It’s inescapable. Beautiful art is everywhere and here is some that premiered in 2014 made by yours truly. Please kindly take these into consideration for your award choices.
It’s inescapable. Beautiful art is everywhere and here is some that premiered in 2014 made by yours truly. Please kindly take these into consideration for your award choices.
Having arrived in Boston and already had a splendid day, I realized I need to post a “Where’s Lee”. All the cool kids are doing it.
7:00pm Map and the Story
Marina 3 (2E)
Maps are a familiar sight in our field, but lately a number of stories have placed maps and cartography at the core of the stories themselves. Maps serve as portals to other worlds, cartographers remake the world in a map’s image, and mapmaking itself becomes a means to discuss the distance between perception and reality, between the map and the territory. Panelists will discuss the ways in which maps and cartography have escaped from the endpapers in recent works of fiction.
Erik Amundsen, Greer Gilman, Walter H. Hunt, N. K. Jemisin, Lee Moyer (m)
10:00pm Art Reception
This is the largest art show I’ve ever done – 100 pieces! Some as large as 4 feet tall! Please come see if your schedules so allow!
12:30pm Improbable Research and the Ig Nobel Prizes
Grand DE (1W)
I will be the second presentor of an Ig Nobel winning study before I must skedaddle to my own presentation of art.
Highlights from Ig Nobel prize-winning studies and patents, presented in dramatic mini-readings by luminaries and experts (in some field). The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions about the research presented. Answers will be based on the expertise of the presenters, who may have a different expertise than the researchers. NOTE: Some of the presenters will be selected from nominations made in advance by you the fen! Nominate someone here: http://bit.ly/1GfEYQm
1:00pm The Art of Lee Moyer: from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Marina 4 (2E)
35 years of art to show and, hopefully, audience questions to answer.
2:30pm Handling Your Online Image As an Artist
How do you create effective online presence? How and where should you sell work online? What social networking tools should you be using, and how? What are best practices for building a fan base and then interacting with them?
Bob Eggleton, Lee Moyer (m)
5:30pm Designing Things That Don’t Exist
We are always trying to depict the alien, but how far do you have to go to be truly out of this world? When you can’t draw from a model, how do you create a believable fantasy creature or technological object? What artistic techniques help convince the viewer you were there? What in the natural order can you change? Are there rules you should never break?
Lisa Hertel, Scott Lefton (m), Lee Moyer, Mercy E Van Vlack
11:30am Inspiration – Art History & Modern Masters
We live in an Age of Miracles and Wonders – the art treasures of the world, past and present, are at our fingertips! Please join Artist Guest of Honor Lee Moyer as shows some of his inspirations, answers questions and signs calendars, games, and/or book covers!
2:30pm Portfolio Review with Lee Moyer
I am here to critique your work, answer questions, and possibly make career recommendations. Listen to the critique of others’ works, as you may learn something valuable. (Limited to 10 people. Signup sheet available at con in the Program Nexus on the Mezzanine.)
4:00pm Guest of Honor Tour of the Art Show
Harbor III (3E)
Art Show Tour by our GoH. Limited to 10 people. This is after the auction but before anyone picks up their loot. Come see what you missed with commentary by our Guest of Honor!
Grand AB (1W)
The 26th annual Arisia Masquerade. Come watch the entrants perform short vignettes to show off their costumes, and see if your pick matches that of the judges.
Colette H. Fozard, N. K. Jemisin, Lee Moyer
2:30pm Infamous Bad Book Covers Panel
Marina 4 (2E)
Learning from the tragic past (and ebook present), this panel will hope to prevent future crimes against authors and readers alike.
January began with preparations for Lee’s big art show of Pin-Ups (featuring more than 3 years of literary calendar art and a few others). Below is one of two longs walls at the Catalyst Studio. And in the next shot, the gorgeous Kiana Phi hangs out with us, and with Miss Kim Stanley Robinson for whom she posed. She has us surrounded!
The opening presented a splendid chance to meet up with many of our friends as they mingled and enjoyed the delicious cheesecake (and other hors d’oeuvres, natch).
The month ended with a trip to Seattle, where many colleagues and co-conspirators were seen, much fabulous food eaten, and several adorable pets petted.
Guests are marked “G•” and shown in burgundy throughout:
G• Ang, Echo & Her Traveling Troupe d’Arte
February was marked by collaborations with Todd Lockwood: Two paintings in honor of Jeff Easley (one of the original D&D artists), and an unusual Superbowl party where both our “home” teams were playing (like me, Todd grew up in Colorado and now lives in the Pacific NW). The paintings ended rather stronger than the Denver Broncos, but our other home team won.
March began with the departure of dear friend Dan Cottle – bound for the wilds of distant Massachusetts. The opening soiree for Kate Ristau‘s book ‘Commas: An Irreverent Primer‘ left us with a new coloring page on our refrigerator (as you know, Lee cannot really be trusted with loose crayons) and a cryptic phrase that might be… a pass code? Mere Dadaist ramblings? Who can know?
A few weeks after the big Pin-Ups show first appeared, it moved to the Radio Room, site of the original Pin-Ups show some 5 years gone, and we got to spend some time with models Becca and Saamanta into the bargain!
Our friends Tara and Accalia came to stay with us from icy Winnipeg while they attended Rachel Brice‘s intensive belly-dancing masterclass. They were marvelous, even despite their exhaustion and overwork.
We opted for Health Republic (an actual public health co-op) as we sorted out our coverage in light of the ACA.
G• Tara & Accalia
April marked the arrival of The Doom that Came to Atlantic City (just in time for the HP Lovecraft Film Festival!) and the real beginning of Guest Season – Gail and Rod’s visit ending just as Andrew and Anya arrived. The weather was perfect, and a good thing, since Mina and Jamie would arrive from DC the very next day – both couples intent on the HP Lovecraft Film Festival.
Happily, after several years of near misses, Lee finally bested his colleagues at the Film Festival’s live painting demonstration/competition – thus allowing him the right to design the festival’s 2015 poster.
G• Gail & Rod, Andrew & Anya, Mina & Jamie
With all our guests returned home, we headed back to Seattle that Lee might participate in panels and hang artwork in the show at Norwescon. Artist and Faerieworld’s impresario Robert Gould was this year’s Guest of Honor, but happily past guest John Picacio was in the house too, with Lee rounding out an unlikely trio of Honored Guests. The panel on mapping with Bradley Beaulieu was delightful, and moderator Brenda Carre introduced Lee to the marvelous Carol Berg afterwards (oh, how Lee would love to make the maps for her cartographically inspired books a reality!)
Having done some type design for the von Trapp Family (4 of the grandchildren of the original Sound o’ Music bunch), we ventured out to a local bookstore to see them sing. And while we’d seen them perform with Meow Meow at the Schnitz and Pink Martini in Pioneer Square, the little solo concert was particularly sublime.
The World Horror Convention came to Portland in May. And while we were too busy with work to attend, Lee did put art in the show and pop by the odd party. More importantly, we got to host most of the Illuminaughty – that amazing group of guests we’d met the previous year in Winnipeg. From Mexico, author Ann Aguirre; From Canada, authors Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Chadwick Ginther and GmB Chomichuk – a sort North American Embassy was established here on Alameda Ridge.
Lee created a coloring book and a couple Golden Tickets as part of the party favors for his birthday party and costumed whing-ding at the end of the month. We must again thank the marvelous Jessie and Annabel for hosting, and Ang and Gail and Alanna for abetting! And of course those who could attend. Such good food and idyllic weather!
G• Ann, Silvia, Chadwick, Gregory, and Ang
Is there a more curious juxtaposition than ‘Showboat’ and The March Violets? We took in the former at Lakewood Center. The latter came to town (and the menfolk in the band to our house) from England. Sadly, Lee missed meeting up with talented singer (and author) Rosie Garland, the wife of Lee’s friend and collaborator, Aly Fell. Next time for sure!
