Pokémon Invading Public Places?

The square outside a nearby apartment building has been surprisingly busy.  It’s usually occupied by people eating lunches for about 20 min, people watching their dog wander through the grass, or…. actually nobody else.

Except recently there have been a large number of people just hanging out.

Since I downloaded Pokémon Go, I know the reason.  That particular square has 4 Pokéstops and is right next to 2 Poké-gyms, so people have flocked to it.  I’m positive there are people in their apartments fronting on to the parkette using it too, since there have been lures attached to these stops even when there isn’t anyone physically outside.  I’ve watched groups of teens bike up to this spot, hang and catch Pokémon for 5-10 min, then continue cruising.  I’ve watched couples, a couple of people, moms and kids, dads and kids, grandparents, dog walkers, sales clerks (from the Sobeys next door), and just about everybody you could imagine, flock to this tiny strip of land.

And I love it.

I can’t help but smile as I see people occupying what has generally been a fairly sad little empty lot between 3-4 apartment buildings.  The management try, the lawn is well kept, there are a bunch of statues (now Pokéstops!), and some nice pathways, but the only people who had used this spot before were people letting their dog do their business.

But that’s all changed.  I can’t say whether or not it will continue, but in the meantime, I will secretly enjoy watching people out in their spaces!

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Photographs and ‘Personal’ Experiences of Tourist Destinations

I read an article today about technology in Canadian museums, and a single phrase crystallized something I’ve been mulling over for quite a while now.  The phrase that caught my attention was referring to the way people use their smartphones, and are seemingly interested in “curat[ing] a personal experience”.

This articulates one of the phenomena I have noticed as a tourist in many different places over the past 15 years, namely the need for everyone to take exact same photo from the exact same place, of the exact same view.  I’ve gotten annoyed with myself and others for missing out on the real experience in favour of documenting it through a lens.  A related but different phenomenon is the apparent belief that if you don’t take a selfie someplace, you clearly didn’t visit that place.  I have thought about selfies before, but it was more thinking about the cultural backlash to selfies at ‘dark’ tourist attractions.  I had never connected it to the phenomenon of tourists all taking the same photo.  Are they both manifestations of the same desire?

Arabic castle in Palmyra Tourists photographing the sunset

Arabic castle in Palmyra
Tourists photographing the sunset

Personally, I don’t like crowds.  I’m also a bit ornery.  Therefore, in response to seeing huge crowd snapping the same picture, I have found myself deliberately distancing myself for my photo, patting myself on the back for not following the crowd.  But I have also worked hard to recreate photos that I had seen elsewhere.  Clearly a personal experience is important for me, but there also is some aspect to a personal tourist experience that requires that I do certain things the same as everyone else.

So are these sometimes annoying habits of photographers a desire to create personal experiences at tourist destinations?

Are tourists actually creating personal experiences by snapping selfies and recreating the photos they saw in their guidebooks?

I suppose that depends on your definition of personal.  Does personal mean doing it personally?  Does it mean inserting yourself into a location/experience?  Does it mean achieving at least the appearance of something original?  Does it mean all of these things?

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Huronia Museum and Ouendat (Wendat) Village

Visited the Huronia Museum and Ouendat Village this weekend with my family, and we loved it.

The museum itself was a typical small museum, with exhibits on the history of the area, focussing on some of the marine disasters and the early settlers of the region, but the highlight of the museum is the reconstructed Wendat village

Reconstructed Wendat village palisade with 3 sisters growing outside

Reconstructed Wendat village palisade with 3 sisters growing outside

The village consists of a European style palisade, with a field of 3 Sisters grown in clusters outside.  Inside, there is a tobacco field, pole stacks, drying racks, a sweat lodge, a longhouse, storage pots, gourds, stretched furs, tree trunk mortar and pestles, games, canoes, and things I’ve completely forgotten.

