Aesthetics of Everywhere

The urban scene, its people and processes. Based in southern California.

Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Blue Skies in San Francisco

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The sun actually came out today in San Francisco, making it an easy decision to walk over for the park to picnic away the afternoon, soak up vitamin D, and wander through the de Young Museum. We spent time catching up with friends who are both former DC residents and new residents to SF, having lived here less than a year each. I love discussing differences in lifestyle from east coast city living versus west coast city living. There’s much more homelessness here, some of it voluntary.

The Lawn Bowling Club was out, playing what looked to me like bocce. The signs, however, forbade playing bocce on the lawn bowling greens – so there must be some major difference. They invited us to come learn how to play during their free lesson tomorrow, but we’re back on the road then.

San Francisco Lawn Bowling

The view from the observation deck of the de Young Museum was improved by the lack of fog that is quintessential San Francisco. We could see all the populated streets fanning out on the hillsides.

View from the de Young observation deck

The museum was designed by the prominent architects Herzog & de Meuron and I felt that the building was as much on display as the collections of art. In the cafe courtyard, people were out soaking up the sun.

De Young Museum Cafe Courtyard

We made sure, of course, to eat enough Mexican food to fuel us for the last few days of our trip. Continuing south tomorrow, hopefully with fresh legs!

Written by Crystal Bae

August 14th, 2013 at 2:05 am

Rest and Maintenance in Minneapolis

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It’s always great to take time off from the actual bicycling part of a bike tour to take in the places we’re visiting. Since we’ve been traveling to many towns and cities that are new to us, we’ve taken time to walk and bike the streets, try the local fare, and talk to as many people as we can meet.

Red Wing, Minnesota is home to Red Wing Shoes, as well as the largest boot in the world. Kitschy, but we like documenting the middle America claims to fame.

Largest Boot in the World at Red Wing Shoes

Going from Red Wing to Hastings, Minnesota took us along the Canyon Valley Trail for the first ten miles, as suggested by our hosts Jim and Jennifer. They noted that after that stretch of flat trail, we’d have to climb back up out of the valley, so we snacked on our leftover baguette and cheese before tackling the climb. Fortunately, County Road 7 ended up being a gradual incline – no steep grades to force us into our lowest gears. We made it into Hastings by lunchtime, then had heat and headwinds heading west from there.

With its sprawling surrounding suburbia, it seemed we were approaching the Twin Cities for hours. Rosemount was an enormous community of new suburban development in the middle of farmland. There was no relief from the midday sun as we wound our way through the endless, identical streets lined with cookie-cutter homes.

In Eagan, a more established area closer in towards the Twin Cities, we were passed on the sidewalk bike route by a cyclist who was headed in the same general direction as us. I told Adam we should ask him how to cross the bridge into the city, so we sped up to catch up to him at the next light. As it turned out, Scott was also headed to Minneapolis and said we could follow him into the city. This was a great help, as there were many branches of the trail – along with a seemingly complex detour for one of the bike routes – that would have meant many checks and re-checks of the map. He also told us about the great Minneapolis trail system that goes around the city’s lakes, where he was planning to ride that evening. We parted ways on the Minnehaha Trail, and Adam and I headed up to link up with the Greenway.

The Midtown Greenway is known as the “bicycle freeway,” a three-lane path that runs underneath Minneapolis along a former rail-trail line. One lane is reserved for pedestrians, the other two for bi-directional bicycle traffic. It’s a good system that lets you pass joggers without spooking them. There’s also a Bike Center you can access directly from the Greenway, with a coffee and lunch bar along with the Freewheel Bike shop.

Continued, with more photos, after the cut.

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Written by Crystal Bae

June 22nd, 2013 at 6:33 pm

First Looks, Pittsburgh

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Bike lane on a bridge – first I’ve been on.

Bike Lane on Pittsburgh Bridge

Several more photos after the cut.