Larry and Serena’s wedding celebration brought many notables to town – including Dr. Melissa Ganus and her assistant Tara, who we were happy to host. Doctor Mel’s research on children and their cognitive development is quite interesting, and Lee did a little design for her upcoming book too.
G• Tara, Si & Tom
Kate Ristau’s birthday Kickball party gave Venetia her first sport’s related injury in years, and cost her a favorite pair of pants (being a ruthless competitor clearly has it’s costs). We enjoyed the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ with Kimberly, and looked all the more forward to comparing an actual grand Budapest hotel with Wes Anderson’s more fantastic one.
July began with Roxanne’s sublime show of Gummi Bears as the appetizer, and Keith’s birthday the main course. Lee and Kimberly ventured up the Oneonta Gorge, and enjoyed the sushi in Troutdale thereafter (both of which sound oddly like euphemisms now I come to write them….)
We stayed with Ang in her timeshare during this year’s pilgramage to San Diego, and traveled to both the Hotel del Coronado and the San Diego Zoo with her. The San Diego ComicCon was mad as usual, but seemed to peak with the appearance of the amazing Francois Schuiten. Lee gave him a calendar, and Francois drew the hand you see below in pen! And it’s one thing to get your caricature drawn at the mall, but another to get it drawn by the astonishing Bill Plympton!
In August, we drove down through Salem to see ‘Avenue Q’ with our friend Kim’s star turn as Christmas Eve, arguably the world’s worst therapist. Seeing the Bad Idea Bears try to sell Venetia (sitting on the aisle) on Scientology was especially delightful!
Later in month we were delighted by a surprise visit from Doug & Lisa. Time was shorter than we’d have liked, but so much good food (at Verde Cochina and Laurelhurst Market) and such lovely sights (the Falls, the Hatchery and Bonneville Dam) were taken in!
G• Doug & Lisa, Gail & Rod, Rose
September was our month of adventuring overseas: to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. We’ve written about that journey HERE.
The timing of our trip abroad was specifically designed to put us back into DC in time for Della and Kevin’s wedding in Alexandria – as well as allowing Venetia to get back to the precious Smithsonian! This time the highlights were largely sculptural, but the exhibit of Andrew Wyeth still lifes was a refreshing break from the Euro-snobbery that so defines the National Gallery. We didn’t plan on having our luggage kept overlong in Brussels, but when we arrived in DC, our luggage did not. The Barkers kept us in high style and we used the opportunity to see everyone we could amid our wild ride around and through the Beltway. This included the Kate and Heather Hanna at Kate’s home in Annandale, and Helen Svensen in Raljon (Actually Landover. Thank heavens the grasping Jack Kent Cooke couldn’t tar the community with his spoiled children’s names forever!). Helen kindly donated one of her late husband’s shirts for me to wear, and directed Venetia to an amazing shoe store. After our stop in College Park to pick up a frame for the wedding gift, we found Ellie at home in Tacoma Park, where we patted her adorable wee rabbit and dined alfresco. Then, we made the mad dash through the dark heart of DC, arriving at the wedding exactly on time. It was a sort of miracle!
You can probably tell how happy we are watching Della and Kevin married:
Though it happened while we were overseas, one of the definite highlights of the month, (and the year in general), was Arisia’s Author Guest of Honor N.K. Jemisin getting a tattoo of the blue lotus design Lee rendered from her description of it in the Dreamblood Duology.
In October, Lee was invited to reprise his Month of Love with a Month of Fear. Other entertaining projects this month included Lee’s heartfelt tribute to Kim Newman‘s exemplary ‘Anno Dracula’ in the online comic (beloved of Librarians everywhere) Unshelved. (We had found Kim’s ‘Life’s Lottery’ earlier in the year and found it, though completely different from ‘Anno Dracula’ or the ‘Diogenes Club’ books Lee has illustrated, to be quite astonishing. As she navigated the complex and surprisingly meta narrative, Venetia had some bad life experiences that left her bitter. Lee, by contrast, enjoyed his golden life so thoroughly he couldn’t bear to dip back in for results virtually guaranteed to be less pleasant.
We traveled with Tracy traveled down to Salem for a splendid autumn party hosted by Kim and a couple of adorable dogs. Venetia journeyed on her own via Portland’s excellent public transit to see outed-spy and budding-stateswoman Valerie Plame at Powell’s in Cedar Hills.
We attended Halloween Parties hosted by Trinity & Sam, and Stephen and Nicolle. While Lee’s Willy Wonka seemed to go over well, who can compete with Totoro in any form? Much less as Iron Totoro?
We finally replaced our iPhone 3s with iPhone 6s – not because they were lacking or busted, but because the 6 is large enough to serve as a proper little portfolio (well, in Lee’s case 28 different little portfolios), thus allowing us to leave the iPad at home far more often.
Peter Beagle, Connor Cochran and ‘The Last Unicorn’ started our November in style. The following week we flew out to DC for the World Fantasy Convention in Lee’s old suburban Virginia stomping grounds. The Art Show was as fancy as an convention art show could hope to be and there were many parties and delightful people throughout – especially Les Howle’s fine Clarion West Party where I almost tripped over that tightknit Ben Rosenbaum/Lis Argall cabal! We found the private Kelly Collection as inspiring as the Belvedere’s more famous one, and spending quality time among the Pyles, Wyeths, Leyendeckers, Cornwells and Schaeffers was a real honor!
Mina’s lovely houseparty provided Lee an opportunity to see some old friends, and meet the marvelous Christine Watson at last. And since she had experienced a flat tire en route from Richmond, we put her up that night in our Crystal City hotel room. Here’s to that extra bed!
Panels were moderated and participated in, with the creme de la creme of artsy society – from British art guest/s of honor Les Edwards/Edward Miller to Irene Gallo to Chris Roberts to Michael Whelan. A good time might not have been had by all in attendance, but we had a fine time indeed. And not just because the mohawked ladies were representing.
Back in Portland, we treated ourselves to a concert by Postmodern Jukebox which is currently the most popular band playing in our house. (Maybe tied with Andy Prieboy, but at least our most recent favorite.) Within the same week, we went to Amanda Palmer‘s book launch which Lee wrote about earlier.
And we continued the tradition of inviting our multi-talented friend Jaym to help us host a Thanksgiving feast:
Jaym proved herself to be an especially amazing friend by sacrificing her computer to Venetia’s lust for Civilization V. The game is addictive as can be, but can also easily be used as a teaching tool to show why the world is in such an ongoing state of disaster.
December started out with Lee deep in the throes of pneumonia (he might well have stayed healthy had not the furnace died amid November’s vicious cold snap) and while taking excellent care of him, Venetia and Jaym had their own adventures in Portland and in Seattle – shopping, visiting friends, and seeing the final night of Todd Lockwood’s art show at Krab Jab Studio. This year also saw the last of Lee’s teeth receiving it’s own golden crown and some festive holiday parties: our neighborhood block party, cookies from Andy & Susie (well, Susie’s Mom), Krampus cheer with Michael and Liv, and a gorgeous family meal the day after Christmas. Venetia also saw Jason Webley‘s return to Portland for his kickstarter tour of ‘Margaret‘. And Ang brought her lovely family up and took Venetia to see the sparkling Zoo Lights.
G• Ang, Jordan, Kitra
Lee’s art year in review for 2014 is in it’s own separate blog (to keep this one from being overwhelmed with images) and you can view it HERE.
