Brussels Amsterdam Paris

Freeze Frame Fragments

Three long weeks ago, I came down from the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. I came down from my home in the Jungfrau Region highlands–a place of large scale Alpine geography and small scale agricultural human life.

Why go to Brussels Amsterdam Paris?

Since the mid-1960s I have regularly passed through these cultural capitals of Western civilisation. But, not once over the past two decades. I have relied, instead, on the main stream media and WWW resources to describe these cities.

Those sources had frightened me. Terrorism. Inundation by other than Western cultures. Erosion of urban public realm quality. So, I went to look.

Used a ‘5 days in 15 days’ rail pass for country to country travel. Day passes for central city core public transit travel. Stayed in 100Euro or less digs at night–central city location, clean and newish beds, clean ensuite and free 24/7 wifi.

Before I share my observations, please for those reading flahertylandscape for the first time, note that I have lived and worked in North Africa and the Middle East for more than 25 years. In those years, I lived the expatriate cross-cultural life working with people from every continent on both the northern and southern  hemispheres of the earth. To be clear, living and working means real life, five senses, emotional and intellectual exchanges. Dare I say, ‘been there, done that’–no, I won’t say it because it has a subtext overflowing with hubris. Among humans, every day, I always find something new to learn–except for the basics that the Greek philosphers covered a couple millennia ago.

The following observations could be classified under: urban landscape, or urban public realm, or cultural landscape of Western civilisation. Hey, I had fun…’kinda’! 🙂

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Travel

It really is about the trip.

An American in Europe. An American auto-freak in Europe. Born in Detroit, Fisher Body, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, the steel industry, cities built for cars, long distances in the countryside, hours in a car, big comfortable, powerful cars. In my blood.

But something about European cities changed me. These cities were not made for cars. They were made for people. In other words they were human scale, not mechanical scale. They had a comfortable, a walkable feeling. Back in the US, when I was on foot in the city–it was always a battle with cars. Not comfortable. OK, enough of that.

In 2017 Brussels Amsterdam Paris, the public transit makes getting between cities and getting around cities a breeze. I really liked it. Minus one pickpocket I, the ‘mark’, caught in the act on a Paris Metro.

Travelling on public transit can either be helped (fun) or hindered (lost, disoriented) by signs and signage systems. Making clarity of the complex. A challenge.

 

Deutsche Bahn Inter City Express

 

At Brussels Midi, everything about the station looked at least thirty years old and not of first class maintenance. Even the engines had been tagged. And not cleaned. And the platforms showed the wear of fifty years.

 

That ‘oldness’ traveled right through the Brussels’ busses, trams and metros. I purchased day passes each in Brussels Amsterdam and Paris–each required mechanical or digital validating before riding. In Brussels the percentage of people riding without validating was obviously many times higher than Amsterdam or Paris. It was part of a general feeling I sensed in Brussels–disrespect for the urban public realm.

 

Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris had city sponsored electric assisted bikes for public short term use. Didn’t try them. Learning how to integrate bikes, pedestrians, autos, trucks, trams and busses is not a casually easy experience. Local rules, local eye contact, local priorities are local and need to be understood to assure safety. Takes more time than I had. These are the Brussels’ version–freshest part of their public transit system.

 

The Amsterdam Central Station opened on a broad pedestrian plaza, at the same level, and without any automobile conflicts, with barrier free access to numerous trams connecting to all corners of the city.

 

When I arrived at the Paris Gare du Nord from Brussels, I was immediately struck by decorative detailing, which was, in their central core urban public realm, always calling for my attention.

 

At the exits from the Paris Metro are two kinds of maps: the Bus Stop and the District Pedestrian. This District Pedestrian map for the 11th Arrondisement, included an alphabetical index of street names.

 

At each Paris central city bus stop is a local map including an indication of what is a 2-minute walking distance, landmarks and the nearest other public transit points.

 

At the same Paris central city bus stops are complete maps for each stopping bus showing every stop on the route plus direction of travel and the 24/7 stop schedule. Superbly helpful. Actually essential in a city with so many tourists.

 

The Paris underground is called the Metro and access by stairs is identified in the classic Art Nouveau signage of Hector Guimard, Metropolitain–this station: Pere Lachaise.

