The academic poster is one of the different ways you can share information about your subject. For the humanities, a least, this format forces you to really think about how you might convey your topic in a visually arresting way.  The science subjects have had ownership of this part of the academic landscape but things are changing.

The Humanities Resource Centre at the University of York, where I am based, run a competition every year for PhD students to submit a poster which: –

  • Offers a clear ‘taster encounter’ with your research project for a non-specialist audience
  • Has a quickly appreciable dramatic visual impact

I thought, as my research looks at Anglo-American films and anime which have a distinct visual style, this might be a fun way to rethink my research.

I knew from the start that I wanted to design a poster which would emulate, in some way, a movie poster – bit of a no brainer there. I also want to use text in an interesting way. Initially wanted to use a word cloud to present key words from my research, perhaps to replace the face of an iconic figure such as Rick Deckard (Blade Runner.)

posthuman word cloud

Word cloud of key terms related to my PhD

In the end I borrowed the style of text from The Matrix; vertical acid green trails of the film titles in the posthuman noir corpus fill the background of the image. Meanwhile for the main titles I chose a font which would emulate those used on Blade Runner posters in the colour red, which stood out against the dark background and symbolized the violence of the genre.

I also wanted to use images from both Anglo-American film and Japanese anime. I toyed with using one to be a shadow of the other – which didn’t work quite as well as I wanted – but settled on using the two figures as mirror images of each other. For the figures I picked Rick Deckard as the main image and his mirror/shadow would be formed by a robot from Ghost in the Shell.

To match the moody, dark tone of posthuman noir I had to keep my own poster fairly dark – in hindsight I feel was a mistake as it only really reads well when A2 sized or larger.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves whether this image works as a window into my research…

PhD Poster two

My PhD poster

 

I entered the poster, not thinking it would do well but happy that I had been able to view my research differently. A month or so passed and I found out it had come joint third. Not too bad for my first attempt at an academic poster. If you want to see the poster that won, and other entrants you can here.

 

 

Last week I re-watched Transcendence, (Wally Pfister, 2014) a film which I didn’t hate at the cinema but which I felt in many ways let itself down. There was a lot of potential in the idea, but as with most posthuman films, especially those which involve some form of collective consciousness, it pulled back from the brink, relying on a traditional A.I. = evil clichés for the climax.

 Transcendence Trailer

Transcendence failed to generate a lot of interest in the box office, firstly because it wasn’t the sci-fi action-er the trailer indicated it might be, not a cardinal sin in my opinion, but this probably resulted in false expectations for some audience members. Secondly, and more importantly, because the film has a tendency to undermine itself through the way its characters easily and conveniently change their life stances.

….. From here on in there are spoilers for Transcendence and Ghost in the Shell …..

Watching Transcendence this second time I found myself, for the most part, firmly on the side of A.I. /Will Caster, as this computer program/human uploaded consciousness pursued its agenda to develop technologies which would regenerate desolate landscapes, and damaged human tissue. What exactly was wrong with the way this program enabled blind men to see? Or disabled people to walk? Was this getting a little too close to playing God and thus playing down the Frankenstein hubristic line?

Martin is healed/enhanced by A.I. Will Caster

Martin is healed/enhanced by A.I. Will Caster

Sure, at points, Will Caster/A.I. went a little overboard and took measures which fixed the damaged humans beyond what was required. The scene where the previously beaten up construction worker single handily lifts gigantic girders, caught on someone’s smart phone footage, oozes with humanity’s fear of the other. The construction worker has become one of ‘them,’ posthuman, something that with physical enhancement might begin to follow an agenda parallel, or even at odds, to normal/traditional humans.

This is the perennial concern of the posthuman movie, exacerbated in Transcendence by the fact that all the characters enhanced by Caster/A.I. are also networked together and to him/it.