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Written by Crystal Bae

May 31st, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Highlights from a long weekend in Georgia

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Spent the last weekend and some change in Georgia visiting a couple friends who have moved out there recently. I’d never before been to Atlanta, so it was a good chance to explore what lay beyond the reaches of the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) – the world’s busiest airport.

High Museum of Art in Midtown

High Museum of Art, Atlanta

The High Museum is the largest art museum in the Southeast, housing a huge and varied collection. It is part of the Woodruff Arts complex, which includes a theatre, symphony hall, and restaurant. In their own words, the High’s collection includes “an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American and decorative art; significant holdings of European paintings; a growing collection of African American art; and burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, photography and African art.”

The museum also has a focus on folk art, with many pieces pushing the bounds of art brut (outsider art). It was fascinating to see the work of self-taught artists working in a variety of mediums, including found materials. One of these artists was the Reverend Howard Finster, whose outdoor museum Paradise Garden is a strange and exaggerated celebration of god. Finster was a Baptist minister who heard a voice one day telling him to devote his life to making religious art. The High Museum owns part of the original Paradise Garden installation, and dedicates a room to his work.

Howard Finster - folk art

We saw furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as the famous Red Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld. I tend towards the more modern and contemporary works, and my favorite exhibits at the High included Anish Kapoor’s concave dish of mirrors (you can play with light and sound) and the special exhibit “Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913-2013”. One strange rule was that for the special exhibit we couldn’t take photos with dedicated cameras, but cell phone camera photos were allowed – anyone know why that would be the case?

As with many other institutions in the city, Coca-Cola is the largest benefactor of the museum. The Coca-Cola Company headquarters is in Atlanta, as well as the World of Coca Cola – which we didn’t visit.

The High is located on Peachtree Street, but so is supposedly everything else in Atlanta. The name “Peachtree” is a popular street name here, which makes things just a bit confusing for outsiders. There are even places where streets of the same name cross each other. I’ll meet you at the intersection of Peachtree and Peachtree.

High Museum of Art, Atlanta

It’s easy to while away half a day exploring the High Museum, and that we did.

Georgia Aquarium

We went downtown to visit the impressive Georgia Aquarium on Monday, since it would be less crowded than on the weekend. This aquarium is notable for its size – the largest in the world – and the number of species it holds. Especially interesting is that is the only place you can find whale sharks outside of Asia; the Georgia Aquarium houses four of these strange and beautiful creatures. There are several enormous tanks in the Ocean Voyager gallery, the most impressive of which you can walk through in a glass tunnel.

Georgia Aquarium - Ocean Voyager

Getting Around

Atlanta is a city built for driving, with highways cutting straight into the city and a major spaghetti junction that’s often referenced on the traffic report. Luckily, we managed to avoid driving during rush hour, which I’ve heard is horrendous (though probably not much worse than Tysons Corner traffic, I assume). Though walking within certain areas in the city is manageable, it can be tough to walk from one neighborhood to another, due in part to the sprawl of the city and in part to the highways that divide Atlanta’s urban areas. I did see a few bike lanes, but only a handful of cyclists.

However, there is a limited public transportation system in Atlanta, named MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). MARTA consists of four subway lines, but they only run in two lines within the city: east-west or north-south – with stations spread relatively far apart. And the buses run about every 40 minutes, making it tough to rely on for quick trips.

Despite these major walkability issues, Atlanta has a lot of culture and history, strong economic drive, and is well worth exploring. It started as an important southern city at the crossroads of major rail lines and has a proven record of rebirth through times of hardship. I’m hoping to return one day to learn more, catch up with friends, and explore the many parks of Atlanta.

Midtown Atlanta

Written by Crystal Bae

October 21st, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Arrival in Iceland and Wandering Reykjavík

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View from Hallgrimskirkja (church in Reykjavik)

Our overnight flight to Iceland from Dulles arrived at Keflavik International Airport in the early morning, greeted by grey skies and a light drizzle. We went to the Flybus counter and bought tickets to our hostel. You give them your destination name and take the larger bus to the BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavik, where the passengers are then split up into vans going the rest of the way to the various hotels and guesthouses around the city. It’s nice to be dropped right at your doorstep and the driver even gave us a brief introduction to Iceland. He told us that Iceland has had an especially sunny summer, though it was now the start of the rainy season. With the sunrise, it felt like the earth’s beauty began to come on display, a nice entrance into Iceland.

