I don’t want to play favorites with Indian scripts, but I have to admit that ever since I became interested in type, I particularly love Bengali letterforms. The Bengali (‘Bangla’) script is the writing system for the Bengali language, the seventh most-used language in the world and is primarily used in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and South Assam.
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to visit Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal, known as ‘Calcutta’ during British colonization. Kolkata is feted for its art and cultural heritage, symbolic of both the bygone British era as well as the Bengali Renaissance. I associate a sense of romanticism with Kolkata, with its trams, the Howrah bridge, and Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. However, Kolkata in person is simultaneously romantic and chaotic. This duality can be experienced not only in the visual landscape of city life but also through its letterforms. While many examples of elegant Bengali typography exist, the streets are also flooded with bold vernacular lettering on busses.
Last September, after getting laid off from my job, I did what every American is programmed to do in times of existential crisis — hit the open road. Unsure of my future, I decided to drive south from my San Francisco home to visit friends in Los Angeles. I had plenty of time before starting my next chapter, so I decided to take the scenic route: California Highway 1, on the stretches known as the Cabrillo Highway and the Pacific Coast Highway.
For nature, go to Big Sur. For some fantastic vintage signage, keep heading south on the PCH.
It’s no surprise that we type folk like hanging out in old cemeteries but it’s an extra treat when these cemeteries include the memorials of long-deceased type heroes. I’ve always known that Frederic and Bertha Goudy lived and worked in nearby Marlboro, New York. This excellent silent film on Type Culture shows Fred Goudy at Deepdene, their home and workshop. The Goudys’ workshop, an 18th century mill, burned down in 1939 (along with many of his type designs and fonts) and the home was torn down in the 70s, so there’s not much left to see on the Old Post Road property. However, I recently discovered this blog post from the Marlboro Free Library. Part of the library’s Goudy collection includes a photo of a memorial tablet in Newburgh, a small city on the Hudson river that has seen better times (but is trying hard to make a comeback). Although this probably requires some confirmation, according to this 1986 newspaper article, Fred and Bertha’s “mingled ashes” are buried beneath. Wow!
Here’s a screenshot from the article, with some lovely details about Fred tossing type out the workshop window.
Plans for converting the home into a school for type design? *swoon*
In 2012, I was invited to a wedding of my Polish friends and while there, I very quickly realized two things: the Poles really are experts in singing, dancing, drinking, and eating; and that areas in western Poland were formerly German. I discovered the former with the wedding itself and the latter while walking through the small village »Gryfów Śląski« the next day. There, I stumbled across German ghost signage in combination with a Polish street sign and I was instantly transported back to pre-war times.
As already stated elsewhere, I’m very lucky to live in a part of the Europe where the rest of Europe goes on holiday. As such, I recommend you come and see it for yourself, so I will not spoil your future experience of it with photos of stunning landscapes that do not do them justice. Okay, just one.
Schlern, a beautiful rock in the Dolomites.
When ‘Santiago’ is mentioned, many will first think of Chile; however, this Santiago is located in northwestern Spain. Santiago de Compostela has an official population of less than 100,000 inhabitants and is known internationally as one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the world. In 1985 the old town was declared a World Heritage Site and, in 1987, the “Camino” was named the First European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. There are numerous books written in numerous languages regarding the ‘Camino de Santiago’, so I will refrain from images of the cathedral and other tourist traps.
Signage, an important element of urban landscapes, becomes a particularly interesting topic with regard to environments where the protection of historical buildings is a must. In Santiago, a 2012 sign regulation defines the size, placement, and other features. There is no typographic requirement although it is mentioned that the design must be well-integrated into the historical environment. A better control is needed as many commercial signs infringe the rules and some have just been abandoned. (If we really want to preserve our artistic-historical heritage, we should care a bit more about its maintenance.)
Some structures, formerly for hanging signs, remain even when they lack a function creating metal arrows that seem to be point nowhere.
It can be quite the cliché to mention the cultural diversity in a country as large as India, but sometimes, the obvious deserves repeating, especially when it can be supplemented with photographs of beautiful shop signs and house nameplates. In order to demonstrate this, I invite you to join me in Goa, the smallest of India’s twenty-nine states, well-known for its beaches, parties and electronic music festivals.
Unlike the majority of the country, the state of Goa wasn’t a colony of the British. The Portuguese arrived here in the early 1500s and Goa remained under their control till 1961 when it was annexed by India after military action. Interestingly, it was 1556 in Goa that the first printing press from the West arrived in India. Over 450 years of Portuguese rule has left its mark here and it is easy to spot in the architecture and lettering, especially in neighbourhoods like Fontainhas, an old Latin Quarter in the state capital Panjim.
How is it possible that it’s August again??? This summer, we wanted you to travel with us (for free!) around the world and enjoy some typographic curiosities we have around us (check out this map by Indra). Those posts will be scattered throughout the month, marked with a passport stamp on the first image for quicker spotting. This is a perfect excuse for a tomato juice! Here we go:
Scripts don’t live in a void. They live together, interlaced, in Israel’s urban environment: Hebrew, Arabic and English. Each script is affected by surrounding scripts, which in turn influences them back, a symbiotic relationship. Examining trilingual signage in Haifa provides an opportunity to discover meaning among the different alphabets; an additional benefit is that it is a good excuse to show some of what surrounds me in my hometown.
Over the past 10 days, we’ve traveled around the world to learn more about the design of coins, banknotes and money-related artifacts. While we strayed a bit from entirely type-specific content, the series connects visual culture, personal stories and collective experiences in some [hopefully] interesting ways. In case you missed any of the posts, we have conveniently gathered them all here.
Speaking of traveling the world and looking at money —
a few months ago, several of us attended the fantastic Typofest conference in Bulgaria organized by Krista Radoeva and Boril Karaivanov. Several, but apparently there were even more type colleagues present than we knew would be coming. Maria Doreuli spotted him first while we were still in Sofia …