Notebook on Cities and Culture (podcasts)
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.

Colin Marshall sits down in London's West End with Melvyn Bragg, Lord Bragg of Wigton, host of Sky Arts 1's The South Bank Show and BBC Radio 4's In Our Time as well as the writer of many works of fiction and nonfiction including, most recently, The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible and his latest novel Grace and MaryThey discuss when he began seeing culture as a whole, unstratified entity; what he learned in his working-class northern upbringing;  his brief days with his own pop group; his first getting an arts program on BB2 "almost by accident," and the opportunities he realized it gave him to showcase a "rainbow" of arts, rather than a "pyramid" with opera, no matter how lousy, ever at the top; when he began as a writer at Oxford, the institution that gave him his first "proper free time"; his enjoyment of not just the act but the discipline of putting pen to paper; how he gives In Our Time an edge by doing it live, with a minimum of beforehand interaction with his invited experts on the topic of the week; how his writing feeds ideas into his radio work; why, despite losing belief in "the finer points of Christianity," he felt nonetheless compelled to write a study of the importance of the King James Bible; his love of television and radio as "scatter media," offering an education at the push of a button; how he realized culture seemed to have displaced class as a means of identification; the benefits of not worrying about what you personally like or dislike, believe in or don't believe in, but the "why" of it, understanding making for a much more interesting experience than condemnation; what he found in the stratified London in which he first arrived in the early 1960s making thirteen pounds a week; how, subsequently, "people became the culture" there; and how London, in its current cultural moment, retains its status as "quite a city."

Direct download: NCC_S4E32_Melvyn_Bragg.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:42pm UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Hackney, London with Iain Sinclair, author of numerous books, all rooted in London and all operating across the spectrum of fiction to nonfiction, including DownriverLights Out for the TerritoryLondon Orbital, and most recently American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light. They discuss the momentarily impossible-to-define issue of Hackney's identity; the need to walk the neighborhood to know it — but to then do it your whole life; the re-making of the landscape in Hackney as elsewhere in London; the surprisingly functional London Overground's only partial integration into the city's transport consciousness; the way commemorative plaques "fix history," which forces you to find the reality for yourself; the operation of London hierarchies as he witnessed it in his book-dealing days, and how he then came to see uniformity set in; why students today never seem to get all the way through his books, drawing instead "a series of cultural cartoons" from excerpts and immediately applying them to their own project; why he's never had the sense of writing about London, per se, a subject to which he'd never expected the public to connect; the way the city's irrationality tends to drive those who write about into the realms of fiction; the criticism he takes for including "too may references" in his books, and his readers' freedom to pursue those references or not; the involved pub conversation that ensued when a Frenchman walked up to him and asked, "Is this London?"; what might have counted as the center of London in the seventies, and what might now; what results from asking, "What is this the center of?"; Geoff Dyer's years on Effra Road, and the associations its very name brings to mind; how he knows when one of his books  (or the latest continuation of his "one big book" of a career) has come to an end; taking on another country in American Smoke, and discovering the disappointing London in the mind of the Beats; and his notion the he has only ever "articulated aspects of place," still the most robust nexus of interests and influences available.

Direct download: NCC_S4E31_Iain_Sinclair.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:00am UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Winchester, England with PD Smith, author of books on science, literature, superweapons, and, most recently, City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age. They discuss whether London has all the elements of the archetypally ideal city; the essential quality of "a place where you meet strangers"; the need to avoid writing only about buildings; the recent moment when half the world's population found itself living in cities; the factors that have made city life more possible today than ever before; what on Earth Prince Charles talks about when he talks about architecture and urbanism; the enduring impulse to knock cities down and start them over; the un-knocked-down city as a palimpsest-like store of knowledge, perhaps with its own "latent consciousness"; Tokyo and the metaphor of city as body; whether, in experiencing cities or writing about them, to focus on one element at a time or to try to take them whole; what Germans get right about city-building; when and where Starbucks starts to seem like the most foreign place you could go; the globe-spanning "cities" of the airport, the high street, or any other non-place; what it takes to make London strange again; the detective as a quintessentially urban figure exhibiting a mastery of his sensationalistically grim, dark, troubled environment; and the challenge any interesting city issues its resident: "Figure out how to live in me."

