jeweled platypus


monday, september 10, 2007
Getting sunburns while nerding out in Marin

Doug and I spent most of Labor Day exploring the Marin Headlands (aerial picture). I visited Rodeo Beach a long time ago and adored it because its sand consists of tiny colorful stones, but this time I skipped the beach and we headed to the military ruins.

Doug wandering around the concrete near the ocean.

One of the informative plaques said:

Battery O’Rorke

Construction of Battery O’Rorke was begun in 1902 and completed in 1905. The fortification was named for Patrick Henry O’Rorke, who had become a colonel at the age of 27. He was killed in action at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

During both World Wars, this battery housed 4 guns with 3″ diameter rifled barrels. Each weapon could fire shells weighing 15 pounds a distance of almost 5 miles. These small guns were important because they could be loaded and fired more rapidly than larger weapons. They were located here to prevent enemy landings on Rodeo Beach.

Battery O’Rorke was abandoned and its guns scrapped in 1946.

There are a bunch of these concrete-and-iron fortifications hiding in the hills (including some neat bits like base end stations), which watched the quiet bay until they became obsolete. You can wander around most of these bunkers and peek inside the rusting doors and crumbling tunnels — plenty of adventure while knowing that anything actually dangerous has been fenced off, repaved, or sold for scrap metal. I like seeing how the iron is rusting and how the dusty old designers planned for the future.

The red and white buildings in the distance.

There are also a ton of old wooden fort buildings, beautiful and mostly empty. Some are being restored and retrofitted, some hold art centers and museums, and some are decaying and closed. I love the empty ones; they make me wonder why they were built, what they used to hold, who used to hang out there, and what I could use them for in some post-apocalyptic scenario where I am in charge of the world. Some of the structures have neat graffiti, too.

The roofless room of some old structure.

Update October 18, 2007: BLDGBLOG reminds me that The Rings of Saturn, one of my favorite books, expresses those thoughts much better than I could:

These abandoned weapons testing ranges, complete with odd concrete structures, Sebald writes, looked like “the tumuli in which the mighty and powerful were buried in prehistoric times with all their tools and utensils, silver and gold…the closer I came to these ruins, the more any notion of a mysterious isle of the dead receded, and the more I imagined myself amidst the remains of our own civilization after its extinction in some future catastrophe.”

For Sebald, “wandering about among heaps of scrap metal and defunct machinery, the beings who had once lived and worked here were an enigma, as was the purpose of the primitive contraptions and fittings inside these bunkers, the iron rails under the ceilings, the hooks on the still partially tiled walls, the showerheads the size of plates, the ramps and the soakaways.”

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sunday, august 26, 2007
The scientific odd is another market niche

Paxton Gate is next to the pirate store at 826 Valencia, and it sells supplies for your garden and your cabinet of curiosities. So it has a lot of things I like:

two little bonsai trees, with price tags

a mirror picture of me wearing a shirt with a snake skeleton on it

The only problem with seeing a bunch of my aesthetic interests in one place is re-encountering the fact that I’m not terribly special, but I like that kind of problem. It is nice to belong to a city.

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sunday, august 05, 2007
Things I found at the bookstore

Poking around William Stout Architectural Books, I picked up Representing the Passions because “passion” is a loaded word and the cover looked pretty, and I skipped to “Observations on the Natural History of the Web” by Horst Bredekamp, which traces a connection between early modern engravings of personified Nature (including the Leviathan) and late-90’s net art gardens: Nerve Garden, TechnoSphere, and Life Spacies II. I like that connection, and it reminds me of the plant-related net art that Petra Cortright has made recently. Horst Bredekamp has also written a book titled The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine: The Kunstkammer and the Evolution of Nature, Art, and Technology, which means that he is my kind of academic.

Then I flipped around in a big square book of public art, and I liked this gilded staircase in New York:

a gilded staircase in an old concrete bridge structure

The typography books were generally bland, but Dimensional Typography included amusing bits like “The circumflex and the circumcision are both forms of marking. The three-dimensional extrapolation of the circumflex reveals a distinct homology.” and a connection between crowns of thorns and rhizomes.