As it was too early to check into our hostel, we dropped our bags off in the luggage room and wandered out in search of breakfast. We walked down Laugavegur, one of the main streets with shopping by day and bars by night. Laugavegur used to be the main place to shop in Reykjavik before the arrival of shopping malls. Eventually we came across the Laundromat Café, which is exactly that – a laundromat and cafe, but it’s also a bar and restaurant. Breakfast was a bit pricey, but we quickly came to find that expensive food was the norm in much of the country because so much has to be imported from outside of Iceland.

I also noticed the strong design culture in Iceland – splashes of spray paint changing drab surfaces into loud canvasses, conspicuous attention to interior decoration, homes sporting colorful corrugated metal walls and roofs. Artfully handwritten signs, carefully drawn lattes, bold and bizarre fashions. A woman walked by dressed in what can only be called “hunting chic”: camouflage leggings, reflective panels, and a high-vis orange vest.

We had only snagged an hour of sleep on our short flight over, so we relaxed at Reykjavik Backpackers until check-in time. Adam started to fall asleep sitting at the table, so I asked whether we could check in early. Luckily, the hostel staff member was able to swing an early check-in and we took a nap before our lunch at Fish Market.

Fish Market restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

This meal was incredible. We opted for the lunch tasting menu, which allowed us to try a lot of unique dishes in one meal. I lost track of how many courses we had, and some plates came out simultaneously, but I’d say it was something like 7 or 8 courses total. Naturally, emphasis was on the fish dishes and we left feeling really satisfied. The dessert was a great touch – a sort of molecular gastronomy take on a cheesecake.

Icelandic beer is, for the most part, very light. The popular brews are Viking and Gull (Egils), which aren’t bad but also aren’t great. Icelanders also have a liquor called Brennivín that is nicknamed “Black Death”. The black label (and the skull that was formerly on the label) was originally used to discourage drinking – obviously unsuccessful, as Iceland’s drinking culture is well-known across the world. Dark days in winter and long days in summer mean plenty of reason to drink, though it’s mostly kept to weekends.

Brennivin, the original Icelandic schnapps

We spent some of our afternoon searching for a camping footprint, since we left our tarp at home. No luck at the outdoors store in downtown Reykjavik, but they pointed us to three other camping/sporting goods stores in the city that we could either take a bus to or drive to. Icelanders are very fond of camping and in the summer, campgrounds are crowded and noisy. However, with the cold, rainy weather for our trip, they weren’t nearly as crowded.

The first night, we were introduced to the Reykjavik Friday nightlife by an Australian expat staying at our hostel. He had lived in Iceland for several years before, and was now back in Reykjavik for awhile longer. We caught some free live music at our hostel and met a couple other travelers, then went out to a few bars: Vegamót, Boston, and one other place. It was a fun introduction to the city, but we didn’t last into the morning hours like the other Icelanders.

Iceland is a place we’ve been hearing a lot about in recent years, and no surprise – tourism has doubled in the last decade, with an estimated 700,000 tourists in 2012. For context, Iceland’s entire population is only 300,000 (half the population of DC proper). Though we saw places being quickly developed, Iceland is working on a plan for the sustainable development of tourism. It’s a nation with a lot of geological beauty that needs to be preserved even as it’s being shared with the rest of the world.

Garden in Reykjavik

Written by Crystal Bae

October 7th, 2012 at 11:34 am

Poetry’s place in each day

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Advice given to me at graduation by one of my English professors, Judith Plotz: “Carry a good anthology of poetry on your travels.”

