You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘city’ tag.

Illustration of Venus, goddess of love and beauty

I promised to write about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a book which I am planning on reading this year (after bouncing off of its deep moral ambiguity once before).  However before we get to talking about great literature and right and wrong and how to cynically manipulate people, let’s indulge in some completely frivolous daydreaming.

Longtime readers know that one of my favorite concepts for the not-so-distant future is the establishment of a floating colony in the skies of Venus.  A variety of considerable factors make this seem more attainable than the Martian colony which everyone is always talking about (plus I like tropical swamps better than Arctic deserts).

NASA-sample-venus-ea0cef20.jpg.885x497_q90_box-39,0,1318,719_crop_detail.jpg

Alas, I am not an engineer, and I cannot bring my dream closer to reality with a slide rule and a spreadsheet full of atmospheric measurements and rocket payloads…or with a thoughtful treatise about making plastics out of the chemicals present in Venus’ thick atmosphere…or with mention of the seemingly inexhaustible thermal energy on its surface.  Yet I am imaginative, and perhaps I can share a powerful passing fantasy with you.  The other day, while browsing goodness knows what on the internet, I came across the picture above and it struck me forcefully as a perfect structural component of Mary Rose or Constance [astronomical convention dictates that all features on Venus be named after women, so I decided to name my cities after my grandmothers…at least until I know what my billionaire partner wishes to call things]. I had to share the image with you, even though I have lost the real context of the actual inflatable structure 9avionic saftey equipment maybe? That doesn’t actually seem so far off).

dddddddddd

Dangit, this found concept art never looks right. I am going to have to draw my own.

First I imagined that this is the lifting body of the colony, which would be suspended underneath…but then it occurred to me that it might be the city (since breathable Earth atmosphere mixtures of gases float on the clouds of Venus).  or perhaps it is an agricultural pod or a park or a laboratory, or a factory.  Who can say what is in the lovely 4/5th torus, until we complete more of the schematics?  At the moment, it is a concept piece…like the whole colony, but the world is filled with clever people, and some of them read this blog.  let’s keep dreaming big!  Imagine this sparkling with lights as a huge yellow storm boils up beneath and a cloud of drones and gyrocopters approach from a nearby fleet of zeppelin buildings…

trantor_by_jerstho-d4v74td

My grandfather owned a house in the strange & problematic city of Baltimore (which was one of the first urban areas I got to know very well).  One of grandpa’s tenants was an opioid addict.  This guy’s life was inexorably destroyed by debt, communicable disease, and appetite…and the poor soul ultimately went back to wherever he came from. But he left all of his empty aquariums, Apple computer games, and his weird science fiction literature behind.  In due time, these things found their way into my hands, and they were a huge part of growing up. Among the science fiction books were Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series where the capital of the old Galactic Empire was the fictional world “Trantor.” Planet Trantor was entirely a city:  the oceans had been drained away into underground cisterns.  The farms were all replaced by administrative buildings.  It was a metal and plastic world of skyscrapers, enormous conference rooms, huge statues, and titanic space co-ops.  On Trantor, there was no more primary sector work…everything was brought to Trantor from other planets. This explains how I first ran into the concept of an ecumenopolis—a planet which is entirely covered in a city—it is a forboding idea which blew my mind as a kid. I have been thinking about a lot lately.

delhi_air_view

If contemporary English writers need to invent new words, they don’t go back to grub for syllables in ancient guttural Saxon words of earthy doom.  Instead they glue together neologisms from Greek and Latin roots.  This is how we have the word “ecumenopolis”, which literally means universe-city. The word does not come from Athens or Rome, where such a concept was undreamt of.  It is a word from America in 1967, when the world’s planners and scientists began to comprehend that invasive humans were spreading through every ecosystem of a finite Earth.  However the concept came from Asimov—who, in turn, borrowed it from a weird utopian American preacher.  The word was thus coined just before the dawn of the space age, when the finitude of the planet was beginning to become evident.

coruscant_by_night_by_jfliesenborghs-d93rhyn

Lately, this idea came to the masses in the form of planet Coruscant, the administrative world of the much-derided Star Wars prequels.  The best aspect of those movies was staring at the endless lines of spaceships flying between enormous  buildings or taking off from huge engineered megastructures. Coruscant had its own dark glistening beauty yet it was also painful to think about, and whenever the characters went down into the city, the effect was risible. It is hard to capture the cliquish and modish aspects of urban life on film in a way which makes them seem appealing (which is probably why Coruscant got blown to bits by a stupid plot contrivance in the new series).  This illustrates a point too: in fiction, the inhabitants of cities are corrupt and interchangeable (whereas country folks are salt-of-the earth heroes).