Harry Palmer: Starstruck with Elaine Lee, Mw Kaluta and James Ratcliffe is not quite finished, but we made some serious headway! And from where I sit, the book is looking like a masterpiece…. Here’s a small sampling of 3 non-consecutive pages:
Kickstarters We Supported
Periscope Studio: Maiden Voyage
Margaret by Jason Webley and Friends
Strong Female Protagonist
EVOLUTION: The Art of Rebecca Guay 1993-2014
The Tooles Record
Books We Read
Carol Berg’s Lighthouse Duo
Impulse by Steven Gould
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman
Hounded by Kevin Hearne
Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult by Marion Goldman
The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Dreamwalker by C. S. Friedman
Movies and Shows We Watched
Game of Thrones
Venture Bros: Season 5 (and then re-watched Seasons 3 & 4)
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Tick (the series)
The Lego Movie
City of Ember
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Grand Budapest Hotel
How to Train Your Dragon
X-Men: First Class
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
House of Yes
Sky Captain: World of Tomorrow
The Last Five Years
Three posters from the Kelly Collection: Pyle’s extraordinary ‘Angel’, Leyendecker’s triumphal ‘Saturday Evening Post’ parade, and Mead Shaeffer’s sublime ‘Count of Monte Cristo'; a stupendously framed print of James Christensen’s ‘Superstitions'; Malachite Glass ashtray-turned-crystal-globe-holder from Prague. Also: Paul Komoda’s Ceratosaurus as well as a mystery commission as yet unrevealed!
I started 2014 off in collaboration with Todd Lockwood. These two paintings were for a Jeff Easley tribute. Both reference Jeff’s early work on Dungeons & Dragons. I drew the first, Todd the second, and we switched off painting until we were happy.
Theater Season is almost always the first big job of the year. And this year marked my 10th Anniversary of painting the full season of posters and the program cover for Northwest Children’s Theater. Time really does fly when one is working with great people!
Lakewood Theater presented such a great mix of plays this year – from the classic Mame to the world premiere Seven Wonders of Ballyknock:
Aaron McConnell, Patricia Smith and I worked with Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and Robin D Laws on 13 True Ways, the fulsome second book in our game 13th Age. Here’s the wraparound cover:
Part of the beauty of 13th Age is how closely I can work with the writers. The spread below required that both Rob Heinsoo and I be at our best in collaboration, passing ideas back and forth, the better to ensure that the final piece has the ability to surprise and intrigue the reader – something that I fear happens far to little in most game projects.
It was a great pleasure to work with rising star Elliott Kay on Days of High Adventure and Natural Consequences. The latter cover only occurred to me after I spoke with Elliott about a completely different design, and I was delighted when he preferred it to the one we’d agreed upon!
What can one do with odd Lovecraftian suggestions (in this case – Nyarlathotep in an Amusement Park) from a boisterous crowd? Real fingerpainting?
It may not be much, but it won the annual HPL Film Festival‘s Pickman’s Apprentice competition:
In May, I finished my full year of Small Gods with Small God #365.
I plan to continue the series as I have since then – with commissions, and as inspiration strikes. I also hope to put a book of fiction together with various writers this year.
Personal commissions for friends can be the most mixed of blessings. The first piece below was a memorial for the late lamented Lobo. The second a birthday celebration for Andy Jewell. Here’s to them!
My friends Brian and Scotia opened their store A Muse N Games in Winnipeg, and this was the logo I designed for their store.
I was commissioned by Aeon Magazine to do a piece to accompany their interview with the great Alan Moore. They wanted a relatively simple editorial style, and the piece should have been simple, but the research took 2 days!
Although I missed this year’s Ambercon NW to return to DC for the World Fantasy Convention, I again designed their t-shirt, this year an Edward Hopper homage from a gas station in shadow. The wee black rabbit and the Power Station sign are homages to Edgefield (where Ambercon NW is held).
I created a Naga to add to the pages of Lands and Legends.
I learned a lot doing this painting and especially appreciate the kind embassies of Mary Anne Mohanraj and the second pair of eyes Todd Lockwood brought to the party!
Wonderful Boston artist Kristina Carroll invited me to participate in her Month of Love, for which I painted a daily Small God, and then again in October to participate in the Month of Fear. This month marked my return from Europe, and I was definitely the better for the inspiration I found there.
I also got to write a book review for my favorite book, Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula.
My appreciation appeared on Halloween day in the Unshelved Book Club:
In November, Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking came out. Upon reading and relating to much of the message therein, I made her the Small God of Asking. Synchronicity was in the air though, as that very day saw the release of her “Dear Daily Mail” nudie pens. I’d drawn them months earlier, but manufacturing can be tricky, and I had no expectation that the timing would synch up so well. Much to the surprise of all, the pens sold out in a day. Happily, do to popular demand, you can preorder the next batch here.
The year ended quietly but, I think, with significant progress. Since returning from Europe in September I’ve been working more and more on pieces that are personally interesting and delightful. I’ve actually completed many more than this and they will premiere at Arisia this month.
Venetia and I have enjoyed listening to Rachel and Miles X-plain the X-men so much I had to create a Christmas card for them, as well as collaborating with Zach Fischer for a very special Christmas gift.
Here’s to a splendid 2015!
Last night’s concert (when I wrote this, it was still last night. Pneumonia and holidays interfered with it being posted in a timely manner) was unusual, especially falling so swiftly on the heels of the Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox show at the Hawthorne.
I just don’t get out that often – the last time I attended 2 concerts in a week was the week of Mojo Nixon and Those Mysterious Wanktones and T-Bone Burnett 30-some years ago!
Kurt Vonnegut said, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted”.
When I haven’t been properly introduced to someone, I try not to waste their time. It’s not that I am perforce uninteresting, but the discomfiture of being “that guy” takes some overcoming. Part of that is clearly hierarchical, but my intensity is all-too-often unsuited to “hanging out”. In this case, I was glad to have the back-stage pass not to go introduce myself to the headliners and be a pest, but because I could use it to get someone out on stage. Funny world.
The stars? Amanda Palmer (hung over after celebrating her newly-minted Best-Selling-Author status for ‘The Art of Asking‘), Portland’s own Storm Large (whose bio I found riveting, but whose PR machineries lack international reach) and Erica Moen (author of ‘Dar’ and ‘Oh Joy, Sex Toy’).
Songs were sung – road manager Whitney joined in on ‘Delilah’, Storm sang ‘I Google You’, and Amanda soloed on a couple more ‘Ukulele Anthem’, ‘In My Mind’, and ‘It Runs in the Family’.
Passages of Amanda’s book were read (my favorites being her introduction to surrogate father/best friend, and her massage at the hands of a stricken internet hater).
But for me (and, I suspect, many others), it was really all about the conversation between these three different but exceptional ladies. If only ‘The View’ had these three!
The Benefits of Starting Slowly
Creativity as Service
Creativity in Accounting – It seems that Erica & Storm share an amazing Accountant
Creativity in Programming
Being Good at Receiving and at Giving
Taking the Flower + the Doughnut your Mom Made + the Love + the Money
The Double-Edged Sword of Damocles’ Internet
The Fine Line Between Hate and the Ache for Fame
Oversharing + Overthinking
Whack a Troll (Storm’s Reality Show)
Women’s Kickstarters doing better than Men’s
The Death of Publishing (all sorts)
And strange for me? I’ve drawn two of these three ladies – more than once (Storm, call me!).
Erica I drew by chance – she was life-modelling at Portland’s Art Institute more than 6 years ago, and I was startled to recognize the model’s tattoos.
She was the best life-drawing model I’d ever had, and while none of these will secure my place in the Louvre, they remain the best collection of life drawings I’ve ever made.
And afterwards, Erica asked if she could use them on the web, so… Victory! :)
And since that June started slowly, I had room for a little ‘American Gods’ comic strip while I was about. In this scene Media (Amanda) has a little fun with Shadow. Since Amanda hadn’t had time to pose in I Love Lucy costume, the lovely Venetia acted as her body double:
Venetia has already read “The Art of Asking” and I am working my way through it at a slower pace.
And you can see the whole discussion between Amanda, Storm, and Erica here.