3 Sisters (corn, squash, beans) growing outside the village

3 Sisters (corn, squash, beans) growing outside the village

Masks outside the palisade

Masks outside the palisade

It was the most effective display of Iroquois lifestyle I have ever seen!

Stretched skins

Stretched skins

Inside the village

Inside the village

Temporary work shelters

Temporary work shelters

Drying skins

Drying skins

Gourds and pots outside the shaman's lodge

Gourds and pots outside the shaman’s lodge

Gourds

Gourds

Inside the longhouse

Inside the longhouse

Mortar and pestles

Mortar and pestles

Sleeping benches along the longhouse walls

Sleeping benches along the longhouse walls

Stacks of poles for later use

Stacks of poles for later use

It wasn’t just me though, my husband and kids loved it, and said they had never learned so much from a museum.

Why was it so educational, why did it work so much better than display cases?

Obviously, the ability to walk through the longhouse really brought home how tall they were in particular.  The context of a village also prioritized details of daily life, which speaks to visitors more than broad details of relationships between groups, which tends to be the focus of most museums.

Longhouses are tall, not just long!

Longhouses are tall, not just long!

Using a mortar and pestle

Using a mortar and pestle

Sweat lodge

Sweat lodge

For me, the details that stuck out were how high the longhouses were, and how the sheets of bark were overlapped to make the walls of the structures.

 

After all that, all I have to say is:

Visit the Huronia Museum!

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Post holes, walls, and an Ojibwe medicine lodge

Early 20th C medicine lodge (People of the Lakes, page 117)

Early 20th C medicine lodge (People of the Lakes, page 117)

I was reading People of the Lakes by Time-Life about the Ojibwa and I saw this amazing photo of people using a medicine lodge from the early 20th century.  What struck me about this photo was the fact that the lodge is completely uncovered.

I’m not even sure what else to say.  The archaeologist in me is rather stunned.

How would we ever have been able to identify this cornerstone feature of this space archaeologically?  When you find postholes arranged around a space, you assume that they were there to support walls.  The fact that there were no walls in this case just rocks to the core all of the assumptions we make concerning the role of posts.

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Reverse archaeology for DoA!

Reverse archaeology for DoA!

I posted about my day at the Markham Museum for “Day of Archaeology 2015” and my post is now live!

For more, read the post at the Day of Archaeology website!

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Pompeii vs ROMpeii Markets

One of the things I loved seeing at Pompeii were the shopfronts.  I loved seeing the counters, and imagining people standing around waiting for their food, negotiating, gossiping, and enjoying themselves.  I took countless photos of these shopfronts, completely enchanted by the feelings they evoked.

Bottega at Pompeii with serving jars and an oven

Bottega at Pompeii with serving jars and an oven

Tourists crowded around a bottega, Pompeii

Tourists crowded around a bottega, Pompeii

It was really nice then to visit the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Pompeii exhibit (#ROMpeii) and see a reconstructed market stall.  The part I liked the best were the amphorae set into the counters that visitors could try to lift to see how heavy they were.  (Spoiler alert: very heavy!)

Reconstructed Pompeii market, Royal Ontario Museum

Reconstructed Pompeii market, Royal Ontario Museum

I really enjoyed seeing the reconstructed market, and it helped to bring life to my memories of the Pompeii streets I walked along in the fall.

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Eglinton Park

 

The first park in my ongoing series of the Toronto Parks Project is Eglinton Park, more officially known as Tommy Flynn Park.  This park is tucked away behind the North Toronto Community Centre, and may be better known for the hopping public (free) outdoor pool associated with the community centre.  The park is behind the centre, and behind the arena located there as well, but has recently been redone, and was sure heaving with children on a hot Monday afternoon in July.

Tommy Flynn Playground, Toronto

The playground consists of a large (very large!) play structure, a smaller play structure, a play house, some swings, a small sand pit, and some monkey bars.  During the summer, there is also a staffed wading pool to cool off in, though there is no splash pad.  The surface of the park is the weird spongy flooring that is so popular in parks today, and there are some nice benches around the perimeter.

