Saturday, October 6, 2007

GEOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHT SERIES! let's hear it for North-facing Waterfront Cities!

Ever notice yourself walking along the sea-wall of your favourite port, and thinking to your other self, “Hey! I’m always either facing West (as in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Tel Aviv etc), East (as in Boston, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Rio, etc) or South (Brighton, Liverpool, Marseille, Melbourne, Montevideo, Montreal, Toronto, Odessa etc?)” So why not take a holiday at a port city that faces North for a while. Here is a list of suggestions, and by no means do we imply that it is comprehensive. Part of the fun is trying to compile your own batch of favourite north-facing Waterfront cities. Everybody from Bono to Jane Goodall has his or her list. It’s all the RAGE!

1. Cleveland, Ohio. Metro Population: 2,931,774 Tallest Building: Key Tower (57 stories 947ft) Main Tourist Attraction: Rock-n-Roll Hall Fame; Key Tower, but if you are afraid of heights check out the several new sporting stadiums Cool Neighbourhood: The Flats Famous Children: Pere Ubu, Drew Carey

Cleveland has been the butt of many jokes down the years, with particular pride of place being the dismal performance of their sports teams. However, don’t let this stop you from enjoying some of the urban fabric. Cleveland is cool for simply not being mapped out like a grid—come and buy yourself a cappuccino in The Flats on Such-and-such Street (yes! There really is a street called that) and stroll through vast swathes of yesteryear in the form of 19th century industrial architecture in the brick shadows of a bye-gone sooty era.

Un-encumbered view of Canada across Lake Erie, often nice, snowy and freezing (as this 1937 aerial view shows)
Cons: Not enough aging rockers have died yet to make the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame worth it for the long haul

2. Alex, Egypt. Metro Population: 3,328,196 Tallest Building: Abu Al Abbas Mosque (293ft) Main Tourst Attraction: Cleopatra’s Needles (unfortunately one is in New York and the other is in London) so check out Abu al Abbas Mosque but if you are afraid of heights visit Alexandria football stadium or the place where the Lighthouse- one of the Ancient Wonders of the World used to stand
Cool Neighbourhood: The Royal (or Greek) Quarter, The Jewish district, The Coptic Area
Famous Children: Gamal Abdel Nasser (president) Omar Sharif (actor) Mohamed Al-fayad (owns Harrods, son Dodi died with princess Di)

Alex has been hip since before they even heard the word. In fact, it is probably where the word hip-replacement came from, since those early Egyptians were pretty mean medical researchers. Down the centuries, so many “scenes” have flourished in this city (bye-the way, nobody in Egypt calls it Alexandria, dude) that we don’t have time here to outline them all. Obviously there was the whole “Greek” scene led by Alexander the Great, who certain Brooklyn magazine editors would have you believe was the one and original hipster. For a while there was even a “Roman” scene that held up until what we guess you would call today more of an “Arab” scene. On top of all this there has been a “Coptic” wave as well as the Old (Orthodox) School. Either way, there is still plenty of historical remnants from the previous “scenes’ near Such-and-such Street (yes! there really is a street called that) to keep any Park Slope hipster digging the groove fashionably ahead of the archeologists.
My interest in this North-facing Waterfront city began after I met an Egyptian from Alex whose name was something like El Akbar Guadalopolopolous and I was immediately intrigued by his name before I had started thinking about the contents of this character. He explained his roots were from the ancient Greeks who had moved there a couple of millennia ago. Of course he couldn’t speak Greek anymore, and even if he could, any language buff could tell you that the modern lingo on the streets of Athens has kinda moved on since those days back when Alexander and his flaneurs were setting the tone on Maamoura beach.
Pros: Plenty of cafes and beaches
Cons: Habit of getting invaded by other civilizations. Very hot and sunny.

3. Havana, Cuba. Metro Population: 1,201,344 Tallest Buiding: Edificio FOCSA (27 stories, 402 ft, 1956) Main Tourist Attraction: Edificio FOCSA but if you're afraid of heights after hearing how somebody once died in the failed elevator [this is not a joke, although we try to keep things cheery here] try the illegal cock fights in Via Del Norte; also: hunting down the American Embassy can be kind of fun at times if you can't find the football stadium Cool Neighbourhood: Old Habana has very little air conditioning, try one of the new Wal-marts on the outskirts Famous Children: Diego Maradona is apparently responsible for a few of them, the Bacardi Brothers, the father of schlock-writer Anais Nin (a give-away upper class Cuban Establishment family name)

