Panda’s Australian Care Package

As Onyx said, “Oh panda repping the colours! ??❤️”. Currently reading The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia by Bill Gammage, picked up along with [-o-] t-shirt at Bunjilaka on that last day in Naarm, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?, which was waiting for me when I got back.


Museo della Storia di Bologna

The day after opening Parsifal, and I couldn’t even persuade myself to sleep in, so … To the Museums!

Unlike Berlin, where I live and know a reasonable amount about the city, Bologna is entirely new to me (ok, besides spaghetti bolognese). Indeed, this is my first time in Italy. I suppose this means I experience a museum in this city more as it is intended: an educational summary of a specific topic. Dasniya and I decided to go to the Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna, but it seemed it would close not long after we got there. Across from Piazza del Francia we passed the Palazzo Pepoli, containing the Museo della Storia di Bologna, one of several museums that are part of Genus Bologniae. Open until 7pm and barely 2pm, we decided it would be a perfect choice for an hour or two. It was nearly closing by the time we left. I think the sheer number of photos I took and the number that ended up here illustrate what a fine time both Dasniya and I had.

This is the museum of the history of Bologna, and it goes back to the Etruscans, around 700BCE, when it was known as Felsina. It was also the city of Cassini, the Cassini, a satellite bearing his name orbiting now around Mars, who was a remarkable astronomer at a time of revolution in the field. This, and the art of building time-pieces (along with mercantile families and their ventures, and the famous university) is what the museum is built around. The Palazzo Pepoli of the family Pepoli dates back around 800 years, and while the museum doesn’t cover them as much as I’d have liked, it did devote the last exhibit in the formal dining hall to a series of 11 busts made in the 17th century of generations of women from the family, each of them spectacular in their own right.

I took an audio guide again, after my very good experience with one at the Musikinstrumenten-Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was a good decision, as all the exhibits are in Italian, though they also have information sheets in several languages in every room; the audio guide really adds a fantastic amount. It’s tempting to go through each room as a recollection here, but I think the photos capture something of that, and it’s sufficient to say I understand the city I’m working in far better than I did a few hours ago and have fallen into something of a love affair with the place, and Italy.

So, some flat notes amidst what is one of the most splendid museums set in one of the most beautiful city palaces I’ve ever been in. Despite the Pepoli women mentioned above, it’s unavoidable the museum gives a wide berth to the role of women in the history of the city. Even in the contemporary section, where 48 Bolognese are interviewed, only 5 of them are women; barely clearing 10%. Otherwise, it’s a sausage-fest, which is a pity, as the Pepoli women prove, the city has a history at least as long their family in which women play a central role.

The other, which coming from Berlin could never have been gotten away with in that city, was the exhibit (about a fifth of one of the 35 rooms) covering the Second World War. Or rather, “Liberata. Risorgere! Ai vittoriosi” “Liberation. Rise again! For the victorious”. No mention of Italian collaboration, fascism, Jews sent to concentration camps, just, “April 1945! Yay! … Oh, and the city was heavily bombed … Sad city is sad …” In Germany a museum would probably end up in prison for historical revisionism.

Besides that, this is a brilliant museum, varied and stimulating, beautifully laid out, so much attention to detail and the creative display of exhibits (a red Ducati next to a Roman chariot in the exhibit on the Roman Via Emilia trunk road!). I feel delightfully spoilt, and a little worried; if all museums here are so good going back to Berlin is going to be a torment.

Reading: Martyn Colebrook, Katharine Cox (eds.) — The Transgressive Iain Banks: Essays on a Writer Beyond Borders

Paul said, “They’ve got to be taking the mickey!” I thought, “Taking the piss”. Forty euros and only 180 pages. bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center has almost the same number of pages and was a quarter the price. Nonetheless, I pretended I didn’t see or hear, because this one I was going to buy.

But before dear Iain, let’s have a talk about the state of ‘academic’ publishing. I used to haunt the shelves of various University libraries, and when it came to publishers of the University Press kind, they were dependably hardback, printed on appealing stock, and generally hefty tomes that were ploughed through rather than inhaled. These still exist, though more likely I pick them up in paperback, yet everything from cover art to choice of typeface and margin width is most pleasing; worth shelling out for, in other words.