As a scholar of Romanticism, Professor Plotz introduced me to some of my (now) favorite poets, including the English peasant poet John Clare. She taught me to memorize poetry, believing in its powers to sustain a person. She measured her love for poetry like the cadence of one’s gait, each word dropped like a step upon the earth. I’m thinking back to her advice now, as I do more walking and prepare to spend over 8 hours straight walking in the Sierra Club’s annual One Day Hike.

Parmigianino - Self-Portrait in a Convex MirrorRecently, another of my former English professors, Margaret Soltan (University Diaries), has begun to record an online poetry lecture series at Udemy, called Modern Poetry. Her focus is on Modernism and Post-Modernism. It’s a free online course, so no risk in poking around and seeing if you enjoy it. Every human being owes themselves this appreciation of language and its power. In particular, Professor Soltan goes through detailed analyses of certain famous poems, such as Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror“. But it’s also just nice to listen to her speak of poetry in general.

Give poetry a chance, especially if you’re only ever been forced to read it. Especially if you find it challenging. Poetry expands your understanding of the breadth and depth of human experience, shaping language to express desire, pain, tedium.

“The present moment is constantly slipping into the past…”

Written by Crystal Bae

April 16th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Everyday Lessons Learned: December 2011, Weeks 2 and 3

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Projects abound these last few weeks. I keep forgetting it’s nearing that time to stop and take a break.

8: There are a variety of ways that allergists test for allergies. Allergy specialists use skin tests or blood tests to test the patient against suspected allergens, and several are usually tested at the same time.

9: Vacation photos of hotels can often be misleading. Check out Oyster’s Photo Fakeouts for some particularly exaggerated ones.

10: Random Hacks of Kindness is a hackathon devoted to creating software solutions focused on disaster risk and response. Programmers assemble in groups all over the world to work on projects like raising awareness of emergency hydrants in San Francisco or this analysis of health facilities distribution in Haiti.

11: Google has a product called Fusion Tables that allows you to import your data and map it fairly quickly. Somehow I missed when this came out, even though I’m a geek about making maps. I’ve played around with the sample and though Fusion Tables isn’t what I’d call a great product yet (it’s still in beta), it’s certainly nice to see the act of mapping data simplified and opened up to the masses. See examples here.

12: In September 2006, the mayor of São Paulo banned all outdoor advertising in the city – to include billboards, flyers, ads on buses, and other forms of “visual pollution.” This Clean City law was a move intended to wash away all the garish adverts that covered virtually every surface and increase quality of life for those in São Paulo. For some thoughts on how effective this has been, see the responses on Quora.

13: The Cupertino effect is a widespread error in texts of a certain time period that originated with spell-checking software. When the word “cooperation” (without a dash between “co” and “operation”) was typed on an older computer, the word would auto-correct to “Cupertino”, a word that was commonly found in the spell-checker’s dictionary.

14: A talk by Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice, always an entertaining topic. “The way in which we value things depends on what we compare them to.”

LuminAID light pillow15: The LuminAID is a solar-powered inflatable LED light designed by two Columbia University graduates, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta. It’s lightweight and waterproof, making it ideal for disaster relief. They also position the LuminAID as “a cheaper, safer alternative to kerosene lamps.”

16: Apparently there’s a language fad among female college students called vocal fry, a kind of “creaky” sounding voice. Hear an example here. But be warned, this is one of those things where once you hear it, you’ll start to hear it everywhere.

17: Read “The Movie Set That Ate Itself” and just try not to think about The Truman Show. Director Ilya Khrzhanovsky began a mock town inside of Kharkov, Ukraine, placing cameras all around this set and making it home to over 210,000 cast and crew members for six years. They’re recorded 24 hours a day, living out their roles. This is for his film Dau, and filming is scheduled to end in 2012. If anything, it’s an undertaking.

18: Composting your food waste has benefits for the environment, because less organic matter that ends up in landfills means less methane gas produced by the landfill. Currently about 98% of America’s food waste goes to landfills according to the EPA. Reduction of food waste is even more essential, as America wastes 27% of the food available for consumption – around 30 million tons of food each year.