Havana life has changed a lot since the mid-fifties where you could just cruise over from Nassau-boy, Kingston-mon, or Corpus Christi-dude on your Boston Whaler and start ordering Bacardi and Cokes by the crate. See, Fidel Castro and his chums sent the Barcardi boys to Bermuda, and most of the intelligentsia and unintelligentsia to Miami after performing what was little more than a foxy Coup d’Etat, which is a very controversial word here for such an upbeat news source. [foxy?-ed] Fast forward fifty years and instead of Honolulu-fication we can see many of the same buildings along Such-and-such Street (yes! there really is a street called that) only they are just a bit older. Old Havana has tract after tract burgeoning with colonial structures in the Beaux Art and City Beautiful style –flaking at the cornices and balconies rusting through the stone. If you happen to enjoy smoking healthy tobacco and imagining you’re that Hemingway dood reflecting on life-exotic, this could be your scene. We sent our reporter Melissa Cartwright to investigate the sitch last April. Her longstanding memory was of waiting at the airport departure queue behind an arrogant young International Development student who had been volunteering for an NGO for like, no more than say--five days, wearing his Che Guevara shirt, Che Guevara cap, his Che Guevara badge sewn into his knapsack while smoking the most putrid-smelling of cigars as he bragged into his mobile phone to someone back home how he’d just met "Fidel’s..." barber.
Pros: Cheap cigars! Hurricanes more frequent and amplified; rum is almost free, they say
Cons: Very hot and sunny; “No, I will not tell you where they filmed the Buena Vista Social Club!

4. Hamburg, Germany.Metro Population: 1,715,392 Tallest Building: Ferrnsehturm Tower (918ft, 1968) Main Tourist Attraction: Ferrnsehturm Tower, or if you are afraid of heights try the two football stadiums Cool Neighbourhood: St-Pauli
Cool Football Team:
FC St-Pauli Cool Girl: St-Pauli Cool Beer: St-Pauli Girl Famous Children: Mendelssohn and Brahms both born here; Stanley Kubrick lived here a while

Hamburg, which might as well just be called St-Pauli to all intents and purposes, has got to be the most famous place in the world after the Beatles. I mean, who hasn’t ever heard of a hamburger? When I first moved to Britain as a child, I noticed people there would refer to these bun-bordered burnt thingies as beefburgers, giving rise to the wonder if there was ever such a place as Beefburg. Fact is, hamburgers were invented in Connecticut, USA while Hamburg is responsible for wiping out the entire German insurance industry in the great fire of 1842 and therefore giving rise to what we now call re-insurance underwriters (or risk-spreads, hedge funds, commercial paper or futures options, or okay, gambling syndicates) and a new design to put Venice and Amsterdam to shame.
Local Scourge
Right now Hamburg is seeing a resurgence of fake-hipsters, descending like culture-vultures in an effort to encompass themselves with all that this place encapsulates. They are obvious to spot, because they are dressed exactly like you. A good way to throw them off the scent and make them come up to you and meekly ask “Eh-eh-ex-cuse me? Do you—oo speak English?” (in order to send them in the opposite direction of the notorious St-Pauli district) is to wear a very old second-hand Hamburg SV football club shirt. Be careful if you're walking around St-Pauli with this shirt however, since St-Pauli has it’s own team and this would be considered taking a serious liberty on their home turf. However, you can’t wear a damb FC St-Pauli shirt otherwise every bloody fake-hipster in the world will be hanging off you trying to find their way to the Reeperbhan. Best to travel light, right?
Pros: Excellent choices in beer; lots of canals; it’s often nice, windy and rainy.
Cons: Fake-hipster junction. Not really north-facing; has no street they tend to call Such-and-such

5. Beirut, Lebanon. Metro Population: 1,500,000 and hiding
Tallest Building: Marina Tower (27 stories 496ft, 2006) Main Tourist Attraction: Marina Tower, or try the new football stadium if you are afraid of heights Cool Neighbourhood: the hotel district is probably your safest bet, and it is a bet Famous Children: Rawi Hage (the writer and artist now living in Montreal) Keanu Reeves (movies rights owner) Two members from surprisingly popular LA-based rock band System of a Down

Ok, so Beirut took a bit of a hit during summer 2006, and there has always been a bit of rivalry between the different sectarian interests living in the city, so you might just want to time your visit during a break in hostilities. No matter the issue of the day or which trendy band is using its name as an album title [see foto], no matter the side of the fence you are on, all Beirooties (as they are affectionately now known) love their city. Even in the heights of the civil war cab drivers would risk their lives to go score cigarettes for the distressed, yet still the whole while marveling at the natural Corniche, as the waterfront stretch is known (although some people call it Such-and-such street if the location is irrelevant to the story and they are in a hurry.) Certain detractors might be claiming Beirut has no right to be on this list, since it faces West. We agree, it is a bit tendentious of us to include it, but please, hold your indignant letters to our editor--it must be pointed out that the most famous stretch of the waterfront faces North. Don’t let the wilds of years past hold you back from missing out on one of the world’s most historical cities. Make no mistake, you might not come back, it's that wonderful. Or dangerous. Only a few minutes drive to the East you can find yourself high in the snowy alpine after spending the morning on a yacht. Why you would want to bother risking your life doing both on the same day is a mystery as deep as some of the archeology digs that abound the country- resplendent with legends, myths and heritage to remember.
Pros: Some locals still speak French, so you can order Dijon mustard on your fries; sometimes nice, cold, windy and rainy
Cons: Those pesky surface-to-air missiles that seem to be part of the urban fabric by being air-to-surface as well; Keanu Reeves worshipers; Often hot and sunny

