The other day I realized that “interactive” anything is the wrong word. Interactive makes you imagine people sitting with their hands on controls, some kind of gamelike thing. The right word is “unfinished.” Think of cultural products, or art works, or the people who use them even, as being unfinished. Permanently unfinished. We come from a cultural heritage that says things have a “nature,” and that this nature is fixed and describable. We find more and more that this idea is insupportable - the “nature” of something is not by any means singular, and depends on where and when you find it, and what you want it for.
This has to do with civic engagement, too, I think. Cities, towns, run in a way that’s interactive - that’s where the sense of something gamelike creeps in. What if cities were, on the other hand, unfinished without the public’s hand in shaping them?
Students on Ice Antarctic Youth Expedition 2011, Day 3 part 1 December 28th, 2011, 5:20pm, on our Buenos Aires - Ushuaia flight
“Well, we’ve crossed into summer.”
That’s what my seatmate Arnold told me as we drifted out of sleep and into Buenos Aires, and the sunlight started to stream into the cabin as people around us lifted their window shutters. Today I have come farther South than I’ve ever travelled before. I’m in South America. Buenos Aires was a barrage on the senses. The baggage claim area opened into the exit, packed with people, and we snaked our carts piled with luggage out into the sun. The first thing I could smell was thick smoky air, and second, humidity on our skin.
I was torn between listening to our tour guide, Alicia, and looking out the window, but I found a balance staring out, observing the city, while listening to her voice in the bus - almost like an extra layer of history and richness, superimposed upon what I was seeing. Alicia had a lovely voice. it was careful but informal, leaving off the “g” in words like “being” and pronouncing the silent one in words like “high.” She told us how Buenos Aires had begun a humble, precarious city on the harbour of the Rio de la Plata (we flew over it, its width was unbelievable). There were no resources in the land to build a community, to create other jobs. It was a difficult time as the natives tried to fight for the land. Argentina is a mosaic now, its culture having been informed by many years of borrowed European traditions - many of its citizens are descendants of Italians or the Spanish. Buenos Aires was the last Spanish-founded city in all of South America.
Alicia told us that the city is home to a couple million people, with many more millions living in the outskirts of town. Argentines prefer not to drive so much, partly because they are notoriously naughty drivers - Alicia’s words, not mine. There are 40,00 taxis (they’re black, yellow and everywhere) and 10,000 local buses. Cyclists weave in and out of traffic and most Argentines walk, finding any of a hundred excuses to stop for coffee. Alicia said they can’t imagine not stopping and enjoying their meals. In the city, many of the buildings further back are residential, tall, thin and flat, with roofs shaped like Tetris puzzle pieces. Closer, on either side of the road, are the poorer areas of town. They looked like buildings constructed out of popsicle sticks and string, skeletons of the city.
Some of the more public buildings - the bank, the theatre - are ornate and formal. The early 20th century was a rich period for Argentinian architecture. We also visited La Recoleta Cemetery in the city, before heading off to a hotel to meet the American contingent and have our first proper expedition briefing.
Eva Perron’s grave (top) and stained glass (bottom) at La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, courtesy of Alisha Fredriksson
Trees line the squares - thick, leafy groves of them, and some palm trees. Surprisingly, none of those trees are native to Argentina; they’ve all been imported and planted. The only natural vegetation is the green grass. In my head, the reel turns back almost like an archive or microfilm of what it must have been like without those trees - a flat, sunny expanse of green and sky. The bottle trees are mossy green, and this is because they store vast amounts of water and eventually assume the shape of bottles - sometimes they’re called drunk trees.
Alicia said the Argentine people are fairly easy going, but as a young country having known economic hardship, it’s still finding its place. At the beginning, when we had just entered Buenos Aires, I was struck by all the graffiti, words I couldn’t understand, painted on the cement walls lining the highways. What caught my eye was that a couple minutes later I saw someone painting in this very same style under a bridge, slapping bright yellow paint on top of the grey. Was he painting his way across the city? Alicia explained later that the people were finding their voice and sometimes used graffiti as a way to express their message - it isn’t regarded as vandalism as it might be in our cities.
