"I would rather you hate me than ignore me."

I've always kind of considered pixicao, the uniquely Paulista (Sao Paulo) tradition of tagging, more of a sport than an art - like a sport-art hybrid, or creative/expressive sport akin to skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding. Pixicao rightly gets little attention from the street art or graff world at large because it has never really been about art. Scripts and concepts have barely evolved over the years. Pixicao isn’t about what you write or how you write it, it's about where you write it and what you had to do to get there. Pixadores are constantly re-interpreting their environment and imagining new possibilities for it. That's why I dig this mini-vid from coolhunting - it doesn't patronize pixicao as an art, but shows it more as a game of contestation with social implications: a competition between writers, crews, and security forces. The video-game-like background music is perfect compliment.

The context from which pixicao emerged is telling also. Sao Paulo is a city of great disparity, split between the largely invisible favela dwelling mass and the wealthy, many commuting from peripheral gated communities to the downtown in helicopters (SP has the most private helicopters in the world). It’s become a secured city with an immense amount of gated and controlled-access space. Pixicao, is an emphatic statement of existence and a negation of such control – a contestation of space and an assertion of voice, agency, identity, and access. It's universal message is simple: "I exist, and fences and cameras cannot contain me." The take-away for me, is that the problem isn't graffiti, it is much larger.



The United States, mapped by drawing lines between cities with the same name.

Neil Smith's art, as shown on his website, fakeisthenewreal.org, consists largely of abstract maps depicting real places that are created by connecting real data points through bizarre relationships. When one considers that Smith is also an urban planner, this methodology seems like a (il)logical extension of his profession. Smith operates from the quintessential perspective of a planner - in what is literally the "plan view" (aerial) , while manipulating data points such as transit stations, public schools, buildings (by height), cities, etc. The "art" part of it comes from the connections and comparisons he makes. For example, Smith has created maps by such arbitrary spatial relations as connecting cities with the same name with lines (shown above), drawing a line through a plotting of all the New York public schools in numerical order, comparing transit systems at the same scale, drawing lines through buildings in the order of their heights etc. In this way he give us a lens for understanding new (il)logics of familiar landscapes. This is good mental/visual exercise. Check it out.


From http://www.lifeactionrevival.org/skatearchitecture.html :
Skaters are the sensualists, the kinesthetic lovers of space and form. Architectural theorists rarely grasp the significance of skateboarding, at least not in regards to their field and art. Skateboarding is a high model, a sharp-figure exemplar, of an intimate and transformative approach to architectural experience. A gleaming gem of agent-within-structure.

I'll be frank: streetskating is, I think, the most successful and contagious form of urban détournement, re-appropriation, and transformative action that we have. Streetskaters are the other great horde of architectural fetishists. The fetish is slightly different in aspect but not in intensity. Perspectivally, architects are generally schooled to gaze upward, and cultivate an awe of form. Skateboarders remain at eye-level, street-level, on the plane of human actions. Architects strive to behold totalities; skaters fixate, on smaller parts— they look closer, at details and textures and otherwise unremarkable typologies.

Colin says: R I P P E R !


It's important to know what is happening right now in Oakland. As the city was still struggling in the wake of the brutal murder of Oscar Grant by BART police on New Years Day, parolee Lovelle Mixon shot four officers after a traffic stop on March 22. Now there are people in the community arguing that the murder of Oscar Grant legitimized the killing of the police. MC Zumbi of Zion I, in his new track "Cops Hate Kidz," is among them and I couldn't disagree more. Even if Zumi sees Mixon's crimes as linked or even retaliatory to the Grant murder, both acts should be called out as only escalating a downward spiral into more violence and more loss for Oakland.A ll due respect to Zumbi and Zion I, the message to this music doesn't hold.



Streetsblog SF
is reporting that MTC is now funding a study exploring the addition of two bike/ped paths along the Western span of the new Bay Bridge, which would connect Oakland to San Francisco for walkers and bikers for the first time. This is fantastic news. Not only will it be a great tourist attraction, recreational path, it will continue to decrease vehicle miles driven, reduce BART peak congestion, and it should also decrease the socio-economic isolation that faces West Oakland.

BRAVO! Lets keep the pressure on to make sure this project goes forth!



In his second inaugural address, President Bush offered a grand vision of for the future of America: the ownership society. We now know what such a property-obsessed society looks like: one where publicly bailed-out banks own thousands of boarded-up, foreclosed homes and the people are on the street. While the massive steroid-like injection of federal funds bailed-out the banks' broken balance sheets (instead of regulating them), it is doing far less to help families get back into foreclosed homes. Working-class households are experiencing a new kind of informality of residence not seen since the Great Depression. The stories are telling: NPR recently interviewed members of a growing tent camp of 400 along the American River in Sacramento and the he New York Times reports on an somewhat invisible mass of homeless families now cramming themselves into hotels after being evicted from their homes.

