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Mexico City Magic

August 3, 2016 — 2 Comments

I’m just back from three weeks in Mexico City, where I studied some Spanish, worked on a new project, visited old loves like Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, and found new loves like Lilia Carillo, the painter, and Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god.

Here’s Leonora Carrington’s Cocodrilo on Paseo de la Reforma (and my quick watercolor sketch of it):

I almost didn’t go to Frida’s Casa Azul again (here’s a link to my 2014 visit), but I’m so glad I did:

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I love her amazing collection of retablos, amateur paintings made to thank the Virgin of Guadalupe for interceding at life-threatening moments:

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These influenced some of her most famous paintings, and the museum juxtaposes small reproductions of her actual paintings with the retablos that inspired them:

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At the Museum of Modern Art, I got to see Dos Fridas in person for the first time:

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This painting was made after one of her breakups with Diego and represents two sides of herself, one as a comfort to the other. She is dressed in European attire on the left and in her classic Tehuana dress (which Diego preferred) on the right.

In all my times of viewing the painting online, I’d never noticed that the heart on the left is gray and withered:

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And I discovered the beautiful abstract paintings of Lilia Carrillo:

We saw an outdoor film at the Monument of the Revolution:

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about this guy, Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god:

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…who was removed from his original site in Coatlinchan and relocated to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The film, La Piedra Ausente (The Absent Stone), tells the amazing story of the removal of the stone amidst the town’s protests and its celebrated/contested arrival in Mexico City.

[More Mexico City magic: The night before the film, we went to a birthday dinner for a friend and met a woman named Sandra. After we’d talked for a while, she said, “I made a film; it’s screening tomorrow night at the Monument of the Revolution. You should come!” So we did. It was awesome.]

At the Palacio Nacional, we saw the journals of the artist Francisco Toledo, which were part of an exhibit of — get this — art that Mexican artists give to the nation as payment for their taxes:

These inspired a couple of my own journal sketches:

I thought I saw a Dirty Dancing sculpture, but it was just a strange sculpture that happened to have an ad for Dirty Dancing, The Musical behind it:

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Finally, I should mention that there was a tree hanging in the center of our airbnb apartment building:

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I was initially invited to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour by the fabulous Rebecca Meacham, whose fiction I admired even before the publication of her debut and award-winning story collection, Let’s Do. She was ahead of me by a few years in my Ph.D. program and I always admired and looked up to her – despite the fact that I think she’s a foot shorter than I am. Check out her post from last week.

Then, when I was just about to send a message to My Go-To Guy – the dangerously charming and talented Joseph Bates, author of the story collection Tomorrowland – inviting him to participate, I received a text from him, and he was inviting me. Like at the exact same time! Since he was up first, we decided he could tag me, and I’d tag other writers. Check out his post here, and see below for the three awesome writers who agreed to do it next week.

So anyway. Here are the questions and here are my answers.

1) What are you working on?

My personal life, mostly. It’s been a year in which I’ve felt more like a character in a novel than creator of characters. And things are never easy for characters in novels. So many internal and external conflicts! So many unexpected plot twists and cliffhangers! Obstacles! Antagonists! Only now do I feel that things are settling down enough that I can be the kind of character I prefer: Mrs. Dalloway wandering the streets of London, pausing as Big Ben rings another hour (irrevocable) and pondering the messages of aeroplanes.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I am not very generically stable. Fortunately I’ve found a publisher – Rose Metal Press – whose mission is to mix-and-match genres. I sent them the manuscript for Liliane’s Balcony, calling it a “novella-in-flash.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but they were like, yeah, sure, we love novellas-in-flash. This fall they’re publishing a collection of five novellas-in-flash.

Rose Metal Press is also going to publish my next book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, which I am calling a collage biography. It’s all found texts from books and letters and internet sites. It’s also got images – photos, collages. It may or may not also include postcards that I’ve been writing to Božena. Stuff about my aforementioned personal life.

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3) Why do you write what you do?

