vrijdag 30 september 2011

Abandoned car park

If I remember correctly this used to be the parking space to the offices of one of the larger Dutch construction and building firms. Now the company has moved elsewhere and a few students are living there to prevent it from being squatted. I love the silence and privacy I found here. Hidden behind the huge building, it's longest angle sheltered by vegetation and fences from the railway tracks there was only the sound of the wind in the trees to keep me company. 

The car park is only in its first stage of being reclaimed by nature: the plants that grow through the cracks are only just beginning the upset the paving, the blackberry, that fast and furious colonist, was only coming through at two places. Give it another year and this place will be fantastic and I hope it will get that time of abandonment. Wild urban nature is a much better use for space than the millionth car park. 

Water creates vegetational hotspots.

Does anybody knows what this plant is called?

A lone blackberry snakes ahead.

maandag 26 september 2011


Manuel Castells was being interviewed for a recent Dutch documentary on the crisis, you can watch it here. I saw a bit of in the break of the Robin Hood film I was watching and I thought Yeah! this is how it is.
This idea that this is not a crisis, but a trick, do you agree with that?  
Absolutely. On the trick part. It is a crisis, in economic terms, but the crisis in fact has been used to improve the power and the profits of the financial groups which are in fact the leading elite in our society. All major banks and financial institutions in the last year have reported extraordinary profits. But now the governments are in a fiscal crisis, the governments need the money, and the banks say: “Well, in order to be stable and not to go back into our trouble, we cannot lend it to you. And in fact, the only way we are going to lend something to someone if you start cutting wages, firing workers, curtailing social rights and eliminating the collective power of the unions.” In that sense, the trick part of this statement seems to be empirically supported. Because profits are hugely up, some of the Spanish banks have reported largest profits in history, in 2010. And at the same time, the condition has been created for an assault on the welfare state, social rights, labour union power, and in fact on all the institutions that were constructing people’s lives in terms of their basic needs. So I don't think it’s necessarily conspiracy of the capitalist class and organisation but ultimately it is being used in those terms. So in the perception of people this is obviously a trick.

zondag 25 september 2011

To eat untamed

In his 1991 book 'The Island Within' Richard K. Nelson writes about his live as a writer trying to live as a subsistence hunter on the Alaskan coast, trying to practise what he learned from the Inuit and Athapaskan people he lived with. At one point he describes the suspicions against wild food that almost everybody raised on supermarket food feels:  
Because he's grown up eating wild foods, Ethan regards them as normal and ordinary. But I remember feeling quite differently when I went to live with Eskimo people. It seemed strange to eat meat and fish and plants that had no connection with a tamed landscape, that came unpackaged, without being factory purified and processed and preserved, without even a symbolic distance from the outdoor realities of dirt and insect feet. Looking back, it was as if wildness was a form of pollution. Plants and animals used as food should be tended, cultivated, manicured, machined, transported, sterilized, boxed, displayed, priced, and purchased - removing all taint of open field and unfettered wind. But now I'd rather have food that comes from the wood and the waters, washed by the ocean and the rain, blown by the winds, and crawled across by bugs whose feet are probably cleaner than my own.        

zaterdag 24 september 2011

"Empty space creates a richly filled time"

Melancholy and Mystery of a Street, Giorgio de Chirico, 1914
Ivan Chtcheglov's 1953 'Formulary for a New Urbanism' is everybody's favourite example of Situationist psychogeographix loonie prose. It certainly is one the most accessible and likeable works in the corpus from which many people have quoted and after which the Manchester Hacienda was named. I have always been baffled with Debord upping jaded, sentimental Claude Lorrain and Chtcheglov here, while mentioning Lorrain, recommends clean, graphic and controlled De Chirico as his favourite place where to find inspiration for the construction of the emotively charged spaces of the future.
De Chirico remains one of the most remarkable architectural precursors. He was grappling with the problems of absences and presences in time and space.

We know that an object that is not consciously noticed at the time of a first visit can, by its absence during subsequent visits, provoke an indefinable impression: as a result of this sighting backward in time, the absence of the object becomes a presence one can feel. More precisely: although the quality of the impression generally remains indefinite, it nevertheless varies with the nature of the removed object and the importance accorded it by the visitor, ranging from serene joy to terror. (It is of no particular significance that in this specific case memory is the vehicle of these feelings; I only selected this example for its convenience.)

