Brumming in Birmingham.

(noun) Brum;
1. British informal – A nickname for the English city of Birmingham;
2. or the noise a car makes.

Known as the City of Thousand trades, Birmingham has struck me as an idiosyncratic mix of cultures, annoyed with its urban planning, sang to me in an elevator of the IKON gallery, and ultimately led to the library as an attempt to find my way around city I perceived as not only of the thousand trades but thousand of ideas.

A birthplace of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, yet still holding a popular musical myth of being solely populated by heavy metal bands that yet have nowhere to play. Shame on you, Brum.

An award of aesthetic incongruity goes to The Symphony Hall in the International Convention Centre and the odd-looking modern library just next to it. Contrasting with picturesque Dutch-looking Brindley’s place, full of canals and red brick buildings, and the Baskerville House with its Ionic columns and classical architrave.

Next to it there’s Hall of Memory, another art-deco styled rotunda encircled with ecru white columns. Commemorating the dead during World War I and II, Birmingham is another city I got to visit with a burden of war. Birmingham Blitz from the 11th December 1940, just roughly half a year after the Rotterdam Blitz.

Got me interested in politics, ironically when some of the British Labour MPs seemed to have had enough of it, led me on the track of Moseley’s alleys and cul-de-sacs, home for a time and source of Tolkien’s inspiration with the early 20th-century steam trains, owing to James Watt, a local as well.

The Library of Birmingham holds tons of sources on city’s history, books on industrial revolution being most numerous ones. The three pioneers of this period- James Watt, Matthew Boulton and William Murdoch contributed most to the city development. On the other shelves there are books on the carat gold and silver standards, corresponding well with the Jewellery Quarter nearby, one of the city’s neighborhoods. Those on the roots of Middle Earth on Level 3 just near the windows can help track Moseley’s history, just as the other bookshelf bent with weight of books on any area of the city you’d wish to get to know more of.

 

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Rotterdam, or anywhere

As a foreigner, there are couple of facts that could not escape my notice when moving into the cheese-laden land of milk and honey, ornamented in white and blue- apart from the obvious stereotypes about the Netherlands. Besides gezellig stroopwafels, that, funnily enough, I’ve come across some time ago in Scotland, tall people, cheese (obviously), every third or fourth person named De Jong, and coffeeshops, here are some things I uncovered while in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

  1. Means of transportation contest on the streets.

    Don’t ask me why, every time I ride my beige-blue teenage-looking bike with a giant sticker saying in curly glittery font, “Girlpower”, I get to notice most random range of vehicles moving on the streets. Some would say, and would be not far from the truth nonetheless that it’s a city of bikes. But once you spend here couple of weeks you might think it’s a Red Bull Flugtag for driving. Motorbikes and scooters are quite likely to chase you on those neatly separated bicycle lanes, while jaywalking is taken to a whole new level with giant quads, three-wheelers, cycle rikshaws, double bikes. If you pedal, or drive, cruise, or jump to the outskirts, there’s a true outbreak of camping trailers. Hell, for your jumpwear there is even a Kangoo Jumps Rental ! “Nominated best outing 2015”. “Only in Rotterdam”! And then, there are the elderly driving electric wheelchairs, teenagers on skateboards attached to bikes swishing near you, 60’s-looking old-school cars, the car on Vredenoordlaan that looks like batmobil, and the old Daewoo Tico whose speakers rumbled old Elvis’ songs near Trefpunt last Sunday, I keep looking for wizards on the broomsticks.

2. “The Black Market”

Is how it sounds phonetically when most of the foreigners refer to a local market taking place every Tuesday and Saturday near station Blaak. Ironically, it is actually the market where you can find anything. Including gossip about the tourists, opportunity for sales skills internship if you’re lucky enough to get some salespeople invite you to help them selling, the suspiciously-looking giant bar of Marseille soap, bike parts, bikes, food, clothing, kitchen utensils, kitchen appliances, parts for your stupendous vehicle to conquer the streets, home tools, you name it, whatever it is you need.

