Round town in Germany

Here:

The Bavarian city of Nördlingen is maybe the only town in the world built using materials of extraterrestrial origin.

Maybe, maybe. What I like about the Bavarian city of Nördlingen is that it’s round:

Note Nördlingen’s very thin and very sensible Green Belt, a circular park with lots of trees, by the look of it. Unlike London’s Green Belt, which is absurdly thick and ridiculous, and, to an appalling degree, treeless.

Brown Norwegian cheese (again)

In 1966, I had a three month holiday in Scandinavia, on a bike. This did not work very well in Norway, which is rather bumpy, but what did work well in Norway was the brown Norwegian cheese. I don’t have the ostehøvel that I used on that trip to slice the brown Norwegian cheese, because I gave it away to someone, but back home, I bought another one immediately …:

… and have been using it ever since, for slicing regular British cheese.

I had less luck finding any brown Norwegian cheese back home. Even since then, I have kept an eye open for this brown Norwegian cheese, in Brit shops, but I never found any.

Then I had a brainwave. Why not type “brown Norwegian cheese” into the www, and see what came up? Maybe the www could tell me which shop to try. And yes, you are right, I should have thought of this a lot sooner. See the contents list below, which will include: Getting old.

Anyway, the www did its stuff, and I was instructed to visit Waitrose in Oxford Street, which is in the basement of John Lewis. And I duly purchased a couple of … these:

“A Norwagian speciality. Mixed creamy whey cheese made with goat’s milk and cow’s cream.”

When you get inside this (and start slicing and eating), it looks like this:

Yum. £4 per cube. Worth every penny.

LATER: Sorry about the spotty plate. It really is time I got some plain white ones, on which dirt is more easily spotted.

A painter and a fish

Two more photos from October 20th 2007, and that’s really it.

First, the painter who painted Venus and The Annunciation, painting The Annunciation:

Maybe you suspected he painted his paintings at home and just taped them to the pavement. No. He painted them in situ.

And later, on the same day, a fish:

Which came out really well, I think. It’s the bottom of a street lamp. To its right, what the top of the street lamp looks like.

Colourful architecture in the past and in the future

Tim Dunn tweeted the two photos below as a before/after pair.

Before:

After:

Before being how Wells Cathedral used once upon a time to look, and After being after the Puritans had got rid of all the colouring in, and had added a couple of towers.

In my mind, I connect the idea that medieval cathedrals used to be riots of colour, which seems to be true, in addition to being an attractive idea to many (me included), with the idea that many new and recent buildings might benefit from a similar sort of process in reverse. In short, brightening up.

Here’s the sort of thing I mean:

I downloaded that photo from the www, but then lost where I had found it and couldn’t find it again. Nevertheless, there it is, the Sydney Opera House, lit up with what look like Aboriginal type graphics.

I also came across a French medieval cathedral lit up in colour like old Wells Cathedral

Which is all good, but such a thing only works well at night.

Actual paint, on the other hand, is permanent, and good luck persuading those who have got used to plain stone colour that they should instead get used to a highly controversial version of what their cathedral might have been like in the past.

Time for someone to invent magic electronic paint. This is the sort of pain which you can slap on just like regular paint, except that it is transparent, like varnish. But this varnish is different, because it consists of a billion tiny mass produced little magic spheres which, when activated by a magic message from afar, can light up in whatever colour you want. You sit down with your computer and Photoshop in lots of colours, and then you switch it on. Voila! It looks like it used to, before the Puritans went all puritanical with the first lot of paint. But, it’s only temporary so the grumblers who would have grumbled very obstructively will only grumble a bit and not enough to stop it. More Photoshopping means that you can switch to a totally different colour scheme, just by switching another switch.

Soon, all the now ugly concrete monstrosities will be covered in this magic paint, and the world will become a more colourful and much better place. Patent pending.

Those Frenchies do love their motorbikes

Yes they do. Here are some I photoed on my recent trip to their country:

And here is a particularly interesting motorbike specimen, which I spotted inside a shop in Perpignan:

You see what they did there? They put a classic motorbike next to one of the great design classics of the twentieth century, the Barcelona Chair. What this says to me is: This motorbike is a work of art also. My photos are not works of art, on account of unwanted reflections, but they make the point I’m making well enough.

The best motorbike I encountered, and photoed with its owner’s proud permissions, was this one, photoed right at the end of my stay, while being driven back to Carcassone Airport:

The nearest thing to this bike I could find on the www was this. Not a perfect match, but an exact match on the colour scheme front.

I like to think that the French see something philosophical, Sartrian, existentialist, in their bikes. What with you riding a motorbike, today could be your last day alive! So climb on your bike and find your true self! Or something. I put this or something like it to a friend earlier this evening, and she said maybe they like bikes because unlike us lot here, they have roads where you can really ride motorbike on properly. Sadly, I think that makes more sense.

On how we love animals (except when we love how they taste)

While in France, I read the whole of The Square and the Tower, and then embarked upon The Ape that Understood the Universe.

