Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


We can afford...better gifts

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I love the holidays. The cooler air, the smell of pine, and all the food in family gatherings, but what I don't like as much is the strange pressure to purchase little trinkets or large, grand gifts so our loved ones know they're remembered.

Giving is a great feeling, but don't you ever find yourself wondering if spending for stuff that people might not even need is the best way to show your appreciation? If all the things we spend on are really worth it?

Those questions, and many others about our current culture of consumerism, bubbled to the surface while I was leafing through Los Angeles artist Bonnie Ebner's "We can afford better" at the Ooga Twooga's Artist’s Books and Cookies event early this year.

Ebner paired a commercial quality natural photographs with tired marketing slogans we're constantly exposed to and the result is pure provocation. These marketing call to actions to buy, to gratify, are turned on their heads because of the beautiful, pristine images in their background. Ebner's book was beautiful and tragic at the same time.

Copyright 2014, Bonnie Ebner, used with permission

Copyright 2014, Bonnie Ebner, used with permission

Copyright 2014, Bonnie Ebner, used with permission

So, this holiday season, instead of taking out our wallets and succumbing to what sociologist Marcel Mauss identified as the threefold nature of gifting (or what I call the gift's vicious circle)--in which gifting involves an obligation to give, to accept, and to reciprocate--let's figure out what other immaterial gifts can result in happier, more precious holidays, whose memories will last long after the last trace of pine waft out of our living rooms.

In case some of you are interested in copies of Bonnie's book. Please get in touch with her using her website's contact form.


How the Dutch got their amazing cycling infrastructure

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

We have two bicycles in our apartment. It sits comfortably on a bike stand indoors, but only one ever makes it out on a regular basis. Why? Because despite the many strides in alternative transportation in Los Angeles, cycling is still a scary prospect, especially for those who aren't proficient bikers.

I'm one of the former. My husband is the latter. On the tight cycling paths, I find myself wobbling and imagining gruesome deaths by swooping cars just inches to my left. The city is getting better at promoting cycling, however, as I write this they're overhauling a small 0.5-mile path just outside my home to make room for a wider cycling path and next year, much to my excitement, CicLAvia, a popular car-free event in the city will be coming to my neighborhood! No need to take the Red Line to wherever CicLAvia has opted to set up. Despite these good news, I still find myself wishing for a more secure, segregated bike paths that are physically separated from the cars, but I'll take what I can get.

In the meantime, I shouldn't lose hope. Change comes not because of one event, but multiple confluences. In Netherlands, their amazing cycling culture was borne out of an cramped city infrastructure that couldn't handle a large motorized vehicle volume, an oil crisis, and also an alarming surge of cycling deaths. This gave rise to citizens who clamored for change and kept at it.

Here's a great video found via Root Simple:

Many cities might share the same problems, but the lesson here for me, is that without political will coming from the people themselves, there can be no change. In Los Angeles, we are building that political will. It has already resulted in major strides in pro-cycling and pedestrian policies, but we still have much more room to improve.

But, if the Dutch can do it, so can any city right? All we need is to want it and to say it, loudly and consistently.


Layered Histories in Kreuzberg

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Until now, I find myself looking back at the moment I found this in Berlin. It wasn't a Cold War era building or a classical government structure, but it was something better, I thought. It was signs of life.

Berlin is a strange city, filled with so much character. On one hand, it is ground zero for much of Cold War era politicking. Yet, it is also the sandbox of creativity thanks to low, low rents and a young creative population. It was the latter that fascinated me and also the latter that eluded me.

Here, in these layered posters, I saw clues that something came before. Epic nights occurred and once-in-a-lifetime memories were made. In reality, they were just concert posters plastered one over the other in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, but I saw more. I love the beautifully curling of paper pasted upon paper, much like memories layer over us again and again, creating a unique whole.


Beautiful Ruins

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

We are all in pursuit of a kind of perfection, but there is also beauty in imperfection, perhaps even more. A walk around St. Andrew's in Scotland confirms that.

In St. Andrew's so many remains of buildings can be seen, a skeleton of its former glory, framed in the windswept Scottish sky--nature's glory juxtaposed with the crumbling work of man had. It was breathtaking, to say the least. It was poetic, a timely reminder, that we may do all we can to uplift our standing in life, but inevitably all that fades away.

St. Andrew's Cathedral
The arched entry to the Cathedral Priory
More of St. Andrew's Cathedral with the gardens growing around it
St. Andrew's Castle. Its brick and mortar growing around green.