Collective consciousness or the networked hive-mind appears as a prospect of true terror in posthuman movies across most of the west. In societies that pride the autonomy of the individual above the collective this method of becoming posthuman is often demonised. Although many movies and stories offer the mantra that “there is no ‘I’ in team” British and American science fiction continues to rally against future societies which encourage too much collective integration. There may be no ‘I’ in team, but don’t be too team oriented either for therein also lies danger (Will Robinson). Whether this is a throwback to the fears of collective societies of cold war communism, or a reflection of self-orientated neo-liberal values, the negative attitude to collective consciousness seems here to stay.

This is one of the major areas where attitudes differ between Anglo-American and Japanese popular media. In the Japanese anime that I look at for my PhD I have found that there is a more positive portrayal of networked minds. There are many complex social and philosophic reasons for this which I may go into in another post stemming from the religions of Shinto and Buddhism, and from the way Japanese society has constructed a sense of collective identity, post the Second World War.

(An interesting aside in relation to posthuman noir… Many of the Japanese posthuman characters who are framed as outsiders, both in their nature as posthumans as well as their position in society, are brought doubly back into the fold by the end of their narrative journeys, they regain human emotions and are reintegrated into Japanese society. More on this in a future post, although more on this idea of the tragic loner character separated from the rest of society is explored in chapters on Japanese film noir in International Noir.)

Ghost in the Shell poster

Ghost in the Shell poster

I wonder if these differing positions will have an effect on the live action version of Ghost in the Shell which is currently in development. This film is already courting controversy in the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, who may have proven her action heroine and sci fi abilities (see my post on Lucy) but who isn’t Japanese like Kusanagi. But in relation to the question of collective consciousness, I wonder if the live action version of Ghost in the Shell will follow the original film ending with Major Kusanagi merging consciousness with The Puppet Master villain, losing the individual personality to become part of something greater? We will have to wait and see.

On a slightly different, but related, level I found re-watching Transcendence provoked questions on the possibility of a human ever being able write a truly posthumanist film. (If anyone has suggestion on films which can really be classified as posthumanist I’d be excited to hear.) Is it ever possible to think beyond our anthropocentric concept of the universe? And do we really need or want to?

These thoughts are particularly pertinent to me right now as I have begun to work on the first feature film screenplay for my PhD. Often with my current idea I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew as I try to think of ways to think beyond some human binaries, beyond notions of current human embodiment and what the intangible elements that make humans human might be. When I began this script I wondered if I would be able to write a posthuman noir script that might even be posthumanist, but the further my research goes the more I realise these two things might be incompatible. The agenda of posthuman noir is not to push a posthumanist revolution, but rather to re-enforce a humanist standpoint.

If I attempt for posthumanism do I fail in writing a story that explores the theme of posthuman noir? I guess I will find our when I get there, but at the moment I just need to concentrate on keeping my strange posthuman noir train on the rails.

 

Lucy poster

Lucy poster

Lucy, by Luc Besson, has just been released UK cinemas to a mixed response. Let me put my cards on the table right now, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Is it perfect? Of course not. Very few, if any, films are perfect. In fact I’m not sure if I can think of any ‘perfect’ piece of entertainment—although that debate is open if anyone want to put a candidate forward.

However, what Lucy does quite nicely is package the ‘high theory’ of becoming posthuman inside the easier to swallow pill of a fast paced, violent action movie.

Lucy [Scarlett Johansson] a foreign student in Taipei, inadvertently becomes a drug mule for some terrifying Korean gangstars [ lead by Min-sik Choi] when she shacks up with the wrong guy [a stupidly dressed Pilou Asbaek—Kasper Juul to Borgen fans—with a junkie’s infectious nervousness]. From there on things go from bad to worse for Lucy until the bag of drugs in her stomach is damaged when she resists a would-be rapist and the new drug enters Lucy’s system sparking her evolution to superhuman and beyond.

 

***SPOILERS follow, although I say nothing of the ending***

From the start Besson makes some interesting editing/directorial choices. Lucy, in the hotel reception waiting to hand over a briefcase to the gangsters is intercut with a cheetah stalking gazelles on the plains. Lucy and the gazelle’s situations are equally and obviously hopeless but, of course, life fights to stay living. This is one of the pervading themes of the film.