Take Back The Land is a group dedicated to re-taking control of the land in their communities from banks, real-estate powers, and the government which are not sitting on thousands of empty houses across the country as families are put out on the streets. Take Back the Land is headed They are the intersection of the radical and the ethical. Focused on putting an end to brutal cycle of land dispossession and denial of land rights to in African American communities that has taken multiple forms over the course of our national history - from slavery to sharecropping to ghettoization, renewal, and gentrification. Although their greater struggle is about the control of land, to meet their objective of feeding and housing the people in a time of foreclosure crises the group's current tactic is moving families into illegally foreclosed homes. Their well-spoken front man, Max Remau has been very public in discussing the tactics of his group and articulately explains how squatting in foreclosed homes is saving homeless families, revitalizing neighborhoods in decline, and doing more to maintain vacant foreclosed homes. So far the police say they will not force out the families unless the banks ask them to.

Check out the website and TV interviews on the TAKE BACK THE LAND WEBSITE


The Umoja Village: Being Homeless is Not a Crime

I just learned about the Umoja Village project as I have been following Take Back the Land's recent actions moving homeless families into foreclosed houses. From the website:

On October 23, 2006 a group of homeless people and local activists took over a vacant lot on the corner of 62nd Street and NW 17th Avenue, jointly owned by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, and erected tents. We planted a sign exclaiming the emphasis and name of the movement: Take Back the Land. Since then, the Umoja Village Shantytown, which takes its name from the Swahili word “umoja” or unity, has grown into a self-sustaining community housing 50 otherwise homeless people. The Village includes approximately 20 wood-framed structures, multiple duplex-style housing units built from wooden pallets, a fully functional kitchen, two porta-potties and a shower powered by an elevated water container. Residents are trained to run the Village themselves and vote on aspects of Village life.


GENTRIFICATION: La Misión VS. The Mission.

Allan Jacobs taught me to read the little details on a street scape to learn what is happening ther. This is what gentrification looks like. I photographed this last year during my studio project on the Cesar Chavez corridor. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you can see what is going down. While this business is adapting, it's clear that the neighborhood demographic has changed from a Mexican community shopping for grocery basics to English-speaking bobos looking for espresso and tea.




When I was working as a bicycle tour guide in Paris in 2005, I used to pause the tourists in front of the Peace Monument to explain what I love most about Paris: how it’s urban design and architecture manage to cultivate both a deep sense of civic history and evoke the possibility of new and exciting futures simultaneously. The Peace Monument, purposefully placed in the center of the historic Champ de Mars (Field of War) in the first year of the new millennium, is a mostly-glass post-modernist monument with internet-driven interactive features and large columns with glass panels on which with the word “peace” is written in 32 languages. The monument is centered on a line between the Ecole Militaire and Tour Eiffel. The Ecole Militaire is the stone, neo-classical military school that educated Napoleon. Built in 1752, left pock-marked by Nazi bullets in 1944, it is a military monument to the country’s royal imperialism. To the northwest is the Tour Eiffel, constructed in 1889 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution, it was built with such new technologies as machine riveting, new forms of architecture which called for the design and manufacture of thousands of unique, pre-fabricated steel pieces, and it’s structural engineering relied on tension, instead of compression. The Tour Eiffel was originally slated to be demolished in 1914, but was saved from demolition by its effectiveness in transmitting a new form of communication technology for French forces in WWI: radio.

The stone, neo-classical Military School of Louis XV from 1752; the steel Eiffel Tower built in 1889, celebrating the revolution from 1789 and broadcasting radio after 1914; the post-moderni Peace Monument projecting peace in 32 languages with internet-driven interactive features - all of these juxtaposed on the same field make one thing certain: Paris is not afraid of change. It is no museum like Venice. For another example, just look at the glass pyramid by I.M. Pei that was placed in the plaza of the Louvre in 1989. The power of Paris is its ability to constantly evolve without losing its identity.

A New ‘Grand Paris’
In September of 2007, President Sarkozy announced that it had commissioned a study of a “new comprehensive development project for Greater Paris.” city “new comprehensive development project for Greater Paris.” In June of 2008, 10 multi-disciplinary design and planning teams began a nine month design process to create new visions for the city. On March 17, the plans were unveiled at Musée de la Cité and a day-long public design critique was held in the great hall of Théâtre National de Chaillot. Actors from other major “metropolitan projects” (Greater London, Greater Madrid, Greater Berlin, etc.) were invited to critique the plans. The scale of the plans surpass that of Bloomberg’s massive PLANYC effort in New York and may represent the most grandiose re-visioning any major Western city has ever undergone, comparable perhaps to only the transformation of Paris under the direction of Baron Von Haussmann in the mid-19th century.

Though the planning process was arguably no more open to public input than Haussmann’s was, these teams focused on largely on creating a greener and more equitable city. Most of the plans incorporated new transportation technology with large open-space projects. Antoine Grumbach proposed a new regional order, projecting along development of a new corridor stretching from Paris west to the French starchitect Christian de Portzamparc’s focuses building a new Paris that is the business center of Europe with a massive new regional rail station near a skyscraper-filled business center on the Parisian outskirts connected to an elevated mag-lev train that would run around Paris in a circle suspended above the busy lanes of the Parisian périphérique ring-road. The ultra-high speeds (360 + mph) that can be achieved through huge investment with mag-lev trains seems completely unnecessary for a circular commuter route which would likely have to stop frequently for good urban access.

Urban Plans for Racial Barriers
In 2005, while living in Paris, I photo-documented the weeks of riots by French-African youth, frustrated by the isolation and prejudice they faced in the baniliue and was struck by the way the rest of the country virtually ignored the chaos in these zones. Well, now planners are trying to improve the situation. Several of the plans, such as that of Jean Nouvel and Richard Rogers call for revitalizing poor, isolated areas with large French-African and immigrant communities with popular (though unproven) techniques of creating linear parks and community gardens to bridge physical and social barriers. What appears to be the most radical strategy, that of Roland Castro, who calls for moving Paris’s most iconic monuments, including the massive Élysée Palace, to the city’s most excluded outlying neighborhoods. Castro, The model for this strategy, as explained on the Atelier webpage (in French), is that of a Jackson Pollock painting where the entire fabric receives equal treatment , is unified, but also varied and full of surprises. A city of equality, but also a city built for derive, a space for the nonchalant noveau-flaneur. I admit, it does seem unduly disruptive to move such huge monuments from their historic places for a gesture that is largely symbolic. However, I am taken with the idea of expanding, diffusing, and de-centering the geography of Paris’s spectacular monumentalism - so integral to its identity - to the areas in the banilieu that are now just as much a part of Paris as any central arrondissemont.

Could a symbolic act, in this case the spatial diffusion of the monuments which create Paris's identity actually work to integrate communities that are currently excluded - spatially, socially, and economically - from broader French society? Certainly, it would not be an end-all solution. Of course, if it is poverty that concentrates African-French Parisians in crowded tenements in isolated areas of the banilieu, it is still the racial prejudice (rife within French society (well documented in hiring practices, for instance) that perpetuates cyclic poverty in this communities. While grand plans to bury the city’s largest train tracks and train yards under grand parks and gardens to integrate isolated neighborhoods (Richard Rogers) are reminiscent of Paris’s largest transformations of the past - the destruction of the old Parisian city wall in the 17th century and Haussmannian boulevards that were hacked through the medieval city in the 19th century – they may still be a small task in comparison with creating racial awareness in French society and addressing the gaps in equity.

These plans are a rallying cry to cities everywhere to be bold, artful, and radical in addressing the problems of the cities.

Note: though the Europe and American press insisit on refering to French-born citizens of African descent as “immigrants” ("immigré" in French). I refer to them throughout this piece as “African-French” since I have never been able to understand how it is propoer usage to address a French-born person as an "immigré" in France. “Citoyen” and "immigré" are used incorrectly used both in common parlance and by the press to “other” black French-African communities.



Riding bikes. Chilling in the park. Riding bikes. Getting heated about about housing policy. Riding bikes. Dancing at the Knockout. Hooking up. Eating at late night taco stands. Riding bikes. This film, set in San Francisco, almost seemed like an extension of my day in San Francisco. And it spoke to me. It's a conversation-driven film, kind of like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, but on bikes instead of on foot, in San Francisco instead of Europe, and with an additional dimension of race and urban history. It's the story of two black twenty-somethings in San Francisco who wake up in an awkward "morning after" situation and end up spending a day riding bicycles around San Francisco and talking about what it is to be black, to be indie, and to live in the city.

The film is exhilarating first and foremost because feels just like you are riding a bike around the city. The Victorian houses bounce and blur as the camera flys by locations that both are and seem familiar - Dolores Park, City Hall, Micah's tiny Tenderloin studio that looks just like your friends, the Knockout (a favorite bar of mine). And the colors are so desaturated tthat he film has almost a black and white feel - like that rare and perfect sunny summer day in SF when the blinding sun has bleached the colors out of everything. The soundtrack is phenomenal too - a mix of obscure heartfelt and dancey indie music, a few old classics, and the placement of a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone track so appropriate for the scene that it would seem it was written for the movie. All the more amazing is that the film was made with less than $30,000 and shot on site within a week's time.

The film has two tales, and I will name each as only a grad student engaged in theory would: the post-romance romance and the search for racial identity in what so some would say is a post-racial society. Whereas the usual plot structure has a romantic connection growing throughout the film climaxing with some kind of physically intimacy. In what is a probably a more realistic portrayal of many contemporary relationships, that classic structure is inverted here: the film begins twith he morning after the physical intimacy and then we wait to see if romance will blossom. The climax, sex, is a given. The real romantic connection is elusive. While Micah and Jo seem to share everything in common - two rare fish in a big tank - they are two different archetypes of black identity.

This second, heavier dimension of this story explores two black Americans who identify with their race in very different ways. Micah, played so naturally by Wyatt Cenac, is essentially a minor tragic hero here: unwilling to dishonor the history of a vibrant black San Francisco, nor let the crimes that destroyed it be forgotten - he carries their memories, and the rage that accompanies them, with him always. Micah's rage is ever-present just beneath the surface of his chill, playful persona. This historical baggage, such an integral part of his identity as a black man, prevents him from being able to moving beyond it and finding happiness (Jo). On the flipside is Jo, the female lead who the director would describe as "post-racial" - clearly more concerned with creating a new future for herself than keeping the pain of the past alive inside of her. It is the reckoning of these two archetypes that leads both to explore their identities more deeply.

This film is important as it explores a sub-culture of black America - the "indie" or "alternative" side - not often shown in film. It asks important questions about racial idenitity in the era of Obama (though the film was written before it), and what it is to be "indie." Further, it is a testimony to the fact that San Francisco's development since the 1960's has been one of massive project of gentrification and displacement. In the end, if there was a medicine for Micah's melancholy, maybe it would be hope. Go and see this film.




In 1974, Philippe Petit along with an unlikely team of helpers, infiltrated both of the World Trade Towers, use a bow-and-arrow to string a steel cable between the two towers, and then perform what was essentially a slow, careful ballet as he walked back and forth between the buildings a total eight times. He was half a kilometer above the street below and had no safety line. The police, waiting anxiously on the buildings, arrested him immediately.

The documentary Man on Wire is the story of Philippe Petit and this famous work of art. The pace of the film is that of bank heist or terrorism flick – the suspense rises as the characters plan and plot their mission. And Petit, a Frenchman with a penchant for dramatic storytelling, makes for a fantastic narrator as he recounts the act with along with interviews from his friends and assistants.

The documentary work is fantastic, but it’s also the best way to experience the tremendously inspiring work art that Petit created. Some might just call it a stunt, others might call it performance art, but to me the most apt term to describe what Petit did is street art. Street art is free for all the passing public, it changes and reinterprets the built environment without asking permission, and it is illegal. Petit’s performance is all of those things. Clandestinely infiltrating the buildings and walking that wire against all laws, artfully re-interpreting the ways humans can interact with a cityscape surging sky-ward beyond all boundaries previously experienced in urban life. If the human form itself were ever eclipsed by human's ability to create structures and technologies so much larger than life, then maybe what is so exciting about Petit’s work is that he stole the spotlight back from amazing feats of structural engineering and pointing it back on humans themselves. Whereas these buildings had been the epitome of human’s highest ability, Petit relegated them to be merely a stage for his performance. The documentary is great. What Philippe Petit did in 1974 is the most beautiful piece of street art I have ever seen. Check this film out.



I’ve been a devout follower of this French music blog since they started filming their “Concert a Emporter” short “take-away shows” of their favorite musical artists playing improvised shows around the streets and beautiful spaces of Paris. While the cinematography and sound are spot on, the casuality, and improvisation, and informal spirit of the performances create an uncanny intimacy with the artists. As you watch more of the performances available on the website (now well over 50), you also realize that these films create an intimacy with Paris - it’s creeky apartments, it’s quiet courtyards, the views from it’s slanted metal rooftops, and the many small places that give even grandiose Paris a cozy feel. With my deep well of nostalgia for Paris never far below the surface, these films can almost put tears in my eyes they are so beautiful.




Regardless of how you feel about American Apparel, is it just me or does the effort to keep them out of their Valencia St location in San Francisco's Mission District seem misguided? After 2500 local people signed a petition to keep the store from opening and local politicians and business owners spoke out against the shop, the company decided to stop pursuing the necessary conditional use permit that any chain store seeking a location in the Mission District must obtain was denied to them. I think the Mission community is talking about two separate issues here: community identity and gentrification. Chain stores, which divert money from local economies and have the genericizing potential to make any city look like every city, are a serious issue for communities. However, cries of gentrification seem brazenly disingenuine, especially when raised by owners of recently-added boutiques and pricey cafes. Gentrification is a far more serious community issue that has lead to the hostile take-over and disposession of land from low-income communities, often just as those communities begin to organize, invest, and improve.

In Julie Johnson's coverage of the issue for the Mission Local blog the opposition at the planning commission argued the chain store would alter the image of the neighborhood the neighborhood and local businesses - including the trendy cafe, Ritual Coffee, spoke out against it. Personally, I don't care for chain stores either, and I am reminded of how unfortunate I think it is that upper Haight St. has transformed itself from a cultural center to something more like a mall. Nonetheless, organizing to keep AA out under the guise of defending a neighborhood against gentrification while there are a high number of vacancies already on the street and far more expensive independent designer clothing boutiques and high-end cafes and restautrants popping up all over the neighborhood rings of the kind of NIMBYism I am used to seeing in long-since gentrified Berkeley. I'm not sad to see that AA isn't occupying the space on Valencia St., but I think those that organized to prevent it are missing an important irony: that keeping a chain store out is not the same as fighting gentrification, if anything it is a sign that the neighborhood is already gentrified enough that a chain store would ruin it's oh-so precious indie-boutique marketing identity. The fact that AA transformed the highly exploitative garmet industry by building itself around an anti-sweatshop, fair labor ethos only adds to this irony. Community leaders and politicians would be more effective protectors of their neighborhood's heritage if they focused their efforts on the far more important battle for affordable housing development and ways to support exisiting local businesses. In the meantime, there's just one more vacant storefront in the mission where no one works.



