vrijdag 24 juni 2011

The Eskimo Cook Book

The Eskimo Cook Book is a collection of recipes brought together by children at the Shismaref Day School in 1952 and published as a booklet by the 'Alaska Crippled Children's Association'. It's a lovely little book filled with 'simple but honest' dishes that give a unique insight in how food is also culture. It is all the more remarkable (and revealing) for the way the children wrote the recipes down, as you can see for yourself below. I particularly like the way the letters on the cover are left to dry like pieces of salmon. The pictures are not all equally sharp but you can read them, click to enlarge.


maandag 20 juni 2011

Skatebored urban activism

Ian Borden, UK theorist, architectural historian and skateboarder, visited The Hague on the 9th of June to lecture about skateboarding as an urban space production system. My review for Archined in Dutch is here. In my teens I used to skate a lot and the central idea of his work has always seemed completely reasonable to me: the idea that skateboarders through their special needs find novel ways to use and interpret the city. Using previews on Google Books I read some bits and pieces of Borden's writing and I didn't like what I read. 
"....the "ollie", the impact-adhesion-ascension procedure by which the skater unweights the front of the skateboard to make it pop-up seemingly unaided in the air."

talking of the skateboarder's senses "they are a sensory and spatialized version of the Althusserian concept of ideology as the imaginary representation of the subject's relationship to his or her real conditions of existence"

"...from the early 1980's, the focus of skateboarding has shifted, becoming more urban in character, directly confronting not only architecture but also the economic logic of capitalist abstract space."

"Skateboarders target the targets and times of the urban degree zero, reinscribing themselves onto everyday functional spaces and objects."
An 'imaginary representation' is that the same as an imaginary imagination? I also have my doubts about skateboarding as confrontational to any capitalist economic logic. When we met new skaters the first conversation was always about decks and wheels, mine always substandard from a lack of money. How I wished to have rich parents.

I did enjoy the lecture however: skating is a fun subject and Borden spoke like a human rather than some neo-Marxist oracle in overdrive. Iain Sinclair spoke earlier in the same lecture series and together they constituted a perfect pair of representatives for 21th century urban activism. An activism that acts through non-committal and silence. Borden spoke of the skateboarder's resistance to the city as one of 'wilful ignorance'. As cities are being developed by shady coalitions of corrupt building firms and money merchants, unchallenged by the public and out of bounds of political control, international monetary gangs are creating their urban skyscraping legacies. The skateboarder and the drifter challenge their hegemony by ignoring them, by refusing to acknowledge the star-architect and his backers. The city is not made by city planners but by people and the free interaction between people. I see the point but I wonder if something with more confrontational substance and visibility is needed. If only the Iains would make the frontpage of the Guardian: eminent writers attempted a citizens arrest of Rem Koolhaas. 

zondag 19 juni 2011

We are held by more than the force of gravity to the earth

Artic Dreams (earlier) by Gary Lopez (earlier) opens with quotes from Edmund Carpenter and N. Scott Momaday. I never heard of Momaday before but the quote turns out to be half a poem. You will see that it is admirably saying something about the core principles of psychogeography/deep topography or whatever obscure disciplineof landscape divination  you adhere to. The bit behind the break was omitted by Lopez and you see why.
The Earth

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk.

For we are held by more than the force of gravity to the earth. It is the entity from which we are sprung, and that into which we are dissolved in time. The blood of the whole human race is invested in it. We are moored there, rooted as surely, as deeply as are the ancient redwoods and bristlecones.

vrijdag 17 juni 2011

The Return Of The Giant Hogweed

Image source with a picture of a Hogweed burn.
The Wikipedia page on Giant Hogweed tells us about a song on the 1971 Genesis album Nursery Cryme that is called 'The Return Of The Giant Hogweed':
Peter Gabriel's lyrics to "The Return of the Giant Hogweed" tell an apocalyptic story about a "regal hogweed" being brought from Russia by a Victorian explorer to the Royal Gardens at Kew. Later, after being planted by country gentlemen in their gardens, the hogweeds take on a life of their own and spread their seed throughout England, preparing for an onslaught. The citizens attempt to assault the hogweeds with herbicide, but the plants are immune. After a brief instrumental (subtitled "The Dance of the Giant Hogweed"), the song ends in a crashing climax where the hogweed reigns victorious over the human race.

