Wednesday, October 16, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #483] The old stomping grounds

I am two cities into my three-city West Coast trip.  The impetus of this trip was my <muffled noises>th high school reunion, but I decided to extend it to see friends and family here in Vegas and San Francisco, and then to end with a new city, Vancouver.

The reunion weekend was badly organised, but came together overall.  Through the three events (Friday drinks, Saturday dinner, Sunday picnic), I managed to see just about everyone I'd hoped to, which is the point.  The most interesting thing to me at this reunion versus the last is that at the first I recognised who everyone was immediately.  This time around, it took some work with a lot of people.  This was partly due to a different pool of attendees (the first was largely "my group"), but a lot of it was certainly the march of Time, who has worn much heavier boots with some than others.

The internal politics and price points that led to the disorganisation were much discussed, and it was decided the next one will be managed differently.  Everyone seems keen to switch to five-year reunions rather than ten, so my Vegas Returns could remain bidecadal, and considering all my ties here, I am OK with that.  Especially since every trip to Las Vegas...



Vegas has long lacked any focus on non-tourist-oriented planning, especially the arts.  The city is finally starting to change this, in a very Vegas way.  When Vegas wanted a Chinatown, it built a big mall and called it Chinatown.  Now they have deemed a much disused part of downtown the Arts District.  Though far from organic, I applaud this effort as they are reusing rather than demolishing; this is a very foreign concept in Vegas.  I think this area of town has (potential) character as it's one of the few commercial areas of the Valley that is made up of traditional store fronts rather than strip malls.  

Similarly, for all the years I lived in Vegas, between downtown and the freeway (where the suburban sprawl began), lay an enormous (literally dozens of city-blocks) open area of dirt, er, I mean desert.  The city has begun developing this, at first all-too-inevitably with a new mall, but now also a commercial centre, Gehry-designed museum and a new concert hall.  Previously these civic buildings existed only on the campus of UNLV.  While all this would be nothing of note in other cities, it is a seachange for my home town.  It's got a long way to go before it's challenging even modest-sized cities in cultural relevance, but it's great to see a focus - any focus - on enriching the lives of locals.



Part of the revitalisation of the Arts District is "First Friday", when they close off the the streets around the new galleries, set up tents, bandstands and bars, and have a street party.  We mostly just saw the set-up, but as we passed by after dinner, it was jammed.  People socialising outdoors - again, previously unknown in Vegas.



Some friends and me at the reunion after 1/2 a pint each.



The Vegas Strip is growing up and North; the tall tower at the left used to both be much, much taller than anything else in town, and set all on its own.  Now it's merely a climax to the city's expanding tourist heart.



My longest non-related friend, Jennifer Eno Louden, and me at the reunion dinner.  I've known her since fourth grade, when we bonded over Smurfs and Inspector Gadget.



Vegas's version of nutrition and natural/organic.



Ma Petroni and me with Russ's business partner, Dima, at the entrance to Zumanity.



...means a trip to San Francisco!  After a week in Vegas, Russ and I did our usual whirl around the City by the Bay.  Always a delightful time, I left feeling especially enamoured with San Francisco this time around.  I saw most of the people I wanted to, and the combination of them, the bar-hopping and dining (!) was perfect.  That city really knows how to pull things together.  It's still a bit too soft for my tastes, but I appreciate it more and more with each passing 24.




My old 'hood



Castro street art




Russ's uncle owns a restaurant in North Beach, and every year for the Columbus Day - sorry, Italian Heritage - Parade they set out tables outside the restaurant to enjoy the food and parade.  Being family and a guest of family, we got pride of place at the centre table.



Downtown's icon



But of course...


Next stop, Vancouver!

Cheers,
Shaun

__________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | At large in Las Vegas, NV | shaunism.blogspot.com

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Friday, October 04, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #481] Tunis

Last weekend I finally made it to Africa, if only just, to Tunis, capital of Tunisia and home of the Arab Spring.  Mary Keany and I went to visit our friend, Samira, who graduated from Stevens with us.  Samira moved there about a year a go to be in a Muslim country somewhere between Bosnia (her homeland) and Senegal (her husband's).

Tourists in Tunisia tend to see little of Tunis beyond its airport.  Though the capital and economic centre of the the country, it is low on classic sightseeing attractions, so they usually head an hour South to the open beaches and luxury resorts that service them.  We stayed in the city, though, due to a mix of indifference to beach resorts (for me, at least) and as guests of Samira and her husband.

Tunis proved difficult to discern its pulse.  The city is active, but not vibrant.  It's not developed, but it's certainly not third world, either.  It has modern bars and an ancient Medina, but it's haphazard and disjointed.  I spent four days there, but I don't feel I understand any better what the city is about than before I went, and it didn't whet my appetite to go back and dig deeper.  Our hosts were lovely, and it was great to see them, but I think Tunisia, as a country, will be off my travel list until I reach the age where beach resorts have moved higher up my priority list.



