Thursday, March 26, 2009

Constructivist graffiti

The latest on the Oakland art scene: graffiti clearly influenced by Joseph Albers. Characterized by a disciplined approach to composition and subtle study of color, this work seems to question our assumptions about our relationship to surfaces.

Said Albers: Art problems are problems of human relationships. Note that proportion, harmony and coordination are tasks of our daily life, as are also activity, intensity, economy, and unity. And learn that behavior results in form, and reciprocally, form influences behavior.

Paintings can be seen along Mandela Parkway.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Finally something useful

Creative Home Engineering is a licenced company which installs silent, automated hidden passageways in homes.

Here are some examples of who will find them useful:
  • spies
  • Oakland politicians hiding from angry mobs
  • people with underground lairs
  • owners of large treasures
  • ghosts
  • people with collections of someting embarrassing, such as '80s lampshades
  • existentialists who need privacy for brooding
  • people with gorgeous design furniture who don't want their friends to become jealous, and prefer to entertain in a fake, "ordinary" living room
  • Austrians who keep people in cellars for 18 years (also Belgians)
  • people with extensive moonshine making operations
  • people who want to pretend that they have something important to hide
  • people who want everything to be a challenge: they can build an entire house that is a maze of secret passageways and rooms. Finding the cereal in the morning isn't an issue as much as finding the kitchen.

Picture is owned by Getty images. Meme spotted on Things Magazine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Garden of Death

This West Oakland wall garden reminded me of Hugo Simberg's fresco The Garden of Death, which is in the Tampere Cathedral in Finland. Simberg was a symbolist who was fascinated with otherworldly themes. His most famous painting is The Wounded Angel, in which two sullen-looking, working class boys carry a wounded angel on a stretcher.

Simberg made the threshold between this and other worlds lower. Life after death is not saints on clouds, it's skeletons tenderly caring for odd-looking herbs. Humans can help out angels, not just the other way around. Life is fragile, but so is death. All things are complicated and simple.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Public space/social space in West Oakland

In European cities people use public space as socializing space more freely than in American cities, I think. Americans tend to think of public space as single activity only: streets are for cars, parks are for family and dog outings, sidewalks are for walking if you are unfortunate enough not to have a car. If people hang out on a sidewalk, it's called loitering and generally frowned upon. In West Oakland people use public space as an extension of their living room more freely, and that's something that makes it feel more European to me.

Here is a nice public/social space near 28th and Magnolia. It made me immediately feel like sitting down and having a cup of coffee. Thanks Marie for letting me take the photo and use it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cracks in Sidewalks

There is a whole blog on Cracks in Sidewalks, by someone with a deep and abiding fascination with cracks in sidewalks. They are caused by the gradual expansion of the netherworld. The netherworld people are upside down under there, a mirror to our own world. As more and more of them are born (when people in this world die), and they are all walking around on the underside of this world, it's obvious the surface has to stretch. Usually our existence is enough to keep things in balance, but in areas where a lot of people die and not enough new ones are born or move in, the weight doesn't even out.

In the picture is an example from our block.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Red, gray and black spring still life

I planted these flowers in my sidewalk pots for spring. I have forgotten what they are called. I am going to call them Ethel, Sally, Martha and Tallulah. (There are two more on the other side of the door.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ghosts are possible

I think one of the empty houses on my block is haunted. I feel the emanations of hauntedness and spiritual energy. But which one? It is hard to tell without spending a night in all of them.

There seems to be one ghost whose name is Marcel who speaks French. There is a ghost dog too, who sidles in and out of people's yards at night, looking for his master. One of the ghosts is a child, a little girl in a dress with yellow flowers.

