Free-running in Berlin

Not a lot to say here. I’ve seen several French videos of Parkour, but it’s nice to see it being done in Berlin. Usually our German kids are really sluggish, but these guys are obviously quite fit. I’d love to be a traceur, but at my age it hurts my knees just watching them.

Disturbing Image of the Day

I don’t know much about Patricia Piccinini, except that one of Karen’s neighbors growing up shared the same name. Her most recent work is being exhibited in Sydney, Australia at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. The series of covers some highly-realistic looking fleshy creatures interacting with small children. There’s one image that I find oddly disturbing, so I’m posting it here until someone can explain to me what the hell is going on.

Yikes. Click on it to enjoy a larger version…

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Berlin Street Names

Berlin is a huge city, with millions of people distributed over an urban bowl of spaghetti-like streets which go on for miles… but change their names every twenty blocks. Since I was a child I’ve wondered who the various streets were named after, or what the names meant. Occasionally there would be a tiny sign on top of a street sign, giving a birth and death date and a full name, but no indication if the person was a composer, politician, murderer or famous cook.

Well, rejoice! For those of you with absolutely nothing else to do, there is now a comprehensive index of Berlin street names. Nothing Wiki-based, God forbid, or even something that cross-links to any actual useful information… that would be too much to ask… but it’s a start. Berlin Geschichte is a site that covers our capital’s history, and in the process the site operators have put together a list of all streets, their names and location, and the source of the name.

It answered one question for me. It irked me when people pronounced it “Fränklin Strasse” but it turns out the street is really named after Benjamin Franklin.

David Horvitz

As a frequent reader of this blog (LOL!) you have probably come to appreciate my fascination with the whimsical, the obscure, the unnecessary.

As such, I am delighted to introduce to you Mr. David Horvitz, who posts a creative project for people to participate in every day. He posts a bite-size task, and you are welcome to use it as a little inspiration. Every day needs a good meal, some exercise, a little art appreciation, and a quantum of personal creativity.

Some excerpts, try one:

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This one also makes a fine birthday present:

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This one obviously appeals to me a lot, and I’ve done a number of these. Cell phone cameras are great for this kind of project:

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Art world rebellion:

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..and I already completed one task:

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Go check out his site, I really like it a lot.

All – New Math

Craig Damrauer is posting these on the All-New Math site. Think of it as philosophy plus graphic design minus big words. There’s a lot more at his site.

Enjoy:

modern-art

compassion

first-impressions

nepotism

uniqueness

brunch

silence

Points given for remembering the episode which explained that brunch comes with a slice of cantaloupe.

Other People’s Images

There’s a couple of sites that I visit daily. It is hard to explain why, because I can’t say that I “learn” something there. Nonetheless I feel compelled to spend a little time there everyday, just to catch up on the newest posts. One example is FFFFound!, an image blog where members re-post interesting images found across the internet.

I scour these sites for the same reason I shower every day, sometimes twice. I don’t feel complete otherwise, and I need to immerse myself, however briefly, in that kind of beauty. I feel better afterward. I’ve occasionally posted odd images or pieces of art on this blog, and chances are I found them on one of these sites.

But recently I found an image that took my breath away. I had a visceral response to it. I can’t explain it, but I am certain most people won’t share how I feel; some things are just too personal. Maybe this triggers something from a previous life, or aggregates archetypes into a melange of hope and desire. I don’t know who these people are, but it seems like a perfect moment, captured as a self-portrait. At this age I know the difference between youthful love and the true love that comes later in life… but I remember the invincibility of Sunday morning in bed, with the rest of the world beyond the window.

So even though it feels like I’m invading an extremely personal moment, I like looking at it… and decided to share it with you.

the photo

I wish them all the luck in this world.

Commitment

Found on the side of my Starbucks cup this morning:

The irony of commitment is that’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Quoted from “The Way I See It” – # 76

starbucks-76-3


Have a great day!

Post Secret

I’ve been aware of a website called PostSecret.com for some time, but never really took a closer look. As Frank Warren, the creator of the site describes it: PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.

It’s really as simple and cool as that. People create a beautiful postcard, add a secret to it, and mail it to the site – where it gets posted for the whole world to read. All of it has to be on one side.

