Friday, September 28, 2007
Cassy – My Auntie
Cassy – Night to Remember
Kelly noticed sort of a visual analog yesterday. We currently have no clothes drier, and so decided that a steam iron could be an inexpensive, make-shift substitute. As it happens, the iron that Machiko helped me pick out at Mediamarkt Thursday is something of a techno star itself...
And meanwhile, don't anybody dare tell us what happened on The Office Thursday!!! We're presently laboring to get this must-see premier to watch, but these things take time! We'll be thrilled to talk to you about it in a few days...
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Anyway, we began the evening with a Kölner tradition – open containers at the tram stop. Before too long we were wandering, somewhat aimlessly, toward a place to spend a few hours before midnight. Earlier that day, in class, we'd practiced giving general directions, so now it was all “Geradeaus!”, “Nächste Kreuze!” and “Gehen Sie links!”
Perhaps because we were an overwhelmingly Latin American group, we wound up in a Cuban-themed bar where a friend of Bruno's was working. Between Zülpicher Platz and the University there are a dizzying number of bars that at least represent themselves as Cuban. Lots of Che stencil work, portraits of Castro, sugar farming murals, etc. I'm told we have a large Cuban immigrant community here, but my presumption (admittedly, based on very little) is that Cuban expats would tend toward the anti-Castro, and so the prevalence of the “Cuba, si!” decor sorta baffles me. Kelly's theory, which I'm quite content to subscribe to, is that revolution chic is a reliable method for attracting die junge Leute. But I digress...
Our little Juan ordered a zombie. He didn't actually know what that was, but he'd heard of it. When it arrived, he found it too strong to drink, even after taking it back to the bar twice – once for more sugar, and a second time for more juice. All for the better, the last thing this kid needs is social lubricant.
Here are Bruno and Hugo, taking a break from their usual bickering which, conducted in Portuguese, I only come to understand much, much later.
This time we didn't neglect to catch Kelly in a picture. She's only smiling because she knows we'll be cleaning the stove in the morning. (And it sparkles, how it sparkles...)
Finally, here's Claudia and, again, Juanito (what is he, in every picture?).
After midnight began the debate of where best to fulfill all of Rached's dancing dreams. Inevitably, we splintered into factions. Hip-hop, Latin, rock, or oh-my-god-anything-but-hip-hop? A club with a cover or a pub with dancing? There was a lot of standing and shrugging, and I confess that Kelly and I played the old people card and went home to sleep. Rached and his cousin went on to a late night at Cent Club, where I'm willing to bet dozens of girls found themselves wearing Rached's hat (it already happened twice at the Cuban bar). Most of the rest of the group went on, I think, in search of Latin music. None of them, I'm betting, woke up Saturday as refreshed as I did.
Chicago's Kid Sister is still a new enough phenomenon that she doesn't have a Wikipedia page, but that won't last long (as attested by the magazine cover on the left). No album date yet, to my knowledge, but every time this girl pops a collar or swings a chain, watch the blog boys go craaaazy. The current ripple effect reminds me a lot of the yesterbuzz surrounding Lady Sov, M.I.A. and, to a lesser extent, Uffie. I'll not hazard quality comparisons, but I will say that Kid Sister's club bangers are probably the hottest I've heard all year (yes, counting “Umbrella”). Listening to her recent “Control,” I can't deny her energy behind the mic, but certainly she has a helluva secret weapon in producer DJ A-Trak. This is about all we're playing at our place these days...
