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Old winery near the north italian border

© Sven Fennema
Just picked up this online tonight…

Edinburgh is real

Edinburgh in a way reminds me of Chicago. It's populated with real people, it's not Disneyland. There are tourists but they're not calling all the shots as they are in many of the exquisite places of the world. The city is tough and ancient and deep. There's a distinctive culture. The real thing.

Godfrey Stephens, Thickness of Guinness, and Brendan Behan

Godfrey Stephens has roamed all over the globe, armed only with a sketchbook and carving tools. He was in Europe in the beatnik years. When he heard I was in Ireland a few days ago, he e-mailed me a typically rambling message that contained the following (edited):
"Yeah Ireland! Man, I walked across to Galway from Cork, drank Guinness so thick a spoon would take 5 min to fall against the side.…was in a bar in Galway , and drew a Portrait of a famous Poet named Brendan Behan, who gave me all the money he had in his pockets for it then invited us to Ballsbridge to visit, what a guy what a drinker…"
-From Edinburgh on a sunny afternoon

Lamb and beer on a rainy night

Edinburgh: we wandered around for several hours this afternoon, parka-clad, in the afternoon drizzle, went to the hilltop castle, walked through the old town, finally found a good-vibes pub called Whisky. I had a hot toddy (damp and rainy, you know), then meal of lamb, new potatoes, local vegetables. Plus a pint of Caledonian 80 draft Scottish beer. Edinburgh is a very fine town.

Edinburgh on a rainy day

Another view of the Gallarus Oratory in Ireland (see below).
Yesterday we took a train across Ireland, from Gallway to Dublin. Then caught an early morning flight across the Irish Sea to Edinburgh, and here we are. We lucked out, as pretty much throughout this trip, by finding a nice B&B. It's an old Victorian building with a big park out in front, and right now I'm looking out the window into a quiet cul-de-sac. We're going to spend two or three days here and then head south in a rental car.

I haven't really had time to write about this trip yet. The last two weeks have seemed like half a lifetime of adventure. Coming back to Ireland for the first time in 35 years, I found the country much changed in standard of life, but still the same in spirit and beauty. 35 years ago, in a pub, I saw a twinkling light in an old Irishman's eyes. I realized that leprechauns are not really flesh and blood humans, but mischievous spirits that reside in many of the Irish.

I'll try writing about the trip sometime in the next few weeks.

150-year-old stone cottage

This man (who wishes to remain unnamed) is a builder and his grandfather lived in this stone cottage. It's typical Irish construction, a dry stone wall whitewashed on the outside is protection from the weather. He guessed that it was built in the 1800s. we had a great conversation about building, the Internet, and living on the sea for about 10 minutes. Wonderful to run across a kindred spirit.

The Gallarus Oratory

It was a gray, overcast/sunny day when I peered up over a hedge and saw this little building. It stopped me in my tracks. It was built 1300 years ago at the South-eastern corner of Smerwick Harbor on the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry, on the central west coast of Ireland. It's about 24 feet long by 15 feet wide by 15 feet high. The stones are laid at an angle so they shed rain. I fall in love with buildings from time to time, and this is right at the top of the list. I hung around for an hour and a half and shot over 100 photos. I'm sure there's a lot of information online about it. I'll post some more photos, including some panoramas showing the encircling stone walls, when I have time.

Irish window number one

The Golden Hinde Replica in London

It was a thrill to see this replica of Francis Drake's flagship in London (docked in St Mary Overie Dock near the
Tate Modern Museum), to think that this little ship circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580 (and sailed right by our home town in Northern California). These sailors/navigators/priates not only sailed the world, but pillaged other ships, with no motors, just the wind.

The Golden Hinde

Masonry Detail in London

Homemade Door Closer

Kees Kramer, a cabinet maker in Bantry, Ireland, rigged up this door closer with a water-filled bottle. A piece of plastic clothesline cord runs from an eyehook at the top left of the door to an eyehook shown at top right on the jamb. Push the door open and the bottle goes up; leave the door open and the ball goes down, and it closes automatically. Vary the amount of water in the bottle to get the right weight. (This is the same principle that Lloyd House uses to lift his boat out of the water in British Columbia, as shown in Builders of the Pacific Coast.)

