Archive for January, 2010

January 29th, 2010

Indiana Jones Arrives in Catania: Palazzina

Posted in Europe, Fiction, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCORBEIL | Una candela nella notte, 2008

Matin de soleil discret et de fraicheur prenante. J’ouvre le double battant de cette vieille fenêtre. J’y prend, le temps d’un instant suspendu, une large bouffée d’air. Au loin, des bruits sourds. Cris stridents. Voitures agressives. Cinq heures le matin : la ville se réveille déjà. Aurore violet. Je regarde la rosée qui suinte le long des vieilles pierres de ce palazzo.

Enivrement baroque.

Après une arrivée tardive, j’avais installé temporairement ma vie dans un gîte trouvé à la hâte sur internet. B&B Da Lucia. Un espace central, à partir duquel je pourrais poursuivre ma découverte de Catania.

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January 26th, 2010

Green Experiments in Public Housing

Posted in Architecture, Asia Pacific, Environment by Christopher DeWolf

Hong Kong’s public housing estates are going green. In recent years, the Housing Authority has been using its estates as laboratories for the latest green technologies, a move that could help reduce Hong Kong’s air pollution and encourage more sustainable building practices.

Some of the authority’s latest efforts can be seen in Yau Lai Estate, a newly-built housing estate in Yau Tong that opened last year. Standing near the estate’s main entrance are three green walls covered in a mix of grass and climbing plants. While the walls also serve a decorative purpose — the arrangement of red and green plants on one is based on a drawing of a fish made by Yau Tong schoolchildren — a study completed last November found that the greenery cooled temperatures on the walls’ exterior surface by up to 16 degrees. Temperatures on their interior surface dropped by 1.5 to 3.5 degrees.

If the green walls are adopted on a widespread basis, they could significantly reduce housing estates’ energy consumption by cutting air-conditioning costs, said the Housing Authority’s chief architect, Clifford Cheng Chiu-yeung. They would also help cool the outside ambient temperatures. That in turn would reduce Hong Kong’s urban heat island effect, which has been making summer weather even hotter and more unstable than normal.

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January 24th, 2010

Suitman Goes to Sham Shui Po

Posted in Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf

On a muggy day last summer, I was on Apliu Street looking for a used camera stall when I noticed a street DJ playing 1960s Chinese pop. Since the working-class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po isn’t known for its street performers, I was surprised and took a closer look.

Lo and behold, it was Suitman, the Korean-American performance artist. His partner, Julia Kwan, was taking photos of the crowd as he performed. She told me that Suitman had been taking his DJ booth all around the city, to places like Soho and Sai Kung, and of all the places he’d been, it was Sham Shui Po that gave him the largest and most attentive audience.

January 23rd, 2010

Pasta, Salmone and a P.A. Market

Posted in Canada, Fiction, Food, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCORBEIL | Plaisir incandescent, 2009

« Fin d’après-midi de juillet. Soleil qui glisse lentement vers le nord-ouest – typiquement montréalais – que je regarde par la large porte qui s’ouvre sur la terrasse.

J’y trouve une amie, française de passage à Montréal, brûlant cigarettes sur cigarettes en étirant de longues conversations oisives à son amoureux sis en mère patrie.

J’étire le cou d’un centimètre supplémentaire : le ciel est mou. Vaste toile orangée qui découpe les clochers du Mile End.

Je retourne à la cuisine.

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January 23rd, 2010

Indiana Jones Arrives in Catania: Taxi Driver

Posted in Demographics, Europe, Fiction, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCORBEIL | L’Etna fume la pipe : 2006

« Je suis à peine débarqué de cet avion trop petit que je pose mes pieds sur la piste. Le bus m’attend sous une pluie froide battue violemment par un vent gonflé d’une chaude humidité. On embarque, on débarque. Dix mètre à peine, tour de bus inutile et paresseux.

Les douaniers me parlent avec mollesse et estampillent mon passeport canadien sans me jeter le moindre regard. Je ne comprend rien de leur anglais, et ils n’essaient même pas de me parler en italien. Traitement éclair, acceptations hâtives. On me force à dégager le maigre espace dédié aux étrangers et je m’engouffre dans les couloirs du terminal, les secousses du vol encore au ventre.