DID NOT MAKE THE LIST: Gdansk, Cartagena, Auckland, Hong Kong, Rochester NY, San Juan PR, Calais, Amsterdam, Tripoli, Algiers,
NOT ON ANY LIST BECAUSE THEY FACE TOO MANY DIRECTIONS OR HAVE NO DECENT FOOTBALL STADIA: Vancouver (Downtown faces north, but West End faces West), San Francisco (as per Vancouver), New Orleans (too many bends in the river), Sydney (the downtown faces northwards on an estuary, but the hearts of the people most certainly face east to the Pacific)

Thanks to all our contributors who let their photos out, and all the intrepid reporters who filed their stories under deadline and the new crackdown by management

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


MONTREAL is one of the most painted cities in North America. As one of the World Capitals of Graffiti, more and more attention is being paid to the people behind the masks, the gas-masks we mean. The "writers" or "artists" are moving in to the mainstream, now that people like Banksy in the UK have become pop stars in their own right. Montreal, with its rows and rows of terraced houses, has proved to be an open playground for those beginning. Here we see a portion of Avenue Duluth, the spiritual heart of the Plateau Graffiti Movement. This is of course from where the, semi-famous, gang called the Crew Duluth sprang. More and more we are seeing throw-ups and tags (irrelevant squiggles that resemble a badly done signature) being painted on the sidewalks-- something the Crew Duluth has been advocating for many seasons.
All this talk of Graffiti in the mass media has lead to some pretty scruffy history written on the art form. I have read in one respectable journal that Graffiti was invented in New York in the 1960's. True-- the Sixties did have some major youth sub-cultures make huge marks and impressions on the established views of the day-- but to say it was invented in New York of all places, and only as recently as the Beatles would mean you were talking about the modernist movement in graffiti, such as the FDR-Style and Posi-negative Effects. New York (or Paris or London) can claim to be the birthplace of just about anything, while at the same time always be five years behind! Natural hubs are the first places new movements and human patterns arise or resisted-- (q.v. cultural diffusion in a decent encyclopedia) so no wonder the press is mistaking the tribal markings in the Bronx and Brooklyn as first blood of the Graf Nation.
But take this response from my favourite Mexican in New York's Village Voice (where most of my leads for stories originate) Somebody asked him why Mexicans are always writing graffiti. (Ok, so now it's Mexicans in New York who invented graffiti!) Here is his repsonse:

Graffiti is as old as the wheel but reached its classical apex during the age of Caesar. Archeologists have documented Latin graffiti everywhere from Pompeii to the Catacombs to latrines, the Coliseum, and Nero's estate. The lack of aerosol or freeway overpasses didn't stop the Romans from etching a fascinating array of drawings and rants: Great examples include caricatures of politicians, eloquent love letters, and the mysterious Miximus in lecto. Fateor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: Quare? Nulla fuit matella. (Google away!) For a historical analysis, consult Raffaele Garrucci's mid-19th-century classics, Il Crocifisso Graffito Nella Casa dei Cesari and Graffiti di Pompei. But if you just want to laugh, check out the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum for thousands of random rambles (typical entry: "Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men's behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!"). As for Mexicans using graffiti more than other ethnic groups—go ask Kilroy.

The rooftops of Montreal: ripe for Graf


Everybody loves it when the TEEVEE commentators have their mouths full of mash potato and we are left to make fun of them. These people are being paid for mincing their words.

"Any team can beat any other in this league and just to prove it there were seven draws yesterday." --The genius that is Don Goodman commentating during the West Brom v QPR game.

"A man down, they have everything to play for."
BBC pundit Mark Bright is not writing off the American ladies, especially when they've got some blokes playing for them.

"He's clearly not the player we saw playing for Inter Milan a few years ago."
Alan Shearer on Andriy Shevchenko...that's because he played for AC Milan!


Monday, October 1, 2007

GEOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHT SERIES! let's hear it for the kamchatka peninusula!