I was leafing through Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino) over break - an effective exercise for deconstructing our urban perspectives - and I read the following, "the city must never be confused with the words that describe it." It got me back to thinking that planners employ a pathetic set of adjectives to articulate the urban environments. Vibrant is one word I have a particularly hard time with because its highly subjective. Define what vibrant is to you and you'll probably find a succint definition of the kind of neighborhood that you prefer to live in given your (sub)cultural lifestyle, values, socio-economic status (cafes and boutiques anyone?). The retail center that one planner thinks might make a vibrant neighborhood might just end up evicting the current residents that another planner thinks give the neighborhood it's vibrancy. As planners, we all want neighborhoods full of energy and civic enthusiasm (vibrancy), and as a policy/design goal, shouldn't it be taken as a given? By defining "vibrant neighborhood" to ourselves, we might understand our personal values. But as professionals, when we substitute subjective adjectives like "vibrant" in place of more specific descriptions, do we surreptitiously impose our values on to plans?


In my ideal world of urban development and governance, urban planners would not exist. In this ideal world, perfect fluidity of of information, easy-to-use planning tools, and a transparent an d balanced political system would give everyone an equal voice without bogging down the system. This would eliminate any need for the "expert" planner who has power over them through knowledge, access to data/technical tools, or planning/design skills. I know it's a highly idealistic extreme vision, but I didn't get into planning not to chase down ideals, even if they spell the demise of my career. Recent developments point toward an early, happy retirement for me: census data is distributed freely and easily online, Google Earth freely provides topographic data and satellite imagery for the whole world, Sketch-Up brings the ability to design 3-d models of houses and entire cities with free technology easy enough for a 12-year old to use.

The Open Planning Project is one force that is taking ever-greater strides toward empowering civil society with software for improved participatory planning and urban policy creation. Under the umbrella of The Open Planning Project are the Streetsblog Network and Streetfilms websites, their Livable City education projects, the Uncivil Servants site. Even more revolutionary, perhaps are the possibilities that their GeoServer and OpenGeo open-source geo-spatial mapping/planning tools create. Currently geo-spatial data mapping is an incredibly powerful technology used for planning analysis and transportation modeling. However, these proprietary applications are almost completely closed to citizens due to the huge expense of the software and the training needed to run the systems. As a result, cities pay software companies and consultants huge sums to use these tools. Also, citizens do not have access to technology appropriate for challenging the analysis of experts.

However, the GeoServer is a open-source software server written in Java that allows users to share and edit geo-spatial data online – kind of like the Wikipedia edition of ESRI’s ArcGIS. OpenGeo is a non-profit social enterprise that offers consulting and support services around best of breed, open source, geospatial software, especially in building large transportation models for cities. The open-source software, which can be tailored for a city to use in transportation demand and capacity forecasting, will also be significantly cheaper than the proprietary models and private sector consultants many currently use. Portland is already employing the software and according to this Wired article, San Francisco’s MUNI may follow suit soon.

These projects will democratize the planning process, providing access to planning tools for little or no cost to cities and citizens. The end result can only be stronger, more democratic urban analysis, reduced municipal budgets, and better cities. The Open Planning Project is run and largely funded by Mark Gorton, founder of the Lime Wire, the most popular file-sharing application in the world in 2007, for the open-source gnutella network.



This was my project in provocation. Powell Street is the most central and longest street in Emeryville. It is the only street that connects this bayside community to the water. Yet, the street functions as a nasty traffic sewer. It's virtually impossible to use the street as a bicyclist and pedestrian and the city overall has no parks (yet) and few families are willing to live there. I designed a huge elevated bicycle and pedestrian parkway for the city of Emeryville and made a convincing argument that it would solve all their problems. It was the last project I presented in my design studio and instead of doing what everyone else did, I wanted to add some bananas to the mix. I was hoping to get a harsh critique. I wanted to the reviewers to debate whether, as planners and designers we are really doing our job when we just build over conflicts in the urban fabric (often creating new probles int he process) instead of mitigating them in other ways. Even my design board, which is cut up into three pieces above, was an affront to what is "supposed to be done." Instead of the standard sizes, mine was one giant, 11 foot-long board. I was aiming to be shot down in a storm of criticism and the project was not a success: people really liked it and it was considered an extreme but successful design. Frustrating.


my halloween plan: BREAKING AWAY

Hey Cutters,

For those of you who haven't spent a Halloween in the Bay Area, let me tell you that the best and biggest Halloween party is always the Halloween Critical Mass in the city. About a 1,000 cyclists, all in costume, come out to swarm the city streets. If you don't have a costume or anyone to ride with, worry not: We will be dressing up as the "Cutters" homegrown cycling team from the 1979 cult-classic (I might be the only member of that cult) cycling film, Breaking Away. We're projecting the film and making our costumes tomorrow at Robin Reid's house... so get your homework done and then come over and have a beer, watch a film, and get your costume squared away. Costumes are easy, they consist of a white T-shirt with the word "CUTTERS" ironed on to it, some bike shorts or some cut-off pants, vintage-looking sneakers, and an helmet. Forward on to like-minded amigos, the more cutters, the merrier. Oh, and check out the flyer....


Foreign Fourth of July

Flying in over Bosnia's beautiful green mountains was great and the city looked better than ever...was that really a giagantic new waterpark I flew over?? I had almost toally forgotten that it was the Fourth of July when I touched down in Sarajevo. US Emb SJJ had already held its fancy party over the weekend so there was no reason to remember. Within hours of landing, however, I ended up at Camp Butmir, the military base outside of Sarajevo for a Fourth party with some of the CD, well-connected ex-pats, a handful of marines, and a bunch of really enthusiastic EU soldiers.

As if, in my sleep-deprived haze, all the guns, trailer-park-esque barracks, and random American fast-food outlets weren't strange enough, the celebration itself was rife with unintended humor and irony. It kicked off with a large, muscle-bound Austrian soldier who belted out "Zee Staar Spangled Banna" with such force that it looked more like he was power-lifting the song than singing it...until his voice cracked and he DEMURRED from the mic, too shamed to sing any more. Then a NATO General told an nice patriotic story that didn't seem to fit the spirit of the Fourth too well. The in-sync-steppin' marine color guard stirred vaguely patriotic sentiments when troops from so many nations stepped forward from the crowd to solemnly salute it. After that things only got stranger.

Once everyone had gotten their American barbeque plate, a Bosnian coverband took stage in front of a giant American flag and played...well, if memory serves me correctly, the first three songs were Pink Floyd's "The Wall," "Play that Funky Music Whiteboy," and "It's Raining Men." The Euro soldiers were loving it, all going crazy on the ad hoc dancefloor, but somehow the American soldiers, no doubt primed for some Springsteen, didn't know how to interact with such a playlist. I met some cool investigative journalists and a OHR head who is into the life and death game that is bicycle touring in the Balkans, so we are planning some killer rides in the area. Eventually the Boss's number came up and all the dancefloor was a mix of Carabinieri, Marine, EUFOR, Hungarian, Turkish, Deutsch, and 'merican troops. Some of those dudes could break it down.

At 10:30 pm the fireworks went off, however even though it was a big display of cosmetic firepower, at 3 km away we could barely see them. When I asked why they were so far away I was told that last year's fireworks ingnited a field and burned out several Bosnian homes in Illidza on the night of the Fourth...I kept my metaphors to myself.

Happy Fourth from Bosnia and Hercegovina!


exit real world...in transit...

I said I was going to kill myself if I didn't get out on the road soon, so, in keeping with that I finally pulled the proverbial trigger last week and bought tickets back to Europe after a year in the great decay. Seven days of frenzied preperation later I was hauling my boxed-up bike around Mitchell International, the first of six airports I would enter on my way back to Sarajevo.

During a busy 24-hour stop in New York City I saw enough friends, consumed enough good food and drink, and saw enough amazing of that paramount American city that it felt as if I was there for days. Of course when it came time to say good-bye to Jennie, I felt like there wasn't enough time in the world. Thanks much for the terrific hospitality Travis and Gabe.

After hastily slogging my boxed-up bike all over JFK I finally made it on my flight to Budapest and onword to Sarajevo.


birkie bound

Since 1981, my Dad has been travelling to American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race. Starting in the small northern Wisconsin town of Cable, the race travels over 51 km of hilly, wooded terrain to Hayward, WI. The race commemorates the 51 km cross-country ski journey two hearty men took hundreds of years ago in Norway to save the life of a young heir to the Norweigen throne from the murderous intentions of other members of the King's court. The race is apart of several major international ski race series and this year there were 9,000 some skiers from around the world racing through the north woods.

And for the first time in my life, I was one of them.

Although I still really liked the idea of X-C skiing, I hadn't actually gone since early in my high school years. However, this year was special - it was my Dad's 20th Birkebeiner. When someone completes 20 Birkebeiners they become a member of the prestigious Birch Leggings society (named for the leggings worn hundreds of years ago). It's quite a feat and it carries some weight in X-C circles, so I went up to commemorate my Dad's 20th Birkie by skiing one of my own.

I skied twice before the race. I went about 10 km each time because the skiis I was borrowing were too big for me and didn't work very well. Unfortunately I was stuck with these skiis for the race so I signed up for the 26 km half-way race, the Korteloppet.

