Rebranding Efforts At Work

In the old days, the Earl would have gotten a floral script treatment at the very least. Nowadays, utilitarian Helvetica is all he can hope for.

Mangrove lobbying dollars at work. These are not your father’s mangroves, no sir. These are altogether more dynamic mangroves, living on the edge.

When I originally read this and thought it said ‘bowling’, I was even more excited.

I didn’t have a chance to stop and take my own photo of this in the airport. But there is marketing language for Camel Cigarettes on the window that says, “Inspiring creative thinking since 1913.” Move over, Montmarte!

See also: Recent Airport Sightings

From random ……….. to planned

In yet another very old post, I unveiled The Old Apartment Rule, my proposal that anyone ought to be allowed to ask for a quick five minute tour of any apartment or house that they’ve previously lived in from the current residents. I finagled my way into a real-life instance of this last week when we went back to Prague last week for a short visit and stopped by our old apartment that we’re currently subletting to pick up mail. There was the sight of our old place— ours for five-plus years, the longest I’ve lived at any one address as an adult!— shifted around and decorated with somebody else’s knick-knacks and sensibilities. I worried that the cognitive dissonance would fry my son’s young brain, but he enjoyed the visit and seemed unbothered by the weird collision of old/new, ours/not-ours.

Also strangely transformed is Prague’s hlavní nadraži, aka main train station. They’ve been renovating it for several years now in order to turn it into a typical spacious, organized, appealing, identical Western European train hub, just like any other. Previously, it had this weird sense of spatial compression from the low ceilings and an infernal red-ness, plus the large number of pigeons that seemed to be trapped inside at any given moment:

(photo credit: milov)

[Admission: actually, this renovation basically finished like a year ago, and I’ve been meaning to write about this whole time, but only just remembered when I was back there this week.]

In general, the changes are nice, if bland. It’s nice to be able to buy your ticket from a visible, accessible person rather than leaning over to shout into a tiny voice hole set in shatterproof glass with a grumpy, shadowy personage lurking behind. It’s nice to be able to buy food that you don’t instantly hurl into a garbage can four steps later. But most of all, I’m delighted by this series of ads that appear in the station, touting the improvements made. They are essentially before-and-after pictures, with a shot from the old unrenovated days on top and an up-to-date image below. Like this:

‘From random…. to planned,’ boasts the caption. First, I love the fact that they took the effort to organize a shoot of characteristic stuff from the old station just so they could poop on it later by dint of comparison. You can just see the proprietor of the ‘random’ stand throwing up his arms in insulted disbelief upon seeing this: What?! That’s what I was told to sell. That’s what Czech people eat!

The series contains several other gems:

The abandoned, sloshy bucket on the floor is really great. Again: it kills me to imagine the prop wrangler and art director for this shoot in action.

This might be the best:

From the ‘before’ scene, the grumpy old guy scratching his head is perfect casting— I mean, I can just picture myself defeatedly approaching that guy for information and trying to struggle through a conversation with him in Czech all the while knowing that it’s not going to avail me of anything. But what’s up with the woman straddling the suitcases? The encounter doesn’t seem that ‘distant’. It actually seems kind of ‘romantic’, at least when compared with the Oral-B blandness of the lower ‘new and improved’ reality.

Shine on, you crazy kids.

Other images in the series get a bit more predictable— this one, for example, uses the old black-and-white vs. color contrast used in every negative political campaign spot since the dawn of time:

Still, there are nice details sprinkled throughout. Notice above, for example, that while the bad old days were devoid of color and lighted signs, they were replete with leering strangers with no umbrella heckling you from the neighboring bench.

p.s. any time we’re on the subject of Czech mass transit, it’s worth linking one more time to the timeless Onion TV bit about Prague’s Franz Kafka Airport.

Halloween Inferno

Fireworks at Helmholtzplatz two nights ago.