It’s been a month of glorious travel in Europe. Budapest, Vienna, and Prague (with special guest appearances by Moosbrun, Bratislava, Telč, and Kutná Hora). Our previously posted trio of journals (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) is a lot to wade through (we know, we lived it!), so we post this captioned pictorial summing up in hopes that those of you who don’t want the minutiae might enjoy it:
Amazing view from Hotel Gellert along the Danube.
Stopped at friend Kathi’s family’s farmhouse in Moosbrunn.
Left: the Golden Plum.
Right: Philipp’s store front for classic Viennese tiles.
Currently in beautiful decay but ongoing repairs may change that.
A rainy day in Telč.
Krampus sighting at the local “farmer’s” market.
No we aren’t going to post lots of pictures, you need to go see it yourself!
No really, please do go see it.
You never know when you will find an upside down horse.
We had originally intended to go straight to Prague from Vienna via train but our fantastic hostess suggested she drive us all and that we take a few days in the Czech Republic to explore. The morning of our travels was the first rainy day we had seen thus far on our trip. We had a real vacation-lazy morning, hang about the apartment, taking long baths, and generally meandering. Kathi and I headed back to the market (where at least one of us spoke the language and could read ingredients) before heading north. The trip was slow and rain soaked, but lovely. The landscape was beautiful – and sometimes surprising as we discovered when we crossed the border and discovered Excalibur City! – It seems that Excalibur City is what happens when a DMZ at the edge twixt Empires decides to go all Las Vegas with amusement park rides and the sex trade. Who knew?
Kathi had suggested we spend our first night in Telč so that was our first destination. After trying to help a trio of Rom with a petrolless car that was impeding the road, we finally found our way to Telč and a lovely little inn. We fell asleep to the sound of the pounding rain outside.
The next day we awoke to find the torrential rain had more or less ended and was now merely drizzling. We ate breakfast, read a bit of the delightful Fool on the Hill aloud (before we had to return it to our hostess), sought Kathi out in the square and found her with coffee and cigarettes. We sat for a moment enjoying the square and then were off. First a trip to the west. We could not venture into the castle, as they were using it to shoot a film. But we wandered out the western gates and shot photos among the rainy parkland – the ponds and trees and flowers. We circled out, returned through the gate and meandered in that touristy way for an hour or so. Happily the windbreaker I’d borrowed from Kathi was all I needed. It seemed it was a magic charm for there was only one additional day of rain after I returned it.
From central Telč, the only escape via car was a looping circular route, and we found ourselves making loops outside those we’d already made on foot. A few dodgy signs and directions were no match for the high-tech wizardry of the modern iPad though, and Kathi and Venetia’s combined cleverness got us through so that we were soon en route to Kutná Hora, though we’d not even heard of it before yesterday. After posting the minimal connect-the-dots of this ongoing journey on the internet, both Janine Ashbless and Travis Webb strongly recommended a visit to the Sedlec Ossuary and we were game.
We enjoyed stops in tiny Filipov and bustling Havlickuv Brod, where we adored the architecture (though we couldn’t really translate what the Grim Reaper atop town hall had written in gold on his scythe) and stopped for a fine luncheon of “kabob”. Seeing every pepper in the farmer’s market labeled “paprika” was the most sensible thing I have read here – mostly the signs form only accidental collisions with English (“Darky Gifts” leaps to mind), and resemble nothing so much as that nightmare rack of Scrabble tiles where too many Ys fight the Z and an insufficiency of vowels. But oh the lovely people and architecture!
From there we travelled into the old mining city of Kutná Hora, marveling at its ancient Gothic cistern, sculptures and painted facades before finding some cinnamon-spiced pear juice in a restaurant overlooking the lower park and the cathedral.
Properly refreshed, we began a sunset trip into Prague from the east. I stayed up past midnight talking with Kathi and saying a long goodbye. It’s was so wonderful having her as travel companion and guide – from Bratislava to Wein to Praha. There really is no comparison between the limited movement most travelers enjoy and a proper anything-goes tour guide.
Our first full day in Prague, Kathi left for a meeting with her sweetheart and we dined in the Bar adjacent to the hotel. As the other guests mingled over dubious canned pâté and stake corn flakes, we were entranced by the ancient Czech music video channel – ancient black and white footage of a man who’d made a local hit of Waltzing Matilda, of a group of young men and women wandering down hallways in outfits that Venetia thought better used in Austin Powers movies, and of a local Abba-esque group who made their 80s dream video for what could have been no more than 100 krona.
We paid up and headed to the train on foot, squeaking just enough coinage from our pockets for the trip to Pavlova. A short few blocks later we arrived at the apartment, were let in, and had an an hour or two before Jacob and Henni and Talia arrived from Berlin. After the hugging, some gift-giving and general settling in, we headed out for currency, and to check out what would prove to be the least agricultural “farmer’s” market ever. Our prize? A piece of locally made “malachite glass”. I didn’t even know it existed before, but having done a little research, we ended up on the lookout for some “lapis glass” too!
From there a gander into the Anonymous Coffee Bar (with its V for Vendetta trappings), the massive comics store, and the Tesco – where a great deal of foods were compared, examined and eventually purchased for our week here in Prague. A sublime dinner of gluten-free pasta, sauce and salad followed later after the snacking (on rice cakes and Nutella, among other treats). Life in Prague is good.
After dinner we wandered west, down to the river. Lots of walking and talking. Crossing and crossing back. Coming home and falling into deep sleep.
We awoke to our last rainy day of the trip and headed out after breakfast. After carefully sampling the wares of delicious raw food dessert shop around the corner, we surveyed the pointy dark church at the center of the square a couple blocks up. We then wandered about, shooting reference of the nearby fin de siècle buildings and glorious architecture for an hour or two. When the rain got too heavy, we bid our friends goodbye and they ventured off toward the glorious city center. After a brief stop into the nearer comic store (surreal to see all that pulp printed in Czech), we came back to the apartment and spent the day writing postcards and doing a little drawing. When the trio returned triumphant at 10 pm they made a marvelous late dinner.
On Monday we were out of the apartment at noon and spent a full day meandering through old town: being told that one shall not shoot photos of the sgraffito murals inside the Post Office (really?) finding the Mucha Museum in passing, photographing many motifs and details of incredible buildings, nipping into the astonishing Opera House (while our colleagues ate fortifying sandwiches on the front steps of the fortified Bank building), into shops, down alleys, past the famous Prague clock, across the pedestrian bridge (lined with ancient sculptures and happy generations of spiders), and slowly up the hill to the Castle.
We topped the hill as the sun began to set, walking through the metal gates (featuring a sculptural stabbing on one side and a clubbing on the other) and around the ancient cathedral – so many mismatched textures, glorious windows and flying buttresses.
We quickly figured out that the cathedral was a favorite place for couples to take engagement and wedding photos as we saw no fewer than three well dressed couples taking pictures. While we quite like the bright red gown we saw the first day, later we also saw a frothy pink gown which was a bit overblown.
We explored the area around the Castle a bit more, admiring the views of the city below from the restaurants whose windows we could see through. From there, a short trip down into the orchard where Henni showed us what it means to be in the EU – freely poached fruit! And when none of us was tall enough to reach, Jacob put his years of circus training to use and Henni picked apples from his back.
After passing through the orchard and back onto cobblestone streets, we passed the Embassies of Germany and the US. I was more than a little sad that the central crest (a crown topped by a gold cross) seemed so accurate a representation of the US. We continued downhill to the river, where we saw a line of lit yellow penguins and some of the bizarre black metal babies that climb the giant telecoms tower. Baffling, but hilarious.
We crossed the bridge which I misread as “Most Legit” (let’s face it, I need all the help I can get). Sadly, no further legitimacy was conveyed as the bridge is really “Most Legii” which apparently means “Bridge of Legions”. Returning to our apartment along the Moldaur and up a long street, we were treated to gluten-free spaghetti pomodoro with sunflower seeds (Henni’s secret recipe).