19: An amazing story from a researcher conducting ethnographic fieldwork in China: Street Vendor Life in China.

20: Get geeky with these 3D pixelated animals by artist Shawn Smith. He uses balsa wood which he cuts to length and paints, arranging each ‘pixel’ to form these striking figures.

“For the past few years, I have been creating a series of ‘Re-things.’ These whimsical sculptures represent pixelated animals and objects of nature. I am specifically interested in subjects that I have never seen in real life.” (via Colossal)

21: Though I am planning a round-up of great end-of-year lists, The Atlantic’s In Focus series of photos from 2011 is especially noteworthy: The Year in Photos (Part 1 of 3)

Written by Crystal Bae

December 21st, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Everyday Lessons Learned: November 2011, Week 4

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Louise Bourgeoise Spider

22: A third of all restaurant searches on Google are made on a mobile device. Seems obvious, since people are usually looking for directions or perhaps reading Yelp reviews on their way there, but it’s important to think about if you’re looking to improve your restaurant’s visibility in search results.

23: A good question: How much tech should be allowed in competitive sports?

24: Art has the power to transform lives. See some of the artist JR’s work, especially his famous mural of women’s eyes in Rio de Janiero’s oldest favela. He’s done a similar project in Kibera, Nairobi.

25: Urban planning in Africa still largely follows adopted models from the global north that often don’t apply to African cities. Urbanized areas in Africa need to be assessed according to their own needs. That is the aim of the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), an organization that seeks to reform Africa’s urban planning education. Nancy Odendaal, project coordinator of AAPS, explains that the colonial planning strategy that is traditionally taught “simply does not have the built-in flexibility to accommodate the diversity of livelihoods pursued in a typical African city. Conventional urban plans typically criminalize the informal economy, for example, where street vendors are harassed by police and have their incomes curtailed.” Therefore it’s important to understand the unique features and issues associated with each place. An African city should not be designed to imitate the cities of British tradition (or otherwise).

Hiking in Toubkal, Morocco

26: Starlings, when they talk, are pretty creepy. They’re loud and spend a lot of time mimicking sounds, including human speech.

27: The Where’s George bill-tracking data is available online. Where’s George is a long-running project to track the movement of dollar bills as they exchange hands throughout the nation. The dollar value of all the tracked bills totals over $1 billion.

28: Cycling more just makes sense. Commuting by bicycle costs less in dollar spend, but takes more of your time. You can think of that extra time spent as an investment in your health. I have a coworker who used to ride his bike two hours a day to work – now that’s active transport. Via Streetsblog, “Can America Afford Not to Bike More?

29: Map Kibera is a project to map one of Nairobi’s largest slums. The central goals of this crowdsourced effort, as outlined in the Map Kibera proposal, are:

  • Raise general awareness of the living conditions in Kibera by mapping, as much as possible the extents of navigable streets and other mappable features within the informal settlement.
  • Catalyze the local community and expand the capabilities local participatory mapping, expanding previous work and initiating mapping parties within Africa starting with Kibera.
  • Test the licensing mechanisms of multiple mapping platforms by making raw data freely available and uploading that data into multiple systems.

30: A toy that has seen more of the country than I have, in the cross-country adventure Address is Approximate by Tom Jenkins. (Navigation using Google Maps Street View.)

Written by Crystal Bae

November 30th, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Everyday Lessons Learned: November 2011, Week 1

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The stirrings of November.

1: Learned what a tweeter is – other than a person who uses Twitter. A tweeter is a high-frequency speaker that uses an electromagnetic coil to produce these super high sounds.

2: Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art and dance form. Performing capoeira is called “playing capoeira.” I just started taking classes last week and it’s a lot of fun (and very physically demanding). The most basic move is called the ginga, and involves rocking from side to side, shifting the weight from one leg to the other while keeping your hands up to guard your face. The ginga is a sort of evasive maneuver, but also used to position oneself for attack. Other moves I learned in my first class include the , a type of cartwheel, and the negativa, which is a low to the ground stance for negating your partner’s attack. Video here, and many others on YouTube.