Then there is this relatively newcomer University Press object, which looks assembled in Helvetica or Times New Roman, printed directly from Word, with a cover done in MS Paint, on this strangely shiny paper stock, and generally has the qualities I associate with Print on Demand. Irrespective of the quality of the work that gets P’doD — I’ve seen everything from utter, utter shite to new works I’m delighted to own and old works I’m sincerely grateful are able to be bought at all — there’s something fishy about charging Smyth-sewn hardcover prices for books with stock art for a cover. If nothing else, it makes me an extra-cranky proofreading reader.

So, a book of essays on the recently Sublimed Iain M. Banks. This was due for publication in June-ish, but then was announced for October, so I figured perhaps they’d held back to make an posthumous addendum. And then it turns up. Excitement!

Here’s how I instantly judge if a work of collected essays (or stories) has potential to be good or if it’s obviously bullshit: I go to the Table of Contents and count the number of female-named writers on one hand and male-named on the other (no, really, I count them on my fingers). If they’re approximately equal (and to be honest anything above 1/3 female representation constitutes ‘approximately equal’ otherwise I’d never read anything; setting the bar low, an’ all), then it a) stands a chance at avoiding the more egregious kinds of bias and droning boredom, and b) I will plonk used euros down in exchange for it.

If I’m feeling especially adventurous, and/or if there are names I cannot discern obviously as male or female, and/or if there’s a profusion of non-anglo-american names, it’s off to the internet! where I’ll do some lurking over said authors’ biographies. Because to be quite honest, finding new writers of science-fiction or non-fiction who are not anglo-american, hetero, white males outside of queer/feminist fields is bloody difficult, and also, I have an obligation as a reader and artist not to unthinkingly contribute to and perpetuate exactly that kind of bias.

So, Martyn Colebrook’s and Katharine Cox’s (eds.) The Transgressive Iain Banks: Essays on a Writer Beyond Borders has twelve essays from thirteen contributors of which five are female-named and eight male-named, or ≈38% female-named, just over the ‘approximately equal’ barrier. One section is Gender, Games, and Play, wherein Sarah Falcus finds a “problematic depiction of femininity” in three of Banks’ works (The Wasp Factory, Whit, and The Business). Very much looking forward to that because just thinking about those three works together I can see problematic depictions lurching across the page.

The Index contains such delights as Deleuze, Judith Butler, gender, femininities, and thankfully no Marx or Freud, as well as Scotland (a section unto itself), and Scottish skiffy authors (surprised not to see Charles Stross there). The bibliography is also well-stacked and points to some Banks short works I haven’t read yet. I love a good bibliography, it’s like rifling through someone’s drawers with none of the moral questionableness of such an act.

Seeing that Iain isn’t going to unexpectedly desublime, reconstitute self from ashes, take a pause from busy rotting to return and announce he couldn’t stay dead with The Quarry being his last work and here’s a final Culture novel he worked on while dead before popping off again, I am anticipating reading this with as much love and excitement as though it were.

Reading: Mike Searle — Colliding Continents: A geological exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Tibet

Here comes a deluge of serious reading. Well, another serious than the sci-fi I’ve been on of late (though with a new one from Charles Stross, and Iain Banks’ – sadly sans-M – last one in the next weeks, I’m well-stocked for that flavour of serious), or perhaps gratuitously indulgent, after all, what could be more appealing that bloody massive upheavals of granite which can be either climbed or geologised, or in the case of Mike Searle’s Colliding Continents, both at the same time?

This turned up in my feed from Oxford University Press’ blog, and I decided to dispense with the actual reading of their post for the important act of ordering the book. Which arrived on Saturday, and which, obviously, I’ve devoured a third of already.

This is one of those very nice, medium-large hardcovers with barely a page empty of maps, illustrations, diagrams, or more importantly utterly gorgeous photographs of mountains. It’s light on the technical side of geology, meaning someone with no prior knowledge of the subject would nonetheless not feel bewildered, yet equally there’s a lot of terms even I, who used to slip into the Geology department and temporarily purloin monographs of the Karakoram had to pause to visualise what was actually meant. Lucky there’s 30 pages of appendices covering all of this, and I think reading those first is probably a good idea.

Quite a bit of my interest in that region where Tibet becomes Central Asia becomes Indian subcontinent comes from geology. Also it comes from Deleuze and Guattari and reading of Steppe nomads, then looking at maps and trying to pin into that vast blankness between the Black Sea and the east coast of China names like Gobi, Taklamakan, Kashgar, Karakoram. Vast and blank indeed. So I set out to rectify my ignorance, becoming years – probably a lifetime as I’ve never been bored by this – of reading and reading and yes, still planning to go there.

