Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Month: March, 2012

In Which I attempt to connect all my crushes to Portland, Oregon

Robert Mapplethorpe has nothing to do with Portland. I just love this photograph more than everything in the world. Photo by Mapplethorpe, of course, via the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

I’ve had a crush on Portland for a long time. Thanks to its use as the setting for the Ramona books, it wouldn’t be hyperbolizing to say I’ve always wanted to go to Portland. After reading this Cool Hunting feature on Ampersand Gallery, Portland is back at the top of my list not just because it’s the dream of the nineties, but also as a place to look at art.

Ampersand Gallery, Portland, OR. Image yanked from coolhunting.com.

Sorry, guys. I have to post this. It’s a credit to Carrie Brownstein that this song is not just funny and true, but actually good:

 

In other art and video news, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about art collectors lately. Who even knew there were multiple docs about art collectors?

The classic choice is Herb & Dorothy, the story of a postal worker and a librarian who became major collectors of minimalist art in the 60’s. In addition to the powerful narrative, there are interviews with art world megastars like Donald Judd and Chuck Close.

And then, suddenly, Netflix was recommending arts documentaries right and left. Due to my obsession with Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the downtown scenes of New York in the 1970’s, I had to watch Black White + Gray, a doc biography of Sam Wagstaff, who was an important photography collector and Mapplethorpe’s lover. In addition to scratching my Just Kids itch, I was fascinated by the way that people from different parts of Wagstaff’s life had such oppositional views of who he was. There were homophobic Society types, art historians who thought Mapplethorpe was a total gold digger, and Patti Smith being her usual awesome self. It’s rare that docs about relatively uncontroversial figures like Wagstaff convey conflict that way, so I thought that was an interesting approach.

Both of the above films — and many more arts documentaries! — are available streaming on Netflix.

P.S. In researching this post, I discovered the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which has a website full of beautiful images.

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Other People’s Travel Snaps

Woman at a bus stop. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

It started when I worked in the art department.

We did a lot of photoshopping on the TV series I worked for, and as an art department PA, photo research was a large part of my job.

New Zealand. Photo by trailofants, via Instagram.

It was the early days of Flickr. People would upload just about anything, unwatermarked and in huge resolutions. And thus I discovered that other people’s vacation photos (the less interesting, the better) made great backdrops for times when the script called for our actors to be photoshopped into Beijing, Washington, or Key West.  This is terrible karma, I know.

Woman on bridge. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

Even though I don’t get paid to peruse travel snaps on Flickr all day anymore, I still love them. Sometimes when I’m bored and feel like I’ve come to the end of the internet, I’ll run a Flickr search on places that top my bucket list. Instagram and Pinterest are making this odd form of armchair wanderlust even easier.

The best random travel photos, however, are the ones that trickle down from another era, shot on Brownies and Polaroids, printed on actual photo paper, and stuck into albums with those neat little corners. I try not to buy too many; it seems creepy to have an apartment full of photos of other people’s relatives. But I love to dig in the piles of snapshots at flea markets, and every once in a while if I find a really perfect one, I’ll take it home.

Mumbai cityscape. Photo by jimeryjem, via Instagram.

 

Mexican souvenirs. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

 

Tip of the sombrero to Jaunted, where I discovered the Instagram travel photos that inspired this post. Hours of vintage photo browsing (and shopping!) are on the agenda over at House Of Mirth.

Sixteen tons, and whaddya get?


Shoeshine stand, Galata. Photo by Sara Clarke.

 

A couple more photos from my Istanbul Working series.

 

Kofte sellers, Beyoglu. Photo by Sara Clarke

How to shop for souvenirs when you’re broke and yet have impeccable taste

Shoppers in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I don’t think there are many places left in the world where you can’t buy a cheap mass-produced souvenir. You can buy keepsake shot glasses in Cleveland, I Heart Reykjavik tee shirts, and snow globes from Bangkok, where it never even snows. Every world region that is famous for handicrafts has markets set up every ten paces, selling cheap foreign-made versions. I wonder if any tourist has ever visited the Peruvian alpaca-yarn mitten and Turkish pashmina factories of China?