More Brilliance From HBO

This is so cool and witty:
Click on the message, ("Click here for more than you imagined")

Then go here so to see new territory in moving visual media:
Be sure to rotate the cube so you see the scene from eight different angles.

On the west coast of Ireland

Kinsale, Co. Cork
Skibbereen, Co. Cork

Ryanair: Airline from Hell

This airline represents a degradation in the human spirit. You feel degraded through the whole process, they are so sleazy and nasty. They charged us 40 pounds ($65) apiece (!) to issue boarding tickets at the airport. Being as we were checking in on line from a hotel, we had no access to a printer. They get away with this chickenshit practice because here you are at the airport, checked out of your hotel, and needing to get to your destination. What can you do? $130 for boarding passes for two people who were already checked in. Can you believe this?

Their weight allowance is way lower than other airlines, which they don't make clear. My bag weighed 20 kg & their max was 15. How much for overage? £5 pounds per kilo, i.e. £25 ($40). Naturally I loaded it all into my by-now heavy backpack. The Englishman next to me on the flight (from Gatwick (London) to Cork (Ireland) said "They're a rip off," and told me about an old lady they were once trying to charge 200 pounds for excess baggage.

Everything about the check-in process, the flight, and dealing with these dispirited and often rude employees is a bummer. They're like McDonalds or KFC. Their prices are cheap and their products are shit. When you look them up on the Internet, you find out what they're really up to. Check these quotes from Wikipedia:

"The airline has come under heavy criticism in the past, for its poor treatment of disabled passengers. In 2002, it refused to provide wheelchairs for disabled passengers at London Stansted Airport..."//"In January, following a BBC investigation, Ryanair conceded that a claim it had cut its CO2 emissions by half in recent years was "an error."//"Ryanair has been described by the consumer magazine, Holiday, as being the "worst offender" for charging for optional extras."//The Economist newspaper wrote that Ryanair's "cavalier treatment of passengers" had given Ryanair "a deserved reputation for nastiness" and that the airline '…has become a byword for appalling customer service ... and jeering rudeness towards anyone or anything that gets in its way.'"//"New Ryanair aircraft have been delivered with leather seats which do not recline, no seat-back pockets, safety cards stuck on the back of the seats and life jackets stowed overhead rather than under the seat."

Don't patronize these sleazeballs. Tell your friends.

Keith Richards on Chuck Berry

"She remembered a statement that Keith Richards once made regarding a famous R&B musician whose hostility to his own audience hid just beneath his skin: 'Chuck's tragedy is he doesn't realize how much joy he brings to other people'."
-from Swan Peak, by James Lee Burke

Elizabethan barn with rare hammerbeam roof restored

"An Elizabethan barn with a rare hammerbeam roof usually found in palaces has been restored to its former glory…The barn was built in the grounds of Westenhanger Castle near Hythe in Kent in around 1580, and features one of only two such roofs to be found in barns in the country. The two-and-a-half-year project to restore it was funded largely by a £500,000 grant from English Heritage, which has given almost £2 million to the castle's owners over the past 12 years. The castle originated as a Saxon manor house, before its later incarnations of a 14th century moated castle and the grand country house which stands today."
From the Telegraph, 14 Sept, 2009

Rainy day in London town

We walked up Primrose Hill with our friend Richard, and had a spectacular 220° view of London as the sun was setting Monday night. This is a magic spot, all the more so because London is basically flat. Rain was vaguely threatening, and this rainbow appeared. The next day, it poured.

Dress by Fortuny

At stunning fashion exhibit at Victoria and Albert Museum

Finally tuning in to big city

This is our seventh day in London. It's an exciting place, especially compared to California. People are extremely kind, often offering help with directions. When we came up out of the tube (subway) on the way to the hotel, we got to a long flight of stairs, and when I started struggling to wheel my (50 lbs or so) bag up the stairs, a guy rushed up, picked it up and walked with me to the top. Dude!