They come to me in my dreams and kindly protect me from the knowledge of which house they belong to, because I would be too scared to walk past that house at night.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Luminant Palliative loses her braid

Luminant had not gotten any sleep that night, what with the ants crawling over her leg in a straight line and the cherubs eating their cereal and the little holes in her skin that light came out of. No sleep, no dreams, no restful repose. She walked up and down the block and waited for her internal light to dim and it wasn't until eight o'clock in the morning that she thought to pull the cord. She pulled so hard it came off. But the light went out immediately and she was finally able to go to bed and fall into a deep, intense, sweet sleep.

Monday, March 16, 2009

From the Analog Notebook

From the Myrtle Street Review notebook in the print edition distribution box:

this is beautiful
write here



That was really really nice. Thank you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Moon is Not Possible

As I drove from the South Bay towards Oakland last Thursday, the moon seemed to sink closer and closer to the Earth. As I got off the West Grand exit, it was hanging directly above San Pablo and Market. I drove up West Grand and kept almost hitting people in front of me as I stared slack-jawed the Moon. It bobbed slightly as it sank lower and lower and finally entirely disappeared into the earth somewhere near Market and 27th.

Photo by Rolfe Horn.

Tremendous Fence

This beautiful fence was built by my neighbor David on Myrtle Street. It is one of the best fences I have ever seen. Those glass things are from wine bottles.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Longing to be long

The longing comes in the evenings when the day has quieted down. It's a slight pressure in the diaphragm, a gentle pressing in the throat.  A question I don't know the answer to. Don't want to think about. In Lapland when they want to know where you are from, they ask "Where are you away from?"

I am away from this. From the gentle blue Baltic. From the terns that dart in and out of the sky. From the gray bedrock that still remembers the ice age. From the lichen smell and the buzz of the bugs and the salty wild sorrel. From the gentle thumping of the tug boat as the night sets in and the glow worms light up in the tall, thin grass. From the still warm granite, like a living thing, with a heartbeat as I press against it. From a midnight swim in the water so cool so soft so gently salted, like tears. Exactly like tears.

From mom and dad whose tangles and wounds and eyes and lives lived in the slanted yellow northern light made me like the water and rocks and trees made me. Who are away from me. As much as I am away from them.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What is a place?

One time I was sitting in a restaurant in Helsinki and I overheard a woman in the next table discussing her night out in Kallio, which is traditionally thought of as the working class part of town. She thought there were a few excellent bars there, but in between there were scruffy people and scruffy businesses, which ruined the overall feeling. If they could only clean out all the scruffy people, the woman observed, the whole thing could come together really nicely.

It's been years but I can't get this woman out of my head. I am trying to understand what "whole thing" she was talking about. The neighborhood? Her experience in a neighborhood she had visited for the first time? The restaurant scene? The city itself? Kallio? Kallio would "come together" if the people who live there now only moved out?

I guess that is what they call gentrification, but I wonder if what makes a place is the lives that are lived there, or the buildings, or the coordinates, or the addresses, or what? What is a neighborhood? Is it a continuum of place and time, that incorporates changes? Is it a feeling? Can you move into a feeling, and how do you change that feeling when you do? The word "neighborhood" means "the action of being a neighbor". 

Kallio is not that scruffy really. We were walking through Kallio with my American husband when he asked where the scruffy part of town is. I told him we were in it. That Finnish woman I overheard in the restaurant should not visit New York City or San Francisco or Oakland, because those experiences would never ever "come together" for her.

Estonian Happiness Bank

Economic hard times are upon everyone, in case you haven't noticed. Estonian Internet entrepreneur Rainer Nolvak has opened a virtual Happiness Bank to remind people that doing good can bring satisfaction - you don't necessarily need to be making tons of money. In the Happiness Bank, people earn virtual money by doing good deeds to help those in need.

"We think that especially when the entire world is facing recession we need a lot of thinking also at the grass-roots level to figure what we all can do to fight recession and make life better," Nolvak said on Baltic Business News.

Their "Let's do it - let's clean Estonia" campaign on May 3, 2008 saw 50,000 volunteers turn out to collect 10,000 tonnes of illegally dumped garbage.

In the picture, Lydia Koidula, Estonia's national poet.
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