For Christmas, my Sister-in-Law drew my name out of the virtual hat – we each get one family member (spouses and kids excluded), rather than all of us getting everyone something. My present arrived in the mail on the 24th  – A Lifetime of Secrets, a book-bound compilation of some of the site’s most interesting and evocative secrets.

The book is actually a much better medium for these kinds of postcards, but of course the whole project couldn’t even exist without the internet. I’m glad Warren’s idea has caught fire and become so popular that he’s getting ready to release the fifth book.

Some of the secrets are maudlin, others are funny, and all make you think about what you’ve never told anyone else… and how big a deal it might be.

And all of the post cards are beautiful.

I’ll add three or four below, but check out the site, and get the books. It’s worth it!

postsecret-1

postsecret-5

postsecret-2

postsecret-3

postsecret-4

Kaleidoscopic Psychedelica – with Ducks!

Yet another beautiful oddity discovered via Kitsune Noir…

The Swiss art collective The Körner Union takes some early seventies psychedelic German trance music, and introduces a few animals to two mirrors. Kaleidoscopic beauty ensues.

The Brick Testament

My boys are finally old enough to play with Lego, which is singularly one of the best things about being a father of boys. It means I get to play Lego with them! As my generation has gotten older, some have gotten quite serious about the little blocks.

One of my favorites is the recreation of famous photographs using Lego. Take a look at Balakov’s Flickr Slideshow. Two great examples below:

Tienamin Square

Iwo Jima

But nothing compares to The Brick Testament, a site I found that recreates a very large part of the two most popular Testaments (the Old and the New, not Mormon and L. Ron). It’s entirely built and photographed by the Reverend Brendon Powell Smith. He’s quite serious about illustrating the Bible pretty much as it is written, while maintaining a good sense of humor about himself (check out the FAQ). The complete absence of opinion makes it easy to think of it as a gospel retelling, or a sarcastic reinterpretation – take your pick. That particular angle is in the eye of the beholder.

Take a look at The Brick Testament. It’s wonderful. As the Daily Beast suggests, start by checking out the section entitled “The Law”. I also really enjoyed Genesis, especially the parshah that tells the story of the Golden Calf.

Fish flops

I’m traveling, I’m in Amsterdam at the hotel, so not a lot of time to post my thoughts… but here’s something to add to my Channukah wish-list:

Fixed Gear

I love bicycles. Ever since I’ve been a kid I’ve had a huge crush on bikes – the cogs, the pedals, the wheels… the sheer technology mixed with simple elegance. I learned to ride early, and spent my semi-suburban youth riding around the neighborhood. For a while, I even tried to fix the neighbors’ bikes for a small fee. Now that I’m back in Berlin, I ride a lot more than I did when I lived in Los Angeles. In LA, car drivers barely notice each other, never mind bicyclists, and there are no bike paths… heck, there’s barely any sidewalks.

Fortunately Berlin is nice and flat, and drivers are trained to keep an eye out for people on bikes. I have two bikes so far – the American mountain bike I’ve had for the last seven years, and a really fast German road bike I bought last spring. The mountain bike is great for shredding through the Grunewald, a forest that starts a few blocks from my house, whereas the road bike is a sleek bicycle that gets me upt to 35 Km/h on fast roads leading out of town. Both provide great exercise, fresh air, and that unique rush of fast transportation.

Both bikes are at the peak of their technology. They feature 24 gears, fast consistent brakes, and light-weight frames. But truth be told, it takes a good amount of concentration – get the right gear, shift down before coming to a stop light, keep the traction on while speeding down a hill, and cover the brakes while entering an intersection… it’s definitely a mental challenge to ride through the city at peak performance, especially the constant shifting to maintain optimum stride.

But there’s a movement out there that is growing every year, and I’m about to join it. This group of bicyclists is committed to the purity of riding a bike – just the joy of fast motion – no over-thinking of gears, brakes, and position – just the the thrill of the ride.

It’s called Fixed Gear riding.

Of course, like everything in life these days, there are communities online who take this stuff very seriously. Just go check out the forums at EinGangRad.de, the Fixed Gear Gallery,  or half the other links in my Obscura list.