Somehow, in all my days, I’d never before been close enough to the actual detonation site of a fireworks display to see how the magic works. You can imagine my surprise at seeing these occult-looking lamps set at even intervals along the ground. I’d always been misled to believe that it somehow involved exploding pumpkins and turkeys stuffed with gunpowder.

For the audio background, you have to imagine not only the deafening explosion of the fireworks themselves, but also a unanimous WAIL of children brought to the ground zero launch spot by their parents who were instantly traumatized by all the brimstone and din.

By the way, I’ve never mentioned this before, but: not only am I an only child… I also have zero first cousins who are actually related to my blood. By weird coincidence, all five of my first cousins were adopted (by three different sets of parents, for varying reasons). I think four of the five have eventually sought out their birth parents, while one abstained. Anyway, the point is that one of my cousins got in touch with her birth family, who turned out to be…. a large Italian clan in NYC who used to produce the big 4th of July fireworks show for years and years. Wow, didn’t see that one coming. It’s hard to explain, really, but I can barely think of anything more perpendicular to my own extended family than a huge family of Italian firework moguls. It’s not clear to me exactly how she wound up not with this festive group and instead with my family and its tight-assed celebrations of Independence Day.

Rock-A-Mambo Time

Oh yeah: the Rock-A-Mambo exhibition opening party happened last Thursday. I’ve just been too busy to write one red word about it… but now that I finally have photos from the event, I barely have to!

Details of the exhibition are written up here. Thanks to Tina Simonova for snapping the pictures. She did such a good job that it actually looks like a legitimate exhibition space. In fact, it’s a still-being-renovated wing of Prague College that had no electricity until an hour before the show opened. Glad tidings!

The goings-on:

(That’s me on the far left, anxiously buzzing around and prodding everyone to remember to have a fun time.)

The work:

Hello, Birdie pt. 2

This past weekend, we threw the kid in the back seat and drove to Berlin through some really bad weather. On the D8 highway that connects Czech Republic to Germany, there’s a big Mattoni sign that looms over the highway. I’ve always thought the sign is pretty cool looking, but I can only remember doing the drive in decent weather before. In the foreboding context of our Friday drive– low visibility, gathering clouds– I suddenly realized how much it looks like a giant prop from Schindler’s List or some other Nazi movie, ‘welcoming’ you to Germany:

In normal weather, the sign has much more of a ‘hello, birdie’ quality:

(Photo: Flickr user Bharfot).

Unfortunate communications misstep that could have been avoided if they’d provisionally changed the Mattoni mascot to an anteater or a caterpillar for the Czech market. But I suppose the brand dilution wouldn’t have been worth it.

The choice of title for this post is sort of an homage to my favorite-ever Roz Chast cartoon, which I’m desperately trying to find an image of online but without success. It appeared in a New Yorker issue rightaround when Prozac first hit the market, and the premise is basically: What if various historical figures had access to anti-depressants? There are four examples, and the last one shows a doped-up Edgar Allen Poe cheerfully looking over his shoulder and saying, ‘Hello, birdie!’ to the raven.

See also: Hello, Birdie

Tajikistan Calling…

Today’s add-your-own-caption contest comes from far-flung Tajikistan:

My friend recently ventured there with this girlfriend (who is studying Central Asian languages) and snapped these photos for me from a book he found somewhere along the way. It’s impossible to imagine what’s supposed to be happening here, but as you look through more of the images, a vague plot-line begins to emerge that combines elements of Columbo, National Geographic, Iron Chef and a James Bond movie:

But then — as if just to throw you off the scent — there are also generic shots of harmless frolicking locals:


Hey, remember Barf laundry detergent? My friend also brought me back a sample box of this. The packaging is most excellent, as it depicts a model family smiling up in appreciative wonderment at the technicolor Barf masthead:

So many boxes of this stuff must be carried off to the West as souvenirs that they could include some little caption on the side, like ‘My friend went to Tajikistan and all I got was this vomitous packaging concept.’

See also: previous add-your own caption contests, San Francisco and Berlin versions