The smells of childhood

February 12, 2010

Do you ever have the experience of smelling something and having a vivid remembrance from childhood?  I do.  And David Owen has just written an article in the January 25, 2010 issue of The New Yorker entitled “The Dime Store Floor: What did childhood smell like?”

Owen puts in neatly:  That at a certain point certain “products ceased to be used, as the fasion for fragrances changed.  If one had known, at that age, about the accelerating grind of time, one could have bought a few bottles and placed them on a shelf somewhere, for later sampling and contemplation – once each spring, perhaps, or during the final moments of life.  Yet how could one have guessed?”

Amongst the smells of my youth is one that I almost kept:  a men’s perfume (called “cologne”, in the parlance, I believe) called “Hawaiian Surf”, and it came in a glass container surrounded by a lovely cork outside.  I was given it (by whom?) at about age 13 and kept it – in my childhood home in New Jersey in the USA – until my sister and I dismantled our house after our father died.  Not all that long ago.  That’s a pretty long time.  And that’s about the one thing which I regret not having taken from the house – a smell, of all things.

This not so odd:  Owen writes about how he started using “Old Spice” because that’s the kind of deodorant which his father had used.  And apparently the “Classic Original Scent” is even pitched at people who remember it from their youth.

UC Berkeley Planning Professor Allan Jacobs awarded 2010 Seaside Prize

February 10, 2010

Professor Emeritus Allan B. Jacobs, from the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley, in January 2010 was awarded the 2010 Seaside Prize in Seaside, Florida.  This planned community was the location for most of the shooting of the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show (directed by Peter Weir).

Allan Jacobs taught at Berkeley from 1975 to 2001, following eight years as the Director of City Planning for the City of San Francisco.  I studied with Allan Jacobs at Berkeley during the period 1976-78 when I received my Masters degree in City Planning there, took three courses with him and was his teaching assistant (tutor) for an undergraduate course on introduction to city planning.

He was indeed one of my academic mentors.  Jacobs’ book Looking at Cities (Harvard University Press, 1985 – sadly out of print) was based in part on a graduate course which he taught called “Walking and Seeing the City”.  I was part of the first group to participate in this course (and have an acknowledgement in his book), which consisted of our spending six hours walking different streets and neighbourhoods of San Francisco every Friday afternoon – inevitably ending up at a San Francisco ethnic restaurant for dinner.  And what a course it was!  And the people we met along the way, including legendary (now deceased) San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and California Democratic Party leader Willie Brown (Mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2004, and Speaker of the California State Assembly, 1980 – 1995).

I still walk city streets – wherever I am – seeing them in part through eyes trained by Allan Jacobs.

Bran Nue Dae success in Australia cinemas

February 10, 2010

The Australian Indigenous film Bran Nue Dae – from the musical play – has seen astonishing success in Australian cinemas, grossing more than $6 million in just four weeks of release.  It’s total box office and popularity is running just behind the Oscar-nominated George Clooney film Up in the Air – an amazing feat for a small, albeit highly entertaining Australian film with a mostly Indigenous cast.  Go to Urban Cinefile and check out the Feb 4-7 weekend box office for details.

Book review of “Manhood for Amateurs”

February 5, 2010

My book review of Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon has been published by the Australian Jewish News.  You can read the review here.