Kansas turns 150

My home state celebrated a big birthday today. Kansas is now one-hundred and fifty years young. Even though I suspect it has been around a lot longer than that. Just ask Juan de Oñates, who in the early 1600s referred to the native Kansans Escansaques, “the troublesome people.” Not much changes, I suspect. And also thank Case Seward for this centennial illustration of the opportunities that await you once you make that decision to don a garland of sunflowers.

See you all in Kansas sometime soon. Meanwhile, more vintage KS postcards here.

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The Flaming Teabags



“The Flaming Teabags,” (or for you Germans, die Flammende Teebeutel) sounds like the name of a band. And perhaps it is. Or has been. Or could be. It’s also a parlour trick perfected by Till, which James documented one winter night at our flat. Note to viewers — and I mean this — do not try this yourself. Till has a touch that I’ve found myself unable to replicate, much to the detriment of the kitchen table.

My year behind glass

I first got inspired to shoot short, observational video clips after watching my old neighbor Blue McNiel’s “A 43rd and Warwick Story.” In 3 minutes and 2 seconds, virtually nothing happens aside from the lights changing and some cars driving by while the camera watches from her front porch. I had pretty much the same view at the time, and I remember the sounds of the lights clicking and the green- and red-outlined shadows they would cast through my curtains onto my ground-floor bedroom. The document has taken on a historical importance now that the lights have been replaced by stop signs and I have moved away.

I started shooting similar observational clips out of windows, on front porches, at parks and art exhibits. My montage could be called “A 2010 Story” or “A Kansas City Story” although this timeframe and location has to be expanded to account for a wee bit of Mississippi and Europe. It’s a just over 2-minute trip across flooded and frozen landscapes, Christmas carols, full moons and orange balloons.

Nothing that’s going to break down any doors, but you might enjoy it all the same.

Restoring Schönholz


A few weeks ago I finally went to visit the Soviet Memorial in the Schönholzer Heide in the northeast of Berlin. I first saw the landmark in the film “The Lives of Others” during the scene where the main character and his dissident friend seek out a spot to stroll and talk unobserved. I’ve been wanting to visit ever since.

Approaching the snow-covered obelisk and mourning Mother Russia statue on that gray winter afternoon proved every bit as cinematic as the scene in the film. Unfortunately you couldn’t get closer than 100 yards of the memorial because of the construction fences all around it. Stacks of tiles and scattered port-a-potties stood guard around Mother Russia, and the sign said restoration would be taking place until 2012.

Even from that distance, the Schönholzer memorial has a completely different atmosphere than the tank in the Tiergarten or the mighty monument in Treptow, which features a giant statue of a soldier crushing a swastika under a sword while rescuing an orphan child. The main statue at Schönholz is of a kneeling woman cradling her fallen son on her lap. It expresses loss and solemnity — intimations only amplified by the vacant, snow-covered surroundings that afternoon.

We walked around the perimeter but could see very little over the foreboding border wall, which still had the hooks for the banners and flags that must have once decorated it on ceremonious occasions. I wanted to sneak in, but since there are over 1,000 soldiers buried there, one must enter the place with a level of respect that is difficult to achieve when trespassing.

Still, I’d come a long way, and I didn’t think getting a closer look would cause any real harm as long as I was careful. Just outside the marble gates I found a gap in the fence wide enough to step through. I took a few steps and looked around before beating a hasty retreat, like a mouse scurrying back into its hole after getting the sudden sensation it isn’t safe. I peeked back around the construction trailer into the center courtyard. Now or never. I started back in only to look up and see this…

…a definite sign I should go no further.

So I went home. Like everyone else, I’ll just have to come back after the restoration is finished.

I suspect some of the drab, overgrown quality that attracts me to the place will be scrubbed away in the restoration process. Still, the Schönholzer Heide has been through a lot in the last 100 years, serving as a forest grounds, amusement park, internment camp, and today, a sled-friendly park sprinkled with monuments like the Soviet Memorial. It deserves to be seen in a new light.

Oranienstraße im Flammen

Here in Germany, they call New Year’s Eve “Silvester,” named after Sylvester I, who was Pope from 31 January 314 to 31 December 335. Each December 31 they celebrate the old Roman’s legacy — and the new year — by blowing up everything in sight (see my post from two weeks ago).

Below is yet another fireworks video, this time depicting a Silvester street scene on Oranienstraße, near Oranienplatz. We narrowly dodged a few rockets fired from the Kreuzberg Sportwettenbruecke, and thankfully managed to steer clear of the Mercedes that caught on fire over on Koepenickerstraße.

At midnight, under the relative shelter of the awning at the Santa Maria Mexican Diner, we sipped our beers and watched the city spark itself into a jubilant chaos. Rockets, flare guns, and sparklers, shot off by people on the streets and leaning out of upper-story windows. Quite noisy and fantastic. The only thing more impressive was the mess it left the next day.

‘Like hell comin’ out of the pavement’

I don’t upload a lot of things to YouTube, but it seems like when I do it’s always something about fireworks. Like this pyramid-of-snakes burning ritual in the parking lot at Herbert’s Mart strip mall, located squarely in the middle of Wayne County, Mississippi. While working in the fireworks stand there, Brian and I befriended a local high school graduate named Tom. Due to his athletic and amorous pursuits in and Waynesboro — most specifically that very strip mall parking lot in which we sat and drank beer — Tom had been dubbed “The King of Herbert’s Mart” by his peers. A widely recruited placekicker who was injured early in his senior season, Tom spent most of his time drinking beer, getting in fights, cruising the strip and fixing cars at WalMart. He was a welcoming and friendly guy, and told some amazing stories about life in Wayne County, which he called “The Land of Dreams.” I’ll share more about him another time. For now, some footage of the aforementioned smoldering snakepile, with commentary by the King of Herbet’s Mart himself…