The Return of Blogging

After two years of mostly sporadic writing I’m going to do my best to finally resurrect this blog.

When I started writing six or seven years ago, it was for two main reasons. First, J and I had moved in fairly rapid succession from MPLS to Berlin, back again and finally to Boston (in the first three years we lived together I think we had six addresses or something crazy like that). For the most part we were living in a different place than most of the people we were closest to. In the pre-Facebook world, blogging was a vehicle for all of us to stay in contact, though, unfortunately, few of those blogs still survive. As ego-filled as blogging can be, I do miss getting more than 140 characters of people’s thoughts. Second, I hadn’t yet returned to school, and blogging was my main vehicle for writing. Like many skills, if you don’t write often, you’ll forget how.

For the same two reasons, I’ve been relatively quite for the past two years. After four or five years in Boston, I had developed a new group of friends, ones that I saw almost every day and probably knew more than they wanted about everything I think about everything (as J says, I tend to inform people against their will). And, as a grad student, I had plenty of assigned writing to take care of to keep me fresh.

And now, here I am again. Back in a new city and once again without writing assignments. My friend Siqi suggested some kind of post-graduate group blog project a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but I thought I’d do my part.

As in its previous incarnation, the blog will be a smattering of topics, though mostly about the city, with a little film and baseball and travel thrown in, as those are the things I spend the most time thinking about. I’ve also got a few research projects that I’m taking on with a couple of co-conspirators that I’m excited about. I’m sure they’ll bleed out as they develop.

The biggest change for me in the last couple of months is, of course, Houston. It’s a city I never expected to live in, in a state I never expected to live in, in a half of the country I never expected to live in, but it’s grown on me in many ways. When I was living in Oakland last summer, I had commented to a (young urban planner) friend that I was going to end up here after graduation. He said that when he came to the Bay Area he’d been in a conversation with an older planner who said how unfortunate that so many young, liberal, idealistic planners choose the Bay Area and New York to live in. He said it wasn’t those places that needed them. It was Detroit and Houston.

I wish I could take the feeling of moral superiority and say that’s why I’m here, but, of course, it’s not. Honestly, I probably would have been trying to move to Brooklyn or Oakland post-graduation like everyone else. Even knowing I needed to end up here, half of my job applications went to New Orleans, San Antonio and Austin. Luckily, I was able to find a job here (a job I love, by the way, but more on that later), and started settling in at the beginning of July.

Still, it’s a challenging city for me to be in. For one thing, we decided to continue living car-free, a decision that I’m very happy with morally and philosophically, but one that has consequences in a city like Houston. I like to say that we’re car-free like some people are vegetarians. It’s more than not owning a car; it’s a statement about how I want the world to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if a major theme of what I write here ends up being getting around.

A while ago, I was reading an interview with the sociologist Manuel Castells about his move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He said that for him, the city is a laboratory, and LA was, quite simply, a more interesting experiment (he followed this up by saying “who wants to live in an experiment”, but we’ll ignore that for now). That’s how I’ve been thinking about Houston. It’s an opportunity to think about kinds of urbanism that I wouldn’t have before. And that’s what I’ll be writing about here.

La Révolution Moderne – Expo ’67 and the Spatialization of National Identity in Québec

For the few people who’ve asked to read it, my finished thesis is available as a .pdf. I can also make a printed version available for those who are interested. I’ll also be presenting a portion of the work at the Mid-Atlantic and New England Council for Canadian Studies conference in Providence, RI from Sept 30 – Oct 3rd.

Outside/In

The new Trays zine Outside/In, edited by Natalya Egon, Shelby Doyle, Jade Yang and myself will be available in printed form this weekend. The zine features student work relating to gender and space and was produced as a supplement for the Inside/Out conference at Radcliffe. For a pdf preview, click below.

Top Ten Films of 2009

During the school break I took on the serious task of trying to watch as many movies as possible. I started by taking a whole bunch of critics top 10 lists and compiled them until I ended up with a list of the 40 best films of 2010. I still have a few left to watch (and there are a few I haven’t found a copy of yet), but, since school is starting on Monday, I probably won’t get through them for quite awhile. So I decided to make a top 10 list based on the 30-35 that I have seen so far. The top 10 are ranked and then there are a few extras that I thought were really good, but didn’t quite make the cut.

1. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins)
I actually saw Medicine for Melancholy in 2008 at the Boston International Film Festival, but it only went into major release in 2009, so I’m counting it. The themes of urban life and race that run through the movie make a fascinating background as the hipster cyclists spend the day together after a one night stand. It’s a great urban movie, made inexpensively and with a great soundtrack. I read one review that said that no one was going to have to make a “San Francisco I Love You” because Berry Jenkins already did.

2. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)The Coen’s most recent movie manages to be one of the best Minnesotan movies ever made and one of the best (slash most) Jewish movies ever made. Several months after watching it, I’m still not sure what it’s about, but that’s definitely OK. And the Ron Meshbesher references were great inside jokes.

3. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)Classic Anderson… even if it is animated (or claymation or whatever).

4. Der Baader Meinhof Komplex / Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel)Baader Meinhof is another 2008 movie that got wide release in 2009. In the vain of Was Tun Wenn’s Brennt and The Edukators, the German film industry is working hard to make sense of the radicalism of the 60’s and 70’s and what it means today. The acting is great and the film makes the protagonists both appealing and disturbing.

5. Disgrace (Steve Jacobs)A South African film based on J.M Coetzee’s novel and staring John Malkovich, Disgrace didn’t get very much press. It’s a great movie and an interesting allegory of the country’s recent past. John Malkovich uses his natural creepiness to great affect.

6. Los Abrazos Rotos – Broken Embraces (Pedro Almondóvar)One of the two movies on this year’s list that’s a sort of film-within-a-film. Are directors investigating the state of the industry, or is it a matter of write what you know? Either way, the acting is great, the story is interesting and Penelope Cruz deserved to be nominated for this, not the ridiculous Nine. Apparently the Academy doesn’t count you as an actress if you aren’t speaking English.

7. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)This probably would have been much higher on the list if Brad Pitt hadn’t been in it. You can’t play characters that ridiculous when your that recognizable. Also, the final scenes, while somewhat gratifying, weren’t my favorite.

8. Das weisse Band – The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)The year’s second German film… I’m not sure if that’s because I enjoy watching them more than films in other languages or if they were especially good, but either way I enjoyed it.

9. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze) The amazing sets, costumes and general visuals would probably have been enough to get this movie on the list even if childhood nostalgia hadn’t guaranteed it’s place. Dave Egger’s novelized version is better though. There were several scenes in the book that would have really added to the film.

10. Precious (Lee Daniels)This movie was so stuffed full of images that you just don’t see in the media that it had to make the list, even if the daydream scenes were derivative (watch The Wackness). The debates around the movie were just as fascinating. Definitely worth watching.

Runners-up:

Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow), Sugar (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck), District 9 (Neill Blomkamp), An Education (Lone Scherfig)