The Larkin Project: secret pre-release video

The Larkin Project is music inspired by the recorded voice of poet Phillip Larkin.  "Cod Poetics" are 5 pieces on the album that are the most removed from his voice.  They retain only the outline of the recitation, the cadence of fragments.

Free album to anyone who can tell me within 100 feet where I'm standing when the video was filmed.


Release scheduled for early February.  I'm also working on an Amazon storefront, where you'll be able to get ZenGlop fridge magnets.

The Sake Hut: Pittsburgh in 2112

BODHIDHARMAI live in Pittsburgh.  150 years ago, technology transformed this city.  The landscape was filled with new machines, new money brought financial, social and cultural institutions.  I worked for 10 years at Mellon Bank, the same institution that funded Carnegie, Frick, Clay in their early industrial development.  New work brought waves of people, who in turn built new houses, new transportation and new public works  infrastructure.  The Pittsburgh Steelers dominate the NFL (unless Tom Brady is on the field).  None of this was pre-ordained.   

Nick and I were out walking one day, and started thinking about a good life.  Brewing Sake, we decided, would be not only the Good life:  quite possibly it is The Best of Lives.  To work from early morning until late at night, our children learning the business after us, offering good jobs, a tradition.  Our sake distributed to the sushi bars in town.  

What if we imagine ourselves to be living in Pittsburgh in 2112, 100 years removed.  Why shouldn't there be a vision of Pittsburgh as radically different from what we see today, as today would look from 1850. I look at the rivers, and I imagine the brown soil transformed through phyto-remediation.  The hills above the Allegheny are terraced into fields, flooded with clean river water and growing high grade rice.  Why not imagine Pittsburgh as the sake brewing capital of America. 

Urban agriculture is a breaking wave:  there's plenty of spaces in between buildings that can be cultivated.  There are two farms within walking distance of my house.  I got a flyer one summer from a couple of people who wanted to grow vegetables but had no land.  they were asking anyone with an unused section of yard if we would let them plant in it.  What a great idea...they would walk around the city cultivating a batch of beets by the gazebo, a crop of carrots by the corner, a bigass bag of brussell sprouts by the bird bath. 

Sake is good drink.   It begins with a mix of steamed rice and koji.  Koji is a mold that converts the rice starch into sugar.  Added yeast, with water and time time,  turns that sugar into alcohol.   Rice is polished, rubbed smooth like pebbles.  Different degrees of polish yield higher grades of rice.  Different grades of rice yield different qualities of sake:  since we'd also be running production of rice through The Sake Hut, we could offer all kinds. 

We'd build The Sake Hut down by the river, somewhere between Lawrenceville and the Strip district.  The Sake Hut is a long , 2 story building made of dark bamboo wood.  The first story contains all the brewing facility, as well as an open quarter where people can come and fill up growlers with our 100 cup sake. 

Nick says to only trust a man when he's drunk 100 cups of sake.  Or don't trust a man who won't drink a hundred cups of sake.  Something like that.  Whether it's Confuscian wisdom, or something he made up (we were probably on 10 cups of sake), it's an excellent meme and one we'll use to name the basic grade of Pittsburgh Sake.  100 Cup Sake from The Sake Hut, Pittsburgh.  Made with locally produced rice.   Even if the story about 100 cups turns out to be a fabrication, Nick is our Master Brewer.  He earns the title through natural talent, god-given perserverance, and the fact of having already brewed a batch of sake.  I'll have to see if we can dig up an image of the label, the first batch of 100 Cup Sake.  It was a touch salty, but that all fell by the wayside  halfway through the second bottle.

The second floor of The Sake Hut would be company offices, which is where I'd be the tool running spreadsheets.  A single room running the full length with a smooth-edged  table in the center for office space.  There would always be a Go board out (Nick would take on all comers). 

Around the hut would be bamboo plants which our daughters would harvest and weave into cups used  to serve Sake .  We'd grow marijuana in hidden groves, waiting for the commonwealth to come to it's comon senses. 

Sake gets a distinctive characteristic from the water.  A lot of what American brewers do to their water is to try and recreate the water of particular Tokyo prefectures.  British beer makers do the same thing, adding minerals to the water to 'Burtonize' it, to make it the same as the water found in Burton, home of the perfect English Ale. 

