Jun 24, 2011

Ephemera Europa I

I've realized lately, why I write a blog. It's a way I have to rake my hands through the passing sands of time, to gauge and really feel their flow. It's a way to record time and feel its passage in a meaningful way. When I write, I have to remember what I have seen and done, and somewhere in my head it really happens again. Memories are not like watching a movie of a past event, they are the reliving of that past event in a very real but intangible way. When I write, I remember, I reflect, and reconstruct. But it also distorts. Since words are definite, the way I recall my memories and write them, changes them, since the power of language and words alters the thing itself. The more firmly you grasp a memory, the more distorted it becomes, hewing more closely to the words you pick and the structure and tone you use. Even the frame of mind of recalling a memory colors it. But, I'd rather have a distorted memory than a purer one which fades away with time.

That said, I wish I blogged more on the road in Europe. At this point, now all I have are moments, stories of varying degrees of truth.

Hmmm my most memorable moments from Europe:

I met Saori for the first time in six months in front of the train station in Helsinki. It was the famous one, designed by the elder Saarinen, with its neo-gothic statues holding globes of light. The outdoor bus terminal was in the adjoining plaza, which is where I was dropped off after a short ride in from the airport. I'd been listening to Agnes Obel and watching the forest of birch trees go by in the twilight hours of the summer in the far north of our planet. It doesn't really get dark until about midnight. I'd called her as soon as I'd gotten on the bus, to let her know I was on my way in. The plaza was filled with people. Surprisingly bustling, even at 10 o'clock at night. And really, why not? The light was good, the weather mild, and it was, after all, in the heart of Helsinki. With my oversized backpack, I looked around for her, and finally spotted her coming out of the train station. We had agreed to meet at the main entry; well, there are actually three main entries to the train station, so it took her some time to find the one I was at. I wasn't sure how I'd feel. I was worried it would be weird to spend time with her again, after so long apart. To my relief, it wasn't. We were both different people, but only slightly different, and we both happily slipped into our old roles together. Holding hands, we walked out of the plaza to a nearby bar where she bought me my first drink in Helsinki, a Karhu III olut, a local beer. The bar was outside, in a sort of large covered pavilion. The colored neon lights tinted the wooden table and benches yellow, red, and blue. It was a heady moment, I had my whole trip ahead of me, with Saori, nearly three weeks of adventure, and a week and a half to have Saori show me around Helsinki. There is something magical and breathless about the moment you really arrive, with the whole trip in front of you, waiting.

The next day, we were eating at Cafe Ursula, an expensive but great cafe which sat on the far end of one of the main peninsulas of the city, in a beautiful park overlooking the Baltic sea. It stood by itself, a small but elegant building, with a massive shade sail providing cover to the outdoor tables. It was a brilliant summer day, and we enjoyed traditional Finnish fare such as salmon on rye bread. The gulls kept trying to get at our food, but the crisp air tinted by the nearby sea, the sun, and the greenery all around made me really happy to be there at that particular moment.

Notes from the Asteroidtukee

First, a book review.

I just finished reading Manifold Time by Steven Baxter. I rolled my eyes through the whole thing. It reads like Baxter tried to fit everything he ever read in the physics section of Barnes&Noble into a single novel. No stone lies unturned, or experiment unrepeated or remarked upon by frankly unbelievable characters in a very loose plot which, it seems, was simply there to hang the experimental physics together. The whole thing is throughly drenched with quasi-philosophical ruminations on fate, spirituality, morality, etc. etc. There's even a re-creation of the end of 2001 a Space Odyssey. The only thing that made me keep turning pages was to get to the end of time, a depiction of the heat death of the universe. If you're going to write an end of the world-beginning of a new world book, you could probably do much better, or at least not use the "brilliant children transcending humankind" plot device used by several other authors, including Arthur C. Clarke. If you want to write about the end of the world, I much prefer Douglass Adams approach, which involves the complete annihilation of Earth in the first twenty pages in about four sentences. So. Not impressed. At least it means I can skip the other dozen books in the Time series.

I'm firmly entrenched in Ahawatukee at this point in the summer. I have my old job back at the architecture office  I used to work at, Saori is here with me, and so is Suki. We're all living in my mom's house on a distant asteroid roughly orbiting several thousand miles from Phoenix. Getting my job back was actually the easiest part.

We landed back in Phoenix a week back from last Wednesday. Thursday, I sent a note to the HR guy at the office, not really expecting much, but following up on the possibility that I might be able to get some CA time in doing some punch list work up on a project I'd spent a few years working on. Maybe two weeks of work. I got an encouraging response. Two emails later he asked me to show up for work on Monday.