The night before the race we hunkered down in our cabin to wax our skiis, debating what wax to match to the snow granule shape, moisture content, and temperture range of the following day. OUr educated guesses must have been dead-on because at the start line the next morning I knew my skiis were ready to go, gripping and sliding on the snow perfectly. It was about 10 degrees but with bluebird skies and bright sun - a pefect day. I knew instantly that I was not going to stop at the halfway mark - I was going all the way.

So, after 9 km I skipped the turn for the Korte and kept on my way to completing my first Birkie. I caught up with my Dad, who was surprised to see me, at the 30 km mark and we skied the last 21 km together, right up the main drag of Hayward past the cheering throngs of small town residents and skiers from all over. My time was not counted in the results but I did receive the medal that every first year skier receives at the finish. We finished in 5 and a half hours - more than three hours behind the Italian winner.

It's safe to say I got Birkie fever. Now I just have 19 more to go.


iParty. do you?

Always causing rambunction...here's my latest mischief:
9 pm

every tuesday
café montmartre

ATTENTION MUSIC LOVERS: Café Montmartre has dethroned the DJ as we know it and installed a new digital music democracy on Tuesday nights – giving the powers of music selection back to the good people of Madison.

Every Tuesday, bring your iPod (or other music player) to Café Montmartre and take your turn with it in the DJ booth playing your freshest tracks for all to hear. Show-off your rare b-sides, latest mash-ups, vintage treasures or just turn the party up with something hype – you are the DJ and this is your party.

iParty will be the place to hear new, old, and underground music from across the spectrum. The mix will be eclectic and the air will be electric.

iParty: music played by the people for the people. Civic participation never sounded so good.



Surf’s Up: Sheboygan, WI

Ahh yes, it’s autumn in Wisconsin and everybody’s taking in the fall colors on hayrides, hikes, and Sunday drives. But fall is prime time for more than just tree-gazing. The months between September and December also deliver the biggest and most consistent surf along Wisconsin’s 950 miles of coastline. Yes, that’s right – surf, and Wisconsin not only has waves, it has a community of surfers dedicated to chasing them.

The best place within striking distance of Madison to see or even paddle out with freshwater surfers is Sheboygan, WI, a two-hour drive to the northeast. Sheboygan, a pleasant lakeside town of 50,000 and home to the Dairyland Surf Classic, has several good surf breaks around town, a long history of super-friendly local surfers, and some good hangouts in case the swell isn’t hitting.

The most important aspect of finding surf – or surfers for that matter – in Sheboygan is being able to read the weather and predict when “swells” in the lake will be created by winds and changes in air pressure. You can’t surf everyday in Sheboygan, only when there is a swell that generates larger than average waves which break at specific spots depending on the swell’s direction. Predicting surf is an intense science, but the big indicators for a good swell are plunging air pressure and sustained high winds coming from the north to north east or the south to southeast. Lake forecasts that call for average waves 4 ft. or higher are also a good bet. The Lakesurf website (www.lakesurf.com) has a slew of links and information on when and where to surf around the Great Lakes as well as heavily-used message boards good for picking up info on where the surf is up, finding used equipment, and asking questions.

Unlike locals at most surf spots around the world, which discourage outsiders from surfing “their” waves, Sheboygan surfers “are a friendly, laid-back bunch that just want to see people catch waves,” says Grant Davey, an Australian surfer who moved to Sheboygan ten years ago for a job. You’ll also need a warm wetsuit (4-6 mm) with a hood and booties for the chilly fall water temperatures which range from 35-55 degrees. A higher-volume board also works well since the fresh water is less buoyant than salt water. If you’re intent on catching some freshwater waves but have no equipment, don’t despair. It’s far from uncommon for Great Lakes surfers, especially those in Sheboygan, to lend a board and wetsuit to someone with either obvious knowledge of surfing or an undeniable desire to learn. Just show up at a break when the surf is up and do your best to strike up conversation.

The surf in Sheboygan isn’t a novelty. With a strong south or southeast swell and the right wind, the barreling waves at North Point (on N. Point Rd.), are occasionally dilated enough for Davey to stand up tall when he pulls inside of them. Here swells come in from very deep water and break in powerful, hollow waves over a shallow reef-like bed of limestone – perfect for rides for shortboarding. The surf is slightly cleaner and smaller near the jetties further to the north.

“The Elbow” is Sheboygan’s most notorious surf spot, named for the bend in the rock pier that the waves break near. Rather than paddle out two hundred yards through tumultuous surf from the large city beach adjacent to the Harbor Center Marina, surfers walk out on the large rock pier about half of the way to the big lighthouse and then jump off the rocks with their boards to get to the line-up. Waves at the Elbow, best for longboarders, are often head-high with a strong south swell and give long rides all the way to the beach. The large rock pier with cement sidewalk is an excellent place to watch surfers cruise by on waves, sometimes only 15 yards away from the pier.

“Black River,” just south of town off Lakeshore Dr. on N. Evergreen Rd., is a mellow beach break that is less intimidating for beginners. The sandbars here make for fun waves on north or south swells.