The beer from Burton was so popular that most of the train stations in London are shaped the way they are to facilitate the transportation of beer kegs in to the city.  That's the ticket, that's what we'll do to Pittsburgh.

Our 100 Cup Sake would use water taken from the Fourth River here in Pittsburgh.  The Fourth river is a sand and gravel aquifer left over from the last glaciation, running from Milwaukee or Minnesota or Mississippi but not Manhattan, the geography is unimportant, it is the last vestige of  an event which  shaped the flow of our other three rivers.  

I have a friend who lives in Highland park.  The back of his house faces a ravine, the other side is the Pittsburgh zoo.  His land has 7 springs.  1000 Cup Sake  would use only  this spring water with only the finest polished rice.  Where 100 Cup Sake  is available for purchase by growler,   1000 Cup Sake would be available only in signature serving bottles.  

So why not also re-establish the glass factories that once worked in Pittsburgh, using their product to serve Sake from The Sake Hut?  Tiffany had factories along the Monongahela, why not start back up an artisan works producing fine glass bottles for 1000 Cup Sake.

I mean, a transformation will happen regardless, so why not think large.  This is a treatise for the city planners.   Here's mud in your eye!


Happy Christmas, from Pittsburgh


I was on someones  holiday email list a few years ago,  and received this soundfile.  It's a recording  of carols played on the whistle that would have announced changes in shift at one of the steel mills around here.  

The file came without attribution, so I called up the Doctor and together we figured out that it was a Smithsonian Folkways album, Calls and Whistles , field recordings by Tony Schwartz. This selection is under the track called  "Improvisation of Instruments").     I don't know  anything about the recording  circumstances , whether it was a staged event, whether Schwartz   happened to be in the right place.  There is a spoken introduction where Schwartz refers to an imaginative factory operator, but beyond that ...

I assume that at some point during the year, the engineer has to practice.  Does  he practice off-hours, maybe during the night shift?  Does the community around the factory grow accustomed to the sound of  mistakes, missed notes?  The same frustration that a church organist feels, practising in an open building.  I imagine the technique involved is  similar to making a tune with a bicycle pump, or with the same skill required to play a Theremin.  

Is  this something handed down, from senior to apprentice?  Is  it the bailiwick of one visionary, someone who will eventually retire?  Does  each factory have their performer?  Could  there ever be combined performances, a Pittsburgh Symphony of Sirens?

All the machinery, all the noise, the grime and pollution  - all gone now.  What's left is this recording. That factory whistle is a carrier wave, modulated by the landscape, captured in stasis by early  recording technology.  Now an artefact, laden with human activity.  

The picture is Steel Works in Winter, by Roy Hilton.




The Overview Effect and Leys

I got an email notice about this movie, The Overview Effect just a few days after starting to post about Leys and The Overview Effect. Here's a blurb from the website....

"The essential nature of the Overview Effect experienced by space travelers is a shift in their internal model of the world, or “Worldview,” often resulting in changed or enriched ideas, attitudes, and behaviors concerning life on Earth. It is similar to other better-known and more widely studied experiences that broaden one’s conception of the world.

Examples are global travel, higher education and the heightened sense of the natural world that often accompanies mountain climbing, wilderness trekking, ocean sailing, and other extreme experiences. All create shifted worldviews previously based only on media portrayals. Frank White, author of The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, calls them “Overview Analogues.” While the analogues focus on individual aspects, the extraordinary scope of the Overview Effect shifts one’s perspective on the entire Earth."

Leys are a poetic structure. They are an Overview Analogue, one that places the viewer ( contemplator? Psychogeographer?) in a position to experience the intersection of landscape and consciousness. (Remember, it is the place Auden describes as "the crux, left of the watershed...")

Consciousness is what? Let's start with the mechanism of active imagination. This is one of the features of consciousness, the ability to create objects, experiences within the mind. These artefacts do exist, although they exist within the sense organ of the mind. The physical sense organs feed in to the mind, but there is a perception that is only mind. This is where visualisation of the deities resides, also where sports psychologists work. Propagandists: artists.

