Serial public art around the world

Public art exhibitions featuring a common sculpture that is multiplied and then embellished by various artists have been popping up in cities worldwide since 1998. Artistic director Walter Knapp first came up with the idea and convinced artists to dot Zurich, Switzerland with a collection of artfully-decorated lions. Within a year, Chicago businessman Peter Hanig had taken the idea and ran with it, using life-sized cows for an exhibition titled CowParade that is still circling the world today.

This idea of serial public art spread like wildfire into over 70 cities across the United States and many other locations worldwide. Tourism administrations seem to think the installations draw a crowd, while the exhibitions typically end in pieces being auctioned off to charity. It’s a win-win for all–unless, of course, you think the artworks are an eyesore.

From mermaids to gorillas, click through the gallery below to see a sampling of serial public art from around the world.

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Trade Mocked

You were a cheerleader, you dated a cheerleader, or you hated the cheerleaders. As I recall, that’s how high school worked.

Thanks to travel PR, that same primeval paradigm lives on long after graduation. That miniskirts-shouting-slogans thing still works, whether you’re a used car salesman, Miley Cyrus on VH1 or the tourist board of a small Balkan nation. When it comes to selling your destination in today’s busy world of busy people, a country’s name just isn’t enough–just like school spirit, you need colors, a pep band, a mascot, a brand and most important–a cheer.

It’s tragic but true: tourist boards don’t trust their country’s name to inspire appropriate thoughts in your brain. Toponyms are too open-ended and too untrustworthy–also, way too obvious. For example, what’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say . . . Monte Carlo? How about Australia? The Bahamas? Kuwait? The Gambia?

Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not enough. Tourist boards want you to choose their destination over all others, then allocate all of your vacation days to them and then come spend your money on very specific things–like miniature golf by the sea or hot air balloon rides across the prairie. In short, they want your school spirit so much they’re churning out cheers to fill up all the Swiss cheese holes in your mental map of the world.

Like a good cheer, a good destination slogan is simple and so memorable it sticks in your head like two-sided tape. Sex sells, but then so does love: “Virginia is for Lovers”, Hungary offers visitors “A Love for Life”, Albania promises “A New Mediterranean Love”, while the highlighted “I feel Slovenia” spells out sweetly “I Feel Love”. Meanwhile, Bosnia & Herzegovina call themselves “the Heart Shaped Land” and Denmark’s logo is a red heart with a white cross. Colombia and Dubai have red hearts in their logo. Everybody else uses sunshine.
There is a direct correlation between sunshine deprivation and travelers with disposable income–sunny places sell, which is why Maldives is “the Sunny Side of Life”, Sicily says “Everything else is in the shade”, Ethiopia quizzically boasts “13 Months of Sunshine”, Portugal is “Europe’s West Coast”, and Spain used to be “Everything Under the Sun”. Spain was also the first country ever to have a logo-the splashy red sun painted by Joan Miró in 1983. Some destination logos work–like the black and red “I LOVE NY” design of Milton Glaser that’s been around ever since the 70s. Others fail to grasp the spirit of a place (cough, Italia). Reducing one’s country to a crazy font and some cheesy clip art often detracts from that country’s best assets. Like nature.

When chasing the crunchy yuppie granola suburbanite dollar on vacation, you’ve gotta roll out Nature and promise them the kind of purity that lacks from their daily life. British Virgin Islands claims “Nature’s Little Secrets” while Belize counterclaims with “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret”. Switzerland urges us to “Get Natural”, Poland is “The Natural Choice”, Iceland is “Pure, Natural, Unspoiled”, Ecuador is Life in a Pure State, “Pure Michigan” is just as pure, Costa Rica is “No Artificial Ingredients”, and like a clothing tag that makes you feel good, New Zealand is simply “100% Pure”. New Zealand also wants us to believe that they’re the “youngest country on earth” but that’s pushing it. The youngest country on earth is actually Kosovo (Born February 2008)–so young they’re still working on their slogan.

And there’s a tough one–how do you sell a country that’s just poking its head out from under the covers of war and bloodshed? Kosovo’s big bad next-door neighbor Serbia asks us frankly to “Take a New Look at Your Old Neighbor”; “It’s Beautiful–It’s Pakistan” steers clear of the conflict, Colombia owns up to its knack for kidnapping by insisting, “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”, and Vietnam nudges our memories away from the past and towards “The Hidden Charm” of today.