Tuesday started slowly but beautifully, but we got out of the apartment a little before noon for some shopping under a cloudless sky. While Henni and Jacob worked the Farmer’s Market, Talia and I went to Tesco. After we returned, and had a sort of luncheon, we found ourselves out en masse – onto the subway and north – back to the northern peninsula where we’d stayed on our first night in Prague. This time, the reason was Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic. I’d heard tell of it for years of course, but aside from the very occasional, and far too small photo, I’d never seen it. When artist Jesper Ejsing visited it last year, his glowing reportage (in tandem with Jacob & Henni’s desire to meet up in Prague and with the city and Mucha heirs’ indecision about the Epic’s future) convinced me that the time was right. It was.
The Epic is that – epic. Huge canvases, massive mythologizing, and incredible skill. And so worth the trip! I found some (largely those that interpose reality with spirituality and fantasy) better than others, but having surveyed the entirety of the Belvedere’ collection in Vienna, even the most prosaic and documentary pieces were extraordinary. While the Epic rewarded our hours of scrutiny in countless ways, the museum featured none of the photographic reference, thumbnails, cartoons or other studies Mucha made. Further, no mention was made of Mr. Crane, the American who financed this extravaganza of nationalism and, eventually, state-building. The exhibit ends with an almost fantastically slanted film telling the viewers about the ongoing dispute with the Moravian town that had held the Epic safe for so many years. As lawyers circle, money is raised and squandered, and no progress is made toward putting this masterpiece in a proper setting, the irony of Mucha’s efforts intensifies. His massive efforts of love and pride, of hope and union, reduced to a slap fight between incompetent bureaucrats and greedy heirs worried for the loss of copyright licensing. And the Czech book about the epic? A collection of shoddy photographs, massive inaccurate color and tone, loads of words (in Czech only, natch) and plenty of white space (the designer must have been so proud!), it’s an unworthy disaster. Strangely, the postcards of the paintings seem the most accurate to the colors Mucha really employed but are, perforce, the size of postcards.
We had planned to do a full Mucha day but after five hours at the Slav Epic, we were quite worn out. Our friends stopped at the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes decorated Anonymous Cafe for coffee on the way back while Venetia and I returned to the apartment. I drew while Venetia slept, and eventually our colleagues returned with presents – slabs of goat cheese so delicious that they barely lasted the night (don’t worry, we went shopping for more on Thursday!) Eventually, the kitchen horrors were vanquished by Jacob and Henni, and a splendid meal of rice patties and beet/zucchini compote was served. As we finished the meal, Henni’s friend Weibke arrived from Germany and Jacob entertained us with wax painting.
As a side note, Prague has a cherub problem. Excepting Mucha’s glorious cherubim (haloed, with neither wings nor incipient diaper rash), Prague is positively infested with the wee bairns, getting up to all manner of theoretically-lovable mischief. The ones across from our apartment were especially noteworthy, as it is not every day that you see anatomically correct chubby cherubs of both sexes cavorting about.
Wednesday, the theory was early-to-rise. The practice? Well, out-of-the-house-by-noon is good enough. A walk to the Mucha Museum proved less direct that planned, but we tacked well enough and got to our destination in time – crossing over several routes we’d enjoyed the previous day.
Jacob and I both wore Mucha-inspired mermaid shirts we’d designed to the Mucha Museum. The museum itself was far smaller and less extensive than one would wish. Some posters, a few paintings and possibly 20 drawings. That’s it. No wall paper designs, no reproductions of the other sites in Prague and elsewhere throughout Europe and the US. Little discussion of his seemingly idyllic home life (given his spectacular output, it seems he did little but paint and attend parties – supported by wife and children. Did he have staff? Apprentices? Assistants?) And, for that matter, why Gaugin wasn’t wearing trousers in that photo. The notion that Mucha’s works have until recently been protected by copyright, and that the estate must have made a fortune, makes their treatment of Mucha all the shabbier. Largely shoddy poorly-printed and inaccurate products, no reproductions of Mucha’s photography, his rare “le Pater”, or any of his illustration work for that matter. Sad that such glorious work should be so poorly respected.
Having learned that Mucha designed Prague’s Municipal house, we went back to that building but were disappointed that the Mucha room was only viewable by tour ($$) and not for another hour. We did take a few more pictures around the edges, but missed the main attraction.
We walked by the first north facing (and park facing) bridge, crossed the second, and found ourselves in “Peacock Paradise”. The Peacock was a heraldic symbol of the Slavs, as seen on several helmets in Mucha’s Slav Epic, and they roamed the grounds freely. We came across a peculiar building – small, weirdly textured, and made of a dark concrete. No idea at all what it was or why it should occupy this spot. Is it a tool shed? With a might heraldic crest on its face? Bizarre.
Though we could have walked over a different bridge each trip over the river, only four were central to the area we were walking so on our way back we walked back across the bridge of sculptures. This time we were startled to see a mob of Hari Krishnas blocking the far end. It seems forever since I’ve seen them in the states. Funny world.
After a long trip home and a few hours to rest, we were overcome with hunger and traveled about the neighborhood – first stopping at the kabob house for travel provisions, and then moving on to the Blue Wagon, where a fantastic deer sirloin with a coffee demiglace (accompanied by Parmesan polenta with asparagus) made us very happy indeed.
Our last full day in Prague started with breakfast, some runaround with the landlord about checking out and other arrangements kept us in the apartment until…. Noon. Apparently that’s just how we roll here in Prague. Of course we had to go get more delicious goat cheese (a marvelous variety with herbs and an aged slab piquant and salty).
Because our first trip to the palace and cathedral had been too late in the day for entrance, we returned on our last day to view the inside of the cathedral and the stained glass window Mucha designed. We headed to the station north of the Castle and St Vitus’ Cathedral, happy to let the massive escalator (not our aching feet) get us to the top. What we didn’t expect was a sealed-off street detour and a ravine twixt park (with its stylish modern oragerie) and the Castle hill. And while we were, accordingly, 20 minutes late to our destination, we were pleased to find our colleagues 30 minutes late. Punctuality is not this vacation’s hallmark.
There was no way to pay one’s way into the Cathedral (to better view the Mucha window) without paying to see a bunch of other things that would have kept us indoors on this glorious day. So we did our best to shoot what was visible and moved on.
Wandering straight down the steep eastern stairs involved a stop at the overlook and, more crucially to our survival, a spiral-cut potato on a stick (essentially one long bag of conjoined potato chips) and a paprika-seasoned sausage which we ate in the park at the bottom of the hill. When our friends caught up to us, we wandered past the couple blowing enormous bubbles, and west into the Czech Senate.
We consulted a map and wandered a bit before finding the doorway to their courtyard to find the peculiar dark wall we’d seen from the Castle above – a dark wall that seemed related to the bizarre potting shed we’d seen in Peacock Paradise the previous day. The first part of the curious wall is an astonishing aviary holding 9 owls. The sculpted wall then ran on for a great distance – part nouveau fever dream and part concrete folly.
While our friends (and the handsome German Goth couple that had been mirroring our touristy viewings through the afternoon) ate their lunch on the benches, Venetia and I did a little yoga on the well-manicured lawn. Until the guard shooed us off, of course.
Afterwards, our party split up again, with our friends going to the “Meat Factory”, a modern “art” gallery/museum, and us going home via a gorgeous woolen shop and the Tesco. I cooked up dinner in the form of a beet, carrot and mushroom sauce over the last of the gluten-free pasta we’d brought from Austria. Fortunately friends were timely, and dinner was served at 7 – in part that Henni and Wiebke could head out to a Czech punk club thereafter. While they gallivanting about, Venetia and I greatly enjoyed our visit with the Leftons left behind. And when I saw the message from a bellydancer we’d met months back (when she joined our friends from Winnipeg in Rachel Brice’s masters class) and who is moving to Portland and seeking a place to land, I mentioned it to Venetia as she’s continued packing in the other room. Imagine our surprise when Talia asked if it was her friend from Mass Arts. It was.