And so confronted, with images etched on the earth, figures that extend beyond out capacity to see as a whole, we are compelled towards the sense organ of the mind. The sense organ of the mind resides outside linear chronology.

A ley represents distance outside of time. Space outside of time. Space experienced in the imagination, which is the noosphere or at least a gateway to the noosphere. Perhaps think of it as the memory of an anticipated walk.

Take a walk outside the time it takes.

I want to take a walk, go out walking. Then turn it into a piece of work.

Perhaps I walk alone. Maybe with the dogs - Reggie and Buford. I want to walk out, following no particular path. I want to walk out, with design and intent. Either way, I'm good. But there's a formalist conceit, which is that there's something waiting to be extracted at the end.

What would that look like? Or sound like? I like a good story, a knotty narrative fills with reflection, tangents and occasional poetic flight. But it takes time to read. I ask if there is medium outside of time, where I can take the walk and consider each angle? I want to hold it. Can I represent it as a sculpture? Can I weave strands of wire together to create the form of the walk?

And not the pedestrian representation of topography. I wrote some short studies once, using the KML file downloaded from a GPS unit to upload to Google Earth. I think I just assigned one set of values to a pitch, and let a sine wave warble for about 10 seconds. There are more interesting ways to assign values to sonic vectors. And besides, the sound still unfolds in time.

I like very much Richard Long, his lines created by walking through a field. The walk itself is constrained, but the line is a single artifact. It is a representation of the entirety. Time is wrapped in the soil. The molecules of the soil are changed, they have been held outside the earthy processes of decomposition, seismology. The line has removed the walk from the topographic domain, placing it above the realm.

If this sounds familiar, it is because you are a loyal reader. Loyal and attentive, for you are noticing that I describe Richard Long with the same language I used a few days ago to talk about Leys. And indeed, I do think that the awareness of sight-lines (the Old Straight Track) is a long form vision shared across the poetic landscape. A Ley is a non-narrative construct of distance. I wish all readers were as delightful as you are - for you surely know who you are.

I've thought about a piece, set in Pittsburgh, working title "Cairn-Seeds". I walk, and I place small red stones at each terminus. These stones are the Cairn-Seeds. I publish the GPS locations, with directions to bring also a red stone and add to the pile. ( I'd publish using the geocaching sites, which would increase the population sample). Then, I walk the same path repeatedly. The frequency with which I walk each path is based on an algorithm that I haven't figured out yet. Lets say it works out to be once every 7 weeks. I visit each cairn.

Do I document the growth of the stones? Photography? Journal of the estimated weight? Or do I leave, knowing that it is known somewhere, at least by the last person to leave a stone?

There can be many walks. The stones could be any color.


Some thoughts on Leys

(Auden, perhaps contemplating Leys?)

From my notebook, working on ideas for a book ( saints and ley lines in east anglia?).

  1. To say Ley Lines is redundant, the ley implies the line. Where I work, we have a report called the Technology Portfolio Report, always referred to as The TPR report. That's also redundant.
  2. You can think of leys in two ways. On one hand, the Old Straight Track documented by Alfred Watkins. A ley is defined by the visible alignment of ancient sites, often then drawn on a map. On the other, The New View Over Atlantis, and other work by John Michell. Leys are mystical lines of energy, connecting powerful points of concentration often empowered by architecture, often considered alongside the UFO phenomenon
  3. A straight line alignment is an intersection of the human psyche and the landscape. the individual human psyche as much as the collective. It is an essentially poetic structure, defined in the vivid imagination of a single walker, footsteps on the earth create morphic resonance.
  4. The Ley is a poetic construct. Defined in the vivid imagination of a single walker, understood and communicated through art, shared and experienced by others. Like morphic resonance, the accretion of meaning on the landscape.
  5. In the poem, The Watershed, Auden positions the reader left and up from the artifacts of the scenery: those objects which hold on to the Quiddity.
  6. This sense of remove is important. The sense of remove defines the psychogeographic stance, which is also the poetic stance. Considering the Straight Track -a distant steeple or the mountain cairn - inserts the psyche in the noosphere above the realm.
  7. When I look along the sky, from many places in Pittsburgh, I see the  water tower in Garfield, I am circuited. I am both places at once. I like the word " circuited" here, but it is an irregular coinage. Reminds me of 'bruited', but only in pronunciation. Bruited is archaic, meaning noises, or a rumor. Medical term, an abnormal sound heard in auscultation.
  8. I think this is an intimation of the Overview Effect and is a conspicuous function of the straight track alignments. This awareness is Liminal. Profoundly available to all humans. Even - or particularly - the mundane.
  9. I'm throwing some words around here. The relationship between leys, the noosphere, and The Overview effect...well, if I write that , I won't be sitting here drinking Wild Turkey from a coffee cup any more.






