Intercity bus travel was born in the 1920s, and intercity bus terminals, as historian Margaret Walsh writes, “were both the core of a systematic service and were architectural features of some repute.” It may surprise the young bus travelers of today to learn that many U.S. bus terminals were once beautiful. In the interbellum bus boom, Art Deco stations in the central business districts of America’s biggest cities were points of civic pride.
Walsh notes that these structures’ opening ceremonies were very much a thing:
The civic opening ceremonies that welcomed bus terminals throughout much of the twentieth century, whether in small and large urban centers, were not simply gestures of public relations towards business or voters. These stations were perceived as notable symbols of progress and commerce. The intercity bus industry brought travelers and trade to the area and stylish terminals were at the core of that enterprise. Sometimes they were more when they became a nucleus for local community activity.
These terminals were stocked with amenities: restaurants and quicker food options, clean restrooms, newsstands, telephones, information desks, and well-lit waiting areas.
The decline of America’s bus terminals accompanied a number of larger cultural shifts. Large, new and modern stations suffered when populations shifted to the suburbs, leaving bus managers with sunk costs that prevented them from following potential riders to the edges of the crabgrass frontier. As city centers transformed into centers of poverty, crime followed, and bus travelers—many of whom were women—began worrying about arriving in downtown stations in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the rise of the personal automobile and air travel made the bus seem unsophisticated.
This is another feature length documentary I’d intended to watch for a long time. It was worth the wait. From the New Yorker review:
One of the hardest reservations to get in the world is a seat at Jiro Ono’s sushi counter, a three-Michelin-star restaurant adjoining the entrance to the Ginza metro station, in the basement of a business building in Tokyo. A meal there, which consists of twenty pieces of sushi served one at a time, costs thirty thousand Japanese yen (about three hundred and seventy dollars), and lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. (By contrast, a meal at Noma, probably the toughest get on the list, takes a good three to four hours). There are only ten seats, there is a set menu (no appetizers or modifications), and there are definitely no California rolls.
The question of what makes this hole in the wall so worthy is the subject of a gorgeously shot documentary opening today called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” directed by David Gelb. Jiro Ono was born in 1925, left home at the age of nine, and has been making sushi ever since. Though Japan has declared him a national treasure, he still says, at the age of eighty-five, “All I want to do is make better sushi.” He goes to work every day by getting on the train from the same position, he always tastes his food as he makes it, and he dislikes holidays. Jiro is described as a shokunin—a person who embodies the artisan spirit of the relentless pursuit of perfection through his craft.
Another Japanese term that came to my mind while I watched the film was kaizen, meaning “improvement” or “change for the better.” The concept is one of process, and it is often applied in business settings, like manufacturing and logistics, to ensure constant and never-ending improvement. Before cooking his octopus, Jiro used to massage it for up to thirty minutes. Now he will massage it for forty minutes, to give it an even softer texture and a better taste. Before a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro, guests are handed a hot towel, hand-squeezed by an apprentice. The apprentices, who train for at least ten years under Jiro, are not allowed to cut the fish until they practice just handling it. One of the older apprentices says Jiro taught him to “press the sushi as if it were a baby chick.”
Archibet is a book of 26 postcards by Federico Babina. It runs from Aalto to Zaha, by way of big names such as Gropius and Foster, and slightly more recherché ones such as Adalberto Libera, author of the wonderful 1930s Casa Malaparte in Capri. Also Quincy Jones, not to be confused with the musician and producer of the same name, purveyor of stylish California modernism to the rich and famous.
The first letter of each name is made into a little monument – a “small surrealistic building”, as Babina calls them – in the manner of the relevant architect, the P of Renzo Piano, for example, being held up by the cross-bracing of his Pompidou Centre. Sometimes the shape of letter and the architect’s style don’t match. The Dutch modernist Gerrit Rietveld is given a full-curved R, although he rarely deviated from straight lines and right angles.
Babina is Italian, lives in Barcelona, trained and practised as an architect, but also works with graphic design. Over the past 18 months, he has started publishing his architectural fantasias, in which three-dimensional structures are transposed to flat surfaces, realised with solid blocks of strong but subtle colour, and a wry knowingness about his subjects.
I’m a big fan of Dorothy, the Manchester based visual art studio. I posted about (and bought) their famous Film Map a while back. Now they’ve released a new series of prints called Lost Destination, “which take inspiration from the iconic travel posters of the first half of the 20th century, celebrating the unique but often forgotten beauty of buildings that in their heyday were destinations in their own right but have since been either immersed in the everyday or demolished.” Take a look and buy one here.