In De Chirico’s paintings (during his Arcade period) an empty space creates a richly filled time. It is easy to imagine the fantastic future possibilities of such architecture and its influence on the masses. We can have nothing but contempt for a century that relegates such blueprints to its so-called museums.

maandag 19 september 2011

The wolf has returned

At the end of September 2010 I published a post on the expected permanent return of the wolf to the Netherlands within 10 to15 years. When in the last week of August this year a wolf was spotted along the motorway in Duiven (near the German border) it was reported in all major national news sources as the first wolf in NL since 1869. The evidence, blurry pictures from a car window, was not to everybody satisfaction and it took another full month before another report was published mentioning sightings of a wolf in the area. The story mentions several sightings at the Ramenberg, 20 kilometers (and several busy motor-way crossing) to the North-West of the original sighting. The foundation responsible for the maintenance of the Veluwe National Park cites the presence of the wolf as proof for its successful policies that is making the wolf 'feel home' again. I wonder if that is not overstating the case: the Wolven-in-Nederland website, that argues for the return of the species specifically says that it is highly unlikely for human to see wolves in areas where they are abundant. I suppose that a wolf that makes him or herself visible many times in a short period of time is not a happy wolf. 

Still: better eaten by a wolf than being hit by a Mercedes.        

vrijdag 16 september 2011

Forest forage psychogeography with the Huaorani

The following quote from Laura Rival ('Blowpipes and spears, The social significance of Huaorani technological choices') on Huaorani knowledge production and dissemination comes from 'Nature and Society' (1996, available on Scribd) and it is just the best thing ever. First it explains how foraging and hunting begins with a specific kind of walk that turns the walker into a dweller and it goes on to explain how the resulting knowledge is not generalized but used to create ever larger repositories to gauge what a specific animal might or might not do. Compare this with an earlier quote from Barry Lopez. The picture shows a Huaorani with tree. 
Both men and women have a great knowledge of the habits, habitats and feeding cycles of most arboreal species. Inferring from fruiting cycles, weather conditions, and many other signs, they can predict animal behaviour and locate animals they cannot see. With developed sensorial abilities - especially hearing and smell - they feel the presence of animals and anticipate their next move.

Children acquire this knowledge largely among themselves, as they explore the forest (never beyond an approximate four kilometre radius around the longhouse) with older children. 

Men, women and children spend hours slowly exploring the forest along their trails. They do not merely hunt and gather (two activities which are relatively undifferentiated in practice), but walk, observing with evident pleasure and interest the movements of animals, the progress of fruit maturation, or simply the growth of vegetation. When walking in this fashion (a style of displacement markedly different from the one used when going on a visit or when transporting food from one place to another), one does not get tired, or lost. One’s body takes the smell of the forest and ceases to be extraneous to the forest world. One learns to perceive the environment as other animals do. One becomes a ‘dweller’ deeply involved in a silent conversation with surrounding plants and animals (Ingold 1993b). Walking in the forest day after day with Huaorani informants, I began to appreciate that, by interpreting the environment from an animal’s perspective, they were recognising the animal’s capacity for will and purpose.
Birds and monkeys, in particular, show intention and purpose in their quest for food. Documenting this practical knowledge is far from easy. Informants answer questions about animal behaviour with reluctance, as if their knowledge was not verbalisable. Animal behaviour cannot be explained or taught; it must be observed and experienced practically.

Formal interviews, therefore, did not yield any substantial data on animal behaviour, but they made me see some of the principles organising Huaorani practical knowledge. For instance, informants clearly separated observed data from hearsay. When unsure, they openly admitted ignorance. If an informant rewarded my insistence with some (unfounded) generalisation, there was always someone to dismiss it with a counter-example. Finally, animal behaviour was invariably described by means of anthropomorphic expressions (this, according to Kennedy 1992, seems to be a common occurrence among western ethologists too). It was by participating in forest expeditions that I learnt the little I know about animal behaviour and Huaorani perceptions of animal behaviour. Informal conversations, which proceeded at a good pace both during and after a hunt, were also far more instructive than interviews. 