I go to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house on a chance trip to Ohiopyle, PA, I take a tour, I am overcome by the place, by its natural and architectural beauty, I think OMG I have to write a story set here, I listen to the tour guide who tells of the Kaufmann family who purchased the house, I remember being a kid in Pittsburgh and going to the Kaufmann department store, I think, “Same folks?” I go home and read up on the house and the Kaufmanns and I learn that the wife Liliane was beautiful and smart and tri-lingual and an art collector that her life ended in an overdose of pills in her bedroom at Fallingwater. I start writing.

Or. I go to Prague on a chance trip, I buy a book of Czech fairy tales for my daughter, I notice that there’s a picture of a woman (a woman!) on my Czech money and that her name matches the name on the fairy tale book, I do some research to learn more about her, I find conflicting info, poor translations, and outdated material, I find that someone has translated some of her letters and they are nothing like what I expected based on the research, and I take all my notes and quotes and arrange them until they tell some combination of her life and the impossibility of telling it.

4) How does your writing process work?

My favorite part is the research. I don’t think we talk enough about the importance of research, or the fun of it. You get to work on your writing project without actually writing, and research gets you excited and loaded with ideas so that you can’t help but write.

For Liliane’s Balcony, I volunteered as an Ask-Me Guide at Fallingwater, traveling to Ohiopyle, PA once a month and volunteering all weekend, talking to visitors and employees. I traveled to Cincinnati where I uncovered an archive of letters from Edgar Kaufmann to Liliane. I took photos of each letter, transcribed them at home, and incorporated excerpts into my book. I toured Wright’s other houses in Chicago. All of this informed and inspired my writing.

For my Božena Němcová project, I took a month-long Czech language class in Prague, visited her home town of České Skalice, and toured the extensive museum dedicated to her in the town. (I also got totally lost in this unpopulated village of non-English speakers.) I went to a used bookstore in Prague and bought old copies of her books to make collages. Most recently, I bought a 1968 Czech typewriter on eBay. All part of the writing process.

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A sketch I made of Bozena’s glasses, pen, notebook, and rosary displayed at her museum in Ceska Skalice.

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Here are the three writers who I have tagged for next week. And when I say ‘tag,’ I picture myself holding a magic wand that sparkles as I touch it to their shoulders.

Donna Miscolta is the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced. Her fiction has appeared in literary journals, and her story collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent was selected by Peter Ho Davies as a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. She has received over a dozen grants and fellowships and has been awarded artist residencies at Anderson Center for the Interdisciplinary Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. See her website and blog at www.donnamiscolta.com. [I also interviewed Donna for my How to Become a Writer series!]

David Dodd Lee is the author of eight full-length books of poems and a chapbook, including Downsides of Fish Culture (New Issues Press, 1997), Arrow Pointing North (Four Way Books, 2002), Abrupt Rural (New Issues Press, 2004), The Nervous Filaments (Four Way Books, 2010) Orphan, Indiana (University of Akron Press, 2010), Sky Booths in the Breath Somewhere, the Ashbery Erasure Poems (BlaxeVox, 2010), and The Coldest Winter On Earth (Marick Press, 2012). His newest book, Animalities, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in October, 2014. [He also makes gorgeous collages! Visit: http://seventeenfingeredpoetrybird.blogspot.com/]

Margaret Patton Chapman is the author of the novella-in-flash, Bell and Bargain, forthcoming in My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form (Rose Metal Press 2014). http://margaretpattonchapman.com/

This week’s wordpress photo challenge theme is Foreshadow, which is something we writers try to do with subtlety and symmetry, and perhaps with a bit of surprise.

This setting of my photo-story is Okolicne, Slovakia – a beautiful town surrounded by the High Tatras Mountains near the border of Poland – in the summer of 2012. I am standing in the kitchen of an ancestral home, of sorts, with a relative who speaks no English, but with whom I communicate via smiles, nods, and frequent (like, really frequent) shots of Slivovitz and Metaxa.

It is approximately 8:00 a.m. – an hour that finds the rest of the world up-and-at-em but finds me semi-coherent if not still totally asleep, especially on a Sunday morning – and Josef pours me a shot of Metaxa. We toast one another: Na zdravie!

Why are we drinking a shot at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and what might this moment foreshadow?

