BOS: : Photographs/Expatica : :TON

NeoNoir August 1, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 6:54 pm
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Walking around the downtown/Copley Square area of Boston, one can’t help but notice the John Hancock Tower. Until yesterday I had assumed that it was named for John Hancock himself, but apparently (and unsurprisingly on reflection) the Tower is named after the Hancock Insurance Agency.

The building is nonetheless a fairly concise version of Boston noir, situated right next to a building of around 100 years old (old for the US, not that old for Boston itself) and yet set in a stereotypically ‘modern’ style of architecture. Like the Hancock building, the cut-up nature of the city is more clear-cut, and more bipolar. I took a couple of photos (below): the century-old, comparatively tiny building (a library?) next door to the 250 metre-tall reflective wedge. In the panorama picture, the skyscraper almost looks transparent.

It took a while to make the future work,

The older building mirrored at the base of the tower.

however, with apparent falling panes of glass during high winds, and workers on the uppermost floors feeling nauseated during storms or snow (not unfamiliar things for Boston.

The older building mirrored at the base of the tower.


Welcome to BostoNoir July 30, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 11:47 pm
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Although it won’t be quite free of the German shackles of geographical repression until all of my Berlin black and whites are posted (and until one can switch domain names for a WordPress blog), BerliNoir is no more!

Welcome to BostoNoir. A rather different place and a rather different blog skin. For reference:

You can find me on this map.

You can find me on this map.

Look forward to more black and white images of a completely different kind of city noir. Go on, look forward!


Frankfurt, June 3rd-4th 2008 June 5, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 2:12 pm
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Frankfurt am Main (FFM) is a strange city, one seemingly split between people who are permanent residents and people who are there only as a part of the financial industry which accounts for the city’s big business reputation. Most importantly I received confirmation that I will actually get a visa to go to the US, but being done with that before 10a.m. I could spend time walking around a lot of FFM, from my hotel in the Nordend-West (seemingly in the North East of the city!) to the Hauptbahnhof area and then back up Kaiserstrasse and onto Zeil, the main shopping area.

Around the West and the hotel is fairly suburban, neither especially rich nor poor. Aside from a Technische Fachhochschule the people there seemed predominantly Turkish (something I wouldn’t have thought of FFM). The side streets I took to get from there to the centre were equally suburban, although overground U-Bahn tracks added to the odd feeling (much like overground trains in Cologne). Skyscrapers (as in the image here), more businessmen (in their suits and their ties – watching too much Lee & Herring) and shiny cloud reflections became more commonplace, with Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Allianz and Commerzbank among others making it seem like a parade of meaningless corporate symbols for those whose capitalist interests aren’t limited to Starbucks and McDonalds.

But remove the banking buildings and the streets are more like a UK city with an average level of grubbiness, or like the worse parts of Cologne or Düsseldorf. At lunch time the streets filled with businessmen and obviously poorer local families, mostly Turkish but some German too.

This ain’t no holiday, oh no this ain’t no vacation. This is your chance to pay the great casino foundation,” sings Martin Sexton into my ears. Well as my hotel’s website says, this is “die amerikanischte Stadt Deutschlands“. This would be sad if it were solely the case due to the financial infrastructure which nonetheless doesn’t seem to benefit the city around it. Who am I to complain? I went to Starbucks at lunch.

Zeil, the main shopping area, reminded me of its counterpart in Cologne, Schildergasse (image below), only not so nice or so big. I imagine if you spent a long time here there would be as little to do as there was in Cologne after a couple of months. It’s not designed as a city for long-term living, or at least the centre of FFM isn’t; though the suburbs seemed dismal by comparison. Many teenagers were simply sat along Zeil drinking McDonalds’ cokes or skateboarding.

Around the Hauptbahnhof is the very dull and unappealing red light district – Spielhallen, sex shops, drunk people and one woman stood in the middle of the street remaining just about upright but with her head and shoulders dangling as though she were trying not to fall asleep and subsequently fall over. The tramps begging outside Plus added to the warmth of the scene. Again this is reminiscent of Düsseldorf; if only you could make everything smaller, much prettier and older, you’d almost have Bonn.

In a park between the Alte Oper – a nice area (see the picture below) with some sort of ‘Straßenfest’ going on – there was a man performing CPR on a collapsed homeless person, whose homeless friend had commandeered the cellphone of a passing businessman (in his suit and tie… etc) from which to call an ambulance (I heard a large number of emergency services sirens to say I was there less than 48 hours). Amid collapsed tramps, CPR and bankers I thought that this park, with skyscrapers around it and uninterested people having lunch, could almost pass for the more financial parts of London. But I think this is a false similarity.

Heading back to the Hbf. after taking some photos I thought: “Ah, German central stations. Beacons of melting-pot insanity with just enough of a veneer of conformity”. I continue to orient myself listening to Martin Sexton: “Does Satan wear a suit and tie, does he work at the Dairy Queen?/ Does he listen to rock ‘n’ roll, does he feed the mean/ Streak in all of us, all us saints on Earth?/ Hypnotised and over-advertised till we’re numb at birth“.

Later I see a woman jump down onto the tracks a few minutes before my train arrives. Security apprehends her and she seems to be unfazed. Surreal.

N.B. Photos will follow, as soon as I have enough money to develop them. And feel free to click on the large number of links in order to make the post more interesting.


Surreal Green May 10, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 7:06 pm
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As somewhat of a follow-up to this post over here, I just spent an hour or so walking around an area of Pankow. Running north and east of the tip of Prenzlauer Berg, it is a rather surreal combination of suburban old-East buildings, trees and parks, allotments and slightly desolate geography peopled with accidental, old city dwellers.

