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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Above the Ice

October 23, 2014 | by

Grief and adventure on the path to the North Pole.

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François-Auguste Biard, Magdalenefjorden, 1840.

For two weeks in the summer of 2013, I traveled around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard as part of the Arctic Circle Residency, proceeding up the west coast of the main island, Spitsbergen, and making landfall at tiny settlements and untrammeled beaches at the edge of the known world. At one point, our course took us into a small fjord where we sailed past an abandoned mining town called Blomstrandhalvoya; a research station, Ny-Ålesund, on the opposite shore; and, farther in, two massive glaciers, Kongsvegend and Kronebreen, twin ice masses sliding slowly into the fjord.

The glaciers hug a promontory butte that stands in defiance to these ice sheets, though they are both slowly wearing it away. In a struggle imperceptible to human eyes, the glaciers grind relentlessly against the rock face, carving their inexorable history into its striated face. They could win against this rock, wearing it down over eons into a plain or even a valley, but instead they’re ceding the battle, retreating backward. At some point in the future the promontory will be an island, as the glaciers recede and allow water to spill in behind them.

The sound you hear when you put ice cubes into warm (but not hot) water—that subtle but quick crackling—is the sound all around you in the summer fjords near glaciers. There is ice everywhere in the water, the size of your fist and the size of small islands, and because the water is only a few degrees above freezing, the ice cracks slowly, abundantly. It takes a moment to understand what you’re hearing, because it’s so constant and so low in the air—this soft crackle, like static over a radio.

Next to the noise, there is the wind. Strong, persistent, a wall of bitter blue. Constant: no slack, no gusts, as if from an electric fan. It is utterly cold and utterly fierce. You gaze into the white at the edge of the glacier that gives way slowly to its interior blues, blues of a depth for which there is no word, buffeted by the wind, which streams steadily and directly into you. Read More »

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Our Globe-trotting Winners

September 9, 2014 | by

Last month’s #ReadEverywhere contest was a great success. (If you need a refresher: we asked readers to submit pictures of themselves reading The Paris Review or The London Review of Books around the world.) Now the time has come to announce the winners. Cue the marching band, please, and have the sommeliers ready their champagne sabers …

THIRD PLACE is a tie! Both Ivan Herrera and Anders Gäddlin will receive third-place prizes. Ivan is pictured with The Paris Review (and an erumpent sparkler) at Tennessee Alabama Fireworks. Anders read The London Review of Books in a “modernist twentieth-century utopian suburb”: Råslätt, Jönköping, Sweden. They’ll get a copy of one of our Writers at Work anthologies and an LRB mug.

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Ivan Herrera

 

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Anders Gäddlin

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A Travel Tip

July 18, 2014 | by

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An 1854 French advertisement

Not too long ago, I was asked to contribute a travel tip to an article. I felt like a complete fraud, of course; my vacations, such as they were, consisted of the occasional bus visit to friends in D.C. and the odd weekend with my parents, heavy on historic sites. If I passed along any sort of “tip,” I risked conveying the impression that I was the sort of person who breezed through security with effortlessly straight hair, applied travel-size unguents in her seat, and, when she felt like napping, draped herself in an improbably large cashmere wrap. (This sort of person also had a roll for her jewelry, and had a pricey makeup bag that, in a pinch, could double as a clutch.)

I knew of no special hydrating sprays or extra-good earphones. I almost wrote, “Bring steak sandwiches,” since this is in fact something I like to do when I travel. But certain standards must be maintained. So I recommended wearing a new perfume when one goes on a trip.

I’m not advocating for the purchase of an expensive bottle every time you go to a cousin’s wedding. But for me, the act of dignifying a journey with its own scent can be enough to elevate a humble getaway to vacation status. It’s nice to find something that has a connection to wherever you are, but the actual perfume is secondary. The point is to create a sense memory for the experience that has, for you, no precedent. I’ve worn the same perfume since my twenty-third birthday, when I treated myself to my first bottle of En Passant, but from the moment I get in the cab to the airport, I like to wear something different, unfamiliar.

It should be a scent you can live with, of course, but it need not be one you love. I usually look for something inexpensive, in a travel roller; perfume samples are also perfect for this. I found an eau de toilette called Green Leaf in the LaGuardia terminal before leaving for this trip to Maine, and I have applied it religiously throughout my days here. Months later, I will be able to smell it and remember—or not, as the case may be.

I know it all sounds rather twee. “I wish we could see perfumes as well as smell them. I’m sure they would be very beautiful,” says Anne Shirley, in Anne of the Island, when she is at maximum insipidity, and everyone is in love with her, and everything she does is ethereal and enrapturing and the relatable, human Anne of Green Gables is a distant memory. Even by her standards, however, this is idiotic: a scent is a million times more transporting than an image. Stanislavski could have told her that. Because, really, that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? You’re creating a character: someone who travels, who’s capable of relaxation and maybe even adventure, and who—why not?—has an improbably large cashmere wrap in her bag. Or pretends to.