A lot of the time I feel bewildered, a somewhat-country boy in fast-moving urbanism. But there are moments of sheer thrill, the excitement of things different. The first day here, I went to the basement bookstore of the Architectural Association (a trendy school of architecture) on Bedford Square, and found a wonderful selection of books. I discovered the German publisher Burkehäuser, which has a list of maybe 100 books in English. I'm going to buy three of them: Building with Earth, by Gernot Minke; Sustainable Design by Control and Review; and Building Integrated Photovoltaics.

We've got one week "Oyster" passes, which allow free usage of the tube and buses and they work great. Otherwise, the tube is about seven dollars a pop. Cabs are ultra-expensive. In fact this is the priciest place I've ever been, but you get a lot for yr. money. Food ranges from pretty good to great. Buildings, at least in this part of town, are mostly immaculate. The masonry has been cleaned of city soot, I would guess power-washed, so you see lots of magnificent design and craftsmanship.
By coincidence, our son Will and his bride Aine are here on their honeymoon, and were meeting them this afternoon to take a trip on the Thames and then walk down the south side of the river to London Bridge, to Tate Modern, Saint Paul's, walk on the Millennium Bridge. Tomorrow the four of us will explore the city, and the next day Lesley and I are flying Ryanair to Cork, Ireland, where will pick up a small Volkswagen rental car and explore the West Coast of Ireland.

London sidewalk art

New book by Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand has just come out with a new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto: which sounds like it may be his second major statement, the first being the Whole Earth Catalog. Let's see what Stewart's concluded after lo, these 40 years: http://www.longnow.org/projects/seminars/

Stewart does it again

Stewart Brand has discovered an amazing artist, Arthur Ganson. "You follow the feeling of the piece," Ganson explained, "and then wrestle it into physicality."
More: http://bit.ly/Gy9Mm

Go to the post page…

"You follow the feeling of the piece," Ganson explained, "and then wrestle it into physicality." As long as the idea is nonphysical, it is permanent; it becomes temporary as a physical device; and then it becomes permanent again in the mind of the viewer.

As Ganson spoke, a tiny chair walked meditatively around and around on a rock on the right side of the stage, projected live onto a video screen. (Thinking Chair.) No part in any of his kinetic art pieces is superfluous, he pointed out; everything functions. The piece should be crystal clear and also completely ambiguous. That's what allows each viewer to create their own story.

He showed a video of "Machine with Concrete." On the left an electric motor drives a worm gear at 212 revolutions a minute. A sequence of twelve 50-to-1 gear reductions slows the rotation so far that the last gear, on the right, is set in concrete. It would take over two trillion years for that gear to rotate. "Intense activity on one end, quiet stillness on the other," Ganson said. "It's a duality I feel in my own being."

The next video, "Cory's Yellow Chair," showed a chair exploding into six pieces, which hover at a distance, then gently reassemble, and instantly explode again. Ganson said he wanted the chair pieces to explode at infinite speed, rest in stillness at the extreme, then reassemble gradually. The piece is stab at the question of "when is now?" Now is when the chair coalesces, but it doesn't last.

Some of Ganson's machines inspire people to sit and watch them for hours. "Machine With Oil" does nothing but drench itself with lubrication all day long. In "Margot's Other Cat" a soaring chair is set in random motion by an unsuspecting cat. The cat's motion is utterly determined; the chair has its own life.

During the Q&A, Alexander Rose asked the full-house audience how many of them of were makers of things. Ninety percent raised their hands in joy.

Birds, weeds by the Thames

Westminster Abbey

The old, the new—sigh!

Wooden sculpture at Architectural Association

This structure was an award winner in a design contest at the Architectural Association, a London college of architecture and is on display outside the school, on Bedford Square. It consists of 28 layers of very thin plywood, which conceal an internal structural system

Fab cap slaps sex ban on wags

The day we arrived, this was the headline in the Sun. Boy, the witty headlines of sleazy London tabloids! Translation: England football team coach Fabio Capello to ban Wags (wives and girlfriends) from seeing much of their spouses during the forthcoming World Cup tournament.

