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What is real?

Baseball Fights Fakery With an Army of Authenticators — NYTimes

Before we get back to substantial posts, here’s a quick shout-out to the New York Times, which has a solid insider’s-look article on the asphalt industry. Check it out:

For Sellers of Pavers and Cones, Stimulus Lifts Hopes After a Troubled Year – NYTimes

For every thing, a past.

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Welcome to Whiskill Island.  

I want to take a quick break from the usual material culture/built environment chatter to introduce a side-project of mine: The Whiskill Island JournalThe Journal is an ongoing fictional journalism project, inspired by The City Desk and by Snow Falling on Cedars. It is also young, and very much a work in progress.

I invite you to join me as I explore Whiskill Island. I’ll be sketching out its contours and history through bi-weekly updates, posted every Wednesday and Sunday. I’m waiting for the people of Whiskill Island (and its main town, Port Merritt), to tell me what to say. Even a fictional world has its voices.

You can find the Journal at thewij.wordpress.com.

The New York Times puts Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to close Times Square to vehicular traffic in historical perspective, including one proposal from the mid 1800s:

“Many attempts have been made to get under or over the problem. In 1870, an inventor named Alfred Ely Beach opened a 312-foot-long pneumatic subway line that propelled passengers beneath Broadway from Warren Street all the way to Murray Street. It was short lived.”

Trying to Tame Broadway Traffic — NYTimes

The New York Times has an article about how the subway trains on the 2, 4, and 5 lines sound as if they’re singing the first three notes to “Somewhere,” from West Side Story. (“There’s a place…”) The sounds aren’t notes, really, but screeches made by the DC/AC inverter, and the difference between them makes them register as a melody to the human ear. Reality as Rorschach test—we see in it what we want to see.

Related: Repurposing rumble strips to make roads sing.

The Economist, in an ongoing feature about Haiti, name-checks Labadee, a chunk of Haitian beach owned by cruise line Royal Caribbean International. The beach

is off-limits to anyone not employed by or vacationing with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which rents it from the Haitian government. And when the vacationers are ferried ashore from the ship, they are not permitted to leave Labadee: the cruise company’s insurance company won’t cover it. Worlds might collide here, were they not held carefully apart by liability insurance and tall fences.

Places out of place: the remodeling and imposition of a particular vision of reality. How much does proximity matter? Is guilt variable by location? Are we as vacationeers liable for Royal Caribbean’s sins?

 

Looking at a busy week, so the blog will be quieter than usual. Apologies in advance.

Quick Link: The Times has a piece on the attempts of a small town in Mississippi to endow its water tower with Mississippi State landmark status. The article touches on the importance of “ordinary” or “unimportant” architecture, of the stories that the taken-for-granted parts of our environment have to tell. History made material.

Hernando Journal: Seeking a Tribute to the Ordinary in a Water Tower – NYTimes

The Economist has a great piece on the ways people commute in different world cities, including London, Delhi, and Tokyo. Looking at basic routines to reveal a larger sense of place, the micro to illuminate the macro.

Home again, home againThe Economist

Today’s Times has a piece about a Greek Revival-style house in upstate New York. The catch is that the house isn’t 150 years old, like its neighbors or like it looks: It was built in 1999. The other catch is that the house looks traditional because parts of it are actually old—antique wooden flooring, treated cabinet knobs, 19th century English furnishings.

This all compels the question: How do we determine authenticity? Is the house authentic because of its attention to detail, or inauthentic because of its youth? Would it be more authentic if it had been constructed using mid-19th-century methods? Do the plywood floors beneath its wall-to-wall carpeting diminish its inner truth?

Can theatricality and authenticity coexist?

[A Brand-New Very Old House via NYTimes. Phil Mansfield photo.]

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The relatively young Swindle Magazine (which bills itself as “the definitive pop culture and lifestyle publication” and whose server may be down at the moment) has an article about the history of spray paint, aptly titled “The History of Spray Paint”. The article, while short, reminds us of the that every object trails a history behind it, like the wake that follows a moving boat. The four-dimensional view extends to material culture, too.

Spray paint specifically is interesting because it’s one of a category of objects that allows direct interaction between the user and the built environment, typically for annotation of some sort (benign, artistic, or destructive). Other examples of this category include hand tools (screwdrivers, hammers, etc.) and binding substances (rope, tape, glue, etc.). Maybe someday, cell phones or digital cameras will be able to leave metadata latent in the environment, although you could argue that GPS satellites already do this.

How do we leave our (physical/electronic) mark on the built environment? Possibly related.

[Swindle Magazine via surplus and the mongrel arts.]

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