29 June 2010

And the clouds would catch the colours everywhere

This year I have been making an extended effort to travel as ecologically as possible. Of course the most environmentally-friendly way to travel is not to travel at all, but as I have mentioned before I am something of a travel junkie, and though I love Dublin like a childhood friend that still remains close despite you having pretty much nothing in common now that you are in your thirties except the fact that you have a ridiculously long shared history, to survive in the city for any length of time whilst remaining fairly mentally stable requires frequent periods of being Elsewhere.

Thus throughout the year I have been frequently Elsewhere, but have gone to great efforts to travel there by train, boat and the occasional bicycle. There are sometimes, however, when you have to fly, and this weekend due to time constrains I was forced to fly part-way to Glastonbury (unlike Burning Man, Glastonbury does not, as of yet, have its own airfield, thus train journeys to and from the event are always a delightful, if cramped and smelly, feature). Rather than travel to London this year we chose to fly to glamourous Cardiff, and take a 2 hour or so journey from Cardiff Central to Castle Cary by train, and a significant factor in choosing to do so was the Aer Lingus Regional flight from Dublin to Cardiff, operated by Aer Arann.

Aer Arann run a fleet of ATR 72-500s, a turboprop rather than a jet-engined plane. According to Aer Arann these use less fuel (up to 70% less fuel than a jet on the same route), emit less CO2 and other climate-impacting gasses, and (again according to Aer Arann) have the same carbon-impact per passenger as a train. I took all these figures with a healthy dose of salt, but it was enough of a fig leaf to allow me to hide my carbon shame and book a flight.

Upon my return I decided to do a little bit of digging into these green claims. In "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" David MacKay calculates the energy per unit of fuel as 10 kilowatt hours (kWh) per litre (he thinks in terms of the calorific value of fuel). If you take Aer Arann's figure of fuel consumption per passenger for a journey of 370 km for an ATR 72 of 16 litres, this works out at about 4.3 litres per 100 km travelled by a single passenger, or an energy cost of 43 kWh per 100 p-km. MacKay calculates that the energy cost of a fully loaded 737-400 works out at 42 kWh per 100 p-km. So the turboprop seems about as efficient as a fully laden jumbo jet, and also works out as being about as efficient as an average European car (which is the classic benchmark of environmental inefficiency, especially when travelling at anything less than full occupancy), which MacKay concludes uses around 40 kWh per 100 p-km when carrying two people.

However according to Garry Cullen, Managing Director at Aer Arran:
“The ATR operates more efficiently than jet aircraft on short-haul routes – up to 70% less fuel is required than a 737 on a typical Aer Arann sector. On a 370km sector, the ATR 72 – 500 fuel consumption per passenger is up to 15% lower than a typical European car. The associated ATR gaseous emissions per pax in terms of CO are 15 times less than a car and comparable to a train”
I am, of course, more inclined to go with MacKay's numbers, he is an academic expert in this field and was hired by the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change last October as Chief Scientific Advisor (though I don't know if the appointment still stands with the recent change in management), but all of this goes to show that a) there are lies, damn lies and statistics, and b) I really don't know enough about the actual levels and impact of my carbon production.

What I take from all this is that a turbo-prop plane is as efficient as a half-full car (boo), but carries less passengers than a jet and has a lower impact per flight, so as long as less people fly in total on the route (ie they don't replace a single 747 flight with 10 turbo-prop flights) the environmental impact of a turbo-prop is less than that of a jet. However my own personal impact on the environment appears to be the same whether I fly by jet or turbo-prop, which is poo.

So it looks like its back to the trains for me, which MacKay calculates as having an energy cost of between 3 kWh per 100 p-km for a fully occupied high-speed electric train (like the TGV) and 9 kWh for a diesel train. Unfortunately doing so will rob me of the opportunity to take rather nice photos of clouds, like these on approach to Dublin at about 19,000 ft.

Links

Aer Arann's "greenest aircraft"
David MacKay's homepage
'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' by David MacKay
A few more cloud photos

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Really, no mud?

This weekend I have mostly been, at Glastonbury.

Yes, this came as much of a surprise to me as no doubt it does to you, but to be honest there have been precedents. No matter, despite a pathological hatred of camping and a near hysterical fear of mud once again I braved the wilds of Somerset for four(ish) days of music and bacchanalia, and by "braved" I mean stayed in a rather nice yurt in a secure area with pretty decent loos and showers, far away from the maddening crowd.

