Travel doesn’t relieve your problems, it throws them into relief.
One of my favorite discoveries this year was Nina Katchadourian’s Seat Assignment, an ongoing project she started in 2010, in which she uses long plane rides to make art using only her camera phone and materials on hand. She’ll build shelters out of snacks, she’ll make gorillas out of sweaters, she’ll go into the bathroom and dress up like old Flemish paintings. (My favorite pieces are from the “High Altitude Spirit Photography” series, where she’ll use a little sprinkled salt or the glare from an overhead reading light to spookify in-flight magazine photos.)
Seat Assignment has taken place over 100 flights. Lots of things interest me about the project, including, of course, these lines from her statement: “the artistic potential that lurks within the mundane” and “the productive tension between freedom and constraint,” both ideas that have obsessed me ever since I started making my blackout poems.
I’m especially interested in how Katchadourian refers to her camera phone — usually bemoaned as a device for distraction —as not only a kind of sketchbook, but a “camouflage.” From Curioser: “Once you pull out a real camera, it screams, ‘I’m making art!’” She doesn’t want to be observed making the work, she just wants to look like another bored traveler killing time. It works: only three passengers over the years have asked her what she’s up to.
The title, “Seat Assignment,” makes me think of my writing teacher’s advice for getting writing done: “APPLY ASS TO CHAIR.” Because you’re literally buckled into a chair, I’ve always found planes a terrific spot to do a lot of writing and reading and drawing and thinking. (Business class is like a dream scenario for the writer: you have a comfortable seat, a window to stare out of, and you’re occasionally brought water & snacks.) But, as in-flight wi-fi speeds and entertainment options keep getting better and better, the temptation to be distracted on planes becomes greater and greater. Just like on the ground, it now takes an act of will to be bored enough on a plane to actually enter that good headspace where you can make something. For now, I stick to my rules: turn off the seat-back TV and never pay for wi-fi.
PS. The comic above was one of four I drew on my iPad during a recent (coach!) flight from Austin to San Francisco. To see more like it, check my Instagram.
PPS. This post turned into chapter 2 of Keep Going.
Two years ago on book tour I learned how important a day bag is. (I keep it on me at all times.) For the Steal tour, I traveled only with an iPad 2 and a tiny Timbuk2 bag. This time around, I upgraded to a larger but still small Timbuk2 Commuter Bag and switched up my gear.
Meg and I are going on a New England trip next week.
We’re flying into Providence, RI
and spending the night staying 3 nights, and taking the the train to Boston Wednesday and Thursday and staying two nights so that Meg can attend a conference.
Renting a car and driving down to Norwalk, CT to stay with Meg’s godmother.
Taking the commuter train into New York City to visit.
I’m totally new to this part of the country (except for NYC), so, as always, I’m looking for:
- great places to eat (particularly seafood)
- art museums/galleries
- awesome bookstores and comic shops
- generally rad things to see / do / eat.
Your suggestions, please!
Posting slideshows in this post because I made a ton of sketches, took way too many photos, and I don’t have the energy to pick the best images. I will say, with all love to the Montrealers out there, that I didn’t like the city as much as I thought I would. You know, there’s this thing that happens when you’re in a city, and you can tell within the first couple of hours if it resonates with you. It didn’t happen in Montreal. We just didn’t click. C’est la vie.
The food was amazing, and the used bookstores were outtasite. Tons of comics, although I HATE the format of most French language comics — those awful semi-A4-size hardcover thin albums. Ugh, they’re so tacky. But I did do some good shopping and got some great loot.
- The Drawn & Quarterly bookstore. What a fantastic place. Original Chris Ware (“Big Tex“, appropriately) and Frank King “Gasoline Alley” artwork on the wall. Tom Gauld t-shirts, but none in my size, dammit! I could’ve spent the whole week in there.
- Meeting super-nice photographer Kate Hutchinson at her show, Why Am I Marrying Him?
- Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon (Unbelievably good meal!)
- Walking around Mile End, Chinatown, Old Montreal, the Little Italy Market, and the shops on St. Denis
- The street graffiti
- Beers at Dieu du Ciel. Chill place.
- Brunch at Reservoir…they had a fantastic orange/grapefruit juice and a delicious omelets
- All-you-can-eat mussels at Bieres et Compagnie.
