete blur from here on in, but days and events I find hard to place linearly. They blend into one another, a jigsaw narrative the result. I was truly reeking on this holiday.

The Balcony.

So much time was spent on here and so much gibberish chat the result. The Balcony is the trip’s ‘Constant’ and centrepiece. It’s suprising how much fun doing nothing can be. I even took a snap of a mop because I thought I was being arty.

Riots. 

Hordes of British tourists making a racket and just generally annoying everyone, cops breaking up a brawl by firing rubber bullets and unleashing the batons. From a distance I thought it was Isis. I panicked, bolted into someone’s garden and fell on their rabbit hutch. I arrived back to the hotel four hours later, still steaming, for a nightmarish sleep involving all manner of weaponry. This is the news item here:

http://www.theportugalnews.com/news/riot-police-fire-rubber-bullets-in-albufeira/42374

Vin Diesel.

Is this Vin Diesel? He was in the hotel pool area trying to troubleshoot a malfunctioning umbrella. The Fast and the Furious: Brolly Bantz (2017).

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A truly silly little trip this was. Next time I’m wearing a bodycam to piece together a more coherent picture.

 

 

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Locke (2013) – one man *in* his car.

Locke (2013) is a high concept movie without the Bayhem explosions, like Phone Booth (2002) in its situational drama but set in our everyday more altogether maudlin and depressing British existence ….

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One man, one car, one mobile phone with hands-free kit, one 90-minute journey. Seldom do we see a ‘travel’ movie in which the visual exterior landscape is totally irrelevant to the protagonist’s crumbling world. It’s a film as much about sound as the image. And it makes a concrete pour seem quite the arresting topic. A must see.

 

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Whicker’s War.

Alan Whicker, that mustachioed gentleman traveller, the original dapper vagabond. It was in the last great daring crusade that he honed his craft as the director of cameramen of the Army Film and Photo Unit (AFPU), or the “Army Film and Punishment Unit”. This two-part documentary is cracking. We seldom get the filmmakers as subject matter, the images of war taken for granted (our YouTube pleasures). Their sole purpose was to document. It’s our record of that struggle, the spearhead evidence offered to new generations. Their weapons were film reel.

Whicker talks of the danger of seeking that ‘perfect shot’. You may get it, but that entails being up close. And then you’re dead. Only Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) comes to mind here, *the* photojournalism masterwork.

N.B. More than half of Whicker’s team were killed or wounded.

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Under the Skin (2013) – unexpected chuckles.

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A truly mesmerising and disturbing picture, Under the Skin (2013) is film as art, an elusive, visually stunning meditation on identity and immigration. It’s also one of the few films set in Scotland that doesn’t wallow in hooligans or smack. There is one scene in it, though, that made me piss myself. Scarlett Johansson’s alien character meets a bloke in the Highlands. He cooks her a microwaved ready meal, a.k.a. a TV dinner. Scarlett Johansson – a READY MEAL.

That’s how the charming Scots treat their women. Romeos.

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