Garfield watertower and psychogeographic Pittsburgh

Looking out my front door, I see the N. Graham avenue which goes steeply up the hill in to Garfield.  At the top of the hill is the Garfield water tower (picture at top of post).  One summer, when I was at home recovering from some surgery, I found the walk up the hill, along the ridge, and down again was a good becnhmark for how my strength was returning.  I would walk past the watertower, and often sit for a few minutes to regain my composure.  The big water tank is supported by steel columns, a dozen or so that are themselves connected by a lattice structure to evenly disperse the weight across all points of the poles.  In the early morning, I would try and remember Yeats, mumbling through the folk song setting by Britten:

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her did not agree.
In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she placed her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

  But it was easier instead to remember a nursery rhyme:

The Grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
Then he marched them down again. 

The sense of enormous water suspended above me, the sunshine, the peace and quiet (there's a small farm just a few yards further down the road ), the melancholy of  snow-white hands and feet.  I could imagine the bright sunshine casting a shadow through the supporting lattice that rests over the full East Liberty plateau, maybe reaching down as far as the Point.  From my office window downtown, 33rd floor, I could look past Oakland and see the Garfield water tower in line with the Herron Hill tower.  I once walked East until Penn Ave ends at the foot of Penn Hills.  I walked up and along the short ridge of Penn Hills, and came back down Frankstown road.  There were only a few places blocked by buildings where I could not see the tower.  It is the most singular object on the landscape around here.  A good psychogeographic map of East Pittsburgh would start with the sight lines for the tower, and mark off those places where you cannot see.  Identify those dead spots - the Garfield watertower transmits Quiddity across the area.

In a different summer, my friend Nick and I decided that it would be a good walk to start from the Garfield tower, and head as straight a line as possible to the watertower up on Herron Hill.  That route takes us over the Bloomfield bridge and up a few miles to Oakland.  When we went out to begin the walk - and you've seen the picture, that tower is big and present - we got up on the ridge, turned left expecting to see the tower, and no shit it wasn't there.  We walked up and down, we thought perhaps our sense of distance was off and that we needed to walk a bit further North.  But no, the damn thing wasn't there. 

Later, we considered the option that the heavy tree growth in mid- August blocked our vision, and that we must have walked within feet of the tower footprint.  I don't buy that for a minute.  That watertower wasn't there.  There are three salient factors at play:  Time, Place and View.  Were we in the right place?  Most assuredly.  A thousand pictures demonstrate that this is where the watertower is.  Did we have the right View - meaning, were we looking for the right thing?  Were we looking for a rabbit, when we meant to find a watertower?  No - again, we had the perfect view in mind.  In fact, it is all we wanted to do, was to find that tower.   That leaves only time.  We must have arrived at the wrong time, the time when the tower wasn't there.

And so now, because everything is swirling around a realisation of The Beleboke (all about The Beleboke...), I'm thinking this may be a good place to set up my Very Low Frequency receiver, pull out my didgeridoo, and record the results. 

Waves and wavelets in the Wash


There splashed about our ankles as we waded
  Those intersecting wavelets morning-cold,
And sudden dark a patch of sky was shaded,
  And sudden light, another patch would hold
The warmth of whirling atoms in a sun-shot
  And underwater sandstorm green and gold.

                             from John Betjeman East Anglian Bathe

My usual view of the cliffs at Hunstanton is to walk out along the beach and turn to see the red striations as a backdrop - well behaved dogs or persistent kite-surfers in the fore.    This morning, I  turn left instead and pull myself on to a good ledge maybe 8 feet off the ground.  I scrabble into a cross legged position, my bottom is stained red with the dust (there have been worse things).   I sit and watch the waves.  

I like it here tremendously.  The wind is strong, the tide is coming in.  I imagine that in all but the highest tide I could sit here, splashed and buffeted but essentially comfortable. This is the  the kind of thing that a braver person would test out. 

I have become invisible, seated here with my whiskey and notebook.  I hear a young boy calling to his father on the beach and only when he is 6 feet from me does he jump down, half a step off balance.  Neither of them had seen me.  

A Norfolk constabulary vehicle comes down the beach.    Am I violating common sense and local ordinance by sitting on the cliff?  I have no intention of climbing, officer (I rehearse my defense).  My flask is small, concealed and dignified... but there are empty beer bottles laying around and although they aren't mine will still require the right tone of indignation.   The beach turns rocky just a bit further down,  my Jedi mind tricks are powerful enough to sustain the illusion,  and the constable goes back the way he came.  Routine run, I'm not the droid he's looking for.

Bright lines of shells mark the sand.  When I walked up to the ledge, my footsteps sank and were lost quickly in the wet sand.  I stopped to take photographs and my shadow was a constant above the moving patterns of wind, water, sand.  I lost a sense of horizon in some of the close up photos, and had to use my stick to catch myself before falling.

The hardened sand has captured the gestures and reactions of the earlier ebbing tide.  The spent waves of the flowing tide create a veneer,  the surface of the water is mottled with remnants of white froth settling over ridges that have formed in curved parallel, extending past the edge of my vision.  Looking straight down between my feet, a shallow eighth of an inch of water moves in concentric circles, standing waves created by the wind, pushing in to a localised center.  If I raise my eyes a fraction, but let the focus fall to a greater distance, this localised activity becomes a band of shimmering summation, a feather brush rushed across the waters surface.   

Small lines, not yet waves, more like long strings shaken between two children, crossed over each other one lined up to catch the wind, the other floating on the rushing tide. The tide is pushing straight, the wind presses against the crests.  The tops of the waves curl in on themselves about 50 yards out.   These are close phenomena, before the breaking foam, where I can walk without my ankles getting wet. 

In The Tuning of the World  , R Murray Shafer quotes Thomas Mann  ("The Magic Mountain") .  The Strand refers to a beach, probably very similar to this one on the English North Sea.

"Day after day one walks along the strand, listening to the indolent splashing of the wavelets, gauging the gradual crescendo to the heavier treading and on to the organized warfare of the breakers.  The mind must be slowed to catch the million transformations of the water, on sand, on shale, against driftwood, against the seawall.  Each drop tinkles at a different pitch;  each wave sets a different filtering on an inexhaustible supply of white noise.  Some sounds are discrete, others continuous.  In the sea, the two fuse in primordial unity.  The rhythms of the sea are many;  infrabiological - for the water changes pitch and timbre faster than the ear’s resolving power to catch it’s changes;  biological - the waves rhyme with the patterns of heart and lung and the tides with night and day;  and suprabiolgical- the eternal inextinguishable presence of water”

Sitting, listening, the ocean is  mantra.  I add one of my, comfortably perched on the ledge.

Appearance is flat.  Above the sand and shells,   I don't have the sense of waves breaking towards me but instead of discrete horizontal bands of activity.  At the farthest distance, crests of waves are merged together so that they appear the same scale as the concentric ripples by my feet.  Water rushes  in from the North sea, along the Lincolnshire coast, until rubbing up against the square end of the Wash and rebounding down to hit the shore here by Hunstanton.  A graceful sweep.  Tomorrow morning, I will still see the tracks where the police car turned, a line that mirrors the current, answering my question how high the tide comes in on an evening.   

I will have to lose the image of my ledge surrounded by the high tide while I sit, deep enough in to not worry about slipping even if I fell asleep, maybe chilled by an odd wave.  Lights on offshore turbines, distance, trawlers.  None of that, the water doesn't come in enough.