CoruscantGlobeE1.png

We don’t really have any other planets: and if we do they will be hell worlds or ice desert worlds–like Venus and Mars (come to think of it, they will be Venus and Mars).  Those worlds would be lovely ecumenopolises: it isn’t like you were going outside there anyway.  Whereas if Earth’s deserts, reefs, rainforests, elephants, and golden moles are replaced with concrete and billboards it would be a tragedy beyond reckoning (although maybe future children would read about such things in antiquarian blogs).  That is a profoundly sad thought, but it doesn’t mean that things have to be that way.  If we can urbanize well, we can still have space and resources left over for agriculture and for the natural world (while we get our act together and make some synthetic mega habitats elsewhere where everyone can have a gothic mansion and a robot army).

sprawl-istanbul

I introduced this post with an anecdote about the city, albeit the city of Baltimore which seems hopelessly tiny and provincial now (to say nothing of how it seems compared with imaginary planet-wide cities).  I want to write a lot more about cities.  The Anthropocene is upon us.  More than half of all human beings now live in a city! Indeed I live in Brooklyn, and I work on Wall Street (don’t worry: I am untainted by the corrupt wealth of global finance because none of it ever reaches my hands). Talking to people I have realized that the story of my grandfather’s tenant is unremarkable: city dwellers know all about such things. Yet the story of my renegade turkeys is unfathomable to most people.

 

Cities are the natural habitation of humans (well—I guess the margin between forests and grassland in Africa is our natural habitat, but most of us have moved away from there and cities are our new home). The question of whether we can make cities better and find a way to live in greater density in a safe and healthy way is a very pressing one. Or will the entire planet become a horrid strip mall…or worse a sprawling slum.

1391079-a2

Let’s talk about cities! We need to build better cities…and some day, an ecumenopolis.  We need to make sure that it is not here though, because that will be a true Apokolips, er…apocalypse.

oyster-004.jpg

So…hey…what ever happened to that attempt to repopulate Jamaica Bay with lovable good-hearted, filter-feedin’ oysters? Ummm…well…it turns out that the colony failed.  The poor oysters who made it to adulthood were unable to procreate (or, at least, their offspring were not able to attach to anything in Jamaica Bay).  Fortunately, the oysters’ human friends are not licked yet and have a whole new weird project afoot…but before we get to that, let’s turn back the clock and look at the bigger picture of oysters in our area!

New York was once renowned for its oysters.  By some estimates, up through the 1600s every other oyster in the world lived in New York’s harbors and bays!  During the early 19th century, every other oyster harvested in the world was certainly taken from these waters.  The oysters filtered the entire bay of algae, microbes, and pollutants.  They also prevented the harbor from eroding away—it was like the entire waterway was coated with hard calcium carbonate (in fact it was exactly like that).   Not only did the tough New York oysters prevent underwater erosion, they also stabilized the coastline and bore the brunt of storm surges.  What tremendous mollusks! But alas, we were too hungry and too greedy and too careless…. By the end of the 1800s the population had crashed.  Attempts to revive the poor oysters have consistently failed. (just follow that link up at the top).

image.jpeg

However ecologists, oceanographers, and oyster fanciers have not quit trying.  In fact with the aid of a variety of partners they are mounting the biggest attempt yet to restore Oysters to New York City’s bays and waterways. The New York Times details the agencies which have invested in the project:

The project is funded by a $1 million grant from the United States Interior Department’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. The Environmental Protection Department, which is contributing $375,000, is working with the Billion Oyster Project, an ecosystem restoration and education project that is trying to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor.

It is good to have money (I have heard), however, there is also a secret ingredient to this project.  New York’s education department has been replacing all of the NY Public School’s bathroom fixtures with environmentally efficient toilets.  The old porcelain toilets are being smashed to bits to form an artificial reef where the young oysters can get started.  Five thousand public school toilets have been broken up and added to the project.  These fixtures have served generations of New York’s humans in a necessary albeit lowly capacity.  Let us hope they can get a couple of generations of oysters up and going in their second career (as smashed detritus on the bottom of Jamaica Bay)!  We’ll report more as we know more so stay tuned.

nyc-oyster-bed-toilets-jamaica-bay.jpg

Strange Ocean World (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, colored pencil on paper)

