Monday, February 26, 2007

Article: Airport art

A few years ago I took a short business trip to California. The trip consisted of two days of meetings with various potential customers. Normally I take my camera with me everywhere but I couldn’t imagine what I might photograph on such a brief and restricted journey.

When I arrived at the Sacramento airport, I realized my mistake. Two pillars disguised as piles of ancient lost luggage rose in stacks toward the high ceiling in the baggage claim area. The sculpture didn’t make me feel better about my chances of reconnecting with my own luggage but it did open my eyes to airport art. Thus enlightened, I soon found airports to be full of imaginative decoration.

Let’s face it, there’s not much to do at an airport and you may be trapped there indefinitely. In some ways airports are the closest many of us will come to being in prison. Airports force us to relinquish our personal belongings, they virtually--and sometimes literally--frisk us before we enter and the food is terrible. The one thing they have going for them is the art.

I actually took my first airport art photo years ago. I had few-hour layover at the Hong Kong airport on my way to Singapore on a business trip. After I deplaned, I looked back through the window and saw my plane. It was beautiful. Singapore Airlines must have the most highly decorated planes in the world. My plane sparkled (or would have sparkled if it hadn’t been raining) in various shades of blue, yellow, orange, red and tan. I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo.

The San Francisco airport has most impressed me with its art. Everywhere you look there are tremendous murals, some including 3-D elements including wonderfully polished wood carvings. I felt a little self-conscious going around photographing them (I was the only one doing so), but I wanted to remember them.

In Tokyo, a monument of colored glass adorns the international check-in area. Each of the four sides blends with the two adjoining and yet presents a new color scheme. I wandered all around admiring it from all sides. In an obscure corner was a plaque explaining the piece. The creation, titled “The Land of Nature,” was designed by Itoko Iwata of Iwata Class Co. I’m sure the rest of the explanation meant more in Japanese than it did in the English translation.

On my recent trip to Venezuela, I had several hours to explore the Caracas airport. The use of stained glass windows delighted my eyes and my camera. Each area of the airport sported a different color of glass and each color lent a unique atmosphere to the scene it illuminated. It provided at least a half-hour of entertainment, too bad I had ten hours to kill.

So next time you’re stuck in an airport, spend some time looking around. Even the Austin airport has some “art.” I had to put that in quotes because Austin is a bit on the nerdy side. One section in the baggage claim area depicts the street layout of central Austin in floor tiles. And much of the remaining art consists of holograms. At least it’s unique, I haven’t seen that anywhere else. I guess Austin is still weird.

Photo: The Caracas airport is colored with stained glass windows.
Photo: Singapore airlines has the most brightly painted planes I've ever seen.
Photo: A mural in the international terminal at SFO.
Photo: This mural at SFO also included carved, wooden birds.
Photo: A huge glass rectangle at Tokyo Narita airport.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Article: Am I dreaming?

I rode my bicycle down a rocky dirt path that switched back and forth across the undulating face of a cliff. Blue-green waves with brilliant caps broke far below. Rocks beneath the tires wrenched the handlebars, pulling me from one side of the narrow trail to the other. As I rounded a sharp bend, the rear wheel nearly skid over nothingness before I pulled it back. I’m not good on a bike and I’m afraid of heights but I held myself together and continued.

The next curve proved worse--both tires came to the very edge of the cliff, sending puffs of dirt down the side of the cliff. Yet I continued. On the next, the bike seemed to hang suspended over the abyss like the coyote in the cartoon, not realizing it should fall. Then, miraculously, I was back on the path.

That’s when I decided to put a stop to it. On the next turn, I let momentum carry me out over the water. The bike fell away while the air suspended me like a bird. Then I plunged toward the water. “Great!” I thought. “I’ve been wondering what it would be like to dream underwater.” It proved everything I imagined because it was my imagination. Of course I didn’t need to breath. Brilliantly colored fish came to me so I could pet them. I created a hammerhead shark and clung to its dorsal fin as it cruised through the clear waters.

This is lucid dreaming, defined as dreaming while knowing you’re dreaming.

The dream I described above could have been a nightmare. In real life, I am afraid of heights and the dream began with a wild ride on the edge of a cliff. Because I knew I was dreaming, I didn’t have any fear. The challenge of riding the bike consumed my attention at the beginning of the dream and when that proved more difficult than I cared for, I simply gave up, exchanging the cliff world for the marine world.

Controlling nightmares is one reason people learn to dream lucidly. In a lucid dream it is impossible, or at least irrational, to be frightened since you are aware that nothing is real. I can remember nightmares from when I was a child--in one I was being devoured by ants--but I haven’t had one in many years.

Aside from controlling nightmares, lucid dreams can help people overcome real-life anxieties and phobias. The dream setting often reflects the dreamer’s fears and concerns. I have no doubt my fear of heights would be worse if I did not periodically confront it in dreams.

On the internet I found several references to use of lucid dreams to confront the fear of public speaking. The dreamer practices speaking before an imaginary crowd and then feels more prepared to give the speech in real life. That sounds like a waste of a good dream to me. It would be more interesting if you combined another common tactic for overcoming this fear--imagining your audience naked.

According to the internet, lucid dreaming is a skill one can learn. The key is that when something happens that’s impossible--you fly, you meet someone who’s dead, all your teeth fall out--instead of just accepting, you have to realize that it’s an indication that you’re not in the real world. At this point, you may wake up, especially if you were having a nightmare. The trick is to stay asleep and to realize that everything in the dream is a product of your own mind which means you can control it.

I once tried to convince a character in a dream that we could do anything. To persuade him, I took off flying. The character wouldn’t follow me which goes to show that, even in dreams, you can’t control your own thoughts.

If you are interested in learning more, there are many books available on lucid dreaming, many of which provide techniques for learning to dream lucidly. These include at least two by Dr. Stephen Laberge who has done extensive research on the subject. You can also review the following internet sites: