On looking and dog walking

tracks for a human, most dogs, labrador and beagle

I got into walking as a ‘cultural activity’ after our first dog moved in. He’s now eight and a bit, joined two years later by a little brother. Being beagles, known for their stubborn nature and equipped with the second best nose in the canine kingdom, they are not the most trainable of hounds. (My mother: don’t get a beagle – they run away). This can make walks challenging.

The writer walking the dog describes dog walking thus:

a strange activity somewhere between Romantic walking for inspiration and walking to work and leisure walking and a chore like washing up…

We have a repertoire of five walks which can be extended or reduced depending on the season (our routes on the coldest and hottest days of the year are practically identical), a beagle-scale interpretation of the 30 minute walk round the block. We have also tried beating the bound/aries, or at least as much of them as is within beagling distance, off-pavement action permitting.

While the beags keep their noses on the job I am free to make my own observations of our patch, exploring the unexpected in the local streetscape from prize winning modernist housing to a Le Corbusier style block, tracking the latest teardowns and outdoor fashions, and monitoring the state of trees. Our walks are the perfect justification for wandering into areas where a daily routine would never take us.

After growing up with dogs I had my own take on how things should be, and getting to grips with Danish dog walking habits has taken its toll. I never got the memo which said you should train your dog to ignore other dogs – round here most dog walkers would rather cross the road than exchange greetings. End result: a food chain of unsocialised dogs ranging from the French bulldog who reacts to a beagle, who himself reacts to a labrador.

It’s a different matter in parks and open spaces, where it seems that beagle owners are the only ones who pay attention to dogs on leash signs. And the few dog parks are packed with over-excited dogs getting a rare social fix – a stressful environment with a fight just waiting to happen. (Sadly, most dog parks aren’t well fenced, which makes them a no-no for beagle nr 2, a true escape artist.)

All this has a parallel in the unspontaneity of Danish social life, where encounters are planned ahead with those you know and eye contact on the street is avoided. Just the first of many lessons into Danishness learned through walking.

So we tend to walk solo on our own particular kind of drift, with the twin inspirations of John Zeaman’s Dog walks man, a unique combination of doggy memoir and psychogeography, and suggestion 15 of the Lonely Planet guide to experimental travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

In On looking Alexandra Horowitz, psychologist and animal behaviourist (plus owner of “two large, non-heeling dogs”) describes how she was inspired by walking with her dog Pumpernickel to consider how her daily journeys could be done better. In the book she undertakes 11 walks round the block with assorted experts in the way of seeing. Some lessons from her walks:

  • from her 19 month old son – the world at a different granularity, overlooking the edges or limits of an object
  • from  a typographer – the compulsion to read what was readable, to parse all visible text (it’s the same for editors, I’m thinking)
  • from a naturalist – the power of the search image, a mental image of what you seek, ignoring everything else (this explains the efficiency of how a dog finds food – and how we can spot our friends in a crowd but not find something under our noses when it deviates from the expected)

Her reaction to a walk with Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces presents a refreshing take on Jane Jacob’s ‘sidewalk ballet’. Alexandra is a pavement rage type: “slow-moving pedestrians clutching recent purchases and looking at the storefronts, up in the air, anywhere but where they are going…the storefronts that attract their attention are ubiquitous and cluttered – to my eye, visually messy”. For her “a surfeit of slow walkers and loiterers” is a hindrance, for Fred “it’s social; it’s kind of getting a sense of something.”

On that block of Broadway with Fred Kent, I was starkly reminded of the very simple truth that there are many ways to look at the same event.

Alexandra also revisits the territory of her earlier Inside of a dog. Most dog walks are done to allow the ‘animal’ to pee or to get exercise – just as most human walks are done to get from a to b in the quickest time possible. What about walks simply to ‘see’ the world?