 

Paris Gare de Lyon signage for arrivals, local departures and the fast trains.

 

At Gare de Lyon there are more than a dozen tracks dedicated to the TGV fast trains which travel at 300kph(180mph).

 

I had never ridden on a TGV before. Seeing them up close on the platform–next best thing to a fast car. 🙂

 

The TGV interiors. Some have two levels. There are multiple seating arrangements so it is wise to look at a layout and understand the direction of travel when selecting the required seat reservation. Also the seating carriage storage options are convenient for multiple heavy and light baggage. And the interiors are quiet…but if you have ever been in the countryside when the long metal tube goes by at 300kph…it is not quiet.

 

 

Graffiti

Among ‘graffiti artists’ there are some great conceptualists, colorists–some take me right back to R. Crumb and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; but…

In the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s I saw Detroit change from a city of proud hard working people to a fearful city with its own no-go areas and degraded housing. The neighbourhood I grew up in, the East Side near the old Detroit City Airport and the neighbourhood where my grandparents lived, eight blocks away (my grandfather worked 50 years for the City of Detroit) are now of city blocks without houses–burnt, looted, demolished–neighborhoods with no value and without potential home builder interest. And after 50 years of degradation, nobody knows when or if there will be recovery. These neighbourhoods decreased, declined, were degraded by the behaviour of people who did not respect others’ property, did not respect the urban public realm.

These days I see graffiti and tagging of others’ property and the urban public realm as the forewarnings that such degradation is on the way. It is a sad reality that is part of human nature, human life in the later 20th and early 21th centuries in the Western civilisations and unfortunately transferring to other cultures and civilisations. It is a sign of disrespect.

 

In Brussels and Paris graffiti dominates many local neighbourhoods. No retail at street level–only graffiti–but people still living upstairs. Rents must be reasonable, eh?

 

In Brussels, this fine glasshouse used to be the centre of Francophone cultural life…but now…

 

In Paris central city mixed-use six story apartment/retail/commerical buildings are everywhere. Some very beautiful buildings. Unfortunately, the graffiti fungus takes hold at street level.

 

It does get tiresome, to say the least.

 

My Brussels neighbourhood 50 years ago–tagged by today’s new ‘owners’.

 

In the end, it is about disrespect for public realm and existing social communication channels. Welcome to the 21st century.

 

Arts, Architecture, Culture

In Brussels Amsterdam Paris in the architecture is the history of successful business, cultural pride and confidence. It is such a pleasure to leisurely examine these details. A real pleasure of visiting these centuries old cities and vicariously sampling their cultural, business, arts and artisan success.

 

Brussels–always on the funky side–and smallish–4 stories tall–narrow lanes.

 

Paris–does not disappoint–Haussmann scale–6 stories tall–broad boulevards–London, Paris, and Rome–deep cultural roots…Brussels, not so much.

 

 

New Folks/Old Folks

After my uncomfortable non-Germanic pause at the Koln Hauptbahnhof and Dom Cathedral plaza, I had much more enjoyable encounters with the new folks occupying the Brussels Amsterdam Paris urban public realms. That’s right–enjoyable encounters–as in walking around the city centres with out feeling threatened. As if there was no immediate threat of death–and I have been close to terror and war in the Middle East and North Africa for more than 25 years.

 

My first stop out of the Alpine highlands was the Koln Hauptbahnhof and the Dom Cathedral Plaza–my only thoughts…where are the Germans? Got back on the next train and headed to Brussels.

 

Lots of years I’ve lived in the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula and what I saw and heard in the public urban realm in Brussels–Muslim girls unchained–having fun talking, laughing, eating–being jolly in public–dare I say, being themselves in public–a first in my observations.

 

The mood on the streets of Brussels–carefree, fun–when have you read or seen images of people having fun in the past year in Brussels or Paris?

 

The new and old in Brussels–draw your own conclusions.

 

The new and old in Brussels–who is scared?

 

Dom Square reminded me of Amsterdam in the early 1970s.

 

Paris landmarks 2017, the old and the new.

 

…and this is where we all end up–frightful or peaceful?