Suburban Wall-King

Walking alongside the S-Bahn tracks up Norweger Straße, the path turns surprisingly greener and the right hand side becomes a series of small outdoor allotments populated by children, grandparents and the odd parked car (the path next to it even has its own name—Kastaniengasse). Twenty-something degrees Celsius also brought out dog-walkers (mostly Labradors and terriers), barely-dressed women and a large gaggle of middle-aged cyclists on some kind of Here-Is-Where-The-Wall-Used-To-Be tour.

Bornholmer Str. sign through a hole in the wall.After a few minutes, the Mauerweg veered left at a right angle. Later I would walk down here, beneath very low-built S-Bahn bridges and past a playground with what I assumed were poorer families enjoying table tennis and strange trampolines made from around 2 feet square recesses in the pavement filled evidently with some kind of bouncy material.

For now, I headed right onto Dolimitenstraße, where the buildings were a mixture of post-1989 housing project developments and older blocks with knotted, dark wooden doors which were about 6 feet high and had small, diamond-shaped windows. Making a short circle I came back past a small park where young Turkish guys were playing basketball, dogs were being walked, and people’s yet-again-unclothed torsos were being sunned.

What really strikes me about Pankow, an area which is more or less outside of the central sections of Berlin, is how very green and suburban and extremely quiet it was. Hardly any cars and very few bus or Straßenbahn stops appeared until I made the circuit back onto Bornholmer Straße, and most of the people I saw were engaged in Saturday afternoon relaxation. It was certainly enough of a break from people and city-saturation for today (and I took a few decent photographs), but the old-East feel of desolation and the replacement of Prenzlauer Berg yuppies with poorer families and odd buildings made it distinctly more alienating.

Verfremdung & Factions

By comparison to the US, perhaps it is easier to find this slightly odd but pleasant feeling of Verfremdung in places such as Berlin, and in European countries in general, because the delineation between areas (and people’s subsequent notion of what the areas are like) is far less definite. In American cities (I have no real experience of this but it seems possible) the areas—and most especially the demographic of people living in specific areas—is more confining. Taking Boston as an example, you could argue there are predominantly African-America areas, Italian, Irish and probably other inhabitant-defined locations. See here for some ethnic demographics in Boston.

From the harbor, the Boston skylineIn typical US bipolarity, people crowd together to form a community in a particular geographic location, and then split into factions and fractions within that location. Maybe it’s related to insecurity and identity anxiety, but it also means that the more surreal experiences are confined to a certain place, are all the more surreal because of that, and the people there might frown more upon letting ‘outsiders’ from the larger community into their cit-faction. Of course if you can identify with them, perhaps you will stand a chance. Not that that means I will be going into a dive bar in Southie.

But then many things about the United States involve a constant struggle between integration and freedom of identity. Isn’t that what the country is all about?


The Merry Pahppins Dick van Dyke School for the Accent-Challenged April 24, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 2:31 pm
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Take a look over here, boys and girls.

It is true that there are many Anglophile Americans (“Amurkins”), but it is also true that – as an Americophile British person (“Brit”) – the Merry Pahppins school of American actorly attempts at British accents does not really appeal to me.

Strangely, I’ve only encountered (the occasional) smart, well-informed, Europhile Amurkins attempting such shenanigans. But trust me: if you are a smart, well-informed Amurkin who helps counter the stereotypically negative foreign (“fourn”) image of the States, then affecting a “cor blimey Merry Pahppins” inflection simply reverses any progress you might otherwise make.

To quote Mr. Art Rat, who accepted my own contribution to the above-linked post, such conversations always end the same way: “Chuck… I’m not talking to you.”


General I. Sations April 22, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 4:55 pm
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I was going to write a few generalised thoughts about Germany, Germans, public consciousness, but they were so banal that I deleted them all.

So here instead is a really bad joke, in German:

Was ist grün und wird auf Knopfdruck rot? Ein Frosch im Mixer.



Uniform Grey April 11, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 4:05 pm
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Sarah Harmer dedicated her song “Uniform Grey” to Birmingham city when I saw her play there a couple of years ago, though of course the song is not actually about Birmingham and she was just being amusingly facetious. In the tiny Brummie venue I’m not sure that people really dug her little Canadian hippy dig (since I suppose one does ‘dig’ a dig), but at least—being from north of the border—her spelling of Grey matched ours.

The thing about Berlin is—despite everything posted on this blog so far—that it is not “uniform” grey at all, but rather a patchwork of greyscale with the odd splash of graffiti colour thrown in and on for good measure. This means that I have a slightly ambivalent attitude to its suitability for extended periods of daily life. On the one hand it is grey, often cloudy and rather dull; but on the other, it is a city sewn together from a strange history which is still constructing its own narrative post-unification.

As such, the greyness is a factor in the Frankenstein, pulp-cut-up of the city and is unavoidable. Some days it’s interesting, document-worthy (hence this blog) but at other times it makes me want to stay at home where at least the internet sparks some colour.

Other notes from the musical landscape: The Divine Comedy’s “Absent Friends”, to whom I also raise a (beer) glass. Men at Work (Colin Hay)’s “Down Under”. And Sarah Harmer’s “Lodestar”, which—if you watch it—you must let play until the drums come in. It is federal law.

I suppose I’m thinking a lot about travelling, distance and accompanying music. Perhaps I should suggest a song to accompany each photo?