Strange Ocean World (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, colored pencil on paper)

Well…it was another day that got away.  What with work and dinner and the grind, I failed to write about beaked whales.  Don’t worry: those magnificent diving experts cannot escape our pen forever, but, in the interim, we must fall back on my daily doodle book (which Ferrebeekeeper cognoscenti know is a little moleskine sketch book that I carry around and draw in during my spare time).  I have a big sarcophagus-shaped pencil tin too—which is full of colored pencils and markers to bring my drawings to life.  The first sketch however (above) only required one “Blue Denim” colored pencil.  It’s a little unclear, but I think it is a picture of the future oceans filled with bathyspheres, synthetic ocean life (to replace the fish we are recklessly killing off), and ships driven by fanciful propulsion.  Synthetic beings and post-humans fly through the weird clouds of this strange ocean world.  In fact, maybe it’s not Earth at all, but somewhere else entirely—an ocean world of oddly familiar alien marvels.

City with Glowing Crystal (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, ink on paper)

City with Glowing Crystal (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, ink on paper)

Next is another troubling pastiche of nature and technology.  A happy monster ambles by a shambling city while a gambling demon tosses dice at a magic crystal.  Reptiles and weeds fill up the foreground as strange elongated opossums creep in from the sides.  It’s just like now!  This might as well be a CNN photo about the 2016 election.  This image may need to be colored in.  What do you think?

Succulent Fruit (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored Pencil and Ink on paper)

Succulent Fruit (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored Pencil and Ink on paper)

Finally, thanks to enthusiastic comments from my favorite readers, I included more fruit.  One of my tasks at my new day job is overseeing the fruit supplies for a big office full of desk jockeys who spend all day looking at important documents.  Because of ancient precedent, almost all of the fruit is bananas, and my colleagues beg piteously for different fruit.  I have provided their wants…in this fantasy drawing which shows a succulent world of juices, seeds, and glowing tutti-fruit color. It could also be that there is a statement here about our world of agriculture, selective breeding, transgenic alteration, and over-consumption…or possibly it is just a fun doodle I made at lunchtime.  As always, thanks for looking at my little artworks. I treasure everybody’s comments (though I realize I have been slower than usual to respond).  Let’s keep enjoying the rest of summer. I’ll keep drawing (and the post about beaked whales will appear soon). Cheers!

The Demon and the Sylphs (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

The Demon and the Sylphs (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Yet another summer day has ineluctably slipped through my fingers.  What with work, friends, art, and the great human endeavor there was no time to find out about crab-eating seals or exoplanets for today’s post.  Fortunately I have my little book of fun sketches for such occasions (for those of you who just walked in, this is the small sketchbook I carry around and sketch in during downtime like the subway or lunch).  Above is my favorite of the three selected sketches for today.  I imagine it as being the dramatic climax of an unknown ballet where a tribe of sylphs confront the underworld demon-god and wage a tremendous dance battle with him on behalf of their upstanding moral principles (actually I think that might be an actual ballet).  In the real world, the pink and blue and yellow all blend together more seamlessly, but I guess I am stuck with what my camera can manage under halogen light.

Sulawesi Shipwreck (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Sulawesi Shipwreck (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

In the second picture a shipwreck at the bottom of the Indian Ocean is the scene for wayang theater, written edicts, and ghostly machinations.  It seems like the picture might be about the Dutch East India Company or some other Indonesian colonial enterprise.  At any rate, the great flesh colored sawfish who appeared from nowhere steals the scene from the human agencies (although the brain coral seems to also be in the know).

Cityscape (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored pencil and ink)

Cityscape (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored pencil and ink)

Finally I included a geometric doodle of a colorful cityscape.  I sketched this on the train after a frustrating day of work.  My colleague was out that day, so I spent the entire workday trying to answer two to six confusing phone calls every minute for hours on end.  I was thoroughly frustrated with New York and cursing the entire beastly expensive overrated mess when I got on a train car which had a foul smelling beggar in it.  Because of the smell, the train car was unusually empty at rush hour and I opted to remain on it so I could I could sit down and draw.  I sketched away furiously as the car stopped underground and lingered forever in a tunnel beneath the East River.  The beggar got off in Brooklyn Heights and I kept sketching, but I was still angry at everything.  When I was almost home (which is near the end of the 2 line) the woman who had been silently riding next to me the whole time quietly said ‘you are a great artist” which really turned around the bad day.  I am not sure the picture merits such a statement, but the comment made me feel great and stood as a powerful reminder of what a large effect small actions and statements can have.  I hope that kindly stranger is reading my blog so I can thank her properly for her words.  They meant a lot to me.

