Coffee in America

Posted by jerry on May 14th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Theory, Travel

America starts the day with coffee – for some it’s a simple filter coffee, for others a double decaf latte with complications. But it’s always coffee.

Perhaps it’s a pre-breakfast business meeting – notice the power relationship: semiotically (proxemics – spatial orientation – gaze, dress), two have coffees and are leaning forward aggressively while the third has nothing and has his arms folded defensively – this is not a pleasant meeting…

business meeting

Or a couple bored with life and each other – both with arms folded and looking away from each other, lost in their own worlds and present to neither, each tolerating the other’s presence but wishing they were elsewhere.


And sometimes, it’s a bite out of time to escape into a good book and leave behind the mundane for a little while. This woman let her coffee go cold – such was the power of narrative!


Gradually the Mall rubs the sleep from its eyes and begins the day.

Tysons 1 mall

Somehow the off-white tiles stay clean. Every second person carries a take-out coffee and the other half are talking on cell-phones – perhaps to each other.

The stores beckon with the lure of the exotic – Shogun of England, Clarks Shoes (England), Lenkersdorfer, Haagen Dazs – European names and references to that which is not here.





Washington – the quirkies

Posted by jerry on May 12th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

Time for the quirkies – what does one notice as an outsider/stranger to a place?

A good place to start is the humble hotel room. We hold these truths to be self-evident: if you hang your wet clothes from a hotel fire sprinkler they’ll get wetter – a whole lot wetter! So it seemed a bit interesting that they felt it necessary to affix the following sign beneath the fire sprinkler over the bed – is there something they’re not telling us?

For sheer iconicity the US fire hydrant – looking for all the world like a cute ‘Bob the Builder’ with its two arms and red hat takes the prize for turning utilitarian design into an innoffensive and proportionally excellent artform.

Also known as a ‘fire plug’ from its origins in the days of wooden water mains, the modern upright cast iron version appears to have been invented by Frederick Graff snr in 1803 for the then newly-installed Philadelphia water works. The ‘Mathews Improved’ dry-barrel model was patented in 1850 and seems to be close to today’s design.

I spend much of my time looking up at architectural details – many based on classical designs, but I also try to look beneath my feet. And here are a couple of examples. The first a standard water main inspection cover

The second a fuel tank inspection cover in a gas station (petrol station)

The US obsession with the discourse of security is entirely understandable, and there is no doubt that this country has adapted well to its perception of threat. As a visitor one is struck by the blossoming of signs aimed at reminding people of the sorts of credible threats that require signage in case you forget and accidentally feel safe and secure.

Are shopping trolleys covered in the “Other” category? 🙂

And not so much a quirkie, I just thought I’d mention that Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream is simply delicious! – the Tysons Corner Mall has one of their restaurants – yum!


Beads…and more beads

Posted by jerry on May 10th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

I’ll leave the quirkies for the moment because I made a discovery. Exploring the larger mall at Tysons Corner Center 1 in Washington DC I took a fairly random turn looking for a place to get some food.

It was a bit of a culdesac and I was about to turn back when I saw what looked like a confectionery store – and it was – of an altogether different kind.

Beadazzled bead shop

The place was called ‘Beadazzled’. Yes, a bead shop – a laaarge bead shop!

So naturally I had to do a reccy for Sharon and, well, perhaps the place had reasonable prices too.


Suffice to say – it’s a surprise (so don’t tell her) I’ll let her open the package when I get home 🙂


Washington DC – the architecture

Posted by jerry on May 9th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

There are a number of iconic buildings in Washington DC. The Capitol features everywhere from teatowels to snow cones and there is no doubt about its classical proportions – it is an impressive building.

Capitol Washington DC

The Smithsonian Institution began as a private collection and its first building still houses part of the collection – mainly ethnographic material from the Africas. Known as ‘the castle’ this red-brick building still has a lovely proportion to it. And the flower garden is stunning in Spring.


The entrance – part medieval, part romanesque still bears the inscription of the institution’s name.

Sadly, my stated ‘one nice thing’ won’t happen as advertised – the National Museum of American History is closed for renovations and won’t re-open before 2008. So I’ll have to rethink this a bit.

Smithsonian closed

Perhaps I can console myself with some popcorn from one of these delightful stands along The Mall.

Other buildings include the impressive Jefferson Memorial overlooking the Potomac

Are we there yet?

And the quirky side might just emerge tomorrow 🙂


Washington DC and One Nice Thing

Posted by jerry on May 7th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Travel

Somewhere over the Pacific at around 3.00AM body clock time and unable to sleep I went in search of coffee. I had watched two movies and despite the gentle rocking of the plane – like riding over the sand where the waves had left tiny ripples – I found myself with a mug of coffee and a conversation with a businesswoman who was also travelling to the US.

After a few inconsequential remarks she says “So, what is your ‘One Nice Thing’?” The way she said it I could hear the inverted commas and the capital letters.

She took my quizzical look as a prompt and said that every time she travels for business she tries to take time out for one nice thing – some way to treat yourself, whether going to a favourite restaurant or a show, or exploring a new musuem.

The reasoning was that when you are old you won’t remember this or that business trip – but you will always remember the one nice thing. It’s a way of building positive memories for the future. What a great concept!

For me it will be to visit the National Museum of American Culture – part of the Smithsonian I have never been to.

What have been your one nice things?

While this is about doing one nice thing for yourself to actively build positive memories, there are other memes along these lines. For example, there is one associated with the concept of doing one nice thing for someone else – working on the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. This is the concept behind And a version has appeared on 43 things where people aspire to do one nice thing per week/day for someone else. I think it’s a reallly positive meme.

The Classic American Diner
In the meantime, the classic American diner is alive and well and living in Washington DC. I often wondered about the distinctive styling of the diner – with the corrugated metal cladding surmounted by continuous windows and styled with seat booths.

Then I saw the picture on the wall of this particular one that showed the original ‘Dining Car’ – a converted railway carriage – that explains it all in a nutshell. Even though the original rail car has long since been scrapped, the new simulacrum (not fake in a simple way) still references the classic railway carriage of the 1930s.