In the latter book, the matter of how humans get all sentimental about animals is mentioned (pp. 59-60):

… Why do so many people take such delight in staring at infant members of other species? It’s not as if, say, porcupines enjoy staring at baby chickens. As with porn, our love of these nonhuman animals is probably not an adaptation. More than likely, it’s spillover from psychological mechanisms designed for more human-centered purposes. There’s a certain cluster of traits that people everywhere find irresistibly cute. This includes big round eyes in the center of the face, a small nose, and plump, stubby limbs. Our affection for creatures with these features presumably evolved to motivate us to care for our own infants and toddlers. But the same features are found in many other infant mammals, and even in the adult members of some nonhuman species. As a result, we often feel affectionate and protective toward these individuals as well – not because it’s adaptive, but just because adaptations aren’t perfect. By the way, as you might already have noticed, the spill over hypothesis doesn’t just explain our fondness for cute animal videos. It also hints at an explanation for a much older and more pervasive phenomenon: our habit of keeping pets.

Motivated I am sure by exactly this sort of fondness for animals myself, I have become more and more intrigued by this general human propensity. Which is why so many of my photos involve non-human creatures of one sort or another.

Here are some of the non-human creatures photos I photoed while in France recently:

Even the photos involving signs urging dog owners to clear up canine crap (photos 12, 14 and 17) are about our positive feelings towards animals, because the offending dogs are pets. And even the two plastic barrier things (photo 16) are “other creatures”, in the sense that we insist on seeing the faces of creatures where there are none, even though these particular non-creatures each have only one eye. Yes, we do love these creatures.

And yet, by way of a corrective, we also do these kinds of things to particularly tasty creatures, in this case to various mammals and to fishes:

Yum.

Electric tree

Last week I dined in Putney with friends. Delightful, even if it did make my coughing worse. And then, almost as delightful was the electric tree I encountered next to the big red building, aka Novaat Victoria Station, having arrived there by bus at about one in the morning.

These photos are only so-so, but I think the tree deserves celebrating nevertheless. I especially like how it looks so different from different angles:

The main reason I’m posting these particular photos, vertical ones, is to make sure I can. My Photoshop(clone) and Windows Photo Viewer between them manage to introduce confusion about whether vertical photos are really vertical, or need rotating. It turns out they need rotating through ninety degrees, and then in Windows they seem like the tree has been laid down on its side. But when I then transfer them into the blog, they come out standing upright.

By the way, the third photo is the tree reflected in a nearby shop window.

What I’ll be talking about on January 6th at Christian Michel’s

I just sent this blurb to Christian Michel, about the talk I’ll be giving at his place in the New Year:

The function of a bottle opener is relatively uncontroversial. It’s to open bottles! But nearer to the opposite end of the simplicity-to-complexity spectrum is architecture, and especially the sort of large and visible architecture that the most ambitious and showy architects yearn to design and build.

I don’t think that the modernist architect and polemicist Le Corbusier ever wrote about bottle openers, but he famously described the house as a “machine for living in”. But what does “living in” a house mean? A house can surely proclaim meanings, that being one of its functions. It can display a certain attitude to life, evoke an atmosphere and perhaps trigger happy memories of an earlier time. The ideal house communicates, both to those who live in it and to those who see it from outside. It says more things and different things to merely what it does and how its internal mechanisms function. It says what life is all about. A house is surely more than a mere dwelling, and something similar can be said about almost all buildings, certainly about the really good ones.

To the early modernists architectural ornament was a moral issue, a crime. They pointed to such things as grain silos, locomotives and early airplanes, and they said: architecture should be like that! It should be functional and it should look functional, rather than conceal its function behind a pompous public facade. Form should follow function, as a famous modernist slogan had it. (The truth is more that form follows fashion.)

To many Modernists, the whole idea of a functional “style” was a contradiction. It wasn’t a style; it was what happened when you turned your back on style and just let the building be what it is, with no artifice, with no “style”.

Yet now, the functional, er, way of doing architecture is often just as much of a facade for communicating meaning while concealing what goes on behind it as any traditionally ornamented architectural frontage.

There was also the fact that certain other modernist ideas, such as the idea of “going back to first principles” and of being “logical” about design rather than relying on outmoded tradition, lead, especially in the early years of modernism, to many modernist buildings not functioning very well. The “functional style” had a habit of not actually being very functional.

But, as modern architecture has become a tradition of its own, it has become more functional. And more stylish.

Saying all that may not take very long, but there’s plenty more I can say about this stuff, should I need more.

Scene and screen mystery

Also photoed on Christmas Day:

And there it was, a seemingly unattended screen, staring impassively at The Wheel. I took lots of photos, including many close-ups, but nobody identified themselves as being in charge of this thing. Was this some sort of experiment? Was I being photoed myself? Was I not being photoed, but was I supposed to guess, as I did, that I might be being photoed myself?

And look, the screen is broken. Recent?

Sometimes you never find out what you were truly photoing.