The intercutting of documentary footage, predominantly of animals and natural settings, continues throughout the movie. Initially jarring, when it accompanies the lecture given by Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) on the ‘science’ of this sci-fi it begins to make more sense. Yes, this is a pretty simplistic way to deal with the ideas of how increased use of the human brain capacity could influence a human’s position in relation to the world around them, but it makes the central conceit accessible to all viewers. Although, the tone sometimes overbalances on the tightrope between understandable and patronising.

Lucy manipulates hair length and colour

Lucy manipulates hair length and colour

Knowledge is power, is another of Lucy’s themes. Unlocking the potential to use more than 10% of her brain, the eponymous protagonist learns to control herself to the point of being able to order her metabolism to spontaneously grow and change the colour of her hair to escape detection; then control the world around her seeing the signals of mobile phones [a gorgeous visual] and manipulate gravity; and finally she cracks the one constant that defines existence: time.

Lucy manipulates her metabolism

Lucy manipulates her metabolism

Despite the concepts of life beyond the flesh, transcendence and actual posthumanism—a move from anthropocentric [human at centre of everything] to an entity in tune with animals, nature, time and technology—the old fears of losing the body make an appearance. Professor Norman sets up a binary of choice for cells: immortality or reproduction. If the environment is adverse cells chose immortality, which in the case of Lucy means dissipation, a merging with the surroundings. The result is an unnerving body dissolving sequence in the confines of an airplane bathroom, already the site of terror for many flyers. The confined space contrasts with the reaction of Lucy’s body and brain which want to continue expanding. A warning that the flesh can only push at the boundaries so much before the strain results in destruction. Is the message ultimately conservative, as is often the case with science fiction?

The integration of technology into the body and dissipation into omnipresence that appear in Lucy have strong visual and thematic nods to two cult anime properties, Akira [Katshiro Otomo,1988] and Serial Experiments Lain [Yoshitoshi Abe, 1998]. In one of the final sequences of the film, Lucy’s body extends and distends into sinuous vines of black cables to form a supercomputer, which resembles an anime meets H.R. Giger design. This is both beautiful and unsettling which plays on our fear of the distortion of the human body, the fear of the other and the monstrous.

Here’s a long clip from the dub of Tetsuo’s terrifying loss of control and bodily mutation.

Yet there is a dispassionate control to Lucy’s transformation/integration of technology, as opposed to the violent, terrifying integration which overcomes Tetsuo at the climax of Akira. Is this a comment on the strength of the female, who undergoes numerous natural bodily changes and penetrations, to adapt to these evolutions in a way the male cannot? Besson certainly does favour female protagonists who take agency over their environments and kick serious ass, one of the reasons I went to see the film in the first place.

One of the major flaws of the film is the issue of emotion. Once Lucy gains control of her body’s responses she is driven by a need to pass on knowledge, to survive and follow through her evolution to its full conclusion but she loses her emotional responses.

A tearful phone conversation between Lucy and her mother marks her emotional peak. Overwhelmed by being able to feel, hear and see all around her as well as recalling all memories, even the taste of her mother’s milk, this is Lucy at her most vulnerable. She is also on a hospital bed, being operated on to remove the package of drugs. Here Lucy is shown completely without control; she has not gained a handle on the new sensations bombarding her and she is at the mercy of the surgeon’s scalpel. This forms a sharp contrast to the rest of the movie where slows Lucy gains control over everything.

This dispassionate, detached tone starts seeps into all elements of the movie which starts to remove the audience from their emotional involvement in what happens. We want to see her succeed, but we don’t feel her need to.

Parisian cop Pierre De Rio

Parisian cop Pierre De Rio

Like so many posthuman characters she becomes an automaton on a mission. This should be balanced out by the human characters around her. The instinct is there as Lucy is partnered with a French detective Pierre Del Rio [Amr Waked] in Paris to collect the other samples of the drug and evade the Korean gangsters. But Del Rio is also too hard, perhaps it is in the casting but he does not provide the more ‘feminine’ emotional counterpart to the rational traditionally masculine position that Lucy occupies. There is not enough time for them to generate a spark, one that would lend a stronger explanation to why Del Rio is prepared to form a last line of defence in a fight to the death to protect Lucy while she gains final evolution.