Kid Sister – Control
Kid Sister – Pro Nails
Kid Sister – Southside
And now for something completely different. I know very little about dubstep, but this track by London's Shackleton came to my attention by virtue of a high-profile remix by Ricardo Villalobos, who claims he was left in tears by his first exposure to the original version. Villalobos served up a hot remix, no doubt, but more important, his tip really turned a lot of people (myself included) onto “Blood On My Hands,” a song that really is something quite special. Shackleton are part of the Skull Disco clique, if I understand correctly. I went and bought the whole Skull Disco comp to get this track and properly place it in context (CD here, mp3s here). I haven't warmed up to anything else on the comp quite as much as I have to “Blood,” but I can recommend the tracks “Tin Foil Sky” and “Mystical Warrior.” Sadly, neither of these feature the cryptic but haunting narrative element found in “Blood”'s numbed, apocalyptic vocal layer. Probably I should listen to some more Burial, but even in complete ignorance of this musical niche, I'm pretty comfortable saying that this one's a classic.
Shackleton - Blood On My Hands
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Zwetschen: These are delicious little plums that are in season right now, which means there are lots of them. We've already been through a 1.5 kilo pack and just bought more yesterday. They also are a common cake topping (while they are in season). We've only had the cake once this year (in Düsseldorf at the end of July), and hopefully we'll be having some more soon. In Düsseldorf, Stefan bemoaned having plum cake, but only because it meant that the summer was coming to an end.
Basil: One of our favorite herbs, but whenever we bought it in Seattle, there was always the question of how to store it. Germans bypass this question by simply selling the basil as a potted plant. I'm sure this is something we could have done in Seattle, but never hunted one down. On the other hand, here it seems it is the only way to buy fresh basil.
Soup Veggies: Chris had a delicious mushroom and leek gnocchi when we were in Kassel that we recently tried to recreate. Finding leeks wasn't hard, but we could only find them prepackaged in packs of three, and three gigantic leeks in our tiny refrigerator was not really going to work. However, a very common produce item in the supermarkets is a bundle of soup veggies - a leek, a few carrots, some celery root, parsley and italian parsley, all tied together for under a Euro. Quite a handy little collection, and I must say it makes a lot of sense (how many times have I bought a bundle of celery when I really needed one or two stalks). We can't wait to actually start the soup making with it.
Asparagus: Germans are crazy for asparagus. In one small bookstore in the Aachen train station, there were no less than 5 cookbooks solely for asparagus. The variety is amazing and earlier this summer we tried some gigantic white spears (about as big around as a quarter). However, we've kept it simple when cooking them, not wrapping them in procuittio and placing them in our cocktails.
Chocolate: For years I didn't think I really liked chocolate that much, but that was before I realized it's really milk chocolate I don't like. Germans have no shortage of dark chocolate, and I think it's considered less a sweet here than a household staple. We've had fun trying all the halb-bitter varieties and even some with chocolate nibs (if you haven't tried those and you live in the Seattle area, I suggest you go to Theo Chocolate for a tour). The number of dark chocolate cookies here is also amazing. And we can't forget the German idea of chocolate cereal - Cocoa Puffs has nothing on chocolate muesli that is loaded with dark chocolate shavings. Hardly breakfast food (unless you're under the age of 12)!
Muesli: You can find corn flakes and if you're lucky, a few very expensive boxes of Kellogg's cereal in the grocery store. More common is muesli with dried berries or fruit (or chocolate, as mentioned above). It has become our breakfast staple, mixed with yogurt and some fresh fruit. It's pretty tasty and doesn't require the funny German milk.
Beverages: Ok, so sometimes you don't feel like having a Kölsch. Lucky for you there are other beverages available. Our favorites so far are banana-peach juice (mixed with OJ) and Apfel Schorle, a mix of apple juice and bubbly water. Coca-Cola makes one version, Lift, that's popular here and I've always wondered why they never have tried to market it in the states. For a real treat, our favorite coffee joint Woyton (read café with free wi-fi) makes some delicious and large schorle varieties like mango, berry and blood orange.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Here's birthday boy Julian (left), Bruno (middle, also aus Brazil) and Claudia (right, Venezuela).
Note Rached's “quotation marks” here. He'd seen people do this, but didn't know what it meant. I explained and, in typical Rached form, he morphed this into the evening's new dance move.
Again, we're not trashed. Honest. I'd tell you if we were.