Wahoo!

See, while I am no doubt on numerous watch-lists for my publicly avowed leftie sentiments, my hard-core post-marxist beliefs have a hard stop at the gates of any festival; do not seek me in the squalor of the fugee tent villages, fighting with the rabble over the last can of Stella or shanking my neighbor over a disputed bog-roll; not for me are the long-drops, the chill-and-charge or the endless dum-tish-dum-tish-dum-tish siren-calls of the 24-hour mystery-meat stalls. Look for me instead inside the gilded walls of the bosses' compounds, the Glastonbury Green Zone, standing on my hind legs feeding at the table with Mr Pilkington, and then you can gaze from man to pig and from pig to man again, but already you'll be hard pressed to say which is which.

I really don't like camping.

Musical highlights of the weekend included Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg with Gorillaz (though not a great choice for the headline act on Friday night), The National, The Lightning Seeds on Saturday night on the Avalon Stage, Cassette Boy, Grizzly Bear and Hudson Mohawk (who looked like a twelve-year old on his summer holidays) and Stevie Wonder on Sunday night, but the biggest highlight of all was the weather, in the high twenties all weekend and not a drop of rain. I'm sure I have been to a dry Glasto before, but the memory has been buried in an avalanche of trench foot, rotting tents, foul smelling sludge that you can only hope is mud, and rain, ceaseless never-ending rain. The biggest fear of the weekend was sunburn and heatstroke, just amazing really.

Yes, I missed Thom Yorke doing an acoustic set on Friday night. Yes, I missed Matt Smith lending Orbital a helping hand for their closing track, and no, I didn't bother going along to see Muse on Saturday night so I didn't see the Edge either (but I don't really care about that last one). None of that mattered because the weather was just so damn fine.

I still hate camping though.

(big thanks to everyone who made this trip happen, you guys are amazing beyond words)

Links
Photos from Galsto 2010
Official site
BBC's Glasto site, videos don't play outside the UK but the pics are nice
Pretty good coverage by The Guardian as well, here's an interactive map of all their articles

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22 June 2010

Inis Mór sunrise, sunset

Arriving at Dún Aonghasa at 9am on Friday morning I had the place to myself, as the first ferries from the mainland don't get in until 11:30 or so, and was greeted by a near impenetrable wall of sea fog that reduced visibility to under 10 meters at times. I came back that night around 9pm, again after the last ferry had returned most tourists to the mainland at 6pm, and I stayed in the hillfort until well after sunset, alone in silence save for the crash of the waves below me.

The view South from Dun Aonghasa at 9am

The view South from Dun Aonghasa at 9pm

Sun setting behind Dún Aonghasa (Dún Aengus)

Sunset, looking South across Inis Mór

Early morning, Port Mhuirbigh (Portmurvy)

Dún Dúchathair (The Black Fort)

Looking North along the Atlantic coast

Click on any photo to embiggen.

Links
More photos of Inis Mór
More photos of Dún Aonghasa

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21 June 2010

Pedaler en grand braquet

At aged 37 I have discovered that I am a cyclist. This was not by design, or at least not by my design, but the truth of the matter is that for the last month or two I have been traveling almost everywhere in the city by bicycle, more specifically by dublinbikes. The Very Understanding Girlfriend, in a moment of inspired genius, gave me an annual subscription to the service as a present, and after an initial test run around the Phoenix Park on the May Bank Holiday Monday I have now been almost inseparable from the solid little blue bundles of transportation joy.

Living as I do between the two canals, there are a plethora of Bike Stations within a stone's throw of my house, and almost every place that I would want to go to in the city centre is similarly blessed. Given that any individual journey of less than 30 minutes is free with an annual subscription, and that a 30 minute journey by bike would almost certainly get you from the furthest station north to the furthest station south, as long as the good weather continues to hold the effect on my daily life has been, without exaggeration, transformational.

I offer this preamble by way of explanation for what will surely come as a shock to many of you who know me in the really real world, that I have just returned from a solo cycling holiday on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.

I leave that to sink in for a moment or two.

Cycling, on my own, in an Irish-speaking area, with no internet, for fun.

Did I mention I was on a bicycle?

To be honest it wasn't that epic, less than 30k a day all told and mostly in hour long trips interspersed with much hiking, but the cumulative effect on my calves of this and the previous few weeks' city-centre commuting has been impressive.