Hummingbird exhibit

"In the bird gallery of The Natural History Museum in London there is a nineteenth-century glass cabinet the size of a circus car that may have once belonged to William Bullock, the London Museum curator. The cabinet is large but easy to overlook--from a distance it looks like a neglected herbarium, one in which the foliage has been allowed to go brown and twiggy. Up close, this desiccated forest blooms with hundreds of hummingbirds posing stiffly on every branch, their iridescent plumage only slightly dulled by the passage of two hundred years."
-by Judith Pascoe, Questia

Natural History Museum a Stunner

This stunning building was designed by "…Alfred Waterhouse who… designed the façades in his own idiosyncratic Romanesque style…terracotta tiles (were manufactured) to resist the sooty climate of Victorian London."
It's a gorgeous building, with wonderful exhibits.
We were there a few hours ago.

3rd Day in London

Big Ben is an elegant structure (although slightly out-of-whack-looking here from a 3-photo collage). I haven't been to London in 25 years, and first impressions are that— at least in central London and Westminster—it's clean and well tended (and very expensive!). I remember it being much grittier 20-30 years back. It seems as if all the wonderful old buildings have been sandblasted or water-blasted. Maybe it's just early fall, but the air is clean. We've got a fourth-story walk-up room in a modest hotel on a quiet block, two blocks from the British Museum. We look out the window into an inner courtyard, where there's a beautiful tree with almost iridescent yellow leaves. I'm on the road for the next five weeks, and will post photos and observations whenever I can.

2009 Natural Building Colloquium In Oregon 18-24 October

The 2009 Natural Building Colloquium will take place in Oregon in about four weeks. It is hosted by the Natural Building Network and includes: Pre-fabricated strawbale panels with Chris Magwood; Earthen floor contracting for residential and commercial buildings with Sukita Crimmel; Bamboo roof structure for cob entry way project with Darrel Deboer; Integrating natural building into the urban environment in Portland with new codes and techniques, with Joshua Klyber; Report on the first code approved straw bale in Portland from Lydia Doleman.
DATE: 18-24 October 2009: LOCATION: Camp Latgawa, Rogue National Forest, Oregon. "This beautiful camp is nestled in a secluded valley in the Rogue National Forest in Southern Oregon. Beautiful fir trees tower above 2 crystal clear streams that boast populations of endangered Coho Salmon. The grounds of the camp are home to several natural building projects created during previous colloquiums. These include earthen ovens and sculptures, stone benches, round-wood furniture, wood sheds, a sweat lodge, a labyrinth, and a naturally renovated cabin from the early 20th century.Colloquium participants will stay in one of several comfortable dormitory-style cabins (no need for a tent!). All meals will be freshly prepared by the camp hosts, Eva and Greg."
Info: http://groups.google.com/group/nbco-2009

Taking off for Europe tomorrow

My wife Lesley and I are leaving for London tomorrow. We'll be there a week, then head for Ireland to travel on the west coast. We hope to visit and maybe stay at Dan Hummel's stone home he built in the '80s and '90s (shown here) on the coast in Cork County. We'll roam around (Ireland (which I love), then cross back to England, go through the Lake District, to Edinburgh, down to Suffolk. I'll head to the Frankfurt Book Fair for a week, then we'll meet for a week in Paris. I'll be shooting photos (with my new Panasonic Lumix G1), posting them on my blog.

The Ronnie Wilhelm memorial bench

Ronnie Wilhelm was a local's local. Born in this small town, he was a fisherman, hunter, carpenter and lover. Ronnie was always smiling, always made people feel good. He partied hard and famously. He had tons of friends and people who loved him dearly. A few weeks ago Ronnie died of a brain tumor. He spent his last days surrounded by friends. This bench is just outside Ronnie's house, with a view of the ocean and San Francisco across the bay. it was chain-sawed out of a downed cypress tree by one of Ronnie's friends (who wishes to remain anonymous). Scenes from Ronnie's life are inset on the right side -- hunting, fishing, a jumping salmon—carved out of walnut. Last time I went by, on my way down to the beach, about a dozen of Ronnie's friends were there with a bottle of whiskey, visiting and looking out to sea.