With all this crap to buy, we find ourselves looking for a truly unique souvenir. Being someone who, as we’ve already learned, has champagne tastes and a “wanna drink forties in the park?” budget (and whose grandmother was a tough act to follow in the souvenir shopping department), I’m always on the lookout for cheap stuff to bring home from my travels.

While Gloria can spot the perfect weird bit of antique farm equipment at fifty paces, my souvenir specialty is ephemera. I bought vintage Bollywood posters on Mutton Street in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar for a couple dollars apiece. At the end of a trip to Italy, my backpack already stuffed with €2 bottles of wine (my other souvenir speciality is hangovers), I was sad not to be bringing anything more durable home. Then I realized that my free tourist map of Rome was a specimen of flawless European design. It now hangs above my bed, a reminder not only of a fun vacation but also that I am the queen of cheap beautiful things.

Sadly, this is not one of the posters I got. Great movie, though. Abhimaan stars Amitabh Bachchan and his wife Jaya Bhaduri. Creative Commons image courtesy ramesh_lalwani, via flickr.

But let’s say you’re traveling light. Or that you’re sitting at home, moping that you didn’t bring any cool examples of the local design aesthetic home from your last trip. The amazing thing about art as a souvenir is that, through the glory of the internet, you can turn back time and correct this oversight. And it’ll still be a lot cheaper than deciding you really did want that silk Kimono or Persian carpet.

The Madrid metro system, courtesy of Lineposters.

Nostalgic for your semester abroad in Spain? This stylized map of the Madrid metro system will run you $28.

Drawing by Jennifer Maravillas.

Pining for New York? Jennifer Maravillas’ colorful illustration of the lower Manhattan skyline is just $35.

Drawing by Suhita.

Maybe you regret not taking more photos in India. You can pick up Suhita’s lovely watercolor sketches of Varanasi for $20 apiece. She even takes commissions!

The holy grail of illustrated ephemera, though, is the event poster. In order for this to count as a souvenir, at the very least the venue has to be in a city you’ve actually visited. Ideally, your poster should reflect a place you’ve actually been, and the gig should be something you would actually go to (a band you like, a gallery show that reflects your tastes). Even better, look for posters advertising events you’ve actually attended. This is something I haven’t managed to pull off yet in my travels. I don’t know if I’m too discerning about my poster art, or maybe just not going to cool enough spots. But someday, I’m going to score something like one of these:

A poster for the band Tortoise's shows in Madrid and Barcelona. Image courtesy Error Design and gigposters.com.

 

This would be even cooler to have if you've been to both MoMA and Falling Water itself. Image courtesy MoMA Design Store.

 

One of the Birmingham Museum of Art's posters from the Who Shot Rock N Roll exhibition that's been making the rounds of American museums over the past few years. I suppose it's a tall order to have seen Jimi Hendrix live, though.

 

On the other hand, if you'll be in Fredricksburg, Virginia, this May, you have a shot at seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd. Poster by Les Herman, image courtesy of gigposters.com.

 

The above posters can all be purchased at gigposters.com, the MoMA Design Store, and the Birmingham Museum of Art. It’s unlikely that any of them cost more than $30 or so.

The Fruited Plain

Airship Brand Oranges. All images in this post courtesy of the Smithsonian.

This is a label for a crate of oranges But it doesn’t just say FRESH ORANGES, or BEAUTIFUL ORANGES, or even CALIFORNIA ORANGES.

It says “Airship”.

This was no mere box of citrus fruit, it was a dream of a better life. In the future, the label seems to say, you’ll go wherever you want, and on the way, you can eat an orange. And in the first half of the twentieth century, in Orange County, CA, the future was now.

Airship wasn’t the only brand to use wanderlust-inducing images to sell citrus fruit. Every citrus growing concern, from Sunkist to the Ventura County Citrus Association, had its own mouthwateringly illustrated crate label extolling the promise of California, the new American paradise. Making lemonade or peeling an orange wasn’t just a way to get your daily vitamin C. It was a destination. Buy this fruit and be transported to a warmer and sunnier place, where there’s fruit on the trees year round, and everything is fresh.

All Year Lemons, Fillmore Lemon Association. Dig how, when fruit is depicted, it's usually drawn individually wrapped. Like a present. A citrus present.

 

Sunkist California Dream. Check out the proto-Disneyland in the background!