Direct download: NCC_S4E30_PD_Smith.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:25pm UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Marseille, France, specifically in the Le Corbusier-designed Unité d'Habitation, with Jonathan Meades, writer and broadcaster on architecture, culture, food, and a variety of other subjects to do with place. In his latest film, Bunkers, Brutalism, and Bloodymindness, he looks at architectural styles once- and currently maligned. They discuss how much his residence in Marseilles has to do with his residence in the Unité d'Habitation, to which "caprice" brought him not long ago; unapologetic building versus pusillanimous building; the lack of centralized planning that afflicts France, and what kind of built environment it has brought about; what makes Marseille "no longer the city of Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey"; the phases of the Unité, from its rejection by the workers for whom Corbusier intended it onward; the larger reaction to 20th-century social housing in France and Britain, and what it means that those countries have no taste for the sublime; which European borders he crosses and most immediately notices that "someone cares" about the buildings; what you miss by never having seen Portsmouth's Tricorn Centre, which rose in a rebuilt city in a time when "new meant better"; how he finds no place boring, an attitude for which he may have received inadvertent training traveling through England with his salesman father; places as gardens of forking paths, leading to all manner of other things; real places, and the fiction places you by definition invent when you try to describe them; the "persona completely apart" he uses to contrast against the variety of places on display in his films; his ideal of satirizing everything; what went into his upcoming book An Encyclopedia of Myself, beginning with the "lie" of its title; whether he has ever felt fascinated by American places; what the French consider too "difficult" about his un-methodical work; and what hope we should hold out for a future Jonathan Meades film on Buenos Aires.

Direct download: NCC_S4E26_Jonathan_Meades.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:19pm UTC

Colin Marshall stands around Hackney, London's "Tech City" with urban designer Euan Mills. They discuss how to tip in a London bar and how to cross a London street; when he realized he has become an urban designer, and what that entails; the hugeness and non-understandability of the spread-out, car-dependent, crime-fearing São Paulo, where he grew up hating cities; the development of his interest in people, not buildings, and cities as networks of people; how he came to London, a city of paradoxes that still gives him the sense that anything exciting that happens will happen there; what, exactly, makes a "high street"; how zoning differences between the U.S. and the U.K. affect neighborhoods, and the sorts of changes he's seen in London's in the 21st century; This Isn't F***ing Dalston, and what it told him about the edges of neighborhoods; how long a place takes to gentrify, and how it then matures, coming to embody all its eras at once; what bars, and the price of a pint of Guinness, tell you about a neighborhood; how everybody likes "authenticity" and nobody likes to feel like a target market; the test of a business you feel uncomfortable entering; what it means then the charity shops, 99p stores, and betting offices start showing up; the change in places like the growth in our hair, so show we don't notice it; the necessity of combining local experience with placemaking expertise; São Paulo as a repeat of  London in the 1960s, and the bad reputation top-down planning developed in that era; what to look for in London, like the intentions of a place or its people; the importance of thinking about who owns the land; and what effect the London weather might have on all this.

Direct download: NCC_S4E23_Euan_Mills.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:46pm UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo with Dan Kuramoto, founding member of the band Hiroshima who have now played for 40 years and recently released their 19th album, J-Town Beat. They discuss what he sees around him in the Little Tokyo in transition today as opposed to the one he grew up in 40 years ago; what it means to play "Los Angeles music" in this multi-ethnic city; how the band's koto player June Kuramoto learned her classical instrument while growing up in a Los Angeles black ghetto; the question of whether you can build a modern, western band around the koto, which Hiroshima has always tried to answer; how musical traditions with deeper roots cooperate better together; making their musical mixtures work as, in microcosm, making America work; making the still mutable Los Angeles work as, in microcosm, making America work; his time as an Asian-American Studies department chair at CSU Long Beach, and what he found out about Japanese-Americans there; music as a "way of healing" from the self-hate he once took from the media; his lunch with Ridley Scott and Hans Zimmer; how it felt to become part of a group considered "the bad guys" again in the 1980s, just as Hiroshima really took off; the band's first trip to Japan, and the visceral feelings it brought about; the universality of craft as an integral part of Japanese identity; the difficulties companies have had categorizing Hiroshima, and the  special problems of the "smooth jazz" label; his lack of desire to play music for secretaries who just need their afternoons to pass more quickly; how they honed their chops in the Los Angeles black communities, and how black radio gave them their first big push; and the composition and meaning of the striking cover of their second album, Odori.

Direct download: NCC_S4E22_Dan_Kuramoto.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:32am UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Copenhagen's Frederiksberg with Melanie Haynes, author of the blog Dejlige Days. They discuss the Danish national virtue of hygge (and the also important quality of dejlige); how she came to leave her native England for Denmark; the Copenhagen system of smiley-face food sanitation ratings; the Danish habit of both asking "Why are you here in my country?" and personally receiving her praise for the country; why she writes about festivals, eating, design, and "the relaxed life"; how the British operate in fifth gear at all times, and the Danish in third; her popular post on "becoming Danish," and Denmark's concept of immigration; the necessity to learn Danish so as to avoid perpetually apologizing all the time for your non-Danishness; her troubled period in Berlin, a city with which she could never really engage; how Danish society frowns on ambition versus how British society does; scarves and the way Danish women wear them; what pregnancy taught her about Danish life; the relative perception of taxes, and how her work in government public relations sheds light on it; how she intends to help her young son become a citizen of the world; what she wished she'd known about Denmark before coming; and her immediate feeling that she "should've always been here."

