That Was Quick

Although it seems like it just started, 2014 is drawing to a close.  For as short as it seemed, it was just as sweet. In that spirit, here is a short but sweet year in review...

2014 was a year of travel. Between youth sports, work and personal travel, I’ve been everywhere, man. (In my best Johnny Cash voice)…I’ve been to… New Orleans, Des Moines, Grinnel, Cedar Rapids, Malaga, Granada, Algona, Madison, Montgomery, West Lafayette, Nashville, Columbus, Cambridge, Cordoba, Atlanta, Newark, Knoxville, Auburn, St. Louis, Tuscaloosa, San Jose, Quepos, Birmingham, Boston, Manuel Antonio, Seaside, Chicago, Cincinnati, Davenport, Sidney, South Pittsburgh, Miami, Huntsville, Pachuta…I’ve been everywhere. My friends who are real travelers might scoff at my puny list, but for me, that’s a lot of ground to cover. I didn’t mind at all though- the family accompanied me on many of those trips, and I’ve vaulted up the Delta Medallion chart.

I suspect that the blog has suffered for my travels. This may be true, but I spent some time this morning reviewing the past year of posts, and there are some decent ones in there. Over the past four years I have found a curious pattern. The posts I think are great receive little attention, and the ones I don’t think much of tend to be the ones that the get the most play. This year was no different.

The most viewed post of the year was the one in response to the silly donut mural kerfuffle. Let the record show that the numbers were not due to my writing prowess or insight, but the fact that David Cook linked to it somewhere along the line. (This was one of the humbling reminders that while I feel chuffed to be dealing in hundreds of readers, the real writers deal in thousands and tens of thousands).

The Summer of Sullivan was a tremendous experience. I read everything I could about the man, then traveled the Midwest see his extant works. A lot of great things happened this year, and this experience is near the top of that list. Writing about it as the summer unfolded was one of the great experiences of my life.

There was, of course, plenty to write about here in the Scenic City. I wrote a post in January celebrating all of the great projects that were in the offing for downtown. (Twelve months later a similar list of projects would be more real and more impressive.) A few months later, I told you what I want. And, toward the end of the year we had a little fun

Looking into the 'ol crystal ball, it appears that next year will be a big one for downtown. I agree with Ms. White, it appears that 2015 will be the Year of the Crane. Bring it on!


Cañas, Caves & Cathedrals

This story starts, as it must, on a soggy Sunday night in a cave in the Sacromonte. While I saw many amazing things in the days and hours leading up to this point, the cave stands out as all wonderfully unexpected experiences do.

The morning started with a stroll around Granada with the Joneses. My fraternity brother Jem had traveled with his lovely wife from Henley-in-Arden to meet us. We milled around the baroque cathedral for a bit before engaging in the now familiar routine: find a spot, order four cañas of cerveza, eat tapas, repeat. Tapas are one of humankind's great conceptions- for every round of drinks one orders, the kitchen serves up a tasty treat. The more one drinks, the better one eats. On this afternoon we had dogfish, boquerones, squid, ibérico ham, croquettes, and I ordered a portion of callos (tripe). This session was what hipster brunch wants to be when it grows up. Although I could have continued along this track for the rest of the day, we had things to see.

Callos. AKA the best tripe dish on the planet.
By this time, we were playing with house money. Two days prior, the missus and I got to see the Mezquita de Córdoba- truly one of the architectural wonders of the world. A thousand years ago, Córdoba was the intellectual center of western Europe and its most populous city. At the time it was under the rule of Muslims who were tolerant of the Jewish and Christian minorities. The great mosque was constructed and expanded over the course of several centuries. When the Christians conquered Córdoba during the reconquista, a cathedral was constructed square in the middle of the mosque as a sign of the triumph of Christianity over Islam. The result is an interior that is a curious mix of Christian and Islamic symbolism and architectural vocabulary. This was one of the two buildings that I was dying to see, and it did not disappoint.

Fueled by cerveza and tapas, the crew was ready to take on the other architectural marvel on my list. The Alhambra is a magnificent fortified Moorish palace on the Sabika hill in Granada. The walk up the hill, through the forest was quite nice and a fitting procession to the complex. I lack the time and vocabulary to do the Alhambra justice. It is a rich and complex mixture of muscularity, delicacy, and sumptuousness. The Nasrid palaces are described as one of the most beautiful places ever created by the hand of man. It is one of the rare of places that actually lives up to such hype. The bit of incongruity on the site is (once again) due to a Christian intervention. The Palace of Charles V, a renaissance addition within the walls of the compound, is another not-so-subtle monument to the triumph of Christianity over Islam. Charles’ work notwithstanding, the whole of the experience was amazing, and in the end they had to kick us out at closing time. As afternoon gave way to evening, there was only one thing to do…tapear.

