Friday, January 10, 2014

What Some Towns Do For Fun


Photo courtesy Flickr

Seattle’s early habit of racing ferry boats-tipsy captains and all-for the amusement of the crowd lining the shore has long been my dearest example of home-grown entertainment. I learned that Budapest lofted a cardboard castle around 1900 to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian state. People liked Vajdahunyad so much it was rebuilt in masonry and now serves as an agricultural museum.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Any Bus In The Snow


Photo courtesy Flickr

My bus commute is straightforward with several options within walking distance. My partner’s trip is a little more fraught when the weather turns foul. He has discovered that taking any bus that comes by headed in the general direction of his destination is the easiest way to get to work.

That said, Seattle’s version of winter weather is a mild joke to someone from the Mid-west. Add a couple of featherweight produce bags to your emergency kit. The bags keep feet warm under foul conditions. A two-bit plastic raincoat is good to have. Failing that, a garbage bag with arm and neck holes cut into it serves well and truly. The outdoor community improvised those uses back in the day when a plastic bag was high tech.

Much body heat is lost through the nose. The survival people recommend carrying a cheap particle mask. The mask and bags will add just a few grams to the ever-present side bag.

I no longer venture out without shoe chains in bad weather. Having swallowed pride, I pull the protective tip off a hiking pole and use it for added stability on the frozen slush that we call a winter sidewalk. De-ice it with synthetic garden fertilizer.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Core Of Solid Basics


Photo courtesy Flickr

In the Seventies, someone pointed out that the seagull is the most versatile of animals, equally competent on land, in and under the water, and in the air. The comment was generated shortly after Buckminster Fuller had published Intuition praising the virtues of being a generalist.

The new year is a good time to evaluate inventory. Super-janitor Don Aslett reminds readers to discard the old whatever it was after the new one comes into the house. Navy Seals remind themselves not to let hardware determine the mission.

Once you’ve decided what your domestic mission is, edit equipment to serve it, using the rule of 80/20. Twenty percent of the gear does eighty percent of the work. I have found that choosing traditional low-tech hand tools leaves me with a kit that’s versatile, durable, inexpensive, and compact. At this point, it’s cost-effective to hire someone to do a small job rather than keep the household tooled up for every eventuality.

Fashion writer Ines de la Fressange suggested spending half of one’s budget on quality things and the rest on the frivolous. I can’t suggest proportions for the household, but a little foolish glory now and then leavens the sensible dignity of white linens and carefully chosen furnishings.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Light Bulb Yoga


Photo courtesy Flickr

Incandescent bulbs work for me here and there. In this 1890 house, they’re part of the heating system. It makes no sense to pay forty bucks for LEDs and then turn on electric heat that uses hundreds more watts than incandescent.

The generated heat that makes an old school bulb seem wasteful is an essential part of air circulation and mold control in my house. Just a few watts are enough to keep a room sweet, and the faux-fire of an incandescent bulb enriches the visual for which these spaces were designed.

I use six watt pear-shaped incandescent bulbs in night lights with the styrene shade shucked off. Set low into a wall receptacle, a light like this is all it takes to keep an under-heated room feeling habitable or a set of stairs safe to navigate. A night light under the open kitchen sink lights white dishtowels from behind, turning a utilitarian drying rail into a combined dryer and subtle source of illumination.

On a dimmer, a carbon-filament bulb is a fascinating and versatile substitute for the solid fuel fire I gave up years ago to protect my neighbors’ lungs.

This old architecture is meant to have contrasts of light and shadow. Early electric lighting strategies ensure that the contrast is not harsh and that a given space feels large and interesting. Solar task lights from the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain highlight specific areas and free worktops from cords. When the weather is warm enough for incandescent heat to be an issue, the day is long enough that artificial light is unnecessary.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Urban Wilderness


Photo courtesy Flickr

In the mid-nineties, I stopped on the Washington coast just south of the border of the Quinault reservation. Stepping out of the car, I found myself standing at a moving conjunction of cultures: the south side of the boundary was an area open to the general public, squalid, hammered by car traffic, with beach stripped of the natural detritus that makes it so interesting and elegant.

Turning my head to the north, I lost myself in a natural cathedral colored the soft greys and greens of the ageless Northwest seascape and infinite sky. The tribe had suffered vicious logging of their cedar forest in the Seventies. They responded by closing their beach to all but members. The view was exalting, and it took me back to the beaches and perceived space of my twentieth century and of my grandmother’s nineteenth.

A recent visit to the downtown art museum produced a similar experience. I made my way through a blockbuster show with an archaeologist. Our long history of joking about digging up gold death masks was validated by the world treasures on display. All our social concerns were reinforced by the crudeness and cruelty embodied in many of the pieces. Other standing exhibits of mid-twentieth century American work looked yellowed, wan, or nearly verbal.

A turn through the several spaces devoted to Haida Robert Davidson, though, was a huge relief. The work occupies the architecture so carefully that walking through the galleries relieves and frees the breath just as the view into Quinault did. Not far from the museum, the north wall of the symphony hall presents street art at its best, a quotation about music inscribed in the formal capital letters that free the mind like Davidson’s work.

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