An aside amid the discursions: I have to wonder at the sheer bloodymindedness of the foreigners who cannot seem to call Praha by its name. It’s not rocket science after all, so why Prag, Praga, and Prague? Ah well, humans will be humans I suppose…. Though the corporate spelling of “Segway” (instead of Segue) is a mercy in Prague (which is overrun with them as a tourist conveyances), lest all pronunciation enter a black hole from which there is no return….
Leaving Prague, we were up at 8am, a speedy breakfast, some final raiding of the kitchen, and quick goodbyes followed. Talia stirred and got hugged even as Wiebke slept through some mighty alarms, but Henni (also out until 1am) and Jacob rose and helped us out. The first two will be off to Vienna while Jacob and Henni get a ride back to Berlin. We took a cab to the airport, and found it worth every penny. What a relief not to be schlepping bags from street to subway to rail to bus to airport!
We were first in line at the Brussels Air kiosk, and our two hour wait went speedily. The trip to Brussels as a short hop, and the layover seemed scarce a blink as we transferred to Iceland Air. Whereas sharing films wasn’t really possible en route to Europe, I chose the modern silent film ‘The Artist’ this time around and found we could both enjoy it (though only one of us got the musical soundtrack at a time). After our brief stopover for customs (and sushi) at Keflavik, Venetia followed the silent movie theme with ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. And while I could not hear it, there was no shortage of goodness in it – from the period pastiches in Technicolor France, to Cyd Charisse’s turn in green (Starstruck’s Verloona come to cinematic life). Glorious. The views over the Atlantic were nothing but clouds, so as Venetia enjoys the X-Men on film, I’m typing this final dispatch of our trip to Europe. What a long remarkable trip it has been!
Addendum: Upon arriving in DC we discovered that Iceland Air had lost our bags. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing (especially as our bags were returned a few days later) because we were in DC for a wedding and therefore spent the afternoon before the wedding running about visiting friends and stores assembling items that were wedding appropriate. I borrowed a suit from Mark Barker which fit admirably, was gifted a colorful shirt from my dear friend Helen, and Venetia bought stripped heels that were an absolute hit at the wedding. We were thrilled to see my beloved friend Della marry Kevin and while we don’t know the groom well, we got to know his family at the reception and they were so absolutely splendid that we believe the groom must be a quality person himself.
We are now safely home in Portland until our next trip to DC in November. And it only took us an additional two weeks to get these blogs up!
We woke early the morning of our journey to Austria, took leisurely baths in the giant tub in our apartment and packed. A quick Sunday morning subway ride took us back to the scene of rail bureaucracy, and we got not only our seats, but those of the kind woman across from us. She realized we preferred to sit together and face forward to see the country, and moved to read her book facing backwards. Having experienced some motion-sickness on the first leg of the trip, her kindness was especially appreciated! We had two changes of trains, first at the Hungarian Border and again close to Vienna. And when we arrived at our destination, there was my old friend Kathi and her adorable new car. After many hugs it was only a quick hop to her family farm in Moosbrunn (“Mossy Well”).
We had a delightful afternoon of relaxation, snacks, walking the adorable golden retriever down country streams, inspecting the many improvements since last I was there, and seeing her family. Brother Philipp has been using the barn for his architectural renovation business: the piles of ancient building parts (from massive doors to abandoned altars) crowd the old car body he’s working on, and the classic Viennese tiles he’s matching and remaking. Given my own father’s workshops and my uncle’s saw mill, I felt thoroughly at home.
We shared a dinner of chili and polenta with the whole clan, including paterfamilias Wolfgang (now 87), mother Monika (now my Facebook friend) and Philipp’s wonderful wife Connie and son Kajetan. Afterwards, goodbyes were said, and Kathi drove us to her marvelous Vienna apartment. Some of it looked the same but many other bits have been radically improved in the decades since last I’d seen them. Fascinating how few people I know who’ve remained in the same home for so long a time….
The next morning, Kathi led us a few blocks from home to the Westbahnhoff. Much changed since I arrived there unannounced some 26 years ago, it is now part-shopping plaza. Soon it will no longer be the stopping point for all trains from the west; they will instead travel to the Hauptbahnhoff, where travelers will easily be able to transfer to eastern and southern lines. In our case, it was shopping for local foodstuffs (sheep yogurt? Incredible ricotta-like texture that will no doubt make a fine gluten-free ravioli or cheesecake!) then home for our transportation this day was to by car. After a little hanging out we set out to Slovakia by way of Castle Devin.
We continued to Bratislava on a picture perfect day. A taste of impeccably festooned Mardi Gras dancers and drummers greeted us as we emerged up from the Carlton car park – hardly the Balkan folk dancing one might have expected!
Bratislava was as beautiful as we’d heard, but sporting more graffiti that any classical city should. The central cathedral’s green metal tower roof was inlaid with gold and looked up to the castle on the hill (the better to ignore the highway at its base). The statuary, clocks and design were gorgeous and somewhat obscure – sleepy dragons lay near solicitous guardsmen as a starry lunar clock turned slowly in the tower above. There were many charming and surprising statues, one silver fellow startled Venetia not because he moved but because of his failure to do so!
After some failure to escape the Slovakian countryside, we finally found a road that allowed a western crossing back into Austria and drove home into the glorious setting sun through fields of windmills. We shared buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes before the dinner Kathi made of gluten-free pasta, 2 kinds of mushrooms, truffle oil and pork loin. A little musical conversation (and the inevitable YouTube sharing) followed, before we all collapsed for the evening.
The next morning we headed back to shop, this time for chocolate as we had already devoured our stash. After looking at the supermarket selection we stalked up on both our favorite Lindt orange, as well as new and unexpected flavors: pistachio, chili, and various nuts. Our adventure of the day was off in the Northern reaches of Wein, to Nussdorf, via the Hunderwasser-designed incinerator called “the Golden Plum”.
The five of us took an evening walk along the Danube and over a glorious bridge across the channel. After taking the requisite reference pictures (there’s a Michael Parkes Painting waiting to happen), we picked up Ice Cream from Kajetan, chips for us, and climbed the back streets up into the rolling vineyards.
As we hiked, the gorgeous weather gave way to a splendid sunset over the city as it spread out below us to the south. We came down via the grapevine rows and through the graveyard until we reached the walled creek channel.
We followed that down to a restaurant called 21 dots, where the sushi (and related delicacies) flowed. We chatted with Kathi and Philipp, and tormented Katetan in our sly way, as we enjoyed Spicy Duck Sushi. We opted to avoid the Hello Kitty Roll, no matter how much we admired the notion of devouring her (and the use of beet juice to stain the sushi rice).
On our second full day in Vienna, we headed into the city proper by way of the subway at the Westbahnhoff. We exited on the other side of the city, and headed southward through the park – documenting textures and vistas as we went. We eventually turned down the grand boulevard, past equestrian statues and memorial fountains to Russian soldiers, past Nouveau building, and a few embassies, to the gate of the Belvedere. After a quick view of the grounds, we bought our tickets and headed into the old palace.
The usual suspects (Klimt, Schiele, Rodin, Monet et al) were as gorgeous as I remembered from my journey here 26 years ago. But the big surprise was seeing Giovanni Segantini’s ‘The Evil Mothers’ in person. Seeing it life-size and uncropped was a revelation (and really – Such a peculiar painting!), and so were ‘The Senses’ and the enormous court scene painted by Makart.
The Habitrail contraption of flashing lights that purported to be a psych experiment certainly came as a surprise too, as did the funballs with slip covers that lay about the place. It was like something from an old Ken Russell film….
