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While I was in Porto, I explored this beach fifteen minutes from the center of town. Think decaying buildings, factory plants, beach bums, and a medieval fort… I promise I took all of these photos in roughly a ten foot radius. 


Apparently it is also a big area for surfing. The day I visited there was a huge competition, complete with international sponsors and television coverage. I nestled into the rocky shore with a book, but gave up when I became a bit of a spectecal for the runners and bikers using a path next to my nest. Interesting as it was, the urban beach was too busy for my taste– and my romantic notion of the ocean as a place for solitary activities. 


The city of Porto is the home of Port wine, FC Porto futbol, and other  Portuguese icons for which it was named the European Capital of Culture in 2001. Whatever else that means/doesn’t means, this title gave Porto an excellent excuse to build cool things, like the Casa da Musica performance and teaching center. The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas won the design of the music hall, perhaps because of his decision to make it a really  fun place.

Walking in, I was immediately conscious of being in a funky geometric shape that plays with height and orientation of space. The high polished of its concrete floor and walls, combined with strategically placed lighting panels create a lightness that gives even the stairs up to the ticket desk energy.  The first level is desgined to immerse visitors in a culture of appreciation and experimentation. On one side of the ticket desk is a pool of computers decked out with music recording programs for visitors to play with, create beats, mix entire pieces, and think about sound… on the other side, visitors can see musicians prepping for their performances in rehearsal rooms through a series of glazed panels.

The second level is home to the main auditorium (one of two) which apparently has the world’s second best acoustics. Every detail of the hall, down to the fabric of the seats, is designed to keep sound waves from bouncing back. Keeping with the idea that the hall should make performers, and their music accessible to visitors, the second level of the auditorium has glass panels so that people walking around the building can see down into the orchestra. Glass is generally not used by designs worried about acoustic fiedility because it doesn’t absorb sound like the usual suspects of wood or carpet. The use of curved glass provides a smart solution to this problem, and also looks pretty cool.


The most imaginative part of the building was one floor up, in an area designated for the entertainment of children while their parents attend the concert in the main auditorium. The first room, completely in orange, provides a space for kids to be more active,  while the second is intended to be calming in all purple. The music being performed downstairs is piped up, along with activities to teach kids about the music they are hearing. Another pool of computers floats between the two rooms, where visitors can create rhythms that project to the entire hallway.

Casa de Musica was completed 4 years late, and at the cost of roughly 100 million euros. But it breathes such life into its surrounding area, few are seriously complaining.


My class, Social and Ethnocultural Identity in the Contemporary Caribbean (there’s a mouthful for you), takes field trips every so often. A few weeks ago, our teacher took us to a batey, which is basically a dumping ground for illegal Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic. During the height of the DR’s reign as king of the sugar industry, tons of Haitians crossed the border to work on the sugar plantations cutting cane (a craptastic, dangerous job). The price of sugar dropped and big sugar importers (i.e. the U.S.) took their business elsewhere and started using cheaper things like high fructose corn syrup to sweeten Coca-Cola and other tasty delights. The business left but the bateys stayed. Haitians and their children, who may or may not be of Dominican descent too, live in limbo; they have no papers, making them neither Dominican or Haitian, technically. No papers means no money. Read More »

Rhapsody In Blue, Columbia’s Urban Affairs Journal (including blog and website) is looking for staff for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Our handoff process is still being worked out but Barnard and Columbia undergraduates and graduate students from any departments are encouraged to speak with the current board by mid-April to get involved.



*The law working against the people

*The law working against the people

Ok. So bear with me for this is my first attempt at blogging. This is a picture of two building that have been cleared out by the city of Sao Paulo. They are an example of the government clearing out space in the city (space previously occupied by lower-middle-class people) to build a park and a parking lot for an area they are trying to gentrify and bring in private investment. Meanwhile, I visited the building on the left on a Manday. There were about 35 families still living there, and the story that they told was that the city bought out their apartments (which most families were leasing) and essentially turned a few hundred people living in a building legally into squatters. The Security was tight to enter the building, there were no fire extinguishers, no maintenence of the elevator, and many of the apartments are sealed off. It’s aweful. When we went, we talked to the community organizer for the building and he said they were in negotiations with city hall to find new apartments in the dowtown area. On wednesday we heard that all 35 families (about 120 people) were evicted. They were essentially thrown out into the street.
It will be interesting to come to this same area (it is right next to the municipal market in Sao Paulo) in a few years and see what the follow through has been with whatever the city has planned for this area.