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A trip to church, of course. After a short walk, we arrive at the church of Sv. Peter z Alkantara where my Slovak great-grandmother was baptized more than one hundred years ago. I take a seat next to Josef, and mass begins.

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So, technically, the foreshadowing is the fact that it’s Sunday morning and I’m even awake.

This week’s photo challenge is From Above

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This picture looks to me like the earth strung with lights, but it is actually a photo of a puddle at a Berlin biergarten. I love how the change in perspective makes you see things in a new way. Just like taking students to Prague and Berlin in 2011 helped them see the world differently. And spending time with students at a biergarten helped me see them differently! Here is part of the group:

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(Note the lights and the trees in the background. They were captured in the puddle as we left.)

1. Let’s get straight to it. The number one highlight of the Southern Kentucky Book Fest was this:

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That’s right, I got to hang out with two of my favorite people and authors: Molly McCaffrey (left) and David Bell (right).

2. And I might have gotten to meet this guy:

(He’s standing next to the tall girl in red above. The tall girl makes everyone look shorter than they are. The tall girl apologizes to The Fonz.)

Seriously, Henry Winkler was super friendly and charming. He hugged my friend Molly and told her how much he loves her personality. We bonded over New York / New Jersey connections.

3. I met three overeducated country boys who brew some damn fine IPA over at Country Boy Brewing:

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(Seriously, these guys make great beer, and they majored in things like English and History. They have Master’s Degrees! Yes.)

4. I was assigned an awesome boothmate: Sharon Short

downloadSharon’s new book is My One Square Inch of Alaska, and I’m excited to read my new copy! She also agreed to participate in my interview series, so more about Sharon to come…

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5. Dinner and gossip with the amazing Eric Goodman and Lee Martin, authors of these awesome books that I just bought:

BONUS HIGHLIGHTS:

I sold some books! My attention has been on my forthcoming book, Liliane’s Balcony, due out in the fall, so it was great to talk to people about For Sale By Owner again.

As I drove home I passed a trucker who honked at me. This has not happened to me for years, so I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that he was holding up a sign in his front window that said, “M O M.” I thought, “Geez, how did you know? Is it that obvious?” But when I glanced back again, he had turned the sign over. It now said: “W O W.”
(Oh my!)

The Bohemian Bone Church

February 2, 2013 — 7 Comments

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is UNIQUE, and what is more unique than a church decorated with the bones of 40,000-70,000 people? (Actually, lots of other bloggers have some equally unique photos, so you should check them out.)

My version of unique is the Sedlec Ossuary, aka The Bone Church, which happens to have been my destination when I spotted the young Czech lovers from last week’s photo challenge (Love at 16:28).

The story goes that in the 13th century, the abbot of the church went to the Holy Land and brought back some Holy Soil that he sprinkled in the church cemetery. Suddenly, everyone was dying to be buried there! A century later, the Black Death was invented so that lots of people could die all at once. When people still continued to live, the Hussite Wars came along to try to finish the job. The little cemetery got too filled up, so a half-blind monk was assigned the task of unburying people. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

But what to do with stacks of unburied people? Turn them into chandeliers and shields, of course!

Once again it’s time for the Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme: GREEN.  Since my photography is not really meant to speak for itself, here’s a Gallery of Green Art with a quiz. See if you can match the artist and/or relevant information to each of the images.

1. Van Gogh close-up at Chicago Art Institute
2. Some dude in flip-flops (at the John Lennon wall in Prague)
3. Monet close-up at Chicago Art Institute
4. NOT Monet (but could have inspired him). Taken in Czech Republic.
5. British people, who think anything can be made pretty and weird, even cannons!
6. Hans Christian Andersen (and me!). Technically he’s the subject, not the artist. Copenhagen
7. Me imitating Alfred Henry Maurer
8. Collaboration between Frank Stella and Santiago Calatrava hanging in building designed by Mies van der Rohe (yes!)
9. Unknown Art Nouveau artist, but maybe Alphonse Mucha, since it’s at an absinthe bar in Prague.
10. Frank Lloyd Wright
11. John Cage (okay, well, my winnings at a John Cage exhibit at DOX museum in Prague)

(If you REALLY need the answers, post a comment in which you beg for them. Be convincing.)