So far, so normal.

Large rock built into the play structure at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Large rock built into the play structure at Eglinton Park, Toronto

This park is far from normal though.  The large play structure has been styled to look ‘natural’, which means that steps and ladders have been made to look like wood and trees. There are several large rocks built into the spongy flooring.  One of them is even right up against the play structure with an opening to allow kids to climb right up onto the rock.

Large rock and climbing wall at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Large rock and climbing wall at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Log climbing wall at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Log climbing wall at Eglinton Park, Toronto

This is not normal.

This climbing structure encourages kids to climb high and to climb without a safety fence.  Some parents might be unhappy about this, but I love it.  My kids are climbers, and if there isn’t anything there to allow it, they end up climbing weird things they shouldn’t.  This park provides them with everything they need to really take risks, while still staying over the ‘safety flooring’ that feels so weird to walk on.

Hollow 'log' at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Hollow ‘log’ at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Not only are there large rocks, there is a HUGE ‘log’ wall for them to climb, and a cute hollow ‘log’.  There is even a hanging bridge through which it is actually possible to fall!  The logs on it are a big step apart, and the fence lining the sides is non existent.  This makes it scary and challenging and awesome!  My 5 year old commented again and again how things were made of wood, and she said that was definitely her favourite thing about the park.  Of course, the structure is all metal and plastic, but the styling is good enough to fool a small child!

Rope bridge with gaps between slats, Eglinton Park Toronto

Rope bridge with gaps between slats, Eglinton Park Toronto

Wooden styling at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Wooden styling at Eglinton Park, Toronto

There are ample swings, 2 baby swings, 3 adult swings, and a special needs swing.  The monkey bars come in three flavours, normal, swinging, and… weird.  The play house is… house-y, and the small play structure is average.

On the downside, the sand pit is not huge.  There also isn’t an enormous amount of shade. There are trees around the outside, but they don’t tend to fall on the benches during the afternoon, meaning that most of them sit empty while families crowd onto the grass under the trees.  The centre of the playground is in full sun, and I find that the strange spongy flooring reflects the heat, making it a very hot playground.

Wading pool at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Wading pool at Eglinton Park, Toronto

Of course you can always cool off in the wading pool!

Executive Summary

5yo says: I like how it’s made of wood!

2yo says: I got wet!

Mom says: Lots of challenges and risk taking, too much sun and heat.

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Toronto Parks Project

This summer, I have conceived a project whereby the sproglets and I visit new parks around the city of Toronto and then review them. I thought about starting a new blog for these reviews, but realized that they would fit fairly well into this blog, so over the next few weeks I will be starting a not-at-all regular blog series about Toronto parks.

These reviews will be really biased, highly personal, and very individualized. They will be based on my preferences and the way my children use the space. I will be asking my 5 and 2-year old to review the parks too, telling me what they liked and what they didn’t like, and will share their sure-to-be-fascinating insights!  However, I hope they provide some help to people looking to spend some time exploring all that Toronto has to offer in its parks!

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#ROMpeii Exhibit

Tourists taking photos of the casts at Pompeii

Tourists taking photos of the casts at Pompeii

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the display of human remains over the past year. I’ve written a few blog posts about it, and I’ve seen my views develop and change.

Tourists taking photos of the casts at Pompeii

Tourists taking photos of the casts at Pompeii

Visiting the ROM’s new Pompeii exhibit, #ROMpeii, gives me even more to think about. At Pompeii itself, I was first really upset by the way tourists seemed to not even be looking at the plaster casts of the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. But then I realized that sometimes people need the distance that a camera provides to process horrifying things.  Similarly, some people are very conflicted about photography, selfies, and ‘disrespectful‘ behaviour at difficult heritage sites such as Auschwitz.