Despite the loss of emotion, Lucy is still worth a watch for the smart, concise way it engages with questions of human evolution, becoming posthuman and the sheer joy of the action sequences and gorgeous locations.

Imagine a world where your psychological condition is constantly monitored; where you, and everyone around you, are placed in a perfectly suited job perfectly; where crime is pretty much a thing of the past. This is the Tokyo of Psycho Pass, watched over by the benevolent/intrusive eye of the Sybil System – the computerised system that monitors the psychological conditions of on all the citizens within the Tokyo environs.

Of course this isn’t the idyllic utopia that the concept suggests, refusal to seek treatment for a cloudy ‘psycho pass’ [the name given to people’s mental health] can result in time in a dentition centre, or psychotic outbursts due to the fact the citizens of Tokyo can no longer tolerate even the slightest amount of stress. Those with severely clouded psycho passes are locked up, considered to be latent criminals aka it’s only a matter of time until they give in to their immoral urges and commit a crime.

Poster for Psycho Pass

Poster for Psycho Pass

The protagonists of this show work within the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation division. Akane Tsunemori is a new Inspector, assigned to a team in the pilot episode. Meanwhile Shinya Kogami is an Enforcer, one of a select few latent criminals who have been released from detainment facility under the mentality of ‘use-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief.’ In this way the inspector’s psycho passes are protected from the corruption of needing to think like the criminals they are trying to arrest.

Oh and I should probably mention the gun too, the dominator, a weapon controlled by the Sybil System which can change modes depending on the level of force the Sybil System deems necessary. The trigger is locked on people whose psycho passes are within safe levels, next up is a non lethal paralyser mode followed by the lethal uber-destructive body-exploding mode for those who are no longer worth saving.

Wow, that took a long time to set up. And by now you are probably wondering what western text this is an adaptation of. Brave New World, perhaps? 1984? Both these texts are quoted in various episodes and the antagonist even carries copies of these books around with him. But no, I offer up that Psycho Pass is actually a cyberpunk version of Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes? Really? Yes, really. Now Mr Holmes has been riding on the wave of an extensive revival in recent years with the BBC’s contemporary adaption Sherlock, CBS’s also contemporary, but transported to America, Elementary and Guy Ritchie’s rather more violent masculine, steampunk film versions. Even I have had my hand in the Holmes cookie jar, with a theatrical site specific version of The Speckled Band which was performed at The Treasurer’s House, York and Ripley Castle. [Here’s the trailer for those interested.]

Why so much interest now? Well I think all these adaptations tap into the sense audiences these days are constantly being forced to act like the great detective in their everyday lives. We are bombarded with infinite information that we have to analyse and investigate to find the truth, or our truth; the useful from the red herring. But more on that another time, perhaps.

Now how is our cyberpunk, sci-fi show, this Blade Runner meets Minority Report via Brave New World, related to the great detective?

Well, like many crime stories it owes much to the format established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A genius detective, who might be a little sociopathic or at least bad with people; his loyal, emotionally understanding companion, who might also be pretty good with a gun; and finally a sociopathic, manipulating criminal mastermind as the big bad to be eventually faced and hopefully defeated, often at the cost of our great detective’s own life.

Shinya Kogami - Cyberpunk Sherlock

Shinya Kogami – Cyberpunk Sherlock

Shinya Kogami is our Sherlock, once a normal Inspector, he let his obsession to solve the case and his ability to think like a criminal get out of hand, leading to his demotion to Enforcer. As a latent criminal, he works with the police, but he is not one of them. In this capacity he can do things a rule abiding officer could not. His deductive powers, keen ability for observation and ability to see the bigger pattern from the minutiae also place him firmly in the Sherlock mould. In particular episodes he is not afraid to abandon the constricting law system to pursue the criminal and the truth.

Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami  aka Watson and Holmes

Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami aka Watson and Holmes

Kogami find his loyal, emotionally switched on, moral back up in the form of Akane Tsunemori. This Watson is a woman, but refreshingly her gender is not made the main interesting point about her. She never acts in a traditionally ‘feminine’ role. [Unlike Lucy Liu in the pilot episode of Elementary.] There may be a current of attraction between Akane and Kogami—isn’t there always something a little more between Watson and Holmes—but it is never made a main plot point. Instead Akane is a stalwart of the right, moral decision. From the pilot where she shoots her Holmes to defend an innocent woman, who the system has wrongly deemed unfit for existence, she is set up as the defender of justice. Not to mention a sharp shooter, who misses Kogami’s vitals when she paralyses him.

Shogo Makishima aka Moriarty

Shogo Makishima aka Moriarty

And finally the third side of the triangle: Moriarty. Shogo Makishima is the asymptomatic [he commits psychologically damaging things without any effect to his psycho pass] Homme Fatale. Yeah, you read that right, homme fatale, the man who turns up and emotionally manipulates the protagonist into a downward spiral that could result in his death. Move over Irene Adler, it’s Moriarty who really gets under Sherlock’s skin. [Somewhere the fan girls all cheered, but that gay romance isn’t exactly what I’m getting at.] Even Makishima’s character design fits this idea of the Homme Fatale. He is seductive, but with a sense of elegance; his movements are sensual which is even evident in his fighting style in the gripping scene where he and Kogami face off for the first time.

Makashima, like Moriarty, acts as an enabler for others. As the scanners never pick up a fluctuation in his psycho pass he can move at will, setting up the perfect situations for those who would normally set off the Sybil System’s alarms. This reminds me of a quote from Sherlock Holmes in the story The Final Problem:

“The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That’s what puts him on the pinnacle in the records of crime. I tell you Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career has reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line in life…”

The final episodes of this show draw on the narrative structure of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty’s explosive encounter at the Reichenbach Falls, and spoiler alert, may have a similar conclusion.

Kogami and Makashima

Kogami and Makashima

Another, final interesting point to raise is the similarity of the settings. The dark, twisted alleys of Victorian London metropolis are, plus some more tech, pretty much the same squalid urban spaces that criminals in sci-fi noir inhabit. But like Sherlock Holmes, Psycho Pass’s settings also include the higher end of society, elite academies [like Sherlock story The Adventure of the Priory School] and the palatial homes of the rich and famous. Of course the urban labyrinth has been home to the detective and his criminal antagonists since Edgar Allen Poe, so it is only natural that in its futuristic guise it plays host to a new set of villains and heroes.

My only final note is that at some point in the future I might blog about Psycho Pass in even more detail as it is one of the shows on my PhD viewing list.

August 11th,

Urban is the theme of the morning. My friend and I have breakfast out at a coffee shop/micro roaster Van Dyck. It’s all hospital surgery white, with shiny metal embellishments. The delicious coffee can be smelt half way down the street. We have espresso shots of the Adorno blend which is surprisingly light with a caramel hint. It certainly wakes me up.

As the weather is the opposite of what was predicted (glorious sunshine, not thunderstorms) we go for a stroll in the neighbourhood to look at the street art. This is one of my friend’s artistic passions and she is a great guide for finding large, or hidden or minuscule pieces of art on walls (flayed rabbits, Edelweiss Pirates from WW2, grinning skulls in mock ad posters).

DSCN7293.JPG

There’s even art hanging from trees ( a white fish holding a rainbow umbrella).

DSCN7306.JPG

Some are commissioned, others are spontaneous outbursts of creative political expression. The latest artist feels Banksy inspired. The works are playful and irreverent with unusual depictions of children in black and white.