The hard part was actually getting to work. The asteroid this house is on is only tenuously connected to the earth. There is nothing out here but barren rock and the harsh sunlight. Mom commutes to her summer school program by a tiny personal craft, which can only accommodate two passengers. The viciousness of space travel such as they are, there is only room for the pilot, one passenger, and enough oxygen to last the gut wrenching ride out of orbit into the city. There is however, a shuttle which runs from a hub on the planet-facing side of the asteroid. Two miles of scorched rock buffeted by harsh solar winds, no atmosphere. A local  transport does make the rounds, its spindly form crawling over the face of the rock, but it only runs every hour, ferrying the few space cadets on duty patrolling this desolate world.

Lately, mom's been taking her tiny craft short hops to drop me at the trans-planetary hub. The shuttle makes quick work of deep space, with a regular launch schedule, it screams through the atmosphere, bypassing commercial and residential traffic with its special clearances. From the landing pad on earth it is only about a fifteen minute walk to my workplace.

So, I've got this hourly job. I work about 9 hours a day, four days a week. I negotiated Friday off since, if I'm only coming in for four hours, it just doesn't make sense to spend two hours in transit. So far, I've done some coordination work for fire protection, designed a wall which probably will never get built for a pediatric dentistry wing, for kids to look at while in the dentist chairs, and modeled and updated the more typical dental chairs based on the approved basis of design model chair.

People seemed happy and surprised to see me back at work. I actually blended in so well, it took people awhile to realize I was actually back in the office. There were a lot of double-takes. It was a bit last minute, decided upon on a friday to have me come in monday, so few people were expecting it. They actually have an ASU intern already.

I know I've only worked four days, but I am so happy I decided not to work fridays. This whole work thing, it just steals time from you. The office has changed so little since I left. In the professional world I left, a year is a grain of sand in the glass, a blink. In the academic world of studio, a year is a transformation, an endeavor, a journey, an ordeal. If you want it to be, that is. The professional world is a single small flame on a very large candle, the academic; fireworks.

Jun 1, 2011

Nordic Ninjas and Finnish Meatballs

This morning, we hauled a giant box of Saori's clothes to the post office and mailed it to the US. It was the hottest day of the season so far, and the tourists and natives were out in force for the warm sunshine. We stopped at the Russian Orthodox church for a quick peek, surrounded by throngs of buzzing tourists who were happily snapping away ignoring the "no photography" icons everywhere. The chruch interior was not that impressive, I have to say, not nearly as impressive as the creative and beatuiful brickwork which made up the exterior. There was something about the simple material of the humble red brick, which cut, mitered, and moulded in various forms and laid in various bonds that created an awesome, elegant classical Russian church. The red brick really set off the green patina of the copper roof and the bright brassy gold of the onion domes and crosses.

After hiking back to Saori's apartment, we ate breakfast, cleaned up, packed up, and moved our convoy of luggage across town to a classmate of Saori's. Because Saori is staying later than the contract with her landlady, we found it cheaper to temporarily live in one of her classmate's studio's who will be staying for much longer. It's a different part of the city, so it feels more like a hotel than the very lived in feel of Saori's apartment.

This afternoon, we stopped for a light lunch of goat cheese and fig salad at Nolla, a really cool restraunt and bar close to kamppi. Finnish designer chairs and light fixtures, good food, and apparently it becomes a DJ'd dance club thursday through saturday nights.

After Nolla, we walked towards the church in the rock, one of the main tourist destinations in Helsinki. Since Saori has been here, it has been closed for remodeling, cleaning, whatever, but as we approached, the tourist busses lined up in front gave us a good idea that this was no longer the case. The church itself is a broad round space, enircled by the rough granite walls which rise all the way up to the ceiling. It was originally a granite stone mound, which had the church literally blasted into it. The entire space is capped with a shallow dome created from dozens of concrete spokes radiating away from the center of the dome. Glass between the copper roof and the rock walls allows light to to fall all around the perimeter.

Our next stop was a quick spin through the Finnish national musuem, which related a chronicle of the Finns living quietly and peacefully in ancient forests and tranquil lakes and rivers until western civilization in the form of the Sweedes, the Holy Church, and the Russians pretty much put made it a ragdoll in a three-way tug of war for most of recorded history. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we got to more contemporary history, where silent, fast, white coated Finnish ski patrols took out Russian troops like a nordic ninjas.

It was a bit early for dinner when they kicked us out of the museum, so we stopped for a drink at a cafe in Chiasma, the iconic Holl project. My throat's been bothering me since I've been having some drainage issues and I got some tea to help soothe my throat. Afterwards, we walked over to Kuukuu for the Nice Helsinki Dinner. KuuKuu was the restaurant that Saori's architecture studio went to after final reviews, and apparently many of the big names in Finnish design also walked through the door while they were there. I ordered the Finnish meatballs and a glass of pinot noir, and Saori got the pan-seared liver. The meatballs were delicious. Best meatballs I've ever had. Served with gravy, lingonberries, and mashed potatoes, it compares to Ikea's dish like Ikea's furnature compares to the original scandinavian furnature designers'. Amazing. We finished the meal with the traditional Finnish desert of chocolate lava cake. Also, rather delicious.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende