I am blogging from LAX today and there’s nothing like travel to give me time to entertain random thoughts. So here are three random, end of the semester, travel inspired thoughts:
1. LAX replicates the city of LA. The terminals and facilities are dispersed and more or less without a clear center. Minneapolis Airport in contrast is centered around a gaudy food court and shopping mall with a nice observation deck that lets you look out and watch jets come and go. LAX (at least the various terminals that I drifted through over this 8 hour layover) makes it pretty hard to watch the plains come and go and almost always involves a trip outside of a particular terminal to find important information like departure times, gate numbers, or even places to eat and chill out on a long layover.
2. Students. I’ve been pretty lucky this semester. I had a number of students take the time to send along little notes thanking me for the semester. These are so gratifying! This semester I taught two completely revamped classes and a graduate seminar that threatened to devolve into a kind of pedagogical trench warfare. Despite the challenging semester, it was energizing to know that students enjoyed their class and learned something!
3. What I read when traveling: Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker. I’ve traveled enough this past year to have read almost every issue of the two monthlies. I’ll also read William Gibson’s Spook Country (2007)). When I asked my Teaching Thursday readers what they planned to read over the holidays, I got one response. This either means that we faculty need to do a better job of modeling our behavior or that the readers of our blog are unlikely (for whatever reason) to read books over break.
My wife (who is Australian) and I (who am not) celebrated Australia Day last night with a meal of lamb and prawns. It was delicious and fun even though it was -10 and dark at the time rather than a more holiday appropriate 85 and sunny.
It's the 60th anniversary of Australian citizenship this year. Prior to 1949, Australians were simply British Subjects.
We both wish that we could have spent the holiday -- which commemorates the arrival of the "First Fleet" in 1788 (11 ships sent out from England to found a prison colony in Australia)-- with friends and family (and warmth) in Australia.
Australia Day is critiqued in Australia in a similar spirit to Columbus Day in the U.S. Perhaps it is fitting that Australian of the Year this year was Mick Dodson, a noted Indigenous Australian leader and a University administrator and Professor at Australian National University.
It would have been nice if the Australian Cricket team would have obliged and won.
Just some quick hits and varia on a sunny Friday morning.
Have a good weekend. Go Phillies!!
Today is an important Friday for two reasons. It's Good Friday in the Orthodox Church and it's Anzac Day in Australia, New Zealand, and a few other South Pacific countries. I'll write about Holy Week tomorrow and Anzac Day at the end of the blog.
First some quick hits:
Anzac Day commemorates the role of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the difficult and bloody Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. The Australian War Memorial site has a nice web site explaining the ceremonies and commemorative aspects of the observance. Cities and towns in Australia often hold ceremonies commemorating the exact moment of the Gallipoli landing (in Brisbane this was 04:28 (AEST); for photographs). Among the more interesting things is that the Gallipoli campaign forged a special relationship between Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey. As early as 1934, Ataturk reassured Australians and New Zealanders with words now inscribed on the several monuments both at Gallipoli and elsewhere:
"Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well."
Another important part of Anzac day are Anzac Biscuits. According to the story, Anzac Biscuits use Golden Syrup rather than eggs as a bonding agent so that the sweet treats would survive the long journey from Australia to Europe. My wife and mother-in-law sent me a tin and in a faint way, re-performed the actions of families during World War I who sent biscuits to their loved ones serving in Europe. A very tasty way to be made to feel part of an Australian family!
Susie and I drove from our base of Australian operations, Beerwah, Queensland, into the hinterland, particularly the South Burnett region. Our destination was the largest vineyard in Queensland, Clovely Estates. The countryside was dotted with Southern Cross windmills and their accompanying water tanks. The region has suffered from the decade long drought, but during our visit there had been almost three weeks of intermittent rain. Cattle grazed the muddy banks of filled dams and billabongs.
We passed through the numerous small agricultural communities of the South Burnett region like Murgon, Wondai, Yarraman, and Blackbutt. While the small, simple churches in these towns caught my eye, the large, elaborate pubs drew far more of my attention. (Unlike in North Dakota where each small town has a number of small storefront bars) Australian towns typically have a single large pub often built around the turn of the century in Australian Colonial style.
Typical small town grocery stores evoke the small markets in North Dakota as well as in any number of Greek villages filled with non-perishable, dry foods and only a smattering of fresh produce.
Once at Clovely Estate -- outside of the town of Murgon -- we stayed in restored "Queenslander" style house amidst vineyards heavy with grapes which will be harvested within the week. Queenslanders are surrounded by verandas and designed to capture the cooling winds and funnel them through the house.
The daily rains curtailed our outside activities, but provided us with some great sunsets.
This is the last of my self-indulgent meditations on Australian landscapes. I return to Athens tomorrow and will return to more Mediterranean themes next week.
There is a fun exhibit at the Queensland Art Gallery for anyone interested in the construction of landscapes. It's entitled Making it Modern: The Watercolours of Kenneth Macqueen and features his painting of the Queensland countryside, coasts, and skies -- including the series of watercolors depicting his farm near Millmerran in southern Queensland. The exhibition positioned his art at the beginning of the modernist movement in Australia as well as an important contribution to there emergence of Australia as a modern nation. The artist's watercolors were often based on study photographs taken of particular features in the landscape. His paintings then translated and interpreted the photographic image into a different medium. I am not an art critic, much less an art historian; I was impressed, however, by how Macqueen's work traced the expanding mark of western agriculture and transportation on the Australian landscape by emphasizing the interplay of light on the topography and flora in a distinctive way. Scholars, like Benedict Anderson, have regularly noted how the modern "realist" novel played a central role in the emergence of the modern nationstate. The work of Macqueen, likewise, transposed the "transparent" reality of a photograph into the more emotive (and in some ways authentic) medium of the painted canvass.