Edinburgh's Castles and Churches

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I noticed that in Edinburgh, their big monuments aren't pristine and perfect. Like the city, it's worn and obviously loved. The stones aren't white or beige; they look as if they've gone through a bit of fire. Or is that centuries of water build up?

Either way, its rough and tumble majesty reminds me a lot of the city itself. It's beautiful, in a wild way. As if it had gone through centuries of triumph and tribulation and it's still standing.

The Scotsman Hotel was the first thing that caught my eye as we got out of the train station. It's been around since 1900. It was the home for a newspaper operation and then turned into a hotel.
The Edinburgh Wheel and the Edinburgh Castle behind it.
St. Giles' Cathedral and its recognizable crown spire


Dawn at Cambridge

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

One of my favorite memories of Cambridge was getting up early in the morning and exploring the little town. Unlike big cities, a place like Cambridge seems to sleep. As my sister and I walked up and down the cobbled roadways in the deserted town, a few trucks passed by, a few cyclists whizzed past, but finally, we had time to really look at our surroundings and peruse the small window shops.

The Round Church
A mishmash of architectural styles.
Pretty deserted
We noticed the emblems festooned on the historic buildings. We finally got a chance to photograph the chair leg that replaced King Henry VIII's scepter at Trinity College. We traded stories with a lovely baker, who pointed us in the direction of the Bridge of Sighs.

An idyllic River Cam scene
Even the rain gutters had emblems
The king's "scepter"
Simon, the baker, who helped us find our way
The inside of the Bridge of Sighs. We got it all to ourselves!
In the hour or so that my sister and I were out, we talked, we strolled, we bonded. It was perfect. It could have happened anywhere, I suppose, but I'd like to think the roads of Cambridge were perfect for strengthening some sisterly bonds. It was well worth the sudden urge to nap I got at mid-day.


Punting isn't kicking

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Until I got to Cambridge, the only punting I knew was in sports. In England, it's apparently a peaceful recreational activity where one makes the like the gondolier of Venice and steers a flat-bottomed vessel across a quiet river.

Punting basics. Photo by: Cathie Jao-Sevilla.
My former professor assumed his teaching role once again in this instance and took me, my two sisters and his friend out on the River Cam, to teach us the finer points of navigating this boat.

Punting didn't seem difficult. As we stood by the port where many boats were moored, I saw many tour guides expertly chat and let their poles slide down to the riverbed, steering the punt in the process. As with many things in life, first impressions aren't always the right ones.

A punt up close. Photo by: Cathie Jao-Sevilla.
Part of learning to punt is going against your gut. The designated driver stands at the back of the punt with an hollow aluminum pole in his hand. To move the punt, the driver has to let the pole slide through his hands until it reaches the river bed and then push off. To steer, the pole then has to float in the water in the opposite direction he would like the punt to go. It's counter-intuitive, I know, which is what caused so much trouble in the first place.

Figuring out the right way.
At first, I was too hesitant. I feared falling off the punt by applying too much energy while pushing off the pole. Thus, we moved at a heartbreakingly slow pace. It was arguably fun for my passengers; they could sit and watch the idyllic scenery. It wasn't as satisfying for me to see the snail's pace I've set. Eventually, I got the hang of it and added a bit more energy to it, but the end of the river trail was still so far away in my mind.

The other problem was figuring out which direction to go toward, and telling my arms to maneuver the pole appropriately. Because the procedure was opposite of what came naturally, I inadvertently let my pole wander in strange directions, setting us off in new paths. Sometimes, we would create traffic jams and we brushed passed other punts with punters in training. At that point, my passengers would just give the nearby boat a good heave-ho to untangle our mess.

By the end of the short, but internally thrilling ride, I was sweating and my arms were tired from picking up the pole from the river. It was quite a workout.

If I weren't driving, it would have been quite peaceful. The punts are perfect for small picnics. As the punt moved gently across the water, it afforded us views of Trinity College, the Bridge of Sighs and the Mathematical Bridge we wouldn't have been able to see on foot.

Approaching sights from the River Cam.
The Mathematical Bridge is arched but is made up of straight timbers.
Gliding along the water, I realized how important pace was to life and how it colors every experience. Walking would have given one time to appreciate details, but gliding gave us time and also a strange experience of constant movement. It was unsettling in a way that made me appreciate the same view in a new way.

Have you ever experienced an old place with new eyes just by changing the way you encounter it?

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