Hunting stories are shared with those who stayed behind. Hunters must answer numerous questions, and state precisely which trail they took, how far they went, what the hunted animal was eating, where it was hit, and so forth. Interpretations of animal behaviour are constantly put to the test, and assertions disputed. When telling about a failed approach, hunters are criticised for not having adopted better tactics. A lively discussion ensues, as hunters try to justify their actions on the basis of previous, successful hunts. Women, who accompany hunters and often hunt themselves, fully participate in these conversations. Children listen carefully to these accounts of freshly experienced, observed and remembered interactions between hunters and game. Like their adult kin, they immerse themselves in shared practical knowledge with great delight.

donderdag 15 september 2011

Animal holes

When I saw Eirik Johnson's picture series of animal holes on twitter a few days ago I decided to see how many of them I had shot myself over the last ond-and-a-half year. I thought there would be more but I have no great interest in them. They are all made by rabbits or mice (??, I do have a guide to them), but when you find one it is an easy and automatic gesture to make a picture. It is worth nothing that all of these are found within the city of Utrecht.

woensdag 14 september 2011

Overgrown football field

For 8 days in two weeks I passed an overgrown football field behind the old city archive building that is now being converted into apartments. It isn't much but I got great pleasure from it because It was the only thing I saw that wasn't kept to the standards of the middle-class dual-income oh-so-successful-in-life their-dog-never-bites a-second-house-in-Spain people who can afford to buy a house there. 
It is just an overgrown football field, but, as always, when you actually bother to walk into it you quickly see that there is no uniformity. The edges were overgrown, the grass was sometimes like a dense mat sometimes scarce, the trees were planted in orderly lines, the blind walls created shadows that effected the way the vegetation grew below. The picture above shows the way light and dark are architectural properties. In the grass a single specimen of a plant stood out with bright colours. 

With plastic and the chemical fabrication of colour we take bright colours for granted but when you look immerse yourself for long enough in the non-plastic world of neglect you will see why the appreciation of colour in a bird or a flower is a sensation lost in desensitisation. 

dinsdag 13 september 2011

Historical antecedent to the reforestation of Utrecht

Click to enlarge the above map. It's shows a plan for the future growth of Utrecht as proposed by nobleman, poet, Catholic and rich boy Everard Meyster in 1670. The Dom church is still firmly in the middle of the city, and the old part is clearly demarcated as a dirty stain surrounded by a newly gridded oval-shaped new town, luscious and rational. Even the new harbour in the North-east is a circle. 

Meyster also proposed to make the new Utrecht a reforested city with the planting of 10.000 trees. Based on the map that would mean that Utrecht would be surrounded by an planted forest. Imagine that sight of that after 350 years.
To the west you can see the 'moes grachten,' garden allotment alongside the canals, as created by former Mayor Moreelse who died in 1666. 

Map and information found in Stadblad. 

maandag 12 september 2011

The exploited perambulator [updated]

I have always been well nigh unemployable, people don't want my deep topographic skills. They don't serve some kind of economic function, nothing can be generated from them, I am not going to get some glossy magazine focusing on my work or, I dunno, sometimes I feel it has all been a colossal waste of time actually. I feel that when I should have been raising a family and earning I have just been staring at scratch marks on pieces of concrete and getting the same views again and again and again and taken them all in until I know them by heart. Wandering around streets for years on end, serving no purpose whatsoever, It's all gonna get swept away anyway.

Nick Papadimitriou (in The London Perambulator)

dinsdag 6 september 2011

Deep topography with the Postman Pat fraternity [Updated]

Deep topology as defined by Nick Papadimitriou (earlier) is the 'detailed study of place' and as a one-month old member of the Postman Pat fraternity I can inform you that no avant-garde technique can match the deep topological effects of the post delivery trade. The deep topology student on his or her rounds is not just made thoroughly familiar with the exact psychical proportions of a neighbourhood, the way a street snakes through a neighbourhood, the way streets interconnect, the way houses confirm of disobey the general pattern of letterbox placement, the way uneven distribution of house numbers (added or subtracted) reflect later additions to the original street plan. It also delivers unique insights in the social composition of a neighbourhood. Births, birthdays, deaths, the type of magazine you read, urgent letters from the tax office: your postman knows who you are. 