- Watching American television in French, inlcuding the baseball playoffs. King of the Hill (which, off topic, I took as satire when I live in Ohio, but now realize is just strict realism) in French is just wrong — it becomes more intellectual and existential or something. I also discovered Pimp My Ride (Pimp Mon Char).
- Hanging out in the Grande Bibliothèque, discovering the sketchbooks of Joann Sfar (I have to get ahold of all of these and master French!)
- Sketching an Otto Dix painting in the Fine Arts museum
If, for some reason, the slideshows don’t work, here are links to the Flickr sets:
Meg and I are getting ready for a week-long trip to Montreal. In the past, when we prepared to travel to a new city, I would photocopy maps out of a travel guide and paste them into a Moleskine to make little customized itineraries:
Now Moleskine has their own line of reasonably-priced Moleskine City Notebooks that include nice color maps and transparent overlays that make things even easier:
Here are things we’re hoping to hit (thanks to the great cartoonist and Montrealite Matt Forsythe for some of the recs!):
- a hike up the mountain (in the middle of town) for a great view of the city
- visit to the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore (211 Bernard West)
- Art museums: Art Contemporain and Beaux Arts
- Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon
- Dinner at L’Express (a bistro) on St-Denis street
- coffee on St-Denis
- a stroll through Old Montreal
- Bagels from Saint-Viateur
- breakfast/brunch in Mile End neighbourhood
- a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz‘s
It’s been a long time since we’ve been out of Austin, let alone Texas, and this is my first visit to Canada, so we’re really excited and dusting off our French skills.
If anybody has any recommendations for things to see / do / eat while we’re there, please leave them in the comments!
My wife and I are going to San Antonio this weekend, and we’re looking for fun things to do while we’re down there. When traveling, we love food, art, old buildings, and people-watching. We know about the River Walk and the Alamo. Stuff off the beaten path. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments below or drop me an e-mail!
It’s 11 o’clock Texas time, and we’re chilling at the LaQuinta Inn in Greenville, Texas, 45 minutes east of Dallas. In Greenville, they used to have BLACKEST LAND, WHITEST PEOPLE, painted on the water tower. Luckily, that isn’t the case anymore.
We swam in the pool, grabbed warm chocolate chip cookies at the front desk, now we’re watching some cable. Today we drove to Memphis and did something I never thought we’d do.
We went to Graceland.
Fun facts about Elvis that I did not know, and did not learn from the Graceland tour, but from my mother-in-law: that Priscilla was 14 when she met Elvis, and that “the king died on the throne.”
Here’s a fun sign on Vernon Presley’s (Elvis’s dad) office door:
I couldn’t get a good picture of Elvis’s office, but there were books about football, karate, World War II, and, oddly enough, Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha.
We drove out of Memphis, through Little Rock, and ate at the Whataburger in Texarkana:
The drive from Texarkana to Greenville was gorgeous. Meg saw her first armadillo by the side of the road.
Tomorrow, we’ll be Austin, in our new apartment. Unbelievable.
For New Year’s, our friends were nice enough to invite us up to their place on Lake Chautauqua in western New York.
“You can stay in the boathouse,” they said.
After two hours on the highway, they drove us to this boarded-up shanty.
“Here’s the boathouse!” they said.
Then they laughed at our horrified faces and drove us to the real boathouse.
On the way, they told us “Chautauqua” means “gunny-sack-tied-in-the-middle” in Indian.
Stupid Indians, I thought. Who knows what a gunny sack looks like?
It occured to me over breakfast that this would be a great place to write a book. I could sit at my desk and stare at the lake, white as a virgin sheet of paper, just waiting to be defiled with ink.
Here, some ice fisherman are defiling the lake with drills.
What a pretty scene for a defiling!
The Famous Fish Platter at GUPPY’S is outstanding. There’s a reason it’s famous: the fish is flavorful, and the french fries are crispy, with just the right amount of seasoning.
The decor was tartar sauce on top of the fish: above our table was a Christmas wreath decorated with a golden Budweiser sign.
It was my kind of restaurant.
No New Year is complete without a game of Drunk Scrabble. Drunk Scrabble is played after at least four glasses of wine. Proper nouns, abbreviations, and acronyms are all welcome and encouraged. Proper verbs, are included, too, like Google, even though it’s damned near impossible to end up with two Gs and two Os.
I am pleased to note that I came up with the evening’s top score: a whopping 33 points for “feat.” (The F was on a double-letter score, and the T ended up on a triple-word score.)
Happy New Year!