And how did I celebrate my return to Dublin, why with a two-hour round-trip cycle from Portobello to the M50 and beyond along the new Green Route on the former tow-path of the Grand Canal, of course.

Running from Inchicore to Lucan the Green Route is the first section of a proposed dedicated off-road cycle route running from Adamstown to Howth, the next section of which will run from Portobello to Bull Island and will open possibly sometime next year. With the exception of some unusually placed gates that force you to dismount at every intersection with a road, and a rather psychopathic 10 year-old at Bluebell who decided to chase me down, Robert Patrick/Terminator 2-style (or perhaps more accurately Robert Carlyle/28 Weeks Later-style), the whole experience was rather pleasant indeed.

The Green Route only opened on Saturday and still has sections in a decidedly unfinished state, but it is really nice to be able to write about something altogether positive going on in Dublin for a change. The City Council have an embryonic web site for Cycling in Dublin with info on cycling routes, parking stands and updates on public cycling programs, all at an early stage but a good beginning nonetheless.

More on Inis Mor later, I just thought it best to ease you into the concept of me on a cycling holiday somewhat gradually. Do not be alarmed, no cycling shorts were involved at any stage of the operation.

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Goodbye I Love You

The occasion of my recent trip to Sligo was the opening of an exhibition by An Snag Breac, knitter of Daleks and good friend of those of us here on Booming Back. I have written on a number of occasions about the power of art as a form of communication between the artist and audience, but this exhibition was something on a deeper level, both because of the personal connection with the artist herself as a friend, and because of the nature of the exhibition itself.

In 2006 a close friend of the artist killed himself, an event that affected all those around him quite deeply, and this exhibition, "Goodbye I Love You", was a collection of pieces crafted in the subsequent months and years that chronicle her attempts to understand what happened, her own reaction to it, and possibly in some way to come to terms with it.

The exhibition was in mixed media, text on fabric, sewn and stitched works, photographs of those stitched works in tranquil locations, and intensely powerful installations layering written narratives on to objects with a contextual and emotional link between the artist and her friend.

The power and raw emotion was overwhelmingly tangible, something to do with the hard, sharp and spiky concepts/emotions being rendered in such soft and/or familiar/mundane media. It was rather unnerving walking through what felt like the inner workings of the artist's heart and mind, seeing so much of her exposed, and while each piece stands alone on its own artistic merit, there was a tangible sense of the cathartic power the production and exhibition of the pieces held for the artist independently of their value as expressions of humanity.

While the exhibition is over now you can find out more about it on An Snag Breac's blog. I've also uploaded some photos with the artist's permission, but as she herself says the exhibition contains works of a graphic nature and are not suitable for children.

Links
Goodbye I Love You commentary by An Snag Breac
my photos of the exhibition

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Democracy, bodhráns, art and trains

This week I have mostly been, in the West.

In fact over the last two weeks I have spent a considerable amount of time in Roscommon, Sligo and Galway, and have experienced the delight of long distance train travel in Ireland on all of these occasions, noting that a) the type of train traveled on often bears no relation to the distance of your journey, b) that while a return ticket from Dublin to Sligo costs exactly the same as a one way ticket from Dublin to Sligo, for some reason they don't seem to be open to the notion that logically a single trip from Sligo to Dublin should therefore be free, c) that buying a ticket on the day of travel at a train station is a really, really stupid idea, and that d) 90% of all passengers on a given train are over 65 and traveling for free, thus increasing the train prices for the rest of us. My attitude to this last point will no doubt change sometime over the next thirty years.

Anyway, expect the next few posts to be on my recent experiences in the West, apologies to all ye sophisticated urbanites who have grown used to rants about the quality of foam on my morning frapachocamochiatio, the inability to get really good quality tofurky within strolling distance of my eco-house, or the degenerative effect successive generations of dynastic politics and the lack of a truly representative constitution have had on our fair nation.

Actually, you can still probably count on getting the odd bit of a rant on that last one.

Links
Photos of Rosses Point, Sligo

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16 June 2010

Debord and Bloom

Ah Bloomsday, when the nation's aspirational literati turn out to celebrate that most triumphal portrayal of stumblings, ramblings, black pudding and a cheery disdain for all punctuation both necessary and superfluous, that most revered portrait of Dublin written carefully some 787km away in self-imposed exile in Paris.