Discussions in the heritage community about the display of human remains can be complicated.  Exhibits need to weigh sensitivity and respect, with learning and knowledge, as well as keeping context on what happened and why.  Exhibits try to be sensational to draw attention, without being sensationalist and disrespectful.  It is a delicate, fuzzy line to walk.

Plaster cast of a dog from Pompeii, Royal Ontario Museum

Plaster cast of a dog from Pompeii, Royal Ontario Museum

The #ROMpeii exhibit, in my opinion, is walking that line quite tightly.  They are displaying plaster casts of victims, and some might argue that they have less context provided at the site of Pompeii, but that ignores the extensive description and explanation present in the exhibit.  Visitors to the exhibit walk slowly and purposefully through the space.  They are reading displays, contemplating the casts, and taking it seriously.  People are also taking photos.  But somehow I get the feeling that visitors are not simply experiencing the exhibit through their camera lens.

People visiting plaster casts from Pompeii, Royal Ontario Museum

People visiting plaster casts from Pompeii, Royal Ontario Museum

What’s the difference then?

Obviously the spaces at Pompeii and #ROMpeii are different, but both are excellent examples of thought-out, context-heavy exhibits that give visitors a chance to experience a past way of life and contemplate a horrifying disaster.  Is it the fact that the #ROMpeii exhibit has a surcharge associated with it on top of usual museum entrance fees?  Does this ensure that people take their time to ensure they gain the most from their visit?  It’s not like a visit to Pompeii is cheap though.  You need to get there, then pay entrance, you need someplace to stay in Italy, and everything associated with it.

Maybe the difference is scale.  The plaster casts are a tiny part of a visit to Pompeii.  People are trying to get the most from their experience, which means covering as much ground as possible.  Whereas in a museum, getting the most from your experience means going slowly and looking everywhere.

Should that mean that the casts should only be displayed in a museum then?  When people will take the time to go slowly and be respectful?

What does that even mean?  Be respectful?

Respecting the residents of Pompeii might mean standing and contemplating the plaster casts in silence, but it might also mean walking their streets and marvelling at how easy it is to imagine living there.  Maybe it means seeing the volcano in the skyline every time you look up, just as they would have.

The juxtaposition of the practical daily life that you can’t help but see as you walk the streets of Pompeii with the evocative reminders of the disaster that befell the residents is the most powerful thing that stuck with me after my visit.  Removing the plaster casts from the site and relegating them to a museum where they would be “respected” would remove that, sterilizing a visit to the city.

That isn’t ‘respectful’.

Forcing people to behave in a proscribed way isn’t respectful either.

What do you think?

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Respect and Remembrance

Yet another quick link to the difficult subject of respect and “dark tourism”.  This article discusses a personal reaction to seeing selfie sticks at Auschwitz.  The author had a similar reaction to my own on seeing tourists at Pompeii experience the plaster casts purely through their camera lens, as I wrote here.  Both of us were angered by what we interpreted as a lack of respect for the people killed, but slowly came to reassess our assumptions.

In the case of Auschwitz, the author points out that soon there will be no survivors of the Holocaust left, and people will only be able to learn about it from textbooks.  Does this mean that people marking their presence at these sites gains more meaning as survivors slowly disappear?  What does this mean for archaeological remembrance?  There are no survivors of the Vesuvius eruption – they are lost to time.

Really, the problem boils down to intentions.  We as heritage specialists philosophically understand that people learn and process difficult events and emotions in different ways.  The idea that people need to mark difficult events in our past in different ways makes sense, and we are open to that.  But as some of the specialists in the previous article point out that they are sceptical that people visiting Auschwitz in order to document the story and bear witness.

Does it matter what people’s intentions are?

Do we police behaviour based on intentions?

Are selfies always disrespectful?  Or are they ok if the subjects are processing the events?  What sort of timeline do we expect?  What if 15 years later, the selfie subject looks back and remembers their experience and has an emotional reaction to their visit, even if at the time it had no impact?

Does that make it ok?

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