img_5393It’s an interesting grasp of the English language – a poor, but very humorous arrangement of words. On a printed map showing directions to a local craft shop, the words “here be lions” were intended to show where the Nairobi National Park is located in reference to the store. For me, they were just there for a good laugh. When out and about in Nairobi, I find plenty of shop signs and advertisements with messy English. Finding these little foibles is so enjoyable because the word combinations are just plain funny! Admittedly, when I find these mistakes while editing papers for my coworkers, it gets frustrating. But it’s understandable, seeing as English is not the 1st language of Kenyans, and also seeing as it’s not their only focus in school. For many, English is spoken on the street, but not in the home. For some, English is spoken, but not written. It’s a common language, but I cannot expect perfection. Although from that imperfection I have come to expect some guilty pleasure every now and then.

Portugal was one of the European nations to replace its national currency (the escudo) with the euro, and the average cost of living has risen dramatically since the euro’s adoption in 2002. Frustration with this change seems to be constantly finding its way onto the walls of Lisbon’s buildings, usually in the form of anarchist communist slogans that urge fellow Lisbonians to FIGHT ALL AUTHORITY. Red Circle-A’s are also everywhere.

At the same time, the euro is creating more radical aesthetic and material change through major construction. It is difficult to walk more than a block without running into at least one catepiler, crane, or announcement of a new infrastructure project. Perhaps most interesting is the decision to leave the facades of old buildings intact, kept standing through the elaborate use of steal beams… for now.

photo c/o

photo c/o

My host sister and I rode bicycles to Maejo University past backyard boarding houses (one-room bungalows with thatched roofs), fields of all kinds of vegetables, grazing water buffalo and bony cows, little shops, homes– a mish-mosh of land uses. The whole way we dodged manholes that lead to a ditch. After a bit of sleuthing I figured out that this ditch is where we toss our dirty water, full of detergent and fabric softener, after washing clothes by hand in these big basins. I assume everyone else in the neighborhood does the same, plus some people probably have their sewage piped there. This ditch follows the road until the road starts to curve, then empties into a big rice paddy. So the water full of chemicals, raw sewage, and oily runoff is being used to grow the rice. If only plants had some sort of biological mechanism for filtering that stuff out before sucking it up via transpiration.

In the two months I’ve been in the Dominican Republic, I’ve heard a surprising amount of English. Not just from the American tourists who pop down for a quick tan, but from the people who live here year round. Haitian students, who are required to learn English in their schools, are always eager to practice their English with Americans. What strikes me most, though, are the words that Dominicans don’t bother to translate, or the ones that take on a different meaning when used in “Dominican”. A few of my favorites:

Chicken nugget: since there’s no direct translation for this delightful snack, Dominicans just say chicken nuggets. However, it comes out sounding more like “cheeckehn-noggit”.

Lighter: the Spanish word for lighter is encendedor, but people in their teens and twenties find it easier to just say lighter.

Baby: “Baby” seems to be the first English word Dominican men learn. As in, when a woman is walking down the street, she hears from some random man, “I love you, baby.” Baby is spelled “beivi”.

Flow: “Flow” describes what we might call swagger. This one I think we can chalk up to the strong presence of hip-hop culture in the Dominican Republic. I hear my share of throwback Snoop Dogg songs in clubs.

Heavy: One of my favorites. Outdated in the States but perfectly current here, “heavy”, spelled jevi, describes something cool. When I asked my host sister if she liked a particular club, she replied in all seriousness, “Sí, es muy jevi.” It’s hard not to smile when I hear it because if I used “heavy” at home to say something was cool, no one would take me seriously.

More Dominicanisms on the way.

dscf2830dscf2840I joined some American friends in playing hip and chic, wandering around the curry-smelling alleys, vibrant markets and business offices of London’s East End. Along the way, we stumbled upon these gems: the first a unique take on the traditional English meal, bangers and mash, and the second a testament to the commercialization of British culture symbolized in the conglomerate Tesco’s—the supermarket, textile retailer and insurance company all wrapped into one brand.