“There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called college Blaak market.
– Chef, South Park

Lastly, you are likely to get looks when casually dropping “Hey, I’m going to buy some fruit on the black market, you need anything?” on a serene Saturday morning.

3. Dutch directness…

In some instances, the Dutch language is ridiculously straightforward, which is one of the reasons I regret not having time to study it. Being able to understand what certain street names mean would surely make bike rides so much more entertaining. For what I luckily got to know, there is Oostzeedijk, a street just near the river, eastern part of the city. And the name literally means “east seawall”. It has a smaller counterpart, street adjoined to it, running just couple of meters below- Oostzeedijk beneden. What does it mean? East seawall- below. Hey, thanks.

Combined with other names such as “new shortcut”, “old dike”, “unwilling street”, even the very name “Rotterdam” itself is combined from the river Rotte, partitioned with a dam in 13th century. Clearly, the Dutch directness is a thing.

4.  Huddled sea-through houses.

Having the area of 41 thousand square kilometers, and about 16.8 million people to fit in there, it’s quite understandable that flats and houses huddle cozily next to each other in a maze of narrow streets. However it’s quite remarkable how you can see what your 5-meters away neighbours do inside their living rooms. In some cases, you can even see through their windows at the back of the house- peeping right into the next street behind them. Into the next house, possibly.

Combined with random instances in which the only question that begs to be asked is “why?“, or better, “how?“, when you see a single shoe hanging tied onto a power line in between the houses, roughly 15 meters above the ground – Rotterdam, not to be confused with retarded.

Spotting the trains

        Train station in Rotterdam, Netherlands. One after another, yellow aerodynamic-shaped tubes rush into the station accompanied by typical Dutch hoarse wheezing, drawing out of the shielded speakers. Breda, Dordrecht, Vlissingen, Venlo. Spoor 1, 2, 3, all the spots here are dots connected by yellow smudges in the rain. And each of of them carries hundreds of passengers connecting their points of the journey. It’s a matrix of connections that is virtually never put much thought to. Board the train, wait, get off the train. You’re just a short line from point A to point B.
        Train station in Rotterdam, Netherlands. One after another, tall and short, fat and skinny, white and black passengers rush into the station together with distinctive conversations they are in the middle of, their voices pitching in different tones, accents, intonation, languages. Dutch, Polish, German, French. Spoor 1, 2, 3, all the people here are dots connected by grey, ground-embedded station. And each of them carries hundreds of stories, hundreds of directions to go to. A matrix of connections they do not normally think of. Board the train, wait, get off the train. Your attention spans over a short line from point A to point B.
        Get off the train. Airport. This  is the visible culture melting pot, forcing you to notice other people; no longer the meaningless dots. Where, in this moment, is the plane that departures in three hours time? How many people are carried from that place to a point where you are, waiting to exchange seats with them? Who, among those waiting, will go where? Now you have the opportunity to see the couple drinking coffee next to you direct themselves to a gate annotated with a board sign Copenhagen; spot that eccentric-looking guy in a large hoodie sitting under the board informing you, Lisbon; skim through all the faces in a queue for Manchester. Different languages, looks, clothes, shoes, bags are boarding different airlines, airplanes, times, gates.
        While my graphical metaphor of a train station is a line, airports seem to be depicted by convoluted knob of twisted lines, interweaving together as each line asks one another, Where’s Gate 4?, Excuse me, which way should I go for the information desk?, Do you need some help, Would you like some coffee, would you please direct yourself to the baggage reclaim.
        Airports are the knobs of places and stories. You can meet anyone, you can go anywhere. Suddenly, London is not that far away from Berlin. And Warsaw is just 2 hours away from Eindhoven. And the lady who served coffee to the Danish couple is French, as indicated by a placard on her shirt. Presence of ‘the everywhere’ is embedded in everyone around.

Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers… Choose DSY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that?”
― Irvine WelshTrainspotting