Two of Sheboygan’s most well-known surfers own places to hangout and eat. The Weather Center Café, located right on the water at the south end of the city’s marina, is a cozy place to get coffee, delectable baked goods, and great sandwiches and soups. Check the bulletin board for both the latest pictures of Sheboygan’s surfers and bits of Sheboygan’s surfing history. If the place isn’t too busy, which is rare, ask Teek, the café owner/freshwater surfing hardcore/proud member of Team Blatz, how the surf has been. The surf might not be much compared to other ocean locales, but the positive vibe of surfers in Sheboygan is unbeatable.


Don’t blink: LaGrange, WI

If you blink for a one second while traveling at 60 mph, you will travel 88 feet while your eyes are closed. LaGrange, WI is a town so small, it would take just one lazy blink to pass through the entirety of the town with your eyes closed.

Yeah, LaGrange may be unbelievably small, but with fabulous mountain biking, a nearby beach, small town Wisconsin charm, and an uber-unique café – all an hour’s drive from Madison – it is killer daytrip material. There are few better ways to exploit a beautiful summer or autumn day and you’ll be back in Madison by sunset.

LaGrange lies along Highway 12 southeast of Whitewater, 2 miles from the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, a beautiful swath of glacially-morphed rolling, wooded hills containing two well-maintained systems of trail loops (the John Muir and Emma Carlin trail systems) which total about 36 miles of trails for mountain bikers with even more options for hikers. Hiking is popular on the trails, but mountain biking is surely the most exciting way to experience the terrain and will allow you to see more of the forest in a day.

From the “haven’t ridden a bike since the seventh grade” types to spandex-clad all-terrain cyclo-geeks, South Kettles is a great place to go for an off-road ride. The singletrack, meaning narrow, naturally challenging trails for mountain bikers, at South Kettles twists and turns through the forest along the undulating contours of the glaciated terrain. The trails are generally made of hardpack dirt and devoid of very challenging obstacles. Compared to other area trails that are rockier and challenge the technical bike-handling skills of experienced riders, South Kettle’s well-designed singletrack is quite manageable even for a non-mountain biker that is in shape and eager to try real off-road riding, yet it still challengs advanced riders to carry their speed as they careen through turn after turn. The John Muir parking area and trailhead has a shelter, picnic tables, a fire pit, grills, bathrooms, drinking water, a hose for dirty bikes, many nearby campsites, and free trail maps.

The trails are especially beautiful when the autumnal explosion of color in the Southern Kettles paints the trees and forest floor with intense fall hues. Beginners unsure of their ability and stamina should stick to the Red, Orange, and White trail loops of the John Muir trail system, which entail less challenging terrain and more manageable distances, ranging from 1.5-5.3 miles. Those with more confidence should tackle the slightly more challenging and isolated 10 mile Blue loop, which winds through sandy second-growth pine groves, hilly hardwood forests, and meadows filled with wildflowers. Those who consider themselves expert riders in excellent condition should prove it by riding the Blue loop to the gnarled 2-way Connector Trail to the Emma Carlin trail system. After sampling some of the short trail loops there, then head back down the Connector Trail and through the remainder of the Blue loop to the parking lot for a burly 24-29 mile ride. The trails require a trail pass ($3 daily, $10 yearly) and a State Park parking pass ($5 daily, $20 yearly), both are good at any State Park in Wisconsin.

Saddled right up to the crossroads of Highway 12 and County H (a.k.a. downtown LaGrange) is the one of a kind LaGrange General Store. The General Store combines a great deli, natural foods store, café, and a great beer and wine selection with a small, full-service bike/ski shop known as Backyard Bikes. The well-worn wood-toned interior has pleasant tables both inside and on the back porch under umbrellas. The friendly wrenches (mechanics) in the bike shop rent top-quality, gender-specific Gary Fisher front suspension mountain bikes, which handle the local terrain with ease, for $29 as well as heavier-duty full-suspension mountain bikes for $39-45. They also rent super comfortable hybrid bikes to those looking for a more relaxing ride cruising the picturesque local country roads.

The wide variety of salads, soups, and sandwiches at the General Store are best enjoyed with the General Store’s “Famous” smoothie of sunflower seeds, honey, peach juice, and banana. The Southern Kettle Moraine Unit will also be host to the Fall Color Festival mountain bike race on October 2 where you can race, meet the pro’s, and attend various mountain bike clinics.

Before returning your bike rental, cruise down Highway H, then right on Kettle Moraine Drive to the nice beach at Whitewater Lake for a well-deserved dip (two miles from the General Store). To make even more use of your day exploring rural southeastern Wisconsin, stop at one of the many diner/cafés you will pass by in Fort Atkinson or Whitewater for breakfast on your way to La Grange. To end the day in style, touch down at Chef Robert Hughes’ hot new restaurant, Serendipity, in Cambridge for a nice dinner. If all goes according to plan you’ll be back in Madtown in plenty of time for a full night out at the bars, which, after such an active day, you will have earned.