The sky moves in counterpoint to the waves and wavelets.  The image rests flat behind a heavy pane of glass. A small flock of birds, passing notably above this plane, settle to the side.  I think they are Egrets.

They are probably gulls, the only reason I say Egret is because I have a friend with a birdwatchers Day By Day picture calendar, and for the past few weeks has been heavy on the Egrets. The good ones, he sends me copies.

walking the adumbrated line

I recently got hold of a map of the PIttsburgh trolley lines, map created in 1957.   Trolley lines are categorized as single, double, running in the street or beside, planned, or decommissioned.

We would today see this map as a thing of singular obsession.  It is executed by hand, drawn with ink, ruler and compass.  In the day, those were skills routinely taught.  Today, I would map the terrain on Google.  Except that today  most of those lines are gone.  If  they appear on a satellite photo it  will be like the echo of a neolithic ruin, the tracing of a bronze age fort's foundations unseen except from an aerial examination of the land.  

 In  2012, the trolley system extends to the South, travelling under Mt. Washington.  None of the East lines remain.  In March  a new extension opened beneath the Allegheny River to join  downtown and the sporting  stadia.  Ongoing plans remain open for discussion to create a useful  Spine Line connecting Oakland, downtown, and the airport.  

This map shows the peak of trolley lines.  When people began to move out to the suburbs - especially our northern ones - the effort to convert/ create bridges with both traffic and trolley capacity was too much.  A bus system began to be developed, and in 1964 the Pittsburgh Railway Company (itself a conglomeration of many smaller lines) was absorbed in to the Port Authority of Allegheny County.  From then, and to this day, has been a process to diminish the public transit infrastructure.

Some things make money.  Some things cost money.  Transit costs money.  It is one of the signatures of a civilised nation that the citizenry can move easily and reliably for work and pleasure.

In Parallel Lines, Ian Marchant talks about trains. ( I've written about trains, especially the sounds they make. ) One of the lines referred to in Ian's  book title  is the painful, expensive, tiresome notion of modern rail travel in Britain.  

Mind you, I live in America, where there's one train a day between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.  If Obama really were the tyrant socialist we keep hearing about, there'd probably be a bloody fast train every 90 minutes. But so:  I left England when there still was such a thing as British Rail and for sure it had it's flaws but I was just a boy and took the 16:08 each day home from Manchester to Glazebrook.  In winter, when the dark came early, I could see red lights on top of pylons criss-crossing fields, distant and in the distance to become enchanting.  I didn't know Spender's poem Pylons, but I think I held an intimation of Auden's Watershed. ("...snatches of tramline running to the wood...."),  the Psychogeographic stance

This is closer to the second line, the parallel one, that's just a step outside the day to day, and stays  a little fey .  A love for trains:  to ride, restore,  to sing, or to wait  about  for.  National pride, personal memoir. Bucolic, rocking branch lines, noble steam,  mighty diesel.  Bit of Elgar in the background.

Building a model rail set is one way to interact with this romantic image of the train.  Literature and movies are filled with images to settle our subconscious in a love for trains.  Another is to 'Bash'.  Marchant puts it this way:

"I knew that I wanted to try my hand at bashing, and I felt instinctively that I was by both inclination and disposition a line basher at heart.  I did not want to travel for 1,000 miles behind a Class 37 Diesel.  I did not want to sit on a train with a stop-watch and a calculator trying to work out how fast it was going.  I did want to colour in a map.  I like the idea of colouring in maps.  Much more than actually going places.  When I am old, I don't want to say to my grandchildren, smiling up at me with Vaseline eyes, 'Look, children.  Here are all the places I've been.  Here are the sketches I made of all the wonderful people I met along the way'.  I don't want all that Werthers Originals shit.

I want to say, 'Look, children.  here are all the maps I've coloured in.  And I didn't cheat; I really had to go to these places before Iwas allowed to colour them in.  Wellm pass through them anyway'".

("Vaseline eyes".   Beautiful. ) Ian attempts to bash the London Underground in a single day.   I give nothing away except the result  to say that he fails.  