As somebody who walks I had never before imagined that the simple, repetitive, obsessive act of visiting every individual house of a street is such a good, dare I say Deep, way to enter into the  domestic arrangements of unrelated people spatially organized through some delusional urban planners street plan. Walking the same 2/3/4 streets four times a week is repetitive but it is exactly what creates the awareness to the finer points of streetological group theory. That I am working in my own neighbourhood adds considerable to the sensation of spying and I have discovered a few things, places (an overgrown football patch) and patterns (bamboo gardens) that I would never have found otherwise (expect future posts). 

Until this week I didn't have my own round and instead I was given several different rounds to work for a span of one or two weeks. Last week I started with my own round in the nearby Garden Village for the next two or three months and I am expecting hallucinatory effects during the breakdown of my post-bicameral mind. Garden Village is a 1930ties 'garden village' (literal translation) modelled according to Wikipedia on English examples. It's very affluent now and I am looking forward to my close-up encounters with an example of this type of city planning fantasy.    

Every round is identified by the four numbers and the first letter of the postal code and constitutes an (approximately) one-hour walk. The above image shows the rounds I have done in Wittevrouwen, each round in a different colour and with the street plan drawn in white; the shorter the distance of the router the higher the higher the concentration of houses. Below are my two rounds in Tuindorp. 

zondag 4 september 2011

Hunting, gathering and the origins of Ray Mears the Fatty

Preparing acorn meal
In the fifth episode of Ray Mears' Wild Food (2007, all available on YouTube) we learn what Britain's bronze-age hunter-gatherers may have eaten and how they prepared it. With gusto Mears harvests, tastes and prepares acorns, wild apples, service berries, mushrooms, hazelnuts, the roots of the black bryony and one or two others plants. Everything tastes delicious and lovely, the methods used are all wonderful, fascinating, interesting, inspiring etc, etc. And yet when at the end of the episode (the end of the series) it is time to thank all people involved with the production of the show they aren't served a delicious acorn pie with a service berry compote and a hazel porridge as desert (yummie). Oh no, out of his high hat Mears conjures a prepared wild boar to be roasted on the spit, serving it with french bread. 

With the wine (in paper cups) and the ketchup carefully kept out of sight (?) Mears celebrates the fruits of the manly hunt as the only thing fitting for a gatherers party. The foraged acorns were later fed to his two-score army of Filipino maids.          

Spitting out a wild apple after stating that is is "lovely"

In the end it is all about the meat.

Reinhabitation in Yorkshire

I have never been to Yorkshire but it can't be as good as poet and novelist Glyn Hughes describes it in Millstone Grit (1985). The area described by Hughes used to be (so to speak) the Silicon Valley of the textile industry but when the rag trade collapsed after the second word war the region depopulated quickly. As an aspiring poet looking for a cheap place to live Hughes discovered the deserted villages and abandoned farms and set up home there. This book essentially deals with reinhabition, but whereas Snyder found a second growth forest Hughes found a place where ten years after the last coal fired factory had closed down the grass was still covered in soot and where even many species of weeds refused to grow. 
The prose of this book is rustic, even old-fashioned, but next to the richness of observation and the remarkable persons, landscapes and scenes he describes, the style with which he does it adds considerably to the atmosphere this book creates. It's writing with great craftsmanship but also, I gather, writing that has gone through many revisions as witnessed by its chequered publication history. 

Dark Mountain book 2 contains the last interview with Hughes before he died this year, and its though this interview by Paul Kingsnorth that I learned about this book. It cost me 99p on Ebay so I reckon that Hughes has not been broadly rediscovered. He deserves it though. 

vrijdag 2 september 2011

A handbook of weeds

All the way from Tasmania comes Felix Wilson's 'A Handbook of Weeds',  a crisply designed collection of pictures of weeds. Shot by night time, bombarded by flash light, these pictures are, in fact, the exact opposite of a handbook. Instead of pointing out the generic the pictures all show shapes that are wild, unruly, grotesque and antithetical to reductionism. No L-systems here: these are dramatic assemblages of plants and their backgrounds, weeds as textural noise, twigs and branches waving in the night, Blair Witch style: there is a lot of black in these pictures. Never did a blackberry plant look so theatrical. The use of artificial light sometimes creates depth in what is almost flat, like when a single plant seems to consist of various layers, and sometimes it creates a flatness in what in broad daylight would be a three-dimensional structure. I hope I make myself clear. To top it off it comes attached with a bag of seeds and the only text are four lines of TS Elliot. What more do you want?