 

Passport Lemons. It's rare that a lemon makes me want to forget blogging and go play around on Kayak Explore instead.

 

Ramona Memories. Remember that time you took a bite of lemon meringue pie and were instantly transported to a hacienda, where this girl did unmentionable things to you? Yeah, that was great.

 

Then there’s this gem, which has nothing to do with wanderlust but is trippy as all hell. Seriously, this vies with the Sunmaid Raisin maiden for mind blowing illustration in marketing.

No, you have one! OMIGOD IM HAVING A BAD TRIP (studies show citrus fruits are unlikely to be hallucinogenic)

 

By the way, apparently the Smithsonian has blogs. This post was inspired by a six-part series on their new design blog all about the use of design to market citrus fruit to Americans. I mean, that’s what the series was about. There are hopefully going to be all sorts of other neat things on the blog, very soon. There are also blogs about history, archaeology, film, science, dinosaurs, and a million other cool subjects you’re probably interested in. Who knew?

The place the music was born

Phil and Ronnie Spector. I tried really hard to find out who took this photo.

As a blogger with a day job in the film industry, I try to adhere to one simple ground rule: never write about work.

This is usually pretty easy to remember because of the piles of nondisclosure forms I have to sign every time I start a new gig.

But this time is a little different. I’m not going to tell you the name of the project I’m working on right now, or even what kind of thing it is. But I have to tell you this.

Our office is in the Brill Building!

The Brill Building is an Art Deco cupcake in architectural form. Honestly, it’s cool just to be working in a funky old building with a gilded lobby, arched windows, and, oh, Jesus, the bathroom. The subway tile is etched with craquelure so you know it’s been there since before subway tile was cool. The sinks might be my favorite part: wide porcelain pedestals with two taps, one for hot water and one for cold. Our floor of the building is a warren of tiny offices – no bullpens or expansive loft-like Work Spaces here. I can imagine a young Don Draper, fresh from the Korean War, sitting in these offices looking at paste-ups for next Christmas’ fur coat ads circa 1953.

But I don’t have to imagine what sorts of people might have worked in my office once upon a time. I know the answer to that already. The Brill Building is probably the only office building in the world with a genre of music named after it. In the middle of the last century, it was the epicenter of the American commercial pop music industry. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was written in this building, as were probably half the songs performed by girl groups in the 60’s. Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” all happened here. Paul Simon maybe still has offices in the building? A lot of the spaces on our floor are suggestive of recording studios, with internal windows between rooms, soundproofing, and holes cut into the walls to facilitate running cable.

Anyway, that’s where I work. I can’t tell you what I do here, or what we’re working towards. But there’s a strong chance the ghost of Ellie Greenwich is reading this over my shoulder.

UPDATE: So, yesterday when I was researching this post (yes, sometimes I actually research stuff, shut up), I happened upon a music podcast called Sounds Ace, which recently did a special episode about the Brill Building sound. I didn’t get to listen to it until after I wrote my post, but omigod, it’s BRILLIANT. It’s exactly the playlist I’d have put together if I’d provided a musical component, minus maybe one cheesy Neil Diamond song. So if you just read this and got inspired to listen to some Shirelles, Shangri-Las, and Ronettes, you should go give Esther’s stuff a listen over at Sounds Ace.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Also I just discovered that Sounds Ace is made by Esther C. Werdiger, who also makes some of my most favorite comics, via The Hairpin. OMG can you feel the girl crush in the air? CAN YOU?????

Magic Carpet Ride

Turkish carpets are big business. The first thing you read about when you flick open a guidebook to Istanbul is tips for dodging rug salesmen.

The problem with this?

I love carpets. Unlike the vast majority of visitors to Turkey, I actually want a Turkish carpet. I just can’t afford one.

So I did the next best thing and bought a kilim. A kilim is a flat-woven rug that’s more rustic and “tribal” looking than a traditional Oriental carpet.

It turns out kilims aren’t actually that cheap, either. My carpet seller guy showed me some unbelievably intricate Armenian pieces that run upwards of $700. Even in rustic handicrafts, I apparently have champagne tastes.

So I cut a deal. It turned out that for $60, my carpet salesman was willing to part with a very basic floor model from Kayseri, an industrial city known for cranking out Turkish carpets by the millions.