A book like this is mainly a small moment of satisfying this love of mountains and this part of the world, and it does both superbly. Searle is one of those sensible geologists who realise early on it’s the obvious career choice for someone who thinks suffering their way up glaciers and cliffs is most excellent fun, and whose love of both subjects only adds to his abilities in each.

The only thing that’s missing for me is a map or maps of his annual-ish field trips. There are plenty of geological maps accompanying each chapter but either my map-reading skills have descended to bathic levels, I’m missing something fundamental, or there’s a lack of correlation between those maps and the paths of the journeys he undertook. Perhaps unnecessary, but for me this would be an essential inclusion.

So, 464 pages of mountains! The cover pretty much sums it up; it’s all just a lover’s ode to the most beautiful upthrusting of granite in the world.

6 Second Repeating Flight Lufthansa from Berlin Tegel

I’ve been looking at Google Maps a lot lately, planning out ride possibilities around Tegeler Forst / Jungfernheide, or deducing where I’ve been on my morning training ride — actually Open Street Maps is much better, but sometimes I like the satellite view. Which led me to wondering if the old jet at the far south-west end of Flughaven Tegel was also on the satellite view.

Yes! And so were many other planes. I wondered also if any private jets might be lurking, god know why I might want to go looking for those, which led to seeing a plane just past the eastern end of the runway, which only made sense if it was actually taking off. Oh, neat, the satellite data for Google Maps caught a plane taking off! But further back on the same runway is another plane.

Certainly not also taking off, because it was physically too close and anyway there needs to be a minute or two between takeoffs because of turbulence, so perhaps it was landing. Pretty snug arrangement of arrival and departure then.

But then there turns out to be another plane on the same runway further back. And another. And another. Four on the same runway. Hmm maybe taxi-ing to the other runway? And scrolling a bit further right, above the grass at the end of the runway? Oh, another!

So being the quick thinker I am (har), I realise it’s all the same plane, a Lufthansa Boeing 737-500 (I spent half an hour looking at Lufthansa fleet planforms to work out that), captured repeatedly in the process of taking off by the satellite as it made the image tiles over Flughaven Tegel, and further away near Kurt-Schuman Damm, Scharnwerberstr, Cambridgerstr, and finally vanishing just after Höllanderstr.

Anyway, it was amusing for me late last night after a week where I racked up nearly 60 hours of coding and became decidedly incapable of communicating outside of a screen.

savage formosa

National Geographic is one of those magazines like good chocolate I get breathless over when each new issue arrives in the mail, but secretly suspect of being the vanguard of right-wing colonialist loons reminiscing into afternoon gins about the innate superiority of the British East India Company, and so have a kernel of guilt every time I sniff its glossy pages, a post-modern resentment for its educating me.

The View From Taiwan is one of currently 160 blogs I subscribe to, and has similarly educated me as well as making me homesick for Taipei, 18 months since I left. A week ago, he scanned the March 1920 issue article, Formosa the Beautiful

china’s changing landscape

The first time I took the KCR train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou I thought I’d arrived in Mordor. Endless grey dust-choked concrete skeletons of cement factories, prehistoric chimneys puking a sulphurous miasma that hung dead across the fields, killing sight of sky and horizon, and all signs indicating the work of constructing this local industrial apocalypse had just begun.

If there is one visceral image of China for me, it is not some quaintly exotic colonialism of pagoda’s or limestone spires rending shrouds of mist, it’s crossing the Zhujiang at San Shui under a thick undulating blanket of volatile smog and through the haze seeing the instruments of this catastrophe, ranked along the banks of the river and across the plains, the monstrous filthy bulks of the factories.

October’s Geotimes has a feature on the state of the environment in China, and what the future will bring in a continent-sized empire bent on the wealth of money at any cost.

“China has certainly almost every kind of environmental problem that’s been invented,”says Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute. But even though the country is using a lot of resources on the whole, usage is “extremely low”on a per capita basis, he says. “The United States is using 10 times as much oil per person.”If China approaches those rates, with 22 percent of the world’s population (versus the United States at 4.5 percent), then there will be reason to worry.

— Geotimes

Continue reading