Solitude Atlas

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude, this summer the Akademie and Edition Solitude put together a phenomenal book project called Solitude Atlas that brought together 145 participating authors (all former or current fellows) to contribute vignettes of varied form that describe the cities where they live. It’s quite a project. By the numbers, Solitude Atlas includes letters, poems, essays, and illustrations from nearly 100 different cities and 48 countries. When I was back at Solitude in February I talked to designer Phil Baber about the process he was going through to put together the book and the difficulties of making contributions that are in 20 different languages and feature numerous non-Latin alphabets all work in a single volume. It’s pretty remarkable.

Check out an interview with the book’s creators here.

For my contribution I ended up doing a few brief folk histories of infamous Omaha intersections–something that interests me a lot and is important to my process, listening to stories, digging up the history of a neighborhood or street corner or building. Looking at maps and atlases is one of my favorite pastimes too, particularly old maps that are useless except for the history they tell, so this narrative strategy seemed a natural fit to me.

A glimpse of the contribution from Palestinian architect and cartoonist Samir Harb.

Here’s a bit of it:

40th & Farnam

A lot of bars, two breweries & a coffee shop with tables outside coffee-shop-people sit at. Things have been cleaned up recently. Sullivan’s moved into the gutted & redone corner spot. Before that it was called Cheaters, which is clear what the owners were thinking. The city shut them down after an off-duty cop shot a 15-year-old boy in the street outside here. Both were drinking. When the teenager started trouble a melee bloomed. The off-duty chased the teenager into the street & wounded him about as benignly as a service revolver can wound. Dropped him in the middle of the street. The off-duty got in a bunch of trouble over this. Cheaters was pretty notorious so it was shut down. The spot was very ugly. There was white siding & a wood-panel door that looked like it had been kicked in a few times. The new guys, Sullivan’s, tore off the siding & cleaned up the original brick underneath, & there’s a fluorescent sign above the front door. A long time ago the same building was the Omaha Community Playhouse—founded by Dodie Brando, Marlon Brando’s mother. In its first season Henry Fonda got his start as an actor on that stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Fonda had a big career as an insurance actuary all lined up before he went into acting. There are lots of actuaries in Omaha—it’s a big city for that sort of thing. Marlon Brando also made his debut on that stage, at 40th & Farnam, where years later an off-duty cop would chase a drunk teenager out of a bar called Cheaters & put a bullet in a meaty part of the kid’s leg.

Be sure to check out Solitude Atlas at the Akademie’s online store. Whether you’re connected to Akademie Schloss Solitude or not, the book offers an interesting perspective into how artists see the world while demonstrating how these perspectives and voices come together under a single roof at Akademie Solitude (or in this case, between the the two covers of a book).

Paris, Stuttgart and Rome…with Small Kids!

paris brunch
Brunch in Montparnasse.

Nicole and the girls stopped by for a three-week visit recently. Here are some highlights:

-We met in Paris and stayed four nights. It didn’t seem like the best idea to jump into such a bustling world metropolis right off the bat, but things actually worked out better in the end, I think. We had an apartment in Montparnasse through AirBnb–so there was a kitchen, separate rooms for adults and children, and the flat usually was home to two boys the same ages as our girls, so there were toys and appropriately sized beds that allowed for a long nap once the family arrived. Maybe I’m remembering things rosier than they actually were, but the time difference wasn’t such a massive problem as I feared it would be. For one thing, we kept finding ourselves stranded from the apartment late at night. Since we didn’t bring along car seats, this meant long walks through the city after midnight. Daughter 1 put in a lot of miles over a couple nights, with complaints that seemed to taper off as the routine of getting lost and marching, marching, marching took hold. I think she was a little excited/scared to be out so late too, even if it only felt like late afternoon to her body.

I had one night in Paris before the family arrived and also spent the night wandering around Montparnasse. As someone who’s spent a lot of time walking at night, Paris after dark was irresistible.

Notre Dame along the Seine.
Notre Dame along the Seine.

In general the girls got along pretty well in Paris. Everything was new and exciting. We had that on our side. Look, the Eiffel Tower! Look, Notre Dame! Look, Van Gogh’s Starry Night! Look, jugglers on a Seine quay! Only about every twenty minutes did one of us stop and ask, “What the hell were we thinking?”

Daughter 2 developed an interesting habit of shouting out dire warnings at inopportune times. Like, “Everybody get off this airplane now!” And, “Oh, no! The Eiffel Tower is falling down! It’s broken!” Luckily she doesn’t actually have the shining. None of her visions came to pass.

I was pleasantly surprised how helpful a lot of Parisians were too. Like when we kept getting trapped in Metro gates because there isn’t enough time to push through two small kids while carrying luggage, stroller, etc, so the backpack or an arm gets clamped in the gate. Or the lady at our neighborhood bakery understanding my broken Franglais, sometimes sprinkled with Latin, sometimes Spanish. The waiters in the cafes we visited were particularly helpful. Very surprising. Checking three times if, “Yes? You know steak tartare is raw meat?” before being served at Au Pied de Fouet. Getting high chairs and complimenting Nicole’s French. Always having special desserts for kids–ones that didn’t have egg wash baked on top, so daughter 2 could eat dessert too, even with her egg allergy. Not batting an eye when daughter 2 knocked a glass of water over the table. (Even though I haven’t gotten over the fact that she washed the au poivre sauce off my steak. I’d been waiting my whole life for that sauce!) I feel like most places in Paris (within our price range anyway, which maybe pointed us in the right direction) were pretty accommodating.

-Next we took the train to Stuttgart. After sweating it out in the city, the castle and surrounding forests at Solitude were perfect. We ran around the tunnels and corridors of die Schloss, hiked in the woods, went to the city for dinners, kicked a football around the lawn. We also napped.

It seems like we didn’t do a ton in Germany. As Solitude was home, we mostly tried to recover from Paris and prepare for an upcoming trip to Rome. There were a few events around the Akademie, including an exhibition of fellow Samir Harb’s comics Introduction to [Arch]comicology about Palestine. There was getting groceries and walking out to see the horses that live here. There was finding snails and slugs and frogs on the hiking paths. Getting stuck in rainstorms on the way to Bärenschlössle im Rotwildpark, twice! Mostly we just enjoyed Solitude. It’s an amazing place up here and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with my family.

-Then there was Rome. We stayed four days at Lido di Ostia, a beach resort community on the coast. This is technically part of Rome, about an hour away by train, and was the seaport of ancient Rome. More recently, the area experienced a boom in the post-war years as a tourist destination for modern middle class Romans, and apparently hasn’t been redecorated in quite some time. Everything was so wonderfully 1960s, when Federico Fellini and other Italian cinema icons transformed this stretch of beach into the Roman Riviera. Between a couple days at the beach and strolling the boardwalk, we took the train to the city and saw some sights from ancient and modern Rome.

Italy kind of surprised me. I guess I’d always thought of Italy as more-or-less the same as Western Europe, with some Southern European flair. The loud cousin, right? However, I was reminded much more of the Middle East than anything being there. This makes sense, as Italy is the gateway between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Just walking the streets. The attitudes and postures, the way people spoke and argued. I found it very interesting.

-A few more days at Solitude followed before a return trip to Paris by train. We stayed at one of the American style hotels by the airport. The girls were besides themselves they were so happy. Room service. Big rooms with hideaway couch beds. Showers with drains that worked. Kids’ play rooms off the cafe. Daughter 1 wasn’t shy about letting me know that this was what she expected when we told her we’d be staying in some hotels in Europe. Duly noted, kid.

-Below are some more photos. (The good ones were taken by Nicole.) Just a couple more weeks before I head home.