After looking through the entirety of the palace (and at the views therefrom) we headed further south, toward the new Hauptbahnhoff. From there via tram to St. Marx Cemetery, more for the beauty of the ancient stones than to visit Mozart’s remains (though of course we paid those respects as well). Countless ancient worn and vandalized markers lie everywhere, with vines and trees and sometime fallen stones occluding them. However it was heartening to see the care and work put into restoring the old graveyard, even though it means losing some of the decaying beauty.
We had energy left for only a few hours in the graveyard before we took our weary feet back to the tram line, and a straightforward trip back to Kathi’s. Thank heavens for simple and effective public transport! After dinner, Kathi took us out to the Ferris Wheel made famous by that old style gangster Harry Lime. The small park beneath has changed a lot since last I was there last, including the ability to have a $500 meal while gracefully spinning on the wheel. A Basilisk-themed toy store, a tall column of swings and a hall of scale-model mirrors were among the other new-to-me attractions. The sun set as we were leaving, casting luscious colors over the gaudy ones already there. Perfect timing.
From there via subway we headed into the heart of the old city at twilight. Old steps, alleys, back ways and, of course, St. Stephens Cathedral – all the more inscrutable and powerful in silhouette. After a quick circuit there, we headed back and fell into a deep sleep.
We began this journey as we seem to begin them all: by settling as much hash on the home front as humanly possible. We know too well the avalanche of unattended emails and many tasks unfulfillable from the road that are inevitable….
So we cleaned house and freezer; sent mails, packages and contracts; wrote bios and tidied web sites; cooked up plum coffee cakes, packed up snacks, cleaned out the refrigerator, and attended the neighborhood soirée; did small jobs, finished larger ones, and where overwhelmingly large, left them in as elegant a place as possible. We also had guests and talked long-range planning.
Then finally, after a few hours’ sleep, were driven to the airport by my mom. Though without the battery recharger for the camera. C’est la travail….
A few hours on Alaska Air brought us to LAX, where we waited in the squalid old terminal for the people of Air New Zealand to report for duty (their days start at 1:30 pm). A few last minute phone calls later, it was time to take our bags (small carry-ons only which is what made up all our luggage) up the funny stairs.
Strange how the security kabuki inside the US differs from that when one is bound for the UK. It’s almost as though it’s completely arbitrary. But still, how nice to go through a screening gate more or less unmolested. Even then, I cannot help but be amazed at the vasty variety of commerce on offer and the virtual impossibility of preventing mischief, if someone wanted to create some. And to be appalled at the wastefulness of “security”, whether the emptying of water bottles during a drought clearly visible from the air, or the small “security”-sized liquid containers in their own grocery aisle….
We love Air New Zealand though. Good people, kind service, and a degree of comfort pretty much unheard of in the US. Also? Really good movies. Venetia spent much of our trip to London watching ‘The Other Woman’, ‘Frozen’ and ‘Veronica Mars’. For myself, it was ‘The City of Ember’, the second Hobbit confabulation, and parts of several other films. Strange to see Bill Murray’s ‘Caddyshack’ Carl on one screen and his corpulent Mayor of Ember on the next, and a little sad not to be able to share films with Venetia en route.
But it was not all movie banquet and good gluten-free food. There was also air-sickness, and it hit Venetia hard. When we arrived at Heathrow, we asked for some help, and rode a mad beeping cart through the endless terminal to the bus stop, whereupon the infamous bus ride to Terminal 3 made the rest of our trip seem normal and calm. From there, we made it as far as the next security scan before Venetia collapsed. And rather than assuming it would just be alright if she sat for a while, we asked for the airport paramedic. Even as our request was being processed, an unspeakably handsome Dallas doctor appeared with the anti-emitics Venetia needed so badly. When the paramedic arrived a few minutes later (by snazzy yellow bicycle), Venetia was already recovering admirably. We popped her into a handy wheelchair, got the tickets for this part of our journey from the BA counter and headed for the bus and the ramp. Safely ensconced at last, we were asleep almost the moment we were airborne.
We awoke to see Budapest from the air, and a half hour later our shuttle deposited us at the Hotel Gellert. Venetia was quite taken with our room – upgraded to overlook the Danube. She spent much of her time not sleeping but sitting and writing overlooking the river.
I thought we’d sleep a dozen hours – from 7 to 7. And we did. However because of our jetlag we enjoyed several glorious sunrises in Budapest, which we usually miss in the states.
That first morning, after fulsome hotel breakfast, we fell back into a deep sleep, arising only when our last chance to use the Gellert Spa was nearly gone. We hastened downstairs in bathing suits, and sampled every pool and tub we could. It was glorious.
The next day we rose, ate the hotel breakfast again (this time avoiding most of the curiously unsatisfying fruit and juice), and hastened through the spa and up the promontory across the street. A steep climb through a very shabbily kept park followed. We encountered a few joggers, and countless overgrown scenic views, bottles and detritus. It reminded me of the bad old days in Central Park…. But the views were lovely where they could be taken.
Heroic statues, some religious, were on offer, but we hadn’t time for the abandoned fortress atop the hill. Instead we descended to the north and toward the amazing castle complex of museums and culture which ran counter to most everything we’d seen on the hill. Loads of new street and stone works were underway, blocking access to some of the refurbished (and likely new) buildings. As glorious as that area is, it is going to be even more astonishing by years’ end. The museums were closed (it was too early) but the walk and the views were amazing. It was nice to see a different view than most tourists get, all the behind-the-scenes of people waking up and starting work.
We returned to the Hotel for the end of breakfast, gobbled up more corn flakes, bacon and water, and checked out. After which we wandered to the AirB&B apartment we’d rented in Pest. Or so we would have done had we been provided the correct address. The free wi-fi at the Starbucks allowed communication with our landlords, and after 40 minutes or so we’d walked back much of the distance we’d traveled. We met the landlords briefly, got settled in, and… passed right out. For the rest of the day.
(Though there were some glorious moments of consciousness filled with Julian May’s The Many Colored Land and a very comfortable bathtub.)
The next day involved a comical journey to the train station. We ‘d tried to make all our travel plans in advance, but had been baffled by the Hungarian Rail system – Why couldn’t we book a trip online? Why would they need to mail us a ticket (for an additional fee)? It just didn’t make sense. Until we spent our hours in the train station of course. Only then did the bureaucratic horror of the thing really start to congeal. Hours of waiting in a curiously undifferentiated tripartite line for our number to be called “111, 703, 410, 704, 705, 412, 411, 112, 706″ finally got us to the window of a lovely woman who riffled wrinkled time-tables printed on onion-skin. She messed up the first hand-written and carboned form but finally seemed to get the writing (and the proper stamps, natch) in order before telling us something utterly unintelligible through her teller’s window. When we suggested that we couldn’t hear a word over the racket of her adjacent tellers (one of whom made the Middleman’s Ida look a mere cuddly wannabe), she walked out to the man directing lines past the broken pick-a-number machine, and he in turn told us that our hours of standing in line were all well and good, but while we’d purchased international tickets, we now had to go stand in the Internal ticket line to purchase a ticket to the border itself. Time consuming madness, made all the more curious by the efficiency and excellent of their subway system. Old bureaucracies die hard….
After our letters of transit were finally secure, we walked through the nearby Embassy Row, around the large 70’s sports arenas, back over the tracks and to the mall, that we might shop at Tesco and find a battery charger. On a day of transit foolishness, we were happy to put something in the Win column. Venetia was very taken by the ironwork she saw in doors and gates and mostly took pictures of those, although there are a few doors she regrets not taking pictures of!
The next day saw us back on the underground, and moving to the northwest end of the most scenic tram line. Soon we were getting an excellent view of the city’s varied and beautiful architecture (a hotel called the “New York”, Gaudi one moment and Bauhaus the next, Baths and island waterparks). We hopped off when we crossed the Danube again and found ourselves back in Buda. A short walk on the waterfront brought us to the Gellert once more, and a long delightful day of spa pools.
