Archive for February, 2012

Two things


There are two things about blogging that you need to know and they are:

1. Everyone who runs one is a kook.
2. Everyone who comments in one is a kook.

This is from the excellent Two Things blog compiled by Glen Whitman. He says that the blog came about because:

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So… what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Ever since that evening, I’ve been playing the Two Things game. Whenever I meet someone who belongs to a different profession (i.e., a profession I haven’t played this game with), or who knows something about a subject I’m unfamiliar with, I pose the Two Things question.  I also posed the Two Things question on my blog, where it elicited many responses in the comments section and on otherblogs.  This page is a collection of responses to the “Two Things” question, collected from various pages on the web, with credit given when possible.

There are many other great two things on the blog and I cannot recommend highly enough that you follow the link at the top and visit the site. (Hat Tip a link from the twitter feed of Karen Melchior.)

Springtime for Mondrian


In the post I wrote about the visit to the Aubette I talked about how interesting I found it that there was somewhere  in Strasbourg designed by someone connected to De Stijl. I also talked about my attachment to the movement and the principle artist of the group, Mondrian.

One thing that attract me to the man’s art is the simplicity of the ideas behind it, the three primary colours within an upright grid or series of boxes with lines only at 90° angle to each other, the lines black and the only other colours allowed white and grey – two non-colours?

You can imagine my surprise just over a week ago when I was heading to rehearsal for Oh What a Lovely War and I passed the window of  one of Strasbourg’s two national chain department stores, Printemps, to discover that entirely by coincidence their window displays were clearly Mondrian inspired. The same use of a block of one of the three primary colours, the same grid shape and the same use of black and white. The headline for this piece is obviously a play on the fact that printemps is the French for Spring and ‘Springtime for Hitler‘, the title of the play at the heart of the Mel Brookes film, ‘The Producers.’

Whilst taking the pictures to illustrate this post JTO remembered that her father, who was an Art Director at an advertising agency in the 1960’s and 1970’s, had said that Mondrian was “not an artist but a typesetter and designer” as he was.

Alsace Valentine e-Cards


Forgotten Valentine’s Day? Still want to send a message to that important person in your life? Worry not. Those nice people at the Alsace facebook page have some fantastic Alsace themed e-cards which can be found here. So you can still send a message to the one you love and give them a smile at the same time. There are eight different cards so there is something for everyone.

Show Me The Way


Something which I believe has a large impact upon the environment of our cities is advertising, whether the large billboards at junctions or the smaller A-boards outside shops, whether on public transport or in posters outside shops. In fact I have commented upon this before here and here for example.

When I was more active in politics it was always my ambition to advertise on the side of a bus. To have an image you’ve created driving around the place you live in I think is just fantastic. So one of the things I was most pleased with myself for achieving whilst working for a Labour MP was to get her and her contact details advertised on the side of a bus. It was great seeing the advert I had taken the photo for, and then designed, driving around Reading. I had also wanted to get an advert shown at the cinema but I was not able to make that happen.

So I am very aware of the averts and other things I see around me whilst traveling around Strasbourg.

All of the tram-stops have lit poster sites, with around six to eight adverts on each side offering over 15 adverts at each normal stop, with more at sites where lines intersect or there is a transport interchange with busses. The adverts are changed around Tuesday and the company who host the adverts also maintain the shelters they feature on, including cleaning them. The maintenance is done to a high standard. Most of the stops have lights not working or replaced but all the lights work in the adverts.

Last week, suddenly, there were semi-naked women everywhere showing off their underwear. Though as it was an advert for a make of underwear I assume it was underwear the women had been paid to have their picture taken wearing, and not being their own personal underwear. Not having been involved in this I do not know, but it might be that they got to take home the underwear they had been photographed wearing.

As a red-blooded heterosexual man I must say I am pleased at this sudden appearance of pictures of women in underwear forming part of the backdrop to my daily journeys around my home city. Underwear models are usually more like normal women, they are not stick thin – although those in these pictures they are on the thinner side.

At the same time as the pictures of women in their underwear appeared, around Strasbourg there appeared some other  adverts, giving some clue about the reason for the sudden appearance of the underwear adverts. Jewelry and perfume, together with adverts for lonely hearts, ah Valentines Day is approaching. What surprised me the most is that the people selling what seems to me to be quite expensive and high-class women’s underwear, jewelry and perfume think it worthwhile to advertise on posters at the tram stops in Strasbourg.

