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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Vulcanic spring and its build-up period

Revolutions are often not what they seem. Cultural spring May arrive with a bang, but it always depends on a lot of work being done underground during previous ‘seasons’. Spring can only arrive because of the previous reflective winterperiod. And it’s interesting to discover the lines throughout history. Earlier I wrote about the cultural spring during the late sixties, which during the start based itself on efforts of the Beat generation during the fifties and the ‘somewhat boring’ cultural winter from 1960-1965. I’ve been reading about the nineties lately (luckily the Americans DO write about recent history). In 1989 we saw the emergence of a new cultural spring, with lots of youth activity (housemusic, raves, XTC), but also the rise of commercial television, mobile life and the first start-ups that predicted the internet-revolution. Economic data credit the internet with generating more than a third of America’s growth between 1995 and 1998. But was it a revolution? Not if you read Haynes Johnson’s book ‘The Best of Times’:
“Fables not withstanding, the Internet isn’t new., nor did the technological advances that made possible the prosperity of the Nineties suddenly spring to life in places like Silicon Valley. Both were created by government sponsored work carried out at immense cost over many decades.”

A scientist, Vannevar Bush, convinced president Truman at the end of the second World War to heavily invest in basic science and to stop depending on the import of European knowledge. In his paper, Bush already describes a ‘Memex’, a ‘small box with a slanting translucent screen, at the end of your desk’ that would allow mankind to profit from the inherited knowledge of the ages. More than half a century later, IBM decribed his article as a ‘time-bomb essay’. So far ahead of its time that it takes decades to recognize its genius. J. Licklider, another scientist ahead of his time, quotes Bush as his main inspiration. In an article during the reflective winterperiod of 1960-1965, Licklider describes how computers will connect and form ‘interactive networks’ of ‘on-line communities’. He even predicts ‘electronic pointer controllers called ‘mice’’. Another time-bomb essay that didn’t attract much attention, outside of government institutions. Which kept investing, making it possible for Netscape-creator Marc Andreessen to run with the knowledge from a protected and sponsored university and become a billionaire by commercializing the ‘browser’ technology in 1994. That’s what happens. Knowledge slumbers, slowly building up explosive power, like a vulcano. It takes the right cultural framework and a few smart people understanding the times to detonate a cultural bomb. Spring is vulcano time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Lost my man to Barack Obama

Went to the Obama-rally, waiting three hours in the sun to hear the man. He was worth it, I must say. In reality I like his words better. When I hear one of his speeches from a distance on the net, I find his voice a little metallic, but it works with a crowd. And there was a crowd: 72000 people. We won't see them coming together in a park in Holland to hear Wouter Bos speak.. Marcel was on a cloud of his own. I already lost him to Obama before we came to America. Every free minute is spent on the internet, looking for more clips and news around the primaries. I have to beg to read my mail and write this blog. Is that why his voice began to irritate me?

Important question: did we hear cultural spring in Obama's words? His claim 'YES WE CAN' is about moving forward, new goals and crossing barriers, but I found a lot of cultural winter in his speech too, talking about principles, honesty, cleaning up Washington, etc. He will still need that when the real elections start. Because it is still cultural winter, and people might still back off from the 'change' he stands for. Check out one of his speeches and decide for yourself. In my theory, spring will really take of in a year or two, but Obama might just be one of the instigators.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Portland group in waiting

Back in Portland. Sid, a friend of our home-exchangers, picked us up at the airport, took us to diner and has even arranged a pass for his fitness school, so I can swim. Great guy, a retired judge with enough story material, especially since he has diner with Barack Obama tonight.
Have been to the swimming pool only once, mainly because I started shivering two days ago (while it was 32 degrees outside) and the light headache I developed in SF exploded, making me swallow more painkillers in a day then I have done in the last ten years (but then again, I haven't been sick in years..)
Today was the first day I went out again, and we had a few great hours on an art fair in North East Portland. We were very impressed by work of Bouche de St.Rough, a woman with a quite traumatic youth story, a paranoid mother, living on the streets since age 14, living on money hidden in old magazines, sent by her grandmother. Her biography turned more extreme by the page, but her work was matching it. Beautiful. Then the gallery owner told us the artist would be making an appearance in half an hour. We waited and met her, who turned out to be a man, David Strough, who works using different identities and was quite talkative. We discussed the art scene, and similar to some discussions I've had with Dutch artists in Amsterdam, the scene in Portland is 'in waiting'. The Portland Group of artists is searching for new routes, but none has surfaced, everybody is still looking back and at eachother. Again, it's still a cultural winter. People are getting together to discuss new ideas, but only when cultural spring will arrive, will a clear winning route surface. We will wait for that, and to embrace every chance of change, we will join a Obama rally here in Oregon tomorrow. That is, if we can get within hearing range.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