Please let me draw your attention to that seldom-talked-about place called the Kamchatka Peninsula. It is roughly half the size of British Columbia, but has the advantage of not having to share a border with Alberta! Imagine how few cowboys are on the loose. It has a history similar to the conquest of the American West by the colonials; the Russians even set up a company called the such-and-such-America company during the colonial period-- it was part of their American territories along with that little patch of land we now call Alaska.


Can you imagine this paradise lost that awaits us? Think Vancouver Island WITHOUT all them Spotty-faced British Immigrants! Paradise! Think British Columbia without all those pesky highways and towns dotted all over it! Paradise! Think the Straight of Georgia except there's no boats- just dolphins and whales and eagles! Paradise! Think Vancouver except there is no over-grown logging camp with a post office and coffee truck full of red-neck construction workers building cheap-facades for lego-like housing! Paradise! Think skiing Whistler-Blackcomb without having to bump into Seal and his Gazelle-Victoria Secret Model! Or walking through a tacky tourist trap they call a ski village! Paradise! Think of the Kootenays without all those be-robed neo-hippies in their ashrams! Paradise! Think of the mighty Fraser River without all those Grow-ops along the banks because weed grows au naturel! Paradise! A land where there are no exclamation marks! Paradise [!]
One problem, though. The area gets a major earthquake-- enough to raze the entire West End of Vancouver in one wobble-- almost, say, twice a week. Take a look at the map, it's like California will be-- after the San Andreas Fault has cut and run and left it to dangle in the Pacific.In fact two of the most catastrophic-able earthquakes recorded by humankind occurred here. But hey! I think we'd get used to it.
See, the Kamchatka River and the surrounding Central Valley are flanked by large volcanic belts, containing around 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. Thus, the peninsula has perhaps the highest density of volcanoes and associated volcanic phenomena in the world, with 19 active volcanoes being included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Not that anybody is capable of knocking down a volcano, but I guess we might as well preserve it, yeh, just in case?


The highest volcano is Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4,750 m or 15,584 ft), while the most striking is Kronotsky, but if you like volcanoes as much as most hot-blooded Montrealais, then you are just like me. How's this for a nice tip? (Here we see Sopka, only about 100 feet shorter than Mont Blanc! Makes Mount Fuji look like a bump on a log.) Some German-sounding guy was the first one to climb it, and you would think it would be way popular amongst trendy rock-type people, but the last expedition that gave it a try ten years ago had to turn back down fleeing or face being gobbled up by fresh flowing ravines full of molten lava. What's the big deal about a few rivulets of steaming magma? Lava is not that hard to accept! Oh well, the fact is that not all of them in the party made it to safety. Makes you wonder why they called it a "party."


Kamchatka contains probably the world's greatest diversity of salmonid fish, including all six species of anadromous Pacific salmon (chinook, chum, coho, seema, pink, and red salmon). Biologists estimate that a sixth to a quarter of the world's Pacific salmon originate in Kamchatka. [So take that! British Columbia!] Kuril Lake is recognized as the biggest spawning-ground for red salmon in Eurasia. In response to pressure from poaching and to worldwide decreases in salmon stocks, some 24,000 square kilometers (9,300 sq mi) along nine of the more productive salmon rivers are in the process of being set aside as a nature preserve. That's a mighty big campground.

During the Crimean War (you know-Charge of the light Brigade, Flo Nightingale etc) the French and the Brits were on the same team! They came past Kamchatka and fought a bloody battle with the main garrison the cossacks had established. The feisty Russians held off the Galls and Anglos despite being outnumbered by several factors, and the Frenchies and Brits decided to call it a day, and try take the outpost the following year. Deal is, Moscow had abandoned the garrison, much like the Frenchies had abandoned Quebec, and so when the Brits and Frenchies arrived the next time, they found nothing but old rope and rafters. What is striking, is that the attackers turned around and that was it. How come they didn't settle! This place is paradise! That was our opportunity as Brits and Frenchies. There would have been no need to try and keep New Zealand which is a terribly positioned place--way out in the middle of nowhere. Here is a paradise island that is actually attached to the mainland. The Frenchies have a word for it- they call it an almost-island, or Presque-isle.
With Moscow abandoning the peninsula, or at least not exactly turning it into Disneyland, the remaining European-type people blended into the background by mating with the local natives over the course of two centuries. Them folks even speak a special sort of Russian there, with it's own slang and urban street talk (except they have no large cities).
World War II hardly affected Kamchatka except for its service as a launch site for the invasion of the Kurils in late 1945. After the war, Kamchatka was declared a military zone. Kamchatka remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990. So for further enquiry into this land of intrigue I invite you to check out your local adventure travel company and ask for something entirely non-local!

(all info shamelessly lifted from the following:)