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

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