Wednesday, June 29, 2016

there's no place like [gin]

as a kid, with lots of relatives in western kansas, i attended my share of weddings, all of which  incorporated volga german traditions; the wedding march, the singing of the brautlied (bride's song), the flying dutchman and many other polka's.  i enjoyed them because my grandfather loved them and i knew they were part of my heritage.

it took moving 1,800 miles away from my home to realize just why these traditions are so important.

with a touch of homesickness last month, my fiancee suggested that we throw a "june" bucket party. this was a party held by my friends back in kansas every june which included a large cocktail drink known as a gin bucket; a party i was going to miss this year.  however with her suggestion, i was immediately excited!  we invited all our new friends and started planning.  i was meticulous down to every detail, annoying my fiancee with discussions of correct bucket sizes and number of basters.  

the night of the party, all of our new found friends and neighbors came over. they were a little apprehensive about this gin concoction involving drinking communally from a large bucket with turkey basters, however after a few "bastes," everyone was on board.  the night ended up being a wonderful time and all our new friends became better friends that night.

i couldn't have been happier that night. i was like tevye dancing around the streets of anatevk shouting out "tradition!"  somewhere between joking about getting "basted" and eating "walking tacos" out of doritos bags, portland maine started to feel a little bit more like home.

a few days later my fiance and i did a little wedding planning.  still reeling in the happiness of the tradition of june bucket and thinking about our upcoming wedding i began to think about all the volga german traditions i'd like to include.  that's when it hit me.  these weren't just simple songs and dances you did at weddings just for the fun of it; theses were traditions brought over from my ancestors who had left their home.  songs and dances that reminded them of good times with friends and family they were now apart from.  traditions bought over that helped this new world they found themselves in seem a little less scary. familiar tunes and lyrics they could get lost in and feel like they were home again. a little piece of their old life that helped make their new life feel more like home.  these traditions were tiny seeds of a world they once knew that they could plant in a new place.  with time and love those seeds took root and became a whole new tradition, the wedding songs and dances i knew as a kid a hundred years after they were planted.

who knows if my great great grandchildren will be throwing june bucket parties in a hundred years, but there have been requests for a repeat in 2017.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

the image of [portland maine]

during my architecture studies, i read the book "the image of the city" by kevin lynch.  its an easy read and if you have any interest in urban planning i suggest it.  to give a very short and generic overview of the book, mr. lynch studied the way people viewed their cities by understanding the [mental maps] everyone has in their mind.  through interviews and sketches he started to see five elements in a city which helped form these mental maps.

paths - streets and sidewalks
edges - boundaries of a city such as walls, mountains or shorelines
districts - large areas of a city with unique character
nodes - focal points or intersections
landmarks - objects or point references easy to identify

couple the fact this is one of my favorite books and i had just moved to a new city i tested myself on my own mental image of portland, maine after living here for a month.  i knew it would change drastically the longer i lived here and i wanted to document my first impression of the city; to make note of what stood out.  since my fiancee was new to the city as well and knew nothing of lynch i had her sketch a map as well to see the similarities and differences.

keeping track of the order in which the elements were drawn, here is what i discovered after we sketched out our maps.

1. portland maine has a very distinct and well defined edge. the very first thing we both drew was the peninsula, showing casco bay and back bay.

2.  the next step was the paths. we both drew commercial, danforth, congress and high streets. arguably all important streets although neither of us new exactly where they terminated. she even had running paths drawn, something i never would have included.

3. after the paths were drawn establishing a referencing grid we both started filling in districts.  we both drew the eastern and western promenade.  my fiancee drew buildings to show old port, while i  drew large squares to show old port, downtown, the west end and east end.

4. now it could be that i knew what mr. lynch was looking for or it could be that as a mid-westerner i love seeing actual squares in the city, but i did draw the nodes of longfellow square and monument square.

5. finally we started filling in our own landmarks. she identified becky's diner, the holy donut, portland headlight, casco bay bridge and the east bayside bowling alley.  all locations visited in the first couple of weeks here. not surprisingly mine were a bit more architectural. the hospital campus, victoria mansion, the arena, the state theatre and the ferry terminal.

now having two more months of mental mapping in my head it's easy to see a major problem portland maine already knows it has.  for being a city on a small peninsula, with very distinct districts, it's water front lacks any sort of major identity or character. although it's cool to know it's an actual working waterfront, in both our minds it was just a series of random docks on a simple line.  however the cities districts with congress and commercial streets tying them all together is an enjoyable and strong theme easily picked up on by two newbies.

as walkable as this city i know our [mental maps] of portland will only become richer, fuller and more intricate as time goes by.