Bora Bora 2005.10.24

Bora Bora 2005.10.24
Bora Bora 2005.10.24 ©2005 Mark Phillips

Friday, March 12, 2004


Sydney was evidently designed by someone who plays a lot of SimCity. Building public spaces alongside waterways and other lovely, high-value locations is a marvelous way to drive up property values nearby. You find parks and walkways all along the harborside with superb, beautiful, expensive houses and condominiums set tactfully back, so that these private spaces become part of the value of the public ones, and vice-versa.

In the States the site of the Opera House would be owned by Exxon, or Microsoft, unquestionably. There'd be a huge tower there designed explicitly to monopolize the view and the public infrastructure necessary to support it. The corporation would look upon the building as advertising, supported in large measure by the public via tax concessions and other subsidies; its purpose would be to considerable degree to prevent the public from enjoying the vista apart from its corporate identity. Here the scale of the architecture and the form of the parks and open spaces is inherently more organic, in large part I think because it was designed for public use rather than private.

This is one of the stronger practical suggestions for what art might look like under genuinely democratic socialism. Public art, like the Greeks, designed to celebrate public spaces rather than obscure them. That all or nearly all aspects of public life would become aesthetisized seems inevitable to me.

Only in our dreams, sadly.

Mark Phillips, Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia
Mark Phillips, March 15, 2004, Circular Quay at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia.


Saturday, March 6, 2004

Food With Flavor

In America, industrialized agriculture is so productive that we could feed the world if our leaders chose to do so. Yet that productivity comes with an ironic downside. Our food ripens on trucks, it grows in warehouses, it spends its days immersed in pesticides and pollution, so that even the best of it, the locally-grown organic produce available if you search it out, tastes like non-taste.

I first understood this in Greece. There the cucumbers in the ubiquitous Greek Salads are crisp and crunchy and delicious. In the states they're soggy and taste like water. Oranges were even more dramatic. In Crete an orange has the flavor of twenty American oranges, as though the American variety, while copious, were somehow diluted. That's the sad fact about all American food: it tastes diluted.

At this moment in history New Zealanders enjoy what might be the best of all possible circumstances, food-wise. They have the advantages of industrial technology, allowing control of pests and scientific fertilization. Yet their food is still grown on a small enough scale to be allowed to ripen in the ground. And the country is tiny enough that transportation doesn't require days. The outcome is food with flavor so rich it astonishes visiting Yanks like me.

Americans sacrifice much to enjoy their unprecedented level of abundance. There's a lot to be said for a more sensible, that is to say, smaller approach. Have Kiwis found the appropriate balance?

Mark Phillips, 2004.03.02 North Island, New Zealand
Mark Phillips, March 2, 2004, North Island, New Zealand.


Wednesday, March 3, 2004


Lack of pollution. That this is the first place I've ever known where the world is clean.

Even the rural outback of America is impacted. Lake Tahoe receives the drifting air pollution from the San Francisco Bay metropolis, while national treasures such as Yellowstone are threatened by acid rain and by right-wing ideologues in office who gleefully grant snowmobile entrepreneurs egregious freedom of destruction.

It's sad to realize that the wheels of free-market "progress" will one day grind down these unspoiled regions, as they inevitably must. But it's hopeful to remember that Kiwis have a strong tradition of political rebelliousness which has kept them nuclear free and non-aligned. Perhaps there's some chance that this rebelliousness can be translated into a sustained, responsible stewardship of the nation's environmental treasures. Arm-wrestling, as it were, against Adam Smith's hidden hand. Realistic or not, that's a lovely image.

Mark Phillips, 2004.03.04 Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Mark Phillips, March 4, 2004, Cape Rienga, New Zealand.