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January 22nd, 2010

Hotel Grand Lisboa

Posted in Architecture, Asia Pacific by Christopher Szabla

Forget egg tarts and Portuguese colonial streetscapes — it was when I first saw the menacing silhouette of the Hotel Grand Lisboa that I wanted to visit Macau. Looming over the old peninsula with the arrogance of a preening peacock, it seemed to speak volumes about the state of the colony-turned-Special Administrative Region: a fusion of Latin flair, commercial glitz, and authoritarian sinister.

This symbolism seemed even more pertinent when I learned that the Grand Lisboa was not some gaudy spectacle of the 1970s or 80s, but of much more recent vintage — the mad dream of mogul Stanley Ho, who has installed a massive diamond named after himself in the lobby, which is an equally insane sight to behold, resembling a cross between the tacky Vegas casinos that inspired many of the megahotels opening in the territory and something much more stylish, like the interior of Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. But it’s the way the Grand Lisboa not only oddly seems to sum up Macau, but dominate it, revealing itself above every rooftop and beyond every twist in the street.

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January 21st, 2010

À Bout de souffle, version américaine

Posted in Canada, Music, Video by Christopher DeWolf
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I’m a great fan of Jean Leloup not only because we share a name (though his is made up and mine is real) or because he lived near me and I used to see him on the street every other day. I like him because he’s probably the strangest, most brilliant musician to have ever performed in Quebec.

The video for one of his earliest songs, “Isabelle (J’te déteste)” pokes fun at Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal New Wave film, À bout de souffle, with some great scenes of Montreal and New York in 1991. It also opens with a fantastic cameo by Julien Poulin, the actor who became famous by playing Elvis Gratton.

January 21st, 2010

Inside the World’s Largest Human Migration

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Last Saturday, I stumbled into Cinema du Parc after fighting a losing battle with some serious wind-chill. I found myself watching Lixin Fan’s documentary, Last Train Home, a jarring film that expertly chronicles the world’s largest human migration.

Every year, 130 million Chinese migrant workers attempt to make it back to their homes in rural China in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The last decade has seen China catapulted into a new economic reality as its GDP and infrastructure experience sustained and unprecedented growth. This has resulted in the dismantling of families in China’s poverty stricken countryside as younger members leave their homes for the city.

The film follows the lives of one family, the Zhangs, as they take part in this annual migration. The mother and father have gone to pursue jobs in Guangzhou and they have left behind their children and aging grandmother. Through the story of this family, Fan addresses the much bigger story of globalization and a country’s struggle between old values and new realities.

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January 20th, 2010

Chilly Day Around Houhai

Posted in Asia Pacific by Christopher DeWolf

Houhai is one of three lakes (the others are Qianhai and Xihai) in central Beijing. It dates back to the twelfth century, after which it became the northernmost part of the Grand Canal, linking the northern capital with Hangzhou in the south. Houhai today is surrounded by one of Beijing’s largest remaining collections of ancient hutong neighbourhoods. Some have been aggressively redeveloped as nightlife and tourist destinations, but further from the lake there are still some streets whose gentrification has taken a more gradual path.

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January 20th, 2010

Hong Kong’s Ticket to Political Strife

Posted in Asia Pacific, Politics, Society and Culture, Transportation by Christopher DeWolf

Here’s how to build a high-speed railway if you really want to piss off the public: don’t thoroughly consult the public, make sure it costs more than any other railway in the world (US$330 million per kilometre is a good starting point) and bulldoze a rural village of 3,600 to make way for it. When people start to get mad, act defensive and claim that if the railway isn’t built the whole economy will be sidelined.

Then you’ll have the situation we have here in Hong Kong, where the legislature approved funding for a HK$67 billion (US$8.6 billion) 26-kilometre high-speed railway, known as the “express rail” or gou tit in Cantonese, to the mainland Chinese border. When it’s completed — ostensibly by 2015, but likely later than that — it will link up with a huge high-speed rail network currently under construction in China.

While business leaders are eagerly awaiting the project’s groundbreaking, recent polls show that a majority of the population oppose the railway, whose construction will involve the demolition of Tsoi Yuen Village in the New Territories. (My friends Derrick Chang and Zoe Li put together a nice photoessay about the village for CNNGo.)

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January 19th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Café Olimpico

Posted in Canada, Fiction, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCORBEIL | Un caffè et un rêve, 2009

« En chemin, la pluie reprend vigueur et me rattrape rue Saint-Viateur. Je plonge, tête première, au Olimpico. La terrasse, partiellement à l’abri de notre climat capricieux, est déjà bondée par une foule bigarrée de fumeurs, accrocs du caffè, de Bobos, de m’as-tu-vus et autres lesbiennes dépravées. Aussi quelques habitués : le fou du village, le boulanger du coin. Une petite fille seule, l’air débile. Et moi, un peu à l’écart, un peu inclus dans le groupe.