From my journal entry for the expedition website the morning of December 29th, at our hotel in Ushuaia:
She was talking about how it’s easy to live in Buenos Aires, as if the city itself smooths the path. An 80-year-old could go back to university now and start a new career. She said, “Perhaps that’s the magic of the city. It allows everyone to find a way.” Later, as we were pulling away from Hotel Las Americanas in downtown Buenos Aires where we had our first expedition briefing, she said that when Argentines are travelling to other places, they often tell each other to keep their mind in the place they are - “Keep your stories where your feet are touching the earth,” they say. Don’t let your mind wander anywhere else. We are part of the places where we find ourselves. Alicia was talking about the history of the city as we drove along the 9th of July avenue from the airport to the hotel, near the end of our visit, and she told us, “You’re part of its history now.”
TEDx events by the numbers: January
- 77 TEDx events happened around the world
- 67 cities hosted one or more TEDx events
- 29 countries hosted one or more TEDx events
TEDx by the numbers: All time
- 3190 TEDx events have happened around the world
- 800 cities around the world have hosted one or more TEDx event
- 126 countries have hosted one or more TEDx events —
And, as of January 5th, 2012 - 7 continents have hosted TEDx events!
Students on Ice Antarctic Youth Expedition 2011, Day 1
The first leg of our journey begun as we took off from a YVR runway and headed East into the sky.
Here the clouds stretched endlessly beneath us, white-tipped Rockies sometimes poking through at the beginning of the flight. The two other girls on my flight and I were split up, so I was catching up on the pre-trip reading material in the packages given to us by Students on Ice. Well, that, and daydreaming about where I was headed.
As we flew towards the night, we could see ghosts of cities on the surface of the Earth, shining spider webs of light. I had just finished reading a journal entry of Dan Hill’s called Of brains and cities; neuroscience and and cultures of decision-making, and I couldn’t help but notice how the lights looked like electrical synapses and neurons (or at least how I imagine them…), some kind of massive nervous system spanning miles and miles. A dozen blurry pictures later, here’s a good one of Toronto:
This is part of my journal entry for the Students on Ice blog about that night, written the morning after from a conference room at our Toronto hotel:
Vancouver disappeared really quickly yesterday under cloud cover and the sky turned to purple dusk while we were somewhere over the Prairies. We flew in over the Toronto city lights and Alisha, Kelly and I regrouped at the gate, claimed our bags and met Lacia who was waiting for us with a Students on Ice sign. Then it was off to the hotel where we met Tim from Students on Ice and grabbed a bite to eat before heading off to bed. That quiet near-midnight conversation with Tim, Lacia and the girls over the dinner table was the best part of the night – a hint of what’s to come over the next two weeks. At first we started off talking about where we come from – A, K and I from BC, Lacia from the East Coast but living in Yukon, and Tim’s lived all over, but is now in Ottawa – and what’s to come on this adventure. Then somehow the conversation turned to what we might want to do as we get older, and those personality-type tests most students take at some point in high school. Across the table we agreed we didn’t find them particularly valuable in terms of pointing you in a specific direction, but the conversations they sparked were interesting. (How do people with different planning processes work together towards an end goal? What does it actually mean to be introverted or extroverted and how do you create an environment where both can thrive?) This was the first of what I’m sure will be many more perfect moments. —
That night those of us from the West Coast didn’t sleep at all - whether because of the time difference or excitement, I’m not entirely sure!
The third picture is of Amundsen’s team, the first explorers to reach the South Pole. I love this picture because I don’t feel like there’s any sense of victory in it, no pride at having conquered one of the last great frontiers. It’s almost a scene of humility. I like the idea that these explorers, the first men to set foot and flag on the South Pole, were touched by the same awe that touched us in Antarctica.