After a week stuck in front of computer and in workshops, I let myself wander a bit this weekend. The weather was beautiful and I realized how important rambling, both geographically and intellectually, is for my mental health and for my academic work. When I get out in the city and when give my research space to wander, I find that the connections begin to emerge in unexpected ways.
It began Friday when I went to the Grassroots Uses of Technology conference at MIT to hear my neighbor-friend Bob talk on open source, usability, the non-profit world. Before Bob’s talk, I wandered over to the new Stata Center, a Frank Gehry design that I wanted to see after enjoying my visit to the new Los Angeles Philharmonic in June. As with the building in LA, I enjoyed the playful geographic forms, and I found the amphitheater-like entrance to the backside of the building particularly interesting. As I sat eating my lunch in the warm spring sun, I appreciated the trees planted in the theater seats like audience members as well as the sense of anticipation that the space created.
When I walked into the conference’s opening session, I recognized the man sitting near the door as Benjamin, the homeless man I found him sleeping our porch on day a couple of years ago. He took a shower in our house, did some laundry, drifted in and out of the yard, and then disappeared about a week later.
I thought of Benjamin as I watched “The Parrots of Telegraph Hill” at the Coolidge Saturday night, since he looked a bit like Mark, the main character in the film. He cares for the parrots in San Francisco and had been homeless quite often in the years preceding the documentary. The film took me back to a part of the San Francisco I explored last month when I was there for the CCCC conference.
Yesterday afternoon I thought of the parrots as I rode my bike past the white geese that congregate near the BU bridge, and I wondered if there’s anyone like Mark to care for them or the homeless folks who live nearby. It turns out these urban birds also have an advocate—the Friends of the White Geese.
Just after crossing the BU bridge, I stopped by the BU Photography Resource Center to take in the Land/Mark: Locative Media and Photography exhibit I mentioned earlier this week. Both Margo Kelley and Brooke Knight’s work connect with my own interests in important ways, and I’m tempted to get in touch with them since they live in the area. The Yellow Project exhibit encouraged me to take a closer look at this project that I’d run across online a while back—and to pick up some arrows that I might plant somewhere in the city.
This morning I’ve wandered back to psychogeography via Yellow Arrow, Conflux, and Glowlab and its derive approach to critically engaging with the city makes me feel like my ramblings might actually be taking me somewhere.
On May 15th, the artist behind the project Walk with Me will set from her home in Echo Park on foot with the goal of walking all of LA before she returns. Along the way, she plans to document her explorations with a vblog.
This made me think of my time with Sara and Brian at their new house in Echo Park last summer. Perhaps they’ll be able to see Lisa off when she begins her journey.
An article in today’s Boston Globe (“All over the map: New technology inspires projects that are redefining the artistic landscape“) alerted me to several locative events happening as part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival 2005 (April 22 through May 8). The schedule is listed under GPS and Satellite Imagery Programs.
Thursday night I met up with Charlotte to hear the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott play at the legendary Club Passim in Cambridge. The show was more talk than music, but I enjoyed traveling with Jack as he rambled from one ancecdote to the next: seeing Roy Rogers as child in New York; playing gigs in Alaska in January, introducing himself to Woody Guthrie for the first time; singing cowboy songs to cattle in Wyoming; reading early drafts of On the Road while hanging with Jack Kerouac.
Before the show, I only knew Jack from the final cut on the “Nod to Bob” tribute album to Bob Dylan–“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”–so I was glad he ended with a brilliant rendition of the same song. In both the album and the performance, he tells the story of playing it for the first time in New York City and having Bob stand up to yell something from the audience. On the album, it’s impossible to make out what he says (he impersonates Bob too well), but in the performance, Jack made it clear: “I reliquish it to you, Bob.”
Saturday evening Paula had her book release party at Meze Estiarorio, a great Greek restaurant in Charlestown. As I walked to the restaurant, I was struck by the view of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. I had often seen it before from other angles–mostly while driving–but never from the this vantage point (this blurry photo doesn’t do it justice). It truly is a new Boston landmark, perhaps one of the more successful parts of the Big Dig project.
The process of getting around on Saturday marked a high point in my Boston navigation experience. It began in the morning, when I dropped Matt off at the Cambridge Hyatt and then met Jonathan for breakfast at Renee’s in Davis Square. The real fun started later in the afternoon after I met Andrea for coffee at Darwin’s in Harvard Square and then had to find a good route from there to Chestnut Hill. I made my way via Soldier’s Field Road, a string of Brighton back streets, and then a shortcut through BC to Hammond. After picking up Staci, we jumped on the Mass Pike to the airport to pick up Rhonda before heading to Charlestown for Paula’s party. Charlestown wasn’t far, but there were a few tricky turns getting off of I-93 and through the North End. After the party, we drove Rhonda back to Roslindale via Roxbury and JP, and then I took my hard-earned back route through Brookline to get back to Chestnut Hill. As I drove to all these places, I felt as if I was effortlessly following the flows of the city, as if the grooves of my inner map were guiding me within, rather than against, the contours of this place.
At the same time I experienced this Zen-like connection to the city, Boston began to change before my eyes. In the morning J. told me he might be leaving for DC by next January, in the afternoon Andrea and I discussed her job possibilty in Santa Barbara, and by evening it was clear that Staci had made her decision to begin a PhD program at UMich in the fall. And all this in addition to Monica moving out this summer to get married.
So I might be able to get around better than ever in Boston–which makes me feel at home here–but the landscape of my relationships may look very different next year. Perhaps this will make it easier to move if I decide to take a job somewhere else in the next year or two. But I’m not sure I’m happy with this consolation. Must I tear up the maps when the ink is still fresh?
Fearful of losing their long dominance of the streets, millions of autos stage massive park-ins in public spaces around the nation to protest pedestrians and alternative modes of transportation.
This article came my way today via Shin-pei from the Project for Public Spaces. It would do The Onion proud.