3: You can lock a row or a column (or both) in a Microsoft Excel cell formula by inserting a $ before the row/column you want to lock. This saves me some time at work – really, though, I need to learn how to use Excel macros.

4: British street artist “Moose” (Paul Curtis) creates his art in urban grime – using dirty walls, tunnels, and other surfaces as his canvas and calling it grime writing. He uses cleaning supplies like scrubbing brushes or rags to wipe away dirt and form shapes in the muck. He’s even been arrested for his art, though all he removes is dirt, and adds nothing. An NPR interview with Moose can be found here.

5: A third of all twins born in the U.S. are monozygotic (identical) twins – the other 2/3 are dizygotic (fraternal) twins. The twin rate differs from country to country.

6: The Washington Post reports that take-home pay for cabbies – after accounting for taxes – averages $12/hour in DC. However, Nicholas Maxwell, an independent operator, proposes to increase charges for riders. DCist comments: “Starting with the national mean income of $13 per hour for cab drivers and adding the local cost of living and business expenses, Maxwell found that a cab driver should be making almost $26 an hour.”

7: Via Andrew Sullivan’s blog, “Rooms of Memory“. A new study suggests that the simple act of passing through a physical doorway can trigger a new memory episode, our brains subdividing our memory as into separate rooms with the doorways as episode markers.

Written by Crystal Bae

November 8th, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Posted in art,Washington DC

First time in Austin, TX

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American flag and Texas flag

I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas, filling up on lots of Tex-Mex and seeing more cowboy boots in two days than I usually see in a year. The temperature was in the high-80s and it was sunny, which was a little shock to the system in late October – I’d already been bracing myself for fall weather in DC. I’ve always heard good things about Austin and found it to be a pretty cool city. Although it has a higher population than DC proper, Austin is larger so things are more spread out. It also has a smaller surrounding metro area – less than a third the size of the Washington, DC metro area. This lack of density made parts of the city core feel somewhat empty at times. There are a few buses but not much other public transit to speak of. Didn’t see as many bicycles as I’d expected, either. I’d say most people drive.

Mechanical bull in an Austin barAustin has a lot of colorful murals, a constant schedule of events, and some interesting architecture (check out the Arthouse at the Jones Center, right in downtown). Muted tones under the hot Texan sun and fun art deco touches on buildings made up the unique aesthetic of the city. The bars are kind of quirky – we went to a dive bar with a huge jackalope replica that you could sit on and another place with a mechanical bull and an extensive list of shooters. South Congress Street has a row of boutiques and antique shops, including Uncommon Objects, the best antique store I’ve ever stepped inside. And the University of Texas at Austin has the largest college football campus I’ve seen in my life.

One highlight of our visit to Austin was seeing the incredible display of 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats flying out from the Congress Street Bridge to catch their dinner. We watched them from the bridge, but there’s also a park nearby where many Austinites and visitors gathered to watch the nightly ritual. Some others opted to take a tour boat, kayak, or paddle-bike on the river, which looked fun too.

Despite its slogan as the live music capital of the world, we unfortunately didn’t make the time to catch any shows. The streets (especially Sixth Street) are lively, though – you hear music streaming out from the bars onto the sidewalks. Since most of the bars have live music, it’d definitely be feasible to hear a band every night if you wanted to. Austin is also home to a couple of the most popular music festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits (ACL). The Austin Film Festival was ongoing while we were in town, and the city has several beautiful historic theatres.

But really, if you need one reason other than the music to visit Austin, it’s the food. Austin is at the top of the heap when it comes to Tex-Mex and BBQ. Most Tex-Mex restaurants had veggie options; one taco joint on South Congress even had a vegan menu. We ate so well – and so much. Everything’s bigger in Texas.

Written by Crystal Bae

October 27th, 2011 at 7:20 pm