The inspiration for the subject of the song is a large, phototoxic weed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, which poses a hazard in the United Kingdom and other countries.

The song was a staple of Genesis' live performances and appears on the Genesis Live album.
You can listen to it on YouTube if you like, I haven't but it great to know that my primal fear for the species is shared by others. Here are the lyrics, great quotes abound:

Turn and run!
Nothing can stop them,
Around every river and canal their power is growing.
Stamp them out!
We must destroy them,
They infiltrate each city with their thick dark warning odour.

They are invincible,
They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering.

Long ago in the Russian hills,
A Victorian explorer found the regal Hogweed by a marsh,
He captured it and brought it home.
Botanical creature stirs, seeking revenge.
Royal beast did not forget.
He came home to London,
And made a present of the Hogweed to the Royal Gardens at Kew.

Waste no time!
They are approaching.
Hurry now, we must protect ourselves and find some shelter
Strike by night!
They are defenceless.
They all need the sun to photosensitize their venom.

Still they're invincible,
Still they're immune to all our herbicidal battering.

Fashionable country gentlemen had some cultivated wild gardens,
In which they innocently planted the Giant Hogweed throughout the land.
Botanical creature stirs, seeking revenge.
Royal beast did not forget.
Soon they escaped, spreading their seed,
Preparing for an onslaught, threatening the human race.

Mighty Hogweed is avenged.
Human bodies soon will know our anger.
Kill them with your Hogweed hairs

Giant Hogweed lives

donderdag 16 juni 2011

Science Fictional Alaska & owl soup

'Coming into the Country' (1977) is John Mcphee's classic book on the Alaskan wilderness. It consists of three parts of which only the first is an absolute must-read. On rereading it I am still amazed by its science fictional quality: Mcphee's Alaska is a distant world, completely alien to everything I know. Here are two examples to give a feel for the unfamiliar worlds that exist on this planet.
In the first paragraph Mcphee writes about forest eskimos, really the Koyukon Indians also described by Richard Nelsen (earlier and earlier).
Their male-order likeness to the rest of us does not go very deep. They may use Eagle Claw fishhooks from Wright & McGill, in Denver, but they still know how to make them from the teeth of wolves. They may give their children windup toys, but they also make little blowguns for them from the hollow leg bones of the sandhill crane. To snare ptarmigan, they no longer use spruce roots - they use picture wire - but they still snare ptarmigan. They eat what they call "white-man food," mainly from cans, but they also eat owl soup, sour duck, wild rhubarb, and the tuber Hedysarum alpinum - the Eskimo potato. Some of them believe that Eskimo food keeps them healthy and brown, and that too much white-man food will turn them white. Roughly half of their carbohydrates come from wild food - and fully four-fifth of their protein. They eat - and more to the point, depend on - small creatures of the forest. Rabbit. Beaver. Muskrat. Thousands of frozen whitefish will be piled beside a single house. At thirty below, whitefish break like glass. The people dip the frozen bits in seal oil and chew them.
And about bears (also see):
One could predict, but not with certainty, what a grizzly would do. Odds were very great that one touch of man scent would cause him to stop his activity, pause in a moment of absorbed and alert curiosity, and then move, at a not undignified pace, in a direction other than the one from which the scent was coming. That is what would happen almost every time, but there was, to be sure, no guarantee. The forest fear and revere the grizzly. They know that certain individual bears not only will fail to avoid a person who comes into their country but will approach and even stalk the trespasser. It is potentially inaccurate to extrapolate the behaviour of any one bear from the behaviour of most, since they are both intelligent and independent and will do what they choose to do according to mood, experience, whim.

dinsdag 14 juni 2011

The hogweed imperial guard

The giant hogweed (or pigweed) grows abundantly when given the chance, which is rarely. The field of saplings blogged about earlier were all exterminated a few weeks later. When wanting to do U-turn I drove up a dead-end street with my bike and what did I encounter? A small slope (3 meters deep and 40 meters in length (?)) tucked away between a busy road and a wide ditch taken over by the hogweeds in all their arrogant and otherworldly splendour. They look like a squadron of Daleks or an invasive army of imperial guards, majestic in their intergalactic colonizing prowess. With a standing height of 2+ meters the hogweed is a plant that behaves like a tree. My shabby photographic skills do not do justice to their towering presence. In a country where all nature, plants and animals, are harmless and benign the giant hogweed is the Dutch equivalent to a hungry bear roaming at large.   

vrijdag 10 juni 2011

Amazonian caper

Crossed spears on a path to warn intruders to stay away.