Next day (today) we slept in til 11 or so, but still made it to the Nippes Markt before close. This was quite a victory, as Kelly and I twice failed to check out the market the previous weekend. The problem the first time was that I really had no idea where the market was, beyond that it was in Nippes. That's like saying “in Ballard,” and we wound up lost and empty-handed. The second time we found the market, but it was a Sunday, and neither the market nor even any neighboring pubs were open for business. Today, however, we made it in time to buy a Kilo of Zwetschen (small, tart, dirt-cheap plums currently in season here), some eggplant, some bananas, and a pair of polka-dotted shoes for Kelly. I know we still stand out as gringos, but we think the price on the egglant was inflated a good bit above the marked price. Kelly was a little surly about this, and I had to remind her that we'd shelled out a meager €4 for the shoes and a week's supply of fruit combined. Also, about a block from the market Kelly spotted a cute cafe with what look like really good quiches and – miracle of miracles – a choice selection of Belgian beers. It was a little early in the day for such indulgences, but count on our coming back.
We're fast approaching dinner time now, and we've managed not to give in to the desire to nap. I'm thinking it'll be an early night though....
Friday, September 14, 2007
Additionally, as we walked toward lunch on Wednesday, my classmate Machiko stopped to check out what was happening at the Japanisches Kulturinstitut, housed near the Universität zu Köln. (Me, I woulda figured Tokyo the more practical location, but apparently culture-hungry Japanese don't mind the commute. Maybe the rent's cheap....) Lo and behold, they're running a hot film series there, and to my great surprise, half the films are scheduled to play with English subtitles. The films range from relatively underrepresented 1950s classics, like Twenty-Four Eyes and Floating Clouds, to 1970s cult avant-garde fare, like Funeral Parade of Roses and a program of Shuji Tereyama shorts, and films like The Insect Woman to bridge the gap between. These start late this month, and I'm looking forward to catching five or so.
Finally, we got a TV!!! Not a 50” plasma-screen, but free from our landlords - yay! So far we can only pick up two channels, but we're tweaking with it. We brought my region-unrestricted, DiVX-supporting DVD player with us to Germany. As always, there's some research and accessory-purchasing to do before we can hook it up, but once that's done, I'll be kicking off a Chantal Akerman marathon over here. Good times!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Less easy to miss was the performance room in the Museum Fridericianum. No visitor could fail to hear the Grateful Dead's “Uncle John's Band” wafting from the 2nd floor. Follow those summer sounds, and you would've seen this.
As a preliminary comment, I hear this is exactly what a semester at Sarah Lawrence looks like. Now, I don't know a thing about modern dance, but documenta presented Brown as like THE pivotal figure in the field. I wonder, though, what someone in the dance field would say. Anyway, I kinda dug it.
The performance begins with little fanfare, the dancers wandering to their places, looking like nothing so much as comfortably-dressed documenta visitors. And no stage or designated performance space separates them from the documenta visitors. Museum security plays no role. So when the music comes on and the dancing begins, it's smack in the middle of a crowd, and in fact some spectators are “trapped” by the implied performance space, unable to leave the room without walking through the middle of the dance. Certainly the routine is sorely lacking in the pizazz pyrotechnics you might find in a J.Lo video or Britney Spears VMA performance - oops! strike that! But if you watch the above video you'll notice that the seemingly simple dance routine is structured on a succession of additions. The first additions are mostly minor – a hand motion or a twist of the waist. As the performance continues, the additions remain small, but the dance routine comes to require more and more space. This video doesn't really illustrate my point, but as this happens, the crowd of spectators gets pushed, slowly, further and further from the dancers. People step back, often crowding into fellow onlookers, out of anxiety that their position in the room violates the assumed physical boundaries of the performance. So while the music quickly draws a crowd, the dancing slowly pushes it outward, and this was very interesting to me. I found myself rushing to the room each time I heard the music, to watch the reactions of the audience if nothing else. That and, y'know, to get my Grateful Dead dance on.
