Friday, February 26, 2010

Dont Give Up On Us Baby

Francis Street, Dublin

Just when you thought it was unsinkable...

A note to my loyal friends, dear followers, and typographical rubber-neckers: for various and sundry reasons -- a frustrating account hack elsewhere, a winter that has withered the synapses of my brain, a distressing lack of further orange-colored pictures -- I will be taking some time off from all things internet-related. Despite my extroverted ambitions, it's become clear that I need time and space to write and make stuff the lonely, old-fashioned way: slowly. Glacially. Stupidly. In notebooks, with pen and ink and art supplies, a roll of Scotch tape and a bottle of scotch beside me.

No need to dispatch the Carpathia -- not yet. I'm not jumping ship, I just need some time to peer out through the spyglass and listen to the messages tapping through on my inner Marconi machine. When I figure out what the message says, I'll keep you posted. My hunch is that it may be time to move from daily to weekly posts. It may just be a passing funk. But whatever the case, I hope you won't give up on us, baby. (See, I even put in that missing apostrophe -- just for all y'all.)

For those who've been checking in, thanks for reading. I'll see you on the other side of the iceberg field. Or else come join me down in Third Class. There's some stompin' and singin' going on you won't want to miss.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Tivoli car park, Francis Street, Dublin

Monday, February 22, 2010

#3: Flatiron Orange

#3, Flatiron District, NYC

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Invalidi Civili Venezia, Italy

Friday, February 19, 2010

Senso Unico

Street sign, Rome

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Know You Need Unique New York

Congress Street, Brooklyn

Generally I have nothing but good things to say about living in this city, nutty as it is, but I had one of those disheartening New York renter's weekends that made me feel otherwise.

New York City likes to work its magic on you in mysterious ways, either dishing out surges of goodwill or breaking your heart, sometimes both at the same time. You ride the F train for weeks, feeling nothing but the rattle and lurch of the train car, but you are halted unexpectedly one day by the sound of a lone a cappella voice singing a song that makes your eye halt on the page you'd been reading and makes the world slow to a crawl. Or one evening, headed out to meet some friends, you notice a teenage kid in a hoodie on the seat opposite you. He is alone, head bent down, a brown paper shopping bag between his two overstuffed Nikes and you wonder where he is going. You are unexpectedly moved to tears when you see what's written in small type on the bag's label, facing out: Pet Crematory Agency, Inc. And if that isn't enough, you exit at West 4th Street right behind the kid and his delicately held bag and notice that what you thought were pinstripes on his black oversized hoodie is in fact a single phrase written over and over again in a tiny white text: Never stop exploring. The train doors open. You step off and the doors close behind you. You will never see the kid again. For a minute you forget which exit to take. You don't know where you're going.

When the city gets you, it's usually not on any grand scale. It comes in small stabs. It's just sometimes the stabs come spaced unusually close together.

The litany of weekend woes begins simply enough: with the weather. Mostly, I can deal with weather. Raised in Chicago, I'm the sort who is content to wrap up in a few layers inside my apartment. There's a blizzard outside; it stands to reason that the apartment's heat is not going to fully do its job. But when low heat turned to no heat, something had to be done. When the fix-it guys, a real Laurel and Hardy duo, came to drain the radiators, they goofed royally and unleashed an explosion of black, boiling water all the bedroom, ruining the duvet cover, obliterating art supplies. Attempts to read, to relax, were halted by the sound of a mouse crunching cravenly on an uncooked piece of penne pasta that had fallen behind the stove. An entire case of wine, intended as a surprise gift, was intercepted and stolen from the hallway. The thieves made off with the twelve bottles of wine, but were kind enough to leave behind the empty box and mountain of packaging for me to leaf through and contemplate.

Add it all up and it's almost enough to make a mural like this about New York (full text here) feel impossibly optimistic, a too-romantic view of a city overrun with scrooges, stooges, and thieves. Memo to self: report theft of wine to Brooklyn Paper police blotter. If nothing else, I want to see this crime twisted into some overwrought, Dashiell Hammett-like prose.