To celebrate the day and its true Parisian origins, members of the self-described Dublin Psychogeographical Society set out to faithfully recreate the famous walk of Leopold Bloom, but in Paris.

Starting courtesy of Ryanair and appropriately enough at the James Joyce Pub, the first two parts of their step-by-step pub crawl/literary reenactment, with suitable Situationist commentary, are available online, and it all makes a rather nice change from endless interviews with David Norris.

(via Irish Left Review)

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15 June 2010

A day of Habermas and vuvuzelas

I was going to write about Fine Gael and vuvuzelas today, how five days in and I am now convinced that every major event would be enhanced by the soothing drone of vuvuzelas, particularly those events involving politicians professing their loyalty to and/or justification for mounting a destructive leadership challenge against, their current party leader.

Apparently this soothing tone operates at the same frequency as the human voice, so any attempt to remove it digitally from the TV broadcasts would also cut out the commentators, thus a couple of well placed vuvuzelas outside the Dail would do wonders to reduce the level of steaming poo emanating from the occupants therein, either through harmonious digital deletion or simply by driving away the gangs of malcontents that hang around inside looking shifty and causing trouble. Think of vuvuzelas as a mosqitio alarm for 50 year old men.

I was going to write about that, but I'm not, because tonight I went to see Jürgen Habermas.

The last time Habermas was in Ireland was in 1994 while I was a theology student. He didn't mean that much to me then, I'm sure there were pints to be had somewhere else and it was all the way out in UCD, and while technically UCD is in Dublin it really is so only in the Ryanair way that Beauvais is in Paris, and so I didn't go.

There are times that 37-year old me wants to go back in time and slap 21-year old me around the place, and that is one of them.

It was thus with no small amount of delight that I found out late last week that Professor Habermas would be in Dublin to receive UCD's Ulysses Medal on Bloomsday, and would be giving a public lecture the night before. Rarely does one get such an opportunity to reverse the mistakes of youth without the aid of some temporal-shifting bubbling-water-based furniture, and so off I went.

Nearly two hours of Habermas on Political Theology; it was like he knew I had snubbed him sixteen years ago, forgiven me, and written a lecture just for me. Like the parable of the prodigal son, only secular, with fewer slaughtered calfs, and no irate brother.

While I took copious notes, it is going to take me a while to digest them all, so I've no summary here beyond his closing comment that "The democratic process is also a learning process", which seemed good advice for Messers Kenny, Bruton et al.

And if they don't sort themselves out and quit their messing there's always vuvuzelas.

And nobody wants that.

Links
There was an interesting interview with Habermas in Saturday's Irish Times.

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11 June 2010

Rev it up and here we go

I am not a huge sports fan. I am not even a minor sports fan. In fact there are occasions when I would be hard pressed to even spell 'sports fan', but not even I can escape the fact that the World Cup is starting today, without us.

Us, of course, being Ireland, for although I hold dual citizenship my loyalties have never been divided come international sporting events, and I am certainly not going to start throwing my lot in now with The Other Side just because they qualified and Ireland didn't, though admittedly if I did I would be increasing the US sock-ah fanbase by at least 50%.

Nope, without a national side to cheer on I will most likely only see a match by accident, while passing by a pub with large windows or switching on the TV to get my regular fix of 'Strictly Come Die With Me', everyone's favorite celebrity assisted-euthanasia program (this week I'll mostly be cheering for, Ryan Tubridy), only to discover that its been replaced by Botswana vs Azerbaijan, a crucial match to decide the bottom of Group Q.

So no, I am most definitely not what one could call a 'sports fan'.

Someone who could most definitely be called a 'sports fan', though unfortunately of the wrong sort of football, is our good friend Mr Tim over at Inessentials, the man responsible for introducing me to the Green Bay Packers and Mountain Dew almost simultaneously, and the jury is still out as to which has done more lasting damage to my health. Mr Tim recently delivered a paper on the ethics of sports fandom entitled "Is Team Loyalty a Virtue?" at a conference on Sport and Society co-sponsored by the Green Bay Packers, and that paper is now available on his website.

You see, this is why America qualifies for major sporting events and we do not, their teams host philosophy symposia. Also, they tend to organise World Championships and never seem to get round to inviting other nations to play, which dramatically increases the likelihood of a Team USA win.

