Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marrakech, Morocco

In the medinas of North Africa, capitalism triumphs. But it is a competitive enterprise system that Americans often find unnerving because there are no set prices. When you bargain, though, make sure you have more than plastic. Does it look like she takes American Express? [2010]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bursa, Turkey

Like an oversized vending machines with a man in the middle, the kiosk dominates street trade in many parts of the world, including Bursa. Here the man is a boy, taking over for his father who is chatting up friends nearby. Kiosks are lean, not-so-mean, sales machines. [2007]

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Damascus, Syria

Geometric design and calligraphy are the premier artforms of the Muslim world.  But, you have to look closely to see the Arabic script under the red and blue rings.  Enclosing it all is a floral Arabesque.   Although the plaster cast will end up in someone's home, its production becomes a piece of public art on the streets of old Damascus.  [1993]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Madrid, Spain

The Plaza Mayor captures the essence of Madrid at the peak of the Spanish Empire's power. Conceived by Philip II and completed by Philip III, whose statue dominates the visual field, the Plaza is to Madrid what the canals are to Amsterdam, the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and 'Big Ben' is to London. It is the city's signature landscape. [2009]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bodie Island, North Carolina, USA

Completed in 1872, Bodie Island Light, one of many along the 'Outer Banks' of North Carolina, now serves as both light station (automated) and tourist attraction (soon to be climbable). Its unique banding also made it a day marker for offshore vessels, preventing confusion with other nearby light towers (especially its world-famous brother). [2006]

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maria Island, Tasmania, Australia

At least the convicts had something comely to contemplate after the British dumped them onto Maria Island in the mid-1800s. Today, the Painted Rocks are a national park. Sandstone, they are. Changing, too. What evidence do you see that erosion and gravity sculpt this landscape daily? [1988]

Friday, September 24, 2010

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, UK

People look like Lilliputians as they scramble over the Giant's Causeway, a path of polygonal pilings built by the Irish giant, Finn McCool, to get to Scotland. He wanted to show the Scottish giant who the boss was. Finn McCool later built a causeway to the USA (since demolished) and opened a chain of Irish pubs. [2009]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

San Juan, Puerto Rico

What does the name Plaza de Armas tell you about how this space was used in the past? What does the cultural landscape tell you about the role of this same space in the life of contemporary San Juan? Over time, the same urban spaces have given us different urban places. [2009]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

London, England, UK

Eating off the boot is a street-side activity in fashionable Fitzrovia. But Japanese? In London, Indian always dominates the 'takeway' market. The food is secondary, however; what really counts is attracting attention. And these two have mastered that art. [2008]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Amman, Jordan

Amman has been a safe haven for international chains for decades. But some firms localize when they try to penetrate a foreign market. That's part of 'glocalization.' From atop Al Abdali station, Subway speaks the global lingua franca, but it also speaks Arabic (which is read right to left, remember). [1998]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cairo, Egypt

In Coptic Cairo, the Christian quarter of the old city, a boy stops for a drink. Three colorful cups, each tethered to its own urn, are the hand-to-mouth conveyances that everybody uses. Politicians watch from the wall behind, probably promising to improve public services like 'city water.' [1997]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Warsaw, Poland

Copernicus: He's Poland's heliocentric hero. The uplifted armillary sphere symbolizes his seminal contribution to our scientific understanding of Earth. 'Revolutionary' it was:  Because he told us that the earth 'revolves' around the sun, rather than vice-versa. The statue is in Warsaw, but Copernicus belongs to all humanity. Thank you, Poland. [2003]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

Roadside economies are fun to watch and document. Near the Javorina border crossing, the Roma (or Gypsies) line the highway selling mushrooms harvested from the forests. Mushrooms are especially popular in eastern Europe, where there are still some forests left to harvest. [2004]

Friday, September 17, 2010

El Djem, Tunisia

The sea that separates: that’s the way we think of 'the Med.' But, to the Romans, it was the sea that united. A casing of Roman culture surrounded the Mediterranean like an eggshell, and the landscapes of Italy were not that much different from the landscapes of North Africa. Rome and El Djem had the largest amphitheaters in the Roman world. [2004]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Berne, Switzerland

Symbolically, Berne is the ursa major of the terrestrial realm. The whole canton is a virtual bear pit: bears everywhere. Vexillogical bears, that is. There's even a toponymic bear in the name. And there are some real bears in a park by the river Aare. No bears left in the Berne countryside, but lots of them in the city. [1984]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Samana, Dominican Republic