 

Visceral Noise

But…all of the above ‘pleasures’ were wrapped in a visceral, an inescapable package of stool, urine and excessive noise. I have to repeat it–stool, urine and excessive noise made up the inescapable reality of the street life of the urban public realm in central city Brussels Amsterdam Paris. Worry where you step–all the time. And no escaping the noise in the urban public realm above ground and underground. There are no safe places in the urban public realms of Brussels Amsterdam Paris. Is that civilisation? Is that desirable in the public realm?

So, we all just pretend it is not problematic? It is not a health problem? It is not a sensually repulsive reality? Is this not disrespectful of the public urban realm?

But that is not new for cities, George Orwell and Victor Hugo made that clear over the 19th and 20th centuries.

People choose not to see it. Not to talk about it. But, they all have encountered it. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the details of so many places where I could not walk three steps without encountering stool in some stage of degradation or urine and always…always I was encased in excessive mechanical noise. In this image of beautiful Amsterdam, the preferred doggy-do is the one meter strip along the water’s edge.

 

Back Home

Glad to be back in the Alpine highlands.

And for a recent local historical perspective, in the mid-1980s, in this Alpine highland region of about 25,000 permanent population,  I could not find anyone who knew what a falafel was–what to speak of actually buying a falafel wrap for an anytime snack.

Now, thirty years later, about the same population, there are more than a dozen little shops selling kebabs and falafels.

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Brussels Amsterdam Paris 2017 conclusions–go yourself to see–then draw your own.

Food Gardens

The history of the Interlaken landscape before river channel control was one of a swamp as the Lutschine and Lombach emptied huge Alpine catchments into this flat land adjacent to the Aare River.

Up the valleys Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Saxeten and Lombach where swampiness was not a problem, people have for centuries managed arable land to support their families. Particularly in the Grindelwald area, there are seven centuries of written records documenting how they managed the landscape.

So this region has a tradition of agriculture, crop and animal management in family scale over the lands from Alpine heights to valley floors. The following series of images show how the Interlaken neighborhoods now follow that same tradition of small land management and family food gardens today.

…001/015…

Most families dedicate a patch for seasonal vegetables close to their house.

…002/015…

Veg, flowers, and a place to sit outside.

…003/015…

This ‘front yard’ is 80% mixed garden, with little strip of grass–maybe for a pet.

…004/015…

A garden filled with healthy plants speaks of health and commitment to neighbors and passersby.

…005/015…

When the yard is large enough, there will be found a fruit tree. If even larger, a nut tree.

…006/015…

Each homeowner finds unique balance with the plantings of flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.

…007/015…

Municipal water supply for allotment gardens for people who have no gardening space at home.

…008/015…

In the allotments, beauty comes from sweat equity. Healthy allotment gardens are the best of public realm commitments–people and plants in harmony–heart warming it is.

…009/015…

Past the edge of town is a rural landscape with small scale patches of crops.

…010/015…

Small scale farming climbs up the slopes becoming pastures which are grazed and/or cut for animals.

…011/015…

Villages are densely built in the foreground. Pastures in the middle ground with barns for storing hay.

…012/015…

I just can’t stop including more images of healthy veg gardens next to homes–such a fulfilling feeling.

…013/015…

In this image is a public path on the right–and one heck of a healthy veg garden to the left. Tell me that is not a beautiful and inspiring landscape?!

…014/015…

Pasture in the foreground, veg in middle ground, flowers and home in the background. Nuf said.

…015/015…

Fruit trees and crops right up to the edge of town, then each home with its own veg and flower garden. It is not ideology, not theory. It is fact. It is the result of people understanding plants, gardens and landscapes through their own hard work and intelligence.

Prim Roses: the revolution

…see to believe…

Primula urbanica

Fighting to re-occupy what we humans call the city, the 21st century warriors, Primula urbanica, escaped captivity and weaponised to take the battle to the humans.

Don’t we all dream of this day of reckoning?!

…the fight is on…

They’re over the barriers already!!!

Look!!! They’re pouring over the barriers!! Victory is in our grasp!

…rest and relaxation…

Primula vulgaris

The Prim Roses back at camp, some resting from combat, others in training. For decades they suffered indignities. Humans spat foul names at them. Vulgaris they endured.