Our nostalgia for simpler, better, pre-tourist times invokes our most romantic notions about travel: Croatia is “The Mediterranean as it Once Was”, Tahiti consists of “Islands the Way they Used to Be”, and Bangladesh employs a kind of reverse psychology to insist we “Come to Bangladesh, Before the Tourists.” Such slogans of unaffectedness mirror the push for national validation by tourism, where actual authenticity is second to perceived authenticity, hence Malaysia is “Truly Asia”, Zambia is “The Real Africa”, and the Rocky Mountain States make up “The Real America”. Greece is “The True Experience” and Morocco is “Travel For Real”. Everybody wants to be legit.
country logos
Countries without the certified organic label try merely to stupefy us: Israel “Wonders”, Germany is “Simply Inspiring”, Chile is “Always Surprising”, Estonia is “Positively Surprising”, “Amazing Thailand” amazes, and Dominica claims to “Defy the Everyday”. To that same surprising end, Latin America loves trademarking their exclamation points (see ¡Viva Cuba!, Brazil’s one-word essay “Sensational!” and El Salvador’s “Impressive!”)

Where punctuated enthusiasm falls short, countries might confront the traveler with a challenge or a dare. Jamaica projects the burden of proof on its tourists by claiming “Once You Go You Know”, Peru asks that we “Live the Legend”, Canada insists we “Keep Exploring”, South Africa answers your every question with a smiley “It’s Possible”. Meanwhile, Greenland sets an impossibly high bar with “The Greatest Experience”.

Working the totality of a country’s experience into a good slogan is a challenge that often leads to open-ended grandstanding: “It’s Got to be Austria” might be the answer to any question (and sounds better when spoken with an Austrian accent). Next-door Slovakia is the “Little Big Country”, insisting that size is second to experience. Philippines offers “More than the Usual” and small, self-deprecating Andorra confesses, “There’s Just So Much More” (I think what they meant to say is, “come back please”). Really big numbers carries the thought even further: Papua New Guinea is made up of “A Million Different Journeys”; Ireland brightens with “100,000 Welcomes”.

When all else fails, aim for easy alliteration, as in “Enjoy England“, “Incredible India“, “Mystical Myanmar”, and the “Breathtaking Beauty” of Montenegro. (For more on the correlation between simplistic phrases and high mental retention, See Black Eyed Peas-Lyrics).

The point of all this is that today, the internet is our atlas and Google is our guidebook. It’s how we travel, how we think about travel and how we plan our travel. Punch in a country like Tunisia and you’re greeted with a dreamy curly-cue phrase like “Jewel of the Mediterranean”–Type in next-door neighbor Algeria and you get a glaring State Department warning saying “Keep Away.” In a scramble for those top ten search results, destinations compete with a sea of digital ideas that pre-define their tourist appeal. It’s why we’ll never find that page proclaiming Iran “The Land of Civilized and Friendly People” but why a simple “Dubai” turns up Dubai Tourism in first place, along with their moniker “Nowhere Like Dubai” (which should win some kind of truth in advertising prize.)

That aggressive, American-style marketing has taken over the billion-dollar travel industry is obvious. Nobody’s crying over the fact that we sell destinations like breakfast cereal–that countries need a bigger and brighter box with a promised prize inside in order to lull unassuming tourist shoppers into stopping, pulling it off the shelf, reading the back and eventually sticking it in their cart. I guess the sad part is how the whole gregarious exercise limits travel and the very meaning of travel. By boiling down a country into some bland reduction sauce of a slogan, we cancel out the diversity of experience and place, trade wanderlust for jingoism, and turn our hopeful worldview into a kind of commercial ADHD in which we suddenly crave the Jersey Shore like a kid craves a Happy Meal.

Nobody’s ever asked me to join their tourist board focus group, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own opinions and tastes. For instance, my daily reality is a stereo cityscape of car alarms and jackhammers. Any country that simply placed the word “Quiet” or “Peaceful” in lower-case Times New Roman, 24-point font white type in the upper right hand corner of a double-truncated landscape spread–well, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Better yet–how about a one-minute TV commercial of total silence. (“Oh, wow honey, look!–that’s where I wanna go.”)

This is probably why I’ve never been in a focus group. For all the focus on authenticity and reality, I find most tourism slogans lacking in both. For the most part, they are limiting and unoriginal, easily dropped into any of the above categories. Even worse, today’s slogans challenge actual truths gained through travel experience. One day spent in any place offers a lifetime of material for long-lasting personal travel slogans. My own favorites include Russia (“Still Cold”), Turkey (“Not Really Europe At All”), England (“Drizzles Often”), Orlando (“Cheesy as Hell”), and Ireland (“Freakin’ Expensive”).

As a writer, I must argue against the cheerleaders and in favor of words–the more words we attach to a destination the better the sell. I think it’s safe to assume that Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia has done more for Argentina tourism than any of their own slogans. Similarly, Jack London gives props to Alaska, Mark Twain mystifies us with the Mississippi, and Rudyard Kipling keeps sending people to India. All four authors wrote about love, nature, and sunshine. They wrote long books filled with enthusiasm and punctuated with exclamation marks. They made us fall in love and yearn for places we never saw or knew.