Walking with Pumpernickel means seeing the world through her choices, the subjects of her attention and what she balks at or lunges towards. Walks geared to Pumpernickel’s needs:

  • into-the-wind walks – eyes closed, nose in the air, nostrils working
  • smell walks – revisiting old smells, finding new ones…walks defined by smell rather than length or destination (for humans, odours tend to be either enticing or repugnant, alluring or foul, evocative or evaded, but to a dog, smells are simply information, their world a topography wrought of odours)
  • sitting walks for the more mature – in a field with ample olfactory vistas and plenty of dogs upwind (the beags do this in the garden)
  • social walks – to interact with other dogs
  • to avoid: long blocks with no trees or lampposts

Returning alone to her walk round the block Alexandra finds herself alarmed at the limitations of ‘amateur eyes’. Her 11 companions, equipped with diverse sets of coordinates and systems of navigation, have helped her overcome the ‘selective enhancement requirement’ for paying attention, highlighting the different parts of the world we have learned to ignore or do not even know we can see.

She realises that she is missing much simply in the name of concentration (attention’s companion: inattention to everything else): “we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us”.

From Howard Nemerov’s Walking the dog:

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.

…a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other’s thoughts.

foto

walk? who said walk?

Tearing down the neighbourhood

The council is tearing down five buildings. Three of these communal gems are pretty familiar, and all bar one within beagling distance, so last week we took a closer look.

Parallelvej 47

Kindergarten built in 1981 to serve the Nymarken area, a handful of streets made up of detached houses behind Avedøre’s big social developments. Never been there before – tucked behind the main road on the edge of the kommune bordering Vestvolden it’s all nice enough.

The 614m2 building, with its own kitchen, three bathrooms and nine toilets, closed for business on 10 May 2013 as it posed a danger to health. My first thought was asbestos, but a notice on the door blames damp and a bad smell. Two and a half years later it’s all a bit sad, with a broken climbing frame and weeds taking over.

The future of the site is not quite clear. At the beginning of 2014 a proposal for a two storey development made up of 10 low energy houses was approved after appeal, in line with Hvidovre’s policy for tæt-høj developments in areas close to stations. Now, according to the last council meeting minutes, it’s going to be four detached houses.

Meanwhile, plans to build a glossy new børnehave on Cirkusgrunden, a leftover piece of land closer to the business end of Avedøre, haven’t gone uncriticised. Slated to be ready in 2017/18, here’s hoping Lille Sky will make some concessions to its environment, or it will look like it has landed from Mars.

Not Risbjerggård, Hvidovrevej 243

Risbjerggård

Hvidovrevej 241

Hvidovrevej 243 is next door to one of the kommune‘s crown jewels, Risbjerggård, an old farmhouse from 1850. Following a sustained community campaign and a vote by the full council, Risbjerggård itself, or at least parts thereof, is saved and will now feature in some way in the new bymidte, but Projekthuset, which dates from 1936 and is actually joined on, is to be torn down. Doesn’t anyone care? It looks harmless enough from outside, but has been neglected and hence just doesn’t fit.

Update, 19 Dec: gone!

Biblioteksvej 60A

Bibloteksvej 60A-C

left to right: creche, fishing club, chess club

Featuring on our five walks reportoire, this part of Biblioteksvej is really just the badminton club’s parking lot plus a back way into Gungehusskolen. 60A, put up in 1972, is one of a row of buildings facing HBC-hallen, including a fishing club and a creche. On Monday the door was off and the facade was coming down. Today it will probably be gone.

Hvidovre chess club met here from 2003, sharing the tenancy with three other organisations, but gave it up in 2014 due to heating costs. The chessplayers now meet in Strandmarkens Fritidscenter, a former school on Enghavevej, along with the local bridge club.

The beags usually have a good sniff here on the lookout for anything tasty dropped by passing schoolchildren on the way back from the 7-Eleven at the nearby petrol station. This time we had a nosey round the back, finding a picnic table and a couple of benches, no doubt used for a beer and a smøg on summer evenings, contemplating the next move or maybe just exchanging pleasantries with the fisherfolk next door.

Disused toilet, Strandvej 31A

Again, rising costs have been the problem here. The red brick toilet at the harbour, one of Hvidovre’s few public toilets, dates from 1957. Due to annual cleaning costs of DK 65K it was closed in 2013, forcing those in need of a comfort stop to pop into one of the neighbouring clubhouses. Understandably aggrieved by this, these now restrict access to paying guests, via “get your door code at the till” systems.