DSCN7177.JPG

My friend won’t let me leave before trying some traditional german food so once I am packed we head to a modern beerhall. The meal is comprised of creamy cabbage (with bacon bits) fried potatoes (with bacon bits) and grilled german sausage. There is a lot of pig on my plate. It’s delicious but sinks like a brick in my stomach, weighing me down with my heavy rucksack for the rest of the afternoon.

After saying goodbye to my friend, I pick up some perfume and find I have some time to kill before my train. Wandering once more around the Dom, this time with my rucksack, makes me empathise for turtles. Dodging through the crowds is difficult and I’m not able to stop to listen to the excellent accordion buskers playing Mozart without causing a real pile up in the street. Eventually I give up and go for an ice cream (banana, melon and strawberry, if you were wondering).

I really didn’t need to worry about getting to the station early, the train is delayed by 30 minutes due to “people on the line.” Then, when we have all been waiting around for 20 minutes the PA system announces the train is arriving (yay) at an entirely different platform (boo).

You have to love a slighted American abroad; man, does this dude make a fuss. A girl wanted to sit in her reserved seat and so she asked the American dude to move. She didn’t say he couldn’t sit next to her but he moved across the aisle and I nabbed the free seat. He proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes complaining about this girl, who clearly wanted her window seat, to the guy he sat next to. He ends by muttering something about “that’s logic, European logic for you.” Seriously dude, shut up or I will give you a slap of European logic.

The train guard looks like a Young Mark Gatiss, and he pays a lot of attention to talking to the men he checks tickets of but not the ladies. The American across the aisle is in trouble again for not filling out his ticket properly. He’s a surfer/jock in a wife beater style top, if that helps give you a picture of the git.

As the second train heads for the channel tunnel, a rain appears across the tracks as if the continent were waving a cheery goodbye. This holiday has been much needed and I definitely want to travel round more of Europe on the train in the future.

August 10th

International food stats:

Breakfast – german bread, cheese and pastries.

Lunch – Lebannese deliciousness including sticky honey filled pastries.

Dinner – Japanese sushi, miso soup and matcha green tea ice cream.

I am a little bit like a zombie today. In hindsight I think there was a bit too much walking yesterday. The Gee family motto for city break is “If you aren’t ready to collapse in a heap with your legs turned to jelly after one day you are doing this wrong,” so I feel I have done my family proud. As the weather has turned it seems the best possible solution is… MUSEUMS!

Attempt number einThe Fragrance Museum. Thwarted by missing the tram and turning up 5 minutes too late for the English language tour. However, the lady who works in the shop gives us a brief history of Farina, the Italian dude who invented Eau de Cologne. My friend and I get a tester of the fragrance on our right wrists and it’s actually still quite a pleasant smell after all this time. The error we make is trying out a tester on our own of the new star sign related scents . This splashes all over our left wrists and down most of our arms. We pretty much stink for the rest of the day and no amount of washing removes the scent. [ By the end of the day I decide I actually like the scent and am going to buy the Pisces perfume tomorrow.]

Attempt number zwei Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Mainly ecclesiastical art as the impressionist gallery is closed for a new exhibition. My newly acquired biblical knowledge from the York Mystery Plays really comes in handy;I am especially happy to be able to now identify the harrowing of hell in the pieces which show Christ’s life. My friend and I spend a lot of time amusing ourselves by making up captions for the paintings. In one God appears in bubbles watching Job and his family as if God were part of a cosmic CCTV system. In another Jesus talks to his Dad on what seems to be a prototype for Skype in the clouds while judas plots in the front of the painting.

And then there are the mini images of the donors of the paintings, knelt piously, totally incongruous to the usually emotionally charged scenes. In one, the female saint looks like she’s going “Psst, Psst, don’t look now, but tell me who is that tiny person kneeling there?” to another saint. In another Mary’s looking down at the huge family of donors at the bottom of a crucifixion scene as if to say, “I don’t remember all these people here.” [In the evening, my friend and I are in fits of laughter, over these online examples of the same irreverent art jokes: Two Monks Invent Medieval Art

Upstairs in the Baroque section my friend and I are surprised to find gigantic modern photos. This is part of a project, Rubens, Du un Ich, to reproduce the image found in a Rubens with young people. A photo booth is set up so visitors can take a picture for the blog which accompanies this project. So, you know, we have to, all for the sake of art and all.

