Archives for category: Arctic
Hot. Cool. Meh.

Hot. Cool. Meh.

The evocative name of this building at the Sochi Olympics is one of the more unique. Icebergs command attention; they are powerful and beautiful to behold. They also suggest passing grandeur, so I hope the public still has access to it post-Games, unlike Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, which sits empty, even abandoned.

“Iceberg” means well. A tip of the berg for being short, fun to say and easy to remember, but it’s suggestively off. You see, this structure is shades of blue, and more so when lit up at night. Glaciers are blue due to the lack of air in their creeping shelves. In contrast, icebergs — full of tiny air bubbles — are mostly white, as the bubbles’ surfaces reflect light. The blue-ish streaks in an iceberg represent crevasse-filling meltwater that’s refrozen. Air-tight vs. air-light. Similarly, roughly 90% of an iceberg is under water, yet the home of the latest skategate appears largely above-surface. The venue would be better verbally-grounded if more of it had been recessed into the earth.

Which brings me to…if this is an iceberg, what type is it? The terminology of some of the sizes and shapes of these frozen masses are cool. I have seen smaller ones — growlers and bergy bits — in Chile. Shape-wise, the Skating Palace looks like a hybrid: “tabular” for its crew-cut and horizontal banding and “blocky” for the steep sides.

Here’s where the Russians missed. U-shaped bergs, with the bottom of the “U” reaching almost to or at water level and cradled or book-ended by sky-reaching spires, are referred to as “dry-docked.” Considering the lack of natural precipitation at seaside Sochi, officials there could have thrown down some serious naming with “The Drydock” for the half-pipe.

At least they didn’t resort to calling the palace the “Sea-Hill.” Such was the synonym for calved glaciers in the late 17th century. I’m not sure how long that term floated around, but the partially Anglicized Dutch loanword for “ice mountain” obviously got more points for style back then and thus is still in play.

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Giant Lemming / Pudlo, 1961.

Giant Lemming / Pudlo, 1961.

This looks a little bat-like, right? Well, to the Inuit artist, Pudlo, it’s an Arctic lemming’s head. It reminded me of the figures of human skeletons (calacas) or skulls (calaveras) that are ubiquitous on the Day of the Dead. Calacas are often decked out in colorful, ornate dresses or zoot suits and grouped together in celebration. Musicians playing, rowdy fans dancing… these treats for the eyes depict the soul’s happy afterlife.

Back to lemmings, those prairie dogs of the tundra. Tunnels protect them from predators, and their winter-white fur helps them escape the keen eyes of the snowy owl, whose coat also turns with the season. These critters do not hibernate; fortunately, strong front claws help them dig through the ice and snow for grasses foraged before Old Man Winter sets in.

The Enchanted Owl, 1960.

The Enchanted Owl, 1960.

Here’s my tribute to the pioneering Inuit artist, Kenojuak Ashevak. She was world-renowned for bringing attention to her people’s culture and mythology through her illuminating interpretations of Far North and Arctic animals…particularly birds. We lost the legend herself earlier this year at the ripe old age of 85, but not before her signature style brought happiness to many an avid collector of her drawings and sketches. Membership into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and her art being chosen to grace three Canadian stamps and a 25¢ Canadian circulation coin were career highlights.

In her owls and loons, head and tail feathers dance and shimmer like rays of the sun, as she said, “driving away the darkness.” Ravens and wolves, often entwined with one another, form a web of scavenging, opportunistic bodies that are intensified by color-blocked splashes of plumage or all-over fur. Crowded on the paper — croaking, gurgling, cawing and howling — you can almost hear them they are so loud.

Animals and humans transformed, communing with the beyond. Shaman knows the way.

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Hands-on clean.

Last summer I flew Canadian North, which is 100% Aboriginally-owned, from Inuvik to Norman Wells, then to Yellowknife and on to Edmonton. Really enjoyable. The aircraft interiors looked a bit worse for wear, but each boarding, deplaning and in-flight experience was what flying used to and probably never will be again most anywhere else. Genuine, courteous and attentive attendants, decent and more than enough food, on-time departures and arrivals, fee-less checked luggage that arrived when I did and respectful fellow passengers. From the counter folks to the ramp and baggage people (sometimes one in the same person), they were efficient, approachable and looked like they enjoyed their jobs. Humans. Not rude, insensitive, barking corporate bots with attitude. We’re talkin’ serious customer service.

Which brings me to the airline’s tagline: “Seriously northern.” Some 50% redundant, given their name, but the first half is a winner and with so much potential. The polar bear and midnight sun logo were spot-on geographically but seemed inconsistently illustrated (even dated) alongside the more simply drawn yet delightful in-flight branding. What I most liked, design-wise, were the hand towel packaging and the coffee cup (for another post). On the wipe: “Seriously clean.” — the native drummer dressed in traditional skins and snowy owl (ookpik) culturally reflecting the Northwest Territories’ First Nations who live near the Arctic Circle. A great start, if not messaging teasers. I’d love to see the brand really come alive through many more elements on board, at the gate, in uniform and online.

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