One gawker in particular stood out: the creepy older guy who defiantly positioned himself so that the leotarded young dancer would repeatedly touch him in the execution of her routine. He stopped short of holding out a tightly creased five Euro bill, but you get the idea. Unphased, the dancer continued her performance as though oblivious to his presence. (The man and his conspicuously nonplussed wife had a public spat afterwards.)
Between each regularly scheduled dance, and in the same room, there was also a performance involving some sort of jungle gym of rope and old clothing. Here, the same dancers climbed from one garment to the next, easing into each as dictated by the conventions of the article of clothing (legs go in pants, heads through collars, arms into sleeves, etc.), and hanging from the structure for several minutes before moving on and in to another piece of clothing. The same piece was performed at Seattle's Henry Art Gallery a couple years back, I'm told. No hippie soundtrack to this one, though. Like I said, I don't know a thing about modern dance....
Saturday, September 8, 2007
You're less like to hear about the 1,001 Ming-/Qing-dynasty wooden chairs he's distributed in rings and rows throughout documenta. Here weary visitors can take a break or discuss the things they've seen, but the chairs also represent something else, tied to his Fairytale project. See, Ai had 1,001 Chinese citizens flown to Kassel, all dressed in matching clothes and carrying matching luggage. Sleeping in a former factory space, these “commissioned” visitors have been wandering Kassel and documenta for the duration of the show. On documenta's website you can read a little bit about the experiences of a few of the visitors.
Philip Tinari writes in the Summer 2007 issue of Artforum (in the article from which I'm cribbing most everything written in this post, by the way),
In its emphasis on changing individuals by changing their material circumstances, Fairytale resonates with both midcentury Western architectural idealism and current Chinese political ideology.... Though practical considerations have necessitating the participants into five groups, each staying in Kassel for just eight days, the project... will nevertheless effect a significant, albeit temporary, demographic shift in the smallish city.
Though it's the amusing media event surrounding the collapsed Template that's made Ai's name synonymous with documenta XII, it's his Fairytale project that is wholly consumed with the very questions this year's documenta organizers set out to explore. Ai's work is concerned with the role of modernism (admittedly, a helplessly vague word) not so much in the museum or the gallery, but in day-to-day life. This is modernism not as form or method, but lifestyle. There are hundreds of bones to pick here, but one stands out especially (and probably deliberately): what to make of naming the project “Fairytale”?
In time, Fairytale will doubtless evolve into a couple documentary photographs and a few paragraphs of text in some exhibition catalogs, but Ai and documenta hope that maybe for 1,001 Chinese people, and for an entire German city, it will endure as something more. And although this is kind of a corny place to end this post, I'm sitting outside using the University's free WiFi, and I think its going to rain shortly. Also, the ducks here are getting sort of bold.
On the flip, Prins Thomas fidgets with Köhncke's “Advance,” from 2006. In this case, the differences with the original are minor, not really reframing the song in any substantial way. A nice alternate mix for the devotee, though. Rounding the disc out is a new Köhncke original, “Tilda,” which rests rather on the other end of the techno spectrum. Certainly not one of his more dance floor targeted tracks, it's as though he's reminding us that his palette is more complex than simply as an embrace of the “Good Times” (though probably he'd retort that there's nothing “simple” 'bout that at all).
This fine product of Köln can be purchased for a thoroughly reasonable price at Kompakt's mp3 store. And for a limited time, you can enjoy this here:
Justus Köhncke Vs. Prins Thomas – Elan
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Chris headed off to class, and I headed back to our place to finish packing for (hopefully) our last move. In comparison to US moves, we still don't have that much stuff (ie no furniture) but we thought a car for the day would be in order. I rented the cheapest economy car from Budget and managed to get a fairly large four door Audi. Unfortunately all that they had was an automatic (something the Budget man was very sorry about and I was a little too). Leaving the rental place, some old man came up and started telling me about how the car wasn't allowed to be parked in the spot I was picking it up from and stormed into the office. I think I only made one questionable turn getting myself back home. By the time Chris got back, I had about half the stuff in the car and we managed to fit everything in one trip!?!