Does it say something about the people who use the tram and their spending power? My observations of the customers of the tram company are mostly people who don’t spend their money on the kind of underwear or perfume being advertised or buy jewelry much if at all ,unless for various facial piercings.

Or is it that the adverts will be seen by people passing the tram stops? Not the people riding the tram but those in their car going past/ Are they the customers these adverts are really for? Either way I do not know but I guess they must work or the underwear, perfume and jewelry retailers would not use this form of advertising would they? Anyway I’m not too bothered about it as having semi-naked women to look at whilst travelling around and then post here has improved my life.

When the bus was travelling around the people it got most noticed by and we got the biggest response was teenage schoolchildren. A group that we had not had any interest in relating to any other initiative the MP had carried out. Even when she did things you might think they would have been interested in. This shows I think that this group spend more time walking around our towns and cities so what is shown on advertisements and the side of a bus form a bigger part of their landscape and are more likely to be noticed by them. I wonder what the teenagers have made of the pictures on show here?

le grand froid


On Wednesday I worked in the northern part of Strasbourg, Robertsau, which has its own micro-climate. I have gone there at times when there is no snow elsewhere in Strasbourg and snow has been falling there. One person joked that it is the fall out from the paper factory which used to be in the area. The weather in the area was the same as in the rest of Strasbourg ‘le grand froid,’ cold. As you can see from the first picture the Canal de Marne Au Rhin is frozen solid in this stretch. The first of the houseboats is also a clubhouse for Strasbourg’s motorbike club. Another belongs to a friend. The bridge behind the boats, Pont Pierre Brousse, just about obscures the massive lock behind it which leads out  into the northern part of Strasbourg’s port and from there onto the Rhine.

The second photo shows the ice had been broken and then re-frozen, in this instance the piece of wood and the light making it into a nice pattern.

The third picture shows the Parc De l’Orangerie across the Canal. The tree in the middle, with the light shining through it, has been pollarded and in about a month each of the branches will offer a base for the nests of a family of storks. There is a zoo in the park and their work to preserve the bird of Alsace has seen the numbers increase significantly in the period I have lived in the city. Just to the right of the tree is the spire of the Cathdrale and next to that the chimneys of the pavillon Joséphine, which in Summer also have Storks nesting on them.

I have written before about the prevalence of Coypu in Strasbourg. The fact they have no animal which preys upon them means there are a lot of them around the city and you often see them, They are also amazingly tame and unafraid of humans. This one looked a bit fed-up that, because of the ice, it could not be swimming in the canal.

The next picture is of the Euro-district in Strasbourg. From the right there is the Agora administrative building of the Council of Europe,(CoE) then the Lord Rogers designed European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) building. Facing them across the canal is the old ECHR building, which now hosts the IT department of the CoE, which was designed  by B Monnet, J Aprill, Papillard Architects. The CoE building designed by H Bernard is just visible before the block of flats which houses one of Strasbourg’s finest institutions, Chez Franchi. Between the ECHR and CoE the building of the European Parliament can be viewed in the distance.

The final picture shows the ECHR with the eponymously named tram stop in front of it. In front of that is someone with a case before the court who is living in a tent, not something I would fancy in the weather.

How economics works


Last month was very slow for work. Other people I’ve spoken to have said the same thing so I do not get the impression it is me. I have had the time to patch a pair of jeans and repair the collar of my winter coat. The material that makes up the collar of my winter coat had worn out badly and the stuffing inside was coming out all the time. It got so bad that I had ben asked if I was going to get a new coat. Certainly not just for a bit of worn out material at the collar. This last week I repaired the collar with some hounds-tooth check material we had spare. You can see in the picture there is no stuffing sticking out and I think it’s quite a good repair. My needlework even received positive praise.

The jeans, as you can see in the photo, had got thin at the point where the bottom of the pocket rubbed against the jeans. I had not come across this before. The same thing had happened on both sides though. On one side there were also areas of wear further down on the left hand side so it needed a big patch, as you can see on the third photo. Whereas on the right hand side a short one was enough. (Last photo)

So, that’s about my sowing, what’s that got to do with the title of this piece, how economics works? When I have worked and have less time to sow myself I take my sowing to a personat Faubourg National who always does a good job for me and is not expensive. If I have earned €10 then I pay that money to the person who does the sowing. They have to pay some money for materials and then pay the rest to themselves. Some money goes to the people who make the materials and the rest to what the person who does the sowing spends their money upon. Thus €10 paid to me, is paid to the person who does the sewing, is paid to the materials & what they spend their money upon, thus the €10 I earn once is spent three times increasing the economic activity. This is called the multiplier effect. It is the recognition that adding extra money into the economy, the €10 I earned, results in further expenditure and growth in employment and expenditure upon materials etc.

