Fall is here (at least in Hamburg)

17
Oct
2013

In addition to going to the market and doing a lot of work, Olaf and I took a little walk around the Alster this morning and it really hit me that Autumn is here. The leaves are changing color and falling all around, the wind is blowing and there is a chill in the air. It is somewhat melancholy, but beautiful at the same time. It marks a change and makes me feel a little homesick, but not for any place in particular. And for some reason at the very same time, the weather makes me really happy to be spending some time with my dear friend Olaf. We can be quite silly together, reciting our favorite lines from various comedies and generally being catty, but with great affection. I have been in Hamburg enough times before that there is an easy familiarity here, and I always enjoy my visits.

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Charity auction

16
Oct
2013

Olaf and I got a lot of work done yesterday, and then in the evening went to a charity auction that the archive that Olaf runs had donated a photograph to. We first had to deal with the fact that I had nothing appropriate with me to wear. I borrowed an ill-fitting jacket from Olaf and spruced it up with a large scarf, feeling a bit silly, but Olaf assured me it looked fine, so off we went. The auction/benefit itself was interesting on a number of levels. It seemed filled with the kind of people that make themselves feel better about all the money they have by going to upscale benefits where they never really have to mix in any meaningful way with the yucky poor they are supposedly there to help. This evening’s benefit was for Sierra Leone, but it wasn’t entirely clear to me what the money raised would be used for. And I guess the crowd may have had a few native English speakers in attendance, because the auctioneer kept peppering her auction spiel with numerous English words and phrases like “last chance” and “gentleman in the corner” and “nine hundred euros” and the like. One of the funny things about the photography on auction was their stated values before auction, which Olaf told me are not independently assessed, but rather at the whim of the person or foundation that is donating. This allows them to assign some pretty ridiculous numbers and puff up their self image. (One image in particular had valued itself at 45000. It went for under 2000 I believe.)

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Guten Morgen, Hamburg

15
Oct
2013

It was a bit of a long journey yesterday to get here from Venice yesterday, as there were no direct flights and we were required to spend a few hours at the Copenhagen airport, but we are now in Hamburg. This part of my trip is much more work-related than the past few weeks, I will be working on a web project with Olaf while here as well as some of my other project work for about a week. Of course, how dull would it be to be in a foreign city and do only work, so I am sure we will have a few play things in store as well.

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Biennale Bye Bye

14
Oct
2013

Just as I was thinking what a terrible (if not impossible) city Venice is for anyone who is wheelchair bound, I spotted not one but two biennale patrons in wheelchairs. I have no idea how they get around the rest of the city, but at least the galleries at the Arsenale (where a large part of the biennale is held) are accessible. We spent a fair amount of our last day in Venice viewing more art and walking still more. I have immensely enjoyed this trip with Olaf and the gang, seeing Venice in a mostly beautiful light both literally and figuratively. Of course, there were a few moments (mostly passing through the otherwise lovely Piazza San Marco) where the crush of tourists was just too much in evidence, but overall if you should come to Venice, I would highly recommend October. The weather can still be warm (with some risk of rain), but way fewer tourists than in the late spring and summer. Arrivederci, Venezia.

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Biennale

13
Oct
2013

Yesterday we took a walk to the main area of the biennale and walk around a lot of the art. I had never been before and it was rather fascinating to see how the exhibits are set up. There was way, way too much art to take in the show in its entirely, so we viewed the main exhibit in the main hall and several of the other pieces in some of the individual countries’ pavilions. I have to admit, I find the very idea of separate country pavilions a little strange, as if to say that an artist always represents something essential about the country they come from, rather than a universal set of ideas. I guess this is mostly an artifact of the history of the biennale itself, and it’s evolution over time. For me, some of the most interesting work was in the German pavilion (in a show put together by France since they swapped pavilions this year). I also very much likes the Ai Weiwei piece in the French pavilion for its wonderful spacial quality (even if the over wrought explanation for its existence left me cold). The main exhibit “The Encyclopedic Palace” was to me a bit of a meandering mess (with a theme made a bit quaint and passé by the introduction of the internet), but there were a few artists within it who really struck me on their own merits. One of the biggest risks with shows like this is art/info overload. There is really just too much to take in and it diminishes some of the work that deserves more thoughtful viewing. (On the other hand, it probably elevates some work that deserves less viewing, so there you are.) At the end of the day I was rather beat as we had walked and walked and walked, both across Venice and back, and at the show. I hope today will be a bit more relaxing, but my friend Olaf is tending to treat this trip more as a project to accomplish rather than an easygoing set of possible experiences that may or may not happen. This is the German way, and I am along for the ride as the only American in the group. And I have been having a very good time with everyone, so I am not really complaining.