Our hotel was in the Albayzín, a medieval neighborhood built up the side of a hill opposite the Alhambra. The agglomeration of buildings creates labyrinthine, cobbled streets not much wider than my outstretched arms. These occasionally give way to small plazas. There is no resisting the charm of the place, but walking up and down the hill to the city center on precariously paved paths is a pain in the ass. After a day walking the Alhambra, we decided to stay up in the Albayzín for the night. This proved to be a wise decision as we had possibly our best tapas experience at a random dive on the top of the hill. Football (soccer) on the tele, cerveza in hand, and tapas on the table- repeat. After a long day of walking, drinking and eating, I was ready for bed. The Englishman, however, had another idea.

Flamenco? Bullshit, said I. Having been raised by a mother and stepfather who both danced and taught ballet, I have some level of appreciation for the art. Despite that appreciation, the idea of going to cave inhabited by gypsies to watch Flamenco did not appeal to me in the least. In the end I was game (largely in part because the restaurant closed, it was 11:00pm on a Sunday, and the caves provided the last hope for vino tinto.) As one might suspect, late Sunday nights are not exactly prime time for performance. Our smooth talking Englishman was able to coax a group of performers to do one last show for us (no doubt on the strength of the pound sterling). We were ushered into the space, a cave with whitewashed walls just wide enough for a row of chairs along each wall with a narrow space to pass between them. For the next hour, the four of us watched five dancers, three guitarists, two singers and a drummer pour their soul into a performance. The cacophony of instruments, voices, handclaps, finger snaps, and foot stamps was stunning, beautiful, and not at all what I expected. The Mosque and the Alhambra were the reasons we traveled to Andalucía, and they did not disappoint. The flamenco, however, was one of those great moments in life when beauty is experienced without the weight of expectation.

Spain is in the books, and its back to work in the Scenic City. 2014 was a great year and I’m thankful for all of the blessings that have come my way. 2015 is shaping up to be a big one, although not without the aforementioned weight of expectation. More on that in a couple of weeks…

In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas and/or a spectacular holiday season!


Meme Monday

And now we're playing with house money. Another National Championship would suit me just fine, however, anything more than beating the Vols, beating Auburn, and winning the SEC, is just gravy. As we approach the holidays, please keep Urban Meyer in your prayers- hopefully a run-in with Saban won't spark health issues and retirement...again. Roll Tide.

Everyone with a computer has been exposed to a meme of one form or another by now. For the most part they are stupid, but every now and again there is a gem to be found. Rather than resist, I will jump the shark and embrace them this week. So here they are, a virtual cornucopia of Chattanooga urban design memes for your viewing pleasure. For the most part they are stupid (please don't get offended).


In the News

As you will read below, this post is a week late. My bad. Such is life. In the meantime the family had a great Thanksgiving and order was restored to the universe.

After spending most of the week in the unreasonable cold of the upper Midwest, it was nice to be back in the relative warmth of the Scenic City. With the soccer travel season having just ended, the family looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home. Everything was going to plan until Saturday morning when I read that tickets were still available for the Alabama game. Being highly suggestible, I immediately corralled the family (including the sole Awbun fan), hustled them into the car, and hit the road. Never mind that tickets can always be found for a game, and that the opponent was an FBS school that the Mocs blew out 51-0,  I had to go because TICKETS WERE STILL AVAILABLE! By the time I regained my sanity we were passing through Trussville, so I just rolled with it.

This was the first Bama game for our youngest. I hoped he and I could go by ourselves to his first game (the same way that it happened for his brother) but life had other plans. In any event, everyone had fun, there was no fighting, and the Tide overcame a slow start to win going away. All of this is to say that my take on matters of urban design in Chattanooga has been gleaned solely from the media.

I was going to label these three things the Good, the Bad, and The Ugly. Aside from that being cliché and overused, however, I’m not even sure that’s a perfectly accurate description. Let’s just say that I had three gut reactions: a positive one, a negative one, and one feeling of revulsion (not covered in that order, mind you).

Big news of the week is a bad thing- a multi-million dollar housing project had some buildings collapse after a stiff wind. I have no comment on site plan or building design, so feel free to draw your own conclusions on those. The problem the developers now face is that (fairly or unfairly) the project may be perceived one with inferior product. Not a good thing- I definitely hate to see that.

A tangent to that incident induced my feeling of revulsion. This has nothing to do with the development and everything to do with our community. I came across the TFP article on the collapse via my Facebook feed. Let’s be honest, the comment sections of online articles are often more informative and entertaining than the articles themselves. In this case, the thread was a sad commentary on the level of discourse in our community.  The comments moved swiftly from thoughts on construction quality, to how unsafe downtown is, to the ethnicity of the construction workers, to the legal status of the construction workers, to immigration policy, to how bad the president sucks, in no time flat. The comments were as xenophobic as they were uncivilized.

Brighter note: things are moving right along in Center City. I saw this article regarding an adaptive reuse of a vacant building. Add this to the list of projects (like this, and this) that follow our work on River City Company's Center City Plan. I’m excited about the future of the heart of downtown- great things are in the offing.

I am very much looking forward to the week ahead- celebrating blessings and cosmic luck with family and friends. Ya’ll be good and have a great Thanksgiving!