Until they discovered the portal to the inner secrets of the Berner Oberland. Behind the scenes, evolution became weaponised and the revolution began. In the dark corners of unknown-to-tourists stubbes can be heard the whispered discussions of Prim Roses: Flowers at every doorstep–no more easy access to cars!

…the wilding…

Primula vera

Just past the edge of town, along the creeks, the Wildings keep a cool eye on operations, the battles in town. Sweet revenge. Order returns.

Existential Garden Visits–Borges

International Authors' DayBetween 14-18 July 2015, on each day, I will be making a post in celebration of International Authors’ Day, featuring review of works by Kenneth Grahame, J.L. Borges and Algernon Blackwood, authors whose works have been formative inspirations for me.

These posts will be made as part of a Blog Hop as can be seen and visited through the links at the bottom of each post.

Today is 17July2015.

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Existential Garden Visits: J.L. Borges
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1899-1986 Jorge Luis Borges, some of his works can be found here.

…I was just there…

Erik Desmazieres’ illustration of Borges’ Library of Babel (courtesy of funambulist)

Library of Babel. This image I share with all of you who are convinced that the written word is at the center of our lives and a library houses the efforts of all people who share your convictions…J.L. Borges called it Library of Babel.

Here is a two minute sound clip featuring Borges’ description from The Library of Babel:

If you tried to call his work based upon themes, you would have to include dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors–the stuff that provides portals to the madness of existence–the madness of questions some of us ask, some of us become obsessed and others by the grace of God, never even think of–so, some of you would be better off not reading any further.
In one of his stories, most often quoted, analyzed, The Garden of Forking Paths, he takes the reader on a garden journey wherein movement through a labyrinth is required, however the labyrinth folds back in on itself through networks of time, none of which are the same, all of which are equal, an infinite regression.
The concept itself is incredible and the masterful skill of writing that creates the experience–beyond words. Fantastic writing, fantastic imagination–and you must ask yourself upon reading that–you must ask yourself where did I come from, where am I going and what is this thing we call life.
But it all starts with books because books, like gardens…always take you…somewhere unexpected…if you let them. Libraries, gardens, landscapes…what more could you want? And Borges is supreme at enticing his reader into the garden, as in this 4 minute sound clip:

But there is too often a dreary end to existential inquiry–I prefer the garden, or a walk out into the landscape–places where discovery captivates, enthuses.
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In the garden just like every book, just like every piece of music--in the garden are discoveries to be made--portals with thresholds waiting to be crossed--it is up to you.

In the garden just like every book, just like every piece of music–in the garden are discoveries to be made–portals with thresholds waiting to be crossed–it is up to you.

Plants: how do they inspire you?

Please answer that question in the comments below, because on the last day of this International Authors’ Day Blog Hop, I will randomly select a winner to receive The 23 Club, Beta 6, a free giveaway for your reading enjoyment.

The 23 Club (Beta 06)

Table of Contents

  1. Desertification
  2. It’s 2AM
  3. Spike Lounge
  4. The Walk
  5. Rub Al Khali Coastal
  6. Rub Al Khali Inland
  7. Liwa Qsar
  8. The Plant Nursery
  9. Tamarind Gardens
  10. Library Majlis
  11. Villa Patio
  12. Long and Short
  13. Pilgrimage
  14. Wanderweg

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Landscape Story–what is it?

International Authors' DayBetween 14-18 July 2015, on each day, I will be making a post in celebration of International Authors’ Day, featuring review of works by Kenneth Grahame, J.L. Borges and Algernon Blackwood, authors whose works have been formative inspirations for me.

These posts will be made as part of a Blog Hop as can be seen and visited through the links at the bottom of each post.

 

 

Today is 14July2015.

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Landscape Story–what is it?
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These landscape stories are classic quests–journeys. Maybe a landscape story should start with some context, some definition.

On the earth, humans see the surface and what they see is landscape. The difference between landscape and garden is that a garden is cultivated by humans, is protected by humans and is relatively safe from threats of death to humans. Whereas in the larger landscape, the threat of death, by other life forms including humans, known or unknown, may be just ‘around the corner’, or even ‘in your face’.

Myself, I always have looked at it like this from a larger historical perspective: in the beginning humans moved in the landscape–hunting and gathering, I think is the currently popular way to describe their activities. When humans found the dangers in the landscape, when they found the threat of death in the landscape too great, they built shelters–the realm of architects today, shelters.

Then humans put fences around their shelters, cultivated plants and called those outdoor areas, gardens. Gardens are places dominated by plants, places where humans offer some personal service to plants. Gardens are places relatively safe from the danger of death. In the garden, there is protection. In the garden, the intense human energy for self defense can be suspended, enabling finer instincts of humans to be accessed.

Gardens and landscapes both are essentially the environment of plants. And plants  are the domain where the most dynamic interactions remain to be discovered by humans. Landscape stories explore dynamic interactions between humans and plants in gardens and landscapes.

A landscape story moves beyond furniture and setting. The plants, gardens and landscapes begin to have lives of their own…kind of like real life…and beyond. In the works of literature, arts and music, plants, gardens and landscapes have forever been the source of seemingly unlimited human inspirations. Of particularly rich inspirations for me have been works by Kenneth Grahame, by Algernon Blackwood, by J.L. Borges. Inspirations of sensual thresholds, of emotion, of intellect, of design, of beauty, of spirit, of existential uncertainty, of connecting essence, of source, of…

In The 23 Club, Erik Chalmers, a landscape architect, follows his obsession to build beautiful and captivating gardens in strange places…this time to the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula. On his way, he stops over in Bahrain and, in a kismet moment, bumps into an old friend, Jean-Claude Thibaut.

Jean-Claude Thibaut, an ethnobotanist, was born in the Belgian Congo and had built his career around exploring ‘borderline’ human cultures, Bedu, Gypsies, Berbers and their interactions with plants and landscapes. Erik finds out that Jean-Claude had recently been to the Empty Quarter to advise an Emirati on his masters thesis–a study of how people from the Liwa Oasis traditionally used plants in their extremely arid sand desert environment.

In the following 4 minute sound clip, Jean-Claude explains some of the unmappable experiences he had during his nine months driving everyday from Abu Dhabi to the Liwa Oasis, in the heart of the Empty Quarter–the very location of Erik’s new Liwa Qsar project, a five star resort destination series of courtyard gardens.

Then there is another facet to these landscape stories. They are fiction, but they use geography, history and botany to give the stories some ‘real life’ anchors, as in the following three minute clip where Erik Chalmers and Jean-Claude discuss the Spice Route over a plate of biryani at a truck stop in the middle of the ‘almost’ Empty Quarter.

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…inspiration…

…where is it…

Plants: how do they inspire you?
Please answer that question because on the last day of this International Authors’ Day Blog Hop, I will randomly select a winner to receive The 23 Club, Beta 6, a free giveaway for your reading enjoyment.

International Authors’ Day

International Authors' DayBetween 14-18 July 2015, on each day, I will be making a post in celebration of International Authors’ Day, featuring reviews of works by Kenneth Grahame, J.L. Borges and Algernon Blackwood, authors whose works have been formative inspirations for me.

These posts will be made as part of a Blog Hop as can be seen and visited through the links at the bottom of each post.

Also at the bottom of each post please find the giveaway question:

Plants: how do they inspire you?

Please answer that question in the comments section. On the last day of this International Authors’ Day Blog Hop, I will randomly select a winner to receive The 23 Club, Beta 6, a free giveaway for your reading enjoyment

Landscape Story–what is it?

14July 2015

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On Ecology–Kenneth Grahame

15July2015

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Landscape Mysteries–Algernon Blackwood

16July2015

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Existential Garden Visits–JL Borges

17July2015

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The 23 Club, Beta 6 Giveaway

18July2015

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In The 23 Club, Erik Chalmers, a landscape architect, follows his obsession to build beautiful and captivating gardens--this time to The Empty Quarter.

In The 23 Club, Erik Chalmers, a landscape architect, follows his obsession to build beautiful and captivating gardens–this time to The Empty Quarter.

Humans Need Not Apply

And then, what?

Easy, humans will have more time in the landscape, in gardens, with plants, exploring, asking… Older, forgotten knowledge, accessible via plants, will be re-learned.

And what have we forgotten? Perhaps you will share with me?

PS And maybe we will have enough time to have measured discussion on…say… the difference between a republic and democracy, or…how to balance individual freedom with personal, local and national security? 😉 But what does that have to do with plants?