No matter how many millions get spent on tourist slogans, today’s trademarked PR phraseology has generally failed to hit the mark. Perhaps they’ll make us rethink a place–reconsider a country we’d somehow looked over, but can a two or three word slogan ever touch us in that tender way, make us save up all our money, pack our bags and run away?

I don’t think so.

Dubai no longer owns the top floor of their tallest building

The Burj KhalifaDue to the new vertical regulations passed last week, it has been determined that Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, has at least one floor higher than the country’s vertical boundaries.

The building stands at approximately 2,625 feet. Last week’s international conference determined that vertical boundaries for any given nation should end at 790 meters, or about 2,592 feet. The new regulation was intended to allow duty free shopping on all flights — including smaller, private planes — but it looks as though the Burj Khalifa may have been an oversight.

Representatives from Dubai have yet to make an official comment or to disclose whether this regulation will affect just one or two levels of the Burj Khalifa. There is a rumor that they have begun talks to open a duty free shop right in their top-floor observation deck.

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant is sent to prison for sexy texting

Recently someone said to me, “I travel on international flights all the time to visit family and I’ve noticed that the women who work for the airlines are getting older. Is this okay?”

Is this okay? Is this okay! I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or throw whatever was in my hand at the time. Instead I took a deep breath and replied, “Of course it’s okay! Women age. So do passengers.”

I mean really!

After it hit me that the man was probably a foreigner and not used to the ways of airlines in the U.S., I added, “I plan on being one of those flight attendants who use the beverage cart as a walker. Because in the United States flight attendants are allowed to age. We’re also allowed to gain weight, get married, and have children.”

Crazy, I know!

Wanna know what else flight attendants are allowed to do? Send sexy text messages. It’s true! Not that I’m a sexy text-er or anything, but if I wanted to send a sexy text I could, and I could do so without worrying about getting sent to prison for three months. Ya see here in the good ole US of A life is pretty darn nice. Especially if you’re a flight attendant.

What in the world am I talking about? In case you haven’t heard, an Emirates flight attendant and supervisor were recently sent to prison for three months for sending sexy text messages to each other. MSNBC reported that “the pair were convicted of ‘coercion to commit sin’ over messages and were initially sentenced to six months in jail”

Gulp.

MSNBC also reported that there is grave concern about the rapid growing population of foreigners in the deeply conservative area which may be threatening their social and religious identity.

So how did the sexy texts even come to light? The husband of the flight attendant. He’s been battling her for a divorce since 2007. I guess it only makes sense he would turn her in so she could be sent to jail.

Nice, eh?

Flight attendants aren’t the only ones getting thrown into the slammer for sexually related activity. “a British pair caught kissing in public in Dubai is appealing a month-long jail sentence handed down after an Emirati mother complained her child had seen their indiscretion,” Cynthia Johnston, the MSNBC correspondent covering the case, wrote in the article Airline workers face 3 months in jail over texts. Then she goes on to discuss three more cases involving British couples either going to prison or narrowly escaping prison for similar actions.

When I mentioned this story to Bob, the singing pilot, he asked, “What is considered a sexually explicit text in that part of the world?”

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not so sure I even want to know.

Photos courtesy of Telstar Logistics and Jrodmanjr

British couple in Dubai faces jail time for kissing

Dubai Creek at nightPDAs (Public Displays of Affection) can make some people a little uncomfortable, but in Dubai, they’ll send you to jail.

Until recently, Dubai was booming. Tourism and business travel were growing at at an exponential rate, and Dubai became a household name-destination seemingly overnight. One of the dangers of a boom like this is that some new visitors think every place has the same rules, and that what’s okay in their own country will be okay in any country. Not so — and if you’re the offender they decide to make an example of, you’re screwed.

The incident in question actually took place last November; a British expat and a female friend were arrested for kissing and “intimate touching,” as well as consuming alcohol, in public. According to Reuters, “the case is the third time in under two years in which Britons have hit the headlines by falling foul of decency laws in Dubai.” Dubai attempted to send the couple to jail for a month and subsequently deport them.

This Sunday, a lawyer for the pair appealed by going whole-hog and saying there wasn’t any kissing. “There was no lip kissing. It was just a normal greeting that is not considered offensive,” lawyer Khalaf al-Hosani told the court, adding that the two in question are “just friends.”

The couple is currently free on bail and have paid their $272 fine for illegal alcohol consumption. The verdict deciding whether or not they’ll go to jail is expected April 4.

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