When I saw Art Deco Bookbindings on a shelf, I knew I would like the subject:

a blue and yellow cover with a house

There’s more here; most of it is nicely geometric, and I especially like the typographic ones near the end.

Then I looked at the industrial design books and found a neat ad:

a comparison of flowers and glasses of similar shapes

It reminds me of The Architecture of Happiness, page 86:

masculine and feminine glasses

The next page continues, “If we can judge the personality of objects from apparently minuscule features…it is because we first acquire this skill in relation to humans, whose characters we can impute from microscopic aspects of their skin tissue and muscle,” which goes back to the book about passion, since it included an essay about systematized representations of strong emotion in faces. Books are annoyingly physical objects though, so I can’t re-read it right now and include more detail. Of course, the most annoying thing is that the contents of books can’t be bookmarked on, so I have to write something about them.

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thursday, july 12, 2007
Dense and mixed, tense and unequal, mostly yummy

These are tiny impressions of some places within walking distance that I’ve visited in the past couple weeks:

Little Otsu
I liked browsing through their quirky notecards, vegan wallets, handmade books, and arty branded t-shirts, but I didn’t have a reason to buy anything. That might have crossed the line into too much hipster anyway.
This cutesy gifts/clothes/useless junk/etc. store lacked the moleskine that I wanted but has a sizeable selection of greeting and note cards, one of which will be mailed to my sister in the Peace Corps in Mongolia when I figure out the right postage.
Taqueria La Cumbre, Pancho Villa Taqueria, Taqueria Can-Cun
Tasty burrito with grilled vegetables, a lovely sauce, and cashews. Dry veggie burrito with stringy broccoli. Delicious soft veggie burrito with hot salsa. To be continued.
Pork Store Cafe
I’m vegetarian and Doug is omnivorous with an emphasis on meat, so when he visited last weekend I couldn’t resist taking him here. It was nice and neighborhood-y on a Saturday afternoon, and our veggie scrambles (plus bacon for him) were greasy and good.
Tartine Bakery
This French bakery’s reputation means a long line and endless debates over whether it’s worth the wait. I don’t know; I ate a couple of their cookies and liked them.
City Art Gallery
This is friendly, accessible art and some of it is nice: understated urban photo prints, modernish feminist watercolors, wacky thick oil paintings, art glass, linocut prints, chunky jewelry, etc. Like all college students, someday I will move up from grabbing promotional postcards to buying stuff.
New College
I haven’t been inside here, but I got curious about the bright green buildings and found out that the college has a rather interesting history of scandal and dissent. It’s even on probation for its accreditation.
Bombay Ice Creamery
My rose and cardamom ice cream insisted a little too much on the rose flavoring, but I’ll be back for the plain cardamom ice cream. I adore cardamom. I like rose too, but I don’t need to taste like perfume. With ginger ice cream and more, this place might satisfy my taste for weird sweets like Sheng Kee Bakery did last summer.

I like this neighborhood — it’s part of what a city should be, and I have fifty more places to try in the next two months.

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saturday, august 26, 2006
Real frogs and turtles for a day

I went to the Academy of Sciences today because I like natural history museums. This one is much more kid-friendly than the Santa Barbara one, making it somewhat less Britta-friendly, but I liked it anyway. There were lots of interesting little creatures on display.

pretty poison

My favorite animals are the ones I remember from playing Amazon Trail II. I somehow learned a lot from that game, both while “exploring the rainforest” and “fishing” — I’m sure I could still identify pixelly macaws, termites, coral snakes, howler monkeys, taro root, etc. I learned the silhouettes of dozens of small and giant fishes as I caught them for my food. And now, I like this frog not only because it looks awesome, but because it was part of a mini-game inside an old CD-ROM I played until it got too scratched to work.

cute and wrinkly

I like turtles because they’re easy to make out of clay. But looking at real ones makes me realize that my little handmade ones are very stylized, and quite lame compared to these guys. This long-necked one was amazingly cute, as was the pancake turtle next door. My picture doesn’t capture its sweet wrinkles and joints and hands, or how it darts around with this head inches away from its body, poking in and out of leaves and gravel.

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I’m Britta Gustafson.

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