With beautiful beaches on both sides, the Samana peninsula is becoming a major tourist destination of the Dominican Republic's north coast. Nearby are some of the agricultural industries for which the Caribbean is famous: coffee, coconuts, flowers. [1992]

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moscow, Russia

Here's the signature element of Moscow's cultural landscape, St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square.  The onion-shaped domes demand that your gaze rise to the sky and that your spirit contemplate the almighty.  And they do it better than almost any other church in the world:  too bad St. Basil's has been secularized since the 1920s.  [2000]

Monday, September 13, 2010

Berlin, Germany

Potsdamer Platz is in the very heart of Berlin, but you wouldn't guess it from this view of the urban landscape. World War II devastated the square, and the Berlin Wall cut it in two. As a generation of free Berliners took the reigns, Potsdamer Platz was transformed into a place of high rises and shopping centers. What memories these jungen must have. [1994]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dublin, Ireland

The sprites descended on musty old Dublin castle and gave it a new coat of paint. And what would you expect for the land of leprechauns? Green? Absolutely not. The colors of the rainbow?  Absolutely. But the pot of gold seems to have been snatched away by the Irish recession. [2004]

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Uppsala, Sweden

Here's the principle at work: When your nation has perfected an art form, like puppet theater, you can expect to see lots of local activity as the next generation tries out their talents in hopes of one day occupying the national spotlight. Here, local puppeteers bring life to a lawn in Uppsala. [1984]

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ghent, Belgium

Traveling Americans are always attracted to cast-iron bells, especially ones with cracks in them. This bell spent centuries announcing beginnings and endings to the citizenry of Ghent. Now, in retirement, it carries on quiet conversations with the locals and passing Americans, all of whom point and say "Oh look, the Liberty Bell." [1994]

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vienna, Austria

Eagles soar into your field of vision from the rooftop of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. On side one is the two-headed eagle, and on side two are two one-headed eagles: all symbols of secular authority! Here you see the Austrian coat-of-arms. [2004]

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Luxembourg City's Passerelle Viaduct (like viaducts all over Europe) mocks the rugged terrain as it allows trains to "fly" over a small valley rather than descend to its depths. Lots of hills, lots of woodland, and lots of urban quaintness are the hallmarks of the Grand Duchy's capital. [1996]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Seoul, South Korea

Different cultures handle rooftop space differently. In Korea, roofs are both practical (rain sluicing) and symbolic (status defining). How much Korean culture can you pack into one house hat? At Changdeokgung Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the answer is: a lot. [2000]

Monday, September 6, 2010

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City

The smallest country the world has the largest church in the world. This is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The Holy See is the navel of the Roman Catholic universe, assembly-place of the faithful, residence of the Pope, location of Michelangelo's Pieta, and burial site of the Apostle Peter. [2002]

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Prague, Czech Republic

Other cities have castles and cathedrals (atop the hill), but only Prague has the Charles Bridge. Here’s the recipe for city success: find a river that divides, build one bridge only, make traders use it, defend it from the nearby hill, and put it all in a basin with good land for farming and lots of minerals (like silver) in the surrounding hills. Medieval magnificence!  [1994]

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Delphi, Greece

Looking for advice? Head for Delphi and consult the oracle. Just follow the Sacred Way to the Temple of Apollo: That’s what the ancient Greeks would have done. These Doric columns mark the site. In reality, the oracle probably fell under the spell of ethylene gas venting from the rocks below. [2006]

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mt. Titano, San Marino

It’s September 3, so let me say: Happy Birthday, San Marino! This microstate was founded in 301 AD by St. Marinus. Today, it enters its 1,710th year of independence. Not bad for a single mountain peak! From Italy's Rimini Plain, just follow the switch-back road to the top of Mt. Titano and find there: The Most Serene Republic of San Marino. [1984]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Riga, Latvia

Flowers are a part of every European city. Most are imported today, but the tradition grows out of Europe’s long summer days (photosynthesis maximized) and cool temperatures (wilting prevented): both the result of Europe’s northerly latitude. In the background are symbols of Latvia's bipolarity: a local hotel and a global chain. [2003]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tallinn, Estonia

Find the old town of any European city and you might find a castle. That would be true in Tallinn, Estonia. These are the old city walls from Toompea Castle, complete with two dozen guard towers. Tallinn is one of the best walled cities in Europe. [2003]