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Soviet Ghosts

July 17, 2014 | by

Soviet decay

A military base in East Germany, constructed in 1937 and used by the Germans as an elite riding and driving school. Photo: Rebecca Litchfield, via the Guardian

The Guardian, Beautiful/Decay, and others have featured unnerving photos from Rebecca Litchfield’s Soviet Ghosts: The Soviet Union Abandoned: A Communist Empire in Decay, which documents the photographer’s travels to the ruins of the Soviet Union. The series examines how and why communities are abandoned, but this isn’t mere ruin porn; there’s an aspect of political subversion here, as Litchfield faced radiation exposure, arrest, and interrogation to secure these pictures, which include decommissioned locomotives, dilapidated military bases, and an abandoned sanatorium, many of them now deemed secret by the state. A more sensationalistic publisher might’ve subtitled the book, THE UNBELIEVABLE PHOTOGRAPHS THE FORMER USSR DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE! As Litchfield explains,

We maximized our stealthiness, ducking and diving into bushes and sneaking past sleeping security. But on day three, our good fortune ran out as we visited a top-secret radar installation. After walking through the forest, mosquitoes attacking us from all directions, we saw the radar and made our way toward it, but just meters away suddenly we were joined by military, and they weren’t happy …

See more photos here.

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Menu Planning

June 4, 2014 | by

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Carl Bloch, In a Roman Osteria, 1866

The other day, having traveled to a midsize American city that shall remain nameless, my dining companion and I encountered the following description on an online restaurant menu:

Tender day boat scallops, lightly cajuned, pan seared with pancetta, caramelized leeks, sweet roasted red peppers, mint and pickled lentil medley, drizzled with a fava bean puree and organic pea shoots.

I was thrilled. I don’t mean that I wanted to eat it; there were like thirteen different components that I wouldn’t have wanted alone, let alone in combination. But I loved that the dish existed, in this moment in the world, in this place, and that, like a perfectly crafted poem, it managed to illuminate the human condition in a few deft strokes.

As the late Maya Angelou wrote, “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” Certainly, this dish was ambition incarnate—it was like the Macbeth of restaurant dishes—and certainly that was a big part of its appeal. There were seven parts (not counting seasonings) used, some ten different techniques employed, with more adjectives than you’d find in an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Read More »

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Present and Absent

May 16, 2014 | by

The art world comes to Mexico City.

KOMPLOT

Mexico City’s Material Art Fair. Photo: Komplot

In a few hours, a conference room on the fourth floor of Mexico City’s Hilton Reforma will swing open and the third day of the Material Art Fair will commence. But it’s five a.m., and I’m on the sixth floor, in the heated indoor pool, with about five near-naked and naked artists and a bottle of mescal bobbing in the shallow end. None of us has a room here. Lenin said you can’t trust artists because they can navigate all levels of society. In this case, that means all floors of the Hilton.

The evening began yesterday at a Mariachi bar. I proceeded to a store selling giant micheladas that had the mouthfeel of a Papa John’s pizza in a cup. Then I went to a grimy rave. Then to the end-of-the-world wealth of a penthouse party in Polanco where the free sushi meant that at least two people were doing blow off of chopsticks, and where, in line for a marble bathroom indecorously coated in piss, I met a Spanish developer named Iggy who was building an entire village with Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architecture firm, on a stretch of virgin Mexican coast. After that, I picked up more mescal and sat on the desolate, please-abduct-me corner of a Centro Histórico street, pulling from the same bottle now bobbing in the Hilton pool’s shallow end.

I live in Miami, where for weeks the talk had been about Mexico City. When do you get in? Where are you staying? The contemporary art fairs Zona Maco and Material both opened in the first week of February. Why not go? To work in the culture industry is to justify any type of vacation or prolonged period of dicking around as research.

As a supposed arbiter of transcendence, art and its surrounding world has of late succumbed to stasis and homogeny. Things feel the same. An unceasing focus on the contemporary has culture in the doldrums of a present-tense continuous, defined by a million identical white-cube galleries and purple-carpeted convention halls. But it takes a lot of movement to feel like you’re staying in one place. Everyone—collectors, artists, curators, handlers, advisors—is launched into a ceaseless grand tour of the capitals of capital, armed with VIP cards to the nameless Biennials and Fairs wobbling skyward Babel-style.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Miami, which to many seems an art fair with a city attached. The parties and the velvet-rope-divided subjectivities are as much a part of a naturalized cultural terrain as the academy and the museum are in other cities. For artists here, drinking and schmoozing are not just that—they’re praxis. So I booked a flight to Mexico City. Everyone was going. Read More »

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