Have you heard the story of the man caught by Xingu Indians?


Well, they struck seventeen spears in him and half cut off his head and when his mates found him they asked, 'How do you feel?' 'Fine,' he replied, 'but it hurts like hell when I laugh.'
Humor in the Amazon, from Adrian Cowell's 'The Heart of the Forest'. (earlier, earlier)

dinsdag 7 juni 2011

The forest made human: the legacy of trail trees

Trail trees (or signal trees or thong trees) are trees "modified by the American Aboriginal peoples in order to signify trails, campsites, or special locations (water supply, food, safety, etc.). Often these were oak saplings that are given a unique bend, usually pointed in the direction of the point of interest." The scope and spread of these trees seems to be a recent discovery and a certain hesitance to affirm them as man-made abounds. There is a (or has been, the site is dated) fabulous project attempting to map the location of all known trees and the trails they collectively mark in order to confirm them as human artefacts rather than flukes of nature.

The locals know their way through the forest and I guess that these trees are meant for travellers and visitors. How wonderful it must be to have travelled for days through high forest, alone and out of reach of humanity and then to suddenly cross the path of a signal tree pointing you into the direction of a human settlement. These trees are historic artefacts and this humanising effect is even larger today. Now the forest is empty and the old ways have disappeared: the trail tree is a reminder of what has been, a melancholic marker, not the promising announcement of being welcomed by friends and family. 

An earlier post on wayfinding in the Amazon.
A map showing the location of signal trees and the trail they create. Wish it was bigger!

zondag 5 juni 2011

A beginners guide to the drift

A journalist emailed me for a contribution to a 'beginners guide to drifting'. Only a deranged mugwump on a unicycle would dare to present him/herself in public as an expert on the art of getting lost and to someone who feels the latent desire to drift I would suggest to follow it up before the planet dissolves in thermonuclear meltdown: you don't need anybody else to tell you how to have fun. 

On the other hand: there is a tradition and a history to 'the drift' and this means that there exists a body of methods and techniques for everybody to inspect, use and be inspired by. Here are the categories I can come up with but let's call this a first draft ok?

The make-it-up-as-you-go walk
Start walking in any direction you want and decide where to go next at every crossroad. There is a story of Andre Breton, Luis Aragon and two other Surrealists walking through France somewhere in the 1930ties (?) on this principle.  

The chase walk
Decide on a target (people, animals, smells, etc) and follow it. Great fun with immense potential to reveal the ordinary secrets of random things. Walking a turtle (Baudelaire) or a lobster (De Nerval) might or might not be part of this category.

The derangement-of-the-senses walk
Take excessive drugs and walk and walk and walk: conceptually simple, well established (Dada, Benjamin, DeQuincey, hordes of homeless and clubbers), hard to remember.

The map-and-the-territory walk
Maps are meant to help you find your way in a place you are unfamiliar with. But they can also be used to defamiliarize yourself with a place you do know. From Situationist writing on Unitary Urbanism comes the example of navigating through Paris on a map of London.  The trick is not in the map itself but in the interpretative act of mixing the abstract and the concrete in order to create an itinerary from the conflicts that arise between the two.

The restrained walk
Draw an imaginary line on the map and follow it: walk the invisible course of hidden rivers or metrolines or sewage pipes or occult powerlines. Iain Sinclair used this in his psychogeo classic Lights out for the Territory. Richard Long has a piece in which in drew a circle on the map and walked all roads it enclosed.

The really-I-must-buy-a-pencil walk
Take to the streets under some false pretence ("I really need a new pencil") and "indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life -- rambling the streets". Presented as the great escape from daily sorrows by Virginia Woolf in her story "Street Haunting" this type of walk reinvents Benjamin's flaneur without the dandified posturing. 