Anyway, while the paper focuses on US sports and only mentions sock-ah in passing (seriously Mr Tim, football hooliganism is so last century, except in South America, or Eastern Europe, or Turkey, or the UK, or Germany, or, um, you know, never mind) it is an interesting insight into an area that seems to get very little discussion, possibly because of the rather low crossover between professional philosophers and dedicated sports fans (though perhaps even as we speak the Alain Badiou Onze is lacing-up to prove me wrong, no doubt by fisting the ball into the back of the net like most Frenchmen).

No matter, unlike the rest of the country (and possibly the civilized world), life will go on here at Booming Back as normal over the next four weeks, there will be highs, there will be lows, and almost certainly there will be a few no-score draws, which, this being Ireland, are always as good as a win.

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05 June 2010

Democracy, croissants, art and trains (Part Four)

What is the function of Art in society? Who does is speak to, why does it hold an elevated place in our culture, and indeed should it hold an elevated place? Who defines what is and is not to be considered Art and on what basis are such arbitrations made? The answers to these and many other questions are not going to be touched with a ten-foot pole here on Booming Back; I may be self-opinionated and subject to occasional fits of self-aggrandisement, but in the odd fleeting moment of realistic lucidity I too know my limits, or a close approximation there of.

However I am somewhat fascinated by the process of artistic creation almost as much as by the fruits of that creation.

Here in Dublin in the Hugh Lane Gallery is to be found one of the most fascinating of all museum exhibitions, Francis Bacon's studio, removed from London and reassembled centimeter by tattered, raggy, pack-rat hoarded centimeter. Standing looking in to it is like seeing in to the mind of Bacon himself, watching the neurons of creativity fire and explode and race along invisible threads that connect each seemingly random and discarded piece of detritus, the jumbled topography of his flat forming a unique mind-map, each haphazard pile or slashed canvas an anchor point for the synapses of his artistic landscape. While I am not a huge fan of Bacon's work, to see the environment within and from which so many of his pieces were created gives a strange sense of comprehension to the mottled, flowing, and distorted figures that seemingly melt into their surrounds that populate his works. There are no clean lines, no defined boundaries in his studio, each part seems forever on the verge of being buried in a discarded avalanche from and of its neighbour. I may not like his work any more than I did before viewing this, but I feel a greater sense of understanding of the hows and the whys behind it.

On a more positive note I have a collection of books and postcards of black and white photographs of Monet, pottering around his house and garden, all beardy and roly-poly, gauloises dangling absently from his fingertips while having a chat with Clemenceau presumably on their way to, or back from, a rather tasty lunch. Despite advanced age and deteriorating eyesight the images convey a man happy and content with his lot in life, the very opposite of the notion of the artist as a tortured man. Thus while in Paris we took the opportunity to travel out north, again by train, to the Normandy village of Giverny, where Monet's home and garden that feature so heavily in his later work are open to the public as a museum.

The first thing that strikes you about Monet's garden is that it is entirely artificial, from the neatly ordered rows of flowers planted in waves of striking colours that line the paths in front of is house to the pond that hosts the water lilies so synonymous with his 20th century pieces, crafted from the diverted flow of the Epte River with every aspect carefully sculpted by the artist, the landscape itself his canvas. This is a managed, manufactured environment, designed from inception to inspire and delight, which it most definitely does. Over there is the Japanese Bridge, opposite the smaller bridge, here are the willows drooping elegantly into the water, and everywhere on the surface of the pond are scattered the saucer-plates of the lilies, Les Nympheas, resting gently on the reflected purple-greens of trees and flower-lined paths rising to the grey-blues of the Normandy sky above. Every angle instantly familiar and achingly beautiful, yet there is the sense that every leaf, every branch, every petal has been meticulously placed specifically and deliberately by Monet to provide the maximum inspirational effect, it is in every sense inspiration by design, and it couldn't be further away from the haphazard chaos of Bacon's organically evolved studio.

And yet the environment of both men is clearly visible in every brushstroke of their paintings; the colour of their landscape, whether designed or emerged, seeps through onto the canvas from the walls and floor, or trees and water. The works themselves were created as much by the Space in which they were birthed as by the mind and hand of the artist that birthed them.

Thus as much as with the process of creation itself, I am fascinated by the impact of Space upon that creation, by the ways in which the environment around you, from the meta-level of the urban space in which your life revolves to the micro-level of the very room in which you now sit, channels, shapes and forms your moods, your thoughts, your actions and reactions.

With that in mind, and shortly before we left for London and Paris, I rented a studio, my very own undisclosed location, a retreat away from all that intrudes and demands and expects my time and attention. If I lived anywhere but the city centre no doubt I would have built a shed at the bottom of my garden to which I could retire at the end of the day and think grand thoughts. Alas while an urban existence has many advantages, a garden is not one of them, and thus I have taken over a former artist's studio, splatters of oils and acrylics still fresh on the walls, as a place to escape and write alone with my thoughts and the occasional caffeinated beverage. Photos will follow at a later stage, but for now I am still in the ongoing process of shaping it to my tastes, more orderly structured and Monet than discarded chaos and Bacon, but with definite traces of both.

In time it will resemble neither and reflect only Unkie Dave, and perhaps too Unkie Dave will come to reflect it.

Links
Francis Bacon's Studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery
More photos from Giverny and Les Nympheas at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris

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04 June 2010

Writers and Climate Change

On Tuesday of this week I went along to the National Concert Hall to see Ian McEwan in conversation with Stewart Brand, the opening event of this year's Dublin Writers' Festival. Ian McEwan's latest novel, 'Solar', takes a sarcastic/humorous approach to Climate Change and the economic opportunities presented by scientific attempts to combat it, or so I am told for unfortunately I have not read it, or any other of McEwan's books. Stewart Brand, on the other hand, is someone I am quite familiar with, his latest book "Whole Earth Discipline" occupied a good deal of my thoughts back in February of this year.

Brand and McEwan are good friends, admirers of each other's work, and share sympathetic views on how to deal with climate change. In "Whole Earth Discipline" Brand argues for nuclear power, genetically modified food, massive planetary engineering projects and a green capitalist economic revolution as the only solutions to our current crises. At no stage is there any serious attempt to suggest a reduction in consumption levels, his starting point is the assumption that consumption and consumerism will continue apace and technologies must arise to meet this demand without adding to the ecological woes of the planet, and this, more than his promotion of nuclear and gmo, is what depresses me most about his arguments. Capitalism should, and will, continue apace and we must all figure out a way to accomodate that.

Brand gave a TED talk last year just before the publication of "Whole Earth Discipline" that gives a pretty good overview of his main arguments:


At the start of Tuesday night's dialogue Ian McEwan was asked if novelists had any role to play in the climate change debate, and after expressing dismay that there still was a debate he basically said that no, when writers try to educate through a novel it ends up being very boring and nobody is interested in a preachy book, that sort of thing is better left to writers of scientific non-fiction, like Brand.

Nobody challenged him on this point, but if they were to they really could do no better than offering up Paolo Bacigalupi's Hugo nominated novel "The Windup Girl", described by the authour as "a dark dsytopic science fiction novel about crushing environmental issues". It is an amazing treatment of the implications of climate change, peak-everything, patented sterile GMO-crops, engineered viruses and the clash between statist and capitalist approaches to all of these crises. Published by Night Shade Books, a small scale press operating out of San Francisco, it is an impressive debut novel making a big impact on the strength of its writing alone.

Bacigalupi visited Google in Mountain View last week to talk about his book, and they've uploaded the video to YouTube, but this only captures a flavour of the wealth of ideas and concepts explored in his book.


I had just finished "The Windup Girl" a few hours before Brand and McEwan's talk, and it was a powerful antidote to their rhetoric indeed, affirming in my mind the positive role speculative fiction can have in sociological, political and cultural debates, despite Ian McEwan's objections.

Links

2010 Dublin Writers' Festival
'Solar' by Ian McEwan
'Whole Earth Discipline' - by Stewart Brand
'The Windup Girl' - by Paolo Bacigalupi
Night Shade Books

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01 June 2010

Democracy, croissants, art and trains (Part Three)

And so on to Paris.

Why Paris? If the original purpose of our impromptu jaunt was to feed my seemingly unquenchable addiction for all things electoral, what reason could we have for extending our trip eastward into the heart of Old Europe?

I love Paris, and did so before I ever set foot on a single rue.

1989 and in Dublin through the legacy of a vinyl collection of Doors albums inherited/purloined from my uncle, a sixteen year-old Unkie Dave becomes fascinated with the city as a place to which one escapes, tinged with the negativity that such escape inevitably led to one's death, bloated and shaggy-faced in a bath-tub. This was my formative notion of a Paris, a City of Elsewhere, a city of exile and exiles, a place where the intellectual refugees of the world descended to plot and lament and prop up bars while slowly slipping away into saddened madness.

