#407: Summer Odds and Ends

Silhouette of man on canal bridge looking at phone, bicycle next to hi
Amsterdam, Netherlands

A week from equinox, the window for outdoor projects here in Michigan is narrowing. There are trees to be planted, cozy roof decks to be built, bricks and blocks to be laid. It’s hard to read unless it’s dark, and I’m in bed, and then I fall asleep almost right away. Maybe I’m still riding waves of summer workshop, the Adriatic rhythms; I mostly just want to be outside. But there will be a time, soon, for indoor projects, for deep work on the next book.

Julia and I missed our connecting flight out of Amsterdam due to a medical emergency (we’re both okay now). Jarring moments reminded us of our American-ness: the nurse at the airport clinic, apologetic about the clinic not being free; the staff at the hospital in Haarlem giving Julia quizzical looks when she asked about payment.

The airline experience was surprisingly painless. The nurse informed Delta of our status and our bags were pulled from the flight. Later, on the phone, the service rep rebooked us without questions – or with just one: Which hospital did you go to? The greatest discomfort was more the anticipation of things going wrong, of slipping through common use cases of complicated systems. Let’s call it infrastructural anxiety.

Once the hospital cleared us to fly out, we found a hotel and made the most of our bonus night in Amsterdam. We walked around and did a boozy canal cruise. Ate at a nice restaurant with a wine menu written on antique mirrors (Hat tip to Wesley for the rec). We salvaged what could have been a much-worse day.

Our airport experience is one reason I’m looking forward to Deb Chachra’s How Infrastructure Works, which touches on some of the same themes as her Care at Scale essay. Here in Detroit I always get a strange feeling going past historic water treatment plants, some of them beaux-arts temples on vast tracts of land. It feels right that they’re monumental, too, a reminder that such buildings once were temples, for they conveyed precious water – life! – into a community.

Speaking of, you’ve Thermae Romae Novae by now, right?

Craig Mod is also publishing his next book through Random House, but the even bigger news here is that he’s retaining the “fine art” rights for the book. That lets him do small-run special editions for hardcore fans almost a year early, and then elaborate on that edition for a more general audience, backed by the force and distribution of a “Big Five” publisher. What a dream, an utter dream. Craig continues to be a wellspring of inspiration.

And a dream bookstore: Architectura & Natura

I’ve been, mostly on rainy days, slowly watching David Cronenberg’s body horror oeuvre. Aside from Crimes of the Future and The Fly, which I had not previously seen, and which I so enjoyed that I made Julia watch it again with me the next night, I’ve also revisited a teenage favorite: eXistenZ.

I’m fairly sure I first came across the DVD on the shelves of our local video store. A young Jack was likely hooked by the cryptic cover and plotline about a VR game designer. The movie turned out to be too weird for my friend group, but I stand by my choice, confirmed my recent re-viewing.

Cronenberg’s vision of the future is refreshingly weird and mutant. No sterile and smooth bioplastics or overdone cyberpunkish grunge. Instead, we have are fleshy nobs and teeth, soft parts laced with hard. There’s a brief conversation in eXistenZ about agency in a virtual reality that feels no less real than physical reality. The exchange comes off at first as a bit trite, a little too much weed-smoke philosophizing. But it stays with me. Sometimes you need to name the thing that should need no naming.

I’ve now started Videodrome, and will finish it when I’m next forced indoors by rain.

I’m reminded of another trip we took at the heel-end of spring, to Chicago to see Feist in concert. Best show of my life. She played half the set solo acoustic from a small round stage in the middle of the floor, using the audience as if we were another loop on her effects pedals. Then at a key moment she took to the main stage with a band and it turned into a full-on rock concert. There were ruses and safe deceptions; a friend described it as moving through weather systems. You can get a taste of it here, in this music video, but on the off chance you have the opportunity you can catch one of the few remaining shows in Europe and Mexico City, take it.

I enjoyed, too, Feist’s appearance on Song Exploder. She mentions a game she plays with a friend called “songing”. Instead of trying to write songs from scratch, they pretend they’re remembering them instead, a way to defuse high expectations.

Maybe come fall, I’ll do some “storying.”