Large bronze head (Sanxingdui, Circa 1300-1200 BC, cast bronze)

Large bronze head (Sanxingdui, Circa 1300-1200 BC, cast bronze)

The traditional narrative of Chinese civilization is that the Han people (who originated on the fertile central plains around the Yellow River) invented cities, writing, advanced agriculture, bronzework, and Chinese civilization in general. The first great era of Han Chinese civilization was the Shang “dynasty” which lasted from 1600 BC to 1046 BC (although stories persist of an earlier—perhaps mythical—Xia dynasty). After the Shang age, the superior Han gradually spread through all of China incorporating lesser peoples into their greater hegemony (which endures to this day as the mighty nation we call China). This narrative was called into question in 1986 when workers at the Lanxing Second Brick Factory in Sichuan discovered an ancient pit full of exceedingly weird and magnificent bronze statues.

china-map9

Archaeologists flocked to the site and began researching the civilization which was behind these strange works or art. It became apparent that the bronzeworks came from a culture which was contemporary to Shang dynasty China, but which was not directly connected. These ancient people are known as the Sanxingdui culture. They flourished in the Sichuan region, but, aside from the self-evident fact that they were gifted bronze artists, very little is known about the. Archaeologists speculate that the Sanxingdui people lived unified under a strong centralized theocracy in a walled city; also some Chinese scholars identify the Sanxingdui with the Shu kingdom (which is mentioned occasionally in extremely ancient Shang-era sources). I would love to tell you more, but since the Sanxingdui left no recorded history, that is virtually all we know about the creators of these exquisite bug-eyed sculptures and masks. It is believed that some natural disaster or invasion wiped out their city-state and the survivors became integrated with the Ba culture which were in turn swallowed up by the Chin Empire.

 

Bronze Mask with protruding Eyes (Sanxingdui, circa 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

Bronze Mask with protruding Eyes (Sanxingdui, circa 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

Whatever the truth about them, they made amazing art. In addition to the huge alien faces, animals such as snakes, fish, and birds abound in Sanxingdui artwork—as do zoomorphic combination animals and fantasy creatures like dragons. Practical items such as axes and chariot wheels were also found.  Naturally there is a vocal minority out there who insist that Sanxingdui culture was influenced by aliens, Atlantis, or whatever other supernatural entity du jour is selling books, but to find out more about them, we are going to have to wait for more discoveries.

A sacrificial altar with several four-legged animals supporting bronze humanoid figures (Sanxingdui, ca. 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

A sacrificial altar with several four-legged animals supporting bronze humanoid figures (Sanxingdui, ca. 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

Manhattan glimpsed from Greenwood Cemetery

Manhattan glimpsed from Greenwood Cemetery

The trees are changing color, Halloween is fast approaching, and the day was beautiful—which means today was the perfect time for the annual autumn trip to Greenwood Cemetery, the immense Victorian graveyard at the center of Brooklyn.  As always, I was enthralled by the towering specimen trees, 19th century mausoleums, and the rolling moraine landscape, but, also I was decidedly shocked to find the cemetery was different!  There was a new addition, and for once, it did not require a pile of fresh dug earth, a crowd of mourners, and a diminution of the human family.

The triumph of Civic Virtue (Frederick William MacMonnies, 1922, Marble) In Greenwood Cemetery in 2013

The triumph of Civic Virtue (Frederick William MacMonnies, 1922, Marble) In Greenwood Cemetery in 2013

Instead of a new grave, there was a huge beautiful bright white marble allegorical statue of a nude man standing on top of two writhing mermaids!  What happened to bring this twenty foot Greco-Roman hand-carved titan to the quiet midst of my favorite necropolis?  Well, I looked up the story (i.e. read the extensive plaque), and discovered that the statue was moved because women obtained the right to vote in the United State. Fans of the constitution will note that the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920, two years before “The Triumph of Civic Virtue” was finished by the Piccirilli Brothers (Ferrucio, Attilio, Furio, Horatio, Masanielo and Getulio).  What happened?

