Saturday, 27 September 2014

Step back in time

Some museums chronicle our history through collections of vases, paintings and sculptures.

But shoes?

Yes, proving there is a museum for everything, Toronto boasts the Bata Shoe Museum.

Initially I scoffed at the concept, imagining just a pile of shoes.   What could a museum about shoes possibly have to offer?

But with an hour or two to kill, I skeptically stepped inside and walked out converted.

Yes, there is a pile of shoes on the floor.  But also a lot more.

It seems we've been wearing shoes for some time.  At first out of necessity, but later for religious, ritualistic, occupational and fashionable reasons.

As the museum puts it:
The ability to walk upright profoundly impacted human development.  Today, as we stand on our own two feet contemplating the footprints made millions of years ago, we are reminded of our connection to our ancestors with each step that we take.

Flat and functional: Egyptian shoes dating back thousands of years
Go high for happiness:  Indian silver-covered paduka from 18th Century
What's the point:  painful looking Chinese shoes for bound feet
Fashion statement in the absence of clothes:  Turkish bath sandals  Matt's photos (complete with little bells around the edges) from 19th Century

Ready for battle: shoes for a suit of armour

Fancy: decorative Baroque and Rococo styles from 18th Century

Moon walk: an astronaut's boot

But it's not all a peek into history's shoe closet.   A selection of famous feet are also on display.

Famous feet 
More famous feet

The exhibit Fashion Victims is a stroll through Western footwear in the 19th Century, one of the most colourful and sometimes painful periods for footwear.

This was the time when shoes as fashion really took off, often in bizarre directions.

Shoes in the recently created mauve colour were all the rage in the 1850s, but critics said the colour was reminiscent of measles

"Straights": a painful design that presented perfectly symmetrical feet and with no difference between the left and right foot

Gaudy hues were the height of 1860s fashion, but could result in chemical burns from the dyes used
A fine balance: the re-emergence of the heel in 1850s came at the same time that as the beginning of the women's rights movement

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Peering over Pier 39

My friend who lives in San Francisco has vowed never to visit the city's "famous" Fisherman's Wharf again.

She sees it just a fabricated tourist trap lined with tacky stores, shows and attractions that is inundated by the masses.   And she's right.

But on my final morning in the city, I couldn't help but enjoy one show at Fisherman's Wharf that's continually underway: the sea lions at Pier 39.

For some reason, since 1989 sea lions have set up shop at Pier 39.  

You smell them before you see them, and they can make quite the racket as they lounge in the sun, play fight with each other, and dive in and out of the water.

They've become an attraction in their own right so a visit to see them will invariably involve navigating throngs of tourists.

But this morning, as I was up early on my way to catch a boat to Alcatraz, I stopped by Pier 39 and was one of only a dozen people watching them.

One sea lion was craning its neck to catch the day's first sun rays, while another was swimming around a jetty pylon and getting a free massage from the rough timber.

The sea lions are oblivious to the attention they create, but I love how they just decided to commandeer the pier, forcing the boats that used to anchor there to relocate.   

It's a small win for Mother Nature over us humans.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Things that make you go hmmmm

I've previously confessed my love of crappy shopping catalogues, so imagine my delight when my six-hour flight from New York to San Francisco came equipped with a SkyMall catalogue.

That's almost of 100 pages of things you didn't even know you needed or wanted!

There's so many "gems" in her.   It really does make me wonder/worry what crap people put in their homes or what truly awful gifts will be lurking under this year's Christmas tree.

All I can say is, watch out for these nine!

1. Perhaps spilling your wine over everyone is a sign you should stop drinking

2.  Hmmm... so enchanting

3.  I imagine the conversation would go: "You paid HOW MUCH?!"

4.  Classy

5.  What?  There's a place that's famous for zombie sightings?  

6.  Wow.  So tough.  It will fool everyone

7.  For all the cat ladies

8.  Who doesn't want to know when they're going to die?  (Do you get a refund if it proves wrong?)

9.  For men who like big butts and they cannot lie

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Life underground

As I've been scurrying around New York during the past week, I've spent a hefty amount of time underground in the New York Subway.

It's hot down here and everything looks as though it could do with a good wash, but it's got me where I needed to be.

I've even learnt to differentiate the Local trains from the Express trains... the hard way by watching the stations I want to get off at whiz by.

Each subway station seems to a life of it's own, none more so than the 14th Street - 8th Avenue Station on the L line.

Dotted all around this station are small bronze statues - apparently more than 100 of them.

These cartoon-like characters are all part of a public art installation called Life Underground, created by Tom Otterness.

Just as the New Yorkers and tourists around them speed by during their daily commute, these figures also depict life in motion.

There's an alligator coming out of a manhole, a couple walking hand-in-hand, and even a homeless person.

They're tucked away in surprising places; lurking under stair railings and dangling from ceiling beams.

There's also a reoccurring theme of money, with some figures having moneybags for heads or interacting with money in some way.   Social commentary on what really makes New York tick?

No one likes to spend more time in the subway than they need to, but these characters remind me of the little surprises that can be tucked away in all unlikely corners of New York.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Montreal's sea lust

These Montrealers clearly have a lust for the seaside.

While a cruel trick of geography has placed the city a fair hike to the ocean, it does have plenty of water around it.

Well completely around it actually, as Montreal sits on an island at the confluence of the wide St Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers.

But as I'm wandering along the city's rejuvenated Old Port, I could swear I'm on a trip to the seaside.

Montreal's "seaside"
What nature has failed to provide, Montreal has stepped in to deliver with the creation of a beach at the end of one of the city's marinas.

It comes complete with bright blue umbrellas, white sand, lounge chairs, and even circling seagulls.

Other cities, including my hometown of Brisbane, have created urban beaches, but I wonder if Montreal takes the award for having the urban beach the furthest away from the real thing and closest to the Arctic Circle.

It's early September and still very warm so Montrealers are soaking up every last bit of summer sun before the city is blanketed in snow for winter.

Further upstream, the city's love for the sea becomes even more evident as I spot a group of people clad in wetsuits and armed with surfboards.

They rush up the river banks, dive into the rapids and catch a "wave".

While the waves aren't the biggest in the world, the swift and swirling river rapids must create their own set of hazards.   If the surfers don't jump off at the right point, I imagine they could easily find themselves swept downstream (after a few days they might actually reach the ocean).

I have to admire Montreal's ability to make do with what they've got, or create it when it's missing.

Take the Urban Forest that has sprouted in downtown Montreal.  Designed as an escape from the traffic and CBD hustle and bustle, this bright orange retreat brings the concept of nature (if not nature itself) into the city - complete with replica trees.

Montreal's Urban Forest

It's a little bit sad to think that as autumn takes hold, the beach chairs will be stacked up, the wetsuits packed away, and the Urban Forest cut down until the city welcomes the next summer.