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Here and there and an island apart

11
Oct
2013

Today was a mishmash of walking through some lovely parts of Venice, eating an expensive lunch at a hoity-toity place, taking several boat rides long and short, and visiting the island of Torcello, a little-populated place with an amazing basilica on it. In addition, we ate a famous local cake (fugassa veneziana) as it was Norbert’s birthday, and had several caffè (don’t call them espressos apparently). Pics below…

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All about the art

10
Oct
2013

Today was all about the art in Venice, we are here for the biennale, after all. Well, that and the beautiful architecture of the city itself. We first went to the contemporary art show Prima Materia at the Punta della Dogana. The show itself held several very interesting pieces, but my absolute favorite was something not properly understood to be part of the show itself, and that was the spectacular renovation of the museum by Tadao Ando. The museum is a gorgeous zen masterpiece.  Several of the works in the show were really thought provoking, like those by Roman Opalka, or Loris Gréaud, which were two of my favorites.

We next attended an exhibit called When Attitudes Become Formwhich was an odd recreation of a 1969 exhibit from the Bern Kunsthalle inside an 18th century structure in Venice (Ca’ Corner della Regina). They went so far as to recreate the walls and floor of the Kunsthalle inside this building and mount the exhibit in this recreated space within a space. It made for an odd pastiche and I initially hated the concept (and I am still a little dubious about the pretension of the show), but came to find it pretty fascinating on several levels. For one, much of the art was stuff we had learned about in Architecture school many years ago, and here were recreations of these things in their “original” setting (at least in juxtaposition to each other). For another, much of the work was made in materials (such as fat) that would purposely decay and wash away with time, and these pieces were recreated for the exhibit. Thirdly, all of this “outsider” art is now insider art, and in the intervening years one can see both the influence of the work spread out through the culture, and the power (cultural and economic) of these outsiders, who are now almost without fail part of the establishment they were trying to overthrow. That very power is represented and made solid in the (partial) vanity of this recreation.

We next visited the Palazzo Grassi for the Rudolf Stingel exhibit, which I found almost wholly without merit and either a huge creative failing or just plain aimless and annoying masterbation by the artist. We also stopped at a couple of pavilions for the countries of Bosnia and Montenegro, the second of which I found to be really lovely spacial constructions.

By the end of the day I was pretty beat and came back to the apartment for a rest. We head to dinner at a thankfully close-by restaurant at 9…

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Venezia

10
Oct
2013

With only about 4 hours sleep to go on, I made my way to the airport at around 5am to catch my flight to Venice to meet Olaf and his friends. We will stay in Venice until Monday and visit a few expos of the biennale and generally take in the beauty that is the city of Venice herself. The last time I was in Venice was about 10 years ago. The city seems physically much the same, but one of the biggest differences is that it is much easier to find one’s way around then it was back then, for the simple reason of google maps on a phone. I remember at that time getting lost and a little panicked one night, sure I was going in circles. Now you can always route your way from one place to another, it is quite amazing how technology has so drastically changed that.

The apartment we are staying in is really lovely, in a part of Venice I had not seen before, and this gives us many opportunities to crisscross the city and see new buildings and piazzas. Venice is really one of the most beautiful and atmospheric cities in the world, I love how dense the urban fabric is, and how one minute you could be in a crevice of a street where you could literally touch both sides at the same time and then come out into a dramatic plaza with a gorgeous church as its centerpiece a moment later.

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Une promenade

8
Oct
2013

Yesterday was all about walking the lovely streets of Paris and catching up with friends and enjoying the beautiful weather. Check out some of the pics below.

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Petites choses

7
Oct
2013

You forget how many little peculiarities go into making a culture what it is. They way someone orders in a restaurant, the way they get someone’s attention, stand in a queue, express mild exasperation or amusement, etc. Walking around Paris yesterday I was noticing once again all the little habits that make the French French, but also that which makes the Parisian Parisian. I realized how easy it is to stand out in a culture where the most subtle of actions are performed slightly differently. There was a time living here when I had really mastered them, and not a single person would ever suspect that I was foreign. It was all a great game to me, trying to see how long I could fool people into believing that I was from here. But after so many years away, it is obvious to anyone now that I am once again a foreigner, and it makes people behave slightly differently in your presence, despite themselves. This is just human nature. I think it would be fun to come back and spend a couple of months here to brush up on my language skills and relearn some of the cultural tics. And to stuff my face with croissants and pastry, which, let’s be honest, no one in the world can do as well as the French.

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