But I have to remember back to almost ten years ago, to the days when living in New York City was truly an exercise in maintaining sanity. To when my default mode on my morning commute was abject fear, and when a mural like this -- hand-painted, hand-crafted, placed there by a soul who remained anonymous -- was all that got me through the day. Plus, I kinda love that this mural correctly uses the word "stanch." What can I say? I've always been a sucker for the details.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roman Holiday

Via Margutta, Rome

In Roman Holiday, the Via Margutta is where Gregory Peck's character, the expat writer Joe Bradley, lives. So if you happened to miss this bit of text on the wall whilst gawking at the dashing Mr. Peck or the alluring Audrey Hepburn as Princess Anne, you'd certainly be forgiven for the oversight.

Many of the sights in Rome have a sense of weathered permanence, and this carved sign on the Via Margutta is no exception. It was the bright blue of the text that first caught my eye, but especially charming here are the rakish tails on the R's and the severe cut of the apostrophe.

For more on the street itself, and to see what all this elegance has to do with famed clock-melter and lobster phone impresario Salvador Dali, see also #53.

Monday, February 15, 2010

#2: The Blue & the Gray

#2, Prague

Welcome back after a week of sequential anarchy that I never again hope to repeat. Excited to try something new, I was wholly unprepared for the tremendous unease of seeing 1 jump to 88, then 139, and so on throughout the week. Frame Week was a good experiment, but it has caused my order-seeking mind much calamity and chaos, and if you don't believe me, then you'll have to picture me pouring myself yet another single malt scotch, listening to Nina Simone and weeping into my hands while fending off nightmares of a world where 4 comes before 3. I've got at least two more of Ms. Simone's CDs to get through, but I'm nearly out of Laphroaig, so rather than take my chances, I'm going to seek solace in another tried-and-true method of organization. After today, numbers can go take a holiday. It's time for some serious color coding.

Remember Garanimals? That line of children's clothing that worked on the premise of coding certain articles of clothing so that a six-year-old could learn how to mix and match outfits? All you had to do was find a shirt with a gorilla tag and a pair of corduroys with a gorilla tag and voila! It didn't matter if you were colorblind. You were sure to be a well-matched, well-coordinated kid, at least until lunch time when you'd spill grape juice all over yourself. It took a lot of guesswork out of the daunting prospect of getting dressed in the morning, at least it did for me, and there was the added thrill of kind of having this totem animal that you were carrying around with you. You looked like a normal kid at the drinking fountain, but really -- unbeknownst to all but you -- you were a freaking SHARK. I miss that. Maybe it's time to start sewing some ass-kicking animal tags into my sweaters. I need a pick-me-up.

In any case, here's the plan for this week. Last Monday kicked things off nicely with a Sienese #1, so here, as promised, is this Monday's #2: a bold, cobalt number plate set against a two-tone gray background. The rest of the week will scrupulously follow the blue and gray palette, eschewing all wanton displays of ill-sequenced numbers, and let's see if my tremors don't start to abate by mid-week. You can still get your number fix on Mondays, but now I hope you'll allow me to tempt you with some other savory typographical offerings: text, alphabets, words, and signs.

Incidentally, lest you think that my Garanimals nostalgia is without cultural precedent, there is actually a Garanimals-inspired typeface -- think Zapf Dingbats, only cuter -- that you can use. You may not be able to read a whole document in it, but it might come in handy for making those clothing labels. I'm off to lionize some trousers. See all you people later.

Friday, February 12, 2010

#14: Here Be Numbers

#14, Brussels

Number hunting is far more fun when you can supplement it with a treasure map. This 14 kills two birds with one golden scroll of trompe l'oeil parchment. It's almost enough to make you wish it were September 19th. Now where's me skull and that bottle of rum?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

#4659: The Fleur-de-lis of Firenze

#4659: Florence, Italy

Another reason to be grateful for the shift in chronology here at &7 is that otherwise y'all wouldn't be casting your eyes on this beauty till the year 2022. And I'll probably be flying around in a spaceship by then, feasting on astronaut ice cream and mourning the death of print, so if it's all the same to you, I'd better give it to you now.