So what’s the big deal? Pure riding, that’s what – no thinking about shifting, no derailleurs grinding in search of the right cog, no power lost on the downstroke. But the ultimate joy is breaking by kicking back. Just stomp on the pedal on the upstroke, and skid like a 12-year old on your old Hercules!

Hardcore Fixed Gear riders don’t have any brakes, they only rely on the back-kick, or the force of the legs slowing down the pedals below… that’s probably going to take a little courage from me in City traffic, and I’ll be installing a front brake initially. Most of the weight transfers to the front wheel upon deceleration, and it offers finer control until the back-kick has been mastered (again).

Let me parse this somewhat more finely: there are two kinds of bikes in this genre – Single Speed, and it’s more intense cousin Fixed Gear. There’s really only one difference, but it is a major point of contention: a Single Speed bike can spin the pedals backward, and coast along without the rider moving the legs. A Fixed Gear bike keeps the pedals moving – there’s no simple coasting, and no free back pedaling. It’s the way bikes used to be 50 or 100 years ago…and a little dangerous if you’re out of practice.

Luckily, you can have both. There are rear axles that can be locked relatively easily so that you’re either riding Fixed Gear, or release it for that simpler Single Speed cruise.

By the way, Fixed Gear riding is still an important part of bicycle racing and training. There’s a number of races that rely on this kind of set up. More importantly, serious bike riders use Fixed Gear bikes for practice. It allows you to build up your stamina, but it also does wonders for your technique. You end up with a much longer powerstroke, develop a smoother pace, and get a better work-out.

So I’m going to start hunting around for a nice Single Speed. I will probably assemble the parts myself, and build a nice and light bike for a frenzied run into the city. Best of all, it’s pretty inexpensive – the most costly parts are usually the cranks and derailleurs. After that, the two most expensive components are the frame and the wheels.

And after that… well, my bike obsession continues, but will probably wait till next year. K the Listmaker will hopefully get a bike now that she’s no longer pregnant, so we can go on family excursions. I am really in love with some of the Dutch bikes I see in Amsterdam all the time. So while she rides her bike, I will have to bring the rest of the tribe, so I’m hoping to get a Bakfiets. Room enough for the boys AND a picnic basket.

Peculiar Beauty

Through Bowlerized (another Berlin-based blog) I found the most wonderful compendium of classic beauty tips throughout history. The site is called Peculiar Beauty. Bonnie Downing, the editor of the site, also released a book with the same title.

My favorite entry (so far) has to be reading tips from Beverly and Vidal Sassoon, a couple my father took me out to dinner with at Big Window back in the 1970s. Just check Ivan’s book of celebrities, I got to sign it several times as a child, my first being at dinner with the Sassoons.

But enough gratuitous name-dropping… here’s the quote:

“I would like to add a small, totally chauvinist view here:  Smoking is anti-sex.  To kiss a beautiful woman, even if she is wearing the most feminine of scents and has the softest skin and moistest lips, is– if she smokes– like kissing a little old man.  I associate smoker’s breath with whiskey old codger’s and with my army buddies– neither group do I kiss.  The smoking woman may have come a long way, baby, but it’s down the wrong street.
Because Beverly hates the smell of onions, I got her to stop smoking during the day.  I kept an onion with me, and whenever she started to smoke a cigarette, I took a big bite of raw onion.  She now smokes occasionally in the the evening, but she always uses mouthwash before we kiss goodnight.”

Hmmm… wonder what trick I can use to get my wife to learn German… I think I will promise an hour at the gym for every hour she studies Deutsch!

Swimming across China

A shot from a public pool in Northern China, taken over the weekend.

In some way, this is not that different than some of the pictures from Coney Island in the 1930s, or the Rimini shore in Italy in the 1950s. But somehow, the sheer size of China tends to add another layer of immensity to an already superlative situation.

I don’t know whether these people understand how crowded this looks to a typical Western person. Maybe the sense of personal space is really that different in parts of Asia.

Whatever it is, I have to admit this is not my idea of a good time… Frankly, it even strikes me as somewhat dangerous. But nonetheless there must be some kind of really crazy energy in the air at this moment.