I also like this idea, of bashing.  I like the idea of taking my old trolley map and using it to recreate pathways through the town.  In some places I can walk and see the remnant of a track paved over.  Tracks and cobblestones, covered then revealed after a decade or two of winter buckles the tarmac.  To Bash lines that aren't there anymore.  The word for this is Adumbration. 

Adumbration (which I started to get in to for the aesthetics of The Scratch Pieces) can mean to mark out a pattern in a color only slightly different from the background field.  To adumbrate is also to partially reveal.  Walking those removed trolley lines feels like it will be entering in to a different relationship with the road, with the shape of human development in this place.  I expect I'll see dramatic relics of a bygone transit infrastructure.  Also  delicate bits laying around,  with  plenty of slogging up and down busy streets that have  no sidewalk.  Pissing in the rivers.   Sexy is, this psychogeography of adumbration.  

Some of this reminds me of Richard Long and his documented walks. Some  reminds me of Andy Goldsworthy and his rain shadows - adumbrated figures.

I will define some logic to create a subset of tracks.  Perhaps all tracks that pass within 5 miles of my home?   Then I'll take a copy of the trolley map, 1957, and color in the lines that aren't there anymore.





something completely different - a day back in school

My daughter attends middle school at CAPA, the Pittsburgh public school system magnet school for creative and performing arts.  Her standard academic work is supplemented by a major, in her case the Literary Arts program.  Friday last was a 'Take Your Father to School' day.  We've done  'Take your Sons and Daughters to Work' for a couple of years, so this was my chance to go back to school. 

Today, the class is to work on capturing the intersection of the City and Nature.  We'll be going on a walk for 2 hours, through the city, stopping in a few places to sit and meditate/open up/observe.  There will be no talking.  The teacher stresses this point.  No talking.  The students all have other projects to work on - if they cannot agree to the rule of silence, they are to stay behind and work on these. They talk about inner silence, observation:  they talk about meditation as a writers tool. 

Katz Plaza
There are about 20 students, one teacher.  I am The Wanderer, prepared to be humiliated as an outsider.  On 9th street, a few feet from the school door: a group has gathered around some weeds in a crack on the pavement.  I see everyone, already writing.  

I try to spy on their notebooks.  Walter Benjamin looked for 'biology in the asphalt' when he wrote about Paris.  That was the life of the Flaneur, of Baudelaire.  William Blake lays Jerusalem atop London.  William Wordsworth considers the Thames.  Iain Sinclair breaths the fumes around Hawksmoor's cathedrals.  I remember that just a few days before I had written a blog post about the Point, about the shape of Pittsburgh as a Greek Theatre.

The sky is cerulean blue, I imagine since I don't know what colour cerulean really is.  This is dark blue and clear, shining through the top of 9th street parking lot. 

A fine day for walking.  We stop at the Katz Plaza.  Across the street,my daughter and a few other students have sat themselves at the magnolia trees.  These are bronze cast trees with hand made flowers.  I've taken out my notebook and start to write.  I see a series of pictures with her sitting there, same spot, many years,  beneath the always in bloom, never out of bloom flowers.  Same spot.  Time of year.  Always with long hair (until she cuts it).  People around her, some for long enough to see them also change.  Others for a year then gone.  Taller, gradually holding a fine full lotus pose.  The buildings at the corner are  cracked, repaired, replaced.   Re-used or reconfigured.  Book store, cafe, machine shop.  Pub, kite store, Fish and Chips. 

You could fill a gallery with portraits of the students in their various attitudes of sitting, writing, thinking.  A few walk, but it is a good looking walk, a looking walk. 

The Katz Plaza has a fountain, a messy pyramid each step with a different curve, different edges.  As water fills eventually overflows and small but steady falls for a few minutes until another forms.  Details to catch the eye.  I sit in the shade of planted linden trees, letting the leaves affect my focus until I see a larger pattern, dispersed fully over the whole, of smallest wind blown water droplets each also catching light. 

The teacher calls us together and before we walk gives  additional pointers.  The students must use concrete images in your text, fully formed descriptions.  It is as well that I am only auditing the class.  My writing resides within the landscape, but I am always hunting Quidds, looking for the vestige of memory. 

