sábado, 1 de febrero de 2014

Km 70,331: Frozen in Landmannalaugar

It takes some effort to reach Landmannalaugar, particularly towards the end of September. A rather comfortable Icelandair flight brought us from Amsterdam to Reykjavik, where we were whisked away in a 4x4 truck filled with food, alcohol, adventure supplies and two tough icelanders who seemed to know what they were doing. A six hour drive took us from Reykjavik through a road that may or may not have actually been on the map, crossing a never ending landscape of grass, gravel and ice. We got stuck in the snow at some point, but our hard-bitten driver jumped out of the bus and fiercely dug our way out of the snow while we whimpered in the cold. It was well past sunset when we reached the campsite by Landmannalaugar. Lighted by a few cellphones and flashlights, we half-blindly unloaded our bags and supplies and quickly headed indoors to prepare dinner and occupy our sleeping area.

I woke up early the next morning and headed outdoors for the toilet. I opened the door of the cabin and was completely stunned. See, I'm a chilanga, a native of Mexico City, accustomed to never ending asphalt and traffic jams, eye-stinging smog and crowds of people. With a population of 21 million, you may be anonymous but you are never alone. What's more, you are always surrounded by buildings, cars, furniture... man-made stuff. But we were in the middle of beautiful nothing, next to fuming geothermal waters, surrounded by majestic coloured mountains that might have looked exactly the same way for the last thousand years.

Atemporal landscapes are a rare thing. I had only seen a partially atemporal landscape once before. Back then, while standing on a virgin beach and looking into the sea, I had imagined that the deserted beach and the blue waves were exactly the same as someone may have seen a couple hundred or a couple thousand years ago. Without any man-made stuff, it was impossible to place that experience in a timeline and determine whether it was a landscape from 10,000 years ago or from yesterday. 

While our group hiked up and down the hills of Landmannalaugar, I looked into the horizon as far as I could, trying to find chronological references all around me. And failed. Landmannalaugar's landscapes, its colored mountains, smoking geysers and blue water, are frozen somewhere in time.

domingo, 5 de enero de 2014

Invading Montpellier, one wall at a time

A few days in Montpellier are enough to run through its beautiful sights, monuments and museums. It's rumored to be tremendously pleasant in the summer during the Estivales (a festival consisting of wine tasting and concerts), but it's not too bad in the winter either. After a week, it's likely that you'll start finding your way around the city's maze of medieval streets, corners and dark alleys included. And then, you might spot the first one.

A small and colorful mosaic of some sort of pixel creature, a space invader? In any case,  a unabashedly anachronistic decoration on Montpellier's old white walls. I smiled at the first one, but as more of them appeared right before my eyes on the walls of the city, I started taking pictures of them. And after I'd seen and photographed a few of them, I finally resorted to Google them and figure out what was going on.

The space invader mosaics in Montpellier were placed by a French artist appropriately named Invader, who has made it his urban artistic mission to splash cities all over France and the world with his mosaics. In fact, the invaders can be found in cities throughout Europe, in North and South America, Asia and Oceania.

The whole project is carefully planned out; the choice for locations and characters is all but random. The mosaics are strategically placed on visible places or in highly transited streets. It's even cooler in Montpellier, where the mosaics are placed as to form a gigantic space invader when seen on the city map. As for the invaders themselves,  there are no two identical mosaic creatures. Their designs are based on characters from Space Invaders,  one of the first widely available videogames. In other words, a technological fossil symbolizing the modern world which surrounds us.

It's not just that. Invader justifies his choice by saying that they represent exactly what he is doing is exactly that: invading spaces.