The stylized lilies that help frame today's number are a variation on the fleur-de-lis, the traditional symbol of Florence. Generally, in the city's coat-of-arms you'd see a red lily set against a white background, but here it's been cast into an elegant monochrome. Back in the day, Florence's coat-of-arms was a white lily set on a red background, but when the Medici family took over political power, they reversed the colors to signal the change. (The quest to hybridize a red iris started around then and still keeps many botanists busy.) When Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France, she brought the lily to Paris, which is how it became known as the fleur-de-lis, one more elegant proof of Steve Martin's claim that those French have a word for everything.

I was first made aware of the fleur-de-lis and its noble associations when I decided, at age six, to go as Joan of Arc for Halloween. My mom gave me some glittery sleeves to replicate chain mail and then painted an elegant gold fleur-de-lis onto a pillowcase, which I then slipped over my head -- clearly full of ridiculous pretensions as well as cravings for candy bars. Not much has changed. Now, of course, you can see the symbol on the helmets of the New Orleans Saints as they crush their heads together, staggering their way toward Super Bowl victory. But I still cast a loving eye back on the memory of that headstrong young girl, slashing her way through the fray with a plastic sword, looking for the last Snickers bar on the block.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#88: Shark Week for Type Geeks

#88, Rome

I'll admit it. I'm a little jealous of the Discovery Channel. Television isn't really my thing, but I have to stand back in awe of such thematic masterpieces as Shark Week. Non-stop blood-curdling shark action, seemingly endless footage of fearsome sea creatures thrashing about in the deep, and the ever-present promise of a sudden and unapologetic gore fest -- all this for seven days in a row. And what, on the other hand, do you get on a site that geeks out on typography and design? Why, you get Frame Week, of course.

Here's the deal. I don't know about you, but there are days when living in the city feels like Shark Week -- all that's missing is the ominous grinding two-note cello music of the Jaws theme song -- so I get sort of excited when I can take all of the mayhem and find some quiet, calm order to it all. If the sight of an 88 inside an octagon brings even the smallest smile to your face, then here's your moment of zen.

Those even slightly familiar with my obsessive tendencies will know it's making me all flinchy to follow up a #1 with a #88. But once these frames start lining up, it'll all make sense. It feels anarchic after a year of slavish devotion to sequential order to deviate from the number line. But here's the new challenge: to look for new visual patterns in the cluttered urban environment. New order. Joy Division. Bad music puns. (Some are easier to spot than others.) So here's this week's assignment: to focus not on the numbers themselves but on the frames that surround them. Rectangles? Meh. Right angles? Occasionally. This week, I'm after the stunning and unusual.

Maybe you'll start to notice them in your environment, too -- an oddly-shaped sign or an unusual frame around an ordinary bit of text. There are rare charmers out there, and if you look hard enough, you might see something you would have ordinarily missed.

In the meantime, batten down the hatches and get ready to sink your teeth into some mean material. Frame Week's gonna be killer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

#1: Medieval Times, Medieval Places

#1, Piazzo del Campo, Siena, Italy

Having done my stint as a Medieval Times cocktail wench, medieval pageantry is nothing new to me. Wending my way through a roaring stadium of waving flags and chanting crowds, I balanced my tray packed tightly with bottles of mead, taking down drink orders as they were barked out from inebriated customers. The lords and ladies I waited upon wore the colors of the knights they supported -- from the grimly devoted followers of the dread black knight to the over-enthusiastic pep squad cheering on the underdog green knight. They donned paper crowns, their fingertips damp with turkey gravy. From the kingly dais, trumpets blared. In the sand-covered pit, knights on horseback jousted. Sure, it was the end of the twentieth century and I was punching a clock in a hallway in Schaumburg, Illinois. (My paychecks were, amusingly, distributed from Schaumburg Castle, Inc.) But that was an honest-to-God falcon flying around the perimeter of that stadium, and you'd better believe that bird scared the crap out of me when I gingerly descended those steps, doing my best to keep the roaring masses happily full of drink and avoiding the bad scene of seeing hundreds of dollars of liquor toppled over in one fell swoop and my left eye taken out by a wayward talon.