Direct download: NCC_S4E21_Melanie_Haynes.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:58pm UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Copenhagen's Vesterbro with Per Šmidl, author of the bestseller Chop Suey, the essay Victim of Welfare, and the new novel Wagon 537 Christiania. They discuss the surprise foreigners, and especially Americans, feel upon discovering that a self-governing commune like Christiana has existed for over forty years in the middle of Copenhagen; how Christiana began as "a spiritual venture" and became "the last and greatest attempt Western man made to rid himself of the shackles of capitalism"; the criticism Danish society allows, but the price you must pay if you make it; how his speaking out resulted in his "confinement" to unpublishability; normal society as a corset, and the way life in a place like Christiana releases it; what it means when the protagonist of Wagon 357 Christiana discovers he can't urinate; the question of whether one moves into Christiana because of an awareness of wanting to live differently, or simply because of a diffused feeling of something having gone wrong; the difference between short- and long-term Christianites, and the results they get from their respective stints there; how Henry Miller revealed to him "the importance of personal liberation"; how he wrote Chop Suey while keeping his contact with the Danish state to a minimum, and the Czech exile he moved into after he completed it; the societal "lie" he felt he had to expose by writing Victim of Welfare; the state as an eternal parent who considerers unacceptable the individual's desire to live; how Christiana could possibly have survived as long as it has; what his time outside the Danish state taught him; and the importance of living a live between countries.

Direct download: NCC_S4E20_Per_Smidl.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:43am UTC

Colin Marshall sits down in Copenhagen's Nørrebro with Louise Sand (and her baby daughter Alice), who teaches the Danish language on the Copenhagencast. They discuss why the Danes speak English so well, yet still feel shy about speaking it; her experience teaching Danish to classrooms of foreigners; her original studies to become a Spanish teacher; her inspirational friendship with Japanese-teaching podcaster Hitomi Griswold of Japancast.net; how she learns one language after another, like a musician addicted to learning one instrument after another; the importance, and difficulty, of giving up goals like perfect fluency; how podcasting lets her approach Danish education in a "modern," less traditionally academic way; that thoroughly satisfying moment when a native speaker of a foreign language first understands you; the cultural lessons you find your way to when studying language, such as the existence of the onsdags snegle; how the Danish language enriches Danish life, especially its sense of humor; why to study subjects you love in other languages; the last twenty years you spend mastering the last ten percent of a language; the surprising directness of Danish in contrast with other languages, and the elements of life evoked by its idiomatic expressions; what she's learned watching her young children acquire language; how flash cards "increase the storage space in your brain"; and the new expansion of the Danish language, as manifested in the signature expressions of a well-known traffic broadcaster.

Direct download: NCC_S4E19_Louise_Sand.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:41pm UTC

S4E18: Where Your Nails Are with Thomas E. Kennedy

Colin Marshall sits down in one of Copenhagen's many storied serving houses with Thomas E. Kennedy, author of the "Copenhagen Quartet" of novels In the Company of AngelsKerrigan in Copenhagen: A Love StoryFalling Sideways, and the forthcoming Beneath the Neon Egg. They discuss whether one can truly know Copenhagen without knowing its serving houses; the drinking guide from which Kerrigan in Copenhagen takes its "experimental" form; his mission not just to know all of the city's serving houses, but to incorporate as much of its culture as possible into his books and to capture the "light of the four seasons" which first captivated him in 1972; how he came to live in Copenhagen, and the breakthrough as a fiction writer the act of leaving his native America brought about; how he overcame his fear of writing Danish characters; what happens after the first toast at a Danish dinner party; how he managed to take notes for the corporate satire Falling Sideways during dreaded office meetings; what it means that Danes tend to greet everyone in a room in rank order; his immersion into the Danish lifestyle, and to what extend the much-touted Danish happiness comes out of reduced expectations; whether he counts as an American, mid-Atlantic, Danish, Irish-American, or American European writer; how one society's clichés, such as the Danish expression "to hang your pictures where your nails are," offer bursts of insight to another; the American tendency to cling to differences and identity; the noir Beneath the Neon Egg, which explores Copenhagen's underbelly of violence, crime, drugs, sex clubs, and its famous commune Christiana; how his conversion into a full-time novelist fits in with his habit of "living life on fortune" (and why he may have written more with a day job); how Danes react to his depictions of them; and what his life in Denmark has taught him about the importance of taxes. 

Direct download: NCC_S4E18_Thomas_E_Kennedy.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:24pm UTC