At 3:30 we were hauling our stuff up 4 flights of stairs at the new place (we always seem to have the top floor flats). The new place is furnished and has kitchen stuff (including an oven!), towels, bedding, etc.. However, after some conceptualizing, we decided we still needed a few pieces of furniture and other accessories, and we had a car, so it was off to Ikea for us. Fortunately, on Friday nights, the Ikea is open until 10 pm (much later than many grocery stores). We had our very descriptive Köln road map, but managed to get on the Autobahn in the wrong direction (if you call heading towards Belgium the "wrong direction"; sadly there was no side trip to a monastery for some beer). The next exit wasn't for about 30-40 km, so I took that opportunity to do fun things, like drive in the left hand lane. I think I frightened Chris for a minute, but then reminded him that the speed was in km/hr, not mi/hr. German Ikea is basically the same as American Ikea, and I think I forgot for a while that I was in Germany, until I saw all the queen sized beds with two single comforters and big square pillows. Chris and I decided we were sick of the two singles, so we had to splurge that whole 25 Euros to get a queen sized comforter to share. This also means we have lots of (single) comforters for visitors - our first of which will be arriving Sunday afternoon.
Saturday afternoon we began the building of furniture. Unfortunately, we managed to get pieces that required a hammer and screwdriver in addition to that handy Ikea tool. None of our three toolkits we had in Seattle managed to get overseas with us, so it was off to Bauhaus, not a design school or a mopey rock band but more like Home Depot, only much more compact. What we really wanted was one of those "single girl moving into her first place" tool-kits, but that didn't seem to exist. What we did find was a cordless screwdriver/drill that was less expensive than a screwdriver. This may well be the one and only electronic device that is cheaper in Germany than the US. And here is Chris with our snazy new hammer.
It doesn't really take out nails, but it does open a bottle of beer, so what else is needed.
Sadly, I could not find the advertisement Bauhaus has for this item; it really is fantastic. Picture a construction worker, with no helmet or harness, sitting on scaffolding using his hammer to open a bottle of beer. If you can find three things wrong with this picture, then you must not be from Köln.
Each successive documenta has its own curators and loose preoccupations. This year's organizers attempted to ruminate on three vague, open-ended questions far too verbose and imprecise for me to bother typing here. In brief, the interest this year is in what “modernity” means today, what aesthetic production's place in our great big world is, and how best to bridge the space between artist intent and audience experience. See, I sound like a tool just summarizing it. So yeah, it was just a grab bag of commissioned and compiled art, is what I'm getting at.
We spent two and half days in Kassel taking it all in. Naturally, a bunch of it wasn't too interesting (at one point it seemed like we'd been wandering bored for an hour), but on the other hand, a lot of it was really super. With this kind of show, there's always the temptation to gripe about the omissions. If it were up to me, I might've included Mike Kelley's Day Is Done. And without question, I felt that work by Jill Magid was missed. But its important to remember that this is but one exhibition, and not a Pitchfork Media list. As far as the “festival” presentation of documenta – with something like six venues, Corona beer gardens, ice cream trucks, souvenir shops, and busloads of sunblock-spackled tourists – it's weird and interesting and impossible to imagine in America, but better left for the experts to dissect. However, pertinent to that discussion, here's probably the best photo I took at documenta:
For those interested, I hope to post on some of the highlights over the next week or so. But, y'know, five hours a day of class really cuts into one's blogging time (yes, I do hear the sad, sad song of the world's tiniest violin). These highlights include but are not limited to: Harun Farocki's World Cup installation, Lili Dujourie's sculptures, Tseng Yu-Chin's almost-uncomfortable videos, Lu Hao's super terrific drawings of Beijing, Nasreen Mohamedi's gorgeous pen and ink geometries, and Trisha Brown's hippie choreography.