The generative walk
Best known by its haiku: second left, first right, third left, repeat. The terms of this formula are at will and the principle it establishes can be extended into the formation of pedestrian computers. This is blowing my own trumpet so other psychogeo hacks might fail to include it despite its independently verified psychogeographic power.

vrijdag 3 juni 2011

How Colonel Fawcett was killed

A story can make space into place: despite the fact that Colonel Fawcett went missing and probably died a quite horribly death in 1927, his lingering presence humanizes one of the darkest corners of the Amazon. It may be rough and dangerous there in Xingu but explorers find solace in the idea that Fawcett went before them.
In 'The Heart of the Forest' (earlier) Adrian Cowell reports on what Indian tracker Orlando Villas-Boas learned about the murder of Colonel Fawcett from the Xingu-locals. Villas-Boas being after all the man who was told by the Kalapalo where the Fawcett skeleton (see above) could be found. The passage begins with Cowell encountering a young Kalapalo who on hearing that the visitor is English volunteers the story of three Englishman, one old / two young, walking into the village a long time ago and who now lay buried near the lake. Villas-Boas from his hammock recounts the story from Kalapalo perspective "in the language and style of the Indians." The story gives a good idea of social mores (the obligation to share food, little tolerance for unfriendliness towards children, etc) and the moral of the story is: Fawcett deserved to be killed but there is a twist.
The three Caraiba were one old and two young. They carried things on their backs, had guns and one was lame. They came from the West with Aloiqui, chief of the Nakukuas, and his son, who brought them from their own village on the Kuliseu river.

At that time, all the Kalapalos were in their fishing village to the east beyond the river Kuluene, except for Kavuquire and his son, who were in the main village. These two agreed to guide the Inglezes to the fishing settlement, so that they could pass beyond, into the country to the east. 

Next day that set out at dawn, two Nakukuas, two Kalapalos, and three Inglezes. After travelling for a day and a half the old man of the Inglezes spoke roughly to Kavuquire, blaming him for saying that the journey would only take from the rise of the sun to the sun't height. He was fifty-eight and the heat is great. 

Later the old man, whom the Indians took to be chief, shot a duck and Kavuquire ran to pick it up, fingering and looking until it was snatched from him as if he had been about to steal. Then, when they arrived at the small lagoon by the Kuluene, the chief of the Inglezes spoke harshly again, because the canoe Kavuquire had promised had been taken to the other side.

By this Kavuquire was angry. But he had heard the rattle of collar (beads) in the Inglezes packs and so kept silent, thinking in his head that he would get a reward: this is the Indian custom. When they reached the village he was given nothing, but kept silent again hoping that they would make presents at farewell on the following  day.

During the night the colonel cup up his duck with a knife, and when a boy played with the handle, he brushed his arm roughly aside. 
Next day the village gathered to say goodbye on the bank of the of the little lagoon. No presents were given.

Kavuquire demanded death . Caiabi ,the chief, agreed. He was a cautious man and he said it must be beyond the lagoon where the Nahukuas would not see.

While Kavuquire, Kuluele and one other ran round to lay ambush, the boy, Tuendi, paddled the Inglezes across. At the other side there was a cliff, small but sheer, and the chief of the Inglezes climbed to the top first, leaving the two others to bring up the baggage. 

As he got to his feet, he turned to look down on the young men below. Kavuquire came out from behind the tree with a club he had cut from a sapling. He struck his blow on the back of the neck. The old one cried, wheeled, clutched a tree and started to fall swivelling round it. Kavuquire hit again on the right shoulder, and the body collapsed, doubled up on the ground.

At the cry, the young Inglezes dropped their baggage and started to climb the cliff. Immediatly the two Kalapalos hidden in the bushes at the bottom leapt out and struck up at their necks and heads. The bodies toppled back into the water.

When Kavuquire, Kuluele and the others returned to the village Caiabi said they must burn the bodies. He was a cautious man and was frightened that the Nahukuas would tell Indians who were friends with the civilizados.
Caiabi talked to Kavuquire on the first day, and he did nothing; he talked to him the second day and he did nothing; he talked with him the third day and he went with some others. Putting leaves in their nostrils, they scraped a shallow hole by the old man. Then they lifted his feet, and then his head so that he lay nearly as he fell. They took everything from the body except for the machete clutched in his hand.