Attempt number drei – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum. After lunch we hurry through the rain to the anthropology museum. This is a very modern, interactive museum which tries to show how displays in museums are constructing stories which may not be very accurate, that there are always multiple narratives to tell and that what to us may be an object of art, to the original owners was a functional tool. It also conveys a good sense of the wonder that the first collectors felt as they travelled around the globe.

Another packed day… tomorrow it is time for some last minute shopping and then the long journey back to York.

9th August

The day’s stats:

Coffee consumed:

1x Very strong espresso to start the day.
1x Iced Coffee after the cemetery in the boiling sun.

Food Consumed:

Breakfast – German bread, cheese, half a pain au chocolat.

Lunch: Beef Goulash and bread from a restaurant that only sells this one thing, in one size, and you get extra sauce all for 4 euros.

Afternoon: Two types of cherry cake – half of each.

Transport:

4x trips on underground
4x trips on trams
countless miles on foot.

Sights seen:

Morning:

The Dom: well here’s some gothic architecture for you, do you want another serving with that? My friend informs me that the locals like to watch tourists trying, in increasingly ridiculous poses, to get a photo of the whole structure. We are thwarted in our first attempt to see the interior by a blockade of priests, they are preparing for the 12 noon service. The second attempt brings me into a glorious world of ecclesiastical art. The mosaics on the floor of the chapel with three kings in particular, which depict various woman (female saints?) with different churches of Cologne resting on their laps. The latest addition is a wonderful, vibrant window of modern art stained glass which matches the colours of the older windows perfectly.

The glorious Rhine in full sunshine. Lot of of chance for photo nerding (camera clamped to my eye as I try to take sneaky pictures of people enjoying the sun, including a wedding couple.)

The famous Cologne railway Bridge which is covered in lovers’ padlocks of all different shapes and size. My favourite has to be a turtle and the padlock for one of Cologne’s football teams who were wishing for the luck to make the next division [my friend says they have no chance].

On the way back across the bridge we had to dodge no one, but two, guided tours by Segway. Yes you read that right. Segway. Large, lazy people who look affronted that they have to move their Segway a little to the left to avoid me and other pedestrians who were walking on the footpath. I’m also not sure the safety and comfort of a being on a Segway in a town which has so many cobbled streets.

Afternoon:

Cemetery: A city break isn’t complete without a trip to at least one cemetery. This one is a beautiful, quiet green space which masks the noise from the busy road that runs along one side. It’s also filled with nature and much to my delight a red squirrel bounds round one of the large fir trees and my friend and I track its progress through the treetops with childish delight. It is amazing what tufty ears, bushy tail and the deep russet red can do for what is essentially a rat. We also spot a mouse zipping between the gravestones.

There are the usual array of angels (not weeping) on graves and, as we pass gigantic edifices of stone, I begin to wonder about commissioning such graves. Yes, I’d like a life size replica of a Grecian circle of columns please. What’s the going rate for a semi naked, muscular man in mining boots? I’d like a sci-fi metal sculpture with a sphere on a stick, if that isn’t too much trouble.

I never really find cemeteries too creepy, but I have to pause a moment and talk about a family grave where what was probably the favourite Teddy Bear pokes out from beneath the tombstone, its paws splayed against a plastic partition wall, as if it has just crawled from the grave. Terribly moving, sad and just a little bit demonic.

When I return home photos will be added to this post to illustrate these unusual tombstones.

A street market where the air is filled with the smell of less than fresh fish and the tunes of kitschy German music. My friend and I are lucky enough to find the perfect plush animal present for a birthday party we’re attending, a hippo, on one of the stalls.

Gift room: A temporary glass and wooden outdoor cupboard where people can leave books, clothing, cds, videos etc. for others to take for free. This is a brilliant ideas and encourages a sense of community.