Go to the post page…

I ran across this short film. Can't find out where or just what it is. It's titled "…the crucial moment in building a reciprocal frame roof of round wood on top of a cobwood roundhouse. Jeez, don';t try this at home, folks. Maybe it's because I'm from earthquake country, but this roof frame looks sketchy in the extreme to me. Plus when you get tons of soil on top, you've got a potential for flattening inhabitants. Owner-builder guru Ken Kern (his The Owner-Built Home was my building bible in the '60s) was killed when a soil roof collapsed on him.

Go to the post page…

the crucial moment in building a reciprocal frame roof of round wood on top of a cobwood roundhouse.

Time-lapse photo of building timber-frame house

Yestermorrow is a school for building in the Green Mountains of Vermont. It's a great place. This video shows time lapse images of a class doing the foundation and framing of a mortise-and-tenon house in 2008.. More information available at http://www.yestermorrow.org.

Film building cob oven Costa Rica

Nice film of building a beautiful cob oven on a stone base in Costa Rica:

Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth

This is so great. Stay with it; it gets better as it goes along. Had me laughing out loud.
"Happiness and dancing transcend political boundaries and occur in practically every human society. Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, started dancing, and filmed the result…a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious -- few people…watch the above video without smiling."

See: http://www.wherethehellismatt.com/

Go to the post page…

Three 10-Minute Workouts For a Busy Day in the Office

Don't even have time for a 30-minute workout some days? Here are three 10-minute workouts, quick exercises to do on those "busy days." It's all on one page that you can keep in your desk drawer (or on the wall). To download a good screen-size print-out, click on the image below for an Adobe PDF:

From: Getting Back in Shape © 2002
Shelter Publications, Inc., Bolinas, CA

Bees in the Garden, Fish in the Sea

About 6 weeks ago, schools of sardines materialized off our coast, the pelicans started dive-bombing, the bigger fish arrived, and fishing has been great ever since. Halibut, sea bass, rock fish — all brought in by local boats. Fisherman Josh says, "The ocean's healthy." Believe me, fish eaten the same day as caught are different from anything you find in a market.
And just now, sitting in the morning sunshine in the garden, I noticed honeybees everywhere. Bee colonies got knocked hard by diseases (and crop poisons) in the last 10 years, but are on the rebound, at least around here. Right now they're brushing golden pollen onto their hind legs, which they'll take back to the hive. It's win-win, since they're pollinating plants while gathering food. (Is this inadvertent? Maybe not. )
Not everything is doom and gloom.
Bee photo from: http://www.dereila.ca/whispers/two.html

Meg Pickard on Getting Most Out of iPhone Camera

Geisha by Meg Pickard.
Meg Pickard: "The thing about this photo is that if I’d used a “proper” camera, it would have undoubtedly have caused too much attention, and would have spoilt the composition. As it was, I was only able to get this picture by holding the camphone at a most strange angle by my face (perhaps the other passengers thought I was very short sighted, and just reading a text message?) but the crucial thing is that this photo simply couldn’t have been captured in such a spontaneous way without a piece of photographic capturing kit which enabled spontaneity: A cameraphone."

Beach Graffiti

I love graffiti. It's free, spontaneous, not controlled by officials, not taught in art school, not managed by dealers or galleries. This one appeared in the last few weeks on the beach — which is periodically patrolled by great white sharks..

Mark Morford On Burning Man 2009

San Francisco columnist Mark Morford now on his 6th trip to Burning Man, is "… hereby reminded of a few hundred truths, half-truths, outright lies and astonishing epiphanies offered up by the world-famous, Christian-feared, beautifully debauched, sensory overloaded, impossible-to-describe art-survivalist-camping-rave megaspectacle now underway in the remote Nevada desert."
And that Burning Man "…reminds you that you are far from alone in your understanding that this is one hugely painful, incredibly difficult, unbearably gorgeous, terrifying, excruciatingly short life experience…" http://bit.ly/14CQtF
Photo of 2006 Burning man by Rod Fairbairn-Smith

Hanging Kitchen Utensils

Homemade Real Cook/Real Kitchen Tips #1
A one-inch strip of wood, a bunch of nails, a hammer and—voila!—dozens of frequently-used kitchen tools hanging within easy reach. How come you never see things like this in Dwell or Fine Homebuilding?

Watch for future do-it-your self household tips.