The difference between the flat photographic studies of the countryside and Macqueen's brilliant watercolors brought home both the key role of the individual in understanding of reality in the modern era and the potential of traditional "artistic" media to bring out essential and ephemeral characteristics of the physical landscape. Our diligence in data collection in survey archaeology produces a landscape with photographic precision. Mediterranean survey is less successful in bringing the interpretive and analytic perspective embodied in the artists deft touch. Nevertheless, the concept of the landscape remains capable of bringing together and juxtaposing in productive ways the photographic and the "artistic" (for lack of a better word). The sensitivity of artists to the elusive character of light, sound, and memory as central ingredients to human engagement in their physical surroundings remains just outside the grasp of most archaeological projects (even those which purport to embrace diachronic, emotional, multivocal, and phenomological methods).
Reading place names, or toponyms, provides a valuable perspective on past and present landscapes. Place names in Greece, for example, record patterns of migration (e.g. Albanian and Slavic place names), topographical features like springs (e.g. places ending with -vrysi), and the names of important local families. The revival of ancient place names in the early 19th century reflected the close tie between the Greece's national identity and its Classical past. The Western part of the U.S. where I live, place names blend the history of European and American settlement -- Cass county, for example, is named for a railroad developer, local features (Grand Forks, North Dakota, for example, marks the split of the Red and Red Lake Rivers), and in many instances preserves traces of the Native American presence on the land.
The same pattern of toponyms is true for Australia, where I am currently visiting, as well. Names like Brisbane, Landsborough, and The Gap sit alongside names derived from Aborignal languages like Maroochydore and Eumundi. One other practice, however, is worth singling out. Australia also appears to have ironic place names. I've spent the last two weeks at Beerwah in the hinterland of a region known as the Sunshine Coast.
We've seen the sun twice so far. From what I can understand, the Sunshine Coast is meant ironically as in the place where there is no Sunshine. My wife and her family has assured me that this was not really the case (that, in fact, the Queensland coast is usually sunny this time of year), but I have my doubts...
And, yes, I am whinging about being in Australia in December...
I spent time in four airports yesterday(s): Rome (2 hours), Frankfurt (1 hour), Singapore (1 hour), Sydney (2 hours). I kept a journal of my travels (30+ hours), but I will spare you the details of the trip except that every flight was delayed and one was cancelled.
The most striking thing about my trip was the airports. It struck me that airports, in general, are incredibly homogeneous and yet substantially different from any other space in our society. Is their homogeneity an effort to create recognizable experiences in an airport -- with the promenades of shops with familiar designs and fast food eateries? They nevertheless come across (to me) as profoundly foreign perhaps because we anticipate some kind of differences between geographically locations as different as Singapore and Rome.
Edward Soja developed the idea of Third Space as the distinct experiential space of the post-modern city (particularly places like Los Angeles). It seems that airports is another form of this kind of space. The homogeneity of "airport space" largely deprives them of the distinctiveness that allows us to orient ourselves within a society and negotiate meaning. This is compounded by the reality that travel is disorientating physically for the body. The indistinct space of airports compounds the feeling of disorientation derived from changes in time zone, long hours in the air, and the anxiety so typical of travelling.
[As I think about it more, it may well be that "airport space" is not necessarily indistinct, but that they are abstractly western in prototype and design irrespective of their geographical location, and therefore indistinct to my well-conditioned western perspective. And there are of course efforts to make airports unique and culturally specific -- like the small museum installations at places like the Amsterdam airport or the showers and beds found in Asian hubs like Tokyo or Hong Kong.]
I found that the disorientation was particularly intense in the Singapore airport (after about three flights a total of about 20 hours). Christmas carols played on the P.A. system as I walked by retailers that I have only ever seen in airports (stores like Hugo Boss) interspersed between decoration festooned the palm trees in planters. The arrivals boards were the only place where I could find something distinctive -- they listed airlines and flights to places that I simply could not place (apparently Port Moresby is in Papua New Guinea) -- in some cases, I could not even place the destinations on the proper continent much less the country!).
Finally, the disorientation is further aggravated by the diversity of individuals present in these spaces. Travellers at major international airports tend to appear in a such wide variety of dress that it is virtually impossible to discern the social codes instrumental in establishing social class or status rank in a particular society. The airport community like "airport space" lacks cues to orient us socially and to establish the basis for behaviour. They might be seen as producing the sense of "communitas" Victor Turner associated with the experience of pilgrimage -- that is a temporary suspension of class and status boundaries typical of member of a pilgrimage community. While individuals are distinct in appearance, dress, and behaviour, the social context for these differences is suspended making the distinctions meaningless.
Enough ramblings (I was tempted to post my journal entries, but that was too much even for me). I'll likely post only occasionally over the next few weeks, but I will be back regularly after the first of the year. Happy holidays!