My doing my sewing has had a dampening effect upon the economy and has not helped us out of our crisis.

Thank You


I have been surprised and blown away by the response to my last post, Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel?’. On facebook a number of people liked the post and a good friend commented:

“Thanks very much for the blog. Fascinating. Another good reason for visiting Strasbourg – apart from its more obvious pair of attractions! Have a good weekend both of you.”

Then the piece received the best response on WordPress I’ve ever had. I had Snehratnasinghsomvanshi, drecomalfoy, adampbelloto, Air Squadron, Rob Slaven, and into-mind among others either like my post or sign up to be told when I next post. This is the best response I’ve ever had from a post. So thank you to all the people who took the time to feed back that they liked the post.

Because of the cold there is no match today for le Racing but they are now top of the table and, hopefully, heading for immediate promotion back to the next level. It is more than a little embarrassing that this is the first season since I’ve lived here that I haven’t been to see them.

Despite the cold there was a match today for Manchester City and, despite all the carping, nit-picking and nay saying from the commentators about how we were in a serious slump, we managed to beat Fulham 3-0 this evening. So, have a great rest of weekend and I love you world.

Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’?


Aubette 1928, featuring the Cabaret-Ciné-Bal is one of the names given to the space in the aubette 1928 building in Strasbourg. On Saturday afternoon, along with about 20 other people, of a mixture of nationalities, I had a guided tour around the building, courtesy of the Alsace chapter of the English Speaking Community. In an 18th century building that  dominates the central square, Place Kléber, in Strasbourg. It was built by the French architect Blondel on the site of a ruined church and was part of an original plan to build on all four sides of the Place Kléber to commemorate the move of Strasbourg into France at the end of the seventeenth century. In the 1920’s half the building was rented by the Horn brothers, an architect and pharmacist from Mulhouse, who had been asked to help construct and build the new opening, which became rue du 22 Novembre. The brothers wanted to create space for the public and they asked the artist who had decorated their  new hotel at 15 rue du 22 Novembre (Now known as the Hotel Hannong), Sophie Taeuber-Arp, to decorate the nine different public spaces in the building. Sophie was married to fellow Dadaist artist Jean Hans Arp, who had been born just around the corner in Strasbourg before his family moved to Switzerland. The two Arps. were joined by fellow Dadaist and member of the De Stilj movement, architect Théo Van Doesburg. The decoration that has been restored is very reminiscent of De Stijl‘s best known artist, Piet Mondrian. We were told that he and Van Doesburg had fallen out by the time the latter was decorating the building in Strasbourg. Mondrian is famous for his works of art featuring the primary colours and straight lines at 90° from each other. As you can see from the second picture in the dance-hall/cinema Van Doesburg had the 90 lines at the diagonal and used colours other than the primary colours. We were told this is the reason the two fell out. I am a big fan of Mondrian so seeing these rooms decorated by another member of the same group was fantastic and such a total surprise for me to find something so wonderful right here in Strasbourg. I have heard the work done to the Aubette has been described as the modern art equivalent of the Sistine Chapel.

The first photograph shows the entrance to this section of the building from the ground floor of the Aubette building where there are a lot of shops. As I said, the second shows the dance-hall cinema/and you can see the use of diagonal lines which we were told was done by Van Doesburg to give a feeling of movement to encourage people to be up and dancing. The third picture shows a room which was a transition from the dance-hall/cinema to the restaurant, which is the fourth picture. In the transition area you might get a drink or listen to a couple of musicians or a small band playing. The restaurant was more genuinely like the work of Mondrian although it had pale as well as strong versions of the colours. It would have been quite an impressive room to be sat eating in. The next two pictures are of the stairwell, back down to the entrance, featuring the striking stained glass window which is the main feature.

We then left for the Hotel Hannong where there is a whole wall taken up with a display showing what the Aubette looked like at the time. Only one floor of the building, featuring three rooms and the staircase, has been renovated there were nine rooms altogether. The other rooms featured further work by Van Doesburg as well as Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean Hans Arp. A group of us stayed at the hotel for a coffee and a chat. On my return home I fished out a book I’ve had for a while on De Stijl and was surprised to find that it had 14 pages on the Aubette with further pictures of how it looked at the time.

Altogether one of the best and most enjoyable Saturday afternoons I have spent in Strasbourg. If you live in or visit the city make sure you visit this shrine to modern art. You will not be disappointed.

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