The council installed a new toilet in the summer of 2013, partly financed by advertising. This kept breaking down – an eight year old boy locked himself in and had to be rescued – and was finally burned down a couple of months later by local vandals. It’s been replaced by one of those coin operated jobs, which seems to be functioning OK for now. This story has run since 2009.

Update, 17 Nov: a(nother) local fishing club applied to take over the old toilet building, but were refused permission. For shame!

Byvej 98

A typical red brick house from 1935, nr 4 on Hvidovre’s building register and still occupied by a range of clubs (Denmark is big on clubs), including the bee people and the petanque club, Byvej 98 looks in reasonable shape, so it’s not quite clear what the issue is. Probably, like Projekthuset, it just doesn’t fit any more.

A number of other buildings have stalled due to neglect and rising costs over the years, including the main post office on Hvidovrevej and the police station at Hvidovregade. There’s also a former old people’s home at Langkildevej 5-7, dating from 1975 and closed down in 2009. Owned by Copenhagen council, the site has been for sale for over three years, and it’s hoped that a new local plan adopted in May this year permitting housing on 50% of the site, both good old tæt-lav bebyggelse or flats, will finally kickstart things. Updates…Feb 2016: 64 house terrace on the way?…April 2016: now it’s 29.

We’ve had a good look round – as well as the main building there are two rows of sheltered housing behind. With nameplates still on the door, and in some cases curtains still hanging, it almost looks like the residents have just popped out to the shops.

In an area with a low tax base it’s probably inevitable that things drift in the hard times, but still, along with all the houses and trees going it seems there’s an unstoppable urge to follow current fashions with little heed to the area’s cultural heritage. Hvidovre has form here – unlike neighbouring kommune Brøndby few old buildings survived after 1930s council leader Arnold Nielsen commanded: “Riv det gamle lort ned!” Avedore landsby was only saved as it was part of Glostrup at the time.

Sources:

B_Tour Belgrade

Quick look at B_Tour Belgrade (Facebook), from the team which brought you B_Tour Berlin and ran from 26-28 September:

The festival examines current needs of urban life and how artistic strategies can be used as a tool to explore possible answers to these needs…The tours deal with civil participation in public space, urban life and its socio-historical context. They are led either by the artists in person or the artists’ narrations in the form of audio tours, instruction guides/texts or maps.

12 tours by international and local artists, plus two talks, on local cultural urban initiatives and their artistic practices, and on the politics of public space and the idea of a participatory city.

Tours of particular interest:

  • Audio walk: Savamala – the story of an elderly resident of Savamala who retells its history through the memories of his childhood, comparing its past with its present and inviting the listener to think about its future; see Spuren Suche
  • B-B – Berlin and Belgrade, “two cities that have much in common but are yet so different. The tour will take you through two cities at once: one visited ‘live’ and the other presented interactively through visual and audio material, showing some surprising similarities and highlighting the transformations taking place. Can we feel one city while walking through another?”; see vid for some nice overlays, esp at the Reichstag (at around 0:45)
  • B-mapping – audio tour of the everyday, created from the stories, experiences, ideas and dreams of anyone who has a connection to Belgrade; see also have you ever been to Belgrade? and the JIAC B-mapping Belgrade project
  • I’m a stranger – “on the one hand the city is a site of meetings and exchanges, criss-crossing networks of personal routes and private maps; on the other it is an environment where one can easily get lost among the boundless number of strangers; this tour allows participants a double experience and a dual role: first as a map-maker, recording their own path; then as a map-reader, following a stranger’s route and seeing the city through their eyes”
  • Reversed cartography: from online map to the streets of Vracar – the participants of the Days of Remembrance workshop who made the Vracar map will come out of their virtual presence to tell their stories in person (also seen at Living Maps April)
  • Temporary viewing platforms – visiting places that offer a wide or interesting view; usually not accessible to the public, such as private apartments and public buildings with limited access, flat rooftops and open terraces, seeing the same landscape from different angles; takes place in two peripheral residential areas
  • The better the coffee the longer the queue – mapping the effects of the Belgrade Waterfront redevelopment project on the Savamala area and its historic coffee shops, as well as Belgrade’s culture in general; “through history Savamala embodied a specific spirit, not only as a border area between two empires (Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman), but also a place of great importance for a growing Belgrade”
  • Die Wohnung – Bauhaus in Belgrade?

