jeweled platypus


tuesday, march 25, 2008
The delights of smoggy San Pedro

Doug and I like to make up for my environmentally-conscious lifestyle by going on long driving adventures, and on Saturday we went to the Port of Los Angeles. It’s a nice place for people who are fascinated by cranes, containers, trains, ships, bridges, giant utilitarian machines of all kinds, decaying buildings, rust, and many other things that are nice to look at in contrast to computer screens.

a first view of the port, from the freeway

a view from the freeway of a strange round structure

looking at red and blue cranes over the water

a street lined with palm trees and cranes a bnsf engine and a santa fe engine

warehouse number one and some tanks

cranes, water, containers, and smog

a train and a stop sign as the sun set

Then we headed back to Santa Barbara and Doug accidentally explored back roads outside of Palmdale while I squinted at the moon in an effort to study my nearsightedness.

Other things: There’s going to be a National Geographic miniseries about this port starting on April 6 (PDF press release). Here is a review of a book about containerization. We aren’t anywhere as cool as Sevensixfive, who traveled on a container ship. And this is an excellent container disaster. More, from Lemonodor: a Center for Land Use Interpretation tour of the port in spring 2005 and the blog of that miniseries, “America’s Port”.

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wednesday, march 05, 2008
The Haberdashery Castle via Sebald

I’m making a Google Lit Trip (a Google Earth .kmz file) that traces the first chapter of The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald, and looking up a passing reference from page 4 in order to provide some background information turned out to be rather fun. Sebald likes to do that with his allusions; he’s a sneaky guy. This is the relevant part of my map, with a quote from the book:

screenshot of this section of the map

That château mentioned by the narrator seems to be a real place in Charente, France: Château de La Mercerie, a pastiche of classical architecture that includes replicas of the columns and balustrades of Versailles.

Château de La Mercerie

The story of “the little Versailles charentais or the mad dream of the brothers Réthoré” could be its own Sebaldian sidetrack. Here’s part of one version by people trying to get it renovated, translated from French by the Google monkey:

Thanks to the generosity of an uncle, Raymond and Alphonse Réthoré settle at The Haberdashery in 1924 in the small nineteenth century manor situated at the extreme left of the facade of the present building. ¶ In the thirties, the two brothers are undertaking the expansion of the castle under the direction of Alfonso who renounces his medical studies to concentrate on the architecture.

In 1932, Raymond became mayor of Magnac. He was elected Popular Front on a list radical Socialist…leads a life of unrepentant traveler…During the pomp, construction, and the accumulation of treasures, including paintings by Italian masters, marble, wood and statuary, have become the main occupations of the two brothers. ¶ In 1970, the work has been halted for lack of resources…In 1983, Alphonse dies, then Raymond in 1986. ¶ Three million arrears to the tax authorities, threatening to arrest enforceable, inheritance nightmarish: an auction is organized…

There are still many natives of the region who come to pray at the graves of Raymond and Alphonse Réthoré…The walk is not only Sunday, it reflects the excitement, pleasure confessed and acknowledged those who one day casually meet the mad dream Réthoré brothers. ¶ In the same way that we built the Folies the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, extravagance mégalomaniaque dedicated to pleasure and culture of our past, should not she not come back in the open division and commit accessibility to all in the adventure of our time?

another view

A few pages later in The Emigrants the narrator says, “As long as the weather permitted, Dr Selwyn liked to be out of doors, and especially in a flint-built hermitage in a remote corner of the garden, which he called his folly and which he had furnished with the essentials.” Sebald includes a picture, perhaps of it:

a picture of a folly from page 11

Understanding W. G. Sebald by Mark McCulloh provides an initial analysis of this theme as part of his discussion of a different allusion: “Such ‘follies’ — gardens, monuments, temples, palaces — are perhaps both the natural creation of a subconscious utopian drive as well as a manifestation of man’s tendency to repress transience and mortality” (30). Sounds good to me.

If you’re still curious, The Emigrants Project is my group’s description of why we’re mapping this book for our Cross-Disciplinary Models of Literary Interpretation class, taught by Alan Liu in the English department. In a week or two we’ll make the finished Google Earth files available so that people can download them and mess around.

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I’m Britta Gustafson.

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