If you’re desperate for your own Turkish carpet and don’t have a trip to Istanbul planned anytime soon, it turns out West Elm is now selling one-of-a-kind floor coverings from around the world. They’re made with ethical labor practices (something I’m not sure I can claim for my $60 Spice Market special), and aren’t really that expensive compared with what a bland beige American-style area rug will run you.

Maybe you share my love of carpets, textiles, and handicrafts, but you still can’t afford a Turkish carpet no matter what. You could knit up the American handicraft equivalent from this pattern. Add a stripe or a fringe, and you’ve got something a lot like a very simple knitted kilim.

I don’t want this to be happening.

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg do not want. Photo blatantly stolen from Awesome People Hanging Out Together. Unfortunately I was not able to figure out who took the photograph.

There’s a trailer for the On The Road movie.

I… just. Look. I don’t want to be one of those jerks. I stayed up till three in the morning watching episodes of Game of Thrones, despite loving the Song of Ice and Fire novels. I even like some pretty high-falutin’ books adapted into movies, like The Motorcycle Diaries (oh, man, I’m going to have to do a post on that one day), True Grit, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And yet.

I feel like there’s an invisible line we all know is there, a creative equator, if you will. On The Road is on the other side of that equator. It’s sacred territory. You can’t do it justice in a movie.

Am I going to see it? Probably on opening night. I hope it’s every bit the abomination I say it’s going to be.

Chthonic is a nice word.

Basilica Cistern engraving by Thomas Allom. Featured in Robert Walsh's book Constantinople, published in 1839.

Did you ever think, “I want to go to there!” and then realize that you’d already been there? And that it was every bit as amazing as it looked in the picture?

This is the Basilica Cistern, in Istanbul (which was Constantinople when this engraving was made!). It’s an underground water… uh, cistern… that was created so that Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul would be impervious to siege tactics. Seriously, the city stored years worth of food and water and encouraged all Constantinopelians* to do the same, so that if there were ever attacks on the city, they could simply outlast their attackers. This actually worked, and is part of why Istanbul is such an old city that it’s had three different names so far.

Photo by Sara Clarke

No longer used to store water, the cistern is so impressive that it’s become a tourist trap very popular with visitors to Istanbul. Which is fine, because seriously, this place is Creepy Looking. There are crazy medusa heads, huge ghostly fish, and the lighting is super eerie. You should go.

You should also go check out Old Book Illustrations, which is where I found the engraving above. They have a bunch of interesting Orientalist engravings of Turkey on their blog today.

Bonus photo:

This is possibly my favorite picture that I took in Istanbul. Inside the Basilica Cistern, for reasons that I hope are obvious to everyone, there’s a spot where you can dress up in Byzantine costume and be photographed by this dude. For money, I imagine. Anyway, I snapped a picture of these people in the process of negotiating their Old Timey photo. Which was probably wrong, especially since now I’m putting it on my blog, and for all I know they’re nice middle class folks from Bursa who totally read traveling artsy fartsy blogs just like this one every day (Hey guys!).

Seriously, that emo girl is definitely in my key demographic. Photo by Sara Clarke.

*I fully just made this up. I have no idea what demonym is appropriate to describe people living in Constantinople before they became known as Istanbullus like they are today.

Dream Job: Museum Cat Caretaker

I wonder if this is what the Hermitage cat caretaker feels like on Monday morning? "Daniel in the Lions' Den" by Peter Paul Rubens. Photo by Son Of Groucho, via Flickr.

Once upon a time — back when it was an Imperial palace rather than an art museum — the Hermitage had a bit of a rodent problem. Empress Elizabeth came up with the obvious solution: kittehs! Almost three hundred years later, there are still feline exterminators living deep in the underbelly of the museum.

The second best thing about this is that there is a person whose actual job it is to take care of the Hermitage cats.

The first best thing? Apparently, at some point one of the cats escaped the basement and traveled through the walls of the palace for a week in order to reach the museum galleries. Now that’s what I call devotion to art.

 

On a slightly different note, Empress Elizabeth of Russia sounds pretty bad ass in general. Even if there is no evidence that she ever commissioned an official Cats In Racks portrait.

Via Art Fag City.

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