Among its many claims to fame, The San Diego Comic Con is a way to visit people I would never get to see otherwise. Jaime Carrillo and the lovely Ana were the first people we saw entering the hall, or at least the first place we went. Since I have only ever seen them inside the hall I made the daring suggestion that we go to dinner to see what we look like under different circumstances. It worked. They were not site-specific holograms after all.
Other friends live close enough to visit for Super Bowl Parties, however it took me until SDCC to visit Todd Lockwood to sign the paintings we collaborated on earlier this year. The Badali Jewelry booth was our sanctuary this year, the place we went when things became too overwhelming and we needed hugs. Not that they weren’t always swamped with customers (and selling out of fantastic new pieces) but they always had a moment for poor weary travelers. The busy Stacy ducked out of the crowds of people long enough to give me a hug and tell me the odyssey of getting the huge dragon on top of the Weta booth. We only ran into Brent Weeks once and that was at the airport where Venetia twitter stalked him. Venetia was able to spot Seanan McGuire from her glorious hair and we were lucky to see catch Amy McNally during her brief visit. Venetia also got to see her dear friend Sarah and fall in love with a new adorable baby. The Shiftlett Brothers were safely in their box fort and we admired their newest piece in progress this glorious barbarian/viking statue we wanted to get for Drew and Cat.
John Picacio was one of the stars of the show this year which meant we only got to talk to him and his lovely assistant Tara briefly but they were undeniably winning the con. Someday I hope to be so savvy. There was a panel about the upcoming Neil Gaiman documentary just brimming with lovely and talented people, including Cat Mihos and Les Klinger. Peter Beagle and the indispensable Connor Cochran were in Artists’ Alley and we spent enough time with them to ensure that we will indeed see them again soon, although Venetia has decided she wants to live at Peter Beagle’s elbow so that she can always listen to his stories.
If you’ve talked to Venetia or I about books recently, you may have heard us rave about Red Rising which is definitely the Next Big Thing™. I was suspicious at first upon reading it because I hate being pandered to but I quickly gave up and surrendered to enjoying the book. I especially always appreciate it when plot twists aren’t quite what I expected. Pierce Brown was doing several signings at his publishers booth and we end up standing in line twice. The first time was to meet him and get a book for a friend, the second time because we realized we have a lot more friends we would like to give his book to.
Also on the author front, I finally got to meet Sam Sykes in person. A most upstanding young ne’er-do-well, I suspected I would like him from the twittery volleys we exchanged and was happy to further appall Seanan McGuire with some punning conversation with Sam.
I also made one of my very rare purchases for authentic screen-used gloves and mask made by WETA Workshop used in the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008). Some prices (even at SDCC) are too low to be ignored.
And while Keith is an old friend, we met several of his compagneros ’round the fire pit Saturday night – including singer Marian Call and her posse from the great state formerly known as Seward’s folly!
Last, but certainly not at all least, we encountered an intriguing sign attached to a table of goodness that said that for $20, Bill Plympton will draw your picture. How could we resist! Venetia couldn’t stop smiling for her portrait, even after Bill said she could stop.
I am always astonished by the sheer volume artists whose work is on display and for sale – especially the really GOOD artists. Every year I take at least one whole day, and usually additional returns, to wander – not just through the designated “Artists’ Alley, but through the entire Convention floor. This year it was my great pleasure to “discover” the already brilliant and successful Viktor Kalvachev. His work does not fit into one style or description and his sketches are superb. His finished cover pieces contain many of the subversive elements I especially enjoy – the kind of art work you can study and think about but also can enjoy just at a glance for it’s aesthetic value.(Image: DC Comics cover for Men of War Vol2 by Viktor Kalvachev)
Viktor is the kind of person who knew his comic would make a great video game, so he started a company in France to produce it. When I commented on how good his blood stains were, he explained that the trick was to study the blood stain reference – the sheen, the shapes, the volume – and then draw his own.
Les Cités obscures
In 1988 I was thunderstruck in Paris by the giant (and hugely expensive) series of graphic novels called Les Cités obscures. On Thursday afternoon of this 2014, we walked into the vasty hall in perfect time to see its artist, François Schuiten, signing and drawing in copies of his newly-translated-into-English book, The Leaning Girl. Upon learning that I was an artist and a fan, he drew this picture – in ink, without any preparatory pencil work – in the front. Author Benoît Peeters also signed and Steve Smith, his devoted publisher captured the scene. It seems he had taken photos of the previously-drawn pages and not one was the same as mine of of any other.You don’t have to put on the red light
The local police decided to put on a show the second to last night of the convention. Twice, on successive street corners. This is how it “worked”: For cash money deposited in a clear box on a stand, any willing person could get themselves (pretend) arrested. But not just any arrest, no no. The sort of arrest that involves being manhandled and throttled with batons. What a… hoot? So, instead of keeping the bottlenecks madness of the night to a minimum, this bunch of jokester cops-for-hire made the traffic far worse. And like the train wreck it surely was, people could not look away. Either time. And the young fans getting their photos taken during mock arrests? What street cred! And the cops? It was a debacle on every level, but perhaps most of all for rule of law.
San Diego Zoo – How we do vacation
In order to combat the exhausting drone of the convention this year, we decided to make it our vacation and spend a few extra days in town. Venetia started a subtle and focused campaign for the zoo by saying the word “zoo” periodically throughout the weekend. We had a late but large breakfast to prepare ourselves and took the bus on the corner of our street straight to Balboa Park. We entered the zoo at a few minutes to noon which means I can say with certainty that we were at the zoo for 9 straight hours. I can only describe how much my feet hurt by describing to you how the bright red color on the soles of my feet radiated up along the sides of my feet as well. We saw almost every single exhibit in the San Diego Zoo with very few exceptions. Venetia’s highlights were the playful polar bears, the elegant and mysterious secretary birds and the flamingo disco party she was insistent on visiting at the very end of the day which firmly put our trip into the exactly 9 hours of zoo. After that, it was a relief to get on the plane for a few hours the following day just to rest our feet!
Many of us have read the inane whining and vapid protests of young entitled boy fans talking about “fake” geek girls. San Diego at this time of year is the adamantium melting-pot where law interns and all manner of European exchange students put on their geekiest to pedal wee thrones of Westeros, peddle tchotchkes they know little and care less about, or seat diners in fantastically overpriced restaurants. Heck, every mannequin is wearing a WonderWoman tiara and every shop is stocking Wolverine and Hulk merchandise it might normally sneer at. All of San Diego is a “fake” geek, because that’s where the money is. There are hostesses indistinguishable from casual cosplayers, and tattooed local drunks who may or may not have any idea which gaming character they resemble.
Soaking in this debauch of 3-color lunacy for a week, and daily wandering through a convention where most of the founders of the feast are utterly unknown and where art dealers make multiples of profit on comic pages that netted their creators precious little, has led me to reconsider the protestations of the clueless. It’s not fake fans they should be concerned about, it’s the fake executives, the fake money men who pull the strings. Because those guys? They’ve never cared a jot for the material and they probably never will….
While nothing that happens in Hall H stays in Hall H, most of it gets to YouTube faster than it can move about the sales floor of the convention. It’s interesting to be so close, and yet so far (and, as a long-time fan, disappointing not to hear more of Doctor Strange and The Inhumans). I saw the Avengers posters at a distance on this, the last day of the convention. But heard no context about any of it.
The piece de resistance on the last night of the convention was on the TV in our hotel. It was the first Thor movie. Dubbed into Spanish. While the Norse Gods seemed marvelous to me growing up, and fun (if more than a little absurd in the hands of Stanley Lieber – I mean, c’mon he’s a fiery hard-drinking redhead!), seeing Rene Russo, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, and Chris Hemsworth in Spanish is just somehow… better?