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Willie Weir : April 24th, 2011


A policeman stopped our progress through the small town of Manteigas, Portugal. There was no traffic — no apparent accident or emergency. We parked our bikes and waited.

We heard the music of a marching band long before the processional turned a corner and came into view. It appeared as if the entire town was decked out in ceremonial garb — women with bright green shoulder capes — young boys and girls in white and cream robes. Old men with bright red vestments, marched with tall narrow banners attached polls.

Then came the band. Young and old with their shiny instruments and coats with brass buttons and gold rimmed caps. They played somber tunes. No smiles or waves. This processional was in honor of the martyr Saint Sebastian.

I was wishing this crowd would get a move on. We needed to find a place to stay and it was quickly getting late.

But then I began looking closely at the faces that passed by and my anxiety melted away. How long has that man played the tuba in this band? I wonder what the flute player does for a living? Does the band practice weeknights? To they enjoy it? Whose cap is that little kid wearing?

What’s it like to grow up in a little village in the mountains in Portugal? How many feet have walked these cobblestones? Is someone actually pulling the rope on the church bell, or is it automated?

My mind pleasantly wandered as the music played on. And by the time the band had disappeared up the hill, I found that I liked this town. I had a connection to it, however small.

Procession in Manteigas, Portugal

A bicycle is a dream machine on which to travel the world. But sometimes it’s best to stop and pause … and literally let life pass you by.

Originally posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Kat Marriner : April 7th, 2011

Street Art

Friends are getting ready for their first trip to Spain and feeling a little pressure to “do” all the things in the guidebook. It made me think about how I like to engage with cities I visit, and I realize it’s not much different than what I like to do in my own city.

Kusina Filipina mural across from my Seattle neighborhood bus stop

I visit neighborhood parks and playgrounds, eat in neighborhood cafes, and I walk (or take transit) everywhere. I love it because I get to see real life up close and personal and not what the tourist board wants me to see. Even at home in Seattle I’ll take in the block-buster exhibits at the art museum, but I really enjoy spotting street art on those neighborhood walks and along transit lines. That art feels like much more of a connection to the current trends, politics and emotions of a place.

Here are a few scenes from Seattle, Bogota, Lisboa and Seville

Willie Weir : April 6th, 2011

Waiting for the #7

There is a moment after a long, grey winter, when, late in the afternoon, the sun breaks through the curtain of clouds, and the colors explode off the pavement. It’s brief. It’s magic. It’s spring.

Willie Weir : April 4th, 2011

Folsom, California shopping center stands as monument to car culture

I gasped in horror. No. That’s not true. I just hung my head in disappointment. Really? This is progress?

I was standing in an enormous parking lot in Folsom, California. I had a speaking engagement at the REI located at the Folsom Gateway shopping center.

A real estate website states, “Folsom Gateway II is one of Northern California’s premiere regional shopping centers.” And later offers this highlight, “Highly visible, prime retail location on the Highway 50 Freeway, viewed by 200,000 vehicles daily.”

Notice how the above description gives vehicles the gift of sight.

And that is appropriate. Because cars, not people, appear to have been the focus of this development.

Cars get the prime real estate. The entire middle of the complex–big box stores on one end of the parking lot–fast food and chain restaurants on the other. The distance between the retail and food is so great, that people get in their cars and drive across the parking lot from one to the other.

The shopping complex has followed building code, I’m sure. There are sidewalks and bike lanes and even a few little benches for people to sit. But they were all empty. The scale is so huge, so spread out, that humans find it daunting.

Does anyone really want to walk the mile and a half along the edge of the big box buildings to the Starbucks? (It’s much closer in your car).

If someone was to consider walking, the intersections are so wide that I imagined rest stations halfway across with water and snacks to prepare pedestrians for the second half of their journey.

The parking lots are clean, with lovely new banners that one would find at the entrance of a Renaissance or County Fair. But no jugglers, musicians or food booths await your arrival. In reality, the banners just dress up a an ugly, ocean of asphalt.

Premiere? Is this the best we can do?

If our goal is to increase the rates of obesity and diabetes. If we want to encourage people to stay in their cars. To walk less. To spend as little time outdoors as possible. Then this truly is a premiere example of how we should move forward.