Yes, the life of a cocktail wench was never an easy one. And while such nonsense does little more than make me cringe at the memory of the rust-colored peasant top and blue felt corset I wore, not to mention my silly Monty Python-inspired accent, the fanfare does come to mind when considering the city of Siena.

Siena, a beautiful medieval city nestled in the rolling hills of Tuscany, is maybe most well known for its beautiful and sprawling town square -- the Piazza del Campo -- and also for its annual horse race -- the Palio -- that goes down twice a year, once in July and again in August. The city's seventeen districts, also known as the contrade, compete for the coveted prize, which is basically just a big old flag and, more importantly, bragging rights for days, weeks, and months to come. Each contrada has a special mascot and colors (there's the Lupa, or she-wolf, and the Tartuca, or tortoise, and so on) that you can see displayed all throughout the streets and homes of Siena. There are rivalries among the contrade, some more contentious than others, and it all comes to a fever pitch on the days leading up to the Palio.

The Palio fills the city's main square, where anywhere from 30,000 to (fill in a more ghastly number here) spectators gather to cheer on their heroic horse and jockey. The race itself lasts for three laps around the piazza and is over in a matter of maybe forty-five seconds. But the fanfare -- parades, feasts, and general merrymaking -- goes on for far longer. I've never been there for the horse race, and for someone who gets irritated at one person brushing against her on a subway platform, I hope to never be. But it's a fantastic ritual and one that I'm glad exists, if for no other reason than it convinces me there was maybe a glimmer of real life behind the Medieval Times dinner theatre fiasco I participated in so very long ago.

But let's not take the verisimilitude too far. I'm reminded of the tattooed, nose-ringed character (played by an eye-rolling Janeane Garofalo) in the movie The Cable Guy, my own döppleganger brought to life on film. When Jim Carrey's obnoxious character summons the wench and asks her for a knife and fork, she replies impatiently: "There was no silverware in medieval times; hence there is no silverware at Medieval Times. Do you want Coke or Pepsi?"

I'll take the mead, thanks very much.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Waiter

Car park mural, Dublin

Good things come to those who wait. But better things come to those who don't, which is why I'm ready to put an end to all this hibernation and launch Ampersand Seven into the new year. There's something to be said for taking time off, but the longer I let my brain fly south for the winter, the more afraid I am that it won't come back. So I'm happy to announce that as of next Monday, I will officially have the blog up and running again.

After much heavy drinking contemplation, I've decided to keep the basic theme intact, which means you can continue to expect cool numbers presented in pleasant sequential order. However, the format is loosening up a bit, as you'll soon see, allowing for more freedom as I pick the images I choose to share. The number-a-day format was reliable, but she was also a cruel mistress, as A. Mesh proved to us all. So every Monday I will post a new number, starting with #1, continuing on Mondays throughout the year. Tuesday through Friday will present visual treats related to Monday's number, and weekends will host occasional musings and curiosities related to stuff I like and want to share: typography, city stories, books, notebooks, music, and so on. I'll do my best to faithfully post daily, but there will be occasional days off as I need them. I've decided that my brain likes to fly south every now and then.

In short, the new &7: a cool picture a day, every day, from buildings, street signs, murals, clocks, clapboard shacks and more, with a focus on interesting typography, odd details, and delicious, mouth-watering design. Stories, essays, and digressions as per usual. Comments and visitors warmly welcomed. Wander. Hunt and gather. Keep calm and carry on.