Lots of audio, and history, to ponder. See also the Belgrade Sound Map.

Memorials and memory at Copenhagen Art Week

Updates: the theme for 2015 was Shared space, with guided tours of various types (performance, on bikes, in the metro). In 2016 (26 Aug – 4 Sep; ibyen) it’s Open gestures, with B_Tour offering Through someone else’s eyes (FB), eavesdropping on Ion Sørvin of N55 and Anne RommeHjem til Blågården (more) and a packed SMK programme, plus performances by inter alia Nøne Futbol Club (Politiken); other tours include guides to specific parts of the city (FRB, Østerbro, Amager). In a packed couple of arty weekends CHART (26-28 Aug) has slogans on the street by Douglas Coupland (Politiken), plus an architecture competition, while B_Tour is also in action at Alt_Cph (2-4 Sep; participants wanted | review), along with Copenhagen Game Collective, with a number of place based events curated by Råderum. Phew!

Copenhagen Art Week, also known as CAW, is taking place from 29 August to 7 September. The book-sized programme includes eight, count ’em, guided tours.

At the arty end of the spectrum we have gallery viewings on Bredgade, Gammelholm (the other side of Nyhavn) and in Kødbyen (the ‘meatpacking district’). Inevitably there are bike tours (Kunsten og samfundet/art and society in Vesterbro and Besøg fotokunstnerens atelier/visit photographers’ studios), but two are super-exciting – a Guidet togrejse on the S train with architect Carsten Hoff, responsible with Susanne Ussing for the public art in five stations on the H line (Måløv,Veksø, Stenløse, Ølstykke, Frederikssund) and State of Exception/Undtagelsestilstand, exploring the world of international diplomacy (next Sunday).

On Saturday, after dropping in on the Stasi Secret Rooms in Nikolaj Kunsthal, I joined KØS’s guided walk exploring statues in the city centre. KØS, the museum for public art in Køge, was previously known as the rather less inspiring Køge sketch collection. The walk was part of its memorials project, which kicked off with a tour of 10 monuments around the country (programme | Facebook) and culminates in the Mindesmærker i dag/Memorials of today exhibition running until February 2015. There’s also a creepy talking statues app and upcoming sessions at Folkeuniversitet.

2014-08-30 15.30.07

Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor, named after HC Andersen’s The Elder Tree Mother and modelled on her great grandparents – take a seat!

The walk was led by Sasja, responsible for KØS’ schools service, who had us filling in post-it notes with words we connect with memorials at the foot of the Absalon statue on Højbro Plads. From there we moved on to Frederik VII outside Christiansborg, also on a horse but rather less imposing, and then to Kierkegaard in the national library garden. Our final stop, following a 1km Kierkegaard style menneskebad to Kultorvet, was Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor, completing a narrative arc from imposing to eye level.

Sasja also showed us the empty space previously occupied by the Isted Lion, a familar tale to the Danes on the walk. Erected in Flensborg in 1862 after the First War of Schleswig, moved to Berlin in 1868 after the Second War, then to Copenhagen after instense lobbying in 2000, it’s now back in Flensburg. A symbol of the Schleswig-Holstein Question?

She also related two tales demonstrating once again the importance of trees in urban space. Until 2011 a tree on Kultorvet stood as a memorial for the city’s homeless, who would hang photos and other memories from its branches when one of their number died. The tree was cut down as part of a modernisation scheme, but a new Gravplads for Gadens Folk has opened at Assistens Kirkegård/cemetery (where the trees are protected by the local plan), together with a statue which featured in KØS’ memorials tour. Also with a happy ending for now is the controversy over an old plane tree in the square in front of KØS in Køge. A formal investigation is to explore the scope of potential damage to neighbouring buildings.