I’m catching up with a boatload of great documentaries, and of them all so far Mistaken for Strangers is the easiest to love. If you’ve not seen this film yet, you really should. From the New York Times review:
Placed side by side, Tom and Matt Berninger are as aesthetically harmonious as marshmallow and beef jerky. But physical difference is only the tip of a fond estrangement that began during their childhood in Cincinnati and widened as Matt, the elder by almost a decade, gained recognition as the lead vocalist for the National. Seeing an opportunity to close that gap, Tom — whose main creative output had been microbudgeted horror movies — accepted Matt’s offer of a grunt job on the band’s 2010-11 European tour, toting a camera and a vague plan to make a documentary. What could go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it happens. Despite intermittent blasts from the band’s anguished, cerebral performances, “Mistaken for Strangers” isn’t about the music (which Tom, in any case, doesn’t really cotton to). The gold here lies offstage, in Tom’s left-field interviews with bemused band members (do they take wallets onstage, he wonders?) and in barbed confrontations with the highly organized road crew members who resent his laissez-faire work ethic. Chided by Matt for drinking too much (“You’ve got the allergy”) and disillusioned by the band’s aversion to drugs and partying, he visibly wilts; we can sense him recalibrating his notion of perhaps more than just the rock star lifestyle.
Pierced with touching moments of seemingly stumbled-upon clarity, “Strangers” is a shaggy ode to sibling reconnection. As Matt roams an auditorium during one of his midsong walkabouts, Tom scurries behind with the microphone cable before boosting his brother back onstage. The sequence is wordless, but its metaphorical impact is deafening.
Enormous statues have been erected around the globe for centuries, omnipresent memorials to historical figures and events. Fabrice Fouillet’s series Colosses—a collection of photographs of the world’s most imposing monuments—makes these familiar sights downright strange through a simple shift in perspective. It’s not the size and scale that interests him, but their place in the surrounding landscape. The result can be dizzying and disorienting.
“I was first intrigued by the human need or desire to built gigantic declarations,” said Fouillet. “I was not especially looking for the ‘spectacular’ in the series—even if the dimensions of the statues are—but I wanted to explore how such huge monuments fit in the landscape despite their traditional social, political, or religious functions.”
Fouillet frames these sites from the sidelines, capturing the perspective you don’t see in postcards. He frames Dai Kanon in Sendai, Japan, from a few blocks away, for example. Christ the King in Świebodzin, Poland, is framed from behind. In some cases, he shoots wide enough to include mundane details of life and the people living in the shadow of these looming monoliths. Laundry flaps in the breeze beneath the imposing facade of Ataturk Mask in Izmir, Turkey, and a Coca-Cola machine sits just down the hill from Grand Byakue Kannon in Takazaki, Japan. Fouillet appears to be toying with our notions of the sacred and profane.
I’ve often wondered about the lyrics to A Pair of Brown Eyes by the Pogues. You probably know the words, but here they are just in case:
One summer evening drunk to hellI stood there nearly lifelessAn old man in the corner sangWhere the water lilies growAnd on the jukebox Johnny sangAbout a thing called loveAnd it’s how are you kid and what’s your nameAnd how would you bloody know?In blood and death ‘neath a screaming skyI lay down on the groundAnd the arms and legs of other menWere scattered all aroundSome cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursedThen prayed and bled some moreAnd the only thing that I could seeWas a pair of brown eyes that was looking at meBut when we got back, labeled parts one to threeThere was no pair of brown eyes waiting for meAnd a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll goFor a pair of brown eyesI looked at him he looked at meAll I could do was hate himWhile Ray and Philomena sangOf my elusive dreamI saw the streams, the rolling hillsWhere his brown eyes were waitingAnd I thought about a pair of brown eyesThat waited once for meSo drunk to hell I left the placeSometimes crawling sometimes walkingA hungry sound came across the breezeSo I gave the walls a talkingAnd I heard the sounds of long agoFrom the old canalAnd the birds were whistling in the treesWhere the wind was gently laughingAnd a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll goFor a pair of brown eyes
A bit of digging unearthed this interview with the man himself, Shane MacGowan, from an interview with Folk Roots in August 1987, published at Poguetry.com:
“It’s just about a guy getting pissed at a bar round here,” says Shane nonchalantly. “He’s getting pissed because he’s broken up with this bird and… you know how it is when you just go into a pub on your own to drink and it’s really quiet and you get this old nutter who comes over and starts rambling on you. So this old guy starts on about how he came back from the war, the First World War. Or the Second. One of them anyway. And he tells him about the ship he had out there and how he got out and came back and this girl had fucked off with someone else, a girl with a pair of brown eyes. Which is the same situation as the young guy sitting there listening to all this rubbish and the juke box playing Johnny Cash and Ray Lyman and Philomena Begley, classic London juke box tracks. And in the end he gets to the stage where he says fuck it, and he goes stumbling out of the pub and he walks along the canal and starts feeling really bad, on the verge of tears, and he starts realising that the old guy has had a whole fucking lifetime of that feeling, going through the war and everything, but his original reaction is to hate him and despise him. I’m not saying he goes back and starts talking to him but you know… “