San Francisco keeping quiet

Seen some beautiful buildings today and a good exhibition of Leibovitz photos yesterday, when Hazel, a friend of Marcel’s drove us around town. Fun day, but.. After a few days in SF, I’m beginning to see what is lacking. I am a bit disappointed, because I had memories of a very vibrant city from my last visit in the beginning of the 90s. There was music coming out of bars then, and singing or actively talking people on the streets. Activist threw leaflets at you, and galleries had lively openings all around.
Now I found it sterile at first, though there is enough to see and do, there is no real lively feel on the streets. When we were having coffee in The Castro, today, it suddenly dawned on me. The city and the people, at least at the places we visited, have simply aged with us. What we were missing was the simple vibration of youth. They must hang out somewhere in this city, but we haven’t found it yet: the energy source, the vulcan on which true city life dances. May be the energy has gone underground again, as it should during cultural ‘winter’periods, as we are having the last few years. I hope so, because at the moment, SF almost looks like an average American city to me. As I am writing this, thunder is making itself heard. Hope it’s not the very real underground power that continuously threatens this city. A vulcano of youth could bring along a cultural spring, but an earthquake would overdo it a little, I feel.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Het is altijd weer genieten, zo'n stad als San Francisco. Gewoon rondslenteren, huizen bekijken, cd's en boeken kopen, koffiedrinken, gezicht in de zon. I could learn to live like this. Even small setbacks do not matter to me, when I am feeling at ease; it could well be that my exchange with Berkeley is off, since my exchanger has severe back problems at the moment. Better keep an eye out for another appartment in SF or Berkeley, starting June. Even more content after visiting the SFMOMA, the museum of modern art here. Very impressed by the work of photographer Friendlander, of whom the museum had almost 400 astounding symmetrical and humoristic photographs combined into neat sections. Even an old lady couldn't help herself and starting shouting 'but these are SO GOOD!' I couldn't agree more. Even saw two Mondriaan's, for years my favorite painter. And a few works that figure in my book, yes, art has cycles too. One could wonder whether there are lines between Mondriaan in the twenties and for instance the works of Donald Judd in the seventies. The heavy conceptualization both artists use is in total contrast with other movements, like Pop Art of the sixties. We'll see whether I can get to the bottom of that. I already noticed that writing about art is very, very tricky. It seems you can only make a point if you write in words and sentences that match the most abstract of works. Otherwise you're dismissed as superficial. Not my style, arty talk.
Saturated with images and thoughts back to the wonderful apartment. Until now, everthing works out perfectly. Life is good.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dry or wet coffee?

Portland, vroeg in de ochtend. Zondag hebben Carl en Richard ons heerlijk rondgereden langs een aantal mooie plekken, waaronder het Washington Park, met al zijn rozensoorten. Heel bijzonder, omdat Richard daar een eigen roos geplant heeft, als eerbetoon aan de vrouw die hem bijna vijftien jaar geleden haar hart schonk. Letterlijk dan. Vandaar die sticker over donorschap achter op zijn auto. Na het afscheid op het vliegveld hebben we nu het rijk alleen. Gisteren daarom meteen maar even de stad ingereden, langs de grootste boekhandel van deze kant van Amerika. Ineens waren we drie uur verder en hadden we twintig boeken in ons mandje. Lekker hoor, die Amerikaanse prijzen. Ook al weer een nieuw koffiefenomeen ontdekt: een nieuwe vraag.. "Do you want your capuchino dry or wet?" Ik heb voor dry gekozen. Die was lekker, trouwens, maar dat zal de wet-variant ook wel geweest zijn.*
Straks worden wij op onze beurt weer opgehaald door Sid, die ons naar het vliegveld zal brengen, voor ons weekje San Francisco. Ook daar zit weer een huizenruil achter, we zijn benieuwd. Sid heeft ons gevraagd of we niet naar zijn strandhuis bij de kust van Oregon willen, en dat klinkt erg aanlokkelijk. Dus wie weet wat we nog allemaal gaan zien van de natuur hier.

*A dry cappuccino has more foam, a wet cappuccino has less. There's a fine line between a very wet cappuccino and an extra-foam latte.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Portland, here we are

Goed aangekomen in Portland, voor een korte vakantie, en daarna een lekkere schrijfsessie in Berkeley. Weer even weg van alle gedoe, afspraken, werk, lunches, etc. en weer helemaal wijden aan het schrijven van het boek. Waar sommigen nu al besmuikt naar vragen: "hoe... staat het ermee?" Had ik maar niet moeten roepen dat ik naar Vancouver ging om een boek te schrijven, dan verwachten mensen ook dat het al af is als je terugkomt.. Nee hoor, dat duurt heus langer dan een paar maanden.
Hier zijn we opgehaald door Carl en Richard, die wat nerveus ronddrentelen, maar dat kan ook komen omdat ze op dit moment een zangvoorstellen aan het geven zijn, terwijl Marcel en ik vechten tegen de slaap. Morgen gaan wij ook kijken, en daarna vliegen zij naar Nederland. Het blijft een fantastisch idee, dat huizenruilen.
Een geweldige achtertuin hier, lekker rustig. Dat schijnt wel te veranderen wanneer het licht minder wordt. Een eekhoorntje hebben we al gezien, maar vanavond komen er waarschijnlijk nog wasbeertjes en misschien zelfs een coyote bij. Niet dat wij dat gaan merken. Ik ga lekker slapen.