Caffè macchiato, que je commande dans un italien trop confiant. On me sert, et je demande un verre d’eau, pour authentifier mon origine catanaise. Je donne un pourboire généreux, nonchalamment, tout en jetant un regard rassuré sur la mine heureuse du barrista. Les affaires sont les affaires, et je ne suis pas un cheap. De toute façon, je calcule qu’on me sert ici un café parmi les meilleurs en ville, pour un prix dérisoire. J’investis donc dans le service, même si ce dernier est toujours un peu laborieux. Et pas très volontaire.

M’installant sur une des tables qui longent la large fenestration, je constate que je suis bien seul ici. Même le fou du village se retrouve au centre d’une petite bande d’hurluberlus. Il reçoit un appel, ça semble important. Peut-être brasse-t-il des affaires. Des trucs louches. La drogue ? je m’interroge. Je penche davantage pour la porno, avec son air de pervers, ses culottes noires et délavées. Son veston vieillot, trop petit pour son ventre protubérant. Sa tête échevelée. Son regard perdu. Il est grotesque et se couvre de ridicule. Malgré tout, le barrista l’interpelle comme on le ferait un ami. Malgré sa mine bête, il fait partie de la place.

Alors que moi je suis seul. Un imposteur, une imposture. Un voyeur même. Un autre type de perversion.

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January 18th, 2010

Paddling Home

Posted in Architecture, Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

It’s not hard to see why Kacey Wong‘s “Paddling Home” is one of the most popular installations at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. It’s a houseboat that looks just like a typical Hong Kong apartment, after all, and anyone who lives here can relate to it.

Wong has paid particular attention to detail, cladding his boat in chintzy pink tile (popular in the 1990s as a kind of postmodern nostalgia for the ’50s, he says) and giving it what is locally (but inaccurately) known as a “bay window,” a kind of projecting window box that saves developers money on floor space while including the area of the windowsill in an apartment’s square footage. Wong’s installation highlights the absurdity of the property game in Hong Kong, where real estate is business, politics and civic obsession all at once.

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January 18th, 2010

Struggling to Support the Arts in Hong Kong

It was an unexpectedly warm day as Syren Johnstone stood, in shirt-sleeves and a bit of sweat on his brow, over a hole dug in the West Kowloon Reclamation site. He held a shovel in his right hand and stared down at a rusted reinforcing bar poking out of the earth.

“This is reclaimed land, but we’re still making archaeological finds here,” said Johnstone, who worked with two other architects, Kingsley Ng and Daniel Patzold, to create Excavation, a mock archaeological dig on the site of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. The biennale, which has attracted an eclectic range of installations and exhibits, is being held until the end of next month on a vacant part of the reclamation grounds, and covers about 73,000 square metres.

As the architects’ work progressed, they found the remains of construction waste that had been mixed with the soil used to reclaim the land — a reminder, Johnstone said, that something can never come from nothing. He turned and looked at the craggy grass and gnarly trees dotting the site, and the half-dozen unused shipping containers housing some of the works. “It’s becoming a bit like Christiania here,” he said, referring to the infamous anarchist enclave in Copenhagen. “People are just coming and doing all sorts of interesting things.”

Since it opened last month, the event has won plaudits for avoiding the academic stuffiness of many architecture showcases, first by situating itself outdoors but also by stressing public participation and the constantly evolving nature of art and architecture – concepts reflected in the theme, “Bring Your Own Biennale”.

But that approach came as much from necessity as it did from curatorial vision. Pressed for time and strapped for cash, the curators had no choice but to stage a more rag-tag production than they would have otherwise. From the beginning, the biennale’s curatorial team, led by the architect Marisa Yiu with partners Eric Schuldenfrei, Alan Lo and Frank Yu, had to work on a tight schedule and budget. They were awarded the curatorship in July, more than a year after the curators on the biennale’s Shenzhen side had been chosen. The disarray behind Hong Kong’s effort, some involved say, reflects the wider organizational problems holding back arts development in the city.

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January 17th, 2010

Off Hollywood Boulevard

Posted in Architecture, United States by Marcus Benigno

Former Mark Twain Hotel on Wilcox Avenue, Los Angeles

Former home of Macintosh Clothes
and Newberry School of Beauty, Los Angeles