Me with the Mediterranean behind.




On a bus with Samira - I love taking public transport (and seeing grocery stores) in new cities.



Central Tunis



Sometimes the French influence is quite apparent.



Behind the mosque in the Medina is a very odd structure.  It used to be the home of a ruler of the city, but now it's a carpet shop on the lower floors, a preserved bedroom above, and an open roof at the top from which you can see the city spreading below.



Military presence is strong in the city centre to make sure the Arab Spring doesn't ignite an Arab Summer.



The clock tower at the centre of Tunis - a site you can see in many photographs from the revolution as the crowds gathered around it.



A very cool hotel along the sea.




The two above are from Carthage - the Romans were kind enough to build some old stuff so future tourists would have backdrops for their photos.


Last, but certainly not least, Tunisians are a lovely people!

__________________________________________________________________________

Shaun H. Coley |
At large in Las Vegas, NV
shaunism.blogspot.com
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[The Life of Shaun #480] The Life of Shaun Omnibus

It's been a busy couple weeks in London town - visitors, trips and outings in quick succession.  Pops came for a visit (an escape, really), but as it was unplanned, we had to maneuver around my pre-existing plans, but we still managed some good times and have done our bit to keep the Dean Swift in business for another quarter.

Almost as soon as Dad arrived, though, I was off to the greater Maasbree-Kessel area of The Netherlands to visit Lottie and Rob, and to meet their son, Tijl.  Lottie and Rob moved to the area for the quality of life and to be near family upon starting one of their own, so it's low in my classic diversions, but the weekend was perfect.  I had lots of fine wine with Lottie, watched X Factor, relaxed, went to a modern art museum (in a disused factory, a la Tate Modern) and did my best to resist Tijl's charms.  We maintain we will do more next time I am there, but I'm not so sure - it was just what I needed.

Tijl on the stage


The "Tate" Greater Maasbree


Dutch art


Central Roermond, Lottie's nearest city.  I don't understand what she sees in it.


Lottie photoshopped a picture of me in her kitchen.


The next weekend was London Open House, a cool annual event where famous (and not-so-famous, but often interesting) buildings open themselves up for people to view and explore.  Every year I intend to see one or two, and have always failed, either defeated by a hangover, apathy, or walking up to one and finding it closed.  But this year I saw two: Lloyd's (which I've wanted to see for years) and Battersea Power Station (which had its first and last Open House this year as it's due to begin renovation this year).

I adore the Lloyd's building; it modern and industrial and strong.  It strikes strongly against its surroundings (though less so which each new pinnacle built around it), but compliments rather than detracts.  It's London's Pompidou.

Lloyd's was originally a coffee house where all things nautical were discussed and sea business conducted.  It evolved over time to an insurance exchange, which is what is housed in the Lloyd's Building today.  This pic is of the Lutine Bell, which is rung when there is major news, once for good, twice for bad.  Lloyd's is steeped in tradition, and this is one that lingers from the days before mass communication, so that everyone on the trading floor could learn of relevant news at the same moment.


A nod to tradition, a dining room from an older building transferred to the new.


Where the worker bees are housed.


Pops playing the role of a working stiff.


Quite surprisingly to modern sensibilities, London was all too willing to build giant polluting power stations in the centre of the city when electricity was an exciting new topic.  Naturually, these became disused and derelict and are ripe for demolition so that the sites can become shiny new towers.  Somehow at least two survived the brutalistic planning rage of the 60s/70s.  As a result, we have the Tate Modern, a sublime and successful example of urban redevelopment through repurposing.  Partly as a result of this success, the more famous Battersea Power Station (you might know it from the cover of Pink Floyd's album Animals) has lain dormant while different schemes across the crackpot spectrum were proposed for it.  

Finally, and inevitably in today's London, it has been decided the Power Station and its surrounding site will be developed into luxury flats for Russians, Arabs and Chinese, complete with an extension of the Northern Line so their cooks, cleaners and chauffeurs can get to work.  We are promised it won't become a walled-off development, but will extend the river and Battersea Park public spaces.  Chancing that mightn't be the eventual reality, I braved the queue to have a look inside while I could.



The station's landmark chimneys, from the inside.



This was my favourite thing - the Art Decoesque murals inside.  What a lovely touch to a dim, dirty working space.


One of the massive turbine halls.


The backside.  I wonder if this is where the "affordable" units will be...


__________________________________________________________________________

Shaun H. Coley |
At large in Las Vegas, NV
 | shaunism.blogspot.com
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