2014-08-30 13.38.44

some less successful public art at Kongens Nytorv

Having been on several city walks over the last year or so I’m beginning to put together a picture of the city’s layers – and to spot other tours going on at the same time. It seems there’s no avoiding Segways. Also on during this rainy Saturday was the swimming round Christiansborg thing, with changing rooms slap bang on top of a Kierkegaard quote tastefully embedded in the pavement, and the culmination of both CPH Pride and Cooking. Outside the city centre there were local festivals in Valby and Ørestad, and no doubt a few other happenings I’m not aware of. Could this constant whirl possibly be tipping over into too much? When everything is about performance and play there’s no room for the city just to be. It’s suffocating and confusing.

Next up is Golden Days, after which we settle into months of hibernation during CPH’s grey days. So how about a festival of the everyday? Have that one for free, WoCo.

Thanks to Sasja and KØS for the inspiring walk!

Monumental updates: as part of Golden Days KØS hosted a lecture on Käthe Kollwitz’s Grieving Parents, which also featured on R3’s Essay by Ruth Padel. More Kollwitz on R4’s Germany: memories of a nation, this time focusing on her pietà in Berlin’s Neue Wache. See also Käthe Kollwitz, a Berlin storyplus more on the red horses (2015 update: they’re back!).

Two more alternative mindesmærker highlighted in an event on 4 Dec: Hein Heinsen’s Talerstol på Vartov commemorating Grundtvig (1783-1872), priest in Vartov for 33 years; the front of the talerstol (speaker’s rostrum) bears the inscription rostra populi on the left and fællesskab & frihed (community and freedom) on the right, while the back bears ord (word) in 54 languages; and Kenn André Stillings Alfabet TURÈLL in Vangede, commemorating Dan Turèll (1946-93), in the form of letters and punctuation marks surrounded by a 47m long bench, one meter for each year of Turèll’s life.

Bleeding London: the challenge

We’re just coming up to the first anniversary of this blog – my first post was The lost art of walking, my notes on Geoff Nicholson’s book, published on 5 June. So it’s all his fault…

I’ve published 83 posts (and I’ve a huge  stash of drafts), so this is no 84 and an average of seven posts per month.

On his Hollywood Walker blog Geoff has just posted about Bleeding London: the photo project (Facebook), which has the aim of photographing every street in London:

If the standard A to Z is to be believed, that will involve covering 73,000 streets, an enterprise that sometimes strikes me as utterly insane. At other times however, I think well, let’s imagine the RPS can round up 1000 committed photographers, that’s only 73 streets each, and these guys can take a couple of hundred pictures in a day, so that seems perfectly doable.

While in London Geoff knocked off a square of the A-Z: “frankly it was absolutely knackering, mentally as much as physically (although the expedition only took a little more than three hours)… Here there was the impetus, the necessity, of finding something to photograph in every single street. You could argue that there’s something very democratic about this, maybe something very Zen. Every street becomes equal, you have to find something of interest, something “worth” observing and photographing regardless of where you are.”

Now that’s a challenge for our walks in Danish suburbia! Like writing, photography is a way of exploring the territory (map is not the…) and making it your own. I’ve started taking photos of our five walks and we’ll see what we can do for June.

And it’s low effort/data, building into something else through accumulation. Geoff quotes Sol LeWitt:

When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

Update, July 2015: the Bleeding London Exhibition is go! Plus Footprints of London’s Jen Pedler is offering Stuart’s first walk, blogged by Geoff. I’m almost moved. Meanwhile, we have coloured in some more local streets, but plenty more still to go.

Five walks: March

Me and the beags have a repertoire of five walks we do on weekdays. After four or so years we’ve got to know the area within a certain radius pretty well, although it’s shrunk rather since the arrival of beagle nr 2 – sniffing time seems to have doubled at least. In March, we tracked our walks on Viewranger and took some photos aimed at capturing the mood – roll/click for more info.

Update, June 2015: we can now do these routes blindfold, and are trying some variations – more soon! In the meantime, Running Hvidovre did their own version, made up of a Linieløbet (dvs Hvidovrevej, 8 km), Bjergetapen (Hvidovre Havn, 5,9 km), Vandløbet (Kalveboderne circuit, 14,9 km), Kirkeetapen (churches, 10,2 km) and Finalen (stadium and circuits, 3,2 km).

Walk 1: Risbjerg Kirkegård

Walk 2: Friheden

Walk 3: Avedøre

Walk 4: Hvidovre Havn

Walk 5: Vigerslev Park