I've been in the gardens here before, but during the Three River Arts Festival when the paths are filled with aisles of vendor booths. The sense of mid-morning lull continues.  I could stop in and grab a coffee.  Maybe a muffin or a bagel.  I was so anxious about surviving the school schedule that I haven't eaten yet.  I know lunch is early, but I am dyspeptic and run my schedule to avoid indigestion and constipation. 

The students have stopped at a fountain and are settled in.  Most of them have balanced precariously and are will soon be falling in to the pool.  I walk around.  I try to get some pictures on my phone. The water masks traffic sounds.  Birds are singing, and sweet garden pixies giggle around the rhododenra.  Quickly idyllic, the shock of silence.  This fountain is pristine, water opalescent on the painted surface.  A steam vent from the underground trolley system discharges, the spaces between leaves are filled, merging, a mist.  Sunlight strikes the buildings and their modernist patterns. 

A woman suprises me.  She's wearing a round dress, turquoise with purple beads.  Her hat is wrapped and floppy.  She carries a bag across her shoulder.  She asks again "Did you hear me?"  I hadn't, and said so.  "No, I didn't".  My voice is thick, but echoes in my ear.  "Nice staff" . She is commenting on my walking stick, a piece of Sassafras wood I use to accommodate poor balance when I walk outside.  I nod. She keeps walking and from over her shoulder says "A Staff in the Left, a Rod in the Right". 

The River
I am sitting on a rock border around the landscaped edge of Point State Park.  Most of the students have gone down steps and are out of my sight.  I know they are perilously close to the edge of the water, because I have seen their appalling disregard for safety.    We are across the river from and roughly in the center between Heinz Field and PNC Park, football and baseball stadiums.

It is Wordsworth I think of,  standing on Westminster bridge.  The poetry of domes, bridges, temples. The majesty of the city at dawn.  The river moving through.  A mighty heart.  No doubt if I had taken my literature class as seriously as my daughter takes her, I would have memorized this poem and could stand to recite - looking upriver, yellow Ft. Duquesne Bridge, the Allegheny still dark and slow before any sun has risen far enough to cast relief upon the ripples

Instead, I can Google it  when I get home. 

EARTH has not anything to show more fair:  
  Dull would he be of soul who could pass by  
  A sight so touching in its majesty:  
This City now doth like a garment wear  
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,          5
  Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie  
  Open unto the fields, and to the sky;  
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.  
Never did sun more beautifully steep  
  In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;   10
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!  
  The river glideth at his own sweet will:  
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;  
  And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Several steam boats are moving around the Point, converted barges used for tourist trips and office parties.  I watch the wake and listen for the engines.  A throbbing cycle seems to change with every other one of my breaths, perhaps 8-10 seconds.  The bridge has an anvil blow each time traffic hits the joints.  I watch the choreography of a tractor mowing the sloped grass in front of Heinz Field.  Down to the trail, turn on it's axis, up to the top.  Down again.  Meticulous.  I can see the mark of mown lawn, although I guess if I had been across on the un-mown lawn it would still look manicured.  That must be a beast of a mower to sprint up hill like that, but from across the river it is a bobbly toy.

There's a rush to get back to the school from the 7th grade, who are scheduled for lunch.  The 8th graders play it cool, they have class to go to. 

I don't know what she will end up with.  25 lines of poetry, contemplating nature and the city with concrete images.  Today is  Monday when I write this, I'm sure she has a draft and is working through revisions today.  I've seen some of her  poems before with evocative descriptions.  In one, recollections of Berwick-upon-Tweed open up to talk about loneliness and imagination.  Last year, she wrote a poem that read like a collage of all her places, all her times, set to describe who she is now.  My daughter sent that in a voicemail to her former Waldorf teacher, who I can only imagine felt an equal range of emotions.   My daughter, like me, is attached to place, routine, building grooves that keep the world in place. 

We are allowed a recess on the roof, which is on the 7th floor and makes all previous worries about water edges seem overblown.  I had been looking forward to this, a new perspective, but the  view is not what I hoped for.  I'm probably not looking carefully enough.  My daughter and her friends sit speaking fast, quiet and incomprehensible things to each other.