The young ones were still below, swollen in the water. So they were towed by canoe and left in the centre of the lake. Then from fear, their equipment and clothing were thrown into the Kuluene.
It is a good story! The caveat is that the bones are too short to be Fawcett's so what is going on? Villas-Boas suggests that the real location of the grave was kept a secret (the given one a decoy). A more reasonable suggestion to my mind is that so many people kept coming into the area looking for a trace of Fawcett that the locals invented a story, perhaps with some connection to reality, perhaps misidentifying Fawcett with another group (or groups) of Civilizados who came later. The Kalapalo volunteered his story to Cowell because everybody in the village knows that those silly white people love to hear it. Call it hospitality.

This story is not mentioned in David Grann's 'The Lost City of Z', the recent best selling book on the case. Ellen Basso is usually credited for learning the truth about Fawcett's fate when she published her Kalapalo testimonial in 'The Last Cannibal' (1995). This is a fantastic resource on Amazonian narrative and myth, not at all easy to read but totally inspirational. An earlier version of Basso's Fawcett chapter is online and you can see for yourself that the story has recognizable features with the story above but that the end is completely different. In Villas-Boas version the murder is explained as justified, in Basso's version Fawcett party passed trough the village before entering the lands of 'the fierce people' against the good advice of the Kalapalo and to their own detriment. Who to believe?       

woensdag 1 juni 2011

"A lot of people look at trees and just see green, I see a kaleidoscope."

"A lot of people look at trees and just see green, I see a kaleidoscope."  

Nature.com has an article on Greg Asner's Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO). 
"The heart of the CAO's US$8.3-million sensing system — dubbed the Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System (AToMS) — is a spectroscopic imager designed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Capable of registering more than 400 frequencies of light, from ultraviolet to infrared, the instrument will take 60,000 measurements per second, with great accuracy."
Policies and politics apart: the images (mapping carbon storage and biodiversity) are absolutely brilliant in their own right: otherworldly diagrammatic landscapes created from data but with such richness and clarity that are 99% photo-realistic with iridescent trees bathing in purple'o'negative.

The High Forest and the impression of power that could not be seen

From a Michael Heckenberger powerpoint

The first pages of Adrian Cowell's account of the expedition to the geographical centre of Brazil in Xingu, 'The Heart of the Forest' (1960) contain a number of paragraphs that deserve to be added to the slowly building compendium of quotes dealing with the jungle as a psychological agent (earlier quotes include: Huxley, Descola, Duguid and Bates, Conrad, Carpentier and Villas Boas). Pics from Cowell's later book on first contact with the Kreen-Akrore are here. Looking at the forest in the wrong way gives a terrible headache...
As we passed, the trees were actually pressing in on either side of our path were mere stunted growths on a patch of open ground. They gave an impression not unlike an abandoned English orchard. But over their spindly shapes it was possible to see where the 'high forest' grew behind, in great masts of wood that soured up from the ground and burst into arrogant superstructures of branches, lianas and leaves. These trees were beyond all European imagination. The dominated the land. They encircled and loomed above us. Like high voltage pylons near an industrial town, they conveyed the impression of power that could not be seen. And each of us was very conscious that beyond those trees there were millions of others which, together, formed a force that was inimical to man. It was a waste of limitless jungle broken only by patches of barren bushland.


If a city man is required to describe a tapir or panther, he tries to portray it from what he has seen in the zoo. But not so to the Indian of Xingu. When asked he would invariably imitate the animal's call. "That mummmm, muuuummmm," he would say for a puma. And soon I realized that in the forest where the range of vision could be limited to five yards, a hunt of an hour would proceed without sight of the prey till that final moment when, camouflaged by branches and undergrowth, a bullet would be fired into something that was barely distinguishable as part of an animal. The jungle is a world of ears. 

I crept quietly, looking no further than my footsteps, and aware that strange things seemed to be peering at me from the darkness. I forced myself not to think about them. If the monsters of imagination stalk by one's side, it is hard not to look left and right, and I had already learnt that peering about in the forest made my eyes slow to see and react. The constant effort of focusing and refocusing between lianas a few inches from my nose, through a maze of tangled branches at varying distances to an object some hundred yards away, brought nothing else than a stabbing headache. It was better to walk 'carelessly', like the Indian, with eyes specifically on the ground and generally everywhere, watching not for colour or shape, but registering in split-second attention any movement within an arc of 250 degrees. By not 'looking' in front, the Indian seems to catch movement behind. And though at first I had attributed this to sixth sense, I later realized it was an instant reaction to something to which every part of his senses were turned. Movement. It is betrayal in the forest.