The Triumph of Civic Virtue (In front of City Hall in1923)

The Triumph of Civic Virtue (In front of City Hall in 1923)

As it turns out, “The Triumph of Civic Virtue” is probably the most controversial work of art in New York City’s history (certainly it is the most scandalous to be bought with public money). The statue’s bizarre history involves the way power shifts in a democracy, the changing meaning of symbols, and the greatest constant in art—the artist’s eternal inability to cope with deadlines.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the allegorical work was designed by Frederick MacMonnies to stand in front of City Hall in Manhattan and to represent American politics.  The handsome and robust figure of Civic Virtue stands triumphantly astride two snaky sea goddesses who represent the two great public temptresses of vice and corruption.  However, since the actual marble carvers, the Piccirilli Brothers, were very busy (and artistic creation does not always obey the schedule of small-minded foot-tapping bureaucrats) the statue took a very long time to finish and was delivered years late.

The

The Triumph of Civic Virtue (in Kew Gardens beside Queens Borough Park in 2002)

The statue was finally completed and installed in front of City Hall in 1922, but by then its era had already passed.  Newly empowered women voters hated it for depicting women as semi-human beings who are subordinate, naked, and prostrate at the foot of an armed man (an allegory which seemed all too familiar to them).  Not only was it decried as sexist:  the classical Greco-Roman aesthetic was at odds with the modern new styles of the roaring twenties. Additionally the manly (but diminutive and lumpy) mayor, Figueroa de Laguardia, did not like looking up at the statue’s muscular backside as he (the mayor) stared out over his city from his office.  Together the mayor and the suffragettes exiled the statue to Kew Gardens Park beside Queens Borough Hall where it languished at the center of a fountain for long decades.  However even that was not enough to placate the artwork’s detractors who still demanded that it be moved far away from the center of political power in Queens.  The great women’s rights crusader Anthony Weiner even suggested that it be sold online on Craigslist!  Finally Greenwood cemetery stepped in with a protected public (but not very accessible) space for the statue and with funds for a renovation.  The “Triumph of Civic Virtue” was surreptitiously moved to the cemetery in December of 2012.

A side view of the statue shows the nude allegorical figure of vice (or maybe corruption)

A side view of the statue shows the nude allegorical figure of vice (or possibly corruption)

I can’t help but feel like the suffragettes might have had a point.  Why isn’t civic virtue a lovely & mighty lady like Justice, Temperance, or even Columbia herself.  The statue is magnificently carved and executed, but it also looks like a dark fantasy of mermaid abuse.  Yet its weird history says more than it does about who we are (and who we were). Queens’ loss is Brooklyn’s gain, and I am happy the statue found a pretty home where my fellow statue lovers and I can regard it up close. “The Triumph of Civic Virtue” is both great, troubling, and hilarious , however, considering the statue’s provenance—from city hall, to a tertiary borough, to an empty cemetery–perhaps it can also be considered empowering.

Virtue is removed from Queens (December, 2012)

Virtue is removed from Queens (December, 2012)

Octavia as the Tyche of Corinth (from the collection of the Museum of Corinth)

Octavia as the Tyche of Corinth (from the collection of the Museum of Corinth)

In Hellenic culture, Tyche was the sacred goddess of a city’s destiny.  Confusingly, each different city worshipped a different tutelary version of the goddess, however Tychewas always the same goddess–a daughter of Aphrodite by Hermes (or possibly a daughter of an Oceanic titan by Zeus).  Tyche represented the fortunes of a city in a time when cities were frequently destroyed by famine, war, or disaster—so she was regarded as a fickle goddess.  Her emblem was a crown in the shape of a city’s walls and parapets.  In time she evolved into the Roman goddess of Fortuna—a goddess of luck and chance (whom many poets reviled as a fickle harlot).  Even after the decline of the Roman principate in the west, Fortuna was a common theme of medieval literature and song.

m184b

Tyche’s crown—otherwise known as the mural crown–went on to acquire a different (though related) significance.  As the Romans swept through the Mediterranean world conquering city after city and state after state, the Roman army was often put in the position of besieging walled or fortified cities.  This was a profoundly dangerous task, as the defending army had the upper hand until the walls were stormed or breached.  The first Roman soldier to climb the wall of an enemy city and place the Roman standard atop it was rewarded with the mural crown (“corona muralis”).  The corona muralis was the ultimate reward for bravery (and fortune) and was regarded as second in martial honor only to the grass crown presented to a general who had saved an entire army.   Unlike the grass crown, which was made of, well, grass, (or the laurel crown presented to a victorious general) the mural crown was made of solid gold and thus had an immediate practical value as well as being a symbol of tremendous bravery.

Modern medals just aren't the same

Modern medals just aren’t the same

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

February 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728