1996 and a summer in Prague where the words on everyone's lips describe the city as the Paris of the twenties for the nineties, and as all the students try so terribly hard to be bohemian too (woo hoo hoooo) as we sit in the cellar bar underneath the James Joyce, we somehow can only define ourselves in relation to the idea of a city and a time we have never and can never experience. Our experiences only held worth if they approached the ideal of a long dead urban fantasy.

1997 and my first trip to Paris, a gift from and with The Very Understanding Girlfriend that opens my eyes to a new world. A cavalcade of museums and galleries, La Tour Eiffel and the obligatory pilgrimage to Jim Morrison's grave. Counting the centimes to pay for the hostel and being stopped on the way out of a hypermarket to have my bag searched convinced as they were that as a scruffy foreign student I was obviously up to no good. Haltingly asking for a cup of tea with my bestest Leaving Cert French and having everyone always reply in English, but stumbling on in French nonetheless. A city so foreign and alien and yet despite the difficulty of almost every action it still shined in my mind as somewhere that existed on a deeper level to the life I knew at home.

2007 and a few days respite in the city on the way home from Poland, a rendezvous with The Very Understanding Girlfriend. Gone were the hostel dorms, replaced by the almost-too-chic Hotel Sezz, and a six euro glass of beer no longer seemed so daunting. Vegetarianism had replaced student poverty as the primary motivator for lunches of paper-wrapped bread and cheese, but at the core of my being was still the same person, taking simple pleasure in the ideas and thoughts of a decade previously, and somewhere along the way I had lost sight of this. On the streets of Paris once more I was getting closer to my true self, some how better defined, more Real, standing in front of the flames, less and less was I the shadow cast upon the walls of my own life.

2007 and in Paris I finally decided to leave work.

I have had this personal and emotional attachment to Paris for many years, through my own direct experiences and the way in which the music and art of those who have lived there have affected me. In the last two years an intellectual attachment has grown to match this, if not surpass it. The writers of the new Left, the '68 and post '68 generation of Deleuze and Guattari, Debord, Baudrillard, Rancière, Althusser, Balibar and, most importantly for me, Alain Badiou and Andre Gorz, have prompted the greatest shift in my understanding of my self and the connection I have to all that surrounds me, both through sympathetic understandings of, and in concrete opposition to, their arguments and polemics. Not all were French, but all were drawn to and drew from Paris and the energy, both positive and negative, that it generates.

This stands in stark opposition to Dublin, a city for me that forever hovers on the cusp of vampirism, sucking out the blood of its citizens and perpetually draining their life-force, drop by numbing drop. We boast to all and sundry of being a land of saints and scholars, but why is it that all but one of our Nobel laureate writers fled our shores to write their best works abroad? To understand everything about Dublin all one needs to know is that the greatest tale of the city itself was written in exile by a man who hadn't seen his birthplace in many, many years. Written in self-imposed exile, in Paris.

Thus for me Paris is the anti-Dublin, or Dublin is the anti-Paris.

But this too is false, a shadow, an idealised image of mental exile. Paris is just a city, just a place. What has captivated me throughout my life is Paris the Concept, the personalised idea of a place that in reality only exists in my mind. I am in love not with Paris, the bricks and mortar city on the Seine, but with the Paris of the Mind. I am in love with the City that you can only ever visit, but never live in, the City seen in snapshots and well-thumbed pages in a book that sits on a desk a thousand miles away from the city itself, the city described in hindsight by old men remembering faded three-month glories that have grown to encapsulate a life-time.

But every now and then when clouds are low over Dublin and the greys of the streets seep upwards along exhaust-stained walls to envelope the sky, incasing your every move in a claustrophobic non-colour of tangible damp, when the eyes of every passer-by seem fused to the pavement in front of their feet and the only break in the monotonous glass and concrete landscape is the new colonialism of red-topped tabloids spouting hatred and bile every forty meters through the always-open doors of another faceless chain of convenience, when the city you rely on for life itself seems determined to drive you to the edge of despairing madness in the process, sometimes, just sometimes, you need to close your eyes and wake up somewhere else.

Paris on the Seine is not the Paris of my Mind, but it's a close second.

And